PetersonMartel

by Jordan Pandy, Education Town Hall intern

Last week, July 2, on Education Town Hall Radio, guests Candi Peterson, vice president of the Washington Teachers Union, and Erich Martel, retired DC Public School teacher, discussed reconstitution in schools and mayoral control in D.C.

For those unaware of what reconstitution is, it is a strategy where declining schools replace a substantial amount of their faculty with hopes of finding new teachers or administrators who are more committed and better suited to succeed. On paper, although risky, this seems like a logical strategy to aid a failing school, but data shows reconstitution is not very effective.

An example of reconstitution not making the grade takes place here in the Nation’s Capital: “Of the 18 D.C. schools reconstituted between 2008 and 2010, 10 have seen their standardized test scores decline further. Two of the schools have closed. Six have improved.” (Washington Post)

One of the 18 schools that underwent reconstitution was Ballou High School in Washington D.C., which has gone through the process twice. According to data presented by Erich Martel, Ballou High School saw about 50% of its staff return in June of 2010 after reconstitution. “In the past 5 years there have been over 200 teachers that have come to Ballou; and approximately 65 of them only stayed for one year,” stated Martel. Martel also went on to say that some teachers use their year or two at DCPS as a “training period” or just a way to reap the benefits associated with being a teacher, like paying off student loans, and then move onto a career in teaching elsewhere.

Instead of encouraging a culture of repair and rejuvenation, the quick hirings and firings somewhat give off a sense of fear for one’s job, which does not help the teachers or schools at all. Candi Peterson mentions that some DCPS students, particularly those in Wards Seven and Eight, do not come from stable backgrounds, and have encountered a number of loses in their lifetime. She goes on to say, “The one place you expect to see stability is in the schoolhouse.” If these students cannot get stability in their schools, where can they seek it?

The guests later directed their conversation to the evaluation of mayoral control of DCPS. Both Martel and Peterson agree that mayoral control has not improved schools in the District. The school districts, however, believe there has been improvement when the reports suggest differently. Candi Peterson states that evaluations and the responses from the schools are contradicting in statements, “it’s like you’re not reading the same report.”

Another fault found in the evaluation is that, when data suggests test scores are declining, not much is done about it. Students are failing and the county does not seem to know, or care, why, “you should want to know why…” said Martel. Reports point out obvious problems but do not suggest solutions, for example, reports cite poverty as a cause for low test scores. While that is technically correct, “poverty, in itself, is not an indicator,” says Martel; there is no resolution given for the poverty problem. Martel specifies that there are a great number of factors, including poverty, that can be attributed to poor test scores. Overall, the evaluation of mayoral control only confirms what was already believed; it does not work. DCPS should stop treating the schools like a business and start caring for and right the ship.

Tracks 2 and 3 below

ALSO ON THURSDAY: update from WALKING MAN JESSE TURNER, on his trek from Connecticut to DC for the BAT Congress. See track 1 above.

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