On April 26, Ward 4 residents will elect a new DC State Board of Education (SBoE) representative. In an effort to help my readers get to know the candidates and their stances on the issues, I sent out a short questionnaire to each candidate. I'll run the responses alphabetically each day this week.
Today: D. Kamili Anderson.
1) What key issues do you see yourself and the DCSBOE focusing on to improve the education of all DC children?
Overall, my work with my SBOE colleagues, the Chancellor, the Council, the Mayor, and DC citizens will focus on ensuring that all DCPS students get the best teachers, instruction, and course offerings available. Specifically, I would like to direct the Board’s attention to the following issues:
• Enhancing the scope and quality of DCPS’s general, special, and vocational/technical education instruction, standards, and requirements as the school system transitions to the adoption of the new national Common Core Curriculum.
• Ensuring that our graduation requirements are fair but rigorous so that our public school graduates can become more competitive in today’s and tomorrow’s economies.
• Refocusing special education so that the individualized needs of children with learning and other disabilities can be met within District schools rather than having those programs exported to MD and VA.
• Determining ways for DCPS schools to offer full-day and summer-long programs—to afford students more time on task for instruction and interaction with teachers, mentors, tutors, and others—and to make our public schools more competitive with charter schools that offer such programs.
• Incorporating policies that support parent- and peer-focused solutions to help minimize ongoing DCPS challenges such as dropout, truancy, and bullying.
2) Do you have (a) school-age child(ren)? If so, do they attend DC public schools?
My three children are successful DCPS graduates and I have three school-age grandchildren who attend Ward 4 DCPS schools, from preschool to elementary grade.
3) What is your opinion on the current responsibilities and limitations of SBoE representatives, and how do you plan to work within the position's limitations?
In many ways I believe that the redirecting of the Board’s authority to one of an advisory body that focuses primarily on school system policy- and rule-making as well as standard- and goal-setting presents a real opportunity for SBOE members to advocate for measures that address the concerns of the people they represent. If my experience as an editor and writer working closely with education researchers and policy makers for nearly 30 years is any example, informed advisors can play a very powerful role, especially if they can advocate coherently and consistently.
4) Many people suggest that we must hold students accountable for their own performance. Do you agree with this statement? If so, how do you propose enforcing student accountability?
I can only agree with such sentiments if the students you are referring to are of the developmental age or stage to reasonably be expected to assume responsibility for their performance. (I’m assuming you also mean “school performance” here.)
As students approach their teens, they have, and should be expected to play, increasing roles in disciplining and monitoring not only their own conduct but that of their peers, at school and otherwise. But it does take a village—a whole city—to raise a child, and we all as adults have important, interconnected roles to play in ensuring student accountability. We shouldn’t put responsibility for students’ academic progress solely on the backs of children, nor parents, teachers, or schools. We all share in that, to varying degrees.
5) Considering Phelps, the Career and Technical Education-focused high school, just received deep cuts in the latest round of school budgets, how do you propose we prepare students for life after high school? Do you support introducing more career and technical education into the school system?
Even in a recession, and perhaps precisely because of one, greater—not less—emphasis should be placed on vocational/technical and technology industry-related education, course offerings, and job/internship placement in DCPS high schools and even its middle schools. Given funding cutbacks in these DCPS programs, however, some instructional priorities should be shifted to accommodate urgent job training needs. More focus should also be placed on forging and expanding private and philanthropic sector partnership to support that training. SBOE members like me, who have long advocated to bring more and broader types of business development into commercially underserved neighborhoods, should play an advocacy role in recommending increased voc/tech programming in schools that directly fulfills staffing needs as business development takes hold there. I have worked over the past 11 years with many community- and DC government-led groups to encourage and facilitate smart commercial and business development in Ward 4 neighborhoods. I will bring those insights and capacity to the Board to provide compelling rationales and supports for career and job training that can go hand-in-hand with business growth.
6) The SBoE is responsible for approving the District's state accountability plan under Title I of the ESEA (aka No Child Left Behind). Are you familiar with the requirements of the accountability plan? If so, would you approve the District's current plan? If not, what would you change?
For me, the most revealing insights about DCPS’s response to the NCLB accountability mandates come from comparative analysis of the reports compiled by our neighboring systems in Virginia and Maryland. Of course, in scope and breadth, and also resources and autonomy, these two systems and their reportings are virtually “apples” compared to DC’s “oranges.” But comparison of the three (and other reports) led me to a pretty unfortunate conclusion: that the District’s responses to the accountability mandates provide relatively little of the detailed information responding to each of the critical elements required for State accountability systems and way too much recitation of NCLB definitions and assertions.
There’s not much contained within the DC report, for example, that responds adequately with specific, detailed information on the performance and status of DCPS schools en masse or individually. (To the system’s credit, however, the information accessed via the links to the DCPS AYP and Report Card data presents individual school data in ways that make intra-District comparison very easy.) Maryland’s report, in addition to presenting its data and discussion as responses to specific questions about compliance areas, provides likewise useful examples of what compliance is or “looks like” (e.g., “Examples [of] Meeting Requirements”) and what it does not look like (e.g., “Examples of Not Meeting Requirements”), which is something many other states do as well. I think this approach makes for a much more (again) useful and relevant document for lay readers and others looking to discern much-needed information for change and improvement purposes. Also, Maryland provides an explanation of the two-pronged approach it takes to ensure and check for the 95% participation rate for schools and LEAs in its state assessments, a method it claims “provides incentives for the inclusion of students in testing along with a fair measure of participation.” DC does not detail its approach. All in all, I would like to see the DCPS/OSSE report more closely compare in scope, detail, and format to those of other states and jurisdictions, of which there are, of course, 50 other examples.