Greater Greater Education

At-large DC Council candidates favor extended school hours for low-performing schools

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here are the discussions about education with candidates for DC Council at-large. See all of the discussions here.


Left to right: John Settles, Nate Bennett-Fleming, Pedro Rubio. Images from the candidate websites.

The 3 challenger candidates for the at-large seat on the DC Council all support the idea of extended school hours or afterschool programs to increase the pace of progress at DCPS's lowest-performing schools.

Asked whether they would support some form of an extended school day, Nate Bennett-Fleming, Pedro Rubio, and John Settles all unhesitatingly said they would. Settles and Rubio identified the main obstacle as the teachers' union and its demands for additional compensation for longer hours.

Settles said he had seen signs of some flexibility on the teachers' part, suggesting they might be willing to accept perks like more vacation time rather than increased pay. And Rubio advocated funding more afterschool programs that involve volunteers and community organizations.

Bennett-Fleming offered a similar solution, calling for increased funding for enrichment programs after regular school hours.

"I believe that what happens outside of the classroom, after school, is just as important as what happens during the school day," he said.

Both Settles and Bennett-Fleming also advocate establishing community schools, which would serve as a base for social- and health-service providers. They also mentioned increasing teacher retention rates in high-poverty schools by focusing on student growth rather than measuring student achievement against a set proficiency rate.

Pedro Rubio talked about the need to understand the differences between schools with large proportions of Latino students and schools that are 99% or 100% African-American, saying that members of different groups may have different needs. (Incumbent At-Large DC Councilmember Anita Bonds is also in the race but didn't respond to interview requests.)

Bennett-Fleming's proposals

Of the 3 candidates, Bennett-Fleming had the most fleshed-out array of ideas to increase student achievement and, as he put it, "raise expectations." He mentioned a number of changes to the curriculum, including a greater emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and a greater focus on developing analytical skills rather than preparing students for multiple-choice standardized tests. Schools should use technology to personalize instruction, he added, and every school should have a library.

Bennett-Fleming listed innovations that he said would show students they're expected to go to college, some of which have been tried in other cities. Among them were giving every pre-K student some money to start a college savings fund and offering "education cafés" throughout the District, where students could meet with college counselors and use computers for test prep classes and college applications.

He also said he's exploring the idea of making community college free for all DC students. He mentioned the possibility of setting up guaranteed-admission agreements between DC's community college and 4-year colleges around the country.

"I've been to some of our lowest-performing schools," Bennett-Fleming said, "and taught classesAnacostia, Ballou, H.D. Woodson. Part of the problem is that the students know that the teachers do not expect much from them."

Boundaries and feeder patterns

In his answers, Rubio also drew on his own experience as a volunteer who has worked with at-risk youth and as a student who was "average" and "made some mistakes," but he offered less in the way of policy analysis than the other two candidates.

All 3 candidates support ensuring that at least some out-of-boundary students continue to have a chance to attend higher-performing DCPS schools in Wards 2 and 3. But Rubio favored allowing greater access to those schools to kids from across the District, while Settles and Bennett-Fleming emphasized the need to improve schools in all neighborhoods.

"I feel like a child from Ward 8 should be able to go to school in Ward 2 or Ward 3 if they desire to," Rubio said, noting that he was able to avoid attending Roosevelt High School by going to live with an uncle in Prince George's County.

That experience was key to helping him flourish academically and setting him on the right track. "And I think other kids deserve a chance at the same opportunity," he said.

Speaking of the current review of boundaries and feeder patterns, Settles said he hoped that the new system would preserve at least some out-of-bounds seats at higher-performing schools. "But the reality is," he said, "there's going to be a lot of kids now who've had access to a quality seat that don't. And the reality is we haven't created enough quality seats across the city."

He advocated having "magnet and specialty programs in each of the schools, so that we have some incentive for parents to keep their high-performing kid in the neighborhood."

Bennett-Fleming agreed that the fundamental problem is a lack of high-quality schools across the District. "Increasingly, we cannot sustain a system that's built around 20 or 30 good schools and the overwhelming majority of schools not being functional," he said.

He said that he was in favor of a proposal to funnel additional money to schools that have more poor and at-risk students.

Asked whether the role of high-performing charters such as KIPP DC should be expanded, all 3 candidates expressed caution. Rubio advocated borrowing methods used by successful charters, such as an extended school day, and incorporating them into DCPS schools.

Settles echoed that, saying that charters should be "centers of innovation." He advocated increased collaboration between DCPS and charters, and said that as a founding parent of Inspired Teaching Demonstration charter school he was in a good position to help bring the sectors together.

Bennett-Fleming said that he doubted there were enough high-performing charters to fill the need and mentioned failed experiments with bringing in charter operators at Anacostia and Dunbar high schools. But he also said, "I think we should be replicating KIPP, we should be allowing KIPP to have as much of an impact on the city as it would like."

To watch the interviews in their entirety, click on the videos below.

Rubio:

Settles:

Bennett-Fleming:

We conducted the interviews at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw library and the Gibson Plaza apartments, a mixed-income market rate and affordable housing building also in the Shaw neighborhood. Thanks to Martin Moulton for organizing the space and recording and editing the videos.

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Natalie Wexler is a board member at DC Scholars Public Charter School and a volunteer tutor in a DC Public School. She also serves on the board of The Writing Revolution, an organization that brings the teaching of analytical writing to underserved schools. She has been a lawyer, a historian, and a journalist, and is the author of three novels. 

Comments

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Nate seems to understand and has identified ways in which the city can help underprivileged high school kids who need and want help getting into college. He spent a lot of time talking about this in his video clip. I get it. He was that kid.

While we need to continue seeking ways to assist underserved HS students who desire an opportunity to go to college, that is not the issue most of today's DC parents are wringing their hands over. What about middle class parents with elementary and middle school kids whose inbounds schools are inadequate? What about the charter vs DCPS tug of war and the need for better facilities? He barely touched on those issues, if at all. And what about the upcoming boundary changes? When they posed that question, he stumbled all over it. I'm wondering if he's really tuned into the major education issues facing DC families TODAY.

I checked out his website. He's a 29 year old recent law grad who worked as a shadow rep (which isn't even a paid position and one he apparently won in an unopposed election). Does he even have a job right now?

Outside of his educational experience, one has to ask what experience he really brings to the table.

by DetailsMatter on Mar 4, 2014 12:30 pm • linkreport

Stop all the no experience nonsense. Rubio is still in school, the real question is what does Settles do? I know he had a bankrupt company, but what now? Nate works at UDC's law school as an adjunct professor and is deputy general counsel for a federal IT subcontractor. Nate worked as a legislative assistant on the Council, in Congress, and he worked at the top legislative law firms in the country. He also started a business last year that won the Yale entrepreneurial fellowship. Seems like he's getting penalized for getting an education...

by Naha on Mar 4, 2014 12:58 pm • linkreport

Nate has had some quality experiences from working at Goldman Sachs on Wall St to working on Presidential and Senate campaigns. He is an attorney, just looks young....but you can't dismiss him as if he hasn't accomplished anything

by Rebbie on Mar 4, 2014 1:05 pm • linkreport

I don't think Nate's supporters have bothered to vet him fully.

HE DOES NOT WORK FOR UDC.

He has not worked there since 2012. He is NOT listed as either a full time or adjunct professor on UDC's site. The page that comes up with him as an adjunct on Google is an archive. Don't believe me? Call the school. After they tell you he does not work there, answer me this question--Does he have a job?

Moreover, he likes to tout 15 years of experience. HE'S 29! He's touting experience from when he was 15??!! Seriously. Internships are impressive to list if you're trying to get a first job, but an At-Large Council seat that oversees a billion dollar budget. Really???! And what about his DUI plus, the twice suspended license?

by EastbyNW on Mar 4, 2014 1:36 pm • linkreport

According to Settles website, he is in mortgage banking and has been for over 20 years: http://www.settlesfordcatlarge.com/about_john

While it may be true that Settles had a company go into bankruptcy, so too did many Fortune 500 companies at the same time. He took a risk and it failed. That is better than multiple DUI's and driving on a suspended license that Bennett-Fleming can boast (and did on Twitter before he deleted it) which put other people's lives at risk.

And, LOL at the UDC thing. So I will ask, what does Nate do for a living and what has he been doing since 2012 when he left UDC? And why does everyone think he still is at UDC?

As far as Rubio goes, he is in school to learn what Settles has been doing the last 20 years. Maybe he can ask him for an internship. Nice guy, with a future down the road, but it is questionable why he is in this race now.

by Luke on Mar 4, 2014 1:49 pm • linkreport

The training and experience we require our exceptional certified teachers to have shouldn't be undermined and deminished by some nebulous after school program conducted by some over priced panhandling NGO that is not subject to rigorous oversight by Council, OSSE, DME (or the rest of the District's alphabet soup currently responsible for the dismal performance rates of students) — or DPR (which is a mess when it comes to programming for District residents). Extend the school day so professionals will be in charge of the educational needs of our students.

The writing is on the wall. If labor does not step up with some urgency to renegotiate a contract that ultimately helps to increase the performance outcomes of students, District PARENTS will continue to take their brilliant students out of DCPS and put them in high performing public charter, parochial and private schools, and the gov't will continue to close DCPS facilities until only a few like Janney, Deal and Wilson remain and we make space for more high performing schools.

When labor no longer has member teachers who are gainfully employed, they might then wake up and consider what they might have done differently.

Don't teachers already get about ONE to TWO MONTHS off for summer in additional to the major holidays — more than most people in the workplace?

Why not just hire a second shift of teachers who will be a constant reminder to poor performing teachers that someone else is ready to take their job if they slack off on the mission.

by @ShawingtonTimes on Mar 4, 2014 2:06 pm • linkreport

Extended school day is one thing but I would be more interested in an extend school year. Particularly for ELL students it would have a great benefit of preventing some of the intersession skills decline.

by Andy on Mar 4, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

Extending the school day or school year may help those students that are struggling, but these solutions fail to acknowledge those kids that are progressing despite the school's shortcomings. Will academically advanced kids in failing schools be required to spend even more time in the classroom?

by Kevin on Mar 4, 2014 4:00 pm • linkreport

I have agree with the poster above that an extended school year would serve children more. Kipp, Latin, Yu-Ying all provide summer academies for at least 3 weeks of the year.

Rubio's point that Hispanic students in DC may have different issues is spot on. When we were at Thomson many parents struggled to communicate with the school because they did not necessarily read Spanish. Their kids often regressed during the summer and there were very few staff members that spoke Spanish and could help them find resources for helping their kids.

I would like some magnet program to give me a reason to keep my kids in my neighborhood and some real focus on rigor. At this point I drive an extra 15 miles a day across town because the schools in Ward 5 have no track record success. The student reassignment issue needs to address the quality issue.

by DC Parent on Mar 4, 2014 10:14 pm • linkreport

Seems to me we should be doing both. Extending the school year, and extending the school day.

School should be an 8-5 proposition. Include WAYYY more recess, enrichment activities etc, as well as time to do homework etc.

The school year should be expanded massively. Not to 260 days like working folks, but somewhere closer to 220-230 days.

I am happy to pay more in taxes to make this a reality.

by kyle-w on Mar 5, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

Hey guys, thanks for the feedback. Yes, I am still in school. In 2009, friends and I started a non-profit called Inter-American Development Fund (IADF). We built real estate projects in Latin America, learn more about it here: http://www.interamericanfund.org/projects.html

I joined the Georgetown program because I wanted to continue growing IADF and I also wanted to continue my education. I plan to finish the program but I don't have any desire to enter the real estate market. I like what I do now, as a procurement specialist for the federal government and I can see myself doing it for a long time. My knowledge in procurement and contracts will benefit the council to avoid bad city contracts and unethical practice of awards. We will be able to save money, and invest it towards education.

by Pedro Rubio (candidate) on Mar 10, 2014 9:29 pm • linkreport

So does that mean you would keep your federal job and be a part time at-large councilmember, if you can see yourself doing it for a long time?

by William on Mar 10, 2014 9:38 pm • linkreport

Hi William,

I left my federal government job in November 2013 to become a contractor for the federal government in order to run for office. I will be a full time council member if elected and I won't hold any other outside jobs. I believe if you really want to serve the people, you give it 100%.

by Pedro Rubio (candidate) on Mar 10, 2014 9:49 pm • linkreport

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