Greater Greater Education

DC schools need a mayor who's in a hurry

Ask most of the candidates in the District's April 1 Democratic primary about the gap between our most and least successful public schools, and they'll tell you they want every school to be great. That's a laudable aspiration, but at our current pace it will take more than a generation to get there. Sadly, few candidates support acting boldly to change the lives of students being left behind.


Photo by Eirien on Flickr.

The District's traditional public schools have made significant strides, with scores rising to the point at which last year 47 percent of D.C. Public Schools students scored proficient in reading on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System (D.C.-CAS), the District's standardized test, and 50 percent did so in math. But that means only about half of our students are able to perform fairly basic math and reading tasks.

There is a long way to go. And the gap in achievement between wealthier and poor kids not only persists but also is increasing in some areas.

The bottom line is that the pace of change has been excruciatingly slow, with scores rising only about 1.3 percentage points per year. At that rate, true change will not come until the children of many of today's elementary school students are starting school.

Continue reading our latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 
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. 

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There is a danger in electing people who just want to be seen "doing something" rather than actually improving things

by SJE on Mar 22, 2014 5:03 pm • linkreport

Your urging for bold, swift action will be read as code by many for brining back the policies and attitude of Michelle Rhee. The animus many in the African American community held for her (rightly or wrongly) is probably the main factor that secured Vincent Grey's victory four years ago.

by Adam on Mar 23, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

Schools resist quick fixes. Rhee's approach proved to look like bold action but have minimal effect and easily predicted corruption that was only apparent once she left. Charters appeal to people like many of the regular posters but, in general, perform no better than public schools on most metrics. Building good schools requires strong principals, competent teachers and participation from parents, as well as good curricula--one or another element is often missing even among many schools in "good" systems.

Schools ultimately are social organisms and this makes it difficult to replicate successful models. The one thing that should happen with DCPS is the reduce the size of the administration. This accounts for a big part of the high per pupil cost and administrators often provide little value added. This has been little mentioned or addressed and I would guess that school superintendents like it that way because administration provides them with their own patronage troughs.

Curricula are important, as opposed to teaching to easily rigged tests and using tests in the wrong way, so as to capitalize on practice rather than good measurement of learning. There are many evidence based approaches to dealing with children whose learning has started badly and to managing classroom environments, unfortuantely they don't get used and the emphasis on Rhee-type leadership provides no incentive to actually implement proven methods and take the time to do things right.

What's needed is competent management and tools with demonstrated value. Unfortunately, those are pretty unsexy and even well meaning parents easily buy into educational gimmicks of one sort or another.

by Rich on Mar 23, 2014 9:08 pm • linkreport

I am surprised a site supporting good planning for urban needs would write an op-ed supporting Wells on education.

Wells was the one who thought up a direct feeder relationship between Brent and BASIS and Latin. He is erratic and shoots from the hip on this and other education issues.

Clearly Wells intends to throw whatever he can think of at the wall and see if it sticks. That is not acceptable education policy. I understand urgency, but not at the expense of planning and reasonable ideas.

by Wells Is Erratic on Education on Mar 23, 2014 9:21 pm • linkreport

A hurry to do what? DC has one of the world's highest per pupil spending rates and has raised teacher standards. What else do you propose the mayor do to hasten improvement?

Student performance will improve when parental guidance improves. There's just no substitute. And that's why the children of tiger moms (of any race or household income) perform much better than those of uninvolved parents.

by Burd on Mar 24, 2014 11:19 am • linkreport

Sadly, it seems that a chunk of DC's improvement in education is a result of changing demographics.

by SJE on Mar 24, 2014 11:39 am • linkreport

The one Mayoral candidate who is in a hurry on education is David Catania. I don't always agree with what he's in a hurry to do, but according to your own criterion, he's your man.

I would vote for Gray if he didn't have an Uncle Earl problem so I'm just looking for the most viable non-Evans non-Bowser alternative.

by Ward 1 Guy on Mar 24, 2014 2:41 pm • linkreport

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