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Public Charter School Board pulled out of boundary discussions

Scott Pearson, the executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, explained to me yesterday that his organization ended its participation in the Mayor's effort to update public school boundaries over a proposal to set aside seats for at-risk children.

The plan, as detailed in an article by WAMU's Martin Austermuhle, would require schools with less than 25 percent at-risk kids to give admission preference to this group of students for up to 25 percent of a school's seats. Mr. Austermuhle quotes Mr. Pearson as commenting:

"This recommendation was formulated in the final weeks of an eight-month process, there were no consultations with affected schools or communities and there was no analysis of impact. So it really had nowhere near the level of thoughtfulness and consideration that the other recommendations in the report had."

The article also points out that currently 72 percent of the over 36,000 students enrolled in charters are classified as low income.

This was really a logical reaction by the PCSB's executive director, although I understand from Mr. Pearson that he was pressured not to make the move. Charters owe their success to the fundamentals of school choice. It is the competition for students that has raised the bar for the quality of teaching in these alternative schools. Anything that impacts admission based upon criteria other than the selection of a school by parents must be strenuously opposed.

We need to add resistance to a guaranteed admission for at-risk kids to a guaranteed admission for neighborhood students. But Mr. Pearson should have actually pulled out of these discussions long ago. There is one more guarantee that thankfully never made it into the final boundary scheme.

Mayor Gray floated the idea that some traditional elementary schools should develop a guaranteed feeder pattern relationship with charter middle schools. This was an effort to improve the regular school system's offerings for junior high. But again, as is the case with at-risk and neighborhood admission preferences, this relationship would have acted as a poison pill to the purity of a marketplace for education since parents would not be selecting a school based upon the best fit for their child. Students would end up in a charter based only on where the pupil went to elementary school.

It is past time for politicians to stop their meddling in a system that for the first time in the history of public eduction in the United States is closing the academic achievement gap.

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