Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Master Education Plan unveiled

Monday Superintendent Janey unveiled his Master Education Plan for overhauling the District's public school system. Highlights include:
  • Expansion of preschool and pre-K programs
  • Standardization of grade / school configuration
  • Beefing up curricula in the middle and high schools
  • Converting five high schools to "specialty schools" whose curricula beyond the core subjects would specialize in different subjects (languages, technology, health, etc).
Janey estimates the cost of the initiative to be roughly $80 -$90 million a year for the first three years. School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz has given her support to Janey's plan. More in the Post.

Robert Cane of FOCUS also covers Janey's proposal in his newsletter. [correct Mr. Cane's name. Mucho apologies.]

Click here to read more.
Superintendent Clifford Janey released his much anticipated "Master Education Plan" last night to a large audience gathered in the auditorium of the renovated Bell-Lincoln Multicultural High School on 16th Street N.W. Designed to provide a blueprint for creating "a world-class public school system in a world-class city," the Plan faces squarely the need to improve DCPS in order to compete with charter schools. In fact, making DCPS "the school system of choice" for D.C. parents tops the list of 12 "challenges and opportunities" facing the school system.

To meet this challenge, the Plan’s authors write, "we have to demonstrate that we can compete successfully with all the other available choices — not only in the quality of our academics but also in the condition of our facilities and many other factors, such as safety, convenience and parent involvement."

Among the responses to competition envisioned by the Plan is to create a variety of specialty high schools, including hospitality and tourism; international studies and world languages; construction and design; business, commerce, finance and entrepreneurship; education; health and medical sciences; and a school patterned on the Boston Latin School. Another response to competition is a proposal to better manage the DCPS out-of-boundary program, which thousands of D.C. families take advantage of. "[T]here is sufficient evidence to confirm that whatever choices families make, they are happier for having had the opportunity to make them....With the expansion of the number of public schools among which parents may choose to send their children, the way DCPS manages its policy on school choice within DCPS will be critical to retaining and attracting students."

Reducing the amount of school space for which DCPS is responsible and making more effective use of the space it continues to maintain are key elements of the Plan. According to the Plan's authors, DCPS's average enrollment is 459 students per school, very low by national standards. Enrollment has declined at 123 of the District’s 147 school buildings (containing 167 schools and learning centers) over the last ten years, and "[m]any...have relatively few students." According to the Plan, there are 600 underutilized elementary school classrooms and 250 underutilized classrooms at the middle/junior high school level. In all, the system is burdened with 21,114 unfilled seats.

The Plan envisions gradually filling some of these seats by increasing the number of preschool and pre-kindergarten students by 400 per year. But the Plan also calls for reducing DCPS space utilization by 500,000 square feet in fiscal year 2007 (enough for several thousand students) and leasing half of that space to generate revenue. The Board of Education has promised to reduce DCPS space by a total of three million square feet by July of 2008 (See 2/2/06 Bulletin at www.focusdc.org).

It appears from the Plan that much of the space to be eliminated will be found in stand-alone special education schools, which will be closed as their students are returned to neighborhood schools, and from small schools, especially at the elementary level. A school that is too small to be viable — 318 students for elementary schools, 360 for middle schools, and 600-700 for high schools — will be required to choose from among four options: pairing with another school to share administrative or teaching staff; sharing space with a compatible agency or organization (including a charter school); reassigning students to other neighborhood schools and closing; or relocating within another DCPS school building.

Small elementary schools are especially at risk from the Plan. These schools currently receive a substantial subsidy from the District, which under the "Weighted Student Formula" funds its other schools based strictly on enrollment. According to information contained in the Plan, small elementary schools (under 300 students) get an average of more than $1200 per student more than larger elementary schools. Under the Plan, however, the subsidy will be reduced in FY 2007 and eliminated in FY 2008.

FOCUS has learned that the superintendent already has asked principals of at least some small schools to begin thinking about these alternatives. However, reorganizations based on these "voluntary" proposals will not take effect until the 2007-2008 school year.

Other changes outlined in the Plan also will affect space utilization and could lead to the emptying out of more school buildings. For example, junior high schools will be phased out completely by the 2008-2009 school year. In some cases, their buildings will be used to house new K-8 schools "to obtain the benefits of a larger school size with shared administration, staff and student supports...." The specifics of this and the other facilities changes will be spelled out in the Facilities Master Plan, scheduled to be released in May.

1 comment:

Ed Researcher said...

It's Robert Cane, not Crane. I often make the same mistake.