Charters save D.C. Public Schools

Dec 25, 2013 by

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The school system serving students in the nation’s capital can no longer be considered the worst in the land, thanks to impressive gains D.C students have made in their reading and math scores over the past couple of years.

New data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress – “the nation’s report card” – shows D.C. Public Schools made the greatest improvement of any urban district in the nation over the last year, reports the Washington Post.

D.C. schools’ learning gains since 2011 ranged from 5 points to 8 points (depending on subject and grade level), an amount that equals or exceeds the learning gains made by the city’s charter schools, the Post notes.

The beleaguered school district still faces big challenges – such as a significant achievement gap between white and minority students – but it’s no longer at the bottom of the heap.

“We’re coming on strong, and if we’re ever going to get where we need to go, it’s this kind of leapfrogging growth that is going to get us there,” D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson tells the Post.

A 2012 study by the nonprofit New Teacher Project offers insight for the district’s apparent turnaround.

According to the study, D.C. schools are doing a much better job than some other urban school districts in getting rid of ineffective teachers. The Post credits that to former Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s “hard-fought battles with traditional union interests” that led to policies “that set high expectations for teachers,” rewards those who meet them and removes those who don’t.

We would also suggest that the presence of many charter schools in the city, as well as a robust private school voucher program, has forced the public schools to significantly improve so they don’t lose thousands of more students.

It appears district leaders are serious about building on those Rhee-initiated reforms, and are looking to their charter school competitors for inspiration.

A Post article from last March indicates that Chancellor Henderson is demanding the new teachers’ contract give school principals the flexibility to set longer school days and school years. That’s a pretty standard practice among the city’s successful charter schools.

The Washington Teachers Union apparently isn’t overly interested in that idea, which might explain why the two sides are still in contract negotiations.

If union leaders are resisting the idea of longer school days and years, they might be fighting a losing battle. D.C. school officials and parents have seen first-hand that common sense reforms lead to more student learning. They’re excited about how far the D.C. district has come since 2007, and are not likely to let the hard-earned progress slip away.

D.C. public schools shake ‘worst in nation’ label thanks to reforms and competition – powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

Education News
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