How over­sight can help us get the most out of school re­form

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - The writer is chair­man of the D.C. Coun­cil.

De­spite the strain of the re­cent re­ces­sion and the painful fi­nan­cial choices that we are all fac­ing, I plan to push for­ward with ed­u­ca­tion re­form even more ag­gres­sively than ever as the leader of D.C.’s leg­isla­tive body. There can be no bet­ter way to stim­u­late our econ­omy and en­sure the fu­ture fi­nan­cial health of our city than by in­vest­ing in the right pro­grams and sup­ports for our stu­dents. But we need to spend our dol­lars wisely.

In re­cent years, we’ve pushed through some of the most trans­for­ma­tional ed­u­ca­tion leg­is­la­tion that our city — and this coun­try — has ever seen: May­oral con­trol that stream­lines de­ci­sion-mak­ing, uni­ver­sal pre-kinder­garten for our youngest learn­ers and a land­mark teach­ers con­tract that in­cludes stu­dent per­for­mance as an im­por­tant mea­sure of teacher suc­cess. As demon­strated by our Race to the Top award, we’ve at­tracted the at­ten­tion and sup­port of Pres­i­dent Obama.

We’ve made good progress over the past four years, but we have a long way to go be­fore all of our chil­dren are per­form­ing at high lev­els. We have the right tools in place to be­come one of the top pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems in the coun­try. But see­ing that those tools are used to pro­duce the best re­sults pos­si­ble will re­quire strong over­sight. I in­tend to pro­vide this over­sight, along with my col­leagues on the D.C. Coun­cil.

In par­tic­u­lar, I have con­cerns about the ef­fects of our re­forms in four crit­i­cal ar­eas:

In the past four years, we have spent more than $1 bil­lion to ren­o­vate our schools, yet many stu­dents still at­tend schools in crum­bling build­ings. Why? We must care­fully ex­am­ine where this money has gone and how de­ci­sions have been made and work to in­crease the trans­parency and cost­ef­fec­tive­ness of fu­ture ren­o­va­tions.

We have taken dra­matic ac­tion — such as hir­ing new prin­ci­pals and en­tirely new staffs and bring­ing in out­side or­ga­ni­za­tions — and spent mil­lions of dol­lars to turn around many of our schools, yet many of these ef­forts have failed, and our stu­dents and fam­i­lies con­tinue to be left with few good choices, par­tic­u­larly in mid­dle and high school. This can­not con­tinue. We must work to en­sure that we make smart in­vest­ments and hold our lead­ers ac­count­able for cre­at­ing schools that truly work for all stu­dents.

While stu­dent per­for­mance has im­proved on av­er­age, we still have a large achieve­ment gap, with our less wealthy, African Amer­i­can and His­panic stu­dents strug­gling to meet pro­fi­ciency. Our sys­tem can­not suc­ceed un­less it is work­ing well for all stu­dents. Are we in­vest­ing in a way that en­sures that all of our stu­dents, wher­ever they live, have the sup­ports that they need to be suc­cess­ful? If not, what do we need to do dif­fer­ently to see that they do?

We have be­gun the im­por­tant work of in­vest­ing in early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion, but we need to give our stu­dents a path to suc­cess that pre­pares them from birth through life af­ter high school. We must push for the con­tin­ued devel­op­ment of qual­ity ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, such as Phelps Ar­chi­tec­ture, Con­struc­tion and En­gi­neer­ing High School, that pre­pare our stu­dents for both higher ed­u­ca­tion and the world of work.

The fu­ture of our city de­pends on how well we ed­u­cate our chil­dren. We must move for­ward quickly — and to­gether — to ful­fill the prom­ises that we’ve made to our stu­dents. We have no time to waste and ev­ery­thing to lose.

DAYNA SMITH FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Fifth-grader Jared Giles at Ben­jamin Stod­dert Ele­men­tary School in North­west.

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