Two Systems

Erin Dillon always says smart things, but her post at Quick/Ed yesterday hit on a favorite topic of mine.  She focuses on the tension between the district and the charter schools in Washington DC and concludes:

Operating two warring public school systems just doesn’t seem like a very good way to run a city.

We tend to take for granted whatever policy conditions amongst which we happen to reside, and DC is a particularly bizarre policy space when it comes to schooling.  The Mayor runs a traditional school system led by Michelle Rhee.  An extra-governmental DC Public Charter School Board (to which the Mayor appoints members, I’ve used the Fed as an analogy before) approves and oversees all of the charter schools.*  That is to say, in DC, there is a bright red line between the district and the charters, and each of the charters is its own federally defined Local Education Agency (LEA).

This policy milieu is unique, and it’s evolved in a fairly bizarre – but not totally unpredictable – way.  Now both sectors have different institutional imperatives, and while their improvement relative to one another doesn’t have to be zero-sum, you get some very zero-sum behavior on the part of all of the actors.  The new DCPS contract didn’t cause this behavior, but it’s certainly the most potent illustrator of it.

*Although some of those charters were approved by the now defunct Board of Education.

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