Posts by Celine Tobal
|Celine Tobal works in the field of education where she focuses on improving educational outcomes for all students and is pursuing an MBA at George Washington University. She has an Ed.M in Education Policy and Management from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a B.A from Haverford College.|
Just a few years after setting a goal of "universal" pre-kindergarten, DC education officials claim they reached it. But many parents are still getting turned away at their local schools. Do we really have universal pre-K?
Local auditors and independent reports conclude that the answer is no. The problem is worst east of the Anacostia, but reaches all wards. This matters because while officials claim "mission accomplished," they aren't spending available money to expand pre-K when, in fact, kids need it.
DC needs to survey parents to better understand pre-K needs and set clearer, realistic goals. The DC Council should also create an education committee to better oversee and monitor this and other education needs.
The DC Council unanimously passed legislation in 2008 "to make pre-k universally available" by 2014. Then-chairman Vincent Gray introduced that legislation, which covered preschool for 3-year-olds and pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, and campaigned heavily on the issue.
DC's Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) then announced that they had reached universal pre-K in September 2010, 4 years ahead of schedule and a couple weeks before the election that brought Gray into the mayor's office.
What is "universal pre-K?"
There is no clear definition for "universal pre-K." But whatever it is, auditors don't believe DC has yet achieved it. A 2011 pre-K capacity audit does not say that pre-K is universally available. Neither does the 2009 audit, the only other audit that has been done despite a mandate in the law to do an audit every year.
Instead, the 2011 pre-K capacity audit says that "the District is still striving to meet its goal to provide high-quality pre-K programs to all three- and four-year-old children by 2014." (p. 23)
OSSE spokesman Marc Caposino said, "In our view we have achieved universal pre-K in the District based on the fact that we know that every family that wants a slot for their child has access to one." However, Caposino was unable to say how OSSE knows this is true.
The Assistant Superintendent for Early Childhood Education, Maxine Maloney, has an even more curious definition for universal pre-K. She said, "A district reaches universal pre-K when every school that can offer pre-K offers at least one class."
When pressed that this is not the definition of universal pre-K in Gray's legislation, Maloney insisted that early childhood education experts accept her "supply side definition," and that Atlanta and West Virginia used it in their universal pre-K campaigns.
Outside reports are skeptical
To claim universal pre-K, OSSE has misrepresented auditors' findings. One blatant example is the State of Preschool 2011 report by the National Institute for Early Education Research, released in April 2012. The report provided pre-K enrollment estimates for each state and DC.
Using data provided by OSSE, the NIEER report showed a hard-to-believe enrollment rate of 98% of 4-yr-olds for 2009-2010. That was so hard to believe that in their 2010-2011 report, NIEER refused to use OSSE's enrollment data.
"We're not convinced" about OSSE's numbers, said NIEER Director Dr Steven Barnett. He said, "We're not saying that we dispute their numbers, but our own knowledge level is not enough to support their conclusion."
That didn't stop OSSE from issuing a press release saying that NIEER's report "praised [OSSE] for administering statewide early childhood education programming...to 98 percent of 4 year-olds...during the 2010-2011 school year."
However, NIEER says it did no such thing, and the press release included no quotes from NIEER staff. Dr Barnett says NIEER communicated their misgivings about the data to OSSE. OSSE spokesperson Caposino disputes this.
Pre-K is not universal enough
Whatever technical definition one uses, parents know that pre-K is not available enough. Many are finding their kids turned away from local schools.
Telling parents that there is universal pre-K is like telling Metro riders that 90% of trains are on time. There may be a contrived technical definition that could make the claim true, but reality suggests otherwise.
The 2011 audit recommends expanding capacity in wards that are over-capacity and in wards with long waiting lists. Ward 7 pre-K programs are the most over-capacity at 111%, and Ward 8 has the most programs, 20, with waiting lists.
|Ward||Est.pop. 3-4 y.o.||Enrolled||Capacity||Capacity utiliz.||Num. of programs||Num progs. w/waitlists||% progs. w/waitlists|
DC isn't spending money to expand pre-K
The 2011 audit makes some spending recommendations, such as $3.3 million to accommodate 5% of students on waiting lists or $1.5 million to accommodate 5% of students on waiting lists in the most over-capacity wards. But when the DC Council budgeted $6 million to expand pre-K, OSSE left those funds unspent.
At a hearing this past Februrary, a representative of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer claimed that the reason OSSE hasn't spent the money is because DC has already achieved universal pre-K. "We didn't need all of these funds in order to hit universal pre-K for all 3- and 4-year olds," he said, and this year's budget has cut that money entirely.
Quality also must still improve
Even if there were adequate availability for every 3- and 4-year old desiring a pre-K slot, the Pre-K Expansion and Enhancement Act of 2008 limits qualifying pre-K programs to those that meet new "high quality standards" to be determined by OSSE.
In fact, half of the legislation addresses quality, requiring that pre-K programs meet new quality standards by 2014 or lose their license. The legislation provides grants for programs that fall short of these standards.
When asked whether any pre-K programs currently fall short of the new standards that will be used in 2014 to de-license programs, Assistant Superintendent Maloney responded, "we do not have programs who are not meeting quality standards."
Using OSSE's "Going for the Gold" ratings of Bronze, Silver, and Gold, Maloney said, "all our Pre-K programs are Gold programs with the exception of two whom are on their way to Gold." But it strains credulity to believe that now-Mayor Gray would have written half of his pre-K legislation to address a problem that doesn't exist.
What can be done?
Many studies show that investments in early childhood education reap a tremendous return to society. They improve children's success in later grades, reduce crime, and cut joblessness and poverty. To achieve these returns, we need to treat universal pre-K as a responsibility to our children, not as a political talking point.
The DC Council and OSSE can take several concrete steps to get back on track on pre-K.
Abandon the "mission accomplished" pretense. Education officials seem to have gotten stuck in a trap. They likely claimed pre-K was universal before the election in an effort to boost then-Mayor Adrian Fenty. Now that they've made the claim, it's hard to back away.
Whatever one calls it, pre-K is not as available as it needs to be. OSSE should admit that, then set a standard which it can clearly define, and for which it can measure progress. The DC Council should ensure that this is the right standard.
Survey parents about pre-K demand. The 2011 audit says, "The number of children seeking access to pre-K for whom pre-K is not available would ideally be determined through a household survey of parents of 3- and 4-year-old children living in the District." (p. 16)
The audit says this was not done "due to time and budget constraints." The 2012 pre-K capacity audit is being conducted right now. OSSE should halt it and add in a survey component. Otherwise, it has no way to know how many parents want to send their kids to pre-K but can't.
Create an education committee of the DC Council. Holding OSSE accountable requires resources to do research. Today, education is part of the Committee of the Whole, but the chairman's staff have their energy spread across too many topics. Of the 16 agencies the Committee of the Whole oversees, only 4 deal with education.
Education is of paramount importance to the future of our city. These 4 agencies need to be the sole focus of a single committee staff.
When the DC Council gave control of the schools to the mayor in 2007, the law required DC to create community schools, but there has been little progress since. The Council can rectify this problem by passing a proposed law to create incentives for community schools.
Community schools are schools that provide after-hours services to students and their families and communities. The idea is that schools, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, should address obstacles to learning such as student health and excessive unstructured time.
A hearing on the DC Community Schools Incentive Act that would finally implement the rest of the 2007 legislation was scheduled for December 14, and it looked like this missing piece of school reform would finally be implemented. However, the hearing was abruptly cancelled with only 3 hours notice.
DC Council Chair Kwame Brown said he had to cancel the hearing because the DC State Superintendent of Education, Hosanna Mahaley, cancelled that morning. When she skipped the hearing, national experts, grandparents, teachers and students who spent days memorizing their testimony showed up for no reason.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is central to the creation of community schools, and Mahaley had confirmed before Thanksgiving that she would attend the hearing.
The Coalition for Community Schools defines a community school as a school that partners with community resources to "[integrate] academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and civic engagement."
Community schools are open 7 days a week during the day and evening to encourage involvement from families and the community.
Community schools are traditional schools that also offer programs and services for their students, their parents and the surrounding community. They may include: before- and after-school programs for their students, family-support centers and adult enrichment classes on topics, such as parenting, employment, and housing, and medical, dental and mental-health services.
Community schools report gains in academic and nonacademic areas, which impact academic achievement. Research also suggests that students in community schools have higher attendance rates and their families "show increased family stability, communication with teachers, school involvement, and a greater sense of responsibility for their children's learning."
One year after the passing of this act, OSSE would administer multi-year award grants to establish "no less than 5 new community schools (at public schools or public charter schools)."
OSSE would also establish and administer the Community Schools Fund "to fund the operation of the initiative, and to ensure the District of Columbia becomes eligible to receive federal and private dollars in support of community schools."
If DCPS and OSSE are committed to increasing educational outcomes for all children in Washington, DC, they need to further demonstrate that they support the passing of the Community Schools Incentive Act.
The DC Council hearing on the DC Community Schools Incentive Act has been rescheduled for January 31st at 4:30pm. Let the DC Council and OSSE know that school reform is not just about teachers and buildings, but is also about students and their obstacles to learning outside of the classroom.
DC Public Schools recently opened a second facility to serve DC parents who are concerned that their preschool-age child may have a disability or a developmental delay. However, as a judge's ruling made clear last week, ineffective managers of these facilities are allowing children with special needs to fall through the cracks.
This is not only tragic for these children, but extremely expensive when DCPS identifies their special needs much later.
On November 8, DCPS opened its second Early Stages center next to the Minnesota Ave Metro station. The program, which started in October 2009 with the opening of its first center at the Walker-Jones Education Campus in Ward 6, is free for all DC residents, as well as families who attend private schools in DC, who suspect that their child between 3 and 5 years of age may have a disability or a developmental delay.
This isn't just a compassionate and cost-effective initiative. It's also a federal law.
The Child Find provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that all states have a comprehensive system "to assure that all children who are in need of early intervention or special education services are located, identified, and referred."
This provision emphasizes the importance of early intervening services since providing services to children before they reach kindergarten "can have a significant impart on a child's ability to learn new skills as well as reduce the need for costly interventions over time" for children with developmental delays and disabilities as well as those with learning disabilities.
While DCPS, including Early Stages for preschool-age children, and DC Charter Schools are responsible for identifying students in need of special education services between the ages of 3 and 21, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education is responsible for identifying all DC residents from birth to age 3 in need of special education services.
Sadly, these obligations to the most vulnerable in the District are still not being met. Testimony in the continuing class action lawsuit, DL v. District of Columbia, demonstrates that DCPS must strengthen several elements needed to have a comprehensive Child Find system. The suit was brought about by 7 families in 2005 "who encountered barriers and delays in securing special education services for which they were eligible".
A judge overseeing the suit ruled last week that DCPS had failed to provide some parents with a timely evaluation, as determined under IDEA. Early Stages staff acknowledged that "at least four patients per day contacted Early Stages 'to report that a Child Find Coordinator had failed to return their calls regarding providing their children with an evaluation or an eligibility screening.'"
The testimony of another DCPS witness, Maxine Freund, a professor at George Washington's Graduate School of Education and Human Development, also illustrated how "leadership turnover and lengthy vacancies in key positions" hindered Early Stages' efforts in becoming a comprehensive child find system.
Poor leadership has most likely limited the development of a tracking system "to determine which children are receiving services and ensure follow-up once children are referred" as well as complete coordination among agencies in Washington, DC involved in providing services to identified children.
The opening of the second Early Stages center is certainly a step in the right direction. Before the opening of the second Early Stages center, 40 percent of the referrals in the Ward 6 Early Stages center were from children in Wards 7 and 8. This high number of referrals is consistent with the most recent census data that illustrates that 40 percent of DC children live in Wards 7 and 8.
Furthermore, children who live in poverty are more at risk for having a developmental delay. While less than 3.1 percent of children who live in Ward 3 live in poverty, over 40 percent of children who live in Ward 7 and about 50 percent of children who live in Ward 8 live in poverty. Early Stages staff believe that at least 12 percent of children in this age group have a disability or a developmental delay.
While the implementation of the Early Stages program has played a role in increasing the identification of preschool-age children with disabilities or developmental delays, DCPS must strengthen its efforts to fill the position vacancies with people who are not only experienced in Child Find, but also have strong leadership skills.
Including strong leaders in management positions and reducing turnover would increase the likelihood of Early Stages developing a culture that supports the aspects of a comprehensive Child Find system, including timely evaluations, communication with families, interagency coordination, and the development of a tracking system.
DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown plans to draft a bill that focuses on recruiting teachers to teach in high-poverty, low-performing schools. However, the incentives he proposes may not be enough to recruit highly effective teachers to work in these schools.
Past research on state incentive programs suggests that monetary incentives don't actually do enough to recruit and retain good teachers in high-poverty schools.
In addition to monetary incentives to recruit teachers to low performing schools, districts must also motivate effective teachers to stay in these schools through other factors like strong school leadership, access to high-quality professional development, career mobility, and comprehensive induction for new teachers.
On October 20, DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown announced that he was drafting a bill focused on recruiting effective teachers to work in under-performing schools. While he plans to examine the incentives other states have used, he has suggested that he is already considering several specific incentives.
They include homebuying assistance, tax credits, loan repayments, and the removal of teacher evaluations under IMPACT. Currently, IMPACT rewards highly effective teachers at high poverty schools with a $10,000 bonus.
The most recent IMPACT evaluation report, which identified 663 highly effective teachers, demonstrates the urgency of increasing the number of effective teachers in low-performing schools. While 135 highly effective teachers work in Ward 3 schools, only 71 highly effective teachers work in schools in both Wards 7 and 8.
While Kwame Brown should focus on recruiting teachers to work especially in high-poverty schools, he should also consider ways to motivate these teachers to stay in these schools for more than a year. He could focus on improving working conditions by recruiting principals who support their teachers by providing professional development opportunities as well as opportunities for collaboration among teachers and other school leaders. These schools could also have an incentive program to recruit qualified administrative staff and paraprofessionals who can assist teachers in completing paperwork and working with students who require additional support.
In order to retain new teachers that decide to work in high-poverty schools, Brown should implement an induction program for new urban teachers that complements the New Teacher Orientation and the mentoring support that DCPS currently offers. This induction program could provide additional support these new teachers on issues specific to high-poverty schools.
Chairman Brown's bill, however, should not include waiving annual evaluations under IMPACT as an incentive. Waiving IMPACT may motivate even those teachers deemed as highly effective to work in higher poverty schools since 50% of the IMPACT evaluation is based on student achievement. Nevertheless, IMPACT's value-added approach focuses on measuring a teacher's true impact on student learning by taking other factors that may lead to poor student achievement into account.
Additionally, IMPACT ensures that all DCPS teachers will not only be observed by both their principal and a master educator, but will also have to opportunity to debrief with them and discuss how to improve their practice. As Chancellor Henderson told Washington Post reporter Bill Turque, "even highly effective teachers want and need feedback [in order] to improve and refine their practice." Receiving this feedback is especially important for the highly effective teachers who are in their first few years of working with a different student population.
Research also demonstrates that in order for professional development to be effective, it must be offered regularly, occur in the school where the teacher works, and be driven by clear goals, data, and teacher input. The 5 classroom observations that are part of IMPACT establish that all teachers in DCPS will have access to effective professional development and that the professional development will meet the needs of each teacher, rather than being a one-size-fits-all workshop.
Finally, it isn't clear whether or how highly effective teachers in high-poverty schools would be recognized for their successes if IMPACT is waived. Currently, IMPACT gives highly effective teachers in all DCPS schools the opportunity to be recognized for their work and their students' achievement by being invited to district leadership events at DCPS and by being recognized at A Standing Ovation for DC Teachers gala and the Rubenstein Awards for Highly Effective Teaching. Under IMPACT, highly effective teachers are also "eligible for performance bonuses of up to $25,000. Repeat highly effective staff members are eligible for base salary increases of up to $20,000, in addition to the annual bonuses."
While monetary incentives are important to recruiting highperforming teachers to underperforming schools, Chairman Brown must consider incentives that focus on improving working conditions to retain these teachers in high-poverty schools. IMPACT plays a role in better working conditions for teachers by ensuring high quality professional development for all teachers and by publicly recognizing teachers who are deemed highly effective.
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