Education reform in D.C. has become a national model, with the flourishing public charter schools a key component. Mr. Pearson’s advocacy and astute leadership over the past seven years have played a large role in this success. His decision to leave his post at the end of the school year is well earned but leaves a void that will be hard to fill.
During Mr. Pearson’s tenure, the number of charter schools, publicly funded but privately operated, grew from 98 to 123 and now enroll 43,556 students, just under half of public school students. Of these charter school students, 74 percent are African American, and 77 percent economically disadvantaged. Mr. Pearson helped improve the quality of schools through smart oversight that used data to hold schools accountable; he didn’t shy away from shutting schools that consistently failed students. Charter school students have shown steady improvement on District-wide assessments as well as on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The graduation rate of 72.4 percent is higher than the citywide average. Notably, those improvements came as charter schools were made more accessible, serving more special-needs students and dramatically reducing expulsions and suspensions.
The Public Charter School Board will undertake a national search for Mr. Pearson’s replacement. It comes at a critical time, as charter schools, both locally and nationally, face renewed criticism. The autonomy and independence that allow charter schools to innovate and succeed are being threatened by the efforts of some D.C. Council members to impose burdensome regulations and unnecessary red tape; high-quality charters that want to expand have been stymied by the administration’s refusal to give them access to shuttered school buildings. “The politics are complicated, and they are certainly more so than they were eight years ago,” said Rick Cruz, chair of the Public Charter School Board. Let’s hope those politics don’t lead the District to lose sight of what charter schools have achieved — for students and for the city as a whole.