Dear PoP – What Type of Education Reform Would People Like to See?

Photo by PoPville flickr user BrennaLM

“Dear PoP,

I’m wondering if you could throw up a question some time this week asking residents for their thoughts on substantive education reform. I’m not looking for people’s responses to Michelle Rhee or Kaya Henderson, I’m wondering exactly what sorts of changes they’re looking for in District schools. I’m out and talking with people, but your site offers the unique opportunity to observe people talking openly and honestly with one another.”

The following question was sent by a candidate for Ward 4 Member of the DC State Board of Education. It’s been a while since we’ve spoken about education reform. It’s an interesting question for me, because I’m far from an expert on education reform (or anything really except tropical fish and the Drive by Truckers) and all I hear is that many of the public schools leave a lot to be desired, to put it nicely. Obviously Michelle Rhee was a controversial figure but I understand she took some difficult (if not politically sensitive) moves. I don’t think it’s possible to answer this question without weighing in on Michelle Rhee’s decisions but power to you if you can.

So what type of education reform would you like to see in the coming years?

80 Comment

  • This isn’t about Michelle Rhee, so to speak, but it IS about what she did. She basically wanted to loosen the bolts on the “teacher’s-union machine” so that it could eventually be dismantled. Rhee was after teachers who were responsible and GREAT at their craft.

    If the nation wants reform they need to topple the union, let go of the teacher’s who suck at their jobs… and start focusing on PARENTS.

    (I would argue that DC isnt failing students…alot of parents are)

    • “Rhee was after teachers who were responsible and GREAT at their craft.” Clarification: Rhee wanted to find and support teachers who were responsible etc. etc.

    • I call BS. The Teachers Union stands in the way of every attempt to remove bad and mediocre teachers. Every single attempt. Nationwide. Without fail.

      No one cares whether there’s a union or not, what they care about is getting rid of bad teachers.

      You can’t do anything about parents, but you can do something about the schools. It’s not the school system’s job to fix families and parents, it’s the school system’s job to fix the education available to kids.

      • Why is being a teacher a unionized job? I really don’t get it. I am in complete agreement that upholding mediocre teachers is the main job of the teachers unions. Merit pay and merit promotion is the only way to fix this problem. All the great teachers I know are not afraid of a merit-based system – only the mediocre ones.

      • Unions have come to exist because teachers come into contact everyday with the general public. You cannot imagine the array of interactions they have — from social ills to… It is beyond your imagination. They need back up and support — and the adminstrators do not always provide it. Case in point: a male middle school teacher being accused of fondling 3 female middle-school students because they are angry at him for separating them from talking in his math class. With one accusation, you can ruin a teacher’s life. If the adminstrator does not fight it (which he might not be able to) the teacher needs a union.

        I really think this is beyond your imagination.

        There might be ways to get rid of unions in a mutually agreeable way — it is to give the teachers professional anonymity and protect them from lawsuits, but you would have to pay them a lot more.

        • Beware of the Bandwagon that you jump on and understand the dynamics.

          The bandwagon of anti-union thing is a really good sell for politicians. Everyone cares about education and it’s a good political topic to get votes. If you blame the parents though you will NOT get votes. If you blame the system or the teachers you can get votes.

          NOTE the clients of education –the children– do not vote.

          Blaming the teachers as we have, creating entire overhauls repeatedly of the system for the past decade is really getting to be a ridiculously broken record.

          People such as Obama in his SOTU speech are wise to start speaking about the parents. NOTE: he is already IN OFFICE now so he can say it.

          Also, if the solution is to have the teachers work longer hours, more days, in the morning, feed them breakfast, potty train them (last week Arlington), send them to the school counselor, that is totally fine, but can everyone just say it: You’re asking teachers/schools to RAISE the children!

          • MEANT TO SAY “…have the teachers work longer hours, more days, feed children in the morning, potty train children, have the counselor counsel the children– then that is totally fine, but just say it: You’re asking the teachers and schools to RAISE the children.”

          • All reasonable issues but, I say it below and I’ll say it again: The Union/Anti-Union issue goes away (for the reasonable people that matter) immediately if they stop protecting under performing teachers.

            They can clean their own house by vote of their co-teachers if that’s their prerogative, but as long as you’re protecting the trash, you are the trash.

            Also, quit hiding behind students and using students as your mouth piece. It kills your credibility.

        • The teachers’ union is one way to accomplish all the stuff that Bloom identifies, but there are lots of states where the teachers don’t have a union and they do OK. What you really need is supportive administrators, due process rights, and malpractice insurance, all of which can be achieved sans union.

          • You seem to presume that I’m using my students or my credibility is at stake. You have no idea. Really no idea at all of which you speak.

            I am a fantastic teacher and my students do wonderfully.

            Seriously. This antagonism towards teachers is just so old!

  • Regular beatings, followed by year-round schooling, followed by regular beatings.

    • …and compulsory sterilization of all criminals convicted of what I shall call “crimes of stupidity.” A detailed list of applicable offenses will be made available, pending the results of a battery of IQ tests, cavity searches, and other character building exercises. We must be serious if the goal is to be reached. Eyes on the prize, people.

  • I want a school for my kid where everyone is safe. Everything after that is negotiable.

  • My name is James Garay Heelan, and I am the candidate that e-mailed PoP the question that prompted this thread.

    @Andy, I agree that schools MUST be safe for all students, and that without a safe learning environment, it’s unreasonable for us to expect our students to succeed. I’m wondering – as a parent, what specific actions would you like to see schools take for you to feel that your child is safe?


  • honestly, I don’t know what the procedure is. I just want the result.

  • Being a teacher, I have a perspective that is a little different but I feel like an effective strategy.

    The one thing that goes one within schools, regardless of Public or Charter, is that the evaluation process is very skewed. The schools always attempt to put up a facade of success which is very relative. There are never opportunities for teachers to really voice their opinions about what can possibly be changed for the betterment of the schools. And this usually leaves teachers hesitant of actually making suggestions that could possibly be beneficial. In addition, there is such a large focus on impacting test scores that something is always missed, and that is the lower grades.

    Kindergarten through 3rd grade are grades that do not have standardized tests which is completely understandable. But because of this fact, they are not waited when people are looking at examining success of students. So if the students are failed at that level by the teachers, then it is an uphill battle from that junction.

    Finally, parents have a complete disconnect from the schools and their children. With the average age of parents in DC being extremely young, they have trouble with simple parenting and being able to provide classes for those parents would definitely be beneficial.

    There are many ideas that I know I would have that could really impact DC as a whole but it will take some time. So all I can do is wait till I am given the opportunity to show people exactly what needs to be changed. Now its back to preping for my next classes.

    • P.S. Where i had written “waited” should have been “weighted”…my mistake

    • So what if teachers were still tested, but the the test scored them at the beginning of the school year and the end and looked at the delta?

      Then they looked at what your other ‘same grade level’ teachers were doing and compared you?

      Then they looked at the same group of kids over 3 successive years to see if that class was really slow vs. other classes with the same teachers?

      You’d know if one teacher was holding back otherwise bright students or if every teacher every year was struggling with the same kids.

  • More math electives like wood shop, baking, drafting, computer programming, musical composition, environmental monitoring, etc required as part of the math curriculum. You can reach more marginal skilled kids if you are using math to accomplish interesting tasks. As Barbie mentioned, Math is Hard. Most people don’t “get” math from sitting in a math class. That’s because math class is highly theoretical. The equivalent is if you taught English with only grammar class and ignored reading books. It’s a waste of most kids time, but it doesn’t have to be.

    More teachers with experience beyond simply a teaching degree. Continue to require teachers to meet golden standards for educational achievement (Standardized tests). Reward teachers who show improvement or consistently high passing rates for said tests. Augment tests as necessary to measure what you want taught. The military can do it, so can high schools.

    Keep the bad kids out of the good kids class. It robs good kids of an education to mainline consistently bad kids. I don’t care what you do with them, but get them out of class (and probably the school) so teachers can teach and not be overpaid daycare attendants. You steal the education of 30+ good kids when you let 1 kid drag everything down. Put them in another program focused on remedial skills and maybe with more support for personal issues.

    3 healthy, substantive meals a day for kids who want them. Take it out of the HHS budget if you have to.

    After school study hall at each and every school until 6pm every night.

    Stop passing kids who aren’t meeting requirements. This isn’t a commune, not every kid is going to be successful the same way. You don’t need to lower standards just so every feels rosy about themselves. Even the NCAA doesn’t accept DC English classes. It cheapens the diploma for the kids that want to do well.

    More residential programs, “boarding schools”. You eliminate a lot of the effects of bad neighborhoods and bad parents when you get kids out of the neighborhood. It’s the only real way to brake the cycle.

    More vouchers, more experimentation. No one has all the answers, but we know what doesn’t work …the last 30+ years of DCPS.

    There have to be actual consequences for bad kids. We’re stuck where we have the ACLU telling teachers and principles that they can’t do anything to discipline kids and parents that are unwilling (or delusional) with kids gaming the system. Having a bad kids school that is boring as crap can’t be any worse than we have right now and will sure help the kids that want to succeed. You don’t punish 70k kids because you have 1000 knuckleheads.

    Year round school with exceptions for kids with bonafide internships/ summer camps.

  • @Thomas H, I really appreciate your perspective.

    I agree that too often school leadership invests time in puffery rather than conveying honest data. Teachers need to be encouraged to voice their concerns about what is going on in their classrooms.

    I also agree that improving student performance in lower grade levels is necessary for setting up students to succeed at higher levels. Every structure needs a solid foundation.

    On parental involvement, what kind of classes would you like to see for parents struggling with their students?

    I know you’re very busy, but if you have the time, I’d like to hear more about your ideas for reform. Please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]


  • I have just one question: “Is our children learning?”

  • I want a teacher that wont be “axing” questions and a school that offers more than just testing– art, music, sports, I want it all just like if I were to be in Fairfax.

  • @DCDiYer, thanks for your thoughtful response.

    I’m really interested in your idea of expanding the math curriculum to include offering vocational-type classes as electives. A big part of my platform is increasing vocational options for students to prepare them for the workforce upon graduation. But your idea for using those courses as a method of executing differentiated instruction is really creative.

    I also support methods of reform to attract teachers to the profession that bring more to the table than just a teaching license. I’m right there with the President in his criteria for Race to the Top funding that school districts create avenues for people with life experience to obtain teaching licenses. By lowering the barrier for entry, we can increase the quality of teacher applicants and thus improve the quality of our teaching corps.

    And I’m glad you mentioned boarding schools, I believe that too many students are in family situations that prevent them from succeeding. By experimenting with boarding schools, like the very successful SEED School in SE DC, I think we can help students with the most factors working against them and turn them into the cream of our academic crop.


    • I was a natural at math, I liked it and I got it. Most people don’t get math, because they never use it and they give up. A lot of people I know learned math in wood shop, by measuring and cutting things and having them turn out like crap until they got the measuring and cutting correct. Similarly, baking requires measuring and baking times. If you screw up, you get burned food. It’s this application of math that’s missing. Somehow though, we find a way to cut these ‘non-core’ electives because they’re in the wrong department when they’re really part and parcel with teaching math.

      No one ever cuts ‘books’ class from English education because it’s built into the English department.

  • James-

    You mentioned on your website that we must “work to attract the best candidates from around the country to work in our public schools.” As I’m sure you’ll agree, this also means releasing our least effective teachers to seek other employment. Scientific research shows that if we replace the bottom 8% of America’s teachers, even with teachers of median quality, we will outperform every other nation on the planet.*

    Simply put, the tenure system should be abolished.

    A similar strategy should be put to work for our schools’ administrators. As we’ve seen from the mixed success of DC’s charter schools, the size of a school’s budget is not a predictor of it’s quality. Instead, it is effective administrators who are able to figure out how to best use the resources that we as a city can make available.

    Similar to your proposal for teachers, we should attract and cultivate capable administrators. As as I suggested above, we should remove the least effective ones.

    * The source of this information is a worthy read:

  • @Eric, you’re absolutely correct: Money spent per student isn’t a predictor, class size (so long as it falls within a very broad spectrum) isn’t a predictor, the number one determinant of a student’s success is the quality of the teacher in the front of his or her classroom.

    While I support tenure insofar as it allows teacher freedom in their classrooms, I am strongly against it when it comes to how it effects reductions in the teaching force. In tough economic times, like the one we are in today, we shouldn’t be forced to eliminate an effective teacher just because he or she has less seniority than a less effective teacher.

    Teachers are not the enemy, they are our greatest asset. But, we need to raise the bar of expectation for teachers – and then provide them the support and the resources to reach it.

    Thanks for your good comment.


  • I think it’s important for parents to be involved and invested in their children’s education. It’s clear that in DC, many are not. Children are not prepared to behave in class and motivate themselves through each course. I work for a company who coordinated with DCPS to pair employees with students to advocate for them and tutor them on a semester-basis. I quit the program after a year of being stood up by students. I never once had an opportunity to meet with them. Once they left school property, they were lost in the city with no way to follow up with parents or students.

    Is there a way to motivate DCPS parents to participate in the education of their kids?

    If I could be promised a classroom where most of the time is spent teaching my kid rather than managing other people’s kids, I’d stay in DC to have a family. Period.

  • @Eric, the research you cite if from Eric Hanushek, and individual whose work with which I am very familiar. His findings on classroom size and teacher quality are now very widely accepted by academics that span the ideological spectrum.

  • Magnet programs placed in schools in non-white/non-rich neighborhoods that are attractive enough to convince educated middle class parents to send their kids to the school. Based on my reviewing of schools in the that PoP readers are interested in I thought Tubman, Garrison, Cooke, Bancroft and even Powell looked like pretty nice schools with good teachers and administrator trying their hardest to educate their students. Yet, those schools appear to be “failing” based on test scores. Those schools also have almost zero white students and very few non-poor students.

    I think the real story is that a school full of poor kids with poorly educated parents is going to do poorly on tests. Imagine how much better those dedicated teachers could do if suddenly 30% of the students at the school were not struggling. The middle class students would probably pull the others up, their parents would get more involved in the school than a single mother with two jobs could (which is not intended as a criticism of that single mother), those families might even raise money to help pay for aides and after care and what not, they might volunteer for field trips and clean up the playground — again benefiting all students in the school.

    DC seems to have a long standing opposition to any Talented and Gift programs or other magnet programs (for fears that the programs would largely benefit whites and appear racist maybe?). Well crafted programs that centered not on TAG but on language immersion (in a language other than Spanish), enhanced science or math, arts/music, do something, do it well, make it SPECIAL, and open half the slots in that school up to lottery from across the city. Or just do it in a neighborhood school in the integrated center-city neighborhoods of POPville.

    The only way you are going to fix the schools is to get middle class (white, black, Latino, Asian) families back into the schools, so start focusing on what will get them back. And, I predict that integrating the schools (economically and racially) will improve the schools, even for the poor kids.

    • The only way you have middle class parents sending their kids to these schools is if you address the school discipline/bullying/violence issues. Until you create a true zero tolerance environment, no parent puts their kid in harms way.

      It’s a big fight with the ACLU though. I respect their position on a lot of issues, but not this one. I think the Supreme Court is going to have to revisit their Loco Parentis stance (or whatever it is, I’m not a lawyer) to move forward in this country.

      • This is the meat of it, not unions, not tenure and not accountability or testing:

        “I think the real story is that a school full of poor kids with poorly educated parents is going to do poorly on tests. Imagine how much better those dedicated teachers could do if suddenly 30% of the students at the school were not struggling. The middle class students would probably pull the others up,”

        As a former teacher (not in DCPS) I can tell you that the cohort of students determines performance to a very large degree. Students are pulled up or…

        “…address the school discipline/bullying/violence issues…”

        …pulled down by other bad students.

        It is true that a good teacher provides effective classroom management (behavior and discipline) almost regardless of the population they are working with. However, the time and energy expended on classroom management and discipline directly detract from time spent on instruction.

        And people wonder why it is you don’t have to pay private school teachers as much and still get higher quality eduction: no combat pay and no need to waste time and energy on kids who don’t want to be learning. Quality teachers – quality in their subjects – will take the pay cut for the quality of life.

        For all those who keep claiming we shouldn’t focus on the parents – you are right and you are wrong. No, sadly, we aren’t going to be able to force them to clean up their act, and it’s their failure that we expect public education to address. Again, something that private schools aren’t forced to deal with (they just don’t take the students or they are boarding schools and take the money and DO act in loco parentis).

        As a society, we get upset with our public schools for failing to educate as well as we’d like, but we also expect them to deal with a LOT of stuff WAAAAY outside the purview of simple subject instruction. Of course, it’s far far better for everyone to have young potential thugs in school than it is to have them as drop-outs or in jail.

        If you were to set up a higher quality of life work environment, you’d find plenty of very smart, capable and talented people willing to teach all the subjects – the math and science majors included – for what we pay teachers now. You’d crowd out the bad ones with good ones competing for the slots. The reason we get stuck with the dregs is not the unions – its that anyone who has any kind of skills generally opts for something else – the cost/benefit of teaching is…a lousy deal.

        Seriously: the disruptive kids need to be un-mainstreamed.

        • Full disclosure – I was a chemistry teacher – BS in chemistry, not ED – and I was not a great classroom manager. There is no way you could get me to go back into the classroom and deal with that hassle…certainly not for the joke money (relative to what I make elsewhere) we offer teachers. If I wanted to be a prison guard or a drill instructor, I’d have wasted a lot less tuition dollars and gone straight into the marines out of HS.

          I guarantee that all this increased pressure on teachers will only drive out the ones who have options, ie, the quality people. This is adverse selection folks.

          It’s what we’ve been doing as a society since the beginning of public education. We are only now starting to see the long term results of women having more and better career options available to them.

        • Agree 100%

          Hiring effective classroom managers is not mutually incompatible with hiring an effective instructor, but there are not enough people with both skills to fill the schools.

      • True “zero tolerance” is the WORST! That’s how you get kindergarteners expelled for having a plastic knife in their lunchbox, and menstruating girls suspended for popping an advil. (Drug free zone, doncha know.)

        We wouldn’t need “zero tolerance” if we had intelligent teachers and administrators who could be trusted to correctly size up a situation and deal with it accordingly. Tying the hands of teachers with set-in-stone regulations is what makes the good ones leave.

        • We don’t need to argue about past marketing efforts at Zero Tolerance like we argue about the effects of Six Sigma.

          No one’s advocating stupidity.

    • There is such a small chance that any middle class parent will send his kid to a school to “bring up the mean” that this counsels no solution at all. (Not to mention the lawsuits that would come out of “radical integration.”) So many middle class people move out of DC when they have kids because they’re unwilling to commit to a DCPS education, they can’t afford to pay for 13 years of private schooling, and they can either move to Montgomery County or Arlington/Alexandria/Fairfax and get their kids into the best public schools in the nation.

      But I do agree with one thing: magnet schools. Create 2 or 3 truly excellent combined middle/high schools in DC. Create a strict merit-based admission system: the top applicants get the spots, regardless of any demographic factors. Give the kids stuck in dump schools an option to get a real education and dangle something that the parent of a 7 year-old kid can see and decide he doesn’t have to move out of the District or pay a fortune for private school to get his kid a world-class education. Teachers will want to teach there, kids will want to be there. That’s a winning combination. The sad truth is that you can’t save a lot of these kids from where we start right now, but some of them can be saved if given the right environment.

      • I agree to a point. We don’t need a self fulfilling meritocracy where boarderline kids can’t ever make it into the top programs. Some mediocre kids get a lot of help from their parents and some smart kids just need a little push to do just as well. Save 15% of spaces for promising kids that aren’t at the ‘top’, but work hard/show promise.

  • @Chalk, I hear you and others about the issue of parental involvement.

    While the power enact one of my proposals to motivate parents does not lie with the State Board of Education, I do think it would be powerful if the Board voted to recommend the Council amend the DC Tax Credit for Child and Dependent Care Expenses to be generally contingent upon each claimed dependent’s satisfactory attendance at school. Parents need to be rewarded for parenting, not just for having children.


    • Why not bypass the parents all together and put the tax credit into funding 3 squares a day (and two on Saturday for anyone who shows up for tutoring)? Just paying parents to feed their kids does not ensure that the kids are getting fed properly. Poor parents aren’t buying healthy meals for their kids and wealthy parents don’t need the tax credit that bad.

  • @Anonymous, you said, “I think the real story is that a school full of poor kids with poorly educated parents is going to do poorly on tests. Imagine how much better those dedicated teachers could do if suddenly 30% of the students at the school were not struggling.” And decades of research tells us that your hunch is probably correct.

    Almost every student performs better in a classroom populated by students of varying levels of performance. Stocking classrooms with students who have no support at home is a recipe for classrooms full of poor performing students.

    I like your suggestions for making schools attractive to families across the economic spectrum, especially your idea for more immersion programs. To turn DCPS around, we need District families across the board to buy in.

    Great comment.


  • I think the most meaningful reform would be to implement a process by which children with disciplinary problems could be expelled from public schools. We have placed the burden on entirely on educators to handle disciplinary problems, when that burden should be placed on the children and parents. Weed out the spoiled fruit so it doesn’t continue to spoil the entire barrel. A credible threat of expulsion would also cause disiplinary problems to diminish.

    • Well, this is what we used to do…and it does work…and it worked quite well for Rod Paige pretty well too.

      The thing is: we consider it a failure of our school systems when they do not educate everyone.

      You also *have* to do something with those populations…you cannot simply let them fall by the wayside, or there are even bigger costs down the line for society.

      I think alternative education systems are in order. Sure, it might be up to 20% of the population, but they do need to be un-mainstreamed.

      • I think we probably agree on all these issues. My proposed reform is that we’d do away with the rules and laws that require our public education system to educate those who demonstrate they cannot follow reasonable disciplinary rules. Its unfair to the students who do follow these rules, and unfair to the educators who are forced to deal with them.

      • I meant to add that those expelled from regular public schools would be sent to some type of “reform school” type model where they would receive vocational training. I do not beleive that substantial resources should be spent on those students however. I would prefer to see resources focused on those who follow disciplinary rules. I understand that this was the model we followied in the “olden days” and I don’t understand why we moved away from it. The pathway to disaster is paved with good intentions I suppose …

        • “Alternative Education” covers a wide range of things, including “reform” schools. It doesn’t necessarily have to be vocational training – it can be college-bound pure academics – it just depends on what is the best for the student involved.

          It’s not easier, and it doesn’t sweep the problem under the carpet. It is as expensive and it requires even more per-pupil resources, but by removing the drag these students create in the mainstream, you get better results for your money. These students also often fare FAR better in an alternative setting which is better tailored to their needs.

          We went away from letting students just drop out or go into Vocational Ed for two reason:

          1) the perception that being college bound was the end-all be-all – and lots of plumbers make more $$$ than college grads. It’s a class distinction…and everyone wants to be white-collar, not blue collar. Middle class, not working class. It’s silly.

          2) Because the demand for unskilled workers is nil. Look at the unemployment rate in the district now…and look at who is unemployed…and you’ll see why it’s so bad to create a large subclass of uneducated and unskilled workers.

          This is not a matter of do-gooder intentions…it’s a matter of COMMONwealth – something that’s pragmatic and of a benefit to everyone, not just the recipients of “largesse”. If you look at it as you have described, I think you quickly arrive at, “why do any public education at all?”.

          Think of alternative ed as a reallocation of existing resources; no net change. Please do not read my comments as an endorsement of simply abandoning these children. I left off the snark tags when I referred to Rod Paige (who was a disaster and only showed improvements by cheating).

          • then I guess we don’t totally agree on everything.

            I guess we agree that moving the problem kids out is a good idea, but disagree on what to do with them once they’re out.

            I think we should direct the most resources toward those who demonstrate good behavior, and direct those respources away from those who don’t. That way we reward good behavior and create an incentive to act appropriately. I think it’s more fair to spend more on the good kids, than the ones who’ve already demonstrated they can’t behave. I also think that once you instituted a policy of kicking the bad seeds out, there won’t be as many problem kids as we have now, since the parents and kids will know that their actions will have consequences and will adjust their behavior accordingly.

            I understand what you’re saying about the class distinction stuff, and I think you’re right that there’s a history of that kind of thing, but don’t think it really relates to whether public schools should be able to have disciplinary enforcement with teeth. I didn’t mean to imply that the only place that vocational training would occur is in reform schools. I think it’s a great idea to make vocational training available to everyone. I just meant that the focus at the “reform school” type institutions since they need to do something, should be vocational training.

            I’d argue your second point about the high rates of unemployed unskilled workers just proves that public schools, as currently composed and managed are doing a bad job. I’m sure we’d all agree about that. Maybe if the discipline problems were removed we’d see better results.

            You seem like you’ve got an interesting perspective on all this, and I enjoyed this little online discussion.

          • Anonymous – the conversation has probably moved on, but yes, you’re quite right: I do not agree at all with:

            “I think we should direct the most resources toward those who demonstrate good behavior, and direct those respources away from those who don’t. That way we reward good behavior and create an incentive to act appropriately.”

            I think it’s pure fantasy to believe that children who already fail to recognize that education is a benefit to them in the long term will suddenly behave like “rational econs” and make a rational consumer choice based on an incentive system like this. You are utterly out of touch with the reality of how this works in a public education setting.

            Their behavior may in fact be a quite rational response to their inputs and incentives, but those are far far broader in scope than say, new textbook budgets. Just take a look at the reality of endemic urban poverty – starting from the beginning of the day and straight through to the end.

            You can maybe – with a serious stretch – make the argument that families and parents of the students will respond to this kind of incentive (straighten up and fly right our out on your butt you go), but really: if the families and parents were supportive and effective at this, then they would already be doing it, and the troublemakers mostly wouldn’t be trouble.

            You asked why we don’t have vo-tech and I explained the classist notions. That response is limited to that phenomenon.

            The class issues aren’t at the core of why we don’t tolerate high dropout/explusion rates (these are, from a an educational policy perspective, nearly the same – most troublemakers won’t show up if given the choice). We don’t tolerate them because is terrible economic and social policy to do so – it’s bad enough now, imagine if we didn’t try to keep them in the system. And it’s bad for us, not just for them.

            I don’t agree the “public schools are doing a bad job” – I believe Patrick Welsh put it quite well in some comments he made on air after Rhee’s departure:

            “you could take the faculty of Sidwell Friends, and give them the students at a school like Banneker, and they’d (the teachers) would show failing progress. If you swapped the same Banneker teachers into Sidwell friends, you’d suddenly find a bunch of them became effective.”

            I’m paraphrasing, but I don’t have time to find the exact quote.

            I think the public schools do QUITE well, considering they have to serve ALL students, and that their mission really extends to RAISING children in many cases. The hard data – the test-driven performance analytics – are coming in, and it turns out the unionized public schools do as well or better than the Union-Free, Bureaucracy-Free “private market” “incentive driven” Charters – which kind of puts the lie to a lot of “proper incentives fix everything” claims.

            The issue here is that we have to recognize what the real problems are and what the limitations are of some actors – teachers and administrators – to really address the core/underlying problem.

            The expulsion/drop-out approach is simply a way of “solving” the problem by refusing to tackle it. Put me down as an advocate of Alternative Ed.

    • Where do you think those children go when they are expelled? Eventually you will find them – sticking a gun in your ribs.

  • Watch season 4 of “The Wire” then do everything opposite.

    Ask the students who the good teachers are – they know.

    Pay the good teachers a salary that would allow them to purchase a house in the district where they teach.

    Require parents receiving public assistance to check out 10 library books for their young children every week.

    • I like #2 & #3.

      You could also just pay market rate for the specialization you desire. History teachers are grossly overpaid and Math/Science teachers are grossly underpaid. You see the effects on Math/Science of trying to pay history teacher salaries.

      • @Anonymous, Hear hear! We’re not going to gain much traction in improving the quality of our teaching corps unless we start paying market rates.

        While teaching does require a passion for the profession, far too many high quality teacher candidates are lured to other fields of work because the difference in pay is too great.


  • I’ve read that the historical roots of low teacher pay are in the fact that for centuries it was one of the only careers available to women. You could get high achieving, bright teachers for pennies, because they had no other options.

    With the advent of equal pay for equal work, women had options and the low pay of teaching did not adjust to attract top performers. This is all within the lifetime of the boomer generation. School systems have yet to adjust to this very fundamental economic reality.

      • Absolutely.

        By the way, brainiac who said that we should pay math or science teachers more — yes… that would be good.

        Each teacher has his or her burden.

        How about if we started counting hours then? English and history teachers would get paid more as they spend hours and hours grading essays.

        How about if we counted a teacher’s every interaction — then the Kindy teachers would get paid the most. They cannot sit down — they make more decisions in a day than anyone.

        • I have no problem paying English teachers to grad essays on the weekend. And we already have a model for paying teachers for after hours activities: we pay sports coaches exorbitant sums for very little moral development.

  • Completely get rid of vouchers. It’s causing that “sucking” sound as the Districts schools continue down the toilet.

    We as a city have to make a choice, we are either invested in reforming our public schools, or we choose to privatize our cities education. We can’t afford to do both and the current system is costing a fortune.

    As of FY 11, it costs District taxpayers 50% of the total yearly education budget to educated 38% of the Districts kids.

    Yes, District schools suck. I agree. But we need to make a decision as to whether we are going to simply throw in the towel and disband DCPS, or not because the city can’t afford the current system and it isn’t fair to all the students.

    • Disagree. It will take 5-10 years to turn the school system around and I’m being extremely optimistic. However, if I’m a parent and can get my child into a better school for 2 years in the meantime, I may have saved him/her.

      You can’t sacrifice an entire graduating class of seniors because you’re waiting for the adults to get their crap together.

  • houseintherear

    Saying these as a TitleI elementary school teacher:

    – Stop social/age promotion.
    – Keep students in the school building as long as possible with after-school activities. Pay teachers to host clubs, etc… we’ll do it for extra $.
    – Adios to tenure.
    – Give a different set of standardized tests to schools with high esol populations, emotionally disturbed populations, and low income populations.
    – Provide extensive training to administration on how to accurately and fairly assess teachers.
    – Assess and observe the s**t out of every single teacher, every single year.

    Testing isn’t working. Tenure isn’t working. Treating Potomac schools the same as Silver Spring schools isn’t working. Slacker teachers are keeping their jobs with no problem. Big changes are on the horizon.

  • Is this a forum for Mr. Heelan to campaign? POP are you endorsing him?

    • @DCMom, nope, PoP isn’t endorsing me. I sent him an e-mail asking if he would post a question about education reform in the District (he used an excerpt in the original post). PoP intentionally posed the question without mentioning my campaign. But as the conversation is being held, I thought I would respond to people’s ideas.

  • I want schools to be safe. If kids act at school the way some of them do on the metro and bus to and from school, then I don’t want my [hypothetical, future] kids exposed to that.

    I want pull-out remediation and gifted education in every school, so that kids get a chance to learn from each other, but kids at different levels get what they need.

    I want well-funded school libraries and librarians in every school in the District.

    I want teachers and administrators who can read, write, and speak proper English; who have degrees in the subjects they teach; and who care about their children. And I want principals to have the chance to fire crap teachers (the new ones and the ones who’ve been around for decades) and hire better ones. If that can be done within the union, fine. If not, we don’t need a union.

    I want teachers to get bonuses for working in lower-performing schools and getting good results.

    I want schools to offer more than test prep. I don’t care how smart a kid is, if all they do is math and reading worksheets they will hate school. If the school day or year needs to be longer to do the test prep and the other stuff (science, history, art, gym, etc.) then so be it. I would loooove if DC had year round school. Ideally, there would also be more extracurriculars: science research/robotics, school papers, drama, sports, etc.

    Finally, I want the schools in my neighborhood (Amidon-Bowen ES and Jefferson MS) to start getting better ASAP so in 5-10 years when I have a school-aged kid I don’t have to look at charter or out-of-boundary schools.

    • I agree with everything except the libraries. Even in MOCO the school libraries are a waste of resources. DC has some of the best public libraries in the world. Take the kids to the real libraries that they’ll end up using (hopefully) as adults and teach them how to use them.

      Teach them how to research for real.

  • Safe schools, year-round schooling.

    • Yes please to year-round school. With my kids, we spend the first couple of months each year getting back into the groove – total waste of time.

  • Mirror the work in the Harlem Childrens Zone of helping parents parent.

    Spend money making school buildings attractive, professional icons.

    Give kids alternative opportunities to the streets after hours and on weekends.

  • Leadership, civility, firearm safety classes, proper batting cages, and world class baseball fields.

  • Middle class college educated Ward 4 pre-school parent here.
    I am looking for high test scores, a safe and wholesome environment, arts, science and foreign language enrichment, and high expectations within the school community. I do not see that in MOST of the elementaries and none of the high schools in Ward 4. For all our out-of-boundary lottery shuffling and charter school efforts, McFarland Middle School is a NIGHTMARE to contemplate.
    Also, how about let’s not blow off gun violence in DC’s less pricey neighborhoods as if it is no big deal and happens all the time? Last week the police responded to a call about a man with a gun about a block from the DCPS at 4th and Decatur NW. They apprehended the gunman but there was no lockdown, the school administrators found out about it from a DELIVERYMAN. How about we stop acting like youth on youth shootings are the norm, hey, whatever, it’s DC?
    How can DC youth escape the culture of corruption, drug dealing and gangster apologists if their local government is part of it?

  • Duplicate what they are doing at Barnard, but add Spanish and Chinese, science and art enrichment, more afterschool sports, and year round school. Require swim lessons. And why in hell do we have such a long summer break in DC? Do they think my kids are going to help me at harvest time?

  • I’ve looked at this all day and had thought it wasn’t even worth posting, but here goes…

    I’ve been a DCPS parent for 8 years. Yes, there were some dud teachers out there. Most of them went away in the buyout that happened before Rhee got to town.

    Overall, the DCPS teachers at our Title school (3/4 free/reduced price lunch) are dedicated professionals who act as teacher, social worker and parent to many of the children.

    Our school had a great principal, programs like Chinese, guitar, keyboard, tons of partnerships and a great program to focus gifted and talented children.

    All these good things are gone now and guess who we have to thank–St. Michelle of the Baltimore miracle.

    The union is an easy and cheap scapegoat for the problems of poverty. I realize most of the people posting here don’t have children and likely will never be a parent in a Title I school. You have no idea what it’s like and the challenges that DCPS teachers face each day are staggering.

    What do I want to see in education? Stop blaming teachers, they aren’t the reason kids in DC stink it up on standardized tests. Get away from the obsession surrounding standardized test scores. Focus on wrap around services to counter the devastating effects of poverty. Recognize that despite problems there are people who are doing amazing work in DC. Those people didn’t ride into town with Michelle Rhee–they’ve been here all along doing the hard work of urban education.

    Finally, sticking some Ivy League grad with 5 weeks of Teach for America training in the classroom is criminal. Stop doing this to poor children of color. Parents at Sidwell or in Montgomery Country wouldn’t take it, yet it’s ok to do to poor kids. Finally, Montgomery County has a strong Union and strong test scores. The difference? It’s the poverty stupid.

  • I completely agree with the above statement. The fact is, teachers in Title I schools in the District face significant challenges that no amount of standardized testing and increased teacher scrutiny will fix. I would argue that parents don’t want to send their kids to certain DC schools not because they’ve heard about how horrible the teachers are at these schools but because of the student population that goes there.
    I work at a Title I High School in DC. Teens are filtered into the school directly from juvenile AND adult prisons. These students are highly under-socialized, don’t go to class, smoke in the hallways, fight, etc., and they are in school right along with the students that do care. Knowing this, I would never want my future children to be at a school like that. The worst part is, DCPS doesn’t allow schools to suspend or expel these students. Every suspension must go through a hearing at the DCPS office, and the more suspensions there are, the more face DCPS loses, so obviously, many suspensions don’t go through and the schools are stuck with these students. We had an administrator jumped by students, and the children continue to attend our school. There is little the schools can do to discipline the “feral” students. They ruin the atmosphere of the school for everyone else. DCPS should be investing in specialty public schools where these students can go. Ones with trained teachers that can focus their attention on remediation of these teens, which the prison system obviously doesn’t do.
    I don’t think it even needs to be mentioned that the schools are under-resourced. I have been asking for computer ink all year and the bureaucratic mess that our school has to go through just to get ink is ridiculous. Obviously, there aren’t a lot of resources for a significant improvement in after-school programming.
    DCPS also likes to claim that it gives teachers meaningful professional development. Telling teachers, particularly those that have been teaching for years, that they can incorporate higher order thinking questions and learning centers into their instruction is a joke. There is no training on how to deal with emotionally troubled students, or homeless students, or students with drug problems, etc. This training is what is needed to help combat the effects of poverty which is what is really bringing these students down. Maybe when we stop pretending that a messiah teacher can save all poor children and send them all to college, we can start making real changes that will benefit the students that continue to live in DC.
    (Note: There are schools that have made strides in improving the lives of poor students. Many have mentioned the Harlem Children’s Zone as an example. The HCZ is a highly funded program that gets parents involved during pregnancy. The students receive significant social supports that get them through school and eventually through college. Using this as an example isn’t very helpful in the discussion as this isn’t something that DCPS could conceivably replicate for ALL of its students. What would be helpful are examples of high poverty urban school districts that are really making gains in educational reform for all students).

    • After reading all these comments, this is one of the few things that I can agree with and know occurs within our school system.

      First, to address the concept of the Harlem Children’s Zone and trying to mirror that in DC. For something like that to truly work to that effect, the amount of funding that needs to be funneled into the younger ages is something that has yet to really be proposed. And since most individuals who are in higher office usually hang their “hat” on increasing test scores, there is not an extreme benefit to add money to that aspect.

      Secondly, the concept of professional development is completely ridiculous to most if not all teachers. The time that is wasted telling teachers concepts they already know of, or reading and reflecting on articles as a unit that could be done individually wastes time. Most principals and administrators do not give an open forum to allow teachers to speak about what can be improved in the school and how it can be done. In most schools by November, there is a divide between the staff in general. And this is simply due to the amount of work that is put on one person and the minimal amount of time there is given for a teacher to actually complete their work. The lack of support within the school can be seen with the amount of happy hours you usually see teachers at by around February.

      Finally, programs that work with young parents as well as community revitalization would definitely serve as a great tool to help education. The backgrounds of most of the students have do not define education as an opportunity but more of a requirement. In addition, much of the work that is done socially for students within the 8 hours a day, 5 days a week is broken with the 128 hours a week that is spent outside the classroom. And more behaved and learned social interactions are adapted from outside the classroom in comparison to within.

      I know I have written a lot but as a 3rd year teacher myself, I always am pained by so many people placing blame without having reasonable solutions. In addition, individuals who do not have a background or truly see what goes on within a school have no idea how fanastic or poor a teacher really is. The life of a teacher is something that is always appreciated in the public but usually slandered in the private. But all I can do is keep working and making sure that my students accomplish greatness.

Comments are closed.