In his first round of school openings as the city’s chief executive, Gray said during a visit to Inspired Teaching that it would not bother him if charter schools surpass traditional public schools in enrollment.
“I’m comfortable with our kids getting an education in the best possible place,” Gray said after visiting a prekindergarten class where he read a book called (what else?) “Hurray for Pre-K!”
This is no small thing for a mayor who was elected with heavy support from unionized teachers — the kind who don’t work in the District’s charter schools. But Gray said he was looking for charters to have “a catalyzing effect” on the city’s 123 traditional public schools, whose 45,000 students returned to class Monday.
“I think the competitive juices are starting to flow. [Traditional schools have] got to be able to get better to raise their market share,” said the mayor, who also visited Eastern High School on Capitol Hill and Hart Middle School in Congress Heights.
Although traditional schools show more overall growth in test scores over the past five years, charters made slightly larger gains this year on city tests. At Achievement Prep charter school in Ward 8, 87 percent of students scored proficient or better in math and 60 percent in reading. The passing rates topped those of any traditional elementary school in Ward 8.
Gray’s administration has asked a Chicago firm with close ties to the charter movement to study the distribution of schools — both charter and traditional — across the city to assess which communities are underserved. Officials say the study, by the Illinois Facilities Fund, could provide the basis for decisions to close underenrolled traditional schools and open more charters.
“We very clearly have a spot and a voice at the table,” said Brian W. Jones, chairman of the D.C. Public Charter School Board. He said he could not recall Gray’s predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty (D), visiting a charter school on opening day.
At Inspired Teaching’s site in Brookland, shared with the Potomac Lighthouse charter school, Gray was joined by D.C. State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley, Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright and other members of the public charter and state school boards.
If Gray intended to highlight the ascendance of charter schools, he picked an unusual setting. Inspired Teaching’s founders reject the notion held by some reformers that charters will be the salvation of a dysfunctional, hidebound public education system.