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.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

D.C. schools’ test-score gap by race largest in U.S.

is an article in the Washington Times. The Post has its take too, "D.C. schools have largest black-white achievement gap in federal study," plus there is a piece by Jay Mathews on the success of charter schools in DC, "The rise of D.C. charter schools."

This result, sadly, is no surprise to me.

I am disappointed quotes in the Post article attribute all of the gap to income disparities, which while true absolutely, somewhat excuses the reality that the school system, including recent "reform" efforts, is responsible for responding to material realities of the demographics of its student population, and developing the right response--in support and development systems for teachers, students, families, schools, and principals--so that the achievement gap can be conquered.

From the Post article:

The District’s racial gap is really an income divide, said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents the largest urban school systems.

“You’ve got relatively more well-to-do whites in Upper Northwest quadrants, particularly Ward 3, which score higher than white students nationally, and you’re comparing it with poor, African American students largely in wards 7 and 8,” Casserly said. “There are extreme income disparities.”

The real "crime" is that the DC region has two excellent examples of school systems that work to reduce this gap: Montgomery County, which is a national best practice example of how to do this--not perfect yet, but far better than when they started out in the late 1990s--and Arlington County.

Too bad that DC couldn't learn from national best practices in our own backyard.

Instead DC has destroyed the traditional public school system through a two-pronged effort.

First, well, really Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton did it--through the creation of the public charter schools, which have directed resources away from improving the public schools--not just financial resources, but also community capital and organizational resources, because the motivated parents and families are directing their energies to the charter schools rather than trying to fix the public schools. (Not that I can blame them because it can be easier to start something new than to fix something old.)

This point--about how there is only so much financial, organizational, and social capital available to fix public schools, and by diverting this capital to charter schools, basically the public school system becomes unfixable--is something that Jay Mathews' piece about successful public charter schools completely misses.

The second through the failure to not focus on wholesale overhaul of the school "system"--not just on whether or not there are "bad teachers," refocusing and repositioning how it is structured, managed, and funded to educate lower income students.

I have many dozens of blog entries on public school and education issues, this entry from 2009, "Missing the most fundamental point about urban educational reform (in DC)" is obviously still relevant. This section is about Montgomery County:

In fact, Montgomery County in particular is increasing recognized nationally for their success with what are called "Title I" schools. And hey, MoCo isn't that far away, it borders the northwest part of the city (I live less than one mile from MoCo...). See "When ‘Unequal’ Is Fair Treatment" from Education Week. From the article:

When Jerry D. Weast became the superintendent of the Montgomery County, Md., public schools in 1999, he spent the summer poring over student-achievement results and demographic trends. Then he created a map to illustrate what he’d found.

The map divided the suburban district, just outside the nation’s capital, into two distinct areas, which he dubbed the “red zone” and the “green zone.” Most poor, minority, and English-language learners lived in the red zone, an urbanized core that was attracting a growing immigrant population. The green zone was predominantly white, affluent, and English-speaking. Academic performance closely mirrored the demographic trends, with the lowest-performing schools overwhelmingly concentrated in the red zone.

Without swift and deliberate action, the district faced the prospect of becoming split in two, divided by opportunity. To Mr. Weast, the solution was obvious.. Montgomery County needed a differentiated strategy that funneled extra attention and resources to schools in the red zone, while increasing academic rigor for everyone.

“There’s this American thing about treating everybody equal,” he explained recently. “Our theory was, the most unequal treatment is equal treatment.”

Since then, Montgomery County’s leaders have maintained a delicate balance between “raising the bar and closing the gap” that has enabled the nation’s 16th-largest school district to narrow achievement gaps while retaining the support of wealthier, highly educated parents. ...

The basic difference is that the best practice school systems focus on developing robust systems of excellence and create multifaceted programs that support students, teachers, families, schools, and principals.

Chancellor Rhee focused on demonizing and firing teachers.

While I am sure there were many "bad" teachers, even bad teachers are produced in part by the failures to provide the necessary support and development systems to help them succeed personally as teachers and with their students and the students' families.

Is it any wonder that the DCPS system continues to degrade and fail to measure up?

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