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?
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.
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