By DC Charter School Alliance Founding Executive Director Shannon Hodge
This week is National School Choice Week, a time for families to celebrate opportunities students have in choosing the education that best fits their needs. We’re lucky in our city to have such a strong network of charter schools, each with a different model to create unique and responsive learning environments for their students. Charter schools allow every student to choose a high-quality public school and receive a great public education that prepares them for lifelong success. That choice is crucial for improving education outcomes for each of our students.
Education is how students acquire the knowledge, skills, and values necessary to be successful and find fulfillment in their lives. But for too long in our nation’s history, public education has failed low-income families and students of color, leaving them with little choice if the schools available to them chronically underperform. That’s why education equity has always been a civil rights issue. And that’s especially true in our city, where nearly nine in 10 public school students are Black or Brown.
Fortunately, we’ve seen great improvements in DC’s public education system over the last 25 years, and the growth of public charter schools and creating choice within DCPS schools are a major factor in that improvement. We have learned that when families have more educational options, their students will discover distinctive programs and nurturing environments that will serve their needs. That connection leads to improved outcomes – a formula that benefits everyone. Since DC’s charter school law was first passed, public school enrollment has increased by nearly 20 percent, and the graduation rate has jumped from 55 percent to 71 percent.
We know there is more to do. As a former school leader who co-founded and led a school for students who are at-risk of dropping out of school because they are overage and undercredited, have attendance problems, or have emotional or behavioral challenges, I know firsthand that there is more work to be done to improve education and opportunity for our city’s Black and Latino students. That’s why I’m in this role leading the DC Charter School Alliance, to advocate for policies that will help our students who need the most support and supporting schools so that they deliver the high-quality education our students deserve.
Whether it’s learning in a school that focuses on social justice, offers instruction in multiple languages, or uses Montessori or inquiry-based approaches to learning, charter schools allow students to choose and thrive in innovative public schools that fit their needs. That’s why charter schools are a powerful force for equity –– and equity must be at the center of everything we do.