By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 19, 2008
D.C. public schools will launch a weekend academic program this month to help more than 7,500 students at 91 schools pass standardized tests in the spring, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced yesterday.
Saturday Scholars, a 14-week program that will cost $1.5 million, is designed for students who are on the verge of passing the reading and math tests but need extra help, officials said. The program is voluntary and will take place on Saturdays at 47 schools citywide starting Jan. 26.
The announcement came one day after Fenty (D) and Rhee held 23 hearings on their school closure proposal, which has raised concerns among some parents who question the academic benefits of closing and combining schools.
By August, 27 of the city's academically troubled schools must have undergone an academic overhaul to meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Rhee said the Saturday program is one way to help schools satisfy the federal law, but she said it also will lift the achievement of the school system's students. In addition, Rhee said, it is meant to address parent concerns that the number and range of special programs differ from one school to another.
"People are really concerned about the fact that their schools do not have equality or equity in terms of their program and resources. They want to know why some schools have after-school programs after school and on Saturdays . . . and other schools don't," Rhee said yesterday at a news conference at Walker-Jones/Terrell Education Center in Northwest.
Rhee said school officials are launching the program "so that every single school in this city has a foundation in [math and reading] programs that we know are going to improve student achievement."
Last year, then-Superintendent Clifford B. Janey tackled low academic performance with a four-week Saturday academy program for 3,600 students. The program gave extra help in reading and math and tracked student progress with weekly reports.
Rhee did not mention the Janey program yesterday, but aides said Saturday Scholars is new, because all the schools will use standard reading and math curricula that target specific students' weaknesses. For example, math lessons might address geometry or measurement concepts if a student needed to work on one of those areas, officials said.
School districts and charter schools across the country have looked to weekend and extended-day academic programs as a way to lift low test scores, a recognition that the regular school day may not provide adequate time for teachers to help some students catch up with their peers.
"There are so many demands for what we want to see [teachers]implementing in terms of curriculum," Rhee said.
West Elementary in Northwest, a Blue Ribbon school in 2003, has had several principals in the past two years and its scores have gone down, said Janet Myers, PTA president.
"I think it's a good idea," Myers said of the program. "With all the other subjects that our children are learning and teachers are teaching, you can't cover all of the extra services that children may need in preparation for the test."