Joe Weedon is a Ward 6 resident, parent and the Ward 6 representative to the D.C. State Board of Education.
Over the past few months, the city (at least those of us in the education world) has been captivated by the reports of and investigation into the graduation irregularities at Ballou High School and across DCPS.
The issues identified in the Final Report of the Audit and Investigation make it clear that the issues –students graduating despite excessive absences and students receiving credit for coursework despite a failure to master the course concepts– are chronic and prevalent across the District. Simply put, our educational systems have failed the young people they’re charged with educating. These failures come at a huge cost to our kids: those who earned their diplomas now face a cloud of doubt about their accomplishments and those who didn’t have been sent forth unprepared to succeed in college or
careers. These failures also damage our community and our neighborhood. As a parent, this scandal has shaken my confidence in our city’s public schools. The reforms proposed by the Chancellor do not restore my faith that my children will receive a high-quality, academically rigorous
education that will prepare them for success in college and throughout their lives. As a city, we must act with a sense of urgency. Instituting an end of course exam for core subjects by 2022 is not a sufficient response.
The Impact on Capitol Hill
In the report, nearly 45% of Eastern High School students were impacted by policy violations. Eliot-Hine Middle School Principal Eugenia Young was also implicated in policy violations at her previous assignment, Roosevelt STAY High School.
At Eastern, the report is clear that school did not adhere to attendance –related policies. It’s also clear that the teachers were working to do everything they could to ensure that students mastered the content of their courses and were given every opportunity to succeed. Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of
time at Eastern and I can attest that this is true. Teachers are available afterschool, participate in Saturday programming, and will give up their lunch and planning periods to help students with their coursework. While this does not excuse the violations, it does paint a picture of a school that is working to ensure every students is able to succeed. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen remarkable changes within Eastern; the staff and students have taken the report’s findings to heart.
There is hope
Across our community, there is much in our schools for us to be proud of. Milagros de Souza, the valedictorian of the 2017 senior class at Eastern is thriving at Duke University and helped organize the March for Racial Justice through our neighborhood last spring. Another Eastern alum, Jamorko Pickett, is succeeding on and off the basketball court at Georgetown University. Seven recipients of 2018 Rubenstein Awards, honoring DCPS’ best teachers and staff, work in our Ward 6 schools.
At our middle schools, we’ll see construction starting this year at both Jefferson Academy and Eliot-Hine as both schools begin their long overdue modernizations; Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, including its middle grades, will also see its renovation begin in the next couple of years. They’ll soon join Stuart-Hobson in having learning environments of which our middle grade students and families can be proud.Academically, I’m always impressed by the learning that occurs within our middle schools and am heartened by the long-overdue progress DCPS has made in the implementation of the IB Middle Years Program to serve 6th through 10th grade students at Eliot-Hine and Eastern.
Elementary schools across the Ward continue to grow both in enrollment and in academic rigor, thanks to the many engaged parents who are holding them accountable. There are simply far too many examples of excellence in our elementary schools to list.
To move forward, we need to reexamine our city’s system of oversight. The State Board of Education lacks the ability to require city agencies to respond to our requests for information. The Board of Education has promised to review those policies related to the scandal that we have authority over,
including the 80-20 Rule that requires schools to report students absent and intervene when students miss 20% of their school day. We also are working to update graduation requirements and to establish strong policies around credit recovery.
The Board of Education, along with several members of the City Council, have also called for a further independent review of our school systems. According to the Alvarez & Marsal audit, of the 2,758 DCPS graduates last year, 937 (34%) students graduated without meeting the city’s requirements to earn their diploma. The true number is likely significantly higher; we know that attendance records were altered at one school. More importantly, the audit only looked at student’s senior year: attendance problems begin as early as middle school.
We also know that many students enter our middle grades far behind where they should be academically. The audit also did not look deeply into the role that public charter schools and that transfers between our public school systems play in this controversy. Whether it’s advocating for librarians for our schools, the mitigation of lead in school water supplies, or ensuring that each school has a robust and broad curriculum, parents are the key to maintaining and expanding the success of our neighborhood schools from early education through graduation. As a community of schools, we have a lot to be proud of but we still have a lot to do. We must continue to work together to ensure that our students receive the supports that they need to thrive.