Former Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray thinks education reform efforts in the city over the past decade or so have worked, crediting competition between schools for improving student achievement.

"One of the reasons for that is the fact that we have created a competitive environment," Gray said Thursday at an event hosted by the Progressive Policy Institute. "We have assumed over all these years that a regulated approach to public education would make it better. And if it made it better somewhere else, it certainly didn't make it better in the District of Columbia, because we had tremendous decline. There was complacency that set in, and there was a view that whatever you did was kind of okay. … I honestly think that one of the principal reasons for the improvements we're seeing is the feeling that if you don't get better, you're going to go out of business."

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In the past 10 years, the portion of D.C. Public Schools students proficient in both math and reading has increased by 18 percentage points. That same number has risen by 21 percentage points in the district's charter schools. "We have come light-years in a short period of time," Gray said. "In really about 15 or 20 years we have made enormous progress." He acknowledged there was still more work to be done.

Gray added that the debate over charter schools had largely moved past the issue of whether charter schools take money from students. "Aren't they all our same kids?" Gray said. "Anyone who wants to engage in that argument is just wasting their time."

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Washington has the healthiest public charter school movement in the country, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Forty-four percent of public school students in Washington go to charter schools, second-highest in the country behind New Orleans and Detroit.

Gray served as mayor of the District from 2011 through 2014. Prior to that, Gray chaired the city council for four years.

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