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Absence of Basic Access is the Primary Social Justice Issue in Question

Posted By: Emily Lawson on November 2, 2011
 
Zoë Burkholder’s Sept. 22 commentary makes a caustic case against high-performing urban charter schools, taking dead aim at DC Prep’s model (see “Why We All Need Integrated Schools: A Critique of ‘Successful’ Urban Charter Schools”). As a public charter school based in Washington, DC – a city that is a national hub for education reform – this kind of misplaced criticism comes with the territory.

Her argument, unfortunately, misses the point. She states that given the choice between a public school racked with violence and poor outcomes or DC Prep, she, too, would choose a school like DC Prep – a school that unapologetically strives to give its students the academic foundations they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive society. That seems like a reasonable choice to me as well. Because in spite of having one of the highest per pupil expenditures in the country, Washington, DC has the most abysmal record of student achievement in the nation. The whole reason why schools like DC Prep exist, is to give low-income and minority students who would otherwise have poor choices, the opportunity to attend a high-quality school. Although traditional public schools such as those that Burkholder’s children attend are a good alternative, they’re simply not viable options everywhere. And parents don’t have time to wait for local, state, and federal authorities to create them. Thus, an absence of basic access is the primary social justice issue in question. Send your child to the regular public school where only 14% of 8th graders read at grade level, or send them to DC Prep where 100% of 8th graders graduate at or above grade level in both Reading and Math and go on to selective high schools where college matriculation is a given.

It’s regrettable that Ms. Burkholder didn’t see our school in action. Yes, we have very high expectations for our students and have worked hard to create a school culture where learning is sacred (those silent hallways she objects to ensure a quiet environment for learning). But had she spoken with our students, observed our teachers in action, or talked with DC Prep parents she would perhaps have understood that we are onto something important. Our kids are proud of their accomplishments, they love being in school, and they know unequivocally that every person at DC Prep has their backs. When our kids graduate they come back in droves – attending evening study halls, volunteering in our summer program, and seeking out our support as they go through the college admissions process. What we are doing at DC Prep is neither “paternalistic” nor “paramilitary.” We are giving our students an excellent education – which is what all schools should do. Our students know it and show it.

For too many of our nation’s poor and minority students, if left without a feasible alternative like DC Prep, Burkholder’s kind of “coordinated chaos” would surely exist – it would just be one that instead impedes learning and growth at every turn. We invite readers to visit any of our campuses when school is in session to gain a clearer picture of our model.

EMILY K. LAWSON is the Founder and CEO of DC Prep, a DC-based charter management organization established in 2003 to bridge the educational divide in our nation’s capital. Today DC Prep serves over 1,000 students ranging in ages from preschool through 8th grade and is the #1 public charter middle school in Washington.
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 Absence of Basic Access is the Primary Social Justice Issue in Question by Emily Lawson on November 2, 2011
     
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