Flash: Charters aren’t a silver bullet

Applying to Washington D.C. charter schools taught Conor Williams that school choice relies on chance. Lots of parents want to get their kids into the good charters. A lottery decides who makes it.

There are Hebrew, Chinese, and Spanish language schools. One promises Spanish immersion, discovery-based learning, and an emphasis on ecological sustainability. There are multiple Montessori charters in our area . . .

D.C. has some “great” district-run schools, but they’re open only to people who can afford million-dollar homes, Williams writes. So parents have turned to charter schools. “In 2012, there were more than 35,000 students on charter schools’ waitlists (though some were duplicates). There were only 77,000 students in the city that year.”

Charters’ lotteries are neutral, he writes. His “son, with his two highly educated, almost-middle-class, white parents” has no advantage “over his friend whose mother dropped out of high school and is raising her child alone.”

It’s not perfect. Savvy parents can “get around town” and apply to multiple lotteries, he complains. However, D.C. has unified its district and charter lotteries.  While “a handful of high-performing charters stayed outside the system,” parents can apply to most schools with one application.

The D.C. Council has considered letting charter schools give admissions preference to students who live nearby. As the city gentrifies, that could lock low-income families out of high-performing charters, Williams writes. What about weighted lotteries to give a preference to disadvantaged students?

He doesn’t mention helping good charters expand, so they can serve more students.

The headline says Williams “learned about inequality” but his conclusion is that charters are a “mild corrective to inequity” though not a “solution.” Not a silver bullet? Really! 

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  1. PhillipMarlowe says:

    “As the city gentrifies, that could lock low-income families out of high-performing charters,”

    Isn’t that ironic.

    • No.

      Since the D.C. Council a) hasn’t decided to allow charters to give admissions preference to students who live nearby and b) even if they did charters may not choose to exercise the option.

      Also, it’s kind of humorous that the author of the piece is clearly opposed to charters, and in favor of protecting the hallowed district, but can’t quite bring himself to force his child to live his politics. So rather then hand his child over to the not-so-tender mercies of the DCPS he’s going charter. But not without firing a few obligatory cheap shots at charters so all know that while the son isn’t in the right place the father’s heart is.

      • I’m not sure where you’re picking up where he’s opposed to charters. He’s a TFA alum who did his 2 years and change at the Crown Heights branch of the Achievement First charter network, and while he is not as dogmatically or blindly a charter supporter as some, a review of his work quickly reveals that he’s clearly pro-charter. https://twitter.com/ConorPWilliams

  2. He’s dancing around the elephant in the room. Solve that problem and good teachers will flood back in.