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What will become of neighborhood schools?

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In light of the recent work by the Deputy Mayor for Education's Office to re-examine public school student feeder patterns the Washington Post had a front page article yesterday questioning whether neighborhood schools are a thing of the past. The reporter raises this issue because right now in the District of Columbia only 25 percent of children attend their neighborhood school, and because one of the proposals by the Gray Administration is to provide elementary school students with a choice of a few schools in close proximity to their homes, with a lottery deciding the final place of enrollment. Let me be clear. The neighborhood school is not going away.

The only reason we have the mess that we have right now is that in many instances the traditional school closest to where a child lives is characterized by exceedingly low academic performance. This has forced parents to find an alternative. But don't get me wrong, parents would much rather avoid driving their children across town to have them sit in a quality seat.

For proof, we need to look no farther than the local charter school movement. You would think that because charters are schools of choice they would pull equally from all areas of the city. They do not. Consider this evidence from the 2012 Neighborhood Task Force Committee, headed by then D.C. Public School Board chairman Brian Jones:

"Thirty five percent of public charter school students in 2011- 12 went to school within one mile of their home;
forty nine percent went to a charter school in their ward. Similarly, in 45% of all public charter schools (44 schools), at least 50% of students come from within the ward. In 68% of public charter schools (66 schools), 40% or more of their students come from within the ward."

As more and more of the Performance Management Framework Tier 1 schools replicate an even greater percentile of the student body will come from the neighborhood. This is only natural. If our goal as a community is to increase the number of kids traveling a short distance to school we should develop public policies that foster the growth of high quality charters. These would include rapidly closing poor performing charters and traditional schools, efficiently turning shuttered DCPS buildings over to charters, ending the funding inequities between the two school systems, and providing incentives in the way of space and decreased oversight for those charters willing to educate a greater population of students.

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