Three years after launching an expensive education experiment, the District is eliminating extended school years at 13 campuses after city leaders said there was scant evidence of improved academic achievement, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Thursday.
The program — which costs about $7.5 million a year — adds 20 school days to the calendar of low-performing schools, giving more than 4,000 students shorter and more frequent breaks during an academic year that runs 200 days.
The strategy was touted by Arne Duncan, the education secretary under President Barack Obama, as a way to combat “summer brain drain.” Bowser and former D.C. Public Schools chancellor Kaya Henderson hailed the investment in 2016, saying the additional instruction time would give students an extra year of learning by the time they reached eighth grade.
City leaders noted at the time that more than half of the District’s charter schools — which are publicly funded and privately operated — had already embraced the extended academic year strategy.
But three years later, Bowser and acting D.C. Public Schools chancellor Lewis. D. Ferebee said attendance rates at these schools are poor, teacher burnout is high and academic improvements have been insignificant. The final extended academic year for schools in the traditional public school system will conclude this summer.
“If you had unlimited resources, you might invest in multiple strategies,” Ferebee said in an interview. “We have constraints on our budget and we want to get the highest yield on our dollars.”
Many campuses across the city have extended academic days, and those hours will not change with the elimination of the longer year at the 13 schools.
The announcement came as Ferebee and Bowser released budgets for individual schools Thursday. The budgets provide a blueprint for how the city wants to spend its education funding, outlining big investments and cuts in schools.
Bowser is scheduled to announce her citywide spending plan for fiscal 2020 in the coming weeks, and said in an interview that the education budget is expected to exceed the current $1.73 billion allocation for traditional public and charter schools.
The city uses enrollment projections to determine its school budgets and predicts the number of students enrolled in the system will increase by nearly 2 percent next academic year — the second straight year it has experienced such a bump. That increase would bring enrollment in the traditional school system to just under 50,000 students. The growth is in elementary and middle school grades, Ferebee said.
The system also is opening two new schools, expanding preschool programs and adding 500 spots for students across the city.
“The biggest thing I will say is that we are growing,” Bowser said. “And that is just a wonderful testament to the trust that parents continue to have in public education.”
While Ferebee — who started as the city’s acting schools chancellor a month ago — said some of the initiatives in the budget were planned before his arrival, others stemmed from conversations he had with parents, teachers and students over the past few weeks.
Among the investments: technology. The school system plans to spend $4.6 million more to purchase laptops and other devices — an investment parents and school leaders say is desperately needed.
In third, sixth and ninth grades, every student would have a device, probably a laptop. Systemwide, there would be one device for every three students.
Ferebee said the investment will make administering standardized tests — which students take on computers — more efficient.
“This addresses and speaks to our response from what we heard in the community,” Ferebee said.
Markus Batchelor (Ward 8), of the D.C. State Board of Education, said the District’s elimination of extended academic years is commendable. Six of the 13 schools with longer academic years are in Batchelor’s ward. He said he’s glad the city attempted the strategy, but that the city is acting correctly by eliminating a program officials deemed ineffective.
“If extending the school year was going to increase student achievement, it was worth trying,” Batchelor said. “If the main intention was to give students more seat time and they weren’t in their seats, then you need to rethink that.”
City leaders also announced Thursday a $1.2 million investment in the Connected Schools program, which would help families access the city’s extensive social-service agencies on campus.
The program would launch in six schools next academic year and partner with other city agencies to provide families with housing, wellness, financial and job-training assistance. Parents in need of housing or child-care aid, for example, could connect with the city’s Department of Human Services at their child’s school.
Once the budgets are released, individual school leaders are expected to discuss them with parents and teachers and request changes with city leaders.
But the teachers unions and parents have slammed the city for delivering the initial school budgets weeks later than anticipated and fear schools will not have enough time to examine their spending plans. The Washington Teachers’ Union organized a letter-writing campaign demanding the budgets be released.
The city was supposed to release the budgets in January, with schools submitting their changes by Feb. 15. In response, Ferebee and Bowser said schools would have until March 1 to review their budgets.
The following campuses have an extended school year:
● Garfield Elementary
● H.D. Cooke Elementary
● Hart Middle School
● Hendley Elementary
● Johnson Middle
● Kelly Miller Middle
● King Elementary
● Luke C. Moore High
● Randle Highlands Elementary
● Raymond Education Campus
● Roosevelt STAY High
● Thomas Elementary
● Turner Elementary