Opinion

Local Editorial: Failing schools should be converted to charters

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Opinion,Local Editorial

David Catania, chairman of the D.C. Council's Education Committee, wants to increase DC Public Schools' accountability and academic results. Catania has the right idea but the wrong approach, one that is as doomed as other past attempts at school reform. But he's not bold enough to propose the one thing that just might work.

Catania's package of legislation increases per-pupil funding again, this time supposedly to help poor students and those enrolled in vocational training. But most of the money will wind up in the pockets of the same administrators and teachers who have failed to close D.C.'s achievement gap despite millions of dollars in pay hikes and bonuses under former Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

In fact, as The Washington Examiner noted in March, while the District was spending record amounts of money on DCPS between 2008 and 2012 under Rhee's widely heralded "reforms," a third of the city's schools saw "a notable decline in proficiency" in both reading and math test scores. Catania's proposal would financially reward DCPS for its continued failure. Converting failing schools to independently-run charter schools would do just the opposite.

Catania's proposals skirt around the real problem but do not address it. Decades of inept leadership, lack of accountability and outright corruption have created a toxic culture within DCPS that is highly resistant to change. As long as the adults in charge had jobs and benefits, they were content to let generations of disadvantaged youngsters fail year after year. And the District's political, business and civic elites let them get away with it.

It was Congress that offered D.C. families trapped in this dysfunctional educational system their only real hope in the form of vouchers and charter schools. The explosive growth of charters, which will soon surpass DCPS in total enrollment, is District parents' clear vote of "no confidence" in DCPS.

Catania wants to allow Chancellor Kaya Henderson to set up charterlike "innovation schools" not bound by central office dictates or teacher union contracts, and giving principals more control over finances and personnel. Mayor Vincent Gray made a similar proposal.

Why stop there? There is no way to "fix" DCPS. Previous efforts -- including turning the system over to mayoral control, giving teachers and administrators generous pay hikes and bonuses, bringing in Teach for America graduates -- have failed. The one thing that hasn't been tried is converting all DCPS' still-failing schools into independent public charter schools.

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