Six Principles for Public Education in Washington, DC

The 2014 election offers a chance to debate and formulate a vision for the next stage of building a public education system that is fully responsive to community input and meets the needs of all our citizens.

We believe that to reach our goal of providing the educational opportunities all children and communities deserve, our city must embrace the following principles:

1. Ensure all families have access to high-quality DCPS schools in their neighborhoods – a predictable, matter-of-right path from preschool through high school.

The message from the public in the Deputy Mayor for Education’s (DME’s) Student Assignment process was clear: Families and communities in all parts of the city want the assurance of matter-of-right schools in their neighborhoods that are safe, academically challenging learning environments. While residents want the ability to select alternatives, they do not want to be at the mercy of a lottery for access to a school that can fully meet the needs of their children and community.

2. Focus resources on students and communities with the greatest need. 

Matter-of-right schools are thriving in some parts of the city and not in others. Schools serving children with the greatest need often lack the resources they require and face the highest staff turnover. To address these inequities, we must:

  • Fully implement the recently enacted “at-risk” weight in the funding formula.
  • Ensure magnet and specialty programs are available equitably and actively promoted across the city and encourage diversity in our schools.
  • Strengthen early childhood education through outreach to communities, wrap-around services, community schools and family resource centers.
  • Continually assess the resources needed and proven best practices to meet the challenges schools face serving children with the greatest economic, educational, and social needs.

3. Require coordinated planning between the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) to build a core system of stable DCPS neighborhood schools with a complementary set of alternative options.

  • Currently there is no overall strategy for how we will meet the educational needs of our children and communities and how we will spend nearly one fifth of our tax revenue each year to do so. We must have coordinated planning, overseen by an accountable city agency, with active community input, to consider proposed modernizations, expansions, closings, and openings of any school.
  • Build on the recently opened DCPS office of planning to strengthen strategic planning, including vertical planning within feeder systems.
  • Collect and disseminate successful policies, programs and practices identified in both the DCPS and charter sectors to facilitate both sectors learning from each other.

4. Responsibly manage our financial resources

  • Use coordinated planning to avoid duplication of functions between DCPS and the charter sector, and between the school systems and other DC agencies.
  • Improve transparency of the DCPS budget, and commence budget planning in the fall so that individual schools can thoughtfully set priorities by the end of spring.
  • Require full transparency of charter school budgets, including how dollars paid to private entities are used and require that all payments are subject to LEA audits.
  • Commit to provide DCPS and each charter LEA the funding required to meet the needs of their students. The compass point is adequate funding, not mathematical parity between schools and LEAs with dramatically different needs.

5. Broaden assessment measures to focus on student growth and use multiple measures to assess a quality education. 

The District should follow the lead of other districts that are diversifying measures of student achievement and teacher and school effectiveness  in order to provide parents with accurate information and enable the city to provide targeted support where needed.

  • Ensure all students have a well-rounded curriculum in all matter-of-right schools.
  • Reduce the emphasis on snapshot measures of proficiency toward measures that focus on student growth. Schools must be judged on the breadth and depth of subjects taught, their engagement of students, and the culture of learning they foster.
  • Make public data disaggregated by income, race and geography, with actual scale scores, so it can be better used to determine whether all groups are making progress and focus resources most effectively going forward.

6. Ensure families and community members have reliable ways to exercise the right to participate in public education decision making. The research is clear that community engagement and ownership are key to improvement.

  • Strengthen and support mechanisms such as Local School Advisory Teams (LSAT) and School Improvement Teams (SIT) to engage communities in school planning.
  • Support or create parent/teacher or home school organizations at all by-right schools.
  • Build on mechanisms such as the Budget Taskforce, the DCPS Parent Cabinet, the elected school board, the PCSB Community Advisory Group and DME taskforces to secure ongoing oversight and community input in decision making for our schools.