Are They a Reasonable Solution for Washington D.C.’s Public Schools?
The nation’s capital has a problematic history with public school education. Washington D.C. public schools have been consistently ranked as having the “lowest graduation rate” in the United States for years (Brown). To address this problem, the District has started making critical reforms. Due to Washington D.C.’s long-term negligence of public education, charter schools emerged in the city in 1996 (Pardo 11). Since their start, charter schools have become a more popular option for D.C. parents looking for better results than public schools (Cane 9). But is it appropriate for charter schools to dominate the education scene in Washington D.C., while other traditional public schools still struggle? This research paper will investigate the background and success of the D.C. charter school movement as well as ongoing debate about the role charters play in the public education system.
Charter schools, which exist all over the United States, are “rooted in the premise of public, free education nestled in the ideas of parental choice” (Pardo 6). Since “Minnesota launched its first charter school in 1991”, charter schools have experienced “an enormous increase in number to over 5,300 by 2011” (Chen). Like traditional public schools, charter schools are “funded with public money” (Chen). However, parents have to “submit a separate application to enroll their children in charter schools, and spaces are often limited” (Pascual). Each charter school has an independent governing board that oversees finance (Pardo 6). Enrollment is based on choice, with parents selecting schools due to their specific focus, curriculum or other features (Pardo 7). When enrollment is exceeded, a lottery system may be used (Clemmitt 13). In Washington D.C., the legislation that created charter schools required “equal funding of charter and traditional public school students using a per-pupil formula and an additional facilities allowance” meaning that charter schools get as much fund as traditional public schools (Pardo 12). When the first two charter schools opened in the District in 1996, the traditional public school dropout rate had increased dramatically, and nearly half of its students were under-enrolled or had left schools before graduating (Cane 9). Today, charter schools in D.C. “educate 43 percent of public school children in the city, with over 35,000 enrolled at over 100 campuses” (“FAQs about DC Public Charters”).
Although there is some debate about the effectiveness of charter schools in D.C., evidence to show that charters are a promising education reform has been illustrated. Many believe charter schools have served as opportunities to raise students’ on-time graduation rates, and in turn restore parents’ faith in public education, while bringing students back to the public school system (Clark 1039). Policy makers who support charter schools point to positive results from “parents’...