How oversight can help us get the most out of school reform
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.
Fifth-grader Jared Giles at Benjamin Stoddert Elementary School in Northwest.