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Posted at 11:41 AM ET, 09/28/2010

A DCPS education for the president

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Fred Solowey
Washington


Dear President Obama,

I don’t want to make a big deal over the fact that your wife and I have hugged, and I wouldn’t even mention it except for the fact that where and when it happened has a bearing on why I’m writing to you.

That hug was in the garden at Bancroft Elementary School in May 2009, when I was the school’s PTA president. The first lady came to thank our students for the work they had done in the White House kitchen garden, and she listened as several students read beautiful essays they had written about what the experience of planting, tending, harvesting — and cooking — at the White House had meant to them and how it had affected their approach to nutrition and eating.

Months earlier, many of us at Bancroft had hoped that Malia and Sasha would be enrolled in a D.C. public school, and we, of course, had a particular school in mind. Once you and your wife made your decision, I knew it was not for me to judge: Many factors go into the decisions parents make about schools, and issues of privacy and security must add enormous weight and complexity to the decision-making process when the first family is involved.

But today I learned — from comments you made on the “Today” show — that Bancroft Elementary School and the rest of the D.C. public schools do not provide as good an education as your daughters deserve.

Mr. President, it is time for a bit of education.

I’m sure it was not intentional, but you just sent a message that anyone with school-age children in the District who can scrape together the money to pay private school tuition ought to do so — at least until your Race to the Top program bears fruit.

Most DCPS parents cannot afford private school. I suppose that my wife and I could have come up with the funds, but we knew something that you ought to know: Students with parental involvement and educational support and resources at home thrive in regular urban public schools like Bancroft.

Your daughters would have thrived, received a bilingual (English and Spanish) education and gotten the invaluable social education not possible at most private schools. Through interaction with children from the many immigrant and mostly working-class families, they would have been as enriched as my son, now in his fifth year at Bancroft, has been.

And you, Mr. President, as you got to know the staff at Bancroft, would have realized that problems in raising overall student achievement have very little (if anything) to do with inadequate teachers and much more to do with problems of class and poverty and language and cultural barriers. Improvement has also been held back by the failure of leaders to appreciate that effective school reform begins in schools by unleashing the creative capacity of teachers and families working together.

I trust that your daughters will continue to thrive in their school setting, and I urge you to spend some time at my son’s school. Perhaps, if the first lady returns this spring to dedicate the vegetable garden in the new Bancroft playground, you could spend some time inside watching some other growing taking place.

It would be good for you and good for America.

The writer served as president of the Bancroft Elementary School PTA from May 2007 to May 2010.

By washingtonpost.com editors  | September 28, 2010; 11:41 AM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic, schools  
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Comments

The President didn't say his daughters "deserve" a better education that DCPS can provide. Your distortion implies an arrogance he did not express. He just said his daughters can get a better education at their private school than they can at the public school they would attend. If you want to dispute that, you should spend time in classes at the same grade level in both schools. Doing so would prove the President is right.

Posted by: pundito | September 28, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

The gages of school Reform have to be centered around the little black kids of D.C., they are for the most part the reason the system’s rating is where it is. The key that’s being so grossly over looked is the social factor that’s envolved in this whole senario, until we take a wholeistic approach to this reform effort, it will alway’s be destined for failure. The only reason little white kid’s do so much better in school is because statisticly they don’t have anywhere near the social concerns of the little black one’s, this isn’t (rocket science) people. The way to address any systemic problem is to use this same method, anything less and you’re treating the symptom, not the problem. This is why Michelle Rhee’s semantics on reform are such a farce. We need to be a little more in tune with the city’s recent and distant history and stop being ready to have such a rush to judgement, it’s much to important. We are just starting to recover from one of D.C.s most devastating drug epidemics and a large portion of these kids still suffer from it, there’s no magical solution for the correction, it’s going to take commitment and conscience work from us all.

Posted by: 4ourfuture | September 28, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

The gages of school Reform have to be centered around the little black kids of D.C., they are for the most part the reason the system’s rating is where it is. The key that’s being so grossly over looked is the social factor that’s envolved in this whole senario, until we take a wholeistic approach to this reform effort, it will alway’s be destined for failure. The only reason little white kid’s do so much better in school is because statisticly they don’t have anywhere near the social concerns of the little black one’s, this isn’t (rocket science) people. The way to address any systemic problem is to use this same method, anything less and you’re treating the symptom, not the problem. This is why Michelle Rhee’s semantics on reform are such a farce. We need to be a little more in tune with the city’s recent and distant history and stop being ready to have such a rush to judgement, it’s much to important. We are just starting to recover from one of D.C.s most devastating drug epidemics and a large portion of these kids still suffer from it, there’s no magical solution for the correction, it’s going to take commitment and conscience work from us all.

Posted by: 4ourfuture | September 28, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

You have written an excellent letter, Mr. Solowey. It is very unfortunate that Mr. Obama has had too much Arne Duncan kool-ade to drink to understand your reasoned message.

Posted by: lacy41 | September 28, 2010 9:40 PM | Report abuse

The author should tour areas outside of DC and see how pathetic DC schools are by comparison. The presidents older daughter is approaching high school, and there are zero public high schools in the city that would give her the opportunities that Sidwell Friends will. More to the point, for a young lady with such poise and intelligence, it would be a crime to subject her to the cruelties of DCPS.

As Vaclev Havel said, "Lying does not save you from the lie." So, lie all you want about DCPS, it doesn't change the fact that its not even close to a decent school system. Obama made the best choice, no doubt about it.

Posted by: mendelsonmustgo | September 29, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

mendelsonmustgo wrote:

"for a young lady with such poise and intelligence, it would be a crime to subject her to the cruelties of DCPS."

Crime, rather, that bigoted bias such as yours still exists in the world... I teach at a WONDERFUL public DCPS High School, where most teachers are first class, admins are amazing, many after school activities, etc...

All our kids are non-white and most are low income, and we have MANY, MANY "young ladies with poise and intelligence." ...

What exactly are you implying about children in DCPS??? ....

Posted by: adcpsteacher | September 30, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

mendelsonmustgo wrote:

"for a young lady with such poise and intelligence, it would be a crime to subject her to the cruelties of DCPS."

Crime, rather, that bigoted bias such as yours still exists in the world... I teach at a WONDERFUL public DCPS High School, where most teachers are first class, admins are amazing, many after school activities, etc...

All our kids are non-white and most are low income, and we have MANY, MANY "young ladies with poise and intelligence." ...

What exactly are you implying about children in DCPS??? ....

Posted by: adcpsteacher | September 30, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

For heaven sake, stop blaming President Obama for the state of D.C. Public Schools. I was at a meeting last week and somebody stood up and said the President said our schools are bad. He didn't. Can't anybody read any more? Where did they go to school? Would you have the President remain mute for four years? Sounds like it if you're going to criticize him every time he says something.

Posted by: observator1000 | October 3, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

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