Charter Schools' Food for Thought; Improved Test Scores 'Fueled' by Nutritious Meals, Feds Say
Byline: Mark Lerner, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
There is good news, and there is really good news, and the students, parents, teachers and administrators of D.C. public charter schools received both on Oct. 13.
That was the day Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his wife, Karen, joined members of the U.S. men's national soccer team and representatives from the D.C. Public Charter School Board and Building Hope, a nonprofit that provides technical and financial assistance for public charter schools, for a visit to D.C. Preparatory Academy Public Charter School in Northeast Washington. Their visit marked National School Lunch Week and the launch of the Department of Education's Fueled and Fit: Ready to Learn campaign.
The secretary and his wife toured the school, participated in a soccer clinic led by Jozy Altidore and Oguchi Onyewu of the men's soccer team, and conducted lunch time readings and led discussions with students.
D.C. Prep offers students healthy meals through the Revolution Foods service and focuses on wellness through activities such as physical education and field trips to local grocery stores. Revolution Foods offers its healthy meals program to a number of D.C. public charter schools.
An atmosphere of pride was evident as the students introduced themselves to Mr. Duncan and displayed graphs noting the school's impressive scores on recent citywide standardized tests.
They have a reason to be proud: Students at the D.C. Prep middle school boasted some of the best academic results of any public school in the city.
D.C. Prep Edgewood Middle Campus has closed the citywide achievement gap between black and white students by 50 percent. Its students have exceeded the District of Columbia's average in standardized public school tests by 18 percent in reading and 20 percent in math.
Economically disadvantaged students, who are defined by the Department of Education as those eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, are nearly twice as likely to be proficient in reading and math at D.C. Prep aratory Academy Public Charter School than their peers in neighborhood public schools.
Like many charter schools, D.C. Prep is located in converted warehouse space that was renovated with the assistance of Building Hope. This required a number of innovations, including architectural features that bring natural light into a space that previously needed few windows and imaginative changes of use. A former loading bay is now an auditorium, for example.
Supporters of public charter school reform in the District regard the visit of Mr. Duncan to D.C. Prep., and his visit with President Obama to Capital City Public Charter School earlier this year, as a vote of confidence in the District's high-performance public charter schools.
In addition, community interest and enrollment in D.C. charter schools continue to grow. Last year, public charter schools accounted for more than 25,000 students. On the same day as Mr. Duncan's visit to D.C. Prep, the Public Charter School Board announced that the current student population, in 57 schools on 99 campuses, increased to nearly 28,000 - approximately 38 percent of total public school enrollment.
This increase in public charter school enrollment demonstrates that these schools' unique mix of increased autonomy and heightened accountability continues to deliver results for D.C. children, especially those from economically disadvantaged families, said Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a resource and advocacy organization for the D.C. public charter schools.
Following his tour of D.C. Prep, Mr. Duncan said that in addition to the charter school's impressive test scores, it was clear from his visit that the students had an intellectual curiosity that indicated that D.C. Prep was a high-performance school.
The District has allowed public charter schools since 1996. …