Councilmember Michael A. Brown to Give Away 600 Backpacks in Southeast, Tonight

Courtesy of Office of Councilmember Michael A. Brown

D.C. Councilmember Michael A. Brown will give away 600 backpacks filled with school supplies tonight, between 6-8 p.m. while supplies last. School starts Monday.

The backpacks are strictly for District residents and will be distributed during the “Back to School Community Cookout.” The event, at 2845 Alabama Ave SE, will also feature food and entertainment.

Councilmember Brown is quoted in a press release as saying, “I look forward to meeting with students and parents as we prepare for the upcoming school year and am grateful I can assist in a small way with needed supplies. More importantly, I hope to encourage our youth to understand that anything is possible with a strong education.”

What can vouchers do for D.C.?

Flickr: NCinDC

Sidwell Friends.

Two weeks ago, Congress struck a last minute budget compromise to avoid a government shutdown. Part of that deal included restarting a voucher program in D.C. that had ended in 2009. Over at The New Republic, Matthew McKnight wonders if vouchers can provide a viable alternative to public schools–especially when the quality of private schools can vary dramatically:

Tuition at the city’s most elite, highest-achieving private schools are far too expensive for both the previous voucher allotments ($7,500 per year) and the increase proposed in the new bill ($12,000 per year). A smaller number of students were able to make up the difference from other funding sources in order to attend the more costly private schools. But, this means that most students with vouchers can only afford to attend private or parochial schools that, in many cases, are only marginally less bad than their public schools.

Lower school tuition for Sidwell Friends, the private school the Obama children attend, is nearly $32,000 for the 2011 school year. Sidwell offers financial aid to nearly a quarter of its student body–awarding an average of $20,965 to eligible students– but tuition is only the first hurdle to cross. McKnight interviewed an African American senior at the prestigious school who discussed feeling like an outsider who had to overcome obstacles like “sharp racial imbalances”…and that Senior wasn’t even a voucher student.

Private School Grads Fixing Public Schools

Flickr: TopRow

Maumee Valley Country Day School, Michelle Rhee's alma mater.

The New York Times points out something important about the school reform movement– those involved, including former D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee and President Barack Obama, did not attend public schools:

Those who call themselves reformers are a diverse group, men and women of every political stripe and of every race and ethnicity.

But there is one thing that characterizes a surprisingly large number of the people who are transforming public schools: they attended private schools.

Which raises the question: Does a private school background give them a much-needed distance and fresh perspective to better critique and remake traditional public schools? Does it make them distrust public schools — or even worse — poison their perception of them? Or does it make any difference?

Parents Come Forward About DCPS Testing Irregularities

Flickr: Shannan Muskopf

The USA Today investigation into test score irregularities in D.C. public schools has inspired concerned parents to come forward, according to WUSA Channel 9. One parent, the mother of a student at JC Nalle Elementary in Southeast, said that her son was prodded to alter his answers until they were the correct ones:

She says her child’s teacher would tell the student to change his answer until he got it right.

“I feel they’ve been cheated I feel disappointed,” said the mother, who does not want to be identified…she is speaking out for her child and others “because it’s not fair to our children. It’s not fair of them to get pushed along to help bring the numbers up.”

Her 11-year-old has always been an honor roll student. Charts sent home from school show he scores well above the school and district average for children his age.

She tells us she wants to hear the truth but now she doubts the grades on his report car and the credibility of his teacher. She says she doesn’t trust his teacher.

DCPS said it would investigate the woman’s claims about JC Nalle Elementary School.

Bell Multicultural High School Welcomes Obama for Town Hall on DREAM Act, Education

Flickr: United States Government Work

No wonder Irving Street was blocked off this morning! The President visited Bell Multicultural High School in Columbia Heights, for a town hall meeting on education that will air tonight on Univision. The Chancellor for D.C. schools, Kaya Henderson was also there, along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Juan Sepulveda, head of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

According to pool reports, the President was greeted by enthusiastic cheers from students and parents as he took the stage. The President answered questions from the audience and via pre-taped video about the role of parents in education, the DREAM act, technology and more. However, the first question, from the event’s moderator, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, was about Libya. The President briefly answered that U.S. involvement there would be limited before adding that he would address the issue later tonight (tune in to WAMU 88.5 at 7 p.m., for NPR’s full coverage of the event).

After watching a video question from a female student who was holding up a deportation letter, the President said that he strongly supports the DREAM Act: “We’ve got to keep the pressure up on Congress”. Obama stated that it was not appropriate to give undocumented workers “temporary protected status” and he clarified that it was not possible to suspend deportations by executive order.

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Fenty Lost Because of Style, not School Reform

Flickr: Intangible Arts

Former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty with a young constituent in 2007.

Our former Mayor is in denial about why he’s no longer in office, according to TBD. Hint: he may not be a martyr to education reform, after all.

In interview after interview, the ex-mayor and Michelle Rhee, his former schools chancellor, have argued that political defeat is what happens to those who are so bold as to champion an aggressive stance toward teachers unions and a program of radical shifts in how business is conducted in the classroom…

The real danger lies not in pursuing Fenty-Rhee-style education reform, but in pursuing anything in the Fenty-Rhee style. That means no dissing the media at every turn. No brushing aside the concerns of great Americans. No scorning the notion of legislative oversight.

For as long as he remains in denial about his mayoralty, Fenty will likely keep peddling his tale of woe about education reform. As time wears on, however, he’ll have to make peace with the facts: His signature issue of education reform is popular among District voters, who still saw fit to vote him out of office.

Henderson Not Budging on Hardy Middle School

Flickr: D. Clow

Councilmember Jack Evans agrees with parents in his ward who want to bring Pope back.

Candidate Vince Gray supported the reinstatement of popular former Hardy Middle School principal, Patrick Pope, who was removed by Michelle Rhee from his post in Georgetown.

Mayor Vince Gray is deferring to Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who has angered some powerful, vocal parents by refusing to return Pope to Hardy.

The Washington Post asserts that “Contrary to overblown reports, Hardy is not a school in chaos but one that is experiencing stresses typical to a middle school.”

But that assessment doesn’t mesh with what NBC 4′s P.J. Orvetti wrote, earlier today: “Since Pope was removed, the school has recorded 41 student suspensions — compared to just one for the entirety of last year.

Unhappy parents have recruited a surprising ally to voice their concerns. According to the Georgetown Dish,

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown will hold an oversight hearing on District schools this Friday March 4 at 10:00 am in the Council Chamber. After mounting controversy at Hardy Middle School during the last year, Councilmember Jack Evans Tuesday introduced legislation to reinstate popular Principal Patrick Pope. The legislation is likely to be a topic of the hearing.

Mayor Gray has already indicated that even if the legislation passes, he won’t sign it. The Hardy Middle School saga continues.

Hard choices on school choice

Fredrick Kunkle’s story in yesterday’s Washington Post on the battle over school choice in Virginia underscores the emotion in the debate. In Kunkle’s telling, the battle pits civil rights heroes, still yearning for equality, against ambitious young students, questing for opportunity:

On one side are black elders who remember when school choice meant no choice at all because of state-mandated segregation. Many also remember how vouchers were given to white children to attend private academies during “massive resistance” in the late 1950s and early ’60s, when Virginia closed some public schools rather than desegregate as ordered under the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. the Board of Education. Opponents argue that school choice might resegregate the schools, this time by class and ability.

On the other side is a younger generation of single parents and working-class black families looking for any way out of the state’s most troubled schools in places such as Norfolk, Petersburg and the capital. Even if it’s difficult to rescue all schoolchildren, an effort should be made to save some, they say.

Read to the very bottom of the story for a fascinating tidbit in the conclusion.

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Did Michelle Rhee Lie About her Record?

Flickr: Shannan Muskopf

Standardized Test.

Michelle Rhee is a champion of standardized tests– but how did her own results as a Baltimore school teacher measure up? Guy Brandenberg, a now-retired D.C. teacher with three decades of experience published a blog post that accused Rhee of lying “in an effort to make gains in her class look more impressive than they were.” Via WaPo:

Rhee, who resigned last year as chancellor, denied fabricating anything about her record and said Brandenburg’s conclusion was unfounded. But she acknowledged this week that she could have described her accomplishments differently in 2007, when then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) selected her to be chancellor.

At issue is a line in Rhee’s resume from that year that described her record at Harlem Park Elementary School: “Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.”


Rhee addressed questions about her resume in 2007. At the time, she acknowledged that there was no documentation to back up the assertion of performance at the 90th percentile…Brandenburg, who retired in 2009 after teaching for more than 30 years, said the study presents “clear evidence of actual, knowing falsehood” by Rhee.