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Students Keep It Real at Gist Forum

A forum on the achievement gap, organized by State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist at Bell Multicultural High School last night, marched earnestly through all the familiar research that surrounds the issue of African American and Latino 17-year-olds who read and do math, on average, at the level of 13-year-old white kids.

Students of color are more likely to attend inferior schools with less-experienced, less-qualified teachers. Many enter school with massive disadvantages created by family and neighborhood life. Low standards and expectations send tragically false signals to students who get good grades and then find themselves overwhelmed later in college or the workplace.

What gave the two-hour-plus session an unexpected emotional jolt was the presence of several DCPS high school students, brought to the meeting by DC VOICE, a group

that promotes community participation in public education. Some were clearly shaken when they saw the PowerPoint slides showing D.C. schools dead last in one achievement benchmark after another, and even suggesting that their "As" might be no better than "Cs" in districts with more academic rigor.

The auditorium, filled with District education officials and school advocates, fell stone silent when they heard the students' reaction.

"It makes me feel really bad," said Marquis Battle, 16, an Anacostia High senior with good grades who wants to be a veterinarian. "If I went to a better school people would think I was a dummy."

"What makes us so different? Why are we so far behind?" asked Tevi Brown, 16, a Roosevelt High junior who wants to go into international politics.

Panelists who had been holding forth on the bleak findings tried to reassure them.
"There's nothing up there that says you are dumb," said Amy Wilkins, vice president of the Education Trust.

The fault isn't with you." said Shanika Hope, assistant state superintendent. "We have failed you."

Hope also said that the numbers are just that--numerical averages--and they don't pass judgment directly on them.

"It's your determination and character that's going to get you where you need to go," said Hope.

The audience applauded heartily. What the kids were thinking is hard to say.

Bill Turque

By Marcia Davis  |  June 13, 2008; 6:53 AM ET
Categories:  Education  
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Comments

I hate public schools, I really do.

I believed in them as a kid because my teachers were wonderful. I remember a few had PhDs, but back then a 50 year old woman with a PhD was in education and those without 20 years in the system were teachers. They were the most loving, caring, sophisticated and intelligent people... and then in the late 70s I started to see more flaky teachers, and not just hippies, but religious Moms who wanted to evangelize and people with an axe to grind.

And right now, I'm dealing with teachers in my son's class that are just simply under educated. No interest in a master's degree. No interest in a PhD. They consider college "optional" and similarly don't push their kids to be able to get PhDs, to them merely graduating high school is ok. Teachers are bragging about their daughter who got into Montgomery College or Strayer. Students in my mother's old classes got into Harvard and Yale (and private high schools).

Friends of mine, after doing massive research bought a house with a highly-desirable elementary school in NY- one block away from the school. They are set to take ownership on July 1. They have all their information and went to register their kids so the kids could be there on the last day of school. The principal stared and them and said that their kids couldn't attend in the fall.

What?

Apparently he made a rule that no new kids could come into the school next year, just kindergarteners. And as far as they know over the last few days, it's a "legal" rule and they have no recourse but to sue elementary school one block from their house IN THEIR SCHOOL DISTRICT.

So no, I hate public schools.

Posted by: DCer | June 13, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I feel really bad for these kids.I know the mayor is trying to improve the quality of public schools because that influences where the affluent choose to live. Maybe I should say middle class since the affluent simply pay for private school. But one thing that should be mentioned is that public schools have a lot of discipline problems. I know a lot of teachers and they say this is a big problem. They barely have any time for instruction, because they spend most of their time babysitting. I think class size and parental involvement would make this problem go away, but it is an expensive solution. So thus the achievement gap between the haves and have-nots remains.

Posted by: dcp | June 13, 2008 4:09 PM | Report abuse

DCer - you grew up in an era where people had pride and they had a purpose. From your description we may be similar in age. We were taught by people that witnessed the struggle, if not participated. People that were striving to overcome and thus prepared us for challenges ahead. as you mention, many of the current lot do not have that passion. I was taken out of public school for that very reason for late middle school and High. not to be negative, but the catholic school teachers were worst in some regard. Private school gave a sane environment conducive to learning, but the mission to educate a kid that would face challenges was gone. But my parents paid for a name as much as a education, and that name helped me to get accepted to almost any college short of Ivy league.

Posted by: RobGreg | June 13, 2008 4:52 PM | Report abuse

As the teachers' unions have gotten stronger in the cities, the quality of education has sharply declined. Let's face it: job protection for incompetents is fine in a factory but it has no place in a school. Do you know principals are barred from the union contract from calling more than one staff meeting a month (except in Sept. and June) and it cannot last more than one hour? Teachers can get up and walk out with impunity if it goes longer. If they want to be treated and paid like professionals, they ought to act like them. I know of this first-hand -- I had three kids in DCPS for 8 years. Would you run a business where you could not hire or fire? The other problem is pensions -- they need to GO. Teachers themselves will tell you that there are plenty of them hanging on for the pension when they have no more interest in teaching. Pay the good ones more as a base salary, give them a generous 401(k) that can move with them, and stop putting the incentives in the wrong place. We don't want people to stay forever. We want them to leave before they rot. Who will advocate for the kids?

Posted by: trace1 | June 13, 2008 7:15 PM | Report abuse

I hate to challenge the rhetoric but comments from the previous post of trace 1 are inaccurate not to mention fail to identify the anonymous poster. DCPS teachers like most teachers in this country are members of a collective bargaining unit. Our union advocates for the educational best interests of DCPS students. No one ever mentions this. We can be fired like anyone else. Principals can place teachers who are determined to be less than satisfactory on a 90 day plan. If teachers cannot improve in this timeframe they can be terminated. The problem we face is not ineffective teachers but rather ineffective administrators who refuse to do their jobs effectively. As with all management positions this requires managers to do simply that manage, comply with local, state and union regulations (if applicable) whether in the private or government sectors. To take parts of our teachers contract out of context and paint all of us with a broad brush is grossly unfair and misleads the public. Keep in mind our teachers contract is negotiated with our superintendents/chancellor (past and present). Both sides have input when negotiating our contract. Stop the bashing and let's engage in a real dialogue about real issues instead of your own personal biases of teachers working in DC.

Posted by: Candi Peterson | June 18, 2008 12:06 PM | Report abuse

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