Is School Choice Working in DC?

  • Sep 2, 2015
  • Source: AAN
  • by: Jackson Richman
It is the second week of June and classes at Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA) have already been dismissed for the academic year. However, these high school students are still in the charter school’s library preparing to present their academic portfolios for evaluation before a panel of teachers. This once-a-year routine is an example of the academic rigor of an inner-city public charter school like TMA.

So why are charter schools so popular?

D.C. Public Charter School Board Chairman Darren Woodruff told the Washington Examiner, "Parents like the quality education, academic rigor, diverse programs and innovative approaches that public charter schools offer."

According to a Washington Examiner article this month, “Black families unsatisfied with traditional public schools are flocking to Washington, D.C.'s charter schools.” The article cited the D.C. Public Charter School Board's latest annual report, which stated that in the 2014 to 2015 school year, 83 percent of the students in Washington charter schools were black compared to only 67 percent of the student population in traditional public schools, a four percent decrease from the 2011 to 2012 school year. 

National Affairs chimes in: “Charters mostly serve poor and minority students who would otherwise be stuck in the worst urban schools. Over 56% of their students are Hispanic and African American, versus 39% in district schools.” TMA, which opened in 2005, is nearly 100 percent Black.

Skyler Harris, Jr. just presented her portfolio in front of the panel. The junior said that “[she] learned a lot about law and the government and how lawyers make their decisions… This is a law-based school and other schools don’t really have that opportunity as much as Thurgood does.”

Harris mentioned the opportunities TMA offers such as going to law firms and interacting with lawyers. There, students receive tutoring and participate in law-related programs. “They get to help you be successful and they’re just here to help you, along with the teachers and staff at Thurgood,” said Harris.

As a college preparatory public charter high school, TMA students receive 90 minutes each of English and math lessons per day, twice the amount than in a traditional public school. Executive Director Alexandra Pardo emphasized the critical role that basic math and English play in helping other disciplines. “In order to be able to do science and social studies I need to have basic math skills. So if I cannot compute a one-step equation, I can’t be successful in a chemistry class. And if I cannot read a chemistry textbook… or a history textbook… I can’t access the content of social studies.”

When asked what makes TMA different than other charter and public schools, Pardo replied, “I don’t think it’s a question of what makes us different. I think the question is what has worked for us to be successful.” One way TMA has thrived is due to “[the] faculty and staff, and finding a team and a cadre of individuals who are absolutely dedicated to the work that [the school does] and also believe in the students. And [who] are not willing to sacrifice their beliefs for student outcomes and believe that our students can achieve and are willing to put in the hard work,” the executive director said.

As schools across the U.S. start a new year, the subject of successful charter schools such as TMA should be as important a part of today’s debate about the future of our education system as Common Core.
 Source: AAN
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