Why don’t we treat school reform as a public health crisis?

Say what you will about the press conferences of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, it is evident that there are heroic efforts by many people to provide supplies, testing, and medications in order to save American lives around this pandemic. In addition, observing the response of healthcare workers at all levels to caring for patients is enough to bring tears to your eyes. These individuals who risk their own health on a daily basis will never make the history books or win a Presidential Medal of Freedom, but they should. These are professionals in the true sense of the word. There is a job to do and so they are doing it.

Even in these extremely difficult times the world goes on and so here in the nation’s capital last Friday parents received their children’s public school lottery results. I enjoyed reading Perry Stein’s Washington Post article following examples of lottery decisions for families in each of the city’s eight wards. What I did not like were the results. Only 38 percent of those entering the lottery received their first choice. Many participants do not even try to gain admittance to the top charter schools in the city because they already know that the wait list is in the thousands of students with no or very few empty spaces available. I’m sure any day the data for those whose names have been placed on this list will be released, and it is certain that is has grown from the depressingly large 12,000 we saw for this school year.

What I’m trying to understand is why we do not put the effort into solving the problem of a lack of quality seats as we do when we have a severe healthcare problem? Where is the teamwork and drive that is exhibited when the future of our society is at stake? I know perfectly well that we are not talking about life and death when it comes to the school a child attends. But in a serious manner the stakes are just as high.

This is the perfect opportunity to figure out how to increase the capacity of our strongest academic performing schools. There are many smart men and women out there with a lot of time on their hands. Zoom has proved to be an especially effective technology for communicating when we cannot be in the same room. Here’s the challenge: By the end of April a list is generated of ten concrete steps that can be taken to make sure that our town is providing the best education to each child that needs one. Who wants to take the lead?

We have solved serious problems regarding public education before and we can certainly do it now. We should use our response to the coronavirus as a motivating force.

When it became apparent that distance learning was the method for teaching in the near future, over a million dollars was raised in a matter of days to make sure pupils could access the internet. After it was discovered that Monument Academy PCS was falling apart, Washington D.C. nonprofits came to the rescue with promises of grants and managerial support. In the face of students being forced to find other places to learn when the D.C. charter board was about to close facilities, institutions such as Friendship PCS and KIPP DC PCS incorporated these sites into their networks.

Now you should not leave the house. Now what are you going to do?

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