D.C.'s Charter Schools Continue to Bloom as a Reform Alternative.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

WITH D.C. schools reopening, attention is focused on the reform efforts of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, and rightly so. But with growing numbers of students enrolled in charter schools, hers is just part of the story of educational change in the District. Not only are a record number of charter students expected this year but an initiative is also being launched to hold the public charters more accountable and improve their performance.

Enrollment of 28,000 to 30,000 students is projected for the charters, a remarkable number considering that the first charter school opened its doors just 13 years ago. (Meanwhile, traditional public schools, which opened Monday with an encouraging 37,000 students already enrolled, are projecting an eventual roster of some 44,000 students, based on budget assumptions.) There are 56 charters, making the District a national leader in its embrace of these publicly funded but independent and often innovative schools. Recent test scores show overall success by the charters, though with big variations among them. So it's good that the Public Charter School Board will measure the schools' success more vigorously.

In what is being described as a national first, the city's charters will be subjected to a uniform evaluation process. Developed with grants from national foundations, the "performance management framework" will include academic measures, such as student test scores and readiness for graduation, and nonacademic indicators, such as governance and fiscal management. Because much of the success of charters flows from their ability to provide unique educational settings, the review respects the individual missions of each school. The evaluations will help parents figure out the best place for their children, reward quality in schools and make it easier to close schools that don't perform. Moreover, with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan making the replication of successful charter schools a key component of his school-reform plan, the District's efforts could well serve as a model for the nation.

Charters are not the enemy of the city's traditional public schools. If anything, the District's flourishing charter movement will help Ms. Rhee by offering choice and competition while refuting some of the excuses used to justify the poor performance of urban schools.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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