Councilmember White wants to rid D.C. of Mayoral control of schools

Last week I wrote about comments by D.C. At-Large Councilmember Robert White that were critical of student academic progress in D.,C.’s public schools over the last fourteen years. He pointed out:

“In Math
– Only 21% of Black students meet or exceed expectations, compared to 79% of White students.
– 16% of at-risk students, 23% of English learners, and 7% of students with disabilities met or exceeded expectations.

In English Language Arts
– Only 28% of Black students meet or exceed expectations, compared to 85% of White students.
– 21% of at-risk students, 20% of English learners, and 8% of students with disabilities meet or exceeded expectations.”

Mr. White also is concerned about teacher turnover. The Councilmember asserted that “The District has the highest teacher turnover rate in the country. A quarter of our teachers leave our school system every year. Over half of our DCPS teachers leave within three years, and 70% leave within five years.”

What concerns me is that his solution to these serious problems is not to improve the level of pedagogy taking place in the classroom or by supporting the unique needs of at-risk children. He is not seeking to interview teachers to determine why they are leaving town. No, Mr. White wants to create a committee to “review school governance of DC schools.” He is seeking to discover “what structural changes we need to make to give every student and family a chance for success.” In other words, Mr. White wants to take away Mayoral control of the traditional school system.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein backs up my assertion. She wrote on Monday:

“Two separate bills would make the state superintendent of education, who administers standardized tests and ensures all day cares and private and public schools are in compliance with federal laws, more independent of the mayor.

Another resolution — which ran into potentially fatal opposition Monday — would create a special committee on the D.C. Council to explore the effectiveness of the city’s education governance structure.”

The suggestion by Councilmember White to create the special committee was blocked on Monday, according to Ms. Stein, by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who stated that Mr. White had no authority to make this move. The suggestion forced education constituencies to take up sides. According to the Washington Post reporter:

“The prospect of this special committee to discuss the effectiveness of mayoral control already drew a rebuke from many charter school leaders, who wrote letters to the council opposing it. But the Washington Teachers’ Union and other education advocacy groups have supported it, viewing mayoral control as an obstacle to having residents’ and teachers’ voices affect public officials’ actions on education.”

Although I have advocated for a State Superintendent of Education independent of the Mayor, all of this recent talk by the Council of changes to the management structure of public schools is a tremendous distraction. It threatens to take away Washington, D.C.’s Hurricane Katrina moment in education. During this period when the Covid-19 pandemic has completely interrupted the instruction of our children, we should be utilizing this time to completely revise how our kids learn. We should follow the example of New Orleans and charterize all of our schools.

Moreover, just where is the new DC Charter School Alliance on this issue? I thought it was a charter school advocacy organization.

Let’s tune out the noise, focus our attention, and do something positively proactive to permanently close the academic achievement gap.

Let’s really do something to serve children of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities in D.C

Yesterday, WTOP’s Abigail Constantino reported that At-Large D.C. Councilmember Robert White called for a special council committee to study how the city’s public schools can better serve students in the District of Columbia. According to Ms. Constantino, Mr. White remarked:

“Now a decade-and-a-half later, the promises that were made in terms of performance and outcomes for our students just haven’t been met. Today, under 30% of Black students are on grade level … compared to roughly 85% of white students.”

In her article Ms. Constantino stated that “after 14 years of mayoral control, At-Large D.C. Council member Robert White said the city’s public schools aren’t working for students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities.”

Mr. White continued:

“I want the council to take this into our own hands, with the urgency and importance that this issue deserves and actually do something, instead of requesting a study or recommendations from outside the council that will just go on a shelf.”

Urgency on providing quality schools for our scholars is something I have been calling for now for over a decade. No one seems to be listening. I do have one problem with the representative’s recommendation. A six month study is not what we need.

We know the answer. The solution is found in the 68 campuses of the city’s network of charter schools. In these facilities kids from all backgrounds receive what is essentially a private school education for free. While the pandemic has prevented us from visiting these schools right now, once they reopen we will once again travel into spaces where teaching looks extremely different from the offerings of DCPS.

Mr. White added:

“We’ll listen to parents; we’ll listen to students; we will look at governance structures in other jurisdictions.”

There are no other jurisdictions we need to look at except what is taking place in our own backyard. All Mr. White needs to do is take a tour of Washington Latin PCS, for example, which is located near his home in Ward 4.

Let’s not waste another minute. While students are learning remotely the adults in charge of DCPS need to take action. Let’s rid ourselves of the current system and institute charters for all.

Mr. White seems to agree with me. He advised, “At this time, when we are talking about racial justice and talking about equity, we have to take the hard steps forward of doing something about it.”

Yes, it will be hard. It will be a fight. The teachers’ unions will put up the struggle of a lifetime. But this is not the moment to tinker around the edges, to make incremental changes, to hope that somehow everything will turn out all right for our kids.

Hope is not a strategy. Only action matters. A decade from now we do not want our children talking about this moment in history and saying our generation did nothing to turn the situation around regarding our traditional public schools.

Please look yourself in the mirror this morning and decide that today is the day to fix our education in Washington, D.C.

D.C. charter board receives 5 applications to open new schools

The DC Public Charter School Board revealed yesterday that it has received five applications to open new schools at the start of the 2022-to-2023 school term.

The first applicant, Capital Experience Lab PCS, came before the board last year. I thought it should have been approved by the board. Here’s what I wrote then:

“The presentations by the new applicants were fascinating. Right out of the gate I’ll wager the entire pot on the Capital Experience Lab PCS being given the green light. Sometimes new bids for charters have an alignment in components that cannot be stopped and this is the case with this school. The support from CityBridge Education combined with Friendship PCS’s CEO Patricia Brantley as a board member and the selection of Lanette Dailey-Reese as head of school present a powerful foundation. I hope you remember Ms. Dailey-Reese as the highly impressive individual who almost single-handily saved City Arts and Prep PCS from closure. This mission of the CAPX LAB around utilizing the wealth of resources present in the nation’s capital as its classroom cannot be topped.”

Ms. Dailey-Reese reprises her role as executive director and Patricia Brantley remains a board member. It would be a sixth grade through ninth grade charter that hopes to locate in Ward 2 or Ward 6 with a total of 622 students at full capacity. As a reminder, this is the applicant that wants to integrate Washington, D.C.’s rich presence of cultural institutions into its pedagogy.

Wildflower PCS would become a pre-Kindergarten through fifth grade charter that would create eight “micro” Montessori schools in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 instructing a total of 300 students. Now before you reject this application right off the bat due to its complexity, you need to know that there are Wildflower schools today in 13 states, with several localities having more than one school. These are teacher-led institutions supported by the Wildflower Foundation. The first Wildflower school opened in 2014.

I’m sure that the board will heavily scrutinize the relationship between the Wildflower Foundation and the individual schools, especially after the mixed track record out-of-town franchises have had in the District.

An application that has to be taken seriously is the one from Heru Academy PCS. The founders want to create a kindergarten through eighth grade school in Ward 7 or 8 that focuses on teaching children with emotional and physical disabilities. However, there are some red flags here. The application states that the school wants to open and expand to the fifth grade but the growth model in the document goes to grade eight. The narrative states that the school eventually wants to expand through high school. In addition, the charter board often does not like schools that start at kindergarten. Why not teach kids at pre-Kindergarten? There is also a foundation that sits above the school. Explanations will have to be provided around the structure.

Another strong bid is from Lotus PCS, which wants to become a pre-Kindergarten through eight grade school with 342 students in Wards 5 or 6. The mission of this charter is to close the academic and opportunity achievement gap. Lotus PCS would be the first school in the nation’s capital to be affiliated with Big Picture Learning, a network of 65 schools in the United States, with other facilities around the world. Lotus PCS is centered on an inclusion model of teaching that revolves around the way students learn.

Again, look for the DC PCSB to want information on Big Picture Learning and its relationship to the school to be opened in our city.

The fifth applicant is the M.E.C.C.A. Business Learning Institute PCS, an applicant that was rejected in 2018. But now the number of students the charter wants to enroll is tremendously different. Three years ago, the total size of the school reached 990 students in grades six through twelve. Now, the total count for this business education-based and vocational charter is just 175. I remember that the group did not impress me years ago and we will have to see if there is a much improved presentation in 2021.

This will be the first application cycle for new DC PCSB executive director Michelle Walker-Davis. Under her predecessor Scott Pearson the board only approved around 20 percent of those seeking to open new charters. Let’s sincerely hope that her support for school choice is stronger.

Former N.Y.C. Mayor Bloomberg calls for schools to re-open; time for D.C. to listen

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had much to say on television a couple of days ago, according to the New York Post’s Lia Eustachewich, regarding the issue of whether schools should re-open in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. She wrote:

“Former Big Apple Mayor Mike Bloomberg urged President Biden to ‘stand up’ to unions and tell teachers to ‘suck it up’ and return to in-person learning, calling virtual learning ‘a disgrace.’

The former Democratic presidential candidate sounded off on teachers’ resistance to the push to reopen schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic, calling on the president to push the prioritization of children’s wellbeing.

‘It’s time for Joe Biden to stand up and to say, the kids are the most important things, important players here,’ Bloomberg said Wednesday on MSNBC. ‘And the teachers just are going to have to suck it up and stand up and provide an education.’

He added, ‘Teachers say, “Well, I don’t want to go back because it’s dangerous.” We have a lot of city and state and federal employees who run risks, that’s part of the job. You run risks to help America, to help your state, to help your city, to help your family and there’s just no reason not to have the schools open.’

Slamming virtual learning as ‘a joke — worse than a joke,’ the billionaire philanthropist said the remote instruction hurts ‘poor people’ the most.

‘Poor people don’t have iPads, they don’t have WiFi, they don’t have somebody at home to sit during the day and force the child to pay attention and without that, the virtual learning just does not exist,’ he said.”

Mr. Bloomberg urged Mr. Biden to fight back against the teachers’ unions.

Battle the teachers’ unions is exactly what the former Mayor did during his twelve years leading New York City. His brave work in making it possible to fire bad traditional school teachers, in creating charter schools, and strengthening the professional training of those in the education field are perfectly documented in Joel Klein’s excellent 2014 book entitled Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools.

The words above are the Michael Bloomberg I remember. The one that went to work each and every day trying to improve the lives of his citizens. He brought tremendous prosperity to the place my family loves in almost every area in which he could have influence.

His campaign for President was disappointing in that it appears he got tied up in following liberal talking points in order to try and win the Democratic nomination. He also had difficulty expressing his past accomplishments. But now apparently he is back telling it like it is.

In an editorial Mr. Bloomberg wrote at the end of January he observed:

“Early research suggests sharply reduced learning gains; widening racial disparities in achievement; and an eruption of anxiety, loneliness, depression and other mental-health afflictions among students isolated from their peers and stuck at home. Some districts have seen a rash of suicides. Education analysts warn that the long-term consequences — for disadvantaged kids, for racial equity, even for America’s global competitiveness — could be disastrous.

In short, getting kids back into classrooms should be a national priority. More local leaders are recognizing that, but in some cases, districts have tried to reopen, only to be stymied by unions. In Chicago — which has one of the country’s largest school systems, and where more than 75% of students are economically disadvantaged — the union has simply defied the city’s reopening plans. In Montclair, New Jersey, the local union is blocking even two-day-a-week instruction. In Fairfax County, Virginia, the union got teachers moved to the front of the line for vaccines — and then decided that in-class instruction shouldn’t resume until vaccinations were ready for students. No vaccines are currently authorized for those under age 16.”

As teachers receive the vaccine in the nation’s capital we have reached a point where both charters and regular schools need to figure out how to safely open to our children.

We cannot let disparities in public education opportunity continue in the nation’s capital

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein wrote in her newspaper yesterday that efforts to bring students back to in-person learning in the District are demonstrating an uneven response depending upon where families live:

“The partial reopening is a relief to families of all incomes, but the mismatch across the city has teachers and parents questioning whether the city should be pouring resources during the pandemic into an in-person learning program that White students are disproportionately enrolling in. . . In D.C., families in the poorest ward rejected offers for an elementary school spot a twice the rate of families in the wealthiest one.”

However, because pupils in the city are predominately Black or Hispanic, Mr. Stein points out that “most students returning are students of color.”

Here are some other interesting demographic statistics from the piece:

“Of the elementary students expected to return to classrooms, 60 percent are homeless, learning English as a second language, receiving special education services or designated as at-risk, which means they are in foster care or their families qualify for public assistance. At the middle and high school level, 70 percent of students fall into one of these categories.

White children, who make up 16 percent of the D.C. school system’s population, are a minority of the total number of students expected to return to classrooms — 28 percent of the 6,300 children at the prekindergarten and elementary level, according to city data — but a larger percentage of them chose in-person learning.

As a result, some campuses in the wealthiest neighborhoods have most of their students — hundreds of children — returning. And on the other side of the Anacostia River, some schools have just a couple dozen students listed.”

So far, the Post reporter states that 9,200 pupils have committed to returning to the traditional schools out of a total allotment of 15,000 spaces. There are approximately 50,927 students currently enrolled in DCPS, which is operated by the Mayor but is publicly funded.

The decision as to whether to send a child back to school is complicated depending on safety concerns, childcare arrangements, and other parental responsibilities such as a job. In addition, the traditional school system is not offering after-care.

Also, returning to in-person school is not a all-or-nothing proposition. The high school student I tutor through the Latino Student Fund can return to Woodrow Wilson High School beginning Monday, but that is only for two days a week. He must balance going back with helping the family take care of other siblings.

To make maters more confusing, as if all of this was not confusing enough, according to Ms. Stein, “every school has a different reopening plan.”

When this mess is over we really have to solve the inequities of education opportunity across this town. I’ve argued for decades that the most powerful solution for reaching this goal to to turn all schools into charters. If the regular schools can have different reopening plans then they can have different curriculum, different hours, different schedules, different personnel rules and responsibilities.

Since this is now 2021, and one of my New Year’s resolutions has been to increase my flexibility, I’ll allow that under the new plan some of the previously designated neighborhood schools will be able to remain open for enrollment to anyone who wants to attend them in the community. But as far as the hierarchical structure of these institutions, I draw a red bright line. They are all to be independently managed and reporting to a board of directors.

The pandemic has cost minorities tremendously regarding illness and death. This was all predictable based upon the tremendous achievement gap between affluent and poor in Washington D.C., which is an echo of the gap in the social determinants of health.

Our community has suffered enough. Time for a change. Do something. Don’t just sit there.

Let’s together change the model of schooling after this series of traumatic events. We can follow the precedent established by New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina. There public schools reopened as charters. We have the example. Now let’s implement.

D.C. traditional schools may open on Monday; charters wait

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein reported yesterday that the Washington Teachers’ Union has thrown a roadblock in the plans of the traditional schools in the nation’s capital to open Monday to about 8,000 pupils. The attendance level represents approximately 15.7 percent of all students enrolled in DCPS, which is operated by the Mayor but is publicly funded.

Ms. Stein describes the move by the union this way:

“The union alleges the District has not met all safety guidelines outlined in the agreement signed last month, and it also says the city needs to share more school-specific data on the number of students returning to campuses. The union fears the city is calling for more teachers to return than necessary. Under the agreement, schools that do not adhere to the guidelines that cover safety and staffing issues are not allowed to reopen.”

Apparently, the matter now goes to arbitration. The Chancellor of DCPS, Lewis Ferebee, is not buying the union’s argument. According to the Post, Mr. Ferebee responded:

“We have spent many months and millions of dollars to prepare. . . We know our students are ready, we know our buildings are ready, and we know our staff is ready and efforts to reopen schools on Monday will continue as planned.”

With DCPS planning on returning such a small percentage of children to in-classroom learning, I’m not sure this really meets the definition of opening, which Mayor Muriel Bowser has stated emphatically the regular schools must do.

Meanwhile, the city’s charter schools that educate about 43,485 students, or 46 percent of all those that attend public schools, are waiting the pandemic out. Ms. Stein informed us the other day that many are planning on re-opening in late February or March as more staff become vaccinated against Covid-19 and the number of people who have the virus begins to decrease. The Washington Post staff member added that 2,505 scholars received some in-classroom education in January, which, if we apply the same standard that DCPS is using, may mean that the sector has re-opened.

Commented Raymond Weeden, the Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS executive director, to Ms. Stein about the plans of his school, “I don’t think we have the staffing, and I don’t think we have the family appetite to pull it off.”

I have purposely stayed out the re-opening debate. My experience working in a hospital has taught me over the past ten months that concerns around safety mean we have to take this virus extremely seriously. I’ve seen how easily it can spread, and there is a growing concern by many that as this crisis has gone on people are lowering their guard due to fatigue with the protective measures that we have all been taught to practice.

I’m proud that D.C.’s charters are taking their time to protect their students and staff, and I’m confident that during this period these 66 schools on 128 campuses are providing exceptionally high quality virtual instruction.

D.C. charter schools turn to city for help in re-opening

I have such mixed feelings about District of Columbia schools re-opening in the midst of this pandemic. Working in healthcare, I see the highly contagious nature of Covid-19. In addition, my wife and I have a grandson going through the distance learning experience with Montgomery County public schools. It has been difficult for us because we have had to severely limit our social interactions with our family, and it has been challenging for our daughter and her husband with two young kids at home.

However, the situation has not been nearly as devastating as it has been for so many people across the United States and world. In this environment, I do not think there is any one answer for re-opening our schools. While this is an important goal, especially for those students living in poverty or who have special needs, we cannot put the health and safety of our community at risk. I write this with the knowledge that some charters have brought a limited number of its scholars back to school for in-person learning.

Towards the aim of bringing all children back to the classroom, the DC Charter School Alliance issued a press release yesterday, signed by 70 charter leaders, calling on the city to provide resources for placing medical professionals in schools, guidance around public health procedures, and mechanisms for performing coronavirus testing of pupils and adults. I am not sure about the rationale for such a document. In the past, when charter schools needed to accomplish a common goal, they would take the initiative and figure it out themselves. It is a clear indicator about how murky the current situation is that the Alliance is not able to work with these schools to devise and implement uniform recommended operating procedures.

The editors of the Washington Post have called for a concerted effort to re-open schools. They write:

“There needs to be more urgency in getting students back in the classroom. If grocery stores and hair salons and gyms and restaurants can adapt, why is there not similar impetus to get children back to school in a way that is safe for them and their teachers?”

Grocery stores have adopted by offering more delivery and the ability to pick up orders curbside. Hair salons, gyms, and restaurants have severely reduced the number of people who can be utilize these services at one time while implementing personal protective equipment protocols. Statements like the one by the Post editors offering simple recipes to what ails us now do not help.

I tutor a middle school student on-line through the Latino Student Fund. She attends the National Cathedral School. Last Monday, NCS started bringing its students back for alternating weeks learning in person and remotely. Perhaps we can gain insight from their example as to how to do this with the best interest of everyone in mind.

5 year D.C. charter school movement secret revealed

Former DC Public Charter School Board executive director Scott Pearson penned an article in the online journal Education Next entitled “5 Things We Learned in D.C. About How to Advance Charter Schools.” In the piece Mr. Pearson answers a question that has haunted the movement since 2015. That spring he wrote a commentary co-authored with Skip McCoy, the DC PCSB chair at the time, that made the argument that the balance between the number of children attending charters compared to DCPS “is about right.”

The editorial sent a shockwave through the local charter school movement. Leaders could not understand why such an argument would be made, especially at this moment in history, by the two people who were supposed to be the city’s strongest charter school advocates. As charters were growing at a record pace school choice supporters were looking forward to the day when the majority of students in the nation’s capital would be enrolled in these alternative schools. The thought was that the shift in the demographics between the two sectors would bring more resources to charters in the areas of funding and facilities, as well as provide a quality education to thousands of pupils who had been left behind for decades by the regular schools.

Now, a couple of months after stepping down from his position at the charter board, Mr. Pearson offers his rationale for the action he took and I warn you that it is not pretty. Under a section labeled “Remove the Existential Angst” he writes:

“In 2012 D.C. charters served 41% of pupils, up from 25% ten years earlier. With share growth of two to three percentage points each year it was simple to forecast that a generation hence DCPS would be reduced to a tiny remnant—or eliminated entirely. For some national charter school theorists, this was the goal, an extreme position in an active national debate about the ‘end state’ of charter schools.

In D.C., though, this possibility raised the political temperature tremendously.

It turned out most people in D.C. supported both charters and DCPS. Many families had children in both sectors. Many city elders were proud DCPS alumni. And, significantly, DCPS, under Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson’s leadership, was turning around, embracing core ed reform principles. Few Washingtonians wanted to see DCPS cast into the dustbin of history. As long as this was the looming future, any decision we made about approving new schools or new school growth was seen through this apocalyptic lens.

So I, along with my board chair, penned an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that ‘the balance we have, with a thriving public charter sector and strong traditional schools, is about right.’ We didn’t impose caps to maintain this balance. But by closing low-performing schools, only letting high-performing schools grow, and approving only the strongest new applicants, we kept our market share below 50%.

Did this win over everyone? No. But it ensured that the mayor remained a strong charter supporter. It kept any discussion of limiting charter growth off the city council agenda. And it kept the average D.C. resident broadly comfortable with an education reform movement supportive of both sectors.”

In other words, Mr. Pearson’s and Mr. McCoy’s motive behind their polemic was purely political. They reasoned that by closing lower performing schools, severely restricting the ability of existing charters to replicate and expand, and blocking the approval of new charter school applicants, they could drive the proportion of students attending charters to remain under fifty percent of the total number of public school students enrolled, thereby making the movement more palatable to elected officials and other citizens.

I have spent thousands of words arguing that the DC PCSB has made it too difficult to open new schools and allow existing schools to add additional students. Now I understand completely why nothing was done to reverse the situation. But the explanation makes me severely depressed. The outcome of the strategy set by Mr. Pearson was that students were blocked from attending charters who could have greatly benefited from access to these schools.

In addition, the plan did not work. In the “Crossing the Chasm Isn’t Enough” final section of the Education Next blog post Mr. Pearson admits that the District’s charters are facing resistance like never before:

“But the rise of white progressive politics in the city, in combination with a somewhat re-energized union movement, has left our schools fighting attacks on multiple fronts–and often losing. We lost last year when the City Council regulated suspensions and expulsions. And we lost this year when the City Council mandated open charter-school governing-board meetings. We know there is more waiting in the wings – limits to growth, teacher representatives on charter boards, efforts to control our spending and our curricula.”


The sad conclusion is that Mr. Pearson’s effort to placate the public has backfired. The only true outcome of purposely stalling charter expansion has been reduce the number of kids attending charters in the nation’s capital.

How did D.C. do after first week of school? Cannot tell based on Washington Post report

Last Sunday, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein wrote an article purported to illustrate what parents, students, and teachers experienced during the first week of the new school year in the District of Columbia. She began:

“One week into the academic year, the District’s school system is still struggling to meet its projected enrollment numbers and to deliver technology to some of its hardest-to-reach students. But teachers and parents also say that each day, remote learning in the nation’s capital is improving. Technology troubles are becoming less frequent, more students are showing up to virtual classes, and everyone is becoming more adept at using unfamiliar computer platforms.”

The only problem with her claims is that the lengthy report did not mention one charter school by name. In fact, readers would have no idea that there was another public school sector that teaches 46 percent of all pupils in the city. On this particular day, she left out the accounts of 43,485 students. It is as if the newspaper went back in time to 1995, the year before the first charter opened here. In paragraph seven she even wrote, “D.C. Public Schools educate about 52,000 students.” The total of all those attending public schools is actually approaching one hundred thousand.

In a way, the story did remind me of twenty-five years ago when the traditional schools were crumbling physically and characterized by the frequent absence of professional instruction. Ms. Perry stated that the regular schools were not quite ready for school to start:

“The city’s biggest technological setback has come at the early-childhood level. The school system had wrongly predicted it would be able to get the youngest learners into school buildings a few days a week and did not plan to have virtual learning for them. When officials learned that school would be all virtual in late July, they ordered iPads for thousands of students, which have not yet arrived. They plan to distribute them in mid-September, with many prekindergarten students starting the school year with paper packets.

‘We placed the order later than we did the other technology,’ Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn told residents at the town hall. ‘That is a problem of procurement.'” 

Really? I’m sorry, this was not a “problem of procurement.” It was a failure of planning. Since last spring, chances were never good that kids would be able to return to classrooms like before the pandemic hit. Allow me to remind you that it was before the advent of charters that children in DCPS often started the school year off without textbooks. This was one of the first things that Michelle Rhee corrected when she rode into our city.

There was one area of her article in which charter schools were referenced, but it was in an oblique way. The only teacher interviewed was Liz Koenig, who is identified as a “prekindergarten teacher at LaSalle-Backus Education Campus in Northeast Washington.” Ms. Koenig is known for teaming up with anti-charter school freelance writer Rachel Cohen in attacking the movement, specifically detailing her dismissal from Bridges PCS. This was the best source that Ms. Perry could find?

I will guarantee you that the first week was much different regarding charters. Technology issues aside, I am sure that each was ready to go on day one. But how would we know for sure? The education reporter for the Washington Post is pretending that we are living in a community in which school reform never happened.

Congress needs to immediately expand D.C. private school voucher program

As was written about yesterday, the Covid-19 pandemic is greatly exacerbating the gap in educational opportunities for the affluent compared to the poor. The new school year is rapidly coming towards us and with almost all public schools reverting to distance learning, families with the financial means to do so are figuring out alternative delivery methods for instructing their children. Some are creating pods of small groups of kids and then hiring a teacher to instruct them at participants’ homes. Others are having parents impart lessons to neighborhood boys and girls as an adjunct to the remote classrooms offered from their regular school. A taste of what is going on out there comes from the New York Times’ Melinda Wenner Moyer.

“Instead of hiring teachers, some families are hoping to share the teaching among the parents. Meredith Phillips, a mother of an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old who lives in Croton, N.Y., is hoping to create a pod with three other families this fall that will rotate houses. One of the dads, who owns a tech company, might teach coding, while Phillips, who is an editor, will teach reading and writing. The parents will ideally teach ‘whatever they’re good at, or know about or care about,’ Phillips said, and in doing so expose the kids to lots of different subjects.

Some families are pulling their kids out of school for these learning pods, while others are using pods as a supplement to their schools’ online curricula. ‘Ideally, from our perspective, it would be complementary, rather than a replacement,’ said Adam Davis, a pediatrician in San Francisco who is hoping to create a learning pod with a teacher or college-aged helper for his second grader and kindergartener in the fall.”

Other parents are enrolling their children in private schools that are able to open because of the small class sizes that they routinely provide.

The world of pods and private schools are simply unavailable for those who live in poverty, with one important exception. Since 2004, the District of Columbia has been home to the only national private school voucher program approved by Congress. Currently, about 1,700 low income pupils participate. Many more families would take advantage of the Opportunity Scholarship Program if funding beyond the current $17.5 million per year was allocated.

A tremendous focus of public education over the past several years has been equity for those at the lower end of the economic spectrum. The Black Lives Matter movement has placed a powder keg under this goal.

Everyone knows that distance learning is far from ideal. Families struggle mightily to have their children participate while they have to work. Basic human fairness means that alternatives to learning in front of a computer should be available to all no matter the income of the parents or the zip code in which they live.

Let’s call on Congress to immediately expand the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.