Taking Pearson and McKoy at Their Words

I’m thankful Sara took the time to take issue with my response to PCSB’s position on chartering in the nation’s capital. But to be honest, I get nervous anytime Sara disagrees with me, because that generally means I’m wrong.

And I have to admit Sara produced a compelling defense of one of the positions in my virtual debate with Pearson and McKoy.

The only problem is that it’s a defense of my view, not the one expressed by her PCSB colleagues. In fact, I would associate myself with much of Sara’s articulation of the board’s goals. But that explanation belies what Pearson and McKoy actually wrote.

Here’s what I mean:

If Pearson and McKoy believed in growing chartering to match demand, including growing the sector as large as necessary to meet the needs of the city’s students, they could have simply written that.

But they did not write that. They wrote that the current “balance we have”—meaning about half charter and half district—“is about right.” It’s “the right mix,” they wrote.

They begin their piece by recounting the question they often get: whether they aspire to a system in which “charter schools eventually serve virtually all public school students.”

They could have answered, “We are open to that possibility if it proves to be in the best interest of kids.” They could have answered, “If charters continue to significantly outperform district-run schools and families continue to want more high-performing charters, then we will feel obligated to pursue that track.”

That’s not what Pearson and McKoy wrote. They wrote–I’m quoting here–“We do not.”

If they believed in an organic process—as Sara suggests—through which family choices, community needs, and school performance determine which operators flourish and which sector grew, they could’ve written that.

They didn’t write that. Instead, they decided that a “balanced” portfolio is right for the city.

Contra Sara’s contention, I was not the one to advocate for an arbitrary, centrally determined mix of schools. It was Pearson and McKoy who participated in a public debate called, “How Many Charter Schools is Just Right?” Their piece was titled, “D.C. Students Benefit from Mix of Charter and Traditional Schools.” They introduced the idea of “balance.”

If Pearson and McKoy believed that the charter sector could grow to predominate while handling issues like backfilling, special education services, and residential-based assignments in a way that well served families and operators, they could’ve written that.

Instead, they wrote that such growth-caused responsibilities threaten charters: These obligations would bring “tremendous pressure,” change charters’ “fundamental character,” “limit their educational and operational flexibility,” “make them harder to close,” and open them to “wider and wider regulation.” Growing the charter sector too large, wrote Pearson and McKoy, contributes to “the homogenization of charter schools.”

In total, then, it’s hard for me to accept that Pearson and McKoy believe one thing when they had the chance to write it but instead wrote something else.

So at the risk of belaboring the point, I feel compelled to end where I began my initial post:

The leaders of the PCSB took to the pages of the nation’s most influential education-reform journal and one of the nation’s most influential newspapers to explain that they did not want to go in NOLA’s charter-dominant direction, that they wanted a “balance” of charter and district-run schools, and that growing chartering too large poses risks to charters.

Given that charters in DC are approaching half of the city’s public-school enrollment, I don’t know how anyone could not interpret this as a call to slow or halt charter growth.

And given the continued demands of the city’s families for more high-quality options and the half-century inability of urban districts across the nation to deliver such options, I don’t know how we couldn’t be worried about that position.

If, however, Pearson and McKoy have something different in mind than what their words conveyed, I’m all ears.