DC Charter Schools show big gains on tests

Lost in the financial crisis has been the debate over charter schools and specifically, school vouchers as a vehicle to improve the education of poor children in the inner city.

Despite heavy opposition from Democrats in Congress, the District of Columbia began a pilot program using Charter Schools to improve education more than a decade ago. To no one's surprise (except the teacher's unions and liberals) it's working:

Students in the District's charter schools have opened a solid academic lead over those in its traditional public schools, adding momentum to a movement that is recasting public education in the city.

The gains show up on national standardized tests and the city's own tests in reading and math, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. Charters have been particularly successful with low-income children, who make up two-thirds of D.C. public school students.

A dozen years after it was created by Congress, the city's charter system has taken shape as a fast-growing network of schools, whose ability to tap into private donors, bankers and developers has made it possible to fund impressive facilities, expand programs and reduce class sizes.

With freedom to experiment, the independent, nonprofit charters have emphasized strategies known to help poor children learn -- longer school days, summer and Saturday classes, parent involvement and a cohesive, disciplined culture among staff members and students.

The emergence of a thriving charter system has altered the dynamics of education in a city struggling to repair its reputation as one of the country's most troubled school districts. Since taking control of the traditional public schools 18 months ago, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee have pushed for major reforms. But enrollment has continued to shrink, falling 42 percent since 1996. The growth of charters has accounted for almost all of that decline.

Parents in the District are voting with their feet on the success or failure of Charter Schools. They are choosing to send their kids to a place where they can learn and grow rather than worry about whether their child will survive the day in a traditional public school. 

No doubt the unions and their Congressional Democratic toadies will still find excuses to block federal funds from going to Charter Schools if only because the success of any voucher program spells the death knell of bad public schools in America. Tax-payer funded, union dominated school systems will be forced to make much needed reforms in order to compete with the Charter schools thus weakening the power of teachers unions and the Democrats who do their bidding. They will fight tooth and nail to prevent any such nationwide program from taking hold.

At least parents in Washington, D.C. can take heart from this study.

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