Who will you pick for DC Council at-large on April 23?

Question 3

We asked the candidates:

DC's education system has improved in recent years for many kids, but many schools remain inadequate to our children's needs. If you could design a better school system for DC, what would it look like? Would we have more teacher evaluations or fewer? More charter schools, fewer, or different ones? More or fewer kids going to local schools? How else would your school system differ from the one we have today?

Here is how you rated the candidates' responses:

Matthew Frumin responded...

Every D.C. neighborhood deserves excellent local schools. Where they exist, the benefits are enormous. We must make great local schools the rule. To get there we need to:

  • Complete the modernization of our buildings;
  • Couple those investments with equally compelling programmatic improvements;
  • Recognize that where children start school with the greatest disadvantages, they will need more from their school to have a chance at success; and
  • Require DCPS to operate more efficiently and with greater accountability including in the effective use and deployment of resources.

Teacher evaluations based on test scores may figure into that effort, but cannot be the only measure. We cannot afford a system that relies solely on teaching to the test.

To build a successful system, we must also sort out how the local and charter school sectors fit together and complement each other. Charter schools can and should serve as incubators of innovation and housing specialty programs. However, the growth of charters in parts of the city has contributed to compromising the ability of local schools to succeed. And, while there are great charter schools, not nearly all are great. Drifting towards a charter takeover in parts of the city would be a mistake.

Why don't we set a goal that by 2022, the 50th anniversary of Home Rule, local schools will serve two-thirds of our children and charters one-third? We expect to see a 50% increase in our school age population over that period. The charter sector, therefore, need not shrink, but individual charter schools would need to demonstrate the value they add.

Setting such a goal would help guide our investment in local schools moving forward and end the downward spiral of closures and consolidations. It would also commit us to having great local schools in every neighborhood. Meeting this goal will also leave our children and families one of the largest set of school choices in America.

An important part of creating great schools in every neighborhood will be increasing parental and community engagement in the life of the schools. We must foster that engagement by showing our commitment as a city to the schools both by investing in them and emphasizing the role of local schools as community centers. We can and should leverage our capital investment in our schools by using them to meet community needs such as recreation, after school programs, adult education and, where appropriate in high schools, community health centers.

A big part of my work has been devoted to dramatically improving schools, leading efforts to modernize buildings and secure funding for school programs. My work has brought significant benefits to children and their families. I want to see such improvements throughout the city. The challenges in different communities will vary, but the lesson applies. With hard work and creativity, the city, working with parents and the community, can turn this oil tanker. On the Council, I will work to make that happen.

Elissa Silverman responded...

I will work tirelessly to make the public schools in every District neighborhood high-performing.

That said, I believe the D.C. Council's role in education reform is largely one of oversight: to maintain our focus on educational outcomes and not on bureaucracy or ideology. We must not return to the days when politicians interfered in individual school decisions or when education decisions were made on any basis other than results. I also think the council plays a role in making sure that all city residents.including parents, neighbors, and advocates.have a voice in public school decision-making.

As a former reporter and budget analyst, I know how to ask tough questions to keep our focus on results-driven education reform.

I think we must grapple with the fact that we have created two public school systems: traditional public schools and charters. Children can move back and forth between the two systems, which presents facilities, funding, and other challenges. Some charters have proven to be laboratories of innovation, but some have not. If charters want to continue to be autonomous from the traditional DCPS system, they need to be transparent about educational outcomes. As a council member, I would ask about their high rate of expulsion and about how charters serve special-needs students.

I have many other questions, too.

  • We have a policy of pre-kindergarten for all, but is the program high-quality and available to all residents? Why has the Office of the State Superintendent certified nearly every pre-K program as "Gold" when so many 5-year-olds are still entering DCPS unprepared to learn?
  • Why is D.C. the only major urban system that fails to break even on the federally supported school lunch and breakfast programs? Why has the chancellor ousted a well-regarded director of food services?
  • Are we spending more than we should per square foot for the buildings being renovated with funding from the School Modernization Act of 2006?
  • Finally, and most importantly: Why are the educational outcomes of low-income children improving more slowly in DCPS than in other urban districts, particularly in reading proficiency? What are we doing that is not working, and what is the plan to close the achievement gap that is widening faster in D.C. than in any other urban district?

I will also make sure that the council reopens the office of the Ombudsman for Public Education, which was closed in 2009. Parents must have an advocate who is empowered to answer their questions and resolve their concerns, regardless of which public school their children attend.

As your at-large council member, I won't confuse my role with that of schools chancellor or school principal, but I also won't rubber stamp something just because the word .reform. is attached to it. I'll provide the critical oversight that parents across the city expect from the council, ensuring that results-driven real reform continues and that educational outcomes for all children improve.

John Settles responded...

My 3 children attend a DC Public School. I am pleased with the staff, yet dismayed at the outdated facility. In my volunteer efforts I have witnessed first-hand many of the problems with the school system. While there has been improvement, the city still has an unacceptable average Math and Reading Proficiency level below 50%. Every year our schools are graduating children, many of whom are not prepared academically, or equipped with skills that line up with the jobs of today, or the future. As the Nation's Capital, we should be a model for delivering high quality education in all schools, regardless of income level. In order to create a city wide system of excellence that surpasses Maryland, I would undertake the following actions:

Sponsor legislation that creates a complimentary versus competition between Charter and DCPS schools. Charter Schools should be specialized, and incented to be the innovation and incubator centers for forward thinking education offerings, that once proven can be shared with DCPS. In cases where synergies are found I would push for the co-location of Charter Schools and DCPS schools, as an alternative to school closings, and for improving underperforming schools. I also would push for additional investment in early childhood education,additional preschool classes, to match growth, and demand. Families should not have to depend upon a lottery process to determine the quality of education that their children receive.

We must invest in state of the art technology offerings for all schools, so ALL students can be offered STEM-ART programs through a choice of Animation, Gaming, Augmented Reality, and Distance Learning. No matter the location, or income level, all children must have advanced technology proficiency, and code writing ability.

We must recognize that not all children will go directly to college, if they go at all. Therefore we have to reintroduce trades, life skills, and entrepreneurship classes in schools. Creating a pathway to gainful employment will reduce dropoutrates, juvenile crime rates, and improve academic environments.

Additionally, I will push for more in depth partnerships withprivate and federal organizations to bring Art, Music, and specialty electives such as Robotics to all schools.

Further, I would empower principals to create metrics forevaluating teacher effectiveness, to balance current measurements that are based upon 2 annual visits to a class.

DCPS and Charter schools must work in tandem with other government agencies to provide comprehensive services in the schools. We must recognize that all students are not coming from the same environments. There are children coming to school with untreated illness, suffering from mental or physical abuse, malnourishment, and sleep deprivation, yet they are labeled, and/or judged by the same test standards as other children.

Lastly, the city must invest in Workforce Housing for teachers, and other incentives to stem the teacher turnover, especially in lower performing schools.

With focused leadership, and strong partnerships between the school system, parents, community, and the private sector we can improve the schools, and properly prepare the children.

Diallo Brooks responded...

Education is the number one Civil Rights concern of our time. Revamping and improving our Public Education system here in Washington, DC is one of the most important issues facing our Nation's Capital. Disparities that exist in the classroom mirror those within our communities. In order to bridge socio-economic divides, we must fix our education system.

We can't truly be a great city if we are leaving so many children and communities behind without the skills necessary to compete in a modern economy. Education is the great equalizer — it gives us the necessary tools to build economic ladders towards sustainable self-sufficient communities. This debate can't be about charters vs. traditional public schools. The focus needs to be about creating the best public educational system we can, where innovation drives success and students graduating college and career ready!

As a product of DC Public Schools (DCPS) and a parent of children within the DCPS system, I have a strong personal interest in seeing our schools become the best in the world. We all must work to help every child in our great city realize the potential that is inherent within them.

We know that deficiencies within the system are numerous and require resolution. To achieve this, we must first shore-up our educational infrastructure by:

  • Building a system with high expectations for every child that comes in contact with our system.
  • Developing a personal education plan that is tailored to the needs of each child. This will help them gain the skills required to be competitive in an economic environment.
  • Ensuring our teachers have the supports, tools and inspiration required for success, even in the most difficult environments.
  • Maintaining a culture that opens doors to innovation and creative instruction.
  • Creating and maintaining a safe learning atmosphere that provides all students, teachers and faculty a platform to perform to the best of their abilities.
  • Ensuring that funds spent on education benefit each student in a way that is tangible and measureable.
  • Developing strong parent, community and school partnerships that foster student development through supplemental learning while creating the buy-in necessary to implement change.
  • Utilizing data to measure student performance and growth. This should not be a punitive instrument, but a tool to help leverage proven methodologies and plan programming to meet student needs.
  • Designing wraparound services for children that lend extra support based on their individual, personal and academic needs. We know that some of our children come to school with many difficulties but this cannot be an excuse to cast them aside and not provide them with a first-class education.

In order to revamp education, it will take a real commitment from elected officials, communities, parents and educators to invest in meaningful reform. The dialogue we have recently witnessed in this city has demonized teachers, exacerbating the problem by personalizing and marginalizing communities. Education is a complicated issue and cannot be solved with a quick-fix. We need to roll up our sleeves and engage in the hard work necessary to support the academic and social achievement of our children.

Patrick Mara responded...

Chancellor Henderson recently announced the closure of 15 under-enrolled public schools. The decision to do so was not easy, but it was critical toward the rebuilding of our school system. We need to make sure that all dollars are spent wisely and fairly. And we must always remember that our goal is to develop a world-class education system in which students from every neighborhood thrive.

Former Chancellor Michelle Rhee created a model for how to make tough decisions. It was based primarily on data. Chancellor Henderson is building on Rhee's model: analyze the data, listen to all stakeholders, and at the same time do not yield to political pressure or emotional outcry. That is what leaders do, and that is what Henderson did.

One thing our education officials need is support, and at times criticism, from leadership at every level of government and from stakeholders in the community. On the day that Chancellor Henderson announced the final list of school closures, not one other candidate in this race issued a statement.

It has been very troubling to me that education reform has seemingly fallen off the radar screen of many who seek to serve in government. Scandals, ethical lapses and the ongoing investigation into our local politics must not distract us from the single most important issue of our time: education.

In the weeks ahead Chancellor Henderson will turn her attention to the challenging task of redrawing school boundaries. I am already hearing concerns from parents. I have no doubt that the task ahead will be as contentious, if not more so, than the school closing process we've just been through.

Ask yourself this when you consider candidates running for At-Large Council: who in this race has remained focused on schools and education reform while others chased headlines and pointed fingers?

My plan for rebuilding our schools cannot be summed up in 500 words or a campaign talking point. I wish fixing our schools was that easy. I also wish that the premise of the question asked in this survey, which can be boiled down to .charters vs. public schools,. wasn't a politically loaded ruse.

The real question is: are we committed to education reform and willing to tackle the toughest issues? My answer is yes.

Pedro Rubio responded...

As a previous District of Columbia Public Schools student, I remember my schools' learning environment were bad. Since the time I attended, the DC's education system has improved but it is still lacking more. I have been a mentor and worked with students of DCPS and Charter schools, so I know first-hand where our students are academically and what is missing in our schools. As a concerned uncle to my nephew and niece who attend DCPS, I have also learned the struggles of parents, teachers, and students to obtain the resources and support in order to provide a better learning environment for our children. Since I have been involved with this school system most of my life, I feel confident and experienced within this pressing issue in our city.

My ideal school system would:

  • Have small size classes (15 students per class)
  • Updated textbooks every two years
  • Mandatory art, music, and gym class
  • After school programs from 3PM . 5PM
  • College preparation courses
  • Provide more Advance Placement (AP) courses
  • Accountability Measures
  • Teacher training courses

This is will be one of my top priorities if elected because of my ties with our schools. I would like to give DCPS students an equal opportunity to compete with some of the best students in the country when they go off and pursue higher education. Education within the city will not be changed just by upgrading school buildings and textbooks though, it will take a change in the culture within the city's families and local government to want to truly improve and excel in education.

Paul Zukerberg responded...

We have made great progress in school reform. But much more work needs to be done. We are blessed with many wonderful teachers, who truly care about our kids' education. They deserve our thanks and support.

I have complete confidence in school Chancellor Kaya Henderson. While I don't agree with all of her decisions, especially on closing neighborhood schools, she has my full support.

The Council's role is to set the goals, provide the resources, and let professionals, like Chancellor Henderson, achieve the results. Council meddling is too often counter- productive.

Take, for example, the truancy law proposed by David Catania's new Education Committee. The Council thinks that the answer to school truancy is to put mom in jail. The bill calls for parents to be arrested and criminally prosecuted if their kid has 20 or more unexcused absences per year. Catania's bill is misguided and heartless.

Arresting mom — probably in front of her own kids — is a terrible idea. And what happens to the children of the parents who are jailed? They are taken into child protective custody. Think of the trauma to the child who hears a knock at the door, sees mom handcuffed and taken away, and is then removed from the family home by strangers.

At high truancy schools like Ballou and Anacostia, the new law means that 45% of parents would qualify for arrest and prosecution. The Council wants to fix our schools by locking up half of the parents.

Truancy can only be addressed on a child-by-child basis. School officials and social workers need to work with parents to identify the problem, and together try to find compassionate solutions.

A kid may be missing school because of illness or serious problems at home. Maybe a child isn't going because of bullying or concerns about personal safety. How would putting mom in jail solve these problems?

Perhaps a kid just doesn't see the point of going to a failing school, where no real learning happens. To get kids to school consistently we have to create nurturing school environments where kids come because they want to belong.

If I am elected, no mom is going to go jail for truancy. Or if they do, the Council better set aside two jail cells, because you're going to have to take me along too.

Perry Redd responded...

It is clear that "improvement" is subjective and with rose-colored glasses, we make our cases on progress in the DCPS system. We, as a consensus, removed the Rhee/Fenty model of governance of our schools, only to be slammed again by the current Chancellor, Kaya Henderson. Once again, parents and community were ignored.in particular, the lower-income community of DC residents.regarding the recent decision to close 15 schools. I wholly disagree with this mode of operation.

I believe that personal connection, fiscal responsibility and engaging dialogue are all pertinent components in the drive toward progress, and eventually success. I believe the lack of pride in our public assets shown by our school system administration demonstrates a reflection of a corporate-driven philosophy of schools management. I am not of this mind.

I would act and support more attention to the communitive decision-makingmodel and using our creative and ingenuitive genius among us to downsize existing public schools (if necessary) to maintain the hegemony of our communities and maintain our public assets. To go from a traditional three-floor school to a one-floor school, is not an impossible option. Charters schools could conceivably share campus space with existing DCPS facilities. These are just a few of the working options I would employ if elected.

Understanding that the prospect of "choice" createsan air of satisfaction for parents, but that alone does not guarantee success. The fact that choice is often predicated on income, perpetuates the existing gap in the provision of resources allotted to our children. Many charter schools have a culture (and sometimes even a written contract) that provides parents opportunities to influence school management and to become more involved with the processes of school governance and functioning.This is notthe case with public schools, therefore we operate in an inherently unconstitutional environment. A charter school's autonomy regarding personnel (union/wage requirements), public-private (corporate sponsorship) and most of all, academic requirements speak to gross inequality. In light of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board decision of 1954, separate can never be equal.

To further address the question posed, I am sadden by the continued emphasis on teacher testing to garner competency, as opposed to testingteacher effectivenessin reaching our children's potential. Standardized testing never revealed the full potential of any student, but the retention of prescribed information. I am against using Ayn Rand-type protocols to excise DCPS teachers. The tactic is a favorite of the Heritage Foundation, but ill serves the welfare of our children. Teachers are more than information drones, they are human caretakers of our children's growth and development. They have been degraded by our past two chancellors and must be treated with respect. My position is that the vaguely-proscribed evaluation model must be reformed.

I am unequivocally for a moratorium on any further charter school expansion. I am for "pride in our public assets," especially, our public schools. I am for investment in the existing school curricula, programming, facilities and children, which will breed success and a healthier, more unified DC.