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I was baffled by your decision to trash the District’s public charter schools in an article lamenting the absence of good public schools for D.C.’s middle class (“Class Dismissed,” 1/10).
As your reporter points out, so far the charter schools, which now enroll 15 percent of D.C.’s public-school students, mostly serve “the poorest of the poor and the kids with the most intractable problems.” These schools serve such students because those who start them want to help the children who have been most neglected by the school system. These students typically come to the charter schools several years behind grade level in both reading and math.
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Although these are the most difficult children to work with, many of the public charter schools have helped their students make impressive gains. For example, the national percentile ranking of the students at Friendship-Edison’s Chamberlain Public Charter School went from 27th in fall 1998 to 67th in spring 2002. And the KIPP/D.C. KEY Academy raised its students’ reading scores 12 points and math scores 23 points in its first year of operation.
Naturally, not all of the public charter schools have been this successful. But unlike traditional public schools, charter schools that fail to perform are not permitted to miseducate generation after generation of students. Those that do not perform academically or mismanage public funds are closed down. This is real accountability and should be applied to all public schools, not just public charter schools.
Mothers on the Hill and other groups wanting better schools for their children should start their own public charter schools. Three years ago, breakaway parents from the Phoebe Hearst Elementary School started the Capitol City Public Charter School, which has been wildly successful. Having savvy parents start these schools is the fastest and most economical way to provide decent public schools for all D.C. children.
Friends of Choice in Urban Schools