Scott Pearson: "You Are the Ones Who Give Me Hope"
On December 11, we hosted a TIERific Practices in Education Event that honored our top performing DC public charter schools and recognized outstanding individuals in the sector with Excellence Awards. At the celebration, our Executive Director Scott Pearson gave the following remarks.
Good morning, everyone! I am Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, and I am so excited to be here today. Thank you for joining us today. I am looking forward to hearing from and honoring our six TIERific award winners - this is the first time we’re honoring individuals for their work in the charter sector. And we’re recognizing the accomplishments of our 51, highest-performing, Tier 1 schools.
I have had the opportunity to be part of this Tier 1 ceremony for the last several years, and I’m proud that every year we have more to celebrate. Frankly, I am in awe of the progress DC’s public charter schools have made the past 21 years.
From a standing start, our schools now, 21 years later, serve nearly half of the public school students in Washington, DC. But the same is true for cities like Detroit and Kansas City and nobody is bragging about that. The difference of course, is quality. Thanks to you, the people in this room, DC public charter schools are known, locally, nationally, even globally, as models of excellence. And I want you to reflect on what a profound impact that has had.
Locally, we have remarkable peace on the charter issue. The vituperative and bitter “charter wars” we see in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and so many other cities are largely absent from DC. Four Mayors in row and a consistent solid majority of the city council, including the Council Chair and the Chair of the Education committee, support charter schools. Think about this. In a country where progressives are increasingly abandoning public charter schools, the political forces in one of America’s most progressive cities are solidly behind them. There can be only one reason why, and that is the extraordinary high-quality schools all of you have built.
Looking nationally, DC charters have created an “inconvenient fact” for charter opponents. Every broadside against charters - for not serving all kids, for not outperforming traditional public schools - must contain a footnote, a parenthetical, an exception. Because DC charters stand as a national example for what the charter idea was meant to accomplish. Our schools provide parents with a dazzling array of choices. Our schools consistently outperform city averages while serving a less advantaged population. Our schools’ achievement gap is shrinking, not growing. And our schools are fully inclusive, serving an equal share of students with disabilities.
The effects on our city are astonishing. 1,000 people a month move into DC. Public school rolls have grown by 25,000 in the past nine years. Even the DCPS Chancellor has credited competition from great public charter schools for their own remarkable improvement.
In sum, great schools - that means your schools - have fueled a stunning renaissance in our city. People around the country are paying attention. Our success has shaped the national debate, and helped maintain bipartisan national support for the charter school movement.
I don’t want to sugar-coat the challenges that remain before us. The gaps in achievement between our black and white students, and between our low-income and high-income students, are just incredibly troubling. I don’t know an educator in this city who isn’t disheartened that we haven’t made more progress. And we have to acknowledge that the economic successes of our city, successes that we have helped create, have dislocated and dispossessed the families we are most committed to serving.
Moreover, the national scene has been incredibly dispiriting. The past year has been an open season against the poor, with racism and nationalism and anti-Semitism on the march, and basic civic discourse and civility in retreat. It is a disheartening time for our country.
But, I say this without hyperbole, it is you, in this room who give me hope for our country. In his first inaugural address, President Clinton said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right with America.” He was talking about you. You are the ones who give me hope. You, who devote your lives to making our country a more equal, just, and civil land; you, who prepare our young people to build a country that is better than it is today, you, who work every day overcoming poverty, trauma, and 500 years of institutional racism, you prove that all children are gifted. You are what is right about our country. You give me confidence that we will get to a better place. I am just incredibly humbled, and honored, to work with you as your authorizer.
And today, we gather to celebrate you, and thank you, for all you are doing for our children, for our city, and for our nation. Please join me as we give you all a round of applause.