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Government and People
Vince Gray’s Plan for D.C. Schools
Vince Gray will make our children’s education the number one priority of his administration. He will be an involved Mayor who takes all stakeholders seriously, who stands by his Schools Chancellor, and who works tirelessly for well-managed, smart reform.
For Vince, this is not just an election-year promise—it comes from a lifetime of dedication to our schools. Vince spent his entire childhood in D. C. Public Schools, he is a graduate of George Washington University, and his late wife was an outstanding educator in the D. C. Public Schools. Vince has gained an incredibly wide perspective on our school system and fixing it once and for all is his life’s mission.
It was those life experiences that drove Vince to make public education reform his top priority as Council Chairman. He led Council efforts to enact mayoral takeover of the schools; Vince brought a unique perspective to the reform process and fought to empower a strong Chancellor, eliminate bureaucracy, strengthen accountability and place a sorely needed focus on modernizing public school facilities.
Vince not only championed K-12 school reform efforts on the Council, but also led the efforts to expand and improve pre-K. In just over 18 months, under his leadership, the District has added just under 2,000 slots and has nearly reached its goal of free, voluntary pre-k for all children, making it among the first states in the nation to achieve universal pre-k. Vince worked closely with the University of the District of Columbia to launch a new Community College that will eventually ensure our citizens are able to compete in a 21st century economy. His track record represents strong leadership and a vision that education is a lifelong effort.
Mayor Fenty deserves tremendous credit for making education the highest priority of his administration and our city. Sadly, Mayor Fenty’s hands-off management style has resulted in a short-sighted, narrow, and clandestine approach to the education reform effort. Vince Gray understands that we must take a more holistic approach to education, and rebuild the public trust in our education system, if we’re going to provide our children with the foundation they need to succeed. We need a mayor who will focus on the entire birth-to-24 education process. We need a mayor who understands the value of community buy-in. And most of all, we need a mayor who will take a more involved role in the decision making process if mayoral control is to translate into accountability. Vince Gray has the track record and unique perspective to be that Mayor.
As Mayor, Vince Gray will take education reform to the next level. His plan is comprehensive, inclusive, and redefines the way city government will approach education.
The Gray education plan is based on the following core principles:
Collaborative, Innovative & Involved Leadership
As an early champion of school reform, Vince Gray knows that we can’t afford to go back to the old way of doing things in our schools, when an incremental approach was failing our students. We must keep our public schools under Mayoral control with a strong Chancellor in order to bring the kind of innovative systemic change that’s critical to turning our schools around.
But Vince Gray will lead not by empowering a strong Chancellor and stepping back. He will lead by empowering a strong Chancellor and getting involved. Mayoral control is not enough. We need Mayoral leadership as well. He believes that the only way to achieve real and lasting school reform is to ensure that the community is a true partner in the reform, and innovation and entrepreneurship become the norm.
As Mayor, Vince Gray will:
Support the Chancellor to Continue Reforms within DCPS.
Vince is committed to having a strong Chancellor who is fully empowered to implement community-driven reform. He will collaborate with the Chancellor to ensure that we keep and build on effective people and programs already in the system.
A Vince Gray administration will put an immediate end to management by ribbon cutting and sound bites, and give the Chancellor the support she needs to fulfill her promise to the students of the District of Columbia. As Mayor, Vince will give the DCPS Chancellor the tools and controls to manage his or her budget. He will continue to support the Chancellor in making hard choices with regard to staffing, hiring, and firing decisions to get bad teachers out of the classroom and keep good teachers in the classroom. He will work closely with the Chancellor and ensure all the resources of District government are brought to bear in supporting kids.
Unleash the power of the community
School reform cannot be about just one person. It should be community-driven and embraced – so that the gains we make are sustained beyond any one administration. Anything short of that will set school reform up to fail. The federal government agrees. In its rejection of DC’s Race to the Top application, reviewers claimed that the application lacked critical buy-in from key community stakeholders and that the administration was more interested in making a national splash than instituting change locally. This was an opportunity missed at a time when our school reforms and our city’s challenging budget situation could have been bolstered by $100 million in federal aid. We can’t afford to continue to make these costly mistakes.
While some decisions must be administered centrally, other decisions are enhanced with a “bottom up” perspective from teachers, principals, parents and the community. As Chairman, Vince convened a record number of hearings and even launched a special series of Saturday hearings for children and youth to foster a culture of civic participation in education reform. Now it’s time to take Vince’s vision for community-driven reform out of the Wilson Building and into every local school in the city:
As Mayor, Vince and his education leadership team will hold regular town hall meetings across the city, where the public can share their ideas on big issues like high school reform and school modernization efforts. These town hall meetings will provide a forum for public participation and will provide a crucial opportunity to engage residents and understand how we can move forward together.
As Mayor, Vince will create an electronic forum (edforum) where school and education issues can be discussed and new ideas shared 365 days a year.
As Mayor, Vince will require that principals ensure the Local School Restructuring Teams sign off on a broader range of major decisions impacting the local school.
Why? Because meaningful and lasting change requires participation and buy-in from key stakeholders throughout the system. Public engagement cannot be a one-time affair -- it must be sustained.
Ensure parity for public charter schools.
Current law requires uniform funding for all public schools, whether DCPS or charter, yet this Administration has attempted to undermine charter schools at every turn. It has given DCPS millions of dollars outside the Uniform Formula to cover over-spending. Facilities maintenance, crossing guards, and legal services are provided to DCPS schools at the government’s expense, while charter schools have been left to fend for themselves. While public schools undergo a multi-billion dollar renovation, charter schools are forced to obtain private facilities at market rates, diverting precious resources away from programs to cover the cost. For two years in a row, the Administration made drastic cuts to the facilities allotment for charter schools and continues to refuse to establish a transparent process where charters are allowed the first right of refusal for vacant public school property. As Chairman, Vince Gray has been a champion of the charter school movement – defeating each of the Administration’s attempts to cut charter school funding, and forcing the Administration to begin working with charters to transition vacant public school property. Vince Gray will bring an end to the days in which charters are pitted against traditional public schools for precious city resources. As Mayor, he will convene a Blue Ribbon Panel of national and local experts that will deliver, within three months of taking office, a blueprint for bringing parity to the way in which per pupil funding and DC agency services are delivered to DCPS and charter school students and recommend a clear and transparent process for the transition of vacant public school facilities to charter schools.
A Holistic, Birth-to-24 Approach to Education
Decades of research indicate that intensive, high-quality early education can close the achievement gap and ensure better outcomes for all children. Indeed, these programs have proven to greatly reduce the likelihood that kids will end up in the juvenile justice system or need special education services down the line. The logic is simple - when we invest early, the better our children will achieve, and the more tax dollars we will save. Vince Gray understands this. As Council Chairman, he began to implement this solution – by enacting a bold initiative to create universal pre-k for every three- and four-year-old. As Mayor, Vince Gray will institute a comprehensive ‘Success By Five’ initiative whose goal will be to ensure that children are prepared for school and life success by the time they reach the first grade.
As Mayor, Vince Gray will:
Make prenatal, infant, and toddler care affordable and accessible to all children.
Scientific research shows that high-quality prenatal, infant, and toddler care can prevent life-long learning delays and mitigate developmental disparities among children from varying socio-economic backgrounds. High-quality care for infants and toddlers is also a critical life support for working families and can help enable parents on welfare to go back to work or acquire critical job training. Yet, accessing affordable, high-quality care in the District is a major challenge for families across the city – regardless of income level or background. Currently, over 6,000 families are on infant/toddler care waiting lists across the city, and the cost of care for just one toddler can range between $10,000 and $20,000 a year. As a result, our city’s infant/toddler care crisis forces parents to choose between their job or their children, and means that, in many cases, young children are left in tenuous childcare situations. Vince will take several steps towards making early-childhood education more affordable:
Continue to champion voluntary pre-k for all children.
In 2008, Vince Gray led the Council’s efforts to enact the Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Act. With almost 2,000 slots opened in just two years, we are nearing our goal of offering free, voluntary pre-k to every three- and four-year-old in the District of Columbia. As Mayor, Vince Gray will finish the job he began as Chairman in three critical ways:
Common-Sense Steps Towards Citywide High-Quality K-12 Education
Vince Gray is proud of the efforts made by our students, teachers, families, and schools, which have led to steady improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests since the late 1990s. While improved standardized test scores are a step in the right direction, Vince Gray knows that this cannot be the sole measure of success for D.C. public schools. In the end, we’re not looking for our children to learn to take standardized tests. We want them to learn the skills they need to thrive in the real world.
But if we expect to give our children the tools they need to succeed, we need to give our schools and teachers the tools they need to help them get there. With Vince Gray as Mayor, he will set ambitious citywide transformative goals that are more than five point gains on the NAEP scores and focus the entire energy of the government on making sure that our schools succeed, and that our children excel.
As Mayor, Vince Gray will:
Hold public school teachers accountable, while giving them the resources and respect they deserve.
Our teachers are on the front-line every day, making sure that our children are prepared for life after school. We need to both respect our teachers and hold them accountable. It’s time that they are held accountable for their work in the classroom, and treated with the respect they deserve. The new teachers’ contract provides an excellent opportunity to instill a new era of accountability, meritocracy, and collaboration. As Mayor, Vince Gray will:
Improve our low-performing schools.
A key goal of a Gray Administration will be to help ensure that every public school is living up to its potential. Under his leadership, DCPS will provide resources to those schools that have not yet benefited from school reform. As Mayor, Vince Gray will:
Give our public schools the same flexibility and freedom that have made charter schools successful.
The recipe for the success of the charter school movement is that autonomy provides great latitude to implement creative new strategies for academic success. As Mayor, Vince Gray will empower DCPS and the Public Charter School Board with increased collaboration and resources to ensure that high standards for academic achievement are maintained, successful practices are shared, and struggling schools are afforded the support they need to improve. He will work with his school leadership team to promote greater autonomy for public schools to implement creative turn-around strategies and make decisions that are responsive to community and parent needs – in exchange for rapid school improvement. Finally, competitive grants will be offered as incentives for top performing schools to provide technical assistance, develop ways to replicate successful models and assist struggling schools in improving their performance.
Work to ensure all children are reading by the time they reach third grade.
The primary driver of school success is a child’s ability to read. As Mayor, Vince Gray will call for a renewed focus on reading in the early grades and work with schools to align standards, curriculum, instruction and assessments into a best practice Pre-K to Third Grade continuum with a focus on the prevention of reading and math problems, to ensure that by the time children enter third grade, all children will be on grade level or above in both reading and math.
Offer robust, comprehensive middle and high school options in every segment of the city.
We have allowed a massive gap to emerge between our specialized selective high schools and our comprehensive middle and high schools. It is no surprise then that our city’s graduation rates have stagnated – showing only mild two to three percent fluctuations in the past decade. The current administration has chosen a typical photo-op approach to the problem, using fuzzy math to quickly claim victory over a three percent “jump” in the graduation rate. Meanwhile, they perpetuate the two-city tale for secondary education by proposing a new arts and magnet middle school while whole segments of the city lack a middle school at all, and the current middle schools languish.
As Mayor, Vince Gray will:
Integrate career and technology curricula into all DC High Schools.
Vince Gray understands that we need to prepare our students for success in today’s ever-changing, global economy, whether they choose to go straight to work or pursue higher education. As Mayor, Vince Gray will work with the business community to build rigorous, high quality career and technical education (CTE) programs that will help all students. The new CTE will give all students the strong academic foundation they need, while pairing it with technical and occupational skills that will help them find jobs. Unlike the traditional model, wherein “vocational” programs are merely segregated into separate schools, and sometimes unfairly stigmatized, the new CTE programs will also be integrated within our typical “academic” schools, enabling college-bound and technical career-bound students to benefit from both types of curricula. Students will have the opportunity to learn employable skills such as CAD/CAM design, network administration, computer security, computer systems programming, health and medical sciences, and much sought after construction skills.
Balance school modernization efforts in all quarters of the city.
In some areas of the city, school modernization projects have been spared no expense. In other, more underserved areas, modernization efforts have yet to come to fruition. As Mayor, Vince Gray will not only complete modernization efforts that are planned and in-progress, but he will ensure that school modernization is envisioned more comprehensively, inclusive of all schools and communities, and meets the immediate and long-term needs of school communities.
Reform special education. Finally.
Special education in the District remains a national travesty, and the current Mayor has failed to lead. Costs have risen $60 million in the last three years alone, and we waste tens of millions of dollars paying for legal fees, transportation, and private education for our special-needs kids outside District boundaries. Instead, we should serve their needs successfully inside our own system. Vince will:
Provide a safe learning environment for our students.
Our students cannot enjoy a quality learning environment if our schools are constantly plagued with safety issues, and teachers spend 25% or more of their time addressing disciplinary issues in the classroom. As Mayor, Vince Gray will:
Ensure Every District High School Graduate is College-Bound and Job-Ready
Only one in ten graduates of District high schools complete college. To attend and complete college, our young people often have to go out-of-state or pay exorbitant tuition rates at private universities because our city’s public university lacked the resources to support their needs.
As Mayor, Vince Gray will make it easier for District high school graduates to go to college. He will mobilize the District’s entire higher education community, including private institutions and UDC, to offer the support District high school graduates need, and he will work with the public university system to ensure robust options are available throughout the city.
As Mayor, Vince Gray will:
Place a college degree and/or career opportunity within reach for every District resident.
Ready our workforce for the jobs of the future.
As Mayor, Vince Gray will work with DC’s higher education and business communities to become the first line of training for students preparing for careers in Green Energy, Health Informatics, Biotech, and Nanotech industries. Through technology incubation and a strategic, 21st century economic development programs, we can help our young people attain these jobs in proven, emerging industries. And he’ll continue to be a leader in ensuring that residents have access to higher education and workforce development, including leading the charge to make the former Backus Middle School an integral part of the community college and a place where residents can get the workforce training they need to compete.
Provide post-secondary opportunities for residents no matter where they live.
Vince Gray believes that people need to have education options in their neighborhoods. Vince worked closely with the University of the District of Columbia to launch a new Community College that will eventually ensure our citizens are able to compete in a 21st century economy. Vince has challenged CCDC to have a presence in each ward. Vince envisions CCDC partnering with local businesses, community organizations and District government in providing specialized workforce training and continuing education that enhance people’s lives. Cities like San Francisco, London and Tokyo are on the cutting edge of innovation and workforce development. The District can transform itself into a city that leads in developing ideas and in providing workers to create a 21st century city of innovation. As Mayor, Vince Gray will convene a Community of Learning Conference which brings together local, regional and national leaders to examine how the District can transform itself into a community of learning where lifelong education is sustained, is located where residents live and will provide people with the education they need to adapt to workforce needs.
Transparency, Accountability and Sound Management
Education reform can be successful only if managed effectively. That has sadly not been the case under the current Administration. We’ve seen too many cases of inefficiency, budget mismanagement, taxpayer dollars squandered on failed projects, and missed opportunities at receiving federal dollars. Vince Gray will bring sound management and accountability to education reform.
As Mayor, Vince Gray will:
Bring sound, financial stewardship to the education system.
Annually, the District invests billions of dollars in the education of its children and young people through early childhood education, DC public schools, public charter schools, the University of the District of Columbia, and the modernization of school facilities. Despite what’s at stake, the decisions over how public education dollars are invested increasingly have been made with no feedback from the broader community and (in many cases) even the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. We now see the folly of this backroom budgeting. Hundreds of millions in cost overruns for facilities modernization, tens of millions taken from local school budgets to pay for central office costs, and general confusion, even at a local school level, about where dollars are really spent. Three years after mayoral control was implemented, the system is still fragmented, and confusion still reigns. Vince believes the best financial reform is an open, transparent process -- one that will force public officials to become accountable for their actions. As Mayor, Vince Gray will transform the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education into the lead agency responsible for managing the city’s “educational investment portfolio.” Vince will mandate that the Deputy Mayor lead a comprehensive forensic audit of the entire education system to identify clear budget controls to protect taxpayers and cut waste.
Stop raiding local school budgets to fund over-spending elsewhere in the budget.
Last year (FY 2009), the administration froze local school spending and took $32 million out of local school budgets to cover over-spending on other functions. This year local school budgets are among the functions to be cut in order to fund teacher raises. As Mayor, Vince Gray will protect local school budgets, and oppose any attempt to use local schools to pay for over-spending in other areas of the budget.
Finally get our education data systems working: “SLED”.
The District has got to know where its students are physically—where and when they are in school, or not in school—in real time. We must know how they are doing academically and how well specific programs and teachers are performing. We need to track their performance daily and not wait for the test scores in the Spring, after an entire school year has passed, before we take action to correct under-performing classrooms. Our solution is to successfully develop the State Longitudinal Education Data Warehouse (SLED), a computerized system that shows where students are, alerting our administrators that a student left one school, but is not now enrolled in another. SLED will enable educators to measure growth of a student within a school, classroom or program and will support instructional decision-making. It will also enable systematic evaluation of teacher performance. Yet, almost four years into our reform, the current administration has spent $6.9 million of federal and local monies, and still we have no data system. As Mayor, Vince Gray will turn around this failing project. He understands the importance of SLED in monitoring student, school and teacher performance and in meeting federal requirements. He will employ capable professionals who will meet the deadlines and standards needed to get the system up and running ASAP.
Tell the public where DCPS’ money goes.
For years, the D.C. Code has required that the public be informed in how DCPS is spending its money. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened. Likewise, budget submission resolutions have required much more specificity than DCPS provides. Current submissions are scanty, inconsistent from year to year, and sometimes misleading. Financial reports are no longer posted on the internet and changes in the budget are not announced, despite a mandate to do so under the DC Freedom of Information Act. As Mayor, Vince Gray will mandate that DCPS publish for the public an accounting of how it spends its money – how much to schools and direct services to children, how much to central bureaucracy, how much for programs such as career and technical education, special education, early childhood education, etc. Vince will also require DCPS to post its local school budgets, budget changes, and financial reports on the Internet.
Re-open DCPS budget formulation process to parents and community.
In most school districts, budget formulation is an open process. The Superintendent, often after preliminary public hearings, prepares a proposed budget made public in late fall or early winter. The public has opportunities to comment and advocate for changes. The school board then votes on the budget. If the District is fiscally dependent, the budget goes to a city or county council, which again has hearings and other opportunities for public input. After the budget is adopted, it is reconciled, if necessary, to the amount actually appropriated. The budget is published “as adopted.” DC suburbs follow this schedule and process, and DC used to. As Mayor, Vince Gray will re-open the DCPS budget process to parents and the community, with dialogue beginning in the preceding fall and continuing through mayoral decision-making.
From FY 2000 through FY 2008, local school budget allocations were determined by a formula based on the recommendations of a group of principals, teachers, central administrators, and parents, and it was clear why each school received the amount it did. As Mayor, Vince Gray will re-establish the parent-community working group that participated in setting the basis for local school budget allocations, and make the basis for these budgets clear again. Since the Board of Education is no longer involved in these decisions, it is increasingly important that those in the school community be given opportunities to be involved.
Vince Gray’s plan for quality education is comprehensive. It will continue aggressive education reform, focus on education at all life stages, engage the community, and restore accountability and sound management practices.
It is an education plan that will redefine success and provide greater opportunities for our students.
And it is a plan that the people of D.C. can trust on a number of measures:
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