Every child should have access to a fantastic neighborhood public school. To achieve that, the city has a legal and moral responsibility to provide the resources and supports that all students need to reach their full potential. This will not be easy. Poverty, a powerful challenge to student success, has grown significantly in the past decade. Unfortunately, while children in the most comfortable parts of our great city have enjoyed the benefits of prosperity, our most vulnerable students have had to climb an even steeper hill.
If everyone believed that every child can learn, grow and thrive, then education quality would not be based on Zip codes. But that’s the state of play in the D.C. Public Schools today. We can and should do better to level the playing field for disadvantaged students and others who are struggling academically. Instead of imposing top-down mandates without input from those closest to the classroom, we need a shared vision in which all stakeholders collaborate to develop a system that values educators, principals, parents and the community so that every school in every neighborhood can succeed.
We need to confront the reality that seven years of focusing on test-and-punish policies, closing more than 40 neighborhood schools and ignoring the effects of poverty does not seem to have worked. We need to immediately change course and provide all the children of the District an equal opportunity to grow, learn and reach their potential.
The Washington Teachers’ Union believes the time is now to shift from a near-single-minded obsession on measuring teacher effectiveness based on test scores to having a laser focus on creating strong neighborhood public schools where parents, school leaders, teachers and the community have meaningful roles and share the responsibility. We will fight for community schools in which:
●All children have a strong, comprehensive and well-rounded academic curriculum.
●Parents, educators, other community members and the school district are partners.
●Every student and classroom, particularly those in low-performing schools, has a high-quality teacher.
●Students and their families have access to supportive wraparound services to meet their social, emotional and health needs. This could include health and dental clinics, more guidance counselors and social workers and rich after-school programs.
● Extended learning time isn’t just time tacked on to the school day for more of the same but meaningful, productive time that is developed collaboratively and with a commitment to train instructional staff.
●The entire system is held accountable.
● Evaluation systems focus on supporting and assisting educators, not only on points and ratings.
●Teachers get wide-ranging, properly resourced learning programs that support teacher development and student growth and focus on the needs of the children.
●Educators are empowered to advocate for their schools, students and profession.
We know that when students get wraparound services and other interventions at school, they do better. In Cincinnati, where every school is a community learning center, student achievement has improved to the point that the district is now the highest-performing urban district in Ohio. In Lynn, Mass., E.J. Harrington Elementary was given an ultimatum: turn around or be closed. Among other things, it opened an on-site health clinic and provided social workers to assist students as part of a menu of services intended to help students thrive. The school became one of the most improved in the state.
We know from states and countries that have enviable student growth that teacher voice, adequate resources and collaboration with community are key to success. None use a test-and-punish model.
So if we know what doesn’t work, let’s try what does work. Let’s reclaim the promise of a well-rounded, high-quality public education for all D.C. students, not just some.
The writer is president of the Washington Teachers’ Union.