DCPS Tragedy

Ford table

 

Note: I am very grateful to longtime Jayblog reader Peter D. Ford III for sharing his first-hand perspective on DCPS. -ML

(Guest Post by Peter D. Ford III )

While I have been a public school educator in the Los Angeles area for the past 20 years, DCPS will always have an impact on my teaching being the son of career DCPS educators through three decades (60’s through 80’s). Followers of professional sports wax nostalgic about the feats of great players from the past and the numbers they produced ‘before records were kept.’ The tragic data portraying the minimal academic growth of Black DCPS students would not surprise my parents as they confronted the seeds of this tragedy when they were teaching. Unless there are fundamental changes in the teaching profession the educational crime perpetrated upon Black children in our Nation’s Capital may never end.

Until this day the question posed by one of my Daddy’s colleagues, “Who’s gonna teach these kids?” still resonates. In the 70’s when I first heard that over another dinner conversation that statement implied there were too many teachers not committed to teaching Black children, poor Black children specifically. Back then Parliament called it ‘Chocolate City’ for a reason, thus the lyric “…the last percentage count was 80…” The typical retort ‘but most teachers do a great job’ has never held up to my scrutiny. For example, very recently the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has had about 30,000 teachers. If 95% were ‘doing a good job,’ that leaves 1500 teachers ruining children’s futures year after year after year. Unlike the military you cannot staff the neediest schools with the best teachers, even if you could figure out who the best teachers were as seniority isn’t an automatic identifier.  Not all teachers can teach in upper Northwest or the Gold Coast; somebody has to teach in Hanover or Anacostia. For decades before NAEP and NCLB there’s been a deficit of teachers willing and committed to teaching these children, or at least there has been enough poor education in the neediest schools that has grown like a cancer with no chemotherapy.

The late, great, Dr. Barbara Sizemore, first African-American to head a major city school system in the 70’s, was my parents’ hero no matter how embattled her tenure as head of DCPS. Dr. Sizemore’s quote, as told from my parents, also predicted the horrid learning we see in DCPS students today: “These teachers aren’t teaching these kids anything.” Dr. Sizemore and my parents were not happy with their colleagues getting into a classroom and doing their own damn thing vs. inspiring and expecting young people to acquire the very same body of knowledge they did to earn their education. If you were to talk to 50-60 year old native Washingtonians it would appall you how many of them were allowed to stop taking math after their freshman year in high school, let alone the natural sciences. My father was a music teacher, and a pretty damn good one. Music instruction in DCPS began a slow death from the late 70’s onward; the famed Ellington School for the Arts today was no better than Cardozo or McKinley Tech in music instruction was then. Listening to NPR’s ‘From the Top’ you see these incredible young performers are great students, just as my father’s best musicians were good at math. Black children in DC aren’t getting this, and haven’t for decades. When you combine teachers not committed to teaching these children with teachers not teaching them much of anything, the current data we see was inevitable. This perfect storm of malfeasance is the root of poor Black academic achievement in every major metropolitan area. In a K-12 career all it takes is to have a lousy 3rd grade teacher, so you don’t learn your times tables, then an 8th grade teacher who couldn’t control your classroom, and your math career is all but ruined.

I hope, no I pray Ms. Davis’ plan includes giving school cites more control over whom they can hire to teach the children who need the best instruction. I pray there isn’t another finger pointed at poverty from educators. None of us have credentials in violence prevention, dysfunctional family mitigation, or poverty abatement. Like coach Belichik says teachers must ‘do your job,’ and that must be a 100% commitment to the young people in your classroom, and a laser focus on students acquiring a body of knowledge, skills, thus reasoning from your respective content.  If you’re going to point to poverty, then also point at everyone else who has a hand at fixing it. When Ms. Davis hopes for “the voice of those working with the students in the classroom is a meaningful part of the improvement discussion,” that’s a direct indictment of the other impediment to academic achievement for Black children: bad school leadership.

Don’t save your trump card waiting for DCPS admin to respond; during my parents’ time as now the so-called leaders of DCPS were pretty much who drove them to retire (their sons were educated and out the house, so they said ‘to heck with these knuckleheads’ running things). Is Ms. Davis willing to challenge traditional union contracts to allow teachers to be assigned where they’re needed? Is the DCPS bureaucracy willing to decentralize control to allow schools to meet the needs of their students as Dr. Sizemore sought? DC’s per student revenue has always been one of the highest in the country; I remember being aghast at $18,000/student, let alone $29k./ student. Who will demand for parents to be able to use that $29k as they see fit?

When I transitioned from my military career to teaching the only thing my father told me was “Focus on the students, not the adults.” My corollary to his words of advice: “It’s not the students (who are the problem), but the adults.”

While I have been a public school educator in the Los Angeles area for the past 20 years, DCPS will always have an impact on my teaching being the son of career DCPS educators through three decades (60’s through 80’s). Followers of professional sports wax nostalgic about the feats of great players from the past and the numbers they produced ‘before records were kept.’ The tragic data portraying the minimal academic growth of Black DCPS students would not surprise my parents as they confronted the seeds of this tragedy when they were teaching. Unless there are fundamental changes in the teaching profession the educational crime perpetrated upon Black children in our Nation’s Capital may never end.

Until this day the question posed by one of my Daddy’s colleagues, “Who’s gonna teach these kids?” still resonates. In the 70’s when I first heard that over another dinner conversation that statement implied there were too many teachers not committed to teaching Black children, poor Black children specifically. Back then Parliament called it ‘Chocolate City’ for a reason, thus the lyric “…the last percentage count was 80…” The typical retort ‘but most teachers do a great job’ has never held up to my scrutiny. For example, very recently the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has had about 30,000 teachers. If 95% were ‘doing a good job,’ that leaves 1500 teachers ruining children’s futures year after year after year. Unlike the military you cannot staff the neediest schools with the best teachers, even if you could figure out who the best teachers were as seniority isn’t an automatic identifier.  Not all teachers can teach in upper Northwest or the Gold Coast; somebody has to teach in Hanover or Anacostia. For decades before NAEP and NCLB there’s been a deficit of teachers willing and committed to teaching these children, or at least there has been enough poor education in the neediest schools that has grown like a cancer with no chemotherapy.

The late, great, Dr. Barbara Sizemore, first African-American to head a major city school system in the 70’s, was my parents’ hero no matter how embattled her tenure as head of DCPS. Dr. Sizemore’s quote, as told from my parents, also predicted the horrid learning we see in DCPS students today: “These teachers aren’t teaching these kids anything.” Dr. Sizemore and my parents were not happy with their colleagues getting into a classroom and doing their own damn thing vs. inspiring and expecting young people to acquire the very same body of knowledge they did to earn their education. If you were to talk to 50-60 year old native Washingtonians it would appall you how many of them were allowed to stop taking math after their freshman year in high school, let alone the natural sciences. My father was a music teacher, and a pretty damn good one. Music instruction in DCPS began a slow death from the late 70’s onward; the famed Ellington School for the Arts today was no better than Cardozo or McKinley Tech in music instruction was then. Listening to NPR’s ‘From the Top’ you see these incredible young performers are great students, just as my father’s best musicians were good at math. Black children in DC aren’t getting this, and haven’t for decades. When you combine teachers not committed to teaching these children with teachers not teaching them much of anything, the current data we see was inevitable. This perfect storm of malfeasance is the root of poor Black academic achievement in every major metropolitan area. In a K-12 career all it takes is to have a lousy 3rd grade teacher, so you don’t learn your times tables, then an 8th grade teacher who couldn’t control your classroom, and your math career is all but ruined.

I hope, no I pray Ms. Davis’ plan includes giving school cites more control over whom they can hire to teach the children who need the best instruction. I pray there isn’t another finger pointed at poverty from educators. None of us have credentials in violence prevention, dysfunctional family mitigation, or poverty abatement. Like coach Belichik says teachers must ‘do your job,’ and that must be a 100% commitment to the young people in your classroom, and a laser focus on students acquiring a body of knowledge, skills, thus reasoning from your respective content.  If you’re going to point to poverty, then also point at everyone else who has a hand at fixing it. When Ms. Davis hopes for “the voice of those working with the students in the classroom is a meaningful part of the improvement discussion,” that’s a direct indictment of the other impediment to academic achievement for Black children: bad school leadership.

Don’t save your trump card waiting for DCPS admin to respond; during my parents’ time as now the so-called leaders of DCPS were pretty much who drove them to retire (their sons were educated and out the house, so they said ‘to heck with these knuckleheads’ running things). Is Ms. Davis willing to challenge traditional union contracts to allow teachers to be assigned where they’re needed? Is the DCPS bureaucracy willing to decentralize control to allow schools to meet the needs of their students as Dr. Sizemore sought? DC’s per student revenue has always been one of the highest in the country; I remember being aghast at $18,000/student, let alone $29k./ student. Who will demand for parents to be able to use that $29k as they see fit?

When I transitioned from my military career to teaching the only thing my father told me was “Focus on the students, not the adults.” My corollary to his words of advice: “It’s not the students (who are the problem), but the adults.”

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3 Responses to DCPS Tragedy

  1. pbmeyer2014 says:

    “These teachers aren’t teaching these kids anything.” The story of the last 50 years of public education!

    • momof4 says:

      Also, neither the “parent(s)” nor the schools are socializing kids properly. Self-control, delayed gratification and behavior consistent with the Golden Rule used to be instilled at home, prior to school entry, and reinforced at school. Safe and orderly schools are a necessary precondition to good academic outcomes. Whether chronically disruptive kids go to a boot camp-type situation, a spec ed situation, a psych situation or a juvenile detention situation, they must be removed from regular classrooms – either temporarily or permanently, as needed. A few kids should never disrupt opportunities for the majority to learn.

      In addition, good curriculum matters. Englemann’s Direct Instruction has a good track record, and there are good programs like Core Knowledge and Saxon or Singapore Math. Kids need not just reading and math, but history, civics, geography, the sciences, literature, art/music history and explicit grammar/composition instruction.

      Kids and families must also take education seriously and make academic achievement a priority; which is often not the case. Culture matters

      • pdexiii says:

        Direct Instruction and Core Knowledge should be the foundation of all schools. Yet, as a teacher I cannot control how the children are socialized prior to enrolling. What I can do is create an environment that mitigates what they’ve missed, and make our school a place where they want to be because the adults care for them.

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