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Posted at 10:52 PM ET, 12/ 4/2010

The keys to keeping education reform rolling in D.C.

By Susan Schaeffler, Washington

As Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray prepares to take office, the D.C. education community is holding its breath. With the winds of progress at our back, it is critical that we continue to be relentless in our efforts to provide a high-quality education to every student in the District. Though the outgoing administration laid the groundwork for reform, many important and difficult decisions lie ahead.

Gray’s long-standing support for education reform and his campaign pledges to continue pushing ahead are encouraging. As the D.C. Council chairman, Gray championed reforms that have been central to implementing lasting change in the D.C. schools, such as providing universal pre-kindergarten and supporting the mayoral takeover of the public schools. Gray has also been effective in getting buy-in from teachers, parents, school officials, policymakers and district administrators to move these initiatives forward.

As a parent of two children who attend D.C. public schools and CEO of the KIPP DC public charter schools, I offer the following three suggestions for how Gray can continue the progress:

1. Advocate for all students. With D.C. charter school enrollment at a historic high, it will be Gray’s responsibility to lead for all students. During his campaign, he promised to deliver — within three months of taking office — a blueprint for funding parity between District and charter schools.

It is critical that Gray follow through on this promise, because charter schools currently receive less funding per student than the District’s traditional public schools. With nearly 40 percent of D.C. children enrolled in public charters, we cannot afford to shortchange these schools. All children in D.C. public schools ought to have equal treatment, regardless of whether they attend District or charter schools.

2. Provide more time to learn. It’s a stark fact: Students in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea typically spend 40 more days annually in school than children in the United States, and their academic results outpace ours in science by a wide margin. Because of this discrepancy, President Obama has joined the growing chorus calling for lengthening the school day and year.

At KIPP DC, our extended school day, week and year gives students 40 percent more time learning, and this extra time has yielded results. KIPP DC’s fifth-graders typically come to us two or three years below grade level. Yet, when these same students complete eighth grade, 92 percent are scoring proficient or better in math and over 80 percent are proficient in reading on the D.C. achievement test.

Mayor-elect Gray should provide schools with the opportunity to extend the week and year, as well as the funding to pay for it. This currently costs KIPP DC an additional $950 per student — a small price to pay for a generation of students prepared for a college education.

3. Train and retain excellent teachers. Research has shown that the most important factor in a child’s education is the quality of his or her teacher. If we are to accomplish lasting improvements in the District’s public schools, we need creative strategies for attracting and retaining the best teachers. To develop a talent pool for schools throughout the city, KIPP DC and the E.L. Haynes Public Charter School recently created the Capital Teaching Residency (CTR) program, an intensive, year-long teacher training program that prepares teachers in math and science, special education and early childhood education. Like medical residents, teaching residents train alongside the best in their field. By 2015, CTR will have added more than 400 high-performing teachers to D.C. schools.

Teacher quality was a signature issue of Mayor Adrian Fenty and former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, and the city has made great strides in this area as a result. Because of the new teachers contract, D.C. public schools can begin to reward and attract high-performing teachers and remove low-performing ones. To increase the number of effective teachers in all D.C. schools, Gray should continue these efforts and support teacher training programs such as the Capital Teaching Residency.

At this critical moment, the mayor-elect, and all of our elected officials, must keep us moving in the right direction and support what works to improve all District schools. With this as Mayor-elect Gray’s objective, students in the District can only thrive.

The writer is the founder and chief executive of KIPP D.C. public charter schools.

By Susan Schaeffler, Washington  | December 4, 2010; 10:52 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., education, schools  
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"Research has shown that the most important factor in a child’s education is the quality of his or her teacher."

Research has NOT shown that the is the teacher is the most is the teacher. The most important factor in a child's education is his/her home environment.

Posted by: jlp19 | December 5, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

What I meant to say is:

Research has NOT shown that the is the teacher is the most important factor in a child's education.

What research has shown that the teacher is the most important factor inside the school that influences a child's education. But other than that research shows the family to be the most important factor.

Posted by: jlp19 | December 5, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Just as important, I think Grey should start negotiating with MD and VA for ways to place DC students in high performing schools in those states. The load on DCPS must be reduced and charters cannot take it all. Further, students who actually want to succeed should be given a chance and should not be condemmed to failure by DCPS. They should be given an honest chance in neighboring, close by, and easily accessible jurisdictions. Its time to stop lying to ourselves, DC is breeding failure and self destruction, we need to find a way to get people out if they so desire.

Posted by: plugugly7 | December 6, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Charter schools do no better, overall, than regular schools, which makes special pleading questionable. How much of the non-parity is due to admin functions that DCPS perform that charters do not? By failing to explain why differences exist.

Posted by: thebuckguy | December 6, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Hmm...i thought charters were supposed to be able to get higher academic achievement than traditional public schools on less money per pupil?

Posted by: brdirtysouth | December 10, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

A century ago doctors were avoided because they could and did do harm, cost money and did little good. Medicine has been transformed, largely for the good, by research. The same can be the case for education.

So: Use extant research. Three examples:

1. Implement the strong findings that teenagers need more sleep and get sleepy later. Implication: Move back the start of the school day so teenagers get the sleep they need. Results: Increased attentiveness, especially in the first period class, and of mot significance, improved grades and test scores.

2. NIH research has identified the best focuses for teaching reading. Implement for this critical core skill. And: Evaluations of Follow-Through (on Head Start) found two teaching programs were significantly more effective: DISTAR and the Becker-Engelmann program. Implement these programs with high fidelity to the models.

3. Evaluations of interventions for children from disadvantaged families have consistently found little or no educational benefits, and if there were benefits, they were short-lived. There is one exception: Early in-home intervention 20 hrs./wk for verbal interactions with little ones from 8 mos. to 3 years of age. Verbal interactions develop vocabulary, and vocabulary correlates better than .9 with verbal IQ. Results: At the 4th grade, average IQs of 100 and educational achievement at grade level. That's a transformative and enduring effect for the children and for our country in competing internationally. Costly, yes. But additional funds are not needed. Terminate the ineffective programs and allocation the funds for those programs to this early in home intervention.

Don't ignore these and other research findings. Major changes in education can be obtained if extant research findings are implemented with fidelity to the science. Insist that educational leaders know the relevant research findings and are committed to implementing them in the schools and classrooms under their authority.

And: Advocate for a U.S. National Institute of Education with a size of effort commensurate with the need (large) and rigorous science comparable to that at NIH to address the need for additional research findings to obtain additional methods for improving education and transforming outcomes for children

Posted by: jimb | December 10, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

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