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[Susan notes: Two strong letters.]

Published in Washington Post
11/06/2006

To the editor


Washington Latin School headmaster T. Robinson Ahlstrom apparently hasn't gotten far enough into the curriculum at his two-month-old charter school to refresh himself on the dangers of hubris in public life ["Where Fenty Should Lead the Schools," Close to Home, Oct. 29].



If he had, he might have acknowledged that the D.C. Public Schools he pronounced "dead" boast more than a handful of fine schools and that the rise of the "central-system approach to urban public education" was in no small part due to the failure of more traditional "on-site leadership" to meet the needs of all students.



He also should have acknowledged that schools such as Washington Latin, which operates like a publicly funded private school, will never serve more than a handful of the economically disadvantaged, limited English-proficient or disabled students that constitute the large majority of students served by the regular public school system.



Washington Latin may well thrive as the elite institution envisioned by Mr. Ahlstrom, but given the generally undistinguished record of the many other charter schools operating in the District, it is far from clear that this choice-based model of reform is a better bet than the comprehensive change and improvement already under way in DCPS under the leadership of Superintendent Clifford B. Janey.



BILL CORDES



Washington



Dear Editor:



It's easy to understand the frustration that Washington Latin School's headmaster, T. Robinson Ahlstrom, feels about D.C. Public Schools.



But his proposal for a National Center for School Leadership that can turn out principals who alone have the ability to ensure high-performance schools is naive.



His strategy is predicated on the dubious assumption that educators by themselves can overcome the huge deficits in socialization, motivation and intellectual development that disadvantaged students bring to school through no fault of their own. It is no doubt reinforced by data about the success of KIPP academies under the leadership of charismatic principals.



But KIPP -- Knowledge Is Power Program -- operates under strict rules that are highly unlikely to be replicated on a widescale basis. As a result, their usefulness as a model is limited in the District or elsewhere.



WALT GARDNER

Bill Cordes and Walt Gardner


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