- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2000

Supporters of school choice, particularly proponents of charter schools, have long argued that choice leads to competition and competition leads to student achievement. How right they are.

According to a study by D.C. Public Schools, students in regular schools outscored their counterparts in charter schools based on the most recent Stanford 9 results. Thirty-seven percent of students in regular schools scored below basic in math, compared to 72 percent in charter schools overseen by the D.C. Board of Education and 54 percent who attend charter schools overseen by an independent board.

The analysis drew interesting criticism from school choice supporters, who argued, among other things, that a more fair analysis would have been a year-to-year comparison of individual students. That is a salient point, but they needn't worry. The District of Columbia remains the leader in the charter school movement.

There is, however, another point that should be taken more seriously. Duvon Winbourne, the school official who compiled the study, is under the assumption that his study proves parents will get a better deal for their children with regular D.C. public schools. To the contrary, there is no empirical evidence even remotely to suggest as much. On the other hand, there are a couple of dozen traditional D.C. schools that routinely struggle to lift students' test scores. Students in those schools could benefit from better management and innovative faculties.

The Edison Project which operates 113 schools around the country, including several charter schools in the city, reported earlier this year that all its schools were performing particularly well based on standardized tests. Also worth noting is its high parental satisfaction rating, which bested national norms for the fifth year in a row and beats the city's hands down.

Eighty-five percent of parents gave Edison schools either an "A" or a "B." By comparison, parents of D.C. school children were far less satisfied. According to the latest figures from D.C., 83 percent of parents of students in elementary school were "generally satisfied," not exactly a high bar to set. The numbers dipped for middle/ junior high parents, 73 percent, and fell still lower for high school parents, only 69 percent.

One of the reasons charter schools are successful is that they are innovative. They have innovative principals and teachers who develop and employ rigorous curriculums, and they motivate parents to get involved and students to learn. Other reasons are their independence and, as Mr. Winbourne's analysis proves, a healthy does of competition to improve public education.

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