Greater Greater Washington

DCPS cancels promised arts magnet middle school

District parents are without clear plans for middle school expansions after DCPS officials canceled the planning process for a new arts magnet middle school. DCPS officials confirmed the suspension with Greater Greater Washington last week and said the need for a city-wide comprehensive middle school plan required "rethinking all our options."


Hardy Middle School. Image from the Georgetown Metropolitan.

DCPS officials also pointed to city-wide needs more than a year ago when they removed Patrick Pope as principal of Hardy Middle School and tapped him to design and lead the new arts magnet middle school, despite objections by parents that this move would result in fewer middle school options.

DCPS spokesperson Fred Lewis did not respond to multiple requests last week for information on a city-wide planning process for middle schools. The only existing middle school plan for the District is the Ward 5 Great Schools plan, which is defined by a political boundary and is not city-wide.

Former Chancellor Michelle Rhee reassigned Pope from principal of the successful Hardy Middle School in May 2010 despite the objections of parents, teachers and students. Rhee tasked Pope with creating the arts-focused magnet middle school that was to open in Fall 2011.

Pope is now principal of Savoy Elementary in southeast DC.

A blue ribbon advisory panel was created to guide the planning of the new school. Design and funding concerns delayed the new school's opening from 2011 to 2012, according to an October 2010 email from DCPS, but no more updates had been provided to parents.

When asked last week about the status of the new arts magnet middle school, DCPS Spokesperson Lewis had this to say:

We stopped the planning process for a proposed arts magnet middle school last school year with the appointment of Patrick Pope as principal of Savoy Elementary. This school year, faced with major questions to resolve around school closures and a city-wide demand for a comprehensive middle school plan, we are rethinking all of our options.
Lewis did not address follow-up questions about the status of any city-wide comprehensive middle school plan.

While District parents often feel comfortable sending their children to their neighborhood elementary school, they usually find their local middle school to be unacceptable. As a result, there is heavy competition amongst out-of-boundary families for lottery slots to two successful middle schools, Deal and Hardy.

Deal Middle School, in Tenleytown, has 83-89% reading and math proficiency scores, and is in high demand with 61% of its spots filled by in-boundary students. Hardy Middle School, just north of Georgetown, is an arts-focused middle school with 66-75% proficiency scores and only 13% in-boundary enrollment.

Most other public middle schools have proficiency scores below 50% and aging buildings. Deal and Hardy were each modernized in the past 5 years.

The lack of middle school options forces many parents to move to suburbs in Fairfax, Montgomery, Arlington and Prince George's Counties. Others who don't move often take their chances with the out-of-boundary lotteries for Deal and Hardy, or apply to charter middle schools such as Washington Latin.

When the district reassigned Pope from Hardy, out-of-boundary parents worried this move would reduce middle school options. Some think his removal was meant to bring in a principal who would better recruit in-boundary students into Hardy, thus further reducing middle school options for families out of the Hardy boundary of Palisades and Georgetown.

Rhee promised these parents that their options would in fact increase with the creation of a new arts magnet middle school led by Pope. The cancellation of this school, as a result, is particularly hard for parents to accept.

DCPS cites the need for a city-wide comprehensive middle school plan, and yet the only one that exists is the Ward 5 plan. After several months of meetings with Ward 5 parents, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced last month a plan for 3 new middle schools in Ward 5.

However, Ward 5 is a political boundary that has no relation to school boundaries. Just as half of Ward 3 children feed into Ward 2's Hardy Middle School, and half of Ward 2 children feed into Shaw @ Garnet Patterson Middle School in Ward 1, so Ward 5 children feed into districts in neighboring wards and vice versa. The only reason to plan middle schools by ward is if a Councilmember demanded such a plan.

DCPS is correct that a city-wide, comprehensive middle school plan is what is needed. Parents were led to believe that such a plan existed and was the basis for tapping Pope to lead a new arts magnet middle school.

If a city-wide middle school plan is being created, DCPS should be more transparent about it as it has been with its Ward 5 school planning. If such a plan is not in the works, then it should become a top priority for DCPS. A comprehensive, city-wide middle school plan is the most effective way to retain District families who will otherwise move to the suburbs.

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Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 

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Oboe-Schiller Index down -1.5% on the news

by Falls Church on Dec 8, 2011 10:55 am • linkreport

Interesting article Ken. I imagine that the news of a magnet nonschool will be like catnip to Fenty/Rhee haters. It does make you think about whether this was the plan all along.

by HogWash on Dec 8, 2011 10:58 am • linkreport

@Falls Church,

My prediction was -.75, but touche...

Most of my current house value reflects the assumption that I'm going to have to shell out for private middle-school, though.

by oboe on Dec 8, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

Unfortunately, with the news about the persistent acheivement gap in DCPS, I think the Fenty/Rhee haters have enough catnip already.
Regardless, hopefully the leadership will not ignore the demands for a new citywide middle school option.

by DCster on Dec 8, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

Quibble alert: Hardy is in Georgetown, not north of it. The neighborhood boundary (as defined by federal law, not just a personal opinion) goes down the center of 35th between Reservoir and Whitehaven.

The funny thing is that normally newspapers like to say Duke Ellington School is in Georgetown, mostly because it helps drive whatever narrative they're pushing. But it is in fact in Burleith.

As for the substantive aspects of this matter, I think it pretty much proves that even if there were ever an honest intent to build an arts middle school, no actual steps were taken towards that end. Pope probably sat in DCPS central offices and read the paper until they found a spot for him.

by TM on Dec 8, 2011 12:09 pm • linkreport

This is a Wards 2 and 3 -centric article. What about EotR? Capital Hill? There is no mention of any of those schools. Did you know that Eastern HS has started an international baccalaureate program, that Tommy Wells fought and sacrificed for to keep in Ward 6? Do you know anything of the successes of DC KIPP? Come on, get out of Georgetown!

by goldfish on Dec 8, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

@DCster, HA! good point.

@Goldfish, I think one point of this article is to give us an update on the proposed magnet school which interestingly enough became on the marguee issues in discussing the Rhee/Fenty legacy. I'm not sure if there are similarly proposed magnet schools outside of this now defunct idea. Ken happens to live in the area so I think it would make sense that he, if anyone here, sorta updated us on this.

He might have even wrote about this in the past.

by HogWash on Dec 8, 2011 12:26 pm • linkreport

I think middle school is too young/too early for any type of tracked specialized magnet school like an arts school. I support a magnet middle school but only if its generalized in its focus of overall education, not specialized to one particular topic.

Remeber middle school starts with 6th graders, many of whom are only 11 at the start of the school year. I don't know any 11 y.o. who can be sorted out into a track. Its far too young IMO.

by Tina on Dec 8, 2011 12:37 pm • linkreport

Not to be cynical, but how much of this is just an attempt at establishing a second (to Deal) alternative middle-school for middle-class parents?

From what I read, the word was that Pope had kind of established an informal "magnet" program by filtering applicants for academic strength under the guise of arts aptitude.

The problem DCPS faces at the middle-school level is that there's one middle school--Deal--which has an academically strong student body, and so can support a challenging curriculum. So they need to increase the opportunities for not just advanced students, but students that are actually doing work at grade-level.

Unfortunately, given the racial disparities in school achievement in DC, any effort to create such opportunities (say by creating the middle-school equivalent of School Without Walls) is going to be seen as creating something for white students at the expense of black.

As much as I hate to say it, I'm not sure there is an answer to this dilemma other than gentrifying our way out of it.

by oboe on Dec 8, 2011 1:41 pm • linkreport

@Oboe: the other way that parents can opt out and go for a Charter. There are quite a few that are doing well.

by goldfish on Dec 8, 2011 1:49 pm • linkreport

@oboe-I understand. But I still think its rather euphemistic to describe Deal as a school for/of advanced students, rather than average, when the mean profficiency is in the mid 80% range.

by Tina on Dec 8, 2011 1:52 pm • linkreport

@goldfish -yes, charter. Thats still a gamble too to get into one that you like thats in decent proximity.

by Tina on Dec 8, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport

@Tina: thats in decent proximity... Check out the drop-off lane at any PCS (now 32000 students, or 40% of school population), and you will realize that one of the negative impacts of the charters is that parents are now driving many more kids to school, lengthening their commutes and increasing traffic. I am surprised that few GGWers are picking up on this.

by goldfish on Dec 8, 2011 2:09 pm • linkreport

@oboe-I understand. But I still think its rather euphemistic to describe Deal as a school for/of advanced students, rather than average, when the mean profficiency is in the mid 80% range.

Sure, but everything's relative.

Look at some of the Ward 6 middle schools:

School --- Math -- Reading
EliotHine - 46% - 37%
Jefferson - 49% - 30%
Stuart-Hob- 65% - 69%

Stuart-Hobson comes across here as the beacon of hope here.

It's an open question to ask whether a motivated, proficient student can even learn in an environment where two-thirds of the student body isn't even proficient by 6th grade.

I don't want to come across as glib, because the numbers are tragic, but in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And in DCPS, 80% proficient is G&T territory.

by oboe on Dec 8, 2011 2:15 pm • linkreport

One of the negative impacts of the charters is that parents are now driving many more kids to school, lengthening their commutes and increasing traffic. I am surprised that few GGWers are picking up on this.

This is kind of par for the course in DC. What percentage of the total DCPS population is out-of-boundary? My guess is it's quite high. Having a decent, in-boundary neighborhood school just a block away is huge for our family. I feel like we're definitely in the minority.

by oboe on Dec 8, 2011 2:18 pm • linkreport

This is a Wards 2 and 3 -centric article. What about EotR?

I'm not sure I understand the criticism here. The cancellation of this school primarily affects parents east of the Park and east of the River whose out-of-boundary slots to Hardy will likely go down in number with the removal of Pope as principal of Hardy. Families in Ward 3 and Georgetown already have in-boundary privileges to Deal and Hardy.

by Ken Archer on Dec 8, 2011 2:20 pm • linkreport

@Ken: the problem is that you did not look at other other schools besides Hardy and Latin (the alternatives to Deal) that have comparable performance. For example, Stuart-Hobson is quite comparable to Hardy. Achievement Prep PCS (W8) is doing better than deal.

by goldfish on Dec 8, 2011 2:31 pm • linkreport

You did not look at other other schools besides Hardy and Latin (the alternatives to Deal) that have comparable performance. For example, Stuart-Hobson is quite comparable to Hardy. Achievement Prep PCS (W8) is doing better than Deal.

That's fair. However, it's fair to say that parents' primary concern is the lack of middle school options in DC. The options that parents compete for is broader than Deal, Hardy and Latin, though. Thanks for the correction.

by Ken Archer on Dec 8, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

@oboe, yes, I agree. In comparison to other schools deals ~85% is better, even 100% better. But its still only ~85% proficient. Thats not great; its acceptible.

I think elem sch principals should be held accountable for allowing 5th graders who can't read on a 5th grade lvl graduate to middle school. Thats why the middle sch stats are so bad. The elem school principals don't want to keep those kids on their roster b/c it makes their own data look bad. Maybe some teachers too who are graded not on how much a kid improves but on whether kid is proffcient. If a teacher can get a 4th grader who's reading at a 1st grade level up to a 2nd or 3rd grade level thats a huge improvement but the kid is still going to fail the standardized test making the teacher and the school look bad/ineffective. The system won't achieve health until its run like a system and not like a bunch of individual schools out for themselves.

by Tina on Dec 8, 2011 2:47 pm • linkreport

@Tina, I'm not sure about that. I actually think a magnet middle school is a good thing. I'm sure it could eventually become a feeder school to Duke Ellington. Then again, I'm 100% biased in believing that schools should have more..not less..creative opportunities for dc kids.

@Oboe, Unfortunately, given the racial disparities in school achievement in DC, any effort to create such opportunities (say by creating the middle-school equivalent of School Without Walls) is going to be seen as creating something for white students at the expense of black.

Not that I disagree (at least I think I don't) but can you expound a bit more?

by HogWash on Dec 8, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

@Tina,

Just so you know, IMPACT measures whether a teacher's individual students improved and how much. Teachers get a much bigger score from moving a kid from a 1st grade to a 3rd grade reading level than they do if a kid is already proficient.

Kids failing standardized tests does make the school look not good though.

by MLD on Dec 8, 2011 2:54 pm • linkreport

@Hogwash- I wrote "I support a magnet middle school"

If you or anyone else interprets "general education" to mean "less creative opportunities" then I think that is indicative of one of our problems.

Why do middle schoolers need a scpecial school to have creative opportunities and arts education? Arts education is important not only for its own sake but there is overwhelming evidence that arts included in the curriculum enhances "traditional" academic achievment (the 3 Rs). I doubt you will find anyone more supportive of arts education at all levels than me; I have a BFA.

However I think 11 year olds are too young; their brains are too immature at this point in development to "track" them toward any single direction regardless of any aptitude or talent they are showing at that point in development. In 2 years their aptitudes could grow to include something else.

@MLD -then more reason to hold the principals accountable for allowing 5th graders to graduate to middle sch who can't read at a 5th grade level.

by Tina on Dec 8, 2011 3:17 pm • linkreport

@Tina,

I assume you've seen the latest on DCPS' achievement gap:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/dc-schools-have-largest-black-white-achievement-gap-in-federal-study/2011/12/06/gIQArNnMcO_print.html

Just so depressing.

On paper, I agree with your point about holding elementary school principals responsible, but the set of problems seems so comprehensive, and parallels the question of teacher quality. We've got Head Start now, free pre-school and pre-K, charters, the OOB process, etc, etc...

Short of tracking kids at kindergarten by socioeconomic status into "regular" or KIPP-style schools (which would be unconscionable, btw), I'm not sure what can be done. In San Francisco I'm told that students are classified according to level of maternal academic achievement, and then bused to achieve an "appropriate" mix. But I think that would lead to a mass withdrawl of middle-class families (of any race) from DCPS.

Should principals start holding 10 year olds back if they test poorly?

I'm a firm believer that we need to have some evaluation system to measure teacher quality. But also the quality of administrators. And we need to invest in upgrading facilities. They're all part of the puzzle.

But I'm also sympathetic to teachers and administrators who point to endemic poverty as the key issue here. Like so many other problems plaguing DC, there are only two obvious solutions: eliminate poverty, or address massively concentrated poverty.

In a just and decent society, we'd be working on option one with free child-care, a government subsidized minimum-wage, etc, etc... But American society at-large has no stomach for any of that stuff. So the only hope is to disperse it so we don't have failing schools where the FARM rate is +80%.

Right now the US has settled on the path of doing as close to nothing for the poor as possible, and sabotaging any economic mobility by keeping them concentrated in an educational ghetto.

by oboe on Dec 8, 2011 4:03 pm • linkreport

yes its a depressing problem. But Should principals start holding 10 year olds back if they test poorly?

Yes. Or at very least support a teacher who thinks a student would benefit from being held back.

ok just anecdotal but: I know a DCPS elem teacher (IMPACT "Effective" 3.5) who works at a school w/ majority free breakfast, lunch, afterschool and afterschool snack qualifying student body.

She had a 5th grader who improved from reading on a 1st grade lvl to a 3rd grd lvl in one year. She said he was smart and motivated and she liked him; and he had terrible home life. She knew he wasn't ready for middle sch. Said "middle sch will eat him alive". Recommeded he repeat 5th grade in her class!. Principal would not approve it. Kid is probably on the edge of dropping out instead of moving from a 3rd grade lvl reading to a 5th grd level in the classroom of the teacher who knew him and liked him and wanted to keep him. Was this kid well served by the principal? no. Was the system? no. Was HIS school? yes.

Yes teachers should be held accountable but so should admin.

by Tina on Dec 8, 2011 4:19 pm • linkreport

@HogWash,


[C]an you expound a bit more [on]:

Unfortunately, given the racial disparities in school achievement in DC, any effort to create such opportunities (say by creating the middle-school equivalent of School Without Walls) is going to be seen as creating something for white students at the expense of black.

Sure, In DC, race is a proxy for class. DC has the largest black-white achievement gap in the country which reflects this. A magnet that based admissions requirements on achievement would be disproportionately white. On top of that, its student body would be disproportionately wealthy.

My guess is that tracking students at an even earlier age would hit the wrong note with a lot of folks. Add the racial and class component and you've got a recipe for outrage. Arguably justified.

by oboe on Dec 8, 2011 4:26 pm • linkreport

@Tina,

Yes teachers should be held accountable but so should admin.

Could not agree more, and this from someone who is a big supporter of IMPACT (flawed as the implementation may be). Getting effective teachers in front of students is vital (as your example shows). But there is no single factor that has more influence in a school than the principal.

by oboe on Dec 8, 2011 4:29 pm • linkreport

how much of this is just an attempt at establishing a second (to Deal) alternative middle-school for middle-class parents?

Almost entirely. I mean, I don't know anyone other than middle class parents who would want to send their child to an "arts" middle school.

by JustMe on Dec 8, 2011 4:46 pm • linkreport

@Tina: ...had a 5th grader who improved from reading on a 1st grade lvl to a 3rd grd lvl in one year. The system failure here occurred when this kid was promoted from 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades. The consequences of holding a kid back in 5th grade are much more severe than holding him/her back in 2nd grade. Interesting thing is, if this kid was not promoted from say 3rd grade, s/he would not have tested as badly in the 4th grade DC CAS and consequently brought down the scores for that school. So the implementation of school testing makes principals do the difficult but proper thing -- hold back kids that, for whatever reason, are not proficient at their current grade level. Otherwise the school test score suffers, and if they bad enough the principal gets replaced.

by goldfish on Dec 8, 2011 4:46 pm • linkreport

@goldfish. I only know what I wrote. I don't see any reason to assume this kid was at this school before 5th grade or even if he was in a DCPS school.

I think you just want to contradict me in some way. I think most people will agree the consequences for both this kid and the middle school he was sent to are much more negatively "severe" than if he had been allowed to repeat 5th grade with a teacher who knew him, liked him, believed in him and wanted to help him get ready for middle school.

by Tina on Dec 8, 2011 5:13 pm • linkreport

@Tina: Somehow this kid got promoted from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades. That s/he was promoted to 6th was DCPS repeating a mistake that was made at least three times beforehand.

I'll grant that this kid may not have been in DCPS in the earlier grades. Nevertheless you have just shown that this one way how the failing schools in DCPS fail.

by goldfish on Dec 8, 2011 5:28 pm • linkreport

this one way how the failing schools in DCPS fail.

exactly. And it was the principal, not the teacher, who enabled the failing system. Why did he do it? iDK/we don't know. I assume, b/c I don't have other information, (the teacher doesn't know either-he didn't give her a reason) he didn't want to keep a poor performing kid in his school even though the teacher said she would take him again in her class.

That principal failed the middle school, the student and lost respect from the teacher. How could it have possibly hurt this principal to let this teacher have this student for one more year? It only makes sense if the principal is (a)a complete idiot or (b)engaged in covering his own ass. The latter is more plausible, isn't it? Maybe not. IDK.

in any case I agree absoultely its better to hold a kid back earlier rather than later. But kids move around. Principals move around too.

I brought this up b/c the preparedness of 5th graders is a major factor in % of middle sch students who are "proficient". We know the "accetable" regular DCPS middle sch options in DC are pathetic. If there was more of a system focus, so 5th graders who aren't ready don't go on to middle sch, the middle schools would improve. (or 1st or 3rd or 4th graders aren't moved up b/4 they're ready the same effect would transpire).

I'm just really blown away by the callousness (and selfishness? Or stupidity?) of this principal toward this child who had the support of his teacher. He sacrificed a child to his own performance stat. (assumption).

Advancement focused on the system rather than on individual school performance maybe could mitigate this. I really think the bad/underperforming/ineffective teachers have been weeded out by now. Its time to weed some admin.

by Tina on Dec 8, 2011 6:03 pm • linkreport

DCPS cites the need for a city-wide comprehensive middle school plan, and yet the only one that exists is the Ward 5 plan.

CHPSPO? W6 Middle Schools Plan? Ken Archer is too ill-informed to write about DCPS.

by Trulee Pist on Dec 8, 2011 7:01 pm • linkreport

"Sure, In DC, race is a proxy for class. DC has the largest black-white achievement gap in the country which reflects this. A magnet that based admissions requirements on achievement would be disproportionately white. On top of that, its student body would be disproportionately wealthy."

Benjamin Banneker is a DCPS magnate high school with a student body that's 85% black/0% white, and a Title 1 school with 49% receiving reduced or free lunch. In 2010 100% of students were proficient or above in math, 98% in 2011, in reading 96% in 2010, 94% in 2011.

Our 6th grader started in an arts based charter school where she was one of 12 white students out of 150, a majority of whom could not be called middle class. By the time she left after 3rd grade she was 1 of 2 out of just under 100. Race was never an issue until the third grade when kids she'd been going to school with since she was 3 years old started to give her a hard time because of her color.

She's changed schools three times since then, two were DCPS. She didn't get into Deal--61% in boundary. She would have matriculated to Hardy--13% in boundary--but she got into Capital City Public Charter School which is said to be the best charter in the city. I beg to differ. She's not challenged academically and is miserable. We're pulling her at winter break and online homeschooling. There's no other viable option. We can't sacrifice our child's education and mental well being to our liberal values.

I don't hold out much hope of getting her into one of the decent middle schools next year because we're competing with every other out of boundary student whose parents are trying to pursue a better education for their children. Basically, we give up. Uncle!

by Lane on Dec 8, 2011 11:47 pm • linkreport

@Lane-I feel for you. I just want to ask, do you really mean to be saying that accepting a bad public school is a "liberal" value?

by Tina on Dec 9, 2011 9:30 am • linkreport

@Tina

I interpreted Lane's "liberal value" comment to mean that keeping your child in the public school system is reflective of liberal values that support (quality) public schooling for all.

I felt conflicted myself taking my child out of a public school and enrolling her in a charter (where there are issues regarding workers rights/unionization and certain right wing forces that seemingly support charters to undermine teachers unions who (a) support Dems monetarily and (b) are part of a larger union movement that the right wing seems determined to destroy (see Wisconsin, Ohio, etc)).

Sometimes, however, personal circumstances trump political stances....

Of course, I'm still pulling for DCPS to improve and remain a booster for the potential of our public schools for improvement and greatness...

by Alan Page on Dec 9, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

@Alan, thanks for elaboration. Yes, agree. read this today. Its topical;
http://www.salon.com/2011/12/09/what_real_education_reform_looks_like/

i read an earlier article in this series today too about Kaya Hendersen and the Rhee legacy. according to that artcle avg. middle sch proficiency scores in DC increased more than 100% from 2007-2011 (dates?), from 8%-17%.

by Tina on Dec 9, 2011 4:16 pm • linkreport

Lane, I'd suggest you reconsider Hardy as an option before homeschooling. I know the Principal controversy hurt the school in the last two years, but things seem to be back on track now. My 6th grader started there this year - he's having a solid year - enjoying himself in a safe, welcoming environment, with solid teachers that are challenging him - he's really enjoying school. Dr. Mary Stefanus, the new Prinicpal, has settled things down - the whole school is pulling in the same direction, and its a fine learning environment.

by Brian on Dec 9, 2011 9:31 pm • linkreport

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