Why Charter Schools Are Not Right for Fairfax


Recent editorials have promoted charter schools as a solution to bridging the achievement gap and overcrowding in Fairfax County Public Schools. Unfortunately, this suggestion reflects a lack of understanding of our schools, the students we serve and the academic growth that has been achieved over the past four years. 

Nationally charter schools have not been the panacea that some suggest. The failure rate for charter schools and the subsequent impact on students poses a great risk for students in Mount Vernon and the County. Between 2001 and 2013, 2500 charter schools were authorized and either failed to open or closed. Over 288,000 students were impacted by the closures nation wide. Locally, Washington D.C. saw 26 charter schools shutter programs and campuses between 2012 and 2018. Of these, 18 closed due to academics and 8 due to financial deficiencies.

According to a 2014 Tulane University study, the risk of disrupted school education caused by a charter school closure is 2 ½ time that of a public school student. Closures impact the dislocated students tremendously including decreasing the chance of graduating from high school by 10%. 

The 2016 GradNation Report showed that on average charter schools have an on-time graduation rate of 70%, with 30% of all charter schools graduating less than 67% of their carefully selected students. Fairfax County Public Schools graduates 91.5%. of its students on time. 

A University of Illinois study identified school closures as a contributing factor to high rates of youth incarceration. At a time, when the current School Board has focused on stopping the school to prison pipeline by adopting a new School Resource Officer MOU and changing our discipline policy to focus on partnering with parents, changing behaviors and keeping kids in school, introducing a high risk policy such as charter schools would undermine the progress we are making.

A fundamental difference between charter schools and public schools is that here in Fairfax County Public Schools we educate all children that come to our doors. Charter schools select the students they want to educate and those that they choose to show the door. Statistically, charter schools have not demonstrated a greater success in closing the achievement gap than public schools. The most recent reports from Ohio demonstrated that although charters make up 10% of the schools in Ohio, close to 40% of the schools that received F grades for closing the achievement gap were Charter schools. 

Here in the Mount Vernon Magisterial District, our school staff are focused on ensuring that each child is able to achieve their potential. Achievement gaps continue to be a challenge here, across the county, the state and the country. However, progress has been made over the past 3 years because of our targeted interventions and supports under the Project Momentum program. Preliminary results show improvements have exceeded 10% at a number of schools in multiple categories including: 

  • Belle View ES increased scores for Black students in English 13% and math by 28%. 
  • Bucknell increased scores for students with disabilities in English 33%, black students in math 13%. 
  • Fort Hunt improved scores for black students in English by 14% and 22% in Math, economically disadvantaged by 13% in English and 24% in Math, 16% for Hispanic students and 17% for students with disabilities. 
  • Gunston’s increased scores for students with disabilities narrowed by 13% and math by 10%, 
  • Halley increased scores for black students by 18% in math.  
  • Laurel Hill increased scores for Hispanic students in English by 10% and math by 13%, and black students by 12% in Math and economically disadvantaged by 13%, 
  • Lorton Station’s increased scores for students with disabilities by 12% in math. 
  • Mount Vernon High School increased scores for Hispanic students by 10% in English, students with disabilities scores improved in English by 22%. 
  • Sandburg increased scores by 30% for English learners and 14% for students with disabilities in English, 15% for Black students, 10% for economically disadvantaged and 37% for English learners and 17% for students with disabilities in math. 
  • Saratoga increased scores for black students 16% in English and 22% in math, economically disadvantaged by 15% in math, students with disabilities by 12% in English and 16% in math, at 
  • Whitman increased scores for English learners in English by 14% and 20% in math, black student gaps by 14% in math and students with disabilities by 24% in math. 
  • Woodley Hills increased scores for students with disabilities 17% in math.

Now is the time to stay the course, and focus on providing our students the world class education that they deserve.

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