Making Student Achievement the Focus: A Five-Year Action Plan for the District of Columbia Public Schools.
There is broad agreement that DCPS is failing most D.C. children and their families. Despite pockets of excellence, the system’s shortcomings are deep, widespread, and systemic. Less than 15% of our students meet nationally recognized standards of proficiency in reading and mathematics1 , placing D.C. last in the nation. Just over half of our students graduate from high school.
Many of our students face daunting challenges outside the classroom, but this cannot be an excuse for failure within the classroom – and it will not be.
We are acting to create a school system in which student achievement guides everything that we do. Our action plan takes into account the realities of our current situation and reflects input from
throughout DCPS, as well as lessons from effective school district reform efforts around the country. This plan does not replace the Master Education Plan (MEP) developed by the previous administration of DCPS. It rather seeks to refine, define, and sequence the steps we are taking to achieve the lofty goals of the MEP—goals in which we strongly believe.
In short, we are going to make student achievement a reality across the D.C. Public Schools through a plan built around:
- An ambitious vision for success of our system and those it serves
- Six interdependent goals that will focus our energy and resources on that vision
- The thoughtful and disciplined implementation needed to execute those strategies
Ambitious Vision for Success
We have two related goals: to create the best urban school district in the country and to close the achievement gap that persists along racial and socioeconomic lines.
In 5 years, our schools and our system as a whole will be much different – and much better. DCPS will offer engaging instruction, diverse programs, and specialty learning environments. School facilities will be safe, clean, and modern; and the centralized operations that support schools and learning will be efficient, transparent, and responsive. DCPS will attract high-performing educators, efficiently and systematically develop its people, reward performance, and will not tolerate mediocrity. Curriculum, instruction, student assessment, and professional development will all be directed toward improving student achievement. An informed parent population will become a driving force for change and an integral part of our strategy for achieving excellence. Throughout the system, innovative partnerships will engage the broader community in increasing educational options for students and playing an active, cooperative role in school improvement.
All of this will translate into a dramatically different experience for students, teachers, and parents.
The experience of DCPS stakeholders will be drastically different in five years.
- Expect a challenging, rich curriculum
- Be free of worry about "the basics" because schools will be clean, safe and orderly
- Be fully prepared for graduation, college and work
- Focus on the bottom line: student achievement
- Habitually analyze student assessment data to teach more effectively
- Value being part of a supportive and performance-driven culture that measures and generously rewards results
Six Interdependent GoalsSix goals, working in concert, will enable us to realize our aspirations for DCPS and those we serve.
- Be change agents, pushing us towards continuous improvement
- Understand their children’s academic milestones and know how to support success
- Understand how to navigate and partner with their child’s school
- Choose DCPS as the best option for their children
Interdependence of the Six Goals
- Compelling Schools – Create schools that provide a consistent foundation in academics, strong support for social and emotional needs, and a variety of challenging themes and programs. More than half of our schools are failing to provide a year’s worth of learning in a year’s worth of student time. Over the next 5 years, we will build a diverse portfolio of high-performing schools, all offering a full complement of academic and enrichment programs and wrap-around services that meet the needs of every student and work to attract families. We will do this by enhancing the quality of our school portfolio, ensuring accountability for school performance, making schools safer and more modern, and expanding our ability to meet the needs of students with special needs.
- Great People – Retain the most highly effective educators in the country, and compensate them highly. In today’s DCPS, high-performing employees are unrecognized and unrewarded, and poor performers face no real consequences. We will build a system that identifies, hires, develops, and rewards passionate and talented people, and that holds every school employee accountable for performing his/her duties competently.
- Aligned Curriculum – Implement a rigorous, relevant, college preparatory curriculum that gives all students meaningful options for life. DCPS has not taken seriously enough its responsibility to help students build the basic skills that form the foundation for productive lives, let alone to challenge every student to achieve to his or her full potential. Going forward, we will align our curriculum, instructional materials and approach, assessments, use of data, and professional development toward clear and ambitious goals. Everyone in the system, including teachers, students, and parents, will know what those goals are and what their role is in helping us to reach them.
- Data-Driven Decisions – Support decision-making with accurate information about how our students are performing and how the District as a whole is performing. We have not used data on student performance to determine whether our students are learning and how best to help them. This is going to change, with stronger data systems and a new culture of using data to make decisions at the classroom, school, and district levels. We will use evidence to make decisions about how to help students learn, where to put our resources and how to manage our staff.
- Effective Central Office – Provide schools with support they need to operate effectively. Too often the central office has operated as though schools were there to serve it, rather than the other way around. The procurement process is inefficient, costly, and confusing; budgeting procedures are unclear and unmonitored; food service lost money and provided low quality meals. Moving forward, the central office will deliver on its sole duty of efficiently providing schools with the services they need to operate, and teachers and students will be able to devote their time and energy to teaching and learning – the things that truly matter.
- Engaged Community – Partner with families and community members who demand better schools. Historically, the DCPS organization has given priority to the interests of just about everyone but students and their parents – teachers, administrators, contractors, and elected officials have usually come first. We must clarify the shared responsibility of parents, students, and the community in increasing student achievement, and engage stakeholders in making our schools successful. We will do this by increasing student engagement in their academic success, building trust and mutual respect between DCPS and its families, equipping parents with the information to advocate for their children’s success, and pursuing partnerships with business and community organizations.
The six goals, of course, work together. Successful engagement with local partners, for example, is crucial to creating well-performing, innovative, and safe schools, which in turn are crucial to attracting and keeping good teachers. As another example, it is impossible to properly measure, recognize, and reward teachers without the systems needed to measure their contributions to student learning.
Thoughtful and Disciplined Implementation
Thoughtful and disciplined implementation is critical not only because of the plan’s complexity, scale, and admitted difficulty, but also to overcome the widespread – and potentially debilitating – cynicism created by failed reform efforts of the past.
The time to act is now, not only because we must, but also because our chances for success are higher than they have been in a long while. Our work thus far has been met with enthusiastic support throughout the District of Columbia community – local government, business and community groups, and parents. That support gives us both the momentum needed to undertake a comprehensive transformation plan and the foundation upon which to secure its success.
The DCPS 5-year action plan is a “living document” that will be revisited regularly as we learn what works and what changes we need to make. We at DCPS look forward to working with the Mayor’s Office, the Council, partners in the philanthropy and business communities, and, most important, families and students to ensure its successful implementation.
Monday, December 08, 2008
"We've got a (5 year) plan"
Chancellor Rhee has released a draft of her 5 year plan for DCPS. The Executive Summary can be found below. The full document can be found here. The Post has further coverage here.