This is the Choice Media Ed Reform Minute for: Friday, February 8th.
Are the regular public schools in DC on life support? And could they soon disappear?
These are questions actually being posed out loud, and not just by anyone, but by community and political leaders of DC’s status quo.
Why? Well, after the flight of more than 40 percent of students from traditional district schools to charter schools over the last decade, not to mention the voucher program, the DC School District was forced to announce yet another round of traditional public school closings.
Fifteen underutilized schools will close under the new plan, which could save $8.5 million, or about 1% of the District’s $800 million school budget. The board says it would use the savings to improve programming in the remaining schools within the system.
The goal would be to make the remaining traditional schools more attractive to parents who increasingly flock to charters or using private school vouchers. The Washington Post quotes David Catania, chairman of the city council’s education committee, saying the flock to charters may make traditional public schools, “a thing of the past.”
Consider: when the District closed 23 schools five years ago, students from the closed schools were more than twice as likely to enroll in a charter school than other students. The fifteen schools closing this time serve more than 2,600 students, and many are also expected to seek slots in charters.
The situation has become so alarming to defenders of traditional public schools that they're planning to file a lawsuit to block the closings.
Brian Jones, Chairman of the DC Public Charter School Board, says he sympathizes with the struggles facing district leaders.
We tend not to think of DCPS necessarily as our adversary. In many ways we are we’re partnership, we’re partners in the education reform movement here in DC. But the charter school sector here has seen enormous steady growth year over year ah, for at least the last six or seven years. I’ve been on the board now for almost six years and I’ve seen a steady growth in enrollment in our sector.
And part of that is, is that, again, the Charter Public School Board has been absolutely committed to holding charter schools accountable for performance. We have implemented a performance management framework so that we can provide parents with much more data in a much more transparent way about the performance of charter schools. And I think parents like that kind of transparency; they want to have that information.
With that kind of parent energy and that kind of focus on accountability, we’ve continued to see our academic performance improve in charter schools. I think a lot of parents look at that, and they compare that with the relatively slower growth in that kind of performance in DCPS, and they have in many cases fled to charter schools.
Leaders of the legal challenge to the closings complain that they strip resources from minority students, but Jones notes DC charter schools actually serve a greater percentage of minority students than district schools.
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