This is a pivotal moment for D.C. education reform. This summer, the Mayor will likely recommend to the D.C. Council a new Deputy Mayor for Education and a new DCPS Chancellor.
It may be tempting to take a “stay-the-course” approach to these appointments. We believe that would be misguided and damaging to our city. Instead, we need leadership willing to acknowledge what isn’t working. We need a new DME and Chancellor committed to shifting the culture to one that is collaborative, teaching-and-learning centered, community-engaged, equitable, honest, transparent, and supportive of school-based educators, to win the commitment of teachers, principals, students and families. We need a Chancellor and DME who can fix and strengthen our school reform culture.
It is important that every member of the Washington Teachers’ Union, and all those who want the best possible education for each and every DC public school student, demand that the DC Mayor and Council follow the law and make sure teachers and the community be involved in choosing our next Chancellor.
The petition being circulated by the WTU reads:
The Washington Teachers’ Union is seeking the mayor’s commitment to comply with the law governing Chancellor selection, PERAA, Title I, Section 105, Subsection (b).
This subsection of the PERAA reads:
(b) Prior to the selection of a nominee for Chancellor, the Mayor shall:
(A) Establish a review panel of teachers, including representatives of the Washington Teachers Union, parents, and students (“panel”) to aid the Mayor in his or her selection of Chancellor;
(B) Provide the resumes and other pertinent information pertaining to the individuals under consideration, if any, to the panel; and
(C) Convene a meeting of the panel to hear the opinions and recommendations of the panel.
(2) The Mayor shall consider the opinions and recommendations of the panel in making his or her nomination and shall give great weight to any recommendation of the Washington Teachers Union.
We demand that representatives of the Washington Teachers’ Union, parent members, and student representatives be selected by their respective organizations.
Fulfilling the mission of DCPS:
To dramatically improve learning for the majority of DCPS’s students and transform schools into healthy, vibrant learning communities capable of long-term strategies to close the achievement gap, it’s essential to trust educators and support them in improving their individual schools. As research and experience show, improving our schools requires adopting a culture that is honest about the real problems and owns the strategies for improvement.
The graduation rate scandal amounted to using tricks to create the appearance of improving rates rather than improving the underlying quality of education – a lowering of standards. The turnover churn among teachers and principals has not abated since it began in 2007. Twenty percent of teachers and twenty five percent of principals leave each year. In our highest poverty schools, teacher turnover is 33%, even higher in charter schools. When educators leave at those rates, regardless of some of the profession’s highest salaries, something is wrong; it’s not the kids.
It’s true there were some improvements in DCPS during the past eleven years. Dramatic funding increases, stemming from a healthy economy, largely led to schools opening on time, paychecks going out, better facilities, improved elementary school enrollment and expanded early childhood programs.
But, in fact, student achievement has seen ups and downs. Progress measured by standardized test scores these past eleven years has actually been less than in the seven years before the so-called reforms were implemented. Recent NAEP scores for 2017 confirm another year of little to no progress on student achievement measurements, with scores for the bottom 25% of students declining and the achievement gaps by race and income widening between 2015 and 2017.
We say it’s time to bring new focus to our schools’ culture and incentive structure, both charter and DCPS. Decisions seem to be made to look good, not to do what’s best for students. We’ve ignored what teachers and principals need and what research calls for.
The path to improved student achievement and better matter-of-right schools in every ward must involve a change in the reform culture. This includes providing the following:
A Rich, Broad Curriculum – Do what’s worked elsewhere: Educate the whole child instead of focusing primarily on reading and math skills. A broad, challenging curriculum including science, social studies and arts is the best way to teach reading and math and create a rich learning environment for kids.
A Stable, High-quality Staff of Teachers and Principals – Again, do what’s worked elsewhere: Teaching and learning centered schools require a stable staff of adults that kids, especially the most vulnerable, can relate to. Create a supportive, nurturing learning climate for educators as well as students, because teachers’ constantly coming and going damages the learning culture. Encourage teachers to innovate, collaborate, and mentor each other at the schoolhouse to better improve instruction, reach students, and create a vibrant, professional school culture. Provide training and other resources teachers say they need to strengthen their knowledge and skills and grow professionally. Move away from the punitive IMPACT system, designed to rank and rate educators rather than improve teaching. According to teachers, IMPACT contributes to teacher dissatisfaction and churn, particularly in high poverty schools, and incentivizes data-bending shortcuts like grade inflation and lowered graduation standards.
Equitable Funding – Provide resources adequate, and tailored, to student need in all schools. That means additional resources and staffing allocated according to a weighted student formula to target students significantly behind grade level for intervention. Deploy additional staff to work directly with high-need students and high-need schools.
Listening to Individual Schools – More Responsiveness to What School Communities Need and Fewer Top-down Mandates – Shift to DCPS Central Office collaborating with each school to develop its plan for how best to create a dynamic, trusted, innovative learning culture. The current approach – staffing Central Office to roll out top-down strategies to be implemented with fealty, whether or not they work and make sense at each school– is not viable. Support each school’s staff, parents, community members and secondary students to conduct comprehensive needs assessments and develop and implement individualized school improvement plans addressing that school’s needs. Central Office needs to support greater school autonomy and creativity, rather than impose system-wide uniformity.
Community Schools – Greatly expand the community schooling approach of wraparound services to overcome students’ non-academic obstacles to learning, such as health and housing; expand extended day and extended year offerings, including sports and civic engagement activities; reach out to parents and families to involve them in school life and support their children’s learning at home; and empower educators to innovate and apply their professional judgment in how schools operate.
Learning from What Works and What Doesn’t – Honest, Transparent and Independent Data and Research – We know so little about what’s working and isn’t in D.C. schools. Every year there are new initiatives, but which work and how do we know? No research is done to find out. We need to collect a wider range of data about how we’re doing. The data need to be impartially analyzed and publicly reported by independent researchers. Useful data, like parent, teacher and student satisfaction surveys, staff turnover rates, and the results of programs implemented and dollars expended, need to be both collected and made public.
A Respectful and Trusting Environment of Enthusiastic Engagement – Collaborate with each school to create a welcoming, respectful, trusting and enthusiastically engaged environment for all school staff, students, parents and community members.
Strong Neighborhood Schools – Work Deliberately and Strategically to Build Enrollment in the System of Matter-of-right Neighborhood Schools — DCPS needs to develop and resource a plan to grow enrollment.
This is a pivotal moment and we implore the Mayor and the Council not to make status quo appointments for Chancellor and DME. There is no excuse to cling to a top-down, simplistic metric-obsessed, punitive culture and policies when the evidence shows they’re not working for our kids, families, communities and taxpayers. We urge you to work with a representative group of teachers, principals, parents, and public education advocates in an open search process for these two leadership positions. We need as Chancellor and DME seasoned urban educators who have the knowledge, skills and confidence to re-examine what we’re doing and lead us to a new school reform culture.