Wither DC?

Yesterday, DC Public Schools announced “major” changes to their high school curriculum.  At a time when high schools across the country are focusing on improving rigor, offering college credits through early colleges, and holding schools accountable for preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs, DCPS has decided to take a slightly different tact — devalue high school by letting students choose a four or five year track for completion.


About a week after it was announced DC was receiving $122 million to improve its schools, yesterday DCPS officials send a clear signal their students are not up to the challenge.  Every state in the nation has signed on to the National Governors Association’s graduation rate compact — including a formula built on the agreement that high school is a four-year experience.  But it seems DCPS isn’t quite up to the national standard.

The rhetorical meaning of this announcement is earth shattering.  After decades of sentiment that DCPS is lagging behind its neighbors in Virginia and Maryland, DC schools has now sung from the mountain tops that DC students can’t measure up.  High school students can decide if they feel they are up for the four-year plan or the five-year plan (and for giggles, they threw in a three-year plan as well).

While, in the words of DCPS spokesperson Audrey Williams (as appearing in the Examiner) this announcement means DCPS students can learn in a “time frame they feel comfortable in,” the words say far more to those looking to improve our nation’s high schools.  While requiring four years of math, English, science, and social studies, DCPS does not believe its students can do it in expected four years.

What else is it saying?
* Many DCPS students are not up to the rigorous curriculum soon coming to them courtesy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
* DCPS doesn’t believe its teachers are to up to effectively teaching all the students in the system
* Students struggling to demonstrate proficiency will now decide how long they want to stay in high school
* DCPS isn’t up to fulfilling the same graduation rate compact every state in the union has endorsed
* DC residents will now start high school with a leg down on their neighboring school districts

If DC is any indication, it is no wonder that a recent NSBA survey shows that one in four urban teachers don’t believe their students will succeed in college.  These teachers have given up on their students before they ever step into the classroom.
Now is the time for DC parents, teachers, and students to stand up and say NO.  If the intention is to boost college graduation rates for DC students, the focus should be on a rigorous curriculum that prepares students for the challenges and opportunities of college.  What’s next — five years of high school leading to six or seven years of college?

While well meaning, DCPS’ announcement sends the wrong message to all stakeholders looking to improve DC’s schools.  DCPS’ public focus should be on rigor, preparedness, relevance, and focus.  Fifth-year seniors should be the rare exception, not an easy-to-make choice.


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