Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Tipping Point 

I don't believe that Colbert King has written about education in D.C. for years. However, it was his comments on this topic that caused me to seek him out almost 6 years ago so that I could convince him to support implementing private school vouchers in the nation's capital. Today, in eloquent form, his column reviews the recent problems that new Superintendent Janey has faced and marks one issue as most significant:

The development that could have the most far-reaching effect on the D.C. school
system was reported in a story this week by Post staff writer Valerie Strauss:
Wilson Senior High School is considering abandoning the traditional school
system and becoming a public charter school. Now, that item should get the
attention of all champions of the city's public schools, especially those who
become apoplectic at the mere mention of changes in school governance. The
elected-vs.-appointed school board issue pales against the threat of the system
losing its flagship school. Wilson is the best all-purpose public high school
the District has. Lose Wilson to the charter school movement and watch the
conversion of additional schools, along with the departure of concerned parents
and achieving students.

While I was working with the Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy the principal and I used to talk about the positive competitive pressures the charter school movement is exerting on traditional public schools. But, she used to reply, its not happening fast enough. We are not seeing great change is failing schools.

The news, however, that Wilson High School is considering converting to a charter has sent a tsunami through the public school bureaucracy. Combine this development with what I heard at a hearing a couple of weeks ago held by the D.C. Council's Education Committee. There public school officials pleated to let them have their institution's facility allotment from the city deposited directly with them, just as it is with charter schools. Please, they begged, don't let this money continue to go to the central office which continually fails to address our serious maintenance needs. I heard tales of wings of school buildings not being able to be utilized because of leaking roofs and missing floor tile.

Despite all the criticism of charter schools in D.C., they how enroll more than 20% of the school-age child population. And that figure is growing with each academic year. If Mr. Janey and the central office bureaucrats cannot figure out how to respond quickly and effectively to the needs of school administrators, children, families and teachers then the traditional public school system as we know it may finally disappear. Through our extremely hard work we will have driven a stake through its heart and we are going for the kill. Once and for all.

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