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Master Education Plan
A MASTER EDUCATION PLAN (MEP) EMERGES

summary

It seems clear to NARPAC that the new DCPS superintendent has put together an extraordinarily ambitious "master education plan" that may well be well beyond the capacity of the school system administrators to accomplish. In fact, it varies rather superficially from the "strategic plan" published nine months earlier, and which NARPAC has already critiqued.

This analysis, therefore, looks into only two aspects of the plan that together form only five line items in a 36 line litany. The two subjects singled out involve parental involvement, and restructuring the school system's physical plant. NARPAC is encouraged by the proposed steps outlined in each case, but in the case of the school re-alignment efforts, it is not clear that the superintendent has stepped up to the full, and growing, magnitude of the challenges that must be faced in downsizing DCPS.

Further analysis of downsizing DCPS is contained in a separate chapter flowing from NARPAC's earlier analyses of DCPS facilities

introduction

A full nine months after the May, 2005 publication of Superintendent Janey's strategic plan for DCPS, entitled "Declaration of Education: Keeping Our Promise to the District's Children" (see preceding sections), a new Master Education Plan (MEP) has emerged with equal fanfare under the modest title of "A Master Education Plan for a System of Great Schools: All Students Succeeding". Clearly, and not surprisingly, NARPAC's earlier concerns for flamboyant overreaching, and the inclusion of many potentially counter-productive items have not been heeded. There is, in fact, little to be gained by rehearsing these criticisms yet again.

Outlined below is the summary of eight key strategies, and the 36 subheadings that go with them. The plan itself elaborates on each of those subheading, and is readily available to the dedicated student of over-inflated promises and expectations:

SUMMARY OF KEY STRATEGIES
Key Strategies, By Section

I. Ensure Challenging Curriculum and Instruction for All Students

1. Complete the development and implementation of clear and challenging learning standards for all core academic subjects -- with aligned curriculum resources and education programs
2. Deliver high-quality instruction to every student
3. Raise high school graduation requirements
4. Create stronger middle school programs that attract students and help them succeed academically and socially
5. Develop aligned assessments to monitor student progress and target instructional interventions

II. Expect Teachers and Principals to Deliver High-Quality , Instruction to Every Student

6. Align and coordinate all professional development efforts
7. Strengthen professional development for teachers
8. Strengthen professional development for principals
9. Strengthen certification and mentoring programs to ensure there is high-quality teaching in every classroom in every school

III. Construct a Seamless, Inclusive System That Serves All Students from Pre-K thru G12

10. Offer additional options for students who want to accelerate their learning
11. Ensure English language learners acquire appropriate knowledge and skills
12. Create culture of inclusion that welcomes special ed students into their neighborhood schools
13. Offer alternative education programs to meet the needs of students with multiple academic and behavioral challenges
14. Create partnerships to offer stronger and expanded early childhood programs that provide a smooth transition to elementary school
15. Develop an integrated and coherent, state-of-the-art, career-technical education system

IV. Provide a Variety of Supports for Students To Succeed

16. Personalize support to meet students' individual learning needs
17. Provide extended learning opportunities for students who need or want them
18. Develop a comprehensive dropout prevention and re-entry system
19. Establish a more strategic promotion and retention policy
20. Help parents become full partners in their children's learning

V. Build on Our Community's Assets

21. Implement full-service "community schools," providing integrated services, such as health and enrichment, for children and families
22. Build strong partnerships with local and national businesses and organizations

VI. Organize Schools To Better Serve the Needs of Students

23. Organize schools primarily around pre-K-5th grade (elementary school), grades 6-8 (middle school) and grades 9-12 (high school)
24. Develop coherent feeder patterns
25. Revise assignment policy to better support sound educational practice and parental choice

VII. Develop a Strong System of Accountability

26. Hold central office leadership staff accountable for supporting schools
27. Use multiple measures of academic achievement
28. Implement a strong and transparent central office strategy for school improvement
29. Encourage schools to continue implementing local and aligned school improvement strategies
30. Build a fully operational, robust information management and data-sharing system to support school improvement efforts
31. Develop research and evaluation partnership and protocol to increase understanding of "what works"
32. Publish an annual performance report for OCPS

VIII. Make Sure Every Child Has Access to Appropriate Range of Educational Resources

33. Allocate sufficient funds to the local schools for high-quality programs and school-based decision making
34. Ensure that all schools are large enough to offer an adequate program
35. Ensure that school-based funds are allocated equitably and transparently
36. Create stable funding and establish consistent budget timeliness for local school planning

(NARPAC has highlighted (bold, italics) those few items of particular interest to us, and discusses them briefly below.)

For more information about the MEP, go to www.greatschools.k12.dc.us or call (202) 442-5635.

One interesting aspect of this plan is a series of "surveys" purported to show the support of parents, teachers, and the public for many of the items included in the MEP. There are, of course, surveys and surveys. DCPS officials were not willing to share with NARPAC just how these surveys were taken, and the claim of 15,000 phone calls to parents boggles the mind of any practiced pollster. Nevertheless, the results are interesting, if for no other reason to see how they are ranked. Apparently, everybody wants art and music for every kid, but only half would share a DCPS school with a Charter School.

Skeptics might also note that two obvious questions appear to have been avoided, or at least couched in banalities to the point of obscurity:

o How would you parents like to become better at encouraging your kids to learn?
o How would all of you like to have half as many schools?

These apply to NARPAC's general interests expanded below. For clarity, statements copied or summarized from the MEP are in italics, and NARPAC's comments are not.

Parental Involvement

All NARPAC's prior analysis of public education problems leads back to the capacity of the kids' parent(s) to contribute to their learning experience. As we have pointed out elsewhere, there are surely more kids in DC public schools than there are parents to nurture their kids learning. And at least, on the average, the kids with the most trouble learning have parents that didn't learn themselves. Hence the MEP words in the following areas are of interest:

20. Help Parents become full partners in their children's learning

"Recent research has demonstrated convincingly that when parents and care givers are actively involved in their kids education, the kids to better in school: better grades...., better attendance.., better social skills..., more post-secondary education.... Students whose parents are involved also are less likely to require special education, drop out of school, be arrested, or require public assistance. Four useful types of involvement include a) parent as teacher (at home); b) parent as volunteer (in school); c) parent as advocate (in community); and d) parent as decision-maker (on school committees)...."

Key Actions: Open five "Parent Resource Centers (PRCs)" that will bring together the services families need to ensure that their kids are ready to learn and the family is able to support that learning in Wards 1, 7, and 8. These are envisioned as one-stop centers for providing services and/or referral to outside services to reduce barriers to parental participation, such as parents' own literacy or numeracy (!) challenges, and/or other social and economic factors. Ultimately PRCs should make it easier for parents to "navigate the school system", "make informed decisions about their kids' education",...etc.

Apparently, DCPS will be looking for "community partners" (and sponsors?) to bring these PRCs into full bloom. NARPAC has some difficulty differentiating these PRCs from the "Community Schools" referenced below, but the former apparently focus more exclusively on the parents, while the latter have a much stronger component for the kids.

21. Implement full-service "community schools," providing integrated services, such as health and enrichment, for children and families:

"Imagine a school open seven days a week, well into the evening hours, providing strong after- school programs, adult education, health and social services, and other programming. Imagine all of those providers working together, under the guidance of the principal and a coordinator. This is a full-service community school. DCPS already one such school the J C Nalle Elementary School, which is offering a broad range of programs and services, with major external support from the Freddie Mac Foundation."

Key Actions: Establish nine additional community schools, at the rate of three per year for three years, with the leadership of the (to-be-formed) Office of Community Partnerships and the Office of Extended Learning....

Possibly for good and sufficient reasons, NARPAC has had considerable difficulty in trying to probe what's going on at J C Nalle and what success they are having. An unexpected visit to the school turned out to be not only uninformative, but positively dismissive. Administrative officials would not confirm that such a program existed there, and there are certainly no signs acknowledging the presence of such a program outside the building, or in its main corridors.

Nevertheless, such a developing program has existed at J C Nalle for well over five years, and those closely involved in its accomplishments are convinced they are making valuable contributions. Funding has come through (quite substantial) contributions from the Freddie Mac Foundation, administered and staffed by the National Center for Children and Families NCCF). The model for this work goes back many generations to the well-known Children's Aid Society (established in 1853 for New York City's "under-served children and families"). Their mission statement says it all:

"To ensure the physical and emotional well being of children and families, and to provide each child with the support and opportunities needed to become a happy, healthy, and productive adult." Children's Aid Society

To summarize (and NARPAC would far prefer to get accurate reports from Freddie Mac and/or NCCF), the effort appears to have two major components. There is an overt effort within the school to provide regular additional before-and-after school day nurturing for kids who aren't getting much of it at home(!). There is a more subtle effort to help parents improve their capacity to nurture at home. This latter effort requires substantial sensitivities, and the assistance provided is not provided at the school, but through referrals to suitable (and generally totally subsidized) remedial services. Whether the home environment is corrupted by drugs, alcohol, battering, or just sore teeth or bad eyeglasses, solutions are offered and facilitated.

Restructuring the DCPS Physical Plant

The DCPS school system represents the ragtag remains of an ambitious school building program that accommodated a huge "Black Baby Boom" in the 1960's that saw enrollment climb to 150,000 kids distributed among almost 200 schools in two quite separate racially divided school systems. The school buildings have long since "integrated" (although the school population is still 85% black), and in some part because of that integration, enrollment has been declining since the early '70s, and by NARPAC's estimate may "stabilize" at around 50,000 kids by 2010, but as of 2006, there are still one-short of 150 operating school properties with 14.7 sqft of floor space on 566 tax-exempt acres. In addition to that, there are still a significant number of school buildings either shut down or on long-term lease to other (non-profit) organizations A few properties have been sold off and completely re-developed for residential purposes.

Making sense out of this hodge-podge and biting the bullet on disposing of these obviously surplus, questionably historic, residentially-centered buildings has been beyond the capacity of bureaucrats, politicians, and/or activists. It is the single most important obstacle to developing a rational school system, and it will not be possible to achieve long-term academic goals until the various games of "downsizing" are complete, and the new construct for both the academic and administrative leadership is finalized.

Three sub-strategies tip toe around these issues, and two of the "survey" questions are slightly "loaded" towards some reduction in surplus space:

23. Organize schools primarily around pre-K-5th grade (elementary school), grades 6-8 (middle school) and grades 9-12 (high school)

A system of schools organized (as indicated above) is age-appropriate, provides educational coherence and consistency for students, tends to be easier for parents to navigate, allows school districts to coordinate programs and services more easily; and improves kids' transition from one school to another.

Key Actions: Convert all DCPS junior high schools (7>9) to middle schools or combined elementary/middle schools. This will require gradually phasing out the city's nine junor high schools by moving approximately 1200 9th graders to high schools, and approximately 3000 6th graders currently in elementary schools to the 11 existing middle schools and into the nine newly converted middle schools.....

The scope and complexity of this "4-D musical chairs" operation are very ambitious and clearly should not be done amidst uncertainty in school-closings for other reasons.

24. Develop coherent feeder patterns DCPS kids are now assigned to their schools by address. DCPS offers no consistent pathway from elementary to middle to high school. Lack of coherency means classmates may be split up as they progress upwards. An aligned system is easier to manage, to hold schools accountable for the preparation of kids, to strengthen the academic program by teachers working together "vertically".

Key Actions: Establish defined school clusters that result from coherent feeder patterns from elementary to middle, and middle to high schools. Develop plans during '06-'07, and implement in '07-'08

NARPAC finds this suggestion very sensible, but is bound to produce even more "churning" as parents jockey lower graders around to get in line for the "right high school". It might also be noted that the pattern of ES >MS-->HS is characteristically different in the three major divisions of the city. East of the Anacostia, there were 6.3 elementary school kids for each high schooler in 2004; in Northern DC, only 2.3.

34. Ensure that all schools are large enough to offer an adequate program

To provide sufficient funding to support a high-quality basic program in every school, DCPS must ensure that it is using its staff both local school and central office personnel efficiently. It must also fully use its building capacity to maximize the resources getting into the classroom.

Schools with enrollments too small must: a) pair with another school to share staff; b) share space with some other public agency or private organization, such as a health clinic or charter school; c) reassign students and close; or d) relocate within another school. If a school has enough students but too much space, DCPS will develop ways to downsize or share buildings...and so on.

School thresholds are as follows:

o Elementary schools with two classes per grade, 15-25 kids per class (by Teacher's Union contract) requires 320 kids with some part-time staff, 500 with all full-time staff;

o Middle Schools with 5 classes per grade, 24 kids per class would require no less than 360 kids, but still involve some part-time staff (self-sufficient size not given);

o High Schools providing two sections of each core subject would require 600-700 kids, (no mention of more diverse courses).

And on the very last line of this 34th sub-strategy the following appears:

Timeline: in school year '06-'07, start reducing use of DCPS by an amount specified by the School Board.

Apparently the rate and extent of the consolidation are to be left to those least equipped to work out the details and set meaningful objectives.

providing a context

Unfortunately, no comparisons are given to other school systems either at the state level, among the "Great City Schools", or to the other far more successful school districts in this metro area. For instance the chart to the right indicates that DC is far from being the poorest among big city schools, even though it receives more federal dollars than any of those other school systems. Furthermore, as shown on the two charts below, DC per-student school costs (left side) are substantially higher than incurred by DC's far richer suburban districts or the average of big urban schools. They are even higher relative to the average of all Great City Schools. It is also clear that the distribution of major school costs (right side) is not unusual, although DCPS clearly spends somewhat more on operations and maintenance (pink band) than the other groups.

However, compared to all other state averages there is virtually no existing evidence that DCPS schools should be as small as the minimums proposed above. And certainly there is no body of evidence suggesting that the upper grades should not be progressively larger than the lower grades. In this last six-part chart, the following observations are clear. Compared to all fifty US states and the national average: a) DCPS pays (somewhat) better than the national average; b) DC reading scores are lower any state's average; c) DC elementary school size is well below the national average of almost 500 kids; d) DC secondary (middle and high) schools are roughly half the size of the national average; e) DC's graduation rate is abysmal; and f) secondary school size is (obviously) related to population density, and the relatively sparsely populated states skew the national average. For the more populous states, DC secondary schools are closer to one-third the average.

summary

It seems clear to NARPAC that the new DCPS superintendent has put together an extraordinarily ambitious "master education plan" that may well be well beyond the capacity of the school system administrators to accomplish. In fact, it varies rather superficially from the "strategic plan" published nine months earlier, and which NARPAC has already critiqued.

This analysis, therefore looks into only two aspects of the plan that together form only five line items in a 36 line litany. The two subjects singled out involve parental involvement, and restructuring the school system's physical plant. NARPAC is encouraged by the proposed steps outlined in each case, but in the case of the school re-alignment efforts, it is not clear that the superintendent has stepped up to the full, and growing, magnitude of the challenges that must be faced in downsizing DCPS.

Further analysis of downsizing DCPS is contained in a separate chapter flowing from NARPAC's earlier analyses of DCPS facilities

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This page was updated on Apr 5, 2006


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