Deputy Mayor of Education Abigail Smith announced yesterday that her office is about to tackle the highly controversial topics of school boundaries and feeder relationships. When my kids were young growing up in Reston, Virginia meetings on these topics were some of the nastiest sessions I have ever witnessed. For parents there may be nothing more important and sensitive than where your children go to school and with whom. So here we go.
Ms. Smith and John Hill, Jr., a long-time community activist, will act as co-chairs of the advisory committee that will make the final recommendations. The group includes Josephine Bias-Robinson of DCPS and Emily Bloomfield of the DC Public Charter School Board. Although FOCUS is not represented on this body it does include Ariana Quinones from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services who is a long-time friend of the local charter school movement. Finally, there are 14 parents of traditional and charter school students included on the advisory committee. The public is being offered other avenues for making their opinion on these subjects known.
One goal of the committee is to “make recommendations on how to bridge student-assignment and choice policies across DCPS and charter schools.” I hope that Ms. Smith’s group is extremely careful in this regard.
First, they need to remember that charters, unlike most DCPS facilities, are dynamic organizations. They often grow in size throughout their existence, relocate and/or replicate, and can be shuttered by their regulatory agency. All of these factors complicate establishing firm feeder relationships from charters to regular classrooms.
Mayor Gray has proposed having DCPS elementary schools feed into charter middle schools. However, charters are mission specific institutions that parents choose. We would not want to set up a situation where a feeder relationship forces parents to send their kids to educational institutions whose mission they do not prefer.
In addition, as I’ve pointed out before, guaranteed students for charters serves to limit competition. It is competition for enrollment that has caused the academic quality to rise in both charter and traditional schools. Limiting choice could reverse the hard-earned progress that has been achieved over the last 15 years.
The Deputy Mayor of Education explained that the committee is expected to make their recommendations by May of next year, with those suggestions finalized by September 2014. Implementation would take place in the fall 2015.