Lost In Translation

[NB 9/10/16: See comment below in response.]

From a 8/12/16 post on the blog of David Grosso, chair of the city council education committee, summarizing conversations with 50 DC public school teachers from 12 charter and DCPS schools at two summer educator townhalls on July 18 and August 2:

“Teachers are pressured by school leaders to reduce their reliance on suspension and expulsion to manage classroom behavior problems, but schools have not implemented alternative policies for them to utilize.”

“More social workers and mental health professionals are needed in schools, along with better coordination of Medicaid services.”

“The screening process for diagnosing IEPs [individualized education programs] takes too long to complete so, consequently, there are many undiagnosed students in general education classes.”

“Special education students often transfer from charter schools to DCPS when their needs are not met or vice-versa, but the critical information about the child often does not follow them.”

“Community-based organizations, which provide help for children living in D.C. facing a behavioral or mental health crisis, are often too slow to respond, do not come at all, or often misdiagnose the child.”

“It is unclear if at-risk dollars are actually following students to the classroom.”

“Many teachers believe they are left out of the conversation about [school] spending.”

“IMPACT [the DCPS teacher evaluation system] often squashes teachers’ creativity because they have to teach what is being tested.”

“Reading specialists are needed in every school because there is a connection between lack of reading skills and behavioral problems.”

“Teachers do not have enough time in their day to call every parent about every issue, so technology should be leveraged to help with this obligation.”

“Some schools need more help getting Parent Teacher Associations started.”

“Resources to help parents are not equitably distributed throughout the district.”

From a letter to Mayor Bowser from David Grosso 8/23/16, on what he considers important in a new DCPS chancellor:

“Neither titles nor the number of degrees held are as important to me as a candidate’s past work demonstrating an abiding commitment to closing the achievement gap . . . With a focus on closing the achievement gap, I believe it is important that the next head of DCPS maintains Chancellor Henderson’s commitment to equity, particularly equity of rigor . . . equity in rigor cannot be achieved in course titles only, but rather in the content that is being taught, the methods of instruction, and the availability of opportunities for challenge and inquiry.  . . . The future chancellor should see authentic engagement both internally and externally as a core function of their work and critical to taking DCPS to the next level in terms of growth and innovation. Issues that affect the achievement gap such as behavioral health, safe passage, and chronic absenteeism cannot be solved by the school alone, and the future Chancellor should have a track record of engaging the whole community to serve the whole child. A willingness to engage in cross-sector collaboration is also important . . . . DCPS deserves a future leader who does not simply support it, but will fiercely advocate on behalf of and defend it. . . . Finally, I believe it’s important that the future Chancellor ‘keeps the trains running on time’. . . . While I believe the new Chancellor should innovate and bring a fresh perspective, I would caution against an abrupt shift in agenda for DCPS.”

One thought on “Lost In Translation

  1. Valerie,

    Thank you for this posting and the education updates. Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) members were encouraged to attend David Grosso’s Educator Townhalls in each part of the city.

    David, other members of the Education Committee and the new DCPS chancellor must face some critical decisions moving forward with regard to the school improvement strategies adopted by the District. The teachers of this district have endured for over eight years, the prevailing doctrine that advantages the will of administration with little regard for the experience of those in the classroom. The result has been twofold: the often touted title of “fastest improving urban district in the nation” as measured by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data; and the often overlooked reality that the district has sustained the largest and fastest increasing achievement gap based on socio-economic status in the nation from that same data.

    The numbers are indeed sobering as the failures become clear, the plan devised by the district to institute much needed reforms have not worked to improve outcomes for our students most “at-risk.” The gulf between what our city’s poorest and wealthiest families can expect from their school system has increased on average by over 30 scale points since 2007.

    In the face of years of massive teacher terminations, unprecedented yearly teacher churn, and an aggressive teacher evaluation system predicated on the use of controversial and largely panned value-added measure (VAM) data – all of which assist in ensuring that district teachers have met the standards set out by the administration, our district’s low income students (many of whom have been in this system since the inception of the reforms) fair increasingly worse relative to fellow students who happen to go to schools with families that are wealthier on average.

    Looking at the system as a whole, the district has maintained a modest improvement for all students, but when we disaggregate this data a more compelling story emerges: students and teachers throughout the district are not receiving the needed resources that would aid in mitigating the scourge of multi-generational poverty.

    This data can be of little shock to district leadership when their own reporting indicates that in FY15 DCPS awarded schools with decidedly low “at-risk” populations the lion-share of “at-risk” funds. The 5 best achieving schools in the district received 90% more funding than the 5 lowest performing schools – an untenable imbalance.

    As our teachers, families, and students move into another school year, beleaguered by one more round of the districts random acts of reform (this iteration includes LEAP, ASPEN, and extended year initiatives) one constant remains – almost certain failure given the absence of DCPS’ systemic appetite for authentic collaborative cooperation.

    Over a year ago, your WTU negotiations team of classroom teachers offered to the district a collection of research-supported strategies that could be collectively bargained in an effort to ensure the districts sustained commitment for at least the life of the contract. Key among them was the increased investment in community schools and instructional support materials, and an improved at-risk funding formula – it would appear from DCPS’ resistance that the district would prefer the teachers’ union only care about the adults in the system.

    As education professionals, the needs of teachers are only a reflection of the needs of our students. A record number of dissatisfied teachers have fled the district under this administration. DCPS’ own data reflects a massive 126% turnover rate over 6 years with only 11% of that due to what might be deemed poor performance. This district is by any reasonable measure a product of what the district endeavored eight years ago, and in so much time why hasn’t there been the results we were promised by two chancellors over the course of nine years?

    All of this data, and more were made available to city council members and State Board of Education members during the Washington Teachers’ Union Shared Vision Conference at a special legislative session provided to enlighten and enliven the education leadership of our city.

    Representatives of City Council, the state board (OSSE), as well as various community and labor organizations were in attendance, and pressed to investigate the data on their own. I pray that soon we all, with DCPS, might become allies in finally doing what’s best for all students in all wards of the city.

    It is with urgency and determination that I, along with the rest of the 4,800 DCPS educators assert that a change must come. The chancellor selection process presents an opportunity to hit the reset button and go in a different direction. It’s time for a new direction. A decade is enough for a test drive and our kids can’t wait any longer.

    And while I may be assailed by some for centering my focus on assuring that equity in education is a reality for all of our teachers and students in the District regardless of zip code, together we will not be moved.




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