Thumbs-Up for Kwame Brown's Education Act

Dorothy Rowley | 3/21/2012, 8:54 p.m.

The D.C. Council has given a thumbs-up to an education initiative that paves the way for historic reform in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) system.

The "Raising the Expectations for Education Outcomes Act of 2012," which was crafted and introduced by Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D), establishes incentives for attracting top-notch teachers and preparing students to continue their education beyond high school.

"The idea is that we have to stop lying to our students and telling them that a high school diploma is a celebration of the beginning," said Brown.

"In order to be a police officer you have to have at least 60 credit hours from a college. If applicants go for a job in the federal government, they will ask for an associate degree or some formal training."

Brown, 41, said President Barack Obama has stated several times that the United States needs to be the most educated country in the world.

"But we can't be the most educated country in the world if our young folks aren't going to any post secondary education institutions, because they think that a high school diploma is going to be their way out."

Over the past several months, Brown has focused much of his attention on middle school students to ensure they are ready to enter high school. In doing so, he scoured the country and found early warning systems for identifying students at risk for dropping out. In some instances he discovered that several states had enacted the systems into law.

Brown said a similar measure in his bill will also help determine where the District's fourth- through ninth-grade students are lacking in their studies.

"There's no use building brand new high schools when the kids [poised] to enter them aren't even ready for enrollment," Brown said. "It's great that the schools are new, but if kids going to them are still reading at the 6th-grade level, that's a problem."

Brown said however, that during his interactions with parents, civic leaders and other community stakeholders, the recurrent issue surrounded DCPS' emphasis on hiring and retaining quality teachers.

"I've had listening sessions in almost every single living room in the city in every ward and what I kept hearing is how do we get highly-effective teachers in our low-performing schools," said Brown. "Clearly, we all know that you can't have brand new teachers in the worst performing schools and expect them to turn [them] around in 12 to 14 months."

Brown's legislation - for which the D.C Council delivered a majority vote on March 20 - also had the support of Mayor Vincent C. Gray as well as DCPS, the Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, and the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Brown said its passage gives the District distinction as the first jurisdiction in the country to require students to take the SAT or ACT and to apply to at least one post secondary education institution prior to graduation.

In addition to allowing conversion of five existing facilities into "community schools," the bill includes a three-year pilot program that would provide $10,000 cash incentives to highly-effective teachers who transfer to low-performing schools.