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VIEWS OF DCFRA ON DC PUBLIC EDUCATION

At the time of the establishment of the new School Board of Trustees, members of the Financial Control Board presented their views on just how bad the public school system had become. Here are the statements of the two most concerned members:

Dr. Joyce Ladner:

We are here today to take swift action to begin the process of fixing our broken school system. I want to address my remarks to the students. When each student was taken to school for the first time, by their parents or caretakers whom they loved and trusted, they did not expect any harm to come to them by the strangers with whom they entrusted them. In my professional experience every child I have ever seen in kindergarten came to school enthusiastic, and with a willingness to learn. They absorb knowledge like a sponge. But our educational system and stakeholders, this includes me, have failed you.

Now let me tell you how.

  • We failed to open the schools on time.
  • We failed to provide you with a safe environment that is conducive to learning.
  • We failed to provide you with books and materials.
  • We failed to provide you a 100 per cent certified teaching force. Having just 70 percent of teachers certified can not prepare you for a competitive world
  • We failed to keep you in school such that 40 percent who enter 9th grade do not graduate.
  • We failed you because nearly 80 per cent of the fourth graders scored below the basic reading achievement levels on a state assessment in 1994.
  • We failed you because the actions of the stakeholders, the actions of the adults, have created 80,000 potential victims.

For each additional year you stay in public schools, you fall further behind,
not because you can't learn, but because the system does not prepare you
to learn. How is it that in a few short years children diminish in thought,
behavior, acceptance, self esteem, test scores and interpersonal skills?
Who is to blame? I, for one, accept my part of this responsibility. I invite
each of us to stand up now, drive a stake in the ground, and commit to
this being the last class of kindergarten children who will ever experience
the horrors I have described today. This should be the last year we allow
this diminishing return on our most important asset destroyed.

In our information gathering, we visited high schools and elementary schools.
As I looked across the playground, I saw a sea of innocent faces of children
that were filled with hope and a desire to learn. They had little understanding
of what their futures would be. At the same time, I want to note that there
are many, many students and schools that are succeeding. On a visit to
Banneker School yesterday, I saw once again, the stimulating and challenging
environment that the principal, Mrs. Adams, her faculty and staff have created for the students. When they couldn't get the toilets painted, they painted them. They wrote grant proposals to get computers. Mrs. Adams asked a merchant to donate the carpet on the lab floor. At Miner Elementary School where test scores had dropped 30 points when another school was combined with it -- Mrs. Tilghman and her staff and students sell ice cream after school to raise money for the extras the school system can not provide. They had to dip into the ice cream fund to buy classroom supplies because they didn't get their budget until three weeks ago

What I just described would cause some to think I have just described a third world country where there is little or no money available for education. Who are the real victims of this gross mismanagement and misdirection? You did not vote in the School Board, hire the Superintendent, certify your teachers, design and maintain the buildings, or prepare the food. The victims are the students and teachers and everyone who work directly with the classroom.

So today we pledge to restore hope in our children from McKinley to Murch,
from H.D. Cooke to Anacostia High, from Lincoln to the School Without Walls,
everywhere in wards 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, and 8. As students, you need to know
that the stakeholders have allowed this educational system to slip away.
We are driving a stake in the ground today that will benefit each and every
one of you over the long term; it will help to ensure the educational foundation
to make you competitive, marketable and be successful in this complex world.

We can not afford to have our children in the future to be limited, sacrificed,
and have their lives thrown away because of a lack of management and oversight
by those of us who are entrusted to be the guardians of those like yourselves who are not able to protect themselves, to represent themselves and to ensure they get their fair share. We can not afford to allow your children to come into a world with parents who have no way to take care of them indeed, we are talking about opportunities for you, and for your children, and for your children's children.

But to make the needed changes, we will have to rebuild the foundations
of our educational system, which starts by inspiring hope:

  • Hope for students that they will get the education they need to succeed;
  • Hope for teachers that they will be supported in the classroom and rewarded on the basis of their performance;
  • Hope for parents that the system can and will improve;
  • Hope for taxpayers that operations will be well managed and cost effective ;
  • Hope for the business community that schools will be a drawing card, rather than an obstacle, to economic development.

Hope is what drives improvement. And improving the schools and ultimately,
our children's performance is the best hope for the District's future.

Constance Newman:

It is important to recognize that mismanagement is at the heart of the problems of the DC public schools. That means things can change, the schools can be improved. As Mr. Harlan mentioned a moment ago, other schools, in Chicago, in Newark, in Seattle, have faced the problems we are experiencing here in the District -- and they changed the status quo. They have made improvements immediately. Learning environments got safer, graduation rates began to increase and test scores are climbing. So, there is hope.

There are many things that must be changed right away, and that will help
to return the focus in our schools to education and to children. For instance,
the D.C. public schools' per pupil expenditure is 26 percent higher than the national average, yet it is at the bottom of most standardized measures of educational progress.

At the same time, D.C. schools spend less on instruction and more on central
administration -- even as enrollment continues to decline. The schools employ more than twice as many central administrators per teacher than its peer institutions. This takes resources away from schools, teachers, instructional support and ultimately, hurts our children.

The Superintendent's office budget is also swollen beyond comparable districts
and yet the school system lost an $18.5 million National Science Foundation
grant this year because it failed to provide appropriate administrative and management support. Clearly, the leadership of our schools has failed the children.
Effectively managing the D.C. public schools simply seems beyond the capability
of our current leadership. Even when it has more central administrators per teacher than peer districts, the schools still cannot figure out:

  • How many employees and students it has within the school system;
  • Whether teachers are certified to teach the classes;
  • Why personnel records are incomplete, inadequate, out-of-date, and missing;
  • Why 1/3 of all employees are not at the location assigned to them in their personnel files.

These are just some of the problems we have found in the schools' personnel management. It clearly shows that there is little effective control over resources.

It is an understatement to say that management of resources must be drastically
improved for the sake of our children. We can not continue to risk their education, and their futures, through the mismanagement of our schools. That is why we must act today.


This item was archived in September, 2002

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