Opinion: Nation’s capital proves power of charter schools

Expect to see more federal efforts toward charter schools if GOP mega donor and choice advocate Betsy DeVos is approved as U.S. education secretary. (AJC file)

Dr. Ramona Edelin is executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools.

In this piece, Edelin marks the 25th anniversary of charter schools, which are likely to get a boost if Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, is approved by Congress. DeVos is a strong supporter of both charters and vouchers.

By Ramona Edelin

As we mark the close of one administration and transition to another, this is an opportune moment to mark how far we have come in reforming public education, as well as the longer journey that lies ahead.

Chartered public schools have become increasingly familiar — although by no means universally so — to urban citizens who enroll their children in charters or would like to. Most people, however, are not aware of this education reform’s recent anniversary.

It has been 25 years since the first charter school law was signed by Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson. Publicly funded, charters are free to operate independently of traditional public school districts by designing their own school curriculum and culture, while being charged with raising educational standards by their authorizers.

Like traditional public schools, charters are tuition-free and non-sectarian. Also, like most of their traditional counterparts, no charter school may administer entrance exams or auditions, and must serve students on a first-come, first-served basis.

Unlike schools in the traditional system, charters are able to attract and incentivize talented staff to work at their schools; to provide innovative educational programs that take students far beyond being taught to pass standardized tests; and can be closed if their regulators find they are under serving their students.

As schools of choice, parents must elect to send their children to a charter. What has made charters unique is they took the concept of choice, once available only to those with the means to afford private education or live in affluent communities, and made it available to economically disadvantaged students. This revolution, which created an attractive alternative to dysfunctional, decaying and dangerous school systems, accounts for much of charters’ popularity. There are now charter school laws on the books in 44 states.

As a resident of the nation’s capital, I have seen with my own eyes what a difference extending choices to all can achieve. Before the first public charter schools were opened 20 years ago, the public education system in Washington, D.C., was collapsing into crisis. One study found the longer students remained in the system, the worse they performed.

About half of the students dropped out before graduating. Besides abysmal academics, schools were unsafe. Many looked more like correctional facilities than places of learning. As years became decades, the problems persisted and tragically became the new normal.

The on-time graduation rate for District charters is now 72 percent. D.C. charters educate a higher share of economically disadvantaged and minority students than non-charters. In D.C.’s most underserved communities, two-and-a-half-times the number of students at charters are meeting D.C.’s career and college readiness standards, compared to their peers in traditional schools.

Forget caps on charter numbers and underfunding charter students. Let’s embrace more of these unique public schools: future generations of children and parents deserve no less.

 

Reader Comments 0

13 comments
cellophane
cellophane

All charter schools are not equal... the state commission approved charter schools (the ones approved over the heads of local school boards) are getting C's, D's and F's on CCRPI. They have zero transparency or accountability (one charter board's repeated violations of Open Meetings laws was called to the attention of the Charter Commission, and their advice to a citizen was to file a complaint with the Attorney General's office).  Their salaries aren't public on OpenGeorgia, their audits and financials aren't posted on the Carl Vinson site.  Last month the State Commission had to call a special meeting to look into the finances at Ivy Prep.  These schools were supposed to "do more with less" and yet the majority receive so much charter supplement funding that they are over the average per pupil spending for traditional schools and receive more under this model than they would if locally approved (can we please stop with the "charters don't get fair funding" whining already?).  And yet the ERC recommends a huge bump to the supplement?  For what?  Most of the state approved schools are not even meeting their enrollment projections.  So there is your biggest "choice" argument debunker--  parents were sold a pig in a poke, have seen it for what it is and are choosing to go back to their local public schools.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Several statements here do not match up with the facts of charter schools in Georgia.  She may be telling the truth about DC charters, but cannot generalize.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady 

I don't think that she ever claimed any insight into Georgia's situation.And your generalization is so vague that it could literally be true and false at the same time-i.e. unproved/unprovable.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @Wascatlady In the first six paragraphs, she speaks of "charter schools."  Only in the 7th does she turn her attention to DC charter schools.

Astropig
Astropig

Agree with Dr. Edelin here. Charter schools are public schools that fill a real need for the right situations.They empower parents and strengthen communities.They're not perfect and not appropriate for every child,but their growth and spreading accessibility is one of the most encouraging events of my lifetime.Parents that don't believe in the concept or agree with their goals are free to choose their status quo schools and I support their right to do so.I just wish that charter's detractors/saboteurs felt the same way.

BRV
BRV

Charter schools are private contractors, not public schools. Federal and state courts have repeatedly ruled that charters are not public entities. Charters identify themselves as public when money is being handed out or for marketing purposes. They immediately scream in court that they aren't public when it's time for disclosure or regulation.

To save you some time from your likely response: it doesn't matter whether the legislature refers to them as public in statute. It only matters whether they meet the legal standard of public, in this case it's the Harkins County test, and charter schools don't meet the standard. Words have actual meaning and I'm tired of people pretending that they don't. Charter schools aren't "public".

You don't support parents' right to choose public schools. You can't even refer to public schools without using pejoratives. Running parallel school systems, aka school choice, costs more per student than having one school system. Since the public is not inclined to spend more on education overall, the only way to fund charters and vouchers is to reduce spending per student on public school students, which is exactly what has happened in Georgia over the past decade.

I'd have a lot more repspect for school privatization advocates if you would just be honest and state that you prefer having a privatized school system and argue that perspective on its merits. Instead your side hides behind obviously false claims that you wish no harm on public schools. You have a preference. What can't you own it without obfuscation?

Astropig
Astropig

@BRV 

Why don't you just admit that status quo schools could never survive real choice? If status quo schools are so great,why would any one ever leave them? 


Why don't you admit that there is an organized campaign that is paid for by the national teachers unions to set the clock back to 1990when there were no charter schools? (Of which you are doubtlessly a paid part?)


Why don't you trust parents to do what they want to do with their kids education,instead of a bureaucrat that has never and will never see or meet them?

Whys is the educational establishment monopoly afraid of charter schools? (This is the most important question of all)


Why? Why?

BRV
BRV

Sorry chief. I'm a parent not a teacher. Otherwise, more ad hominem and pejoratives. So typical. You favor parental choice as long as parents make the choice that you prefer.

I have a pretty simple question which I doubt you'll answer. Why do you think we should gradually reduce funding for public schools, constantly recite a message that all public schools are failing and simultaneously promote charters and vouchers? That's been the charter / voucher side's strategy for 25 years.

School choice as currently practiced is a lot like chemotherapy. It's indiscriminate and there is collateral damage. My district (Forsyth) is spending about 15% less per student than when my oldest child started kindergarten 10 years ago. The net is, programs eliminated, larger classes and overcrowded schools.

The facts are what they are. As we've increased spending on charters and vouchers we've decreased spending on public school students. It's a zero-sum game. So make the case. Why should parents who choose public schools be punished? Don't hide behind unions. Make the case for why public funding should be shifted away from current public school students and toward students in charters and private schools.

Astropig
Astropig

@BRV


If you're on the fence about this, I'd urge you to read both my position (letting parents choose what schools that they think are best for their kids) and this guy's (letting people like him decide what's best for everybody's kids) and make your own decision.I support his right to keep his kids in the zip code schools that bureaucrats assign them to,if he chooses.I support your decision to put your kids in charter schools if you choose.



BRV
BRV

Fred Hess, an AEI Fellow and a proponent of charters and vouchers, has argued (unsuccessfully) amongst your side that the strategies for getting suburban parents to embrace charters and vouchers can't be the same as the ones used in urban areas. The thrust of Hess' argument is that your side needs to offer something that draws parents to charters and vouchers, more so than away from the public schools that they like for the most part.

He's also pointed out that constant name calling, especially calling suburban parents bigots (as was implied in the messaging for the recently defeated charter amendment) needs to end as well. I think Hess' points are valid though I think you still don't have a credible answer for how to have charters and vouchers without causing financial harm to public schools. There's also the small matter that a well funded portion of your side, including the presumed Secretary of Education want to dismantle the public school system regardless of what parents may want.

The irony is that you and so many on your side in this debate do exactly what you hate when done by liberals. You argue that parents who choose public schools are too dim or weak willed to know what's in their own interest, hence your dopey zip code and status quo schools expressions. It's the opposite side of the ridiculous claim that working-class voters who voted for Trump voted against their interests. When all you've got is name calling and lame-brained epithets, you might want to consider a different tactic.

Astropig
Astropig

@BRV


I haven't called you anything.I am advocating that parents choose the education options that best fit their needs.I would just have them note that you would deny that to them.Your hysterical name calling betrays your real intentions here.


Parents-Take a look. Consider what's best for your children.If its a status quo school-God bless you. Get the most out of it...


But if you want to make that decision to maybe do what is right for your individual student-I'm in your corner and I believe that our public policymakers are trending that way.I hope you'll support them. That doesn't make you or I a bigot. 

DrPohl
DrPohl

What are charter schools actually doing differently that would account for their greater success? Or is the only difference that charter school students have PARENTS who care enough to find out about and go through the procedures to enroll their children, plus figure out a way to transport them to and from school? That still leaves behind the unfortunate kids with dysfunctional parents, yet these kids need the best schools.

Astropig
Astropig

@DrPohl


"That still leaves behind the unfortunate kids with dysfunctional parents, yet these kids need the best schools."


Okay.So how would you remedy this? What level of government coercion would you accept to make dysfunctional parents behave like good parents?How far would you be willing to go to ensure that kids that drew a bad hand at the hospital have a fair shot at a good education? Would you...


1) Forcibly remove kids from homes where the parents used drugs or alcohol?


2) Punish parents criminally for not feeding , bathing or properly clothing their kids?


3) Drug test recipients of public assistance to ensure that they are not spending that assistance on substance abuse or for personal pleasures,while their kids do without basics?


4) Establish the doctrine that repeated absences by students is "probable cause" to initiate a full investigation with prosecutorial powers aimed at neglectful parents,with the power to separate families if warranted?


What I'm trying to ascertain here is what level of state sanctioned legal force would be acceptable to punish the bad parents that deny their kids a basic human right-a decent education- as opposed to lobbying the legislatures of the various states to cripple and eliminate charter schools for the parents that care and are engaged in helping their children succeed.Because the education unions and their apologists want to punish those good parents to protect the interests of the bad parents in order to exploit them politically.


Charter schools didn't just pop up as an "edufad".They have grown and prospered for a quarter century now because there is a real need and desire by parents for what they provide.I hope that the new administration encourages their growth and expansion by any means available to them.