Recent news articles highlighting the large number of District public school teachers leaving the profession early expose how DCPS principals and teachers are pressured to pass failing students to boost graduation rates. They expose a failed school “reform” policy designed to make mayors, chancellors and consultants look good at the expense of students and teachers.

The failure to provide teachers and students with safe and orderly learning classrooms results in these numbers of mid-year teacher departures and the practice of awarding high school diplomas to barely literate and numerate students represent policy failures at the highest levels. These policies reward inflated promotion and graduation rates while ignoring lack of content and skill mastery. They lead to the continuing replacement of experienced teachers with unprepared new hires. And they require extremely disruptive students to be returned to the classroom whose teachers are then held accountable for their misbehavior.

The cornerstones of policy failure include using the graduation rate and school-wide averages from standardized tests taken by students (with no effect on grades or graduation status) to collectively evaluate all teachers and support staff and then label those averages “school performance.”

The lack of coherent vocational education pathways beginning in the middle grades and leading to graduation requirements separate from the college prep pathway denies viable options to students who want to work, but not attend college.

Since school-age students are required by law to be in school during school hours regardless of behavior or interest in learning, it is the responsibility of the mayor, chancellor and council to provide the staff each school needs to ensure a safe and orderly learning atmosphere.

Unexcused absences are another indicator of a school’s learning atmosphere.

As of January 15, 41 percent of Ballou STAY High School students had 21 or more unexcused absences.  By the end of last school year it was 63 percent.  According to DCPS staffing reports, Ballou H.S. has the following behavior and social/emotional support staff:

5 Assistant Principals                            4 Administrative Officers

6 Social Workers                                   1 Psychologist CSO

4 Guidance Counselors (11 month)       1 Attendance Counselor

7 Behavior Technicians                         3 Deans of Students

1 ISS* Coordinator (*In School Suspension)            1 Director CSO & 1 Director SSO

Why can’t they maintain order?  Are there pointless rules that require continually disruptive students to be returned to the classroom?  Are assistant principals spending excessive time on teacher evaluations rather than student management?  What about all of the “instructional” (assistant) superintendents (one for every 10 or 11 schools)?  What are they doing?

In January 2008, I was the Washington Teacher’s Union representative on the No Child Left Behind “Quality School Review” team that visited Ballou High School.  A comparison of student test averages from 2007 to 2016 documents the failure of Rhee/Henderson school reform policies at Ballou High School.  Although the CAS (four achievement levels) and PARCC (5 levels) tests are different, they rough picture their comparison shows reveals a failure to improve.

Year               Top 2 & 3 Levels                          Math     Reading/ELA

2007 (CAS)   Top 2: Proficient +Advanced      6.5%  5.5%

2016 (PARCC)          Top 2: Levels 4 + 5 0          3%

2016 (PARCC)          Top 3: Levels 3 + 4 + 5      9%      9%

The City Council voted to place DCPS under mayoral control in 2007 and to assume direct oversight responsibility.  It is time that you held the mayor and chancellor accountable and not tolerate passing blame onto teachers.

Erich Martel is a retired District of Columbia Public Schools high school teacher and Ward 3 resident.