Middle schools to the rescue

Nov 7, 2011 by



Jonetta Rose Barras  – As promised, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown introduced legislation last week to create a three-year pilot program that would provide incentives for teachers rated “highly effective” to work in schools declared “high need,” which are mostly in low-income communities. The bill is part of his middle school reform agenda.

Is Brown trying to rescue middle schools, or is he hoping middle schools will rescue him?

Certainly he could use some rescuing. His political stock has dropped dramatically.

“He’s a man without a country,” said one city hall source.

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. is conducting a criminal investigation of Brown’s 2008 campaign operation. Brown has parsed that to mean the election committee — not he — is the specific target of the probe. He may be the only person in the city slicing reality so thinly.

What’s not in question, however, is that as proposed, his “Highly Effective Middle School Teacher Incentive Act of 2011” is a short-term, expensive fix that borders on micromanaging the D.C. Public Schools. Equally important, it won’t resolve concerns of parents, like those in Ward 5, who want more rigorous traditional middle school options.

Bluntly: It’s a swirl of confusing, sometimes empty, flourishes masquerading as a substantive response. Consider, for example, the bill’s purported intent — to shift the balance of “highly effective teachers” to schools with a dearth of such instructors, thus enhancing the quality of education. But the legislation sunsets after only three years — far too soon for any long term effect to take hold.

The bill would limit to five the number of highly effective teachers assigned to any one school.

Can a facility be turned around with so few top quality instructors?

The transferred, highly effective teachers would be eligible for a $10,000 annual bonus. What about those instructors with that rating who are already at high need schools? Do they not deserve some reward?

Speaking of money, in addition to bonuses, Brown has proposed forgiving loans taken for mortgage down payments — although the bill doesn’t specify whether the mortgages have to be for homes in proximity to those high-need schools — and providing tuition assistance or helping repay student loans.

While the pilot may be small, the implementation costs are significant. Does the chairman intend to follow Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s example, proposing additional taxes to finance this latest safety net for his political career?

Brown’s instinct is right: middle schools need attention. But his legislation just isn’t the right prescription. It’s also precipitous: An extensive study of the usage and future needs of school buildings in the city is currently underway; it likely will result in closing or consolidating some facilities, including middle schools.

This year, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson launched a new middle school program in Ward 6. She has been working with parents to design one for Ward 5, and has indicated Wards 7 and 8 are next.

If Brown wants to aid middle schools, he should embrace the role best suited for him and the legislature: consistent, rigorous oversight.

Jonetta Rose Barras’s column appears on Monday and Wednesday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

via Middle schools to the rescue | Jonetta Rose Barras | DC | Washington Examiner.

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