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‘Listen to Teachers’ to Avoid Graduation Scams Like DC Public Schools’


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Once widely ridiculed for their poor performance, District of Columbia public schools have become a shining national example of education reform in recent years due to their rapidly rising graduation rates. In October 2016, President Obama cited the country’s record-high graduation rates as evidence that aggressive education reform was “making progress,” highlighting the DCPS in particular: “Right here in DC, in just five years. , graduation rate in [DCPS] increased from just 53 percent to 69 percent. … it’s really something to be proud of.” The alarming January report, however, found widespread fraud in DCPS graduation rates, raising serious concerns about how we know progress when we see it.

The report found that last year, a third of DCPS graduates obtained diplomas in violation of district policy. Twenty percent had high absenteeism, and 10 percent missed half of the school year. Fifteen percent took “credit-recovery” courses—short make-up versions of courses for students who previously failed—without ever taking a core course. Even within credit-recovery courses, 15 percent of graduates passed with excessive absenteeism. Yet another issue was grade changes, where administrators pressured teachers or took it upon themselves to change grades, with more than 4,000 such instances in a single high school. Without these shortcuts, the DCPS’s record 73 percent graduation rate would have dropped to about 48 percent.

Who could have told the DCPS leaders that this fraud was taking place? teachers can. In fact, he tried, but to no avail. After the celebrated 2017 Ballu High School graduation, teachers alerted the district authorities about the excessive absence of graduates. After a month of inaction, Ballu teacher and union representative, Monica Brokenborough, emailed Chancellor Antwan Wilson and filed a formal complaint. Again, no response. Ballu’s government teacher Brian Butcher refused when students and administrators asked him to give him a make-up job just before graduation so he could pass his course. Both teachers lost their positions last year, and both believed it was retaliation.

Often, district leaders should take warnings from disgruntled teachers with a grain of salt, but Brokenborough and Butcher were not alone in their beliefs. A December Washington Teachers Union member survey found that more than half of DCPS high-school teachers thought their school graduation rate was wrong, and 60 percent felt “pressured or coerced” to pass students who didn’t. Did not live up to the expectations. The teachers knew – some even protested – but the DCPS officials were neither asking nor listening.

The DCPS may have been the most recent scam, but the same pattern is evident in districts across the country. For example, Nashville’s graduation rate jumped 12 points in eight years, even as teachers complained about the poor quality of online credit recovery. When Chicago public schools introduced online credit recovery (where students can receive full course credit in as little as eight days), the union condemned the lax academic standards. New York City’s rate rose 24 points in 10 years, while teachers joked that “vehicles better roll up their windows when they pass our school or their car will have a ‘drive by diploma’ thrown in.” ” Prince George’s County, Maryland changed final grades and ignored excessive absenteeism until staff alarmed the governor. San Diego teachers warned of rampant fraud in online credit recovery, which the district nevertheless expanded, reaching a record 91 percent graduation rate.

Teachers are shoes on the ground in schools, but their voices are often ignored in their pursuit of top-down reforms. This is not a new issue. As my colleague Rick Hayes put it in “The Cage-busting Teacher,” teachers feeling isolated, frustrated, undervalued, and under attack is nothing new. In fact, this That’s how our K-12 system was designed. … It was created by reformers trying to guide teachers’ work, and also by teacher advocates with the intention of adding new safety bars around teachers. “

When reforms seem right – like each successive record-high graduation rate – district officials, reformers and policy makers celebrate. But when teachers raise real implementation concerns—such as unearned grade changes or student absenteeism—they are labeled as grumpy or whispering. Some are sidelined like Brokenboroughs and Butchers, others fear retaliation and many are futile to learn to speak. It’s dangerous, because silent teachers keep districts from knowing when things start to slide sideways.

Due to these trends, teacher unions play an important role in keeping education reform under control. Teacher unions are often portrayed as heroes or villains. There are certainly instances where he has played either role, but the fact remains that he is neither equally a hero nor a villain. When unions are not in place to amplify and protect teachers’ voices, teachers are discouraged and, at a higher level, school systems lose an important means to protect themselves from visionary and obvious error.

Of course, teacher unions are also not pure heroes. They have their ax to grind, so district leaders have to watch their positions carefully to manage reforms well. Sometimes policies are needed that keep teacher unions and teachers themselves under control. But just as often, unions and teachers need to keep Policy in investigation.

Aggressive efforts to boost graduation rates are a case of the latter. If the DCPS had given priority to the voice of the teachers, some of the losses in the DCPS could have been avoided. Some could have been avoided if the DC Teachers Association submitted its survey years ago, when these trends were nascent. Governors, mayors, and district leaders should partner with local unions to reveal — building by building — what they see from the push for teacher graduation rates. Boots only on the ground can reliably flag where school reform can be stuck upside down, and prevent abuses like those in DCPS from sprouting. Teachers and their unions can instruct us on school reform, if they accept the challenge, and if we listen.



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