Capital Campaign: Early Returns on District of Columbia Charter Schools

Sara Mead, Progressive Policy Institute
October 4, 2005

The latest in a fine series of PPI profiles of state-level charter school programs, this one has already kicked up a cloud of dust in the nation's capital. That's because author Sara Mead raises doubts about the District board of education's effectiveness as one of two school authorizers. (She mostly praises the other one, the Public Charter School Board, on which serves PPI president Will Marshall, though she notes that its paperwork and reporting requirements are excessively burdensome on the schools.) If the board of ed "is not committed to being a quality authorizer," she writes, "its authority to issue charters should be revoked." "I take great umbrage with this report," replied the board's vice president. Still, the district has two authorizers, which is 100 percent more than a lot of places, and it has a lot of charter schools enrolling a lot of kids. Unfortunately, not all is well with those schools. Mead emphasizes the charter sector's overall weak academic performance, noting that the district has some terrific charters but also some abysmal ones - including some that should, but haven't been, shut down. Facilities is the other big challenge on which she focuses. Despite some special funding for this purpose, most D.C. charters operate in shabby quarters, and they've been effectively denied access to the school system's many surplus buildings. Mead concludes with insightful reflections on the problems associated with the large scale of chartering in the District of Columbia: "[T]he increased number of charter schools makes it hard for authorizers to ensure school quality without replicating the bureaucracy that charters seeks to escape. More significantly, as charter schools gain critical mass...there is increasing pressure...to satisfy the predictions...of charter advocates about the benefits of full-scale charter reform and choice for individual students as well as for public education. It is no longer enough to simply have some good schools. Charter schools need to demonstrate that the sector as a whole is improving student achievement and how charters spur reform more broadly in a school district." Well worth your while. Find it online here.

 "Charter School Report Criticizes D.C. Board of Ed.," by V. Dion Haynes, Washington Post, October 4, 2005

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