- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2021

Do D.C. students benefit from D.C. education reforms?

D.C. teachers can’t answer the question. They don’t know.

The city’s leaders — who set the budget, distribute federal and local funds, shuffle raises and benefits, and decide which neighborhoods get new facilities — don’t know, either.

For sure, it’s difficult to determine if D.C. students would eventually benefit from the likes of first lady Jill Biden at Northern Virginia Community College — where classes involve the nuances of American English.

Would D.C. students get the benefits of such teaching and learning?

Who knows what D.C. students do and do not know?

City Hall doesn’t even know whether students are making the grade or not.

The Office of the D.C. Auditor drew that and other disappointing conclusions after studying three administrations for two years and determining that $35 million in federal and local money was wasted on promises to collect and use data to build a longitudinal system to track and aid students, including those who are disabled and those labeled at “academic risk.”

But the longitudinal data system, which was supposed to follow students from the time they enter D.C. Public Schools until the time they left or graduated, never was established.

Titled “Measuring What Matters: More and Better Data Needed to Improve D.C. Public Schools,” the auditor’s report released in March warned Mayor Muriel Bowser, the D.C. Council, the Board of Education and unions that tracking student movement on the academic ladder is as important as tracking systemwide and individual school achievement,  as most states and school districts do.

Of course, it’s no coincidence that the city can effectively track COVID-19 trends and contacts. D.C. can do that, but tracking student and individual school achievement are beyond its reach.

As Auditor Kathy Patterson pointed out, the D.C. Public Schools system “has enjoyed a reputation as a rapidly improving urban district,” but its failed longitudinal data system limits “its capacity to identify where investment and intervention are most needed to support students and ensure educational equity across the city.”

Moreover, “At a time when the disruption of schools due to the pandemic has put even more children at academic risk, the District does not have the information it needs to accurately assess where children stand, how much learning has been lost, and what learners need to achieve their fullest potential.”

Said Mrs. Patterson, a former council member: “It is disheartening that, despite millions in federal and local dollars and a long-standing promise to build a robust longitudinal data system over the past 14 years, that the District has not done so. We cannot stand by and continue to mask this lack of data capacity, especially at this moment when it is essential to a strong recovery and the well-being of children.”

The bunk City Hall occupants have been spewing might end in a couple of years — regardless of who is elected and who’s a Democrat or a Republican. Then again, D.C. politicians don’t take kindly to Republicans or conservatives anyway.

Teachers and students should be held accountable, of course. But so should the politicians running the show.

• Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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