Clos­ing achieve­ment gap sought as pri­or­ity for schools boss.

Crit­ics: Schools nom­i­nee ac­count­able for fail­ures

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY RYAN M. MCDER­MOTT

Par­ents, teach­ers, union lead­ers and ed­u­ca­tion ac­tivists greeted Mayor Muriel Bowser’s nom­i­nee for D.C. Pub­lic Schools chan­cel­lor at a pub­lic leg­isla­tive hear­ing on Thurs­day with a sin­gle di­rec­tive: Close the achieve­ment gap.

“The sys­tem is fail­ing its most vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents,” said Markus Batch­e­lor, a mem­ber-elect of the D.C. State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. “It’s not the [D.C. Coun­cil’s] job to hastily rub­ber-stamp this choice. As our only safe­guard, it is the coun­cil who needs to hold him ac­count­able.”

Mr. Batch­e­lor was re­fer­ring to Ant­wan Wil­son, cur­rently the su­per­in­ten­dent of the Oak­land Uni­fied School District in Cal­i­for­nia — a po­si­tion the 44-yearold ed­u­ca­tor has held for two years.

In his tes­ti­mony Thurs­day, Mr. Wil­son cited sev­eral fac­tors in as­sess­ing and clos­ing the achieve­ment gap, in­clud­ing grad­u­a­tion and dropout rates, chronic ab­sen­teeism, state assess­ment tests, early child­hood lit­er­acy, job readi­ness and so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

He also said it’s crit­i­cal for schools to be able to in­di­vid­u­al­ize their needs, with each school as­sess­ing dol­lar al­lo­ca­tion and staffing.

“We have to start by ask­ing what sup­ports we need to pro­vide our schools for all stu­dents to grad­u­ate DCPS with the mile­stones we set,” Mr. Wil­son said.

He also em­pha­sized help­ing chil­dren learn “es­sen­tial so­cial and emo­tional skills.”

“There’s ev­i­dence that this ap­proach is key to longterm aca­demic suc­cess,” he said.

About 19 per­cent of black stu­dents and 25 per­cent of His­panic stu­dents scored at or above their grade level in English in the District’s most re­cent stan­dard­ized tests. That’s up sev­eral per­cent­age points from last year, but far from the 74 per­cent mark scored by white stu­dents.

In math, about 17 per­cent of black stu­dents and 22 per­cent of His­panic stu­dents scored at or above their grade level, com­pared to 71 per­cent of white stu­dents.

Not­ing Mr. Wil­son’s re­sume, Karen Lu­cas said the chan­cel­lor nom­i­nee should have proven he could close the achieve­ment gap in Oak­land be­fore mov­ing on to another school district.

“Mr. Wil­son does not meet that re­quire­ment. He never saw changes through. He saw no ap­pre­cia­ble gains,” said Ms. Lu­cas, a Ward 8 ad­vi­sory neigh­bor­hood com­mis­sioner.

Oak­land doesn’t use the same stan­dard­ized test as the District’s, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to make di­rect com­par­isons be­tween the two.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, grad­u­a­tion rates im­proved some­what un­der Mr. Wil­son. About 61 per­cent of Oak­land stu­dents grad­u­ated high school on time in 2014 and 64 per­cent in 2015 — the same as the District’s rate that year. Sta­tis­tics for 2016 are not yet avail­able.

Most wit­nesses at Thurs­day’s hear­ing said there’s still a lot to learn about the nom­i­nee be­fore judg­ments can be made.

Mary Levy, an ed­u­ca­tion fi­nance lawyer who has been in­volved with ed­u­ca­tion re­form since 1989, said ques­tions abound about Mr. Wil­son’s plan to ad­dress DCPS’ high teacher turnover.

Ac­cord­ing to the ed­u­ca­tion think tank Al Shanker In­sti­tute, the District has a 25 per­cent teacher turnover rate, com­pared the 16 per­cent na­tional rate.

The fig­ures worsen for schools that serve low­in­come stu­dents. The DCPS teacher turnover rate for teach­ers at schools with more than 80 per­cent free or re­duced lunches (a rough barom­e­ter for low-in­come stu­dents) jumps to about 38 per­cent. That com­pares to about 22 per­cent na­tion­wide.

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