Thursday, September 6

DC THURSDAY

WHO NEEDS PUBLIC SCHOOLS? DC DOES

GINA ARLOTTO - Every few months DCPS parents sit down with a cup of coffee to read their Sunday paper and are greeted by yet another rant against public education. Who can forget T. Robinson Ahlstrom's (the headmaster of Washington Latin) screed against public education that ended with the memorable line, "DCPS is dead. Let's bury it?" Now comes Mark Lerner's opinion piece stating that we should toss our entire public school system in the trash for a fully privatized system of charters and vouchers.

Let's just try to imagine what that world would be like:

1. No neighborhood schools. Every single DCPS has a boundary –a circle drawn around that school which, if you live within that boundary, you are guaranteed admission into the school. Unlike our DC charter schools, there's no application to fill out, no interview or contract for your parents to sign, no home visit, no dreaded lottery to win so that you are assured a spot, you just get to go.

2. No assurance of admission from year to year. If your grades lag or you turn out to be too much of a discipline problem, or your parents don't live up to the parent involvement contract they signed, or you have special education needs that supposedly can't be met by the charter, you might not get asked back each year. Many charter schools have contracts of admission, on which they state that attendance in their school is a privilege, not a right, and can be revoked at any time. Many, many students and parents every year are "counseled out" of their charter school and parents end up scrambling to find another school. But, of course, they will always have a spot at their in-boundary DCPS school.

3. Charters opening up in totally inappropriate locations for schools. Right now we have charters using space in churches, office buildings, industrial sections and some former DCPS buildings. Few charter schools have playgrounds or field space or cafeterias or gyms. Other charter school founders are attempting to shoehorn charter schools in the middle of tight residential blocks with no transportation impact studies being completed-there's no parking for staff, and certainly no drop off and pick up lanes for parents.

4. No coordination or planning for school offerings or locations. Charter school operators actively resist the notion that they should be required to coordinate their school themes, teaching philosophy, offerings or locations. That means you can have a French-immersion charter school opening up right across the street from another. Or you can have ten schools run by the same for-profit company, all just as under-enrolled as the DCPS school down the street. Charter schools are supposed to secure a location before the final charter is granted, but that doesn't stop the charter school from getting started and receiving the final charter much later.

5. Children and parents being encouraged to wade through the vast numbers of charter schools trying to find that "perfect" fit. It's like a shopping mall of boutique schools. We all just want a want a decent, solid, rigorous, enriched education for every DC student, not just those students who have parents with the wherewithal to wade through all the different options-and we're also now learning that most charter schools are not doing a better job than DCPS. There are now over 70 charter school campuses in DC – more charter schools per capita than anywhere else in the country-well, except for a post-Katrina New Orleans.

6. An extremely costly system of education. If DC went to an all charter system we would be creating mini-"central offices" at every single school in the city. Instead of being able to coordinate, plan for and organize procurement systems, foreign language programs, athletics, school modernization, whatever, we would have every single individual school doing those things on a one by one basis. Yes, DCPS has done a terrible job with many of these exact tasks in the past-but if it could be fixed and done well, as Ms. Rhee is attempting to do, it will save the city vast sums of money.

So, to Mr. Lerner and Mr. Ahlstrom, and all the other charter school boosters that we have in this city, could you please refrain from using such inflammatory rhetoric when it comes to discussing education in this city? Before you fire off that column for my Sunday paper, please take a moment and really reflect on what it is that you are asking for-the complete destruction of a true, free, open to all, system of schools, that may need some work, but can and will succeed with support from us all.

[Gina Arlotto is the parent of three DCPS schoolchildren and co-founder Save Our Schools]


SHOULD YOU PAINT YOUR BRICK?

NANCY METZGER, HILL RAG
- All of our brick houses started out as some variation of a red-brick color until the early 20th century when tan, cream and other light colored bricks became fashionable. Judging from the large photo in the CVS window at Seventh and Pennsylvania that was taken about 1890, painting common brick houses was popular even then. (Pressed brick houses were never painted unless with a linseed oil and red iron oxide to make them a more uniformly red brick color.) The question is, regardless of the reasons the houses were once painted, why should you paint a brick house?

Here are some things to think about:

1. If your house has never been painted, please don't be the first to do so. If you're thinking of painting because you feel the house is "dark" or "gloomy," try freshening up the window sashes, cornice and door with a new coat of paint; invest in some complementary, colorful landscaping, and then spend the rest of the savings on a trip to Italy. Repeat every five years.

2. If your house distresses you because past repairs to the brick walls were really atrocious and you're left with the visual reminders of non-matching mortar or sloppy workmanship, a coat of paint in a color that matches the brick might be the way to go. Matching the bricks makes color selection much easier. You won't come home to find that the warm gray turned out to look violent violet when applied to the house.

3. If you're considering painting because of "moisture problems," you're not addressing the issue. . .

4. After the repairs are made, it's decision time again if your repointed wall was previously painted: To paint or to remove the paint? In general, there's the all-at-one-time chemical paste removal system, and then there's the let-it-weather-off approach. Painting the façade might be initially cheaper but opting for the natural look will be cheaper in the long run. . .

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