A firestorm erupted in D.C.’s charter school movement yesterday after the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews wrote a column giving legitimacy to a claim by Eric Martel that several academically high performing schools including Washington Latin PCS’s lower and upper schools, BASIS PCS’s middle school, Washington Yu Ying PCS’s elementary school, Capital City PCS’s lower school, Two Rivers PCS’s elementary and middle schools, and E.L. Haynes PCS’s elementary school score well on the DC CAS because they have manipulated the random student lottery admissions process to enroll a greater proportion of white kids. No evidence of the supposed mechanism schools are using to illegally control their student bodies was provided to substantiate his highly inflammatory claim.
The column led Washington Latin PCS (upon whose board of directors I serve), and Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, to respond forcibly in writing. Here is a portion of the letter by Mr. Pearson:
“Here’s the real story: Every one of the eight schools Mathews and former teacher cite currently participates in My School DC, the single, random lottery that determines placement for new public and public charter students. My School DC reports to a committee chaired by the Deputy Mayor of Education and made up of DC Public School and charter school leaders.
The application process through My School DC is straightforward. Families complete an application for each student, listing their school choices in their preferred order —1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice, and so on. Students and their parents can select up to 12 schools.
My School DC then uses a matching algorithm to assign each student a random lottery number and attempts to match each student with his or her first choice, then second, and so on.
So if 60 students want to go to a certain public charter school that has only 30 open slots, My School DC will send the school the 30 names of those to be admitted with the rest of the students going on a waiting list in random order. The school must accept the 30 students and are not told the name, gender or ethnicity of any of the students that were matched.”
But my question is why Mr. Mathews would pay any attention at all to comments by Mr. Martel? I have been reading his opinions for years. Mr. Martel is an active participant of the Concerned4DCPS listserve. Members of this group want to turn back the clock completely regarding school reform in the nation’s capital. If they could they would have a genie appear out of a bottle and magically revert to when there were no charter schools and the school board ran DCPS without Mayoral control.
As a reminder this was a terribly sad period for public education in D.C. Little instruction actually took place in classrooms and it was practically impossible to get rid of a poor teacher. Guns, drugs, and violence where often more prevalent in the halls of schools than textbooks. Many portions of facilities could not be utilized because the ceilings and walls were crumbling.
What is so shocking is that any experienced education writer in this town knows about the out-of-the mainstream views of Concerned4DCPS supporters. It is especially strange to see someone repeat their claims who has been such as strong advocate of charter schools. Mr. Mathews says that he will print a follow-up column on this issue on December 15th. Let’s hope he comes to his senses.