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 05, 2011

Urban school "reform" in DC failing miserably

I've been meaning to mention this essay "Extraordinary isn't enough: Yes, we need to get rid of bad teachers. But we can't demand that teachers be excellent in conditions that preclude excellence" from the Los Angeles Times and this Associated Press story in the Miami Herald, "Researchers warn of school accountability shock'" as examples of why a "reform" agenda focused on firing teachers fails compared to a strategy focused on building deep and wide support systems for teachers, students, schools, principals, and families.

Mary Levy, a long time observer and financial analyst focused on DC public schools, testified before DC City Council on the state of public education reform in DC. This is an extract from her April 7th testimony, from the concerned4dcps e-list.

1. Rising teacher and principal workforce instability. Teacher attrition is high: 50% overall in 5 years. We lose newly-hired teachers even more quickly -- 25% within 1 year and 50% within 2 years.

At many schools, particularly east of Rock Creek Park, principals come and much too frequently to make improvements, and teachers stay only 1 or 2 years. Morale is low, which makes it even harder to retain good teachers.

2. High and rising numbers of novice teachers (first or second year) -- from 11.3% in FY 2005 to 19.4% in FY 2010. Wards 2, 3 and 6 had the lowest percentages of novice teachers in FY 2010, while the percentages in higher-poverty schools in Wards 1, 5 and 8 shot up.

Beginning teachers
Ward 1
Ward 5
Ward 8
FY 2005
FY 2010

3. No curriculum. Teachers and principals say that they still have no curriculum to meet standards enacted several years ago. Effectively, the curriculum becomes test prep for those standards they are told will be covered on this year’s DC CAS.

4. No parent and community involvement in important policy decisions. DCPS invites parents to work with their principals at the local school level, but principals are either unwilling or afraid to share information with them. And there is no community involvement in some major policy decisions: no community process on the Comprehensive Staffing Plan that drives local school budget allocations, the budget allocation between schools and central offices, or the order in which schools are or ar not modernized.

5. No basic school system statistics. In the last 4 years, apart from DC CAS test scores, DCPS has issued virtually no public information on drop-outs, graduation numbers, AP scores, or attendance. No public information on where employees work and what they do. No enrollment data until March.

6. Ongoing inadequate mandated special education services. Independent monitors in the Blackman-Jones litigation say DCPS has improved greatly in timely identification and placement of special education students and tracking and monitoring them, but still fails to give them special education services. Special education advocates report that students are not coming back from private placements and that the low income special education parents whom they represent usually do not want private placements -- but take them because their children will not get services otherwise.

7. Budget and spending largely unknown and under questionable control.

· DCPS does not follow its approved budget, moving (reprogramming) money mid-year without accountability, and sometimes just plain overspending.
· We have been unable to get current actual system or local school budgets. The FY 2012 budget book is a jumble. The only information on the functions where money will be spent makes no sense (special education, early childhood) or is not available (central offices, teachers).
· Through Mary’s tireless expert efforts, she’s figured out (and told the Council) that:

(a) DCPS per pupil spending has risen from $13,830 in FY 2007 to a proposed $17,265 next year;

(b) the number of central office employees in functions currently performed by DCPS is higher now than it was in any year since 1981, when we had 2x as many students;

(c) DCPS is to receive a $77 million increase next year;

(d) local school allocations are to be cut back in dollars as well as in purchasing power (they must absorb 5% teacher pay increases).

Mary concluded by stating: “This is serious business, both for the quality of instruction and the maintenance of fiscal responsibility. The Council is the only DC institution with independent oversight authority over DCPS. All other local authority is concentrated in the Mayor.”

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