Yesterday, Washington City Paper released an over 7,000 word article by Rachel Cohen that attacks virtually all of the charter school support organizations operating in the nation’s capital. She goes after Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools, the DC Public Charter School Board, Democrats for Education Reform, and Parents Amplifying Voices in Education. It is clear she also doesn’t think much of CityBridge Education’s Katherine Bradley, which is the clearest sign that this writer has absolutely no credibility since it is impossible not to have the utmost respect for this individual.
I suppose the biggest question I have after slogging through this diatribe is why isn’t her work labeled as an opinion piece? Clearly this is what the City Paper has published.
You don’t have to worry, I will not be taking up nearly as much space this morning in my comments. I’m not even going to try and refute her arguments because they are a one-sided picture of a reality that does not exist. I will however make two points.
First, Ms. Cohen does offer a summary of the reason charter schools exist in this city in the first place. She wrote:
“Congress’ involvement did not happen overnight. DC Public Schools had been declining for decades, as families left the city or turned to private schools. 149,000 students were enrolled in 1970. That number plummeted to about 80,000 two decades later. Academic performance was also a source of embarrassment, and scandal routinely wracked the District’s school administration. In 1995, a federal body created to help restore local public school finances came to the stunning conclusion that ‘for each additional year that students stay in DCPS, the less likely they are to succeed.’ Half of all students dropped out before graduation.”
Then in 1996 the first charter schools were approved to open in D.C. The impact has been nothing more than a miracle. The competition for students that charters provided has completely reversed the pitiful state of the traditional schools described above. Thousands of students now learn in high performing classrooms across both the charter and neighborhood school sectors. Children who would have ended up in prison or dead are now graduating from college, many the first in their families to reach this milestone.
But from the time the initial charter enrolled a student they have been viciously assailed. Much of the animosity has come from regular school supporters who have an inherent dislike for an educational marketplace. A significant part of the opposition is fueled by labor union backers who see charters as a threat to their power since these schools usually do not have unionized employees. You can add Ms. Cohen to this second cohort. All you have to do is review her Twitter feed to see her strong unwavering support of organized labor.
In the face of criticism that could at any moment mean the political end to charter schools, nonprofits were created here to defend their work. All of this effort, and the money expended, is depressingly unnecessary since all charters have been trying to do for over 20 years is to provide a quality seat for kids, the great majority of whom live in poverty.
The second part of Ms. Cohen’s editorial that I want to address has to do with her objection to the PCSB, and specifically its executive director Scott Pearson, acting as a charter school proponent. Actually, as is the best practice with a regulatory agency, the board has two roles. It provides oversight and is an advocate. As an analogy you could look at the Federal Aviation Administration. The first two goals of this agency include “regulating civil aviation to promote safety” and “encouraging and developing civil aeronautics.” It is vitally important that the charter board play both parts because if it simply did supervision the tendency would be to make rules that impede charter school operations. Some, including me, have argued that the board has already reached this point while simultaneously advancing the interests of charters with political leaders and the public.
My hope is that the next time Ms. Cohen offers something about charter schools, it appears in the commentary section of her newspaper.