Who Knew What, When About D.C.’s Schools Ex-Chancellor?

Who Knew What, When About D.C.’s Schools Ex-Chancellor?

by: Micha Green Washington, D.C. AFRO Editor, mgreen@afro.com

Antwan Wilson, former chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser knew about his daughter’s covert transfer to another high school, months before it became public knowledge and resulted in his forced February resignation.

Antwan Wilson, former chancellor of D.C.’s school system, is raising questions about who else knew about his actions. (Courtesy photo)

On Monday, March 5, Wilson, in his first interview since he was ousted on Feb. 20, told the Washington Post that he informed Bowser in late September that he was working with former Deputy Mayor, Jenifer Niles, who also resigned, to transfer his daughter out of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, after she experienced emotional health issues from being enrolled at the institution.  He claimed he told the mayor in early October his daughter had successfully transferred to Woodrow Wilson High School.

Despite Wilson’s claims, the mayor said on Monday, she was clueless about the ex-chancellor’s and former deputy mayor’s plans to transfer his daughter avoiding protocol.

“I in no way approved of a transfer or knew about an illegal transfer,” Bowser said.

While Bowser’s Communication Director, Anu Rangappa, corroborated that the mayor met with Wilson on Sept. 20 and Oct. 11, he said there was nothing about Wilson’s daughter written on the agenda for either meeting.

After his public apology and unsuccessful plea campaign to keep his position, Wilson initially quietly resigned post the mayor’s orders, and pulled his daughter from Wilson High.

Yet, after the rhetoric used by the mayor, calling Wilson and Niles’ actions, “inexplicable” and “indefensible”, and her claim of ignorance in the transfer, the former chancellor said he was let down by Bowser’s false narrative.

“I’ve seen that narrative, and I’ve been disappointed in it… Because it’s not accurate,” Wilson told the {Washington Post}.

“I went to my bosses and had a conversation and made no demands,” Wilson said.  The former chancellor even said they did not even request Wilson High School by name, but that his family “wanted options in DCPS and that was important to us.”

At-large Council member, David Grosso (I), who chairs the education committee, said it is time to uncover the truth about the transfer dispute.

“We will be looking to get to the bottom of this,” Grosso told the {Washington Post}.

The chair of the education committee said he will hold a hearing for all the political players in the scandal to testify under oath.

“I feel like it’s time for us to have a public conversation under oath, about what happened,” Grosso said.  If Niles, Wilson, and Bowser refuse to appear voluntarily, council committees, such as education, have the power to subpoena witnesses.

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Why Public School Teachers, Administrators Cheat

Why Public School Teachers, Administrators Cheat

Public schools in the nation’s capital recently reported that the graduation rate for 2017 was the highest in the school system’s history.

According to school officials, about 73 percent of Washington public schools’ students graduated on time, another record high for a school system that had struggled years ago to graduate even half of its students.  The graduation rate marked a four-point rise from the previous year and a 20-point gain from 2011, when just over half of D.C. Public School students graduated within four years.

In response, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proudly described the school system as the “fastest improving urban school district in the country.

“These graduation rates are a reminder that when we have high expectations for our young people and we back up those expectations with robust programs and resources, our students can and will achieve at high levels,” Bowser said in a statement.

But it was all false.  A report by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education shows more than one of every three diplomas awarded to students were not earned. The report found that 937 out of 2,758 graduates of D.C. public schools did not meet the minimum attendance requirements needed for graduation. Teachers even admit to falsely marking students present.

Washington is the latest of a series of public school systems found guilty of widespread cheating.  Similar cheating was found in public schools in Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, Memphis, Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, and Atlanta.

The perpetrators in these scandals weren’t the students but the administrators and teachers.  Both have admitted to falsifying records on standardized tests, graduation requirements and student grades.

In response, some teachers have been fired and stripped of their licenses to teach again.  In other places like Atlanta, teachers and administrators have gone to jail. In Washington, D.C., Antwan Wilson, District of Columbia schools chancellor, resigned Feb. 20 after it was revealed he used his position to get his daughter into a preferred school.

The real culprit in these cheating scandals, according to education experts and teachers, is the increased — and some say unfair — pressure on education officials from the government to meet a certain level of student performance.  If they don’t meet the mandated standards, school systems could lose funding, and with less money to pay for staff and supplies some people could lose their jobs.

President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 and former President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top created an “accountability system,” education experts said, linking student performance to Title I funding, which are federal grants given to schools with a high percentage of low-income students.

No Child Left Behind was the first law requiring federally-mandated tests to measure student performance.  Prior to the law, states and cities used achievement tests to measure what students were learning to decide how effective their instruction was and what changes they might make.

Harvard professor Dan Koretz, author of the book The Teaching Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, said cheating by teachers — in many cases sanctioned or encouraged by administrators — is fueled by the misuse of standardized tests to measure school performance which has pressured teachers to raise scores beyond what is reasonable.

“Some cheat and, ironically, all of these shortcuts undermine the usefulness of tests for their intended purpose—monitoring what kids know,” Koretz said.

Koretz and other education experts believe standardized tests can be a useful measure of students’ knowledge, when used correctly.

survey by the Washington Teacher’s Union and EmpowerED echoes Koretz’s assertion that teachers feel pressure to cheat. The survey found that almost 60 percent of teachers said that they’ve felt pressure or coercion from superiors to pass undeserving students.

“There has been strenuous pressure to hit specific targets regardless of student performance or attendance,” an anonymous D.C. public school teacher said on the survey.

Another teacher said, “Administrators, parents, and teachers just want good grades so the school system and the student look accomplished on paper.”

A study conducted by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, showed that over 45 percent of Black students nationwide attend these low-income or high poverty public schools. Meanwhile, only 8 percent of White students attend these same schools.

Education expert Morgan Polikoff, a professor of education at the University of Southern California, said the result is that cheating is found primarily among majority-Black schools, which lack the educational tools and support they need in order to adequately serve their students.

“There are teachers who’ve felt pressure because they don’t feel that they have the capacity or support to achieve expectations through realistic measures,” Polikoff said.

Koretz said the cheating underscores the fallacy of rewarding and punishing schools based on standardized tests.

The answer “is to reduce the pressure to meet arbitrary targets,” he said. “Another is to routinely monitor how schools are reaching their targets. Yet another is to broaden the focus of accountability in schools to create a more reasonable mix of incentives.”

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D.C. Public School Lottery Fast Approaching

D.C. Public School Lottery Fast Approaching

The District of Columbia public school lottery deadline for pre-K through 8th grade students is fast approaching; just as new figures confirm that District public charter schools now educate 47 percent of all D.C. students enrolled in public schools. This vote of confidence in these unique public schools is a tribute to the diversity and strength of the educational programs they offer.

Tuition-free and open to all District-resident students, public charter schools are free to design and develop their school curriculum and culture, while being held accountable for improved student performance by the city’s Public Charter School Board.

D.C.’s school lottery, accessible online at myschooldc.org, allows families to choose from the District’s public schools, charter and traditional, that are out-of-boundary—schools that are not the local option provided by D.C. Public Schools and for any pre-K program. Parents and guardians rank up to 12 choices, allowing them to express a preference for over-subscribed programs. Names are drawn at random until available spots are filled.

The lottery is backed up by practical support, including an education festival with different schools exhibiting and an email and telephone hotline with multiple language options. Free public transportation allows students to attend schools across the city without extra cost.

[/media-credit] Dr. Ramona Edelin is executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools.

While some schools are in such demand that there are waitlists, the lottery randomly fills places, but shortlists students who don’t make it into a chosen school—some 85 percent of students are awarded a place at one of their top three school choices.

Charters were introduced to the District to raise public school standards by increasing choice. While these unique public schools have led the way in raising standardized test scores and on-time high school graduation rates, they also have introduced themes and approaches that boost college and career readiness.  This has been particularly important in the District’s most underserved communities: charter students in D.C.’s Wards Seven and Eight are twice as likely to achieve state benchmarks for college and career preparedness than their peers enrolled in traditional public schools.

Thanks to an expansion in preschool pushed by public charter schools and the city-run school system, nearly all four year olds and most three year olds attend preschool.  Charters have the flexibility to tailor their programs to provide effective early education.

By allowing public charter schools to offer different paths to educate young scholars so that they may access the higher education and advanced career options that position them to succeed in life, best practices evolve from which all educators can learn. Families also are brought to the table because, as schools of choice, parents and guardians have a say in what works for their children. Public education dollars follow the student in the District, so charters have incentive to inspire confidence.

The District of Columbia model of school choice for all regardless of income has multiplied quality public school options—especially for the least advantaged. Today, three in four students exercise families’ rights to attend an out-of-boundary school rather than simply accepting their neighborhood school place.  And as the next generation of children is increasingly provided with the skills necessary to succeed, all of our communities can look forward to better opportunities and a more secure future.

Dr. Ramona Edelin is the executive director of the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools.

Baltimore’s Children Struggle in Toxic Environment

Baltimore’s Children Struggle in Toxic Environment

By Regi Taylor Special to the AFRO

AFRO — “Our society has treated the abuse, maltreatment, violence, and chaotic experiences of our children as an oddity that is adequately dealt with by emergency response systems… These services are needed and are worthy of support—but they are a dressing on a greater wound…   Later, in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood [affected persons will develop] behavioral, learning, social, criminal, and chronic health problems.” 

This is the assessment of Dr. Robert Anda, M.D., one of the principal investigators of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs), conducted by the Maryland State Council on Child Abuse & Neglect in its annual report presented to Governor Hogan and the state legislature in June 2017.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, “Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity.  Research in this area has been referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), [which has] been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and early death.  As the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk for these outcomes.”

Regi Taylor (LinkedIn Photo)

This evaluation is nowhere more applicable than to children of Baltimore City, where there’s a strong case for an epidemic of ACEs.  Looked at through this prism the crises in education, delinquency, violence, crime and substance abuse come clearly into focus.  Reports last year that zero students at thirteen Baltimore high schools demonstrated math proficiency should be investigated for the likelihood that Adverse Childhood Experiences played a role in those results.

Many behaviors attributed to Baltimore youth mimic the symptoms displayed by military personnel returning from war zones, described as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.  A case can be argued that the environment for too many of Baltimore’s children resembles a combat atmosphere. The unrelenting stressors encroaching these kids could be described as Contemporaneous Traumatic Stress Disorder, because it is felt 24/7 with no end in sight.

Low academic achievement, attendance and graduation rates, high delinquency, violence and incarceration rates, are not due to inherent susceptibility or natural predisposition of Baltimore’s children toward failure.  Not only do the city’s youth have their senses constantly bombarded with negative, painful, threatening stimuli from various sources inside and outside their homes, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are compounded when their savior of last resort, their government, is viewed as just another threat.

Like the children of Iraq and Afghanistan, who’ve lived through a generation of war, imagine the insecurity Baltimore’s children must feel living under a government, in the person of police, who, from their perception, torment and brutalize them, their families and community.  What are the emotions of kids who witness military-clad police with tactical weapons, gear and vehicles patrolling their neighborhoods in convoys, confronting their families and neighbors, and sometimes them directly, on top of the toxic social and cultural pressures stressing them daily?

For the children of Baltimore, epidemic rates of murder, assault, rape, gang activity, strong-arm police, child abuse, domestic abuse, substance abuse, overdose, illiteracy, extreme poverty, homelessness, malnutrition, undernourishment, lead poisoning, incarceration, inadequate heat, pest infestation and HIV, are not statistics.  It’s a day in the life.  Any wonder that test scores flop when more adversity than books are carried to school every day?

Regi Taylor is a native of West Baltimore and a writer.

Teachers Union Calls for Closure of City Schools

Teachers Union Calls for Closure of City Schools

By Sean Yoes Baltimore AFRO Editor

Frigid temperatures in the Baltimore area over the last several days combined with a lack of heat in several Baltimore City Public School buildings has compelled the Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU), to call for the closure of city schools, until the heating issues can be resolved.

On Jan. 3, a hand delivered letter was sent from Marietta English, president of the BTU, to Sonja Santelises, BCPS CEO.

“The past 36 hours have been quite difficult for our membership and the children they teach,” reads the letter sent by English.

“Our educators have been forced to endure teaching in classrooms with dangerously low temperatures, instructing students who have been forced to try to learn bundled up in coats, hats and gloves. Trying to provide a stable learning environment in these extreme conditions is unfair and inhumane, to say the least.”

Four schools were closed Jan. 3 due to lack of heat: Calverton Elementary/Middle School, Elementary/Middle Alternative Program, KIPP Harmony Academy and Lakeland Elementary/Middle School. Two other schools, Frederick Douglass High School and Cecil Elementary School, were forced to close early.

“I do realize that you and your staff are managing the best you can to rectify the issue in this record-breaking cold weather, however, doing so on the backs of our members and the children of Baltimore City is unacceptable,” state English. “Additionally, your expectation that our members and the children that they teach endure endure bursting boilers, drafty windows, frigid temperatures in classrooms, and risk getting sick in these “less than ideal” conditions, is utterly ridiculous,” English added.

Perhaps complicating the issue further, the National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory, (one to three inches of snow), in effect from 10 p.m. Jan. 3, to 11 a.m., Jan. 4, which could cause the school closures the BTU is calling for.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Charter Schools Boost Education

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Charter Schools Boost Education

By Ramona Edelin Special to the AFRO

AFRO NEWSPAPER — As public school students begin a new school year, they do so to an array of educational choice that is the strongest in decades—perhaps ever.

Backed by the decision to increase the Uniform Per-Student Funding Formula, which funds public school operating costs this school year and last, District families continue to demonstrate increasing confidence in D.C. public schools and D.C. charter schools.

[/media-credit] Dr. Ramona Edelin is executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools.

The new school year will doubtless see a further increase in public school enrollment after eight consecutive increases, following decades of decline and the flight of those with the means to choose alternatives to the District’s public schools.  A trend that began only with charters, enrollment which has grown steadily for over two decades, now extends also to DCPS, where enrollment has increased for six years in a row now.

Charter schools, which educate nearly half of all District public school students, have been a key component in this educational renaissance.  Charters are publicly-funded and tuition-free, like traditional public schools, but free to design and develop their school curriculum and culture, while being held accountable for improved student performance.

When charters were first introduced 21 years ago, half of all public school students dropped out before graduating.  Yet today, the on-time—within four years—high-school graduation rate is 73 percent for charters, and 69 percent for DCPS.

Standardized test scores have significantly improved at both public charters and DCPS, with the strongest gains among D.C. charter schools serving our most disadvantaged communities, east of the Anacostia River.  Just-released scores for last school year show that charter students in economically-disadvantaged Wards Seven and Eight are more than twice as likely to meet state college and career readiness standards as their peers in DCPS.

Importantly, improved test scores in both charters and DCPS have been accompanied by an enriched curricula and a wider range of extra-curricular options.

Bringing choice to our city’s least-advantaged residents has brought huge improvements, in terms of college and career-readiness, for those whose need for a quality education is greatest.

Accordingly, demand for these unique schools is such that nearly 10,000 students are on waiting lists to attend one or more charter campuses in the school year about to begin.  Demand for traditional public schools in the out-of-boundary program also has increased.  And choice for parents has been simplified by DCPS and D.C. charter participation in the common lottery, which allocates places when schools’ popularity causes them to be over-subscribed.

Charters’ success also has been the catalyst for improvements in the traditional public school system, following the introduction of mayoral-control of DCPS and the appointment of three reforming School Chancellors.

The District has replaced a vicious circle of declining standards and enrollment, and therefore a dwindling tax base, with a virtuous one of rising standards, increasing enrollment, and broader and deeper revenue sources.

Of course, more could be done to support the improvements made possible by the District’s charter school innovation—for newcomers and existing residents.

Not least among these is the fact that District law requires that D.C. charter school students receive the same city funding as their DCPS counterparts, at each grade and level of special education.  Yet the city provides DCPS between $72 million to $121 million in extra funding annually—support that charters do not receive.

Additionally, D.C.’s government spends about three times as much on DCPS   students for facilities, compared to their siblings and neighbors in D.C. charters.  Subject to annual budget wrangling in a super-hot real estate market where charter schools must find their own space to educate their students, charters’ facilities allowance is inadequate to their students’ needs.

The Mayor’s proposed 2.2 % increase in charters’ facilities funding – approved by the Council—locked in for four years is a welcome step toward narrowing funding inequity.  A facilities fund floor of $3,500 per-student, indexed to increasing costs, adjusting accordingly each year would make up for some lost ground, and reflect economic realities.

Leveling the playing field could enhance the choices that have created today’s confidence in education in the District.  This—and continued adequate investment in operational and facilities funds—is required to build on the District’s education successes, fulfilling the potential of every child.

Dr. Ramona Edelin is executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools.

OPINION: Education Reform Turns Ruin to Revival

OPINION: Education Reform Turns Ruin to Revival

By Ramona Edelin Special to the AFRO

It is 50 years since the Detroit riot, which followed a police raid on an unlicensed bar in 1967. The intensity of that event was surpassed previously only by the 1863 New York City draft riots during the Civil War, and subsequently by the 1992 Los Angeles riots. By the time it ended, 43 people were dead and over 1,000 injured. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the National Guard were deployed. At least 2,000 buildings were destroyed in a neighborhood that, half a century later, remains largely a wasteland.

The chaos, violence and brutality erupted in a city of multiple ills, with discrimination in policing, housing and employment rife; the quality of public education incredibly poor; and limited access to medical services. The riot erupted in one of the most neglected neighborhoods, in one of the nation’s most segregated cities—and little changed as Detroit continued its decline in the 50 years that followed. The city’s traditional public school system—which could and should have been a great equalizer, helping erase other injustices—has been dubbed the worst in the nation.

Today, as in many other cities where the public education system all but collapsed, public charter schools, which operate independently of the traditional school system, educate a large share of students enrolled in public schools. Taxpayer-funded and tuition-free—like traditional public schools—public charter schools may determine their own school curriculum and culture, while being held accountable for improved student performance by their authorizer, which can demand changes and even close campuses.

[/media-credit] Dr. Ramona Edelin is executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools.

Proficiency as measured by standardized test scores is better than at its nadir, but still far from satisfactory. There are some bright points, however.  Charters have helped raise student proficiency. Of those public school students who took standardized tests in school year 2015-2016, 50 percent were enrolled in charters—but 61 percent of those who scored as “proficient” were charter students, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. And nearly half of charter students significantly outperform their Detroit Public Schools counterparts, Stanford University’s Center for Research and Education found.

With 53 percent of public school students enrolled in charters, Detroit has followed a similar path to the nation’s capital, which has a 46 percent charter school share. Only Katrina-hit New Orleans at 92 percent is higher among large cities. Washington, D.C. had similar problems with its public school system, as well as many of the same economic and social issues. Washington also began to innovate in its public schools with charters in the mid-1990s, amid a traditional system that, like Detroit, was seriously in decline academically, organizationally dysfunctional and dangerous to student safety.

If anything, the charter and other education reforms introduced in the District of Columbia have produced even more significant gains for the public education offering in the city as a whole.

Before the charter reform, half the public school students dropped out before graduating. Last year, the on-time—within four years—high-school graduation rate was 73 percent for charters, and 69 percent for DCPS, lower than the national rate, but fast catching up.

Standardized test scores also significantly improved at both charters and DCPS, with the strongest gains in the most underserved neighborhoods—not at the expense of a varied and diverse curriculum, but alongside one.

As public schools of choice, charters have brought options to families who pre-reform would have lacked the means to access alternatives to substandard schooling—especially important in a city where three in four public school children are economically-disadvantaged and half are defined as “at risk.”

The demand for these unique public schools is such that nearly 10,000 students are on waiting lists to attend one or more charter campuses in the school year about to begin.  Demand for traditional public schools in the out-of-boundary program also has increased. And parental choice has been simplified by DCPS and D.C. charter participation in the common lottery, which allocates places when schools’ popularity causes them to be over-subscribed.

Charters’ success also has catalyzed improvements in the traditional public school system, following the introduction of mayoral-control of DCPS and the appointment of three reforming School Chancellors.

From Detroit, Washington, D.C. and New Orleans to the 13 other urban school districts where the charter share is above 30 percent, education reform has been a beneficial agent of change.  This reform transforms the lives and life prospects of children growing up in our nation’s most troubled and vulnerable urban communities—for both traditional and chartered public school students.

NNPA Hosts Discussion on Black Education

NNPA Hosts Discussion on Black Education

By Micha Green Special to the AFRO

The National Newspapers Publisher’s Association’s 2017 conference began with a call to enrich Black education on June 20 in Washington, D.C.

The National Black Parents Town Hall Meeting on Education, the first event of several that took place during the annual conference, was sponsored by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and attracted educators and students. Panelists for the town hall included experts in education including, Tia Hill of Fighting For Lives, Chris Stewart of Citizen’s Education, Lynn Jennings from Education Trust and Marietta English of the National Association of Black Educators. These participants shared insights about the current state of Black education, the need for parental involvement, and goals for the future. Elizabeth Primus, program manager for the NNPA and ESSA media campaign, served as the moderator.

Benjamin Chavis, NNPA president, said the association hoped to educate audiences about ESSA, an act signed by President Obama in 2015 that is designed to move some education decision- making to the local level. The bill is scheduled to take effect this September.

There were discussions about the flaws in the approach to education and learning in the Black community, but also anecdotes were shared about the strides and major successes in Black academia. For instance, according to the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, about 68 percent of Blacks in D.C. public and public charter schools graduated from high school in 2016. About 73 percent graduated from private charter schools in 2016.

Panelists and town hall guests urged the Black press to report more positive stories about strides in education and narratives about achievements in the Black community.

“I’m absolutely delighted that we have a new set of programs coming out to strengthen education starting this fall,” said Richard Campbell, whose children go to school in Howard County, MD.  “I’m also very happy that they’re doing listening tours, as they did in Washington, D.C., in all the wards, and that the schools, and the systems, and counties are actually working to listen to parents. Today was a listening session for parents. When you go to those kind of sessions you get the better output, so as a parent, we’re really happy to see that this kind of program is doing this.”

English, of the National Association of Black Educators added, “This is our opportunity to be in there in the planning of how our schools will get resources, what will be the curriculum, how children will our children be involved.”

Markus Batchelor, who at 24 is the youngest D.C. school board member, said “I think broadly, ESSA is a way for educators and policymakers to really get creative in a way they haven’t been able to. I think No Child Left Behind gave us a top-down testing sanction form of education accountability and education policy, and so the fact that the Every Student Succeeds Act is going to really provide that personalized attention to our students and our schools in the community is going to be great, both for the country, but definitely for the children of Ward 8.”