Brilliant piece in Bethesda Magazine on a Title I elementary school
In the face of recent reporting about improprieties in graduation results for DC public schools, proof pretty much that DC's so-called educational reform project has failed, at least as it relates to low income African-American students (also see writings in Guy Bradenburg's blog--he is a retired DCPS math teacher), I happened to come across the November/December issue of Bethesda Magazine, the "lifestyle magazine" (comparable to Washingtonian for DC) for Montgomery County, Maryland, which has a very long article ("Hope Lives Here") about Daly Elementary School in Gaithersburg.
For years I argued that DC's school reforms were misguided, that we ought to be considering and following the best practices in nearby Montgomery and Arlington Counties (and elsewhere, "Powerful story of how Bristol Virginia elementary school deals with extremely impoverished students," 2015 blog entry).
Montgomery County is known for acknowledging learning gaps between students of color/low income students and white/higher income students, and providing additional resources to those schools, which include more support and teaching staff, six weeks of additional learning activities in summers, and other supports.
Like Montgomery County, DC has parent/family liaisons ("Fawning coverage of DC school "reform" doesn't push better practice forward") but it is only recently--last year--that the city has begun to add summer schooling for Title I schools, and it is not widespread. The first year had 11 schools, and this year two more schools have been added (but 15 programs if you double count schools with elementary and middle school aged students).
The lengths the principal, teachers, and support personnel go to at Daly Elementary is quite impressive and communicate how difficult the challenge is to ameliorate the impact of multi-generational poverty on educational attainment.
I talked about the article with someone who works for DCPS and also worked for a time in Montgomery County and they said:
1. DC has more resources, but how the resources are used is different
2. DC is much more bureaucratic, whereas what happens in Montgomery County is much more human centered--there the principals and teachers have the power to act, while in DC it's more about test scores and following the rules, that the likelihood of conversations even happening in DC at the school or administrative level the way they are recounted in the Bethesda Magazine story is infinitesimal.
For example one example is how the Daly School principal realized that for many students they can only count on eating enough food when they eat breakfast and lunch at school, so she opens the school up for meal service even on "snow days."
The person I talked to couldn't fathom how to bring such a practice about in DCPS, figures it doesn't even cross people's minds--although DC has a summer feeding program for children for exactly this reason.
This gets back to something that has always bothered me about the lionization of former DCPS chancellor Michelle Rhee.
When she would say stuff and teachers would counter, "but the students are poor;" Rhee would be dismissive and pejorative, saying "you're saying the students can't learn," when the teachers were trying to say "given the levels of poverty we need more and better resources."
Rhee never acknowledged that what tends to separate successful charter schools from other charter schools and public schools is additional resources, supports, and instruction time.
Instead, the predominate response was more tests, more instruction time devoted to taking tests, and more pressure to diddle with test results and whether or not students passed classes and proceeded to graduate.
It is damning that it was USA Today, not the Washington Post, which broke the story about significant test score cheating in DC elementary schools during the Rhee years:
- When test scores seem too good to believe
- For teachers, many ways and reasons to cheat on tests
- When test scores soared in D.C., were the gains real?