Efforts Must Focus on Student Achievement
By Ramona Edlin
Previously published in The Northwest Current
As the discussion about future cooperation between the D.C. Public Schools system and D.C.’s public charter schools becomes increasingly prominent, the terms and parameters of collaboration need to be set. Which conditions must first be met and what are the criteria for greater coordination? Should such efforts focus on the needs of the students or schools? One prerequisite is the establishment of equal per-pupil funding from the District.
The D.C. Association for Chartered Public Schools, with Eagle Public Charter School and Washington Latin Public Charter School as co-litigants, is asking the courts to enforce District law. D.C. law requires that every District public school student at the same grade level or with the same special education needs be funded with equal local taxpayer dollars.
At this point, the District government’s motion to dismiss the case has been denied by the judge. This matters because an important study undertaken by Mary Levy, a respected independent analyst of D.C. public schools — chartered and traditional — found that over eight years, public charter students have been illegally underfunded. Over the past eight years, D.C.’s public charter school students received between $1,600 and $2,600 less from the District government than their peers in the traditional public school system.
Charter schools educate 44 percent of all D.C. public school children. At one time, public charters were perceived as experimental and perhaps impermanent; today, however, this education reform is strong, mature and here to stay. Accordingly, chartered public school leaders must be part of the policy-making process.
Publicly funded and open to all District children without academic selection, charters are — like every public school — tuition-free. They have boosted high school graduation rates, with charters’ rate currently 11 percent higher than D.C. Public Schools’. Before charters were introduced, an estimated half of all students dropped out prior to high school graduation. Charters have also delivered stronger student performance, as measured by standardized tests, especially in our most underserved neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.
Obviously, public funding equity is the starting point for enhanced cooperation between charters and D.C. Public Schools. From that new beginning of simple justice, the District’s public charters have identified points of cooperation that could benefit every D.C. student, regardless of which type of public school they attend.
First among these is that since school attendance is mandatory, it is the responsibility of government to ensure that every child is offered a high-quality public education. Currently, not all families have access to such options in their neighborhoods. This social exclusion is especially acute at the secondary school level.
Getting serious about increasing student achievement requires sharing best practices, which would be greatly enhanced by applying the same levels of accountability and investment to both D.C. Public Schools and charters.
Wraparound social services that ensure a quality education can be effectively delivered to children impacted by family poverty — a good example of a pressing but neglected need that must be collectively addressed. Adult education is another such problem, since some 40 percent of public school parents are functionally illiterate. Yet another issue is the need to provide excellent alternative educational settings for chronically suspended and expelled students.
There are public schools in all D.C. neighborhoods, but they are not all of high quality. Many charter leaders are prepared to offer a preference to local students, as some political leaders favor, on a voluntary basis, but the demand for high-quality schools cannot rest on the backs of charter schools alone. Every neighborhood school must be a quality option. A compulsory charter school preference would prevent thousands of students who live in neighborhoods with underperforming schools from accessing quality options elsewhere.
A statement organized by the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools and signed by nearly twothirds of charter school leaders says student achievement must be the paramount goal of student cooperation. Let charters and the D.C. Public Schools system work together, placing student achievement first. Ramona Edelin is executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools.
Read a recently published Viewpoint piece in The Northwest Current.