Parents in Washington D.C. are demanding more choices for where their kids are educated, and public charter schools are tremendously successful. In a move that illustrates what charter supporters have always said — that education competition ensures everyone improves their services — principals in D.C.’s traditional public schools are now treating parents as potential customers.
Gone are the days when public schools could sit back and wait for students to show up on the first day of class. In this era of school choice, families have become consumers, and educators have become marketers as responsible for selling their academic offerings as they are for teaching and learning.
Nowhere is that shift more apparent than in the District, home to one of the most crowded and competitive school marketplaces in the nation, where a school’s budget — and continued existence — depends on the number of students it manages to enroll.
“We know that we have to fight for our students and win over hearts and minds because there are so many great choices out there,” said Christopher Rinkus, who oversees the school system’s enrollment efforts. “There’s a mind-set we’re working to change, that enrollment happens when it happens. .?.?. We’re in a climate where you can’t afford that mind-set.”
From 1996 to 2012, enrollment in the city’s traditional schools declined from about 75,000 to about 45,000. Although enrollment ticked up slightly in 2013, the school system still lost market share to charters, which now enroll 36,500 students, or 44 percent of the city’s public school population. Charter schools in the District educate a higher percentage of local students than anywhere in the United States other than Detroit and New Orleans, where traditional schools have been replaced almost entirely by charters.
Everyone wins when competition is infused into the arena. Thankfully, North Carolina education reformers have, for several years now, embraced competition.