Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rhee and Fenty Announce Specialty Schools

There certainly is a lot of bad going on in DCPS-land lately. Huge numbers of firings (some of which seem to have been based on little more than personal dislike of a teacher), budget shortfalls, and delayed DC-CAS scores -- to name only a few. But it's summer, I'm in a good mood, and other bloggers have already covered those things well. So I'm going to post about something good for a change.

Today, Rhee and Fenty announced that 13 DCPS schools would be starting specialized programs -- from music education to science and technology to Chinese language and culture -- in the 2010-2011 school year. The coming year will be spent on the planning and recruiting.

I love so much about this. First, the specialized programs will (for the first time) be available at neighborhood schools that do not require applications or portfolios to enroll. Second, the programs will allow educators to develop curricula that they are passionate about, which will likely lead to happier (and more stable) staffs. Third, and most important, since we all are sure that Chinese and photography aren't going to be assessed on the DC-CAS, this is a clear and incontrovertible statement that DCPS at least recognizes the need to focus more on actual learning and less on test scores. And that's a big deal.

There are some problems here, to be sure. For one, these programs were born of a desire to increase enrollment, and not necessarily to help kids learn. Additionally, the money to fund these programs is only guaranteed for the next three years, after which the schools will have to continue funding them from their own (hopefully larger, due to increased enrollment) budgets. We'll have to see how effective these programs really are. But in the meantime, I'm willing to give the Chancellor's office some credit for carrying out a good idea.


lodesterre said...

I agree, Harry. I think this has been the best idea and initiative to come from Rhee. It allows all the aspects you mentioned - the passion of the teachers, students and communities; the opportunity to build something extraordinary in schools that perhaps didn't have a whole lot going for it before. I especially like the fact that there are no "auditions" required. In this sense you couldn't have better accountability - schools will fare (when the 3 year money is up) on the quality of their program offerings. What is best about this whole idea is that it is a positive approach to changing DCPS. We need so much more of this way of thinking.

Heather said...

Nalle was previously scheduled to be one of these specialty schools, with a fine arts focus. It was taken off the most recent list. I wonder why.

Kings said...

It's a good idea with so many bad aspects, I can't see how it will work, or that it's even intended to be more than a way for the Chancellor to finally get some big money from big name foundations without having to deal with the union.

Sorry to be so negative, but I think it's just more showboating.

Imagine - in three years these programs, many in schools with less than 50% proficiency rates have to dramatically increase enrollment or have the special programs cancelled.

Mr. Potter said...


I'm not sure I like the three-year expiration date either. However, if enrollment isn't increasing, principals will have the opportunity and time to find alternative funding (many schools already partner with local businesses and foundations to fund programs). So they won't necessarily have to be canceled, they'll just lose the guaranteed funding.

skeptical said...

I don't understand how you can have a special focus in a neighborhood school and use this to "increase" enrollment. If I live close by, I can go to that school, but if I am intrigued and captivated by its program, but don't live there, I still can't, sooo.... I doubt these programs will be good enough to compete with charters. After all, I would rather have my child be proficient in English before he/she starts exploring Chinese or getting in touch with his creative mediums. I might be old fashioned, but I do think the basics need to be covered before all this fancy stuff.

lodesterre said...

Actually it has been shown, time and again, that exposure to other languages, arts, sciences, etc, can help a child in basics such as reading and math. Sometimes these very subjects have a way of unlocking things for a child and gives them access and insight in a way not previously seen. It also increases their skill in certain subjects. For instance, most astronauts suggest that anyone wishing to become an astronaut should take up a musical instrument for the very reason that it helps with both mathematics and hand-eye-coordination. In the same way I have seen students suddenly turn around in terms of their regular day academics when they are given a role in a play or find a different way of expressing themselves. It is amazing how these things are not only not mutually exclusive but mutually enhancing. Potentially it can be a win/win for teachers, students, parents and communities. I realize there is a strong desire to bash anything Rhee comes up with as being poorly planned or thought out but this is one idea that I think not only can work but everyone should get behind. I think all of us could be in for quite a surprise.

Kings said...

lodesstere - I understand what you're saying about the benefit of other skills, but those can be added without expensive, theme schools plopped down in neighborhoods without community input. How is the music and art program that Rhee started working out? Haven't heard a thing about that, so I'd guess not so great.

My suspicious mind sees theme schools mainly as a way to excess veteran teachers who are replaced by teachers with special skills in the theme being imposed on the school.

Don't have college credits in chinese or a gap year abroad in China? Sorry, you can't teach in our school!

lodesterre said...

Kings, I think you have a misunderstanding about how these schools are working. The Chinese is being offered system-wide by the Embassy of the People's Republic of China. They supply the teachers who come into the classroom and teach individual lessons much like art or music (if your school has those specials). As for the other schools - yes, some specialization is needed but to me it means no more than if you prefer science or social studies or language arts as opposed to teaching all subjects. We are, most of us, general ed teachers who have strengths in some areas. We are all capable of teaching a lesson that can incorporate any of the disciplines mentioned above. I do think there is too much paranoia regarding every thing that Rhee suggests.

I do think that the schools that will do this the best will be those schools that already have a body of teachers who work well with each other and can adapt easily. I do not think you can merely graft a program on a school, be it art, music, or world cultures, and expect it to take if the teachers in the school are not invested in the idea.

Kings said...

Yes,new "invested" teachers will be hired, then when funding dries up, most of those theachers will leave and new ones will be hired. I don't think I'm being overly suspicious when I say that Rhee is always looking for ways to fire current teachers and hire new young ones who will only stay a few years. That has been her modus operandi from the beginning.

Mr. Potter said...

I'd also point out that the individual schools wrote proposals for what kinds of special programs "music goes here, world cultures there, science there." Presumably, the schools developed proposals based on what their staffs wanted to do (and thought they could do well).

Kings, your point about Rhee wanting to replace a significant share of teachers is certainly valid, I'm just not sure these special programs are a part of that goal.

Kings said...

" Presumably, the schools developed proposals based on what their staffs wanted to do"

In other words, you don't know that that is what happened, but that would be the sensible thing.


But without knowing that it happened that way, I still think that anything Rhee does has an ultimate goal of replacing the teacher corps, any way she can.

It shouldn'b be to hard to find teachers, assuming they exist, who sat down together to determine what kind of special program they wanted.