D.C. school officials have proposed changes in graduation requirements and have finalized which schools are slated to be closed.
The proposed changes for graduation requirements were submitted by the D.C. Board of Education in December. The public was given the opportunity to respond in January and the school board is scheduled to vote on the matter at the March 20 meeting.
Changes put forth by the board include an increase in required graduation credits from 24 to 26 with added units in physical education and either art or music. Also, students would be required to take two years of the same foreign language and complete a thesis project, officials said.
The graduation requirement discussion comes amid reports that D.C. has some of the lowest graduation rates in the country. Recently, a report from Raise D.C. stated that only six of 10 students graduate from high school within four years.
Washington Teachers Union President Nathan Saunders said in a statement that the organization supports efforts to provide students with a curriculum that better prepares young people for college. He cautioned, however, that a strategic plan must be in place “to counteract the unintended, but foreseeable harm these changes may cause to our students,” such as lower graduation rates, negative effects on special needs students and the lack of a pathway for children entering the workforce immediately after high school.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools (DCACPS) oppose the changes for different reasons and have offered alternatives to improve student curriculum.
“The schools should have more flexibility in terms of what the students must take as opposed to what they can take as electives,” said Dr. Ramona Edelin, executive director of DCACPS. “We do not embrace the increased number of hours,[but] what we do like is the move toward competency instead of seat time.”
School officials are focused on credits and types of classes, but community volunteers complained about diminished resources and the toll that will take on education.
“The state board is trying very hard to elevate the standards for children, but the reality and the resources don’t match those standards,” said Eboni-Rose Thompson, chair of the Ward 7 Education Council.
Thompson pointed out that one of the proposed requirements includes a lab, but not every school is equipped with a laboratory-style classroom.
While the graduation requirements proposal is being discussed, Henderson released the final list of school closings. She moved after requesting and receiving feedback from school officials and community leaders and council members. DCPS projects that the school closings will save $19.5 million and all of the savings will go to schools receiving new students, transition costs and school programming.
Slated for closure are: Sharpe Health and McFarland MS in Ward 4; Mamie D. Lee, Marshall MS, CHOICE at Hamilton, Spingarn SHS and Spingarn STAY in Ward 5; Shaw MS at Garnett-Patterson and Prospect Learning Center in Ward 6; Davis ES, Kenilworth ES, Winston Educational Center and Ron Brown Middle School in Ward 7; and Ferebee-Hope Education Center and Mary Church Terrell-McGogney ES in Ward 8. None of the schools in wards 1, 2 or 3 is slated for closure.
All of the schools are slated to close this school year with the exception of Mamie D. Lee and Sharpe Health, which are scheduled to close after the 2013-2014 school year.
Some education officials and advocates question if the closings will actually improve school quality and create more dynamic and competitive school environments.
“I think it’s ridiculous. I have not seen a comprehensive plan to improve the quality of education in Washington, D.C. yet,” said Ward 8 School Board Member Trayon Whit, who suggested that the closing of schools shows no connection to the improvement of overall quality of education.
Thompson and other Ward 7 leaders supplied an alternative education plan to Henderson after learning of five proposed school closings in their Ward. They were able to keep one school open, Smothers ES, which has strong community support and received a $100,000 award from TV talk show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres in 2012.
For other schools in Ward 7, advocates are continuing to develop creative school curricula so their students are interesting in attending neighborhood schools, officials said.
“It’s not that we don’t have the demand, it’s that we aren’t supplying them with the proper programs to make it a competitive environment,” Thompson said.
Thompson said leaders will continue to work with Henderson until the end of the school year to keep some of the schools on the list open.
Charters are impacted by school closings because very often they need buildings that are designed for children’s learning and closed schools can provide that, according to Edelin. But if Henderson decides to “hold on to a property with a hope that enrollment will increase in years to come while we have waiting lists and need space for public school children, that is out of line,” she said.