D.C. schools, doublespeak and the ‘disengaged’
Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you know what “currently educationally disengaged” means? Don’t feel bad if you don’t. “Currently educationally disengaged” is D.C. Public Schools doublespeak for “dropout.”
The use of euphemistic language to make bad news more palatable is one of many features of D.C. school operations that Lewis D. Ferebee will have to fathom should he be confirmed by the D.C. Council to become the school system’s chancellor. (More about Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s choice a little later.)
I stumbled across the enigmatic “currently educationally disengaged” while following up on the joint WAMU-FM and NPR investigation that, earlier in the year, revealed that one-third of the city’s high school graduates in 2017 should not have received their diplomas, because of chronic truancy and other problems.
The school system’s books were being cooked by teachers, principals and headquarters staff — all of whom should have known better.
The 2018 graduation rate, according to DCPS, was 68.6 percent, with 2,273 of 3,311 seniors getting diplomas. I simply wanted to know what happened to the students who did not graduate. Hence, my odyssey through bureaucratic jargon to “currently educationally disengaged.”
If the numbers provided are accurate, there were 494 dropouts, which they say is down from 566 in 2016. That’s not low enough. The District predicted three years ago that by 2018, 75 percent of all jobs in the District would require some form of postsecondary education. Well, 2018 is here.
That report showed that only 67 percent of DCPS graduates enrolled in college and that only 24 percent had earned either an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years. The economy may be on a roll, the DCPS noted, but many of the District’s public school graduates have been passed over for high-wage, highdemand jobs in favor of non-D.C. residents who have undergraduate and advanced degrees.
Think about it. Amazon is coming to the Washington area with jobs aplenty. But who in the area will be qualified enough to snare them? (Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, also owns The Post.)
And take that thought a little further. What about the school dropouts, who number in the hundreds each year?
One thing is certain: They may be disengaged from the school system, but not from the District government. Some will be retied to the city by way of its overextended social-services programs or beleaguered criminal-justice system. Hence, the need for a closer look at the impact of the graduation rate scandal. Which led to a second line of inquiry. In June, The Post reported that “about 1,000 teachers in D.C. Public Schools — a quarter of the educator workforce — lack the certification the city requires to lead a classroom.”
I set out to learn where matters stand six months later. It was as though I was trying to obtain a state secret. My query was kicked up the ladder from the Office of State Superintendent to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, where I encountered two other favored DCPS approaches to evading plain and simple answers: “in the process of” and “we are committed to ensuring our students have . . .”
This much I eventually learned: 3,892 teachers currently hold a license; 1,022 teachers did not hold licenses. Six hundred and sixty-six reportedly have applied. The school system is working with more than 400 teachers on “individualized plans to get them on the path to licensure.” There is a plan for “all DCPS educators . . . to be in compliance by June 2019,” according to a spokesman for the deputy mayor of education.
Which gets us back to Ferebee and the challenges he faces should he get the post. He would be the city’s sixth permanent school leader since 2000, The Post reported. There’s a reason for the turnover. The job’s a killer. Not only must the chancellor tackle the daunting problem of the wide achievement gap between students from affluent households and low-income families (a problem that remains unsolved in the Indianapolis public school system that Ferebee led for the past five years), he also will encounter a governance structure so indirect and complicated that it only could have been designed by a Rube Goldberg devotee.
Today, the mayor is responsible for the DCPS system. The chancellor reports to the mayor — but also must pay heed to a state superintendent for education, as well as a toothless but vocal State Board of Education, a hovering, second-guessing deputy mayor for education, and a mercurial, self-serving D.C. Council, all the while trying to bring the school system up to snuff to compete with public charter schools.
It is anyone’s guess as to when Ferebee will find time to run a school system that might educate children and satisfactorily engage teachers, principals and parents.
As for curing graduation and dropout rates and such sundry matters as attendance, getting to school on time, and learning under safe and supportive conditions — those topics, apparently, are “currently educationally disengaged.”