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Narrowing Curriculum Decried

Education Gaps Erode Historic Rulings, Study Says

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Write
Thursday, April 7, 2005; Page DZ05

Fifty years ago, D.C. public school honors students were required to take four years of foreign language, and all comprehensive high schools offered three or four different options. Today, only five of 16 regular high schools offer a full four-year foreign language curriculum -- and most offer only two options, a new report shows.

Before the landmark civil rights cases -- Brown v. Board of Education and Bolling v. Sharpe -- that eliminated racial segregation in the District and the nation half a century ago, all D.C. junior high school students were offered annual courses in art and music, physical education and vocational education. In eighth and ninth grades, they also were offered French, Spanish or Latin along with English, math, science and social studies.

Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, shown acting as principal for a day at Dunbar High, said it could take several years to address concerns cited in a report by Parents United and the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Po St)

D.C. Schools by the Numbers

Today, seven of the 27 schools that serve eighth-graders offer no foreign languages; half of the schools have no vocational education teacher, one-third have no art teacher and one-third have no music teacher.

John Philip Sousa Middle School, named for America's most famed band composer, has no band -- and no music courses.

The decline is chronicled in a report called "Separate and Unequal: The State of the District of Columbia Public Schools Fifty Years After Brown and Bolling," issued by Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools and the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights.

"Unfortunately, the long overdue promises embodied in Brown and Bolling have not been fulfilled for the children of the District of Columbia," it says. "The promise of an end to racial isolation remains unrealized. . . . Nor has the promise of educational equity been kept."

The report paints a dismal picture of the state of education in the District, but also busts some myths about the system. For example, it shows that the District does not -- as is commonly stated -- spend more per student than any other school district in the nation. Arlington, Alexandria and Montgomery all spend more per capita locally.

It also says that consideration should be given to amending the D.C. Charter to include a right of all children attending D.C. public schools to receive an adequate and meaningful public education as "a first step toward reflecting the firmly held belief of D.C. residents that education must be a fundamental priority for the D.C. government."

D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, who is in his first year in that job, said he saw the report and is working to address many of the problems. He noted, for example, that Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has promised to give the school system extra money to close some staffing gaps in schools where there are no arts programs.

But, he said, the dysfunction in the system is so deep that it will take several years for changes to appear to be more than incremental.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company