Rigor is not a four-letter word


The District
of Columbia is home to a thriving charter-school
market. Of all American cities, it’s also the one that has experienced the most
rapid gentrification over the past ten years. As these two realities now
converge, upper-middle class D.C. parents are seeking more charter schools for
their kids. The District already boasts several charters serving substantial
numbers of affluent families (sometimes by design, often not); these include
E.L. Haynes, Capital City, Yu Ying, Two Rivers, Latin American Montessori
Bilingual, and Washington Latin. And now there’s BASIS DC, a charter
slated to open in 2012, which follows the successful, and uber-rigorous,
BASIS charter-school program
. The school will offer Algebra I in seventh
grade, and require that high schoolers take eight AP courses (and pass six AP
tests) in order to graduate. Rather than applaud such rigor, though, critics are
crying “conspiracy,” wondering whether that kind of model is designed to create
a publically funded school for Washington’s
elite—and to exclude the vast majority of D.C.’s kids, who are poor, black, and
under-achieving. As Skip McKoy of the D.C. Public Charter School Board stated,
“I’m all for high standards…Kids should be pushed. But you have to recognize
the population.” Wryly reading between the lines, Jay Mathews translates: “This
school is too smart and too tough for D.C.” It’s fair game to question whether
BASIS has a plan to “on-ramp” kids who come to the school lagging academically.
And it’s not crazy to worry that the school could wind up serving an exclusively
affluent clientele. But to assume that poor and minority kids in D.C. can’t
learn at high levels is an affront to their potential. And if BASIS can succeed
at creating a school that is challenging for the rich and poor alike, D.C. will
be much the better for it.

Some
in D.C. wonder if rigorous charter school can meet poor students’ needs
,” by
Bill Turque, Washington Post, May 11,
2011.