The Rev. Charles Briody, a candidate for the D.C. Board of Education from Ward 2, was misquoted in the Voters' Guide as saying about 75 percent of the District's teachers will be eligible for retirement in 50 years. Briody said they would be eligible in five years.
Adjunct assistant professor, Department of English, Division of Continuing Education, University of the District of Columbia; secretary, Greater Washington Area Social Action Council of Unitarian Universalist Churches; board member of Washington-Moscow Capitals Citizens Exchange, Paul Robeson Friendship Society and Martin Luther King Jr. D.C. Support Group; member, Washington Classical Society; has served as congressional aide, taught English in West Africa and Latin at Banneker High School; holds master's degrees in Latin, linguistics and divinity studies.
1. The dismal standardized test scores in our secondary schools are indeed sobering: a 16-point plunge in SAT scores in 1983; juniors in 11 out of 14 District high schools last year reading and computing below national minimal norms; SAT scores this year below national averages. When we combine these depressing statistics with the more than 50 percent youth unemployment rate, the 17 percent high school dropout rate and the business community's insistence on academic competence, the new board has its task cut out for it. The Committee on Economic Development in a recent study gives the new board its mandate: "Business will hire young people who are reliable and disciplined . . . who can read, write and communicate, who can handle basic math problems. . . . Business needs people who have learned how to learn." The board must mandate a review of the principals at the 11 below-standard high schools and devise an emergency curriculum to bring students up to employable standards.
2. Low income by itself is not a stigma. Social problems stemming from one- or no-parent homes, crime-ridden neighborhoods and the drug culture do impact on the overall morale of a school, of students, their classrooms and their teachers. Yale child psychiatrist James A. Comer, a consultant on poor test scores of black students in Prince George's County, has an important insight for D.C. public schools: "If the students have been made to feel dumb, then they have low expectations and little self-confidence. All of that affects the performance of the kids, the academic development, the behavior." We need principals qualified and sensitive enough to inspire staff and students through superior teaching skills, not just administrative authority!
3. (1) Within 50 years about 75 percent of the District's 5,816 teachers will be eligible for retirement. To meet the impending shortage, the board and the Washington Teachers Union should plan a recruitment strategy, centered on nationally competitive salaries, elimination of nonteaching chores for teachers and reasonable student-teacher ratios. We need to recruit teachers graduating from major colleges, offering those without education degrees provisional teaching licenses. (2) With the current "teen-age pregnancy" epidemic and a possible AIDS epidemic in our junior and senior high schools, education and prevention, not panic, are the cure. High school sex education clinics and a sex education curriculum beginning in grammar school with parental support can restore calm and confidence. (3) Passage of the rent control referendum is the single most important education-related electoral issue. The end of rent control would mean displacement of working, poor and middle-income parents and their youngsters, the main constituents of a public school system.