Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Janey Calls For Moratorium on New Charters 

August 15, 2006

Letter to the Editor
The Washington Post

Dear Sir,

Today, I feel the melancholy Don McLean must have felt when he wrote about the day the music died. Those of us who have dedicated years to the charter school movement cannot be encouraged by Superintendent Janey's call for a moratorium on new schools. It feels like the rug has been pulled out from under those who have worked so hard to improve public education in the nation's capital.

The idea behind charter schools has never been to harm public education. It is just the opposite. The concept is that charters, free to innovate in ways regular schools cannot, will help kids who have not been doing well academically at the same time that competition for students will encourage all schools in the public system to improve.

The need for alternatives to traditional schools in the District has been critical. Public schools have been characterized by violence and the presence of drugs and weapons. Social promotion meant that kids were being passed from grade to grade without learning fundamentals. Standardized test scores are amongst the worst in this country.

My own experience echoed these facts. I was a volunteer tutor at a D.C. charter high school. There I found children who had reached the 9th and 10th grade who could not read, write or perform basic math. You may read the words on this page and think the situation is bad, but you see it in person you want to have someone arrested.

You don't have to take my word for it. Parents have voted with their feet on where they want their kids educated. In the District of Columbia we now have 50 charter schools on 62 campuses enrolling 18,000 students which represent 24% of all children attending public school. The number continues to grow every year as many schools have waiting lists for those wanting to get in. At our own school we 450 students have signed up for 400 slots. And we are only going into our 3rd year.

Unfortunately, the D.C. public schools have only started to react to having empty classrooms. In May 2005 the Superintendent released a new strategic plan in which his goal is for DCPS to become "the first choice of parents for primary and secondary education." Do you really think that this mission would have been drafted had it not been due to families rushing to charter schools?

Nationally, we have seen that public schools do not take charter competition seriously until about 25% of the student population leaves traditional schools. We are just at that level. To end the creation of new schools would leave the improvement of public education like a glorious symphony stopped suddenly in the middle of its inaugural performance.


Mark S. Lerner
Chairman, Board of Directors
William E. Doar Jr. Public Charter School
For the Performing Arts

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