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.
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