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SIMMONS: School reform impossible without a plan

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Students who attend traditional D.C. Public Schools are still struggling academically, but they may have turned a corner, if recently released data can be believed.

Meanwhile, charter students, who long have outperformed their public school peers, continue to have a firm grasp of the golden ring despite the fact that their standardized test scores appear to be stabilizing.

So the obvious question is this: What are the next steps for education reform?

“The next steps for improving teaching and learning in D.C. are planning and collaboration,” said Ramona H. Edelin, executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools. “The adults in this district have the opportunity to get serious about the education of children and the informed engagement of parents by planning the specific policies and methods that will be used to meet explicit learning goals for all children in its public schools, and by authentic collaboration to implement the plan and achieve the goals.

“We have not all sat down to have this conversation and get the planning and collaboration under way,” she added.

It’s easy to dismiss Ms. Edelin’s comments in the wake of last week’s news that charter students outperformed their peers in traditional schools on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System but show slight declines in science (0.9 percent) and reading (0.3 percent).

Unfortunately, Mayor Vincent C. Gray gave himself and his administration a hearty pat on the back for rising scores in traditional schools while withholding praise for charters.

That’s irresponsible because he and his handpicked education caretakers are accountable for all public education students and their outcomes.

Perhaps the failure to start the conversations Ms. Edelin mentioned is shortsightedness on the part of De’Shawn Wright, whom Mr. Gray picked in December 2010 to become deputy mayor for education.

At the time, Mr. Wright was lauded for his background in policy and management as well as his expertise in bringing stakeholders together, supporting charter schools and raising money.

Well, the growing push for charters and vouchers proves it’s time to set the school-reform table.

D.C. families deserve a plan, not more of the same warmed-over school-reform hash that’s been dished out since Marion Barry was mayor.

It’s time for the Gray administration to set the tone and the table, put out the placards and call a strategic planning meeting to order.

“Our children come from the same city, the same neighborhoods and often the same homes across the chartered and traditional public school sectors. We are all responsible for all of them, and we should act like it,” said Ms. Edelin, who has run the charter school association since 2006. “Planning should encompass utilizing the research and best practices that are already tested and proven to increase academic performance, and collaboration around policy development, professional development and the sharing of public facilities.”

Divide and conquer: Let me not count the ways.

There are so many school forums in the city even stakeholders can’t keep track.

Before an education forum Tuesday night at Providence Hospital, a parent mentioned that Chancellor Kaya Henderson was holding another forum at Phelps, a dual-track academic and career high school. His comment led several people to whip out their smartphones and check. Lo and behold, the chancellor’s meeting was scheduled for Wednesday evening.

While their sighs of relief at not missing a rare chance to have a go with the chancellor certainly were revealing, the expressions on their faces were priceless.

The point: Ever since charter schools became a point of reckoning, the education gin mills have been holding more what-do-you-think-of-school forums around the city, which means everybody yet nobody is in charge.

Members of each group merely gather information, distill it as they see fit and get paid.

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About the Author

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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