Posts about Education
Eastern High School's slogan is "The Pride of Capitol Hill," but much of its student body doesn't actually live in the neighborhood. This fall the school will begin offering the rigorous International Baccalaureate program, which it hopes will both benefit its current students and also attract more families who live nearby, including more affluent families.
Eastern has an illustrious past that includes a history of champion athletic teams and award-winning musical groups. But beginning in the 1990s the school fell on hard times, churning through 11 principals in 10 years.
DCPS decided to phase out the old Eastern, so that by the 2010-11 school year it had only a 12th grade. In the fall of 2011, after an extensive renovation and the hiring of a new principal, Eastern restarted with only a 9th grade. This year the school also has a 10th grade, and it will keep adding a grade a year until it reaches its full capacity.
The new Eastern has many strengths. The renovated building is beautiful, the faculty is largely young and energetic, and the principal, Rachel Skerritt, is universally admired for her combination of warmth and authority.
The school has a student newspaper and TV station. And, amazingly, its mock trial team recently made it to the finals to compete against Banneker and School Without Walls, both of which are application high schools with four-year student bodies.
But the school, located at 1700 East Capitol Street on the eastern edge of Capitol Hill, hasn't yet been able to attract many of the more affluent families living in the charming row houses to its west. 77% of Eastern's 500 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and 25% need special education services. Nor is its population racially diverse, with 98% of its students African-American.
In recent years, some middle-class and upper-middle-class Capitol Hill families have been enrolling their children in preschool and elementary school at neighborhood public schools. But as their children get older, they begin to depart for private or charter schools or compete for out-of-boundary slots at public schools in Ward 3. By middle school, almost all of them are gone.
Administrators and area parents push for IB program
For the past several years DCPS and some Capitol Hill parents have been working on a plan they hope will entice more families to stay. Two middle schools that are feeders for Eastern, Eliot-Hine and Jefferson, have applied for authorization to offer a prestigious international educational program designed for 6th to 10th graders, the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years program.
With the rebirth of Eastern, DCPS extended that application to include the 9th and 10th grades at Eastern as well. Bob Smith, the IB manager for DCPS, says that the IB organization probably won't decide on the Middle Years application until the summer of 2015.
At the same time, Eastern applied for a separate IB program, the Diploma program, designed for 11th and 12th grades. Just last week the IB organization granted that application, and this fall the school will begin offering it to a hand-picked group of 18-20 students.
The Middle Years and Diploma programs use similar methods and both aim to inspire creative and analytical thinking, but they're implemented differently. The Middle Years program extends to an entire school, with all teachers and all students participating.
The Diploma program, on the other hand, is limited to a subgroup of students who commit to following a challenging curriculum. Students must learn two foreign languages, take a course on critical thinking called "Theory of Knowledge," and write an "extended essay" on a topic of "global significance." At the end of the program students take exams that are graded by outside examiners, and they receive an IB diploma only if they achieve a minimum score. Students outside the program can take one or more individual IB classes, but they won't get the IB diploma.
Overall, the IB approach stands in marked contrast to the current focus on standardized testing, and it may well appeal to middle-class families. But will it be enough to induce Capitol Hill parents to keep their kids in neighborhood schools?
Joe Weedon, a parent of two children at Maury Elementary on Capitol Hill, is part of a group of 20 or so families who intend to do just that. His children, he says, are "class of 2023 and 2025" at Eastern. But Weedon, who has been involved in bringing the Middle Years IB program to Jefferson and Eliot-Hine, has also had his frustrations. He says that DCPS has failed to stick to its timeline for implementing the Middle Years program and has reneged on some of its budgetary commitments. (Weedon is also a contributor to Greater Greater Education.)
Affluent families would obviously benefit from having the option of sending their kids to what they feel is a high-quality local school. But they might not be the only ones who benefit. Recent research indicates that low-income students do better when they attend schools with high-income peers.
IB program will serve existing students, who aren't the typical IB student body
In any event, Eastern administrators say their primary focus is on the students they have now rather than the ones they might attract. Those are the students who will be starting the rigorous Diploma program this fall.
Many of the schools that offer the program are either private schools or public schools serving affluent suburban populations. One DCPS school, Banneker, offers the Diploma program, but it's an application-only school. Will an IB Diploma program work at a non-selective, high-poverty school like Eastern?
Absolutely, says Bob Smith at DCPS, citing examples in Chicago, Buffalo, and Detroit.
But Amy Boccardi, the IB coordinator at Eastern, says that when she saw a video of IB schools at a training session recently, she thought, "Those kids don't look like our kids."
Not that Boccardi was discouraged. Her next thought was, "We're going to have to make a video ourselves and send it to IB," to show that kids like those at Eastern can succeed in the program. Still, the question remains.
And Eastern's challenges continue. With Spingarn High School closing next year, for example, Eastern expects to receive about 50 new students, and it's unclear how easy it will be to integrate them into the student body.
But there are lots of people rooting for the school's success. It has the support of an active alumni association, and a group of local businesses called Companies for Causes has committed to helping the school reach its goal of a 100% graduation rate. Perhaps most important, it has a clear-eyed but inspirational leader in Principal Skerritt.
Whatever Eastern's demographics may become in the long term, here's hoping that by the summer of 2015 there's an IB video featuring a group of graduating Eastern seniors proudly holding their IB Diplomas.
DC voters will choose an at-large member of the DC Council in a special election on April 23. While there has been fairly little coverage of the race or candidates' positions, the choice voters make in this likely low-turnout election will have a major impact on many important issues to District residents. We believe that Elissa Silverman is the best choice.
We believe that our leaders should devote much of our city's monetary prosperity to two goals: economic growth that furthers that prosperity, and efforts to truly help those most in financial need to ensure they are not left behind. Ms. Silverman has a very strong track record in this area.
DC has unfortunately had a recent string of elected officials who have instead funneled money to people with connections to those in power in the city government. Their influence ultimately enriches those in power. Ms. Silverman has a clear commitment to reforming government ethics from her work advancing DC's Initiative 70, the recent proposed ballot initiative.
Ms. Silverman embraces transit, mixed-use zoning, and the need especially to safeguard pedestrians now that the city is more walkable every year. She emphasizes the need to encourage more housing units for families as many of the young people who have moved to the District begin families and want to remain in the District's walkable, bikeable and transit-oriented neighborhoods.
Thanks to her journalism background, Ms. Silverman has demonstrated that she can ask very penetrating questions on policy details. When talking with editors about issues such as the zoning update, for instance, she probed much more deeply into the effects and tradeoffs than other candidates or even many advocates.
She has said that she wants to turn this skill toward oversight of District agencies such as DCRA; this would be an invaluable asset to residents who find agencies often papering over inefficiency. She has advocated reforming DCRA to make it easier for District residents to open businesses as well.
Matthew Frumin scored very well on Let's Choose DC, most often slightly ahead of Ms. Silverman and sometimes slightly behind. Mr. Frumin has made very valuable contributions to the District through his civic efforts, such as building coalitions on the Tenleytown ANC. However, we feel he still faces significant challenges to connecting with voters outside of upper Northwest. This will not only be a prerequisite to win but a necessary component to being an at-large councilmember.
Mr. Frumin also has less detailed knowledge of the District government's operations and major policies outside of a few areas of strength such as education. While being an expert is not mandatory for a new council candidate, with Ms. Silverman in the race, her greater expertise is a strong asset. The winner of this race will have to instantly start participating in budget negotiations and then continue to operate on the council while almost immediately running for re-election in the April 2014 primary.
We hope Mr. Frumin will continue participating on the citywide stage in other ways following the campaign, and has strong potential to be a top-tier candidate in a future at-large race once he has built more connections and experience working with neighborhood leaders citywide.
Patrick Mara has garnered some significant support in DC based on his recent races and repeated endorsements from the Washington Post. David Alpert also endorsed Mr. Mara in his previous race (against Michael Brown, who is running again this year). However, he has not shown the depth that one would expect from a repeated candidate, and did not answer several Let's Choose DC questions.
The Washington Post's endorsement last week largely centered around his views on cutting taxes and school reform. We don't disagree with charter schools or school reform by any means, but feel that education in the District needs more analysis into what actually works instead of blind ideology. Mr. Mara has made education a centerpiece of his campaign, but when pressed, hasn't been able to actually put forth compelling insights on the matter.
Michael Brown has a strong commitment to helping the less fortunate, such as his stalwart defense of affordable housing which was very welcome on the council. However, Mr. Brown has repeatedly made clear that he is skeptical of a growing city and is very quick to side with the residents most afraid of change, such as with his response on the DC zoning update at Let's Choose DC or his letter of "concern" almost a year ago.
Mr. Brown was the only candidate to oppose several avenues of ethics reform on that question on Let's Choose. Financial mismanagement problems such as unpaid rent continue to dog Mr. Brown, as did malfeasance by his previous campaign treasurer, even though there has not been any evidence that he himself violated campaign finance laws.
Anita Bonds has not chosen to engage with our community by only responding to one Let's Choose DC question. While we didn't want to prejudge her longtime ties to much of DC's machine power structure, she has not availed herself of opportunities to demonstrate her independence from that machine or policy reasons to support her. She also initially promised to serve as a full-time councilmember, but has since backed off that commitment.
Perry Redd and Paul Zukerberg have valuable perspectives to contribute, and we also agree with Mr. Zukerberg's core message that excessive prosecution of minor drug offenses creates a dangerous environment with too many young people having criminal records at huge expense to taxpayers. We hope both will continue to participate in civic discourse and that the DC Council will take up marijuana decriminalization soon.
Voters considering themselves "urbanists," "progressives," or just "reformers" have seen their votes split in several recent elections, including the last two for at-large council. A number of civic and business leaders have lined up behind Ms. Silverman, including respected top Fenty administration officials like Neil Albert and Victor Reinoso, and we hope that all residents will do the same and elect her to the DC Council on April 23.
This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active regular contributors and editors voted on endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong majority or greater in favor of endorsing the candidate.
Disclosures: Elissa Silverman also submitted 4 guest articles to Greater Greater Washington in 2011 and 2012. We had also specifically invited Patrick Mara (after previous campaigns) and Matthew Frumin (before the current campaign) to submit guest posts, in keeping with our general policy of encouraging guest posts from many people active in local affairs. Also, Ken Archer, who serves as Silverman's treasurer, is a Greater Greater Washington editor. He did not vote in the internal poll or write any of this endorsement.
- Young kids try to assault me while biking
- Metro bag searches aren't always optional
- Focus transportation on downtown or neighborhoods?
- Endless zoning update delay hurts homeowners
- Redeveloping McMillan is the only way to save it
- DDOT agrees to repave 15th Street cycle track
- Vienna Metro town center won't have a town center