Perhaps charter school isomorphism should be expected in D.C.

It is impossible for anyone who supports an educational marketplace in the nation’s capital not to begin the day with a smile when a Washington Post story appearing this morning by reporter Perry Stein begins with the headline, “DC Kicks Off the School Year with a New School – And More Choices.” The article focuses on the Allison family that selected the new Bard High School Early College for their daughter Taylor. The Post reporter describes Bard as a “campus in Southeast that promotes a rigorous liberal-arts curriculum and lets students graduate with a high school diploma and a two-year associate degree.”

Because Ms. Taylor lives in Shaw she will be taking two Metro lines and a bus to reach this facility.

Keep in mind that Bard is part of the traditional school system. But its offerings look like a charter. This is what over 20 years of school choice has brought to Washington, D.C., and I have to say it is a beautiful situation.

Charters may not be knocking it out of the park when it comes to standardized test score results, and we have certainly discussed here the reasons for the current academic status of the sector. But these alternative schools that teach 47 percent of all public school students have accomplished one of the major goals when they were created: They have forced DCPS to get much better than it was. Competition for students has succeeded in raising scores on the PARCC’s reading and math examinations for the last four years. As the DC Public Charter School Board has pointed out, its pupils have seen a steady increase in results since 2006.

I bring all of this up first because it is great news, but also because of a talk I heard the Center for Education Reform’s CEO Jeanne Allen give in 2016. She decried the isomorphism that she stated was beginning to characterize the nation’s charter schools. She defined isomorphism as “the process that forces one unit in a population to resemble others who face similar environmental conditions.” Her complaint is that charters are now resembling the neighborhood schools that they were meant to reform. But today I’m wondering whether this is the natural outcome of a maturing of the charter school movement. In other words, isomorphism has arrived and we could have predicted that this would be the case.

The downside of the current state of affairs is that not all children in the District are learning today in a quality school. Actually this is the sad reality for thousands of students. So the fact that charters may look like regular schools and the regular schools may mirror what charters are doing does not take away from the fact that we still desperately need expanded school choice. We are only at average proficiency rates of 30 percent in reading and math. That’s right, 30 percent. When our educational leaders say that there is still much work that needs to be done, they are expressing the understatement of the century.

The path we are on is the right one, but it is like watching someone run in slow motion. We desperately have to pick up the pace. Today.

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