School Choice Is the Answer to Underperforming Schools

Derrick Max | January 24, 2024

(Richmond Times-Dispatch) — As a founder and former principal of Cornerstone Schools of Washington, D.C., one of many innovative private and charter schools serving low-income, academically challenged students in D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods, I am saddened that so few options like Cornerstone exist in Richmond and other underserved communities throughout the commonwealth — options that would likely exist if the General Assembly would pass the “Education Excellence for All” bill or other similar parental choice legislation introduced this year.

In one sense, I would be sympathetic to the lack of options like the ones afforded in D.C. through their school choice program if the public schools in Virginia’s low-income communities served struggling students well, but they do not. By almost every measure, one-size-fits-all monopoly public schools, especially in our urban areas, are failing those who need their services the most.

Consider Richmond Public Schools. One-fourth of all students, and almost one-third of Black students, were chronically absent last year. A quarter of students drop out entirely — including a shocking 50% of Hispanic students. One-quarter of students do not graduate on time. RPS had 20,181 student suspensions last year — 194.1 suspension days per 100 Black students. Only 47% pass reading assessments and 44% pass math assessments compared to 73% and 69% statewide. Black performance in RPS was 42% in reading and 38% in math but was 60% and 54% statewide for Black students. This is a crisis of epic proportions.