District Leaders Discuss How to Improve D.C. Public Schools

by: Lenore T. Adkins Special to the AFRO
/ (DCPS Hearing Photo) /

The District of Columbia Public Schools has failed its students and it’s time for officials to acknowledge that, Councilwoman Mary Cheh said at a Feb. 8 hearing in which she and other councilmembers responded to a report that concluded 34 percent of last year’s seniors never should have graduated.

Cheh quoted a report that showed 100 percent of DCPS students attending the University of the District of Columbia required remedial education and were functionally illiterate. As well, the yawning gap between poor and rich students continues to persist, she said.

“We’re not doing a proper job and we’re papering over it,” Cheh said.

Antwan Wilson, Chancellor for District of Columbia Public Schools. (DCPS Hearing Photo)

Antwan Wilson, chancellor for a year, implored the council not to lose faith in DCPS and pointed out the various reforms he’s implemented since the scandal rocked the city and the FBI launched an investigation of its own. They include implementing a new student information system, regularly training staff on policies and launching an Office of Integrity that would field complaints from whistleblowers, make sure policies are followed and release reports.

Wilson acknowledged that the system let students down and that the probe’s results have the city, families and the general public questioning whether the progress DCPS has made since the mayor took over the schools in 2007, is real.

“We have some significant challenges that we must address if we are to deliver upon the promise of a great education for all of our children,” Wilson said. “(But) we should not lose confidence in our system as a whole. Instead, we must recommit ourselves to doing the work required to best serve our student sand to achieve quality outcomes for students.”

The Feb. 8 hearing came 10 days after the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released an audit that found policy violations in 937 out of 2,758 graduating students’ records at nearly all schools. In Dunbar High School’s case, more than 4,000 changes were made to attendance records for 118 graduates, the report said.

Most high schools operated under a mindset of passing and graduating students, according to a DCPS concurrent review of attendance and grading policies. At Ballou High School, DCPS uncovered a culture of doing “whatever it takes” to pass students so they could receive diplomas.

The DCPS review found six high schools were the worst offenders at graduating students who exceeded the number of absences allowed, and failed to follow DCPS grading and credit recovery policies. Those schools were Anacostia High School, Ballou High School, Dunbar High School, Eastern High School, Roosevelt High School and H.D. Woodson High School.

DCPS Central Office failed to provide sufficient training and support or adequate oversight in grading and credit recovery policies, the DCPS review said.

In the wake of the reports, Wilson said he fired four people but does not to expect to let anyone else go.

Excessive absences are much less of an issue in the D.C. Public Charter School system.

Out of the 1,162 graduating seniors from the class of 2017, just eight posted more than 60 unexcused absences, said Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board. Six of those students came from alternative high schools, he added.

D.C. Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang confirmed that she’s been cooperating with the FBI investigation, but declined to say anything beyond that. For their part, Wilson and Pearson said the FBI has not reached out to them.