Education Opinion

We Can Do Better in D.C. Without Restricting Choice

By Sara Mead — September 10, 2012 1 min read
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A bunch of folks have asked me about today’s Washington Post article on charter school waitlists and families switching among multiple schools as the start of the year as they get off waitlists. Lots of smart people are working on this, but a few key points:

1. It’s a good, thorough article that explains the complex issues in play here. The Post’s Emma Brown is a worthy successor to Bill Turque.

2. The current charter application and waitlist system is not optimal for anyone, not for families who have to separately apply to and go through lotteries and waitlists at multiple schools in hopes of getting a slot at one, and not for schools, who can’t be sure which of their students are going to show up and who won’t because they’re enrolled at or got off the waitlist for another school.

3. This isn’t just a charter issue: Many families apply to both charters and the DCPS out-of-boundary process, adding a further layer of complication here.

4. None of these problems are inherent to or should be viewed as an indictment of charter schools or parent choice. There are ways to organize the system to make it more accessible and functional for both parents and schools without restricting parents’ access to choices. Denver, for example, has worked to create a common school choice and enrollment system across DPS and charters that may or may not be a model for D.C. but does show that it’s possible to bring more coherence to the system. As the article mentions, policy makers and key groups in D.C. recognize the issue and are beginning to work on solutions to it.

5. The status quo is still better than a system where families have no choices and are stuck with the low-performing school in their neighborhood.

6. For all we talk about distribution, the real problem is still a lack of sufficient high-quality options to serve all D.C. kids. The money quote here is EW Stokes PCS founder Linda Moore: “Ultimately what would work best..is if all the schools were good schools.”

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.