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SIMMONS: D.C. school reformists must say ‘no’ to status quo

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Wednesday credited Martin Luther King Jr. with leading a "revolution that transformed the world." It's a secular statement that falls way short of recognizing the ultimate leader.

Mr. Gray would be better off accepting his own leadership role to ensure that this time next year he gets a "no" to the following question: Are D.C. students moving backward? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

As D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown commented after the release of school-by-school breakdowns of 2010-11 test scores, some schools "are faring worse than in previous years." Seems the quixotic shaking 'n' baking by Chancellors Kaya Henderson and Michelle A. Rhee changed the recipe for school reform but failed to produce more academically astute students.

Board of Education member Mark Jones, along with Mr. Brown, appear to be the only city leaders with brows furrowed at the latest results of the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System, which reveal that 135 of 187 D.C. public schools failed to make adequate yearly progress in math and reading, and that 15 were added to the troubled-schools list.

Whether you're a fan of Rhee-form or reform, at this juncture it is irrelevant since D.C. students who live east of North Capitol Street apparently have trouble reading and comprehending both terms.

That's right.

According to the results, students who live in Wards 5, 7 and 8 trail those who attend schools in Wards 1, 2 and 3.

Said Mr. Brown, who supports funding school vouchers with public dollars: "I am extremely troubled to see [elementary] schools moving backward. Performance measures should go up, or at least stabilize, but never should they shift downward."

Mr. Jones, the Ward 5 school board representative, expressed similar concerns.

After delving into the numbers, he also pointed out gender disparities. At Emery Elementary, for example, the standardized math score for boys was 15 points lower than for their female counterparts.

He rightly characterized the overall results as "a definite sign that we must heighten the pace of school reform."

He also said officials "need [to] identify what is causing the gender gap — and rectify it immediately."

Think other school officials expressed such urgency?

Here's what Mr. Gray's hand-picked superintendent of D.C. education, Hosanna Mahaley, said of the abysmal scores and what lies ahead:

"Next school year marks a distinct change in [the superintendent office's] approach to helping our schools with their improvement strategies. We are implementing new mentoring initiatives, creating school support teams, and working hand in hand with community organizations to get a higher level of parent involvement."

Now, Ms. Mahaley gets some slack since she's been in the job barely eight months, but things look dim because her rhetoric is more of the same-old, same-old.

The math and reading embarrassments follow costly inducements for teachers, including bonuses up to $25,000, and spending on similar but failed techniques.

Money, or the lack thereof, isn't the problem if kids who live in Ward 5, 7 and 8 attend a school in Wards 1, 2 and 3 can rise up to and above academic expectations.

King was a leader because he stepped away from the status quo.

Will Mr. Gray step up or fall in line and mark time? Update: D.C. Council member David Catania seems to be following the go-it-alone path.

Asked to react to the fact that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention excluded the District's frighteningly high HIV rates from its first multiyear HIV study, he said: "Though the District is excluded from this specific CDC study, we are fortunate to have world-class data of our own in the District's annual epidemiological report on HIV/AIDS. Our data has lead (sic) our response to the epidemic and is helping to save lives."

Hmm.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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