D.C. schools, dou­ble­s­peak and the ‘dis­en­gaged’

The Washington Post - - FREE FOR ALL -

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.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.