We Love: DC’s Public Charter Schools

What would an all Public Charter School system look like?

What would an all Public Charter School system look like?

While I’ve heard the moaning about the DC Public School System since my first days in DC, I never really cared about it. I was a swinging single and my whole goal was to keep away from anything kid-related, though many would say I acted child-like.

But now that I’m soon to be a parent, I am thinking more about my child’s future education, and as a District resident, the schooling options. Looking around, I see a lot of promises broken and lives wasted in the DC Public School system, yet hope with Public Charter Schools.

So I propose a radical change: Let’s ditch the failing public schools for a fully Public Charter School System.

Here we have one of the highest-cost, lowest performing public education systems in the United States, and our city government is expending untold millions of dollars and political capital to fix. The problems are myriad, and all of them, from lack of parental involvement to aimless youth, to an entrenched & bloated bureaucracy, seemingly intractable.

Faced with this boondoggle, parents are desperate for options and have already created a parallel system to educate their children. Over 40% of parents send their children to Public Charter Schools, and I would argue that they are the 40% that care about their child’s education. In addition, Public Charter Schools are doing a better job of educating at less cost. And almost all require greater parental involvement, student motivation, and teacher engagement than public schools.

I know that when my child gets to be school age, they’ll be headed off to a cool bilingual charter elementary school – we now have several schools to choose from in Petworth, some more convenient than others.

So why not take all taxpayer & Gates Foundation money that’s currently going down the public school rathole, and put it towards an all-charter school system? We could save the the DC government a few billion a year and give a better education to the city’s children.

Or look at it another way: could a fully Public Charter School system really be worse than what we have now?

Married, mortgaged, and soon to be a father, Wayan Vota is in the fast lane to mid-life respectability – until the day his brood finds his intimate journal of global traveling and curses him with the ever-eternal reply “I’m gonna be just like you, Dad!”

9 thoughts on “We Love: DC’s Public Charter Schools

  1. Yes it could.
    – untested curriculum
    – lack of continuity from k-12.

    Threatening to scrap the public school system may look attractive. Considering that DC spends more per pupil than many other metropolitans.

    But maybe throwing away the institution and building a new one won’t get to the core of the problem.

    Consider the best k-12 educations
    – elite private schools
    – parochial schools
    – public schools in well to do suburban neighborhoods
    – highly regarded charter schools (KIPP, et cetera)
    – home schooled children

    The one common denominator in all of them are *involved parent(s)*. The curriculums, teachers, facilities, etc are very important – but the key element is undoubtedly the parents taking an active role in education.

    When you look @ some immigrant families who live in poor neighborhoods, often their children do well in spite of the situation. (Africans, Asians, Caribbeans for instance) This is even more incredible when the parents do not speak the language, but somehow their children do well.

    Too many parents, even rich ones, think that they can drop their kids off at school in the morning and get a smarter one in the afternoon. Like a child was car getting a oil change.

    “We topped Jamal off with some Asian geography today. Make sure to come by tomorrow, cause I think his algebra needs a little adjusting”

    Parents matter.

  2. I could not agree with you more – parents DO matter. And I think that’s what really rocks with Charter Schools – they require parental involvement. Right now if only to fight to get their kids into a charter school.

    So how can we concentrate our efforts on kids who parents care? For those that don’t – is there any hope?

  3. “Over 40% of parents send their children to Public Charter Schools, and I would argue that they are the 40% that care about their child’s education.”

    I find this statement offensive, and I am sure that many other parents in my child’s public, neighborhood school in DC would disagree with you.

    I care very deeply about my child’s education, and I also believe that public schools need to be supported by their communities. Ask around…for every great charter school, there are several others that are under-performing or have failed. When your child is old enough, I encourage you to check out your neighborhood school. You may be pleasantly surprised.

  4. Amalia,

    I am willing to be that your child’s public school has a core set of concerned parents that work very hard to make it worthy of your child’s time and experience. That is not the case across DC.

    For the public schools that have strong parental involvement – they are the 40% too. The rest? They’re dragging down your child as much as my soon to be one.

  5. Wayan,
    Do you have any evidence that “Public Charter Schools are doing a better job of educating at less cost?”

    Charter schools rarely serve more than a few hundred students at a time. When a charter school replaces a public school that served, say a thousand students, the surrounding public schools have to find room for the remaining students, whose parents might not be able to run around getting on waiting lists or provide transportation across town.

    There just isn’t enough Gates Foundation money to give a charter school education to every child in America, so charter schools lead to a two-tiered education system.

  6. With all respect, there already is a two-tiered education system in place in America, and I’m referring to public education. I’ve taught in 3 districts, all throughout Virginia, and have witnessed this discrepancy even within a single school district. This discrepancy can come from any number of things, ‘reputation’ of feeder neighborhoods, subset of poor teachers in the building, or poor leadership at the local or district level.

    IMHO, charter schools are an attempt to offset that discrepancy by giving parents and students an alternative choice. As was stated above, for every successful charter school, there are a number that failed. But, at least parents and students who see education for what it is, an opportunity for something better, a charter school option gives them a choice over a school that has consistly failed. And it takes a lot for a charter school to become an option, not just one bad year, several.

    And yes, parent involvement makes a huge difference. I’ve seen it, at both a Title IX school and one in a more affluent area of Fairfax County.

  7. I don’t think we have given Michelle Rhee any credit here either. Even though the “system is broken” there are people at the top who agree and want to fix it. This is one option, but it doesn’t describe all the other potential options available to us.

    There is also an economic question at work here. If we move to a 100% charter school system, what happens to the unintended costs? Being able to choose any school means DC would have to bus students from anywhere to any school on the list, at some expense. Using the integrated Metro system might help, but doesn’t guarantee reasonable travel time to the best schools.

    Finally, if you did go to 100% charter schools, what happens when the schools you “want” – the schools that are the best charter schools – are full and don’t want to take your child? How do we decide which student gets to go to which school? Do you pay more to get in the door at the better locations? And does that create a class war between the haves and have nots?

    The problem seems too complex to assume that “replacement” will fix everything.

  8. We already have a two-tier school system – schools where parents care (often Charter Schools) and schools where parents don’t care.

    An all Charter School system would be a way to focus our scare resources on children and families who are willing to put in the effort to have a strong educational system – one that has equal input from families and government.

    Now that might mean driving a child across town for school, or fighting for more available spots in high density areas or at really good schools, or parents paying to support extra programs. I see all these activities as positive signs of investing in our children.

    The only real question here is what to do with the parents and kids who don’t care?

  9. New Orleans is the first city in the country to say “F*!# it! We’re going 100% charter!” It’s only been a couple of years, but so far so good!

    The charter schools were much better equipped to handle the kids after Katrina. So that’s when the city school system became all charters.