Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Power of Bad Ideas: DC Public Schools

The Power of Bad Ideas
This was the headline of an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, and I thought it would make a good header (like a "series" title comparable to what newspapers do) for posts about misguided change efforts, say like DC school/education "reform," like this story I learned yesterday...

I will be teaching [at] a school that embodies "failing" (21% meet reading standards, almost all students qualify for school lunch, they've not met AYP for 8 years, morale is low and turnover high. the school doesn't have an assistant principal even though it has a large enrollment). In fact the principal and hiring committee told me point blank that the teacher I will be replacing was the best teacher in the school, forced out by the capricious IMPACT system.

What kind of evaluation system is so flawed that a goodly amount of the criteria you are evaluated on you have little control over?

Oh, I know, the Michelle Rhee created and touted by various "thought leaders" (like Katherine Bradley of the City Bridge Foundation) DC Public Schools IMPACT teacher evaluation system.

A neighbor teaches at one of the best elementary schools in DC. She told me they've lost teachers rated effective and highly effective, once the student test score data is included. She gets awards for being a highly effective teacher, but she won't take the bonuses, because when you do, you sign away job protections.

Even the people who lost billions of dollars at AIG's Financial Products Group got big bonuses (which proved to be very controversial) to stay (and untangle the mess they created).

What is communicated by such a two-faced system of evaluation and rewards in the DC Public School System?

Nothing good.

I can't in good faith recommend that someone take a job with DCPS.

Meanwhile, many of the families in my neighborhood send their children to the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School. LAMB has have one campus on Military Road and they are expanding to a new location in Ward 5 effective this month. It's great that my neighbors have options of decent schools somewhat close by.

Meanwhile the public elementary schools in my neighborhood and nearby are vastly underutilized (Whittier, Takoma, others), at least the ones that haven't been sold to charter schools.

Just think if DCPS had developed comparable quality programs to LAMB?

It's not that there aren't comparable examples of quality school programs in DCPS. DCPS has some Montessori programs, although they are dumbing them down. DCPS has at least one great bilingual school, Oyster Elementary. DCPS has the Capitol Hill Cluster Schools, a set of elementary schools and a junior high school with a variety of programs that have been successful at attracting children from families with choices.

As I wrote many years ago, these examples of "positive deviance" should have been supported and used as models for change in other parts of the school system.

- Positive Deviance and DC Public Schools
- Positive Deviance in New York City (public schools)
- 3 R's of Transforming the school system

Instead, these programs were either f***** with (Oyster, the Montessori schools) or ignored, while the teacher firing agenda dominated the "reform" agenda.


I ran into some smart growthers somewhere a couple months ago, and one person, prominent in the field, said something like "dealing with the schools is too hard, there's so much." I got pissed. It's hard. But knowing what to do is simple. Focus on building deep and rich support and professional development and capacity building systems for teachers, students, parents and families, principals, and schools. Without that, you are destined to fail.

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