When I took over as chancellor of D.C. Public Schools one year ago, questions swirled across the city, and the country, about the future of education reform. Headlines questioned whether the District’s accomplishments of the previous three years could be sustained under new leadership at DCPS and in the Wilson Building, or whether they would be stripped away by political pressure, dwindling budgets or lack of courage.
A year later, I am confident that education reform in D.C. Public Schools continues to thrive. In 2007, we had to make radical changes to build a sound foundation for the work. In 2011, with the consistent support of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), we have built on that foundation to ensure that the revolution continues in the most important place of all — the classroom.
We have come a long way in four short years. We have shown overall academic growth of six and 13 points in elementary reading and math, respectively, and 14 and 19 points in secondary reading and math — a rate of growth that outpaces other urban school districts. We have reversed a decades-long trend by increasing enrollment, and have enabled families to choose from a more diverse set of academic options in more modernized buildings. We’ve added more rigorous high school courses to prepare students for college. We have improved and expanded career and technical programs to match the job opportunities of the emerging economy. We have finally built the systems that allow us to better serve our students who have disabilities, and we are resolving our court-mandated obligations, saving the city millions of dollars. And we have created an infrastructure to ensure that we are able to attract and retain the highest-caliber talent toward the vision of a highly effective teacher in every classroom and a highly effective leader in every school.
We are on track to provide a world-class education to all students, regardless of background or circumstance, and to become a high-performing urban school district. We understand, however, that there is still a long road ahead. To meet our unwavering goals, in the short and long term, we are focused on:
●Implementing a more rigorous academic curriculum aligned to the national common core standards, to ensure that our students leave high school prepared for college- and career-level work. The Council of the Great City Schools, which represents the country’s largest urban school districts, this fall recognized DCPS as being further ahead of any other district in this work, and it plans to use us as a national model. More important, many DCPS teachers and principals have said that they finally have the tools and resources they need to maximize student achievement.
●Realigning our human, financial and capital resources to ensure that we can radically improve outcomes for our lowest-performing students. We will continue the aggressive focus on moving children from proficient to advanced while highlighting the achievements of our highest performers so they continue to grow.
●Leveraging technologies to meet the needs of diverse learners in an increasingly digital world. Through a variety of technology pilots across the city, we are seeing better engagement and achievement from students, better mastery of skills, and more opportunities for customized learning.
●Making our schools caring, supportive and fun environments for students by paying attention to their social and emotional needs and providing better athletics, arts and other programs that fuel student interest and exploration. We are also working to make our schools places where employees feel they have the support and resources necessary to succeed with students.
●Emphasizing to teachers and principals the importance of ensuring that parents, families and other members of the community feel welcome in classrooms and that they have meaningful opportunities to work with us in preparing for our students’ success.
Many worry that the reforms have slowed or stopped. I assure you, our revolution continues. It isn’t televised, nor has it been reported by newspapers, magazines or movies. The revolution is in the classroom. It’s in the hearts and minds of our talented professionals as they use new tools and resources to make our students and district a source of pride for our entire city. Talk to our principals. Ask our teachers. Visit our schools. You’ll see progress, you’ll see innovation, and ultimately, you’ll witness the revolution — in the classroom.
The writer is chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.