What does Bowser’s primary win mean for D.C.’s schools?

April 3, 2014

Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser has displayed her strengths as a campaigner, but her education platform is pretty thin. Before the general election seven months from now, she has the opportunity to flesh it out.

Bowser’s main campaign promise on education has been that she would replicate the success of Ward 3′s Deal Middle School in other parts of the city. While the middle grades in other schools need attention, it’s far from clear that replicating Deal district-wide is a workable strategy.

Only 23 percent of Deal’s students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. At other middle schools in D.C., that proportion is far higher. While it goes without saying that all kids deserve an excellent education, delivering that education to low-income kids requires a different set of skills and methods.

Simply recreating Deal’s amenities in high-poverty schools or moving its excellent teachers there (assuming they would be willing to go) won’t automatically transform those schools. To succeed there, teachers will need expert classroom management skills in addition to all the other qualities that make teachers great. And given the high proportion of special education students in high-poverty schools, it would help if they also had training in that area.

There are a host of other things that will be necessary before high-poverty middle schools, or high-poverty schools at any grade level, can reach Deal’s level. You need strong principals who can inspire their staffs to work together and to persevere in the face of discouraging setbacks. You need support services for kids who have been traumatized by the effects of poverty.

Most fundamentally, you need to develop a positive school “culture” that motivates kids to adopt behavior that will lead to their success. At the same time you need to teach them to reject behavior that is destructive to themselves and disruptive to the education of others.

[Continue reading Natalie Wexler's post at Greater Greater Education.]

Natalie Wexler is the editor of Greater Greater Education and a member of the board of the D.C. Scholars Public Charter School. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

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