Independent mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz proposed a wide-ranging list of school reforms Friday, including low-
interest loans and tax breaks to retain veteran teachers, a tougher solution to counter truancy and a more holistic approach to evaluating students than standardized test scores.
Schwartz, a former Republican D.C. Council member who is seeking a political comeback in November’s mayoral race, jumped into one of the city’s most vexing issues, education, with a 15 -page white paper.
Schwartz appeared to be trying to set herself apart from her two main rivals, Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser and independent David A. Catania. Schwartz offered a far more detailed road map to education improvements than Bowser, a D.C. Council member representing Ward 4. But her paper appeared geared as much or more at undermining the claim of Catania, an at-large council member, that he is the race’s education candidate.
In a sometimes personal account, including mentioning how the special-education needs of her brother pushed her to get a degree in education, Schwartz took regular digs at Catania’s school policies.
Schwartz also seemed intent on reminding the District’s many newcomers of her time as a District board member and classroom consultant in the 1970s and 1980s, before many of the city’s millennials were born. She’s also the only candidate, she said, who has “walked the walk” as a D.C. school system parent, having sent her children to D.C. public schools. Neither Bowser nor Catania has children.
Schwartz issued a call to arms for retired teachers across the Washington region to tutor D.C. students in need. She also said the District must follow the lead of Montgomery County and New York City in adopting more dynamic plans to counter truancy.
Broadly, Schwartz’s paper seemed to forge a path between Bowser, who has said she would speed the improvement of schools, and Catania, who has said equal weight must be given to improving all schools. Schwartz’s policy paper said this:
“Her first goal, if she is elected, is to ensure that every neighborhood school in every area of the city would be of such high quality that all students and their families would want to attend them. Although we’re not there yet, Carol will speed the arrival of that day.”
In 2007, Schwartz voted against the mayoral takeover of the city’s schools, and in the paper released Friday, she described much of the work done under former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee as a “rocky” time for education in the city.
But Schwartz said she had seen enough improvement under Chancellor Kaya Henderson to persuade her to want to keep Henderson on for “the time she has stated she wants, which is one or so more years, to make improvements and continue on the current upward trajectory.”
Also in her policy paper, Schwartz said she believes that “a Mayor’s role is to partner with the Chancellor in setting policy and goals, and then provide support — not micromanage or do his or her job.” The latter was a dig at Catania, who as chairman of the council’s education committee has sought major overhauls and questioned Henderson on minutiae, drawing some criticism as a micromanager.
Schwartz also called legislation authored by Catania to shift the burden of proof from parents to schools in legal cases about appropriate services for special-needs children a “misguided” effort that would only invite costly lawsuits.
Catania’s plan “may be a good way to get votes during an election year,” Schwartz wrote, “but in truth it only perpetuates the on-going problem of shifting the cost to DC taxpayers to benefit a few.” Catania’s campaign declined to comment on Schwartz’s paper.
One of the first points Schwartz made in her paper was that the District had a misplaced emphasis on getting new teachers into classrooms instead of retaining veteran ones. She said the District relies too much on teachers from Teach for America, who work in troubled schools for a couple of years and then leave.
“We need to develop new veteran teachers whose love for teaching will keep them in the classroom throughout their careers,” Schwartz wrote. “Carol supports helping them get advanced degrees through low-interest loans, no-interest revolving fund loans, or scholarships at moderately priced local universities in exchange for set years of commitment to DCPS.”
Such proposals are more detailed than the eight bullet points and one-page education-policy statement that Bowser has posted on her campaign Web site.
Catania has descriptions of his work and policy goals on the education panel on his campaign Web site.
Schwartz is the first to release a comprehensive paper. “Many of our students have been cheated for too long,” Schwartz said. As mayor, she added, she would “right that wrong.”
Excerpts, by topic:
“Carol Schwartz is certainly not against standardized testing. When she was elected to the Board of Education 40 years ago, there were no standardized tests. She fought to bring them back.
But Schwartz wants to consider a broader review of students like that initiated in Fairfax County called “Portrait of a Graduate.”
“Although Carol believes that standardized tests are crucial benchmarks for progress, she never thought that they should be the end-all and be-all of instruction and learning. We must not emphasize them so much that they stifle both teachers’ and students’ creativity. And don’t we want our children to be well-rounded?”
“As charter school enrollment approaches 50%, we must . . . think about how charter schools and traditional public schools can better cooperate as part of a shared system. This should take the shape of better planning between the two and more sharing of best practices.
“Coordination is virtually non-existent between charter schools and DCPS. We saw this recently when a science-focused charter school, Harmony School of Excellence-DC, was placed adjacent to a science-focused public school, Langley Elementary. . . .
“Carol would also like to see increased oversight of charter schools. We’ve recently seen several cases of misappropriation of schools funds by charter school managers. We need increased transparency of the finances relating to charter schools . . . to ensure that our public tax dollars are not being wasted and abused.”
“Carol would tap into the enormous resources we have among retired educators in the community and issue a call to service. The call would also go out to [the] region.”
“Suspensions are linked to a greater risk of academic failure, truancy, and drop-outs. Instead of suspending students for bad behavior and sending them home, which is unproductive and hardly a punishment, Carol would encourage taking different tactics. Montgomery County Public Schools, for example, have successfully used alternatives to out-of-school punishment such as behavioral contracts, restitution, detention, peer mediation, and community service. And Carol would like to take many — if not all of these ideas — and adapt them to our system.”
She would adapt a program recently launched in New York City where schools track all absences — not just those categorized as unexcused — in real time to try to identify patterns among individual students before they become chronically truant. In the cases where absenteeism dropped, positive reinforcement was offered in the form of rewards and public recognition. In the cases where truancy continued, steps were taken to require intervention from social services and one-on-one tutoring where needed. Initially piloted in a few dozen schools, this program is now being implemented citywide.