Now what? Structural changes needed atop D.C.’s traditional schools

The Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education are gone, and in the Chancellor’s case he lasted only a year in his position.  It appears that pressure to increase high school graduation rates exerted on school leaders by the person who preceded Mr. Wilson resulted in kids receiving diplomas who did not attend class and who were given passing grades in classes they should have failed.  Mayor Bowser could simply name new individuals to fill these spots but we really cannot go through anything like this again.  It is simply not fair to our kids.

Today, the editors of the Washington Post assert that pointing the blame on Mayoral control of the traditional public schools is the wrong place to look:

“Such thinking is shortsighted. The school system that exists today is a far cry from the sorry state of affairs a decade ago when schools didn’t open on time, teachers went unpaid, expectations for students were low and parents fled the system. The seriousness of the problems related to inflated graduation rates can’t be discounted, but that does not negate what has been accomplished under school reform. In addition to building a prekindergarten system, rigor has been added to the curriculum, new instructional strategies have been introduced and the teaching force has been transformed into a performance-based profession. Enrollment is up, and test scores, including on the highly regarded ‘nation’s report card,’ show improvements in student achievement.”

Yes, the neighborhood schools are in much better shape than when they reported to the D.C. Board of Education.  But in reality what choice was there?  Charter schools were enrolling students from the regular schools in waves.  In fact, it was not until DCPS lost over 25 percent of its population that Michele Rhee entered the picture to try and turn things around.  If something were not done the neighborhood schools would be a ghost town.

Much more drastic improvements are still needed.  The achievement gap, now at about 60 points, is growing, not shrinking, after 20 years of school reform.  At least a dozen, and in reality many more, school buildings sit vacant that could be going to charter schools.  Many DCPS facilities are significantly under-enrolled.  Charters are receiving about $100 million a year less than the regular schools illegally outside of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.  Low performing neighborhood schools are allowed to continue operating in perpetuity, while charters that demonstrate poor academic results are closed.

We need to replicate the success that the charter sector has had on the regular school side.  Perhaps there needs to be a DC Public School Board composed of volunteers named by the mayor.  The board would then open and close neighborhood schools based upon a charting system mirrored on the PCSB.  The timing could not be better, as the Office of the State Superintendent of Education is rolling out a five-star rating system for all public schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Schools scoring lower than at least a three could be shuttered.

I’m not sure if this new organization is the answer.  Maybe all schools should simply report to the charter board.  But I do know that with so much power in the hands of the Mayor, priorities become one person’s prerogative.  When it comes to the future of our children, I’m afraid we need something more.


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