April 28, 2013

As D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) enters the second year of working toward the goals outlined in our strategic plan, “A Capital Commitment,” I often am asked whether the district is still leading the way in education reform.

People must think that if we are not angering the community, clashing with unions, creating discord in our schools and making headlines, we must not be making change. When I began working for DCPS in 2007, the school district was broken, and we spent tense and contentious years fixing the most immediate problems.

We made many changes that were critical to improving our school district. But they were not the only changes needed to ensure that any parent would be proud to send his or her child to D.C. schools.

We need three elements in place to give students and families the education they deserve:

●We need great teachers, leaders and support staff. Talent matters.

●We need to give educators rigorous academic content, including academic interventions that support our struggling learners and advanced coursework to challenge those who are thriving.

●We need motivated students and engaged families who see our schools as exciting and vibrant places to learn.

Our work reflects these priorities, as does our budget for our upcoming school year. We are continuing our investment in human capital by maintaining our rigorous evaluation system and by providing our educators with more and better training to help them succeed.

We are investing heavily in improving our students’ literacy. Despite our hard work, fewer than half of our students are proficient readers. We are investing in staff to help our struggling readers, technology to bring more and richer content into the classroom and a strategy to ensure that students have the time and support they need to learn to read and write. We are creating a culture of literacy in our schools and, ultimately, throughout the city.

And we are making a concerted effort to better engage our families and to make school fun for students. We took the input from our school consolidation meetings very seriously. Parents told us that they wanted children across the city to have equal access to enriching courses; that art, music and physical education were important; that all students should have access to foreign-language classes; and that library services in support of our literacy efforts should be a priority.

These investments do not generate headlines. They do not create controversy. They do not fit neatly into the box of what others think of as school reform. But they will result in student achievement and in more families choosing DCPS.

At this stage in our work, I do not believe that we need to create more friction to get better results. We will continue to invest in our educators, academic content and student and family engagement because we know that these efforts will pay off.

Do not confuse a lack of controversy with a lack of urgency. We work daily to ensure that our students have the tools they need to be successful and that we have schools that make us proud. Given these investments and a little bit of time, I can’t wait to show the world what our students can do.

The writer is chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.