DC Schools Chancellor Unveils Five Year Plan

D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson took office in October 2010 and has been keen to make her mark on the failing school system. In February she proposed that her office be given authorization power for the opening of new charter schools, and she has just introduced a new five year plan that aims for higher achieving school and better graduation rates through the use of longer days. The caveat is that some campuses will have to close to pay for the improvements.

Henderson committed the city to a series of educational goals by 2017. They include raising citywide math and reading proficiency on standardized tests from the current 43 percent to 70 percent and lifting proficiency rates at the 40 lowest-performing schools by 40 percentage points. She also wants to expand enrollment and boost four-year graduation rates from 53 percent to 75 percent.

Ms. Henderson claims that the 2010 collective bargaining agreement with the Washington Teachers Union has enough flexibility to allow them to extend the school day from the current 8:45am to 3:15pm and that a $10 million grant program will provide the funds to trial such an initiative.

However, she also warned that the current number of schools within the district was unsustainable; 45 of the 123 schools within the system have enrollment of less than 300.

Speaking at a news conference with Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), Henderson said the objective now is to “really move aggressively and urgently around making the revolution happen in the classroom.”

There are concerns that Henderson’s ‘plan’ is merely political posturing and contains more vague aspirations than concrete, and more importantly assessable, numerical goals.

“As costs continue to increase in future years, we will need to make additional cuts unless we work together to establish systems of public schools — both traditional and charter — which use our limited resources wisely, strategically and efficiently,” Henderson said.

The D.C. Schools system currently has 47,000 students spread over 123 schools. By contrast, Fairfax County provides for 177,600 students with just 194 schools.