Public school conundrum
Overseers of public charters tighten the screws on accountability. Are overseers of traditional public schools doing the same?
The Detroit News recently reported the states with the largest percentages of charter school closures since 2000: Kansas (77 percent); Iowa (73 percent); Ohio (58 percent); Wisconsin (43 percent); Virginia (40 percent); Washington, D.C. (39 percent); Arizona (39 percent); Florida (38 percent); Missouri (34 percent); and New Jersey (34 percent).
The findings were according to the Center for Media and Democracy, which is backed by George Soros.
Ideology aside, why are those states and percentages important? Because schools aren’t mere structures built and rebuilt when Democrats, socialists, Republicans and conservatives say eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Schools are homes for children who spend the overwhelming majority of their time in a schoolhouse or in government-structured educational settings, where they live, so to speak, while their parents work elsewhere.
Schools are for teaching and learning though political forces, including unions, advocate that politics and process are most important.
Enter D.C. schools, which are undergoing measurable changes. Chief among those changes is political leadership, including a new deputy mayor and new chancellor and their priorities, which undergird Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Now, Miss Bowser is no slouch when it comes to education. One of her major go-to’s is to remind voters and other stakeholders that she boosts education spending.
Not directly under her purview, though, are public charter schools, which have bailed out countless families who cannot afford to live near the city’s top-tier schools or sometimes even the second best.
Many of these parents send their children to second- and third-tier schools because they have few or options: Their traditional public school was closed because of low enrollment, or their neighborhood charter was closed because of financial shenanigans. Indeed, a traditional high school, Woodrow Wilson in Northwest, was closed temporarily as it underwent a huge modernization.
Wilson faculty and students also have another benefactor: Its feeder schools don’t stink, which means the faculty doesn’t have to re-educate its students and spend tax dollars on “holistic” programs, such as before- and after-school programs for poor kids.
Some traditional and charter schools have no choice, as feeding, counseling, health and day care are as ingrained as textbook lessons, sans academics.
One example is National Collegiate Preparatory Public Charter High School, which is pocketed in Ward 8, one of the city’s poorest areas. Its feeder middle schools include Hart, Kramer and Johnson all of which failed to make the top tiers.
On report cards released last week by the mayor, out of five possible stars, Hart Middle received two stars, with 80 percent of its students labeled at risk, 23 percent with disabilities and 12 percent homeless.
Kramer Middle received one star, with 88 percent of its students labeled at risk and 23 percent with disabilities.
Johnson Middle received two stars, with its student body comprised of 84 percent at-risk kids, 18 percent disabled and 11 percent homeless.
In other words, the majority of students at those three schools head to National Collegiate in need of something other than a solid secondary education.
Yet the schoolhouse doors to National Collegiate might be shut next school year if the D.C. Public Charter School Board decides to do so on Monday.
Jennifer Ross, executive director of National Collegiate, says the “flux in the homeless population” means “students are highly mobile.” That’s certainly factual, as the mayor’s wrestling match with homelessness meant children were in and out of shelters, and some families were moved into motels and shelters outside of D.C. boundaries.
National Collegiate also offers an international baccalaureate curriculum, something that not only demands academic rigor but provides poor children a sixth sense to envision and experience a world outside of D.C.
“Our students know there’s no excuse, and we want the charter school board to keep an open mind,” Ms. Ross said.
The District doesn’t really consider school/student performance when shuttering traditional public schools. With Spingarn High, for example, it was a land grab to build the streetcar-to-nowhere line. With Eastern High, it was to ensure the school was unavailable as a citywide option. If National Collegiate closes, the poor and poorly educated will again draw the shortest straw.
Accountability is critical. The D.C. charter board could consider tying National Collegiate to a shorter, tighter leash, without tarnishing its charter-closure star.
After all, parents and students might consider Ballou High as their only option, which would be a shame since that’s the city’s No. 1 school for grade fixing.
Deborah Simmons can be contacted at email@example.com.