- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Washington Times published a piece titled “More merry mischief from D.C.’s little elves” (Web, Dec. 14). The crux of the piece was that the Community Schools Incentive Act, which would introduce community schools to the District, would be a costly and ineffective way to address the challenges faced by our students and families.

The article implies that hiring D.C. residents would be a better use of the money, and it stresses that schools should focus only on academics, not on the other factors that hinder our children’s success. Unfortunately, several details in the piece’s underlying argument completely ignore all research to the contrary.

For too many years, too many education policymakers and the media in education coverage have ignored the impact of poverty on our children’s education. D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown, a sponsor of the Community Schools Incentive Act, is absolutely right to confront this harsh reality. We simply cannot ignore the fact that 30.4 percent of all children in the District and a shocking 40 percent of black children live in poverty.

With more than eight years of data on the D.C. Public Schools system obtained from principal interviews as well as research on model school systems, DC Voice convened community members to brainstorm solutions. The proposed act is that solution, reflecting the needs of the District’s neighborhoods and schools.

Community schools aren’t just dreamed up by a concerned group of D.C. citizens. They have been successfully implemented in other school systems across the nation, including in nearby Montgomery County and Baltimore. Community schools are demonstrating success. Research by the Coalition for Community Schools (CCS) shows improved academic performance, higher attendance, increased family engagement and a reduced dropout rate in community schools across the country. Access to mental health services, a critical need in our city, also was associated with improved academic performance.

Yes, implementing this strategy requires an initial outlay of money (approximately $1 million to $2 million per year for all five pilot schools, not per school, as the article stated), but there are significant benefits and cost savings. A recent study by CCS finds that community schools increase and sustain capacity through diversified funding.

Estimated conservatively, they leverage $3 from private and other sources for every $1 of D.C. funding provided. Consider the 2010 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, which estimates that the cost to society associated with the average high school dropout over his lifetime is about $240,000. That is more than the proposed grant for each community school. For a city troubled by a high dropout rate, that’s a sobering statistic.

It will be only through deep and meaningful partnerships with families, community members, organizations and other key stakeholders that we will begin to ensure our city’s children graduate from high school ready for college, career and citizenship.

JEFF SMITH

Executive director, DC Voice

MARTIN J. BLANK

President, Institute for Educational Leadership

Washington

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