Opening Statement for DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing

We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing. This is very clear. We are at a point where none of us want to be: We are without a permanent leader for DC public schools. We have no deputy mayor for education to help make us a true education system out of our bifurcated tracks right now in which half our students are in traditional schools and half are in public charter schools. We know that some of our students don’t come to school on time or at all; we are graduating students who are not prepared for higher education, the world of work or adult life in general; and we have a central office that is either unequipped to do the necessary oversight and accountability or has looked the other way. There is a culture of doing whatever it takes, including cooking the books and fudging the numbers, to show student improvement.

This cannot continue.

Yet we must look at this moment with opportunity: It is a chance to have an honest conversation about what we need to do to take on our biggest challenges. We need a schools leader who has the integrity, determination, and political skills to get our system to where we all want it to be: A system in which every neighborhood school is a good option for families, in which you don’t have to buy into the right neighborhood for a decent education. We have some schools that work well, and we don’t want to disrupt that, but we can’t ignore that the system as a whole doesn’t work for many.

We need it to work for everyone. This starts with a search process that reflects our values of inclusiveness and transparency. It cannot be done secretively. The search group needs to include parents, students, community groups, advocates, and members of the Council.

Talking a good game is not enough: We need a leader who is not content with maintaining the status quo. We need a change agent, who has a sense of urgency to close the gaping distance between the academic outcomes of our white students and students of color. The plan needs to be understandable and implementable. It needs to have buy-in from not only teachers and administrators, but parents, business leaders, residents without kids and our elected leadership.

That’s where we on the dais come in.

We need to put in the dollars necessary to support our students and teachers, and we need to make sure those dollars are spent well. I think you see a willingness to put dollars toward schools, and I want to thank my colleagues, particularly Councilmembers Gray, Cheh, Grosso, and Mendelson for boosting money for the student funding formula this year. We need to make it count, and we can’t just rely on test scores to show progress. I can tell you as chair of the Labor Committee, employers don’t care what score you got on the PARCC. They care that you are a well-rounded adult, who can read, write, work with colleagues, communicate well, handle life’s difficulties and manage conflict.

We need to give our teachers the tools and support they need. We need to have a fierce sense of urgency and build schools that we know would be good enough for our own children.

I look forward to working with Mayor Bowser, my Council colleagues, and members of the community to find a leader who is committed to urgent change and restoring the confidence of our students and families.

I’d like to thank all of today’s witnesses, especially the parents and community members who have reached out to me over the last several days. Your input was critical and will be even more critical now.