Sometimes D.C. charters are their own worst enemy

The conditions the DC Public Charter School Board placed at its July monthly meeting on Washington Latin PCS in order to replicate next term really stung. I just don’t get it. The board has the authority to approve or deny any application requesting a increase to an enrollment ceiling, but where exactly in the School Reform Act does it give it the right to run the charter as if it has suddenly become the executive director?

I was ready to take another shot at the PCSB regarding its overreach. Then I reviewed once again the board’s recommendations. Here is the first one:

“The school will actively consider admitting students in grades 10, 11, and 12, engaging its faculty, board, parents, and students in the decision. The school will report the results of this decision to DC PCSB by March 1, 2020.”

What? The charter does not back fill students in grades 10, 11, and 12? Isn’t it running a high school and came before the board because it wants to create another one? I know the upper school ranks as Tier 1 on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework, however is it possible that one reason it is achieving at this high level is because it does not take in students after the freshman year?

As part of the escalating bruising political battle about the value of charter schools, the alternative sector consistently advances the argument that these are public schools just like the neighborhood ones. But if charters are placing severe restrictions upon who can be admitted to these schools then this whole experiment could end up at the same place in history as all of the other failed education reform efforts this country has attempted.

We consistently and ferociously point to the unfairness in the way charters are treated. Supporters assert that they should be given access to closed DCPS facilities because of the public school equity argument. It is used again to make the case for uniform funding. Those of us in the movement are beyond frustrated by the claim that charters are privatizing America’s educational system.

We despair deeply over the almost 12,000 pupils on the charter school admission wait list.

Then, we discriminate based upon back filling grade levels as to which kids can sit in our classrooms.

Here’s what I recommend. No more pious declarations until the admission requirements for each school in our city is scrubbed for lack of access.

But here there is a problem. The final authority over the decision to back fill is up to an individual school’s board of directors. The PCSB can only try and exert pressure to influence the rules as it is doing with Latin.

I’m afraid this is going to have to change. For charters to be true public schools they must fit the definition. If, as charter advocates, we do not correct this issue then we are practicing the fallacy of the stolen concept. Philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand described the fallacy as “using a concept while denying the validity of its generic roots, i.e., of an earlier concept on which it logically depends.”

Unless charter schools back fill empty slots among its offered grades then it is not by concept a public school.

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