- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2017


D.C. Council members David Grosso, Charles Allen, Robert White and Trayon White should be seated front-and-center on the dais Friday for the scheduled public roundtable on “Graduation Rate Accountability.”

Mr. Grosso, at-large independent, scheduled the discussion after WAMU Radio and NPR uncovered in November an apparent grade-fixing scandal at Ballou High School.

Only 57 of 164 seniors were expected to graduate, but the school handed out 164 diplomas, and seniors’ records were changed or ignored.

Many of those grads did not earn diplomas because they had at least 60 or more unexcused absences during a 181-day school year — and chronic absenteeism isn’t Ballou’s problem alone.

Messrs. Grosso and Allen, and both Mr. Whites sit on the council’s Committee on Education, and Mr. Grosso is its chairman. It is their legislative responsibility to find out what happened at Ballou and whether there are similar misdeeds at any other public schools in the District.

The education panel cannot tread lightly regarding grade fixing, and one reason is because lying to students, parents and faculty shortchanges the public at large.

You could even characterize the lying as a corruption of the unambiguous moral obligation to deliver the best public schooling.

You also could view the grade-fixing scandal as cheating students out of an education, because that is the single-most important end result that matters. (Job preparedness, of course, being a very close second.)

A key part of the problem with public education in the District of Columbia is that educators, lawmakers and policymakers haughtily focus on victimization and other distractions.

All three groups put too much stock in whether students have healthy diets, a free bus ride to school; whether students are black, white or other; whether teachers are certified; whether students are living in a crime-wracked neighborhood; and whether their parents can afford their kids’ school uniforms.

Public schools are so entrenched in families’ personal lives they mark students present when they’re actually absent.

The victimization and distractions also get a passing grade when teens having babies, family substance abuse and siblings babysitting siblings come into play. (All this despite the fact that Ballou has an in-school child care center.)

In short, council members cannot afford to let socio-economic excuses distort their probing of the grade-fixing scandal. Their job is to get an initial grasp of the scandal, not come up with recommendations and quick fixes.

The recommendations — the legislative ones as well as those discussed out of the earshot of the media — must wait until the facts are in, and Mayor Muriel Bowser doesn’t expect a report on her probe until mid-January.

The committee, for its part, should hold additional public deliberations.

Committee members should also grasp this: The key element in the grade-fixing scandal and, frankly, the attendance problem is that lack of parental engagement. As Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson’s own Parent Cabinet group said this fall, “Several schools have issues with chronic absenteeism.”

Committee members should let the executive branch grasp the accountability paddle, as Miss Bowser doesn’t appear to be taking the scandal lightly.

The committee members’ job is to shine the spotlight and raise the voices of parents who have already said that Ballou is not alone.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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