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Charter school advocates miss the mark

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I congratulate David Alpert and Natalie Wexler for writing in the Washington Post last weekend that school reform in the nation's capital needs to move at a much faster clip and that one way to do that would be turn schools at the low end of the academic scale over to high performing charters. I recommended that all of our public schools be converted into charters when Michelle Rhee was named DCPS Chancellor in 2007. But then their column goes in a most unfortunate direction:

"Others point out that not all charters are high-performing, and that’s true. And critics claim the reason that some charters are successful is that they’re able to “skim the cream,” either because the parents who apply to charters care more about education than those who don’t or because the schools somehow manipulate their admissions processes.

We’re not taking a position on that claim here."

I find it astonishing that these two education bloggers and charter school supporters, one of whom admits to sitting on a charter school board of directors, fail to challenge the assertion that the system that now educates 44 percent of all public school children somehow controls who is enrolled in their schools. I thought we buried that argument years ago.

For those who may not know, charters admit students on a first come first serve basis. They are not allowed by law to ask any questions regarding the academic status or special needs of the students that sign up. If they are over-enrolled they must hold a random lottery to determine who gets in.

The article is an insult to those schools like KIPP and D.C. Prep, specifically mentioned in the piece, that open in the most disadvantaged areas to attract students who need the most help. I'm sure both of these institutions would rather teach in an environment in which they do not have to overcome the numerous detrimental effects of poverty. I've spent time at Friendship and Thurgood Marshall Academy that are taking kids that in the past might have ended up in jail or may no longer be alive, and are sending them to college, often with full scholarships.

I have visited so many charters, AppleTree most recently, in which leaders are spending day and night to close the academic achievement gap. They do this with student bodies that are nearly uniform in their qualification for free or reduced lunch. These individuals recognize, as do I, that providing a high quality seat to all is perhaps this nation's final civil rights issue.

If Mr. Alpert and Ms. Wexler are not sure of the struggles that charters are overcoming please come along on one of my trips. Perhaps then, along with me, your eyes will tear when witnessing the heroic work these schools are doing.

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