“Let me be clear: I believe in choice, I don’t think parents should be stuck” in low-performing schools. - Marion Barry, quoted in yesterday's Washington Post.
It has been widely reported that only 25 percent of all public school children living in the nation's capital attend their neighborhood school. Then why do we have all of this citizen controversy and media attention regarding Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith's efforts to redraw student school feeder patterns? An explanation is contained in a remark by Ms. Smith included in yesterday's article on the subject by the Washington Post's Emma Brown:
"The city needs to revisit its student-assignment policies and boundaries, she says, because decades of demographic change and charter-school growth have left some schools overcrowded and others half-empty, some schools thriving and others struggling."
But isn't this phenomenon, good schools attracting more students while lower performing ones experience declines in their student body, what school choice is all about? D.C. is one of the nation's leaders in possessing a true education marketplace. We have a private school voucher program involving approximately 2,000 kids. Charters now educate 44 percent of all public school students, growing to a population of over 36,000. Many parents of DCPS exercise their ability to pick out-of-boundary facilities for their offspring. With so many options available it appears that the traditional notion of assigning students based upon their neighborhood school is outdated. The paradigm has truly shifted.
What's so important about this change is that it is right. As Councilman Barry stated students need not be trapped in poor quality schools. This man who worked for civil rights correctly understands that the fight is not over. A good education in 2014 cannot, and should not, depend on income, race, or zip code.
Instead of all of this energy spent on designing maps and diagrams like in the command and control days of communist countries we should accept the dynamic nature of our educational landscape by expanding the number of high quality seats and closing those schools that are not working. Those involved in school reform need to see the past for exactly what it is. The past.