D.C. superintendent challenges charters

For Washington, D.C., Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, the conversion of Paul Junior High School to a charter school is a blow. It's the first time a D.C. public school has exited the system - with the right to keep its building. Mrs. Ackerman spoke with the Monitor on Sunday, her first comments to the press on this issue:

On reaction to the school's exit:

It's unheard of that an existing school can become a charter outside of the school district and then take an asset of the school district with it. What it does is limit my ability to plan. It's hard to have coherent systems in place in an incoherent environment.... You wouldn't do this in a business: You don't organize in Pepsi to move to Coca-Cola.

On reforms in the district:

I think we've put into place some very serious reforms in a very short amount of time, and what we needed was some time for reforms to take hold. Maybe people didn't believe that we could do it.

Principals are now held to tough standards in the district: They now have one-year contracts. How are we going to prevent a principal who wants to escape the accountability from organizing to leave the school system?

On student achievement:

For years the [district's school] system had problems with student achievement, but there were years it was also the best school system in this country.

I'm not sure that there is a silver bullet. And we don't know enough about charter schools to say they are the answer. It's too early to tell. We have 29 charter schools in the district, and some are in serious trouble. It's a very complicated issue, but I don't think you will get there when you have 143 schools doing their own thing, deciding their own standards, their own assessments, with no system to hold them together.

On momentum for charters:

The momentum is building and it's very organized. As superintendent, I don't want to focus energies on principals who want to get out of the system. I want to focus my energies on improving outcomes for kids.

On whether all schools should be charters:

If there is an all-charter agenda, can't we have public discourse about it? Let's talk about what that means. Let's see if that's what we want. If that's going to get us better results, that's certainly an option. But it's too early to tell.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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