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Posted at 08:21 PM ET, 04/11/2012

Henderson launches $10 million grant program to help DCPS reach new academic targets

Chancellor Kaya Henderson, nearing the end of her first full school year as leader of DCPS, is committing the school system to a series of academic goals she hopes to reach by 2017:

--Seventy percent proficiency in reading and math test scores, with a doubling of the number of students at advanced levels.

--A forty percentage point increase in proficiency at the 40 lowest-performing schools.

--A four-year high school graduation rate of 75 percent.

--90 percent of students saying that they like their schools

--Increased enrollment over the next five years.

Some of the targets will be tougher to hit than others.

Math and reading proficiency on the DC CAS sit at about 43 percent. The test will be replaced in 2015 by a new assessment aligned to the Common Core standards now being adopted in phases. Scores tend to go down on new assessments before they go up.

The current four-year graduation rate, newly recalculated under a more rigorous formula, is 58.6 percent.

Enrollment, stable for the last couple of years after decades of decline, is projected to remain flat for the next two years and then grow 1.5 percent annually through 2017, according to the Public Education Finance Reform Commission.

It’s not quite clear what it means for students to “like” their schools. According to the 2011 Stakeholder Survey, 80 percent of students feel ”strongly supported” at school and 82 percent say their school is “on the right track for student achievement.”

DCPS produced a five-year plan in 2008 under Henderson’s predecessor, Michelle Rhee. Some of the objectives it outlined, particularly in the area of human capital, have been met. It’s difficult to compare these new targets to the 2008 document, however, because that plan was long on aspiration but short on specific numeric goals.

Henderson announced the objectives at last month’s “Leadership Academy” for school principals, and repeated them in an e-mail to DCPS officials Wednesday morning as she announced a $10 million grant program designed to help schools reach the new goals.

“We are at the beginning of an exciting new chapter in DCPS,” she said in the e-mail.

The program, dubbed “Proving What’s Possible,” (PWP) will provide grants of up to $400,000 to schools with, in Henderson’s words, “the most compelling plans designed to dramatically improve outcomes for students after one year of implementation.”

Henderson urged principals to focus on proposals to extend the school day, utilize technology in innovative ways, or improve school staff.

“I want you to focus on how time, talent and technology can help us make the dramatic gains that we all desire and that our students all deserve. We have a lot of ground to cover and incremental gains simply won’t get us there,” she said.

Wednesday’s announcement of the grant initiative was a bit vague on where the $10 million is coming from. It described the source as “funds previously spent on centrally mandated pilots and programs.”

Neither Henderson nor spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz responded to an e-mailed request for details as of 7:30 p.m.

The largest grants (between $250,000 and $400,00) will go to schools with the highest population of students that need to be moved up to proficiency levels on standardized tests. Applications from schools are due on May 18 and awards will be announced June 1.

By  |  08:21 PM ET, 04/11/2012

 
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