- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council is scheduled to hold its first vote on Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s budget proposal. Council members are being lobbied hard by the D.C. public charter school community to strike a number of provisions in the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Support Act that supporters say threaten these unique public schools’ autonomy from the D.C. government.

The mayor wants to make his appointees the regulators for the charter schools, a role currently performed by the D.C. Public Charter School Board. Vacancies on the board are filled by the mayor from a list of names drawn up by the U.S. secretary of education. The board has the power to award, review and revoke the schools’ charters and to hold them accountable for academic results and sound financial management.

Part of the District’s public-education scene since the D.C. School Reform Act took effect in 1996, public charter schools now educate 36 percent of public school children in the District. These taxpayer-funded nonprofit institutions are free to determine their own education programs but cannot screen or select their students. They must also follow civil rights, special-education and health-and-safety laws, and they are subject to the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Oversubscribed charters must hold lotteries, and every year, thousands of disappointed parents whose children attend traditional public schools place their children on waiting lists for these popular public schools.

Former council member Kevin P. Chavous, who served as Education Committee chairman, is concerned that the mayor’s proposals would undermine what he regards as the essential ingredient for charters’ success: their independence from the city government.

“The mayor should resist the temptation to overregulate public charter schools,” Mr. Chavous said. “Charters work, in large part, because they have autonomy. Parents have warmed to charters because accountability lines are clear and their children are learning.”

Mr. Chavous fears that charters will be drawn into the centralized control that has been the fate of traditional D.C. public schools, and which he thinks has not worked.

“If we impose too many unnecessary regulatory requirements on our charter schools, many will, like their traditional public school counterparts, spend more time trying to adhere to rules than teaching our kids,” said Mr. Chavous, author of “Serving Our Children, Charter Schools and the Reform of American Public Education.”

Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a nonprofit resource and advocacy group for D.C. public charter schools, argues that it is charters’ autonomy from the city government that is the linchpin of their success.

Said Mr. Cane: “Free to determine their own educational programs and school policies, D.C. public charter schools are ahead of the curve when it comes to closing the student achievement gap between black and white students.

“We know that African-American middle and high school students in D.C. public charter schools are nearly twice as likely to be proficient in reading and math as their peers in the regular public schools run by the mayor,” he said. “Teen absenteeism in D.C.’s charters is less than 50 percent of the rate in the city-run neighborhood schools, and charters’ high school graduation rate is 24 percent higher than the city-run schools.”

Mr. Cane argues that the Public Charter School Board has looked out for children’s and parents’ interests in a way that the mayor and the schools chancellor have only just begun to do for the traditional public schools. Since the Public Charter School Board assumed responsibility for regulating charters in 1998, it has rejected two of every three applications to open a public charter school and has closed nine schools that did not measure up to the board’s performance standards.

The council can decide to strike the mayor’s proposal from the Budget Support Act before it votes on Tuesday. Council members also can offer amendments to strike the provisions prior to the vote on Tuesday.

In the meantime, council members can expect to continue to hear from the supporters of these increasingly popular public schools.

c Mark Lerner, director of medical imaging at George Washington University Hospital, is a board member at William E. Doar Public Charter School.

By Mark Lerner

SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council is scheduled to hold its first vote on Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s budget proposal. Council members are being lobbied hard by the D.C. public-charter-school community to strike a number of provisions in the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Support Act that supporters say threaten these unique public schools’ autonomy from the D.C. government.

The mayor wants to make his appointees the regulators for the charter schools, a role currently performed by the D.C. Public Charter School Board. Vacancies on the board are filled by the mayor from a list of names drawn up by the U.S. secretary of education. The board has the power to award, review and revoke the schools’ charters and to hold them accountable for academic results and sound financial management.

Part of the District’s public-education scene since the D.C. School Reform Act took effect in 1996, public charter schools now educate 36 percent of public school children in the District. These taxpayer-funded nonprofit institutions are free to determine their own education programs but cannot screen or select their students. They must also follow civil rights, special-education and health-and-safety laws, and they are subject to the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Oversubscribed charters must hold lotteries, and every year, thousands of disappointed parents whose children attend traditional public schools see their children placed on waiting lists for these popular public schools.

Former Council member Kevin P. Chavous, who served as Education Committee chairman, is concerned that the mayor’s proposals would undermine what he regards as the essential ingredient for charters’ success: their independence from the city government.

“The mayor should resist the temptation to overregulate public charter schools,” Mr. Chavous said. “Charters work, in large part, because they have autonomy. Parents have warmed to charters because accountability lines are clear and their children are learning.”

Mr. Chavous fears that charters will be drawn into the centralized control that has been the fate of traditional D.C. public schools, and which he believes has not worked.

“If we impose too many unnecessary regulatory requirements on our charter schools, many will, like their traditional public school counterparts, spend more time trying to adhere to rules than teaching our kids,” said Mr. Chavous, author of “Serving Our Children, Charter Schools and the Reform of American Public Education.”

Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a nonprofit resource and advocacy group for D.C. public charter schools, argues that it is charters’ autonomy from the city government that is the linchpin of their success.

Said Mr. Cane: “Free to determine their own educational programs and school policies, D.C. public charter schools are ahead of the curve when it comes to closing the student achievement gap between black and white students.

“We know that African American middle and high school students in D.C. public charter schools are nearly twice as likely to be proficient in reading and math as their peers in the regular public schools run by the mayor,” he continued. “Teen absenteeism in D.C.’s charters is less than 50 percent of the rate in the city-run neighborhood schools, and charters’ high school graduation rate is 24 percent higher than the city-run schools.”

Mr. Cane argues that the Public Charter School Board has looked out for children’s and parents’ interests in a way that the mayor and the schools chancellor have only just begun to do for the traditional public schools. Since the Public Charter School Board assumed responsibility for regulating charters in 1998, it has rejected two of every three applications to open a public charter school and has closed nine schools that did not measure up to the board’s performance standards.

The council can decide to strike the mayor’s proposal from the Budget Support Act before it votes on Tuesday. Council members also can offer amendments to strike the provisions prior to the vote on Tuesday.

In the meantime, council members can expect to continue to hear from the supporters of these increasingly popular public schools.

Mark Lerner, director of medical imaging at George Washington University Hospital, is a board member at William E. Doar Public Charter School.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide