The District has made progress in some key respects since the mayoral takeover of schools, particularly in reversing the flow of families out of District of Columbia Public Schools and improving administrative efficiency. Nonetheless, the achievement gap remains a chasm; students from disadvantaged backgrounds who struggled in DCPS 12 years ago by-and-large still struggle just as much today.
Systematically, there has been real progress toward implementing higher standards, but too often “accountability” has become a byword for “scapegoating,” and the root causes of problems go unaddressed. School campuses are significantly improved today as compared to before the District’s modernization program; but poor project management, unacceptable cost overruns, and arbitrary timetable shifts have deprived too many school communities in need of their opportunity.
The success of mayoral control of schools as a concept is predicated on having a strong D.C. Council perform rigorous oversight; not to micromanage, as the old school board gained a reputation for, but to ensure accountability on the part of Central Office for meeting policy objectives and following the law. It is critical for the Ward 2 councilmember to play a role in that.
The real progress happens outside of the Wilson Building or 1200 First Street, however. Ward 2 schools, in particular, reflect some of the best examples of the promise that lies within DCPS. The amazing turnaround story of the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens in West End, for instance, demonstrates that dramatic turnaround from near-closure to a thriving school community is possible and that the most reliable way to achieve it is by empowering an engaged school community of parents, teachers, staff, and community members to plan their future – by leveraging collective creativity, outside resources, and fresh ideas.
The success of the Francis-Stevens is proof of what can be achieved with a strong vision, and it underlines the need for a new Shaw Middle School in order to ensure opportunity for communities in the eastern part of the ward – and for students from across the District who seek opportunity in Ward 2 schools and enrich our schools in the fabric of D.C.’s diversity.