What happens when a city's education system goes into crisis?

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By: Reginald Barbour

It has been said before that Washington, D.C. is the land of educational opportunity. We have traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, micro-schools, home school co-ops, and opportunity scholarships available to the city’s residents. 

However, all is not well here. Many people here don’t want to talk about it, but our children are being affected so we have to. We started 2018 under turmoil with the discovery that nearly one-third of high school students who received diplomas last year should not have due to insufficient grades, lack of course completion, or chronic absenteeism. For some it was a combination of these three factors. 

Most recently, Antwan Wilson, the former Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools, was asked to resign after it was discovered that he “skirted” the system in order to have his daughter transferred from one school to another, without going through the proper channels. That action led to the demise of his credibility. “The trust is gone,” is what people said. 

Looking at DCPS made me ask myself a few things - what happens when one sector goes into crisis? Will the other sectors be affected? If the trust is gone with DCPS does that mean charter schools will now see an influx of students? Why does it seem like turmoil in D.C. is cyclical? If it’s not an elected official in trouble, it’s the school system. If it’s not the school system, then it’s the police department. If not them, then it’s something in the community. It’s a never-ending cycle of “something is always happening here.”

As a parent, you just want it to stop. You wish for a community where your children can just be safe in schools where their needs are being put first and leaders are making decisions based on all children and not just their own. You want to be in a place where elected officials are changing the landscape of politics-as-usual; where honesty becomes the best policy. You want your children to grow up in an area where diversity and inclusion is real and not just buzz words. Where there is equal opportunity for all. 

I asked some of my education friends if they believed that one sector affects another and I received mixed reactions. Some of them don’t believe we’re in a crisis at all; however, I disagree. Any time we have less than 30% of black and brown children who can read and compute proficiently in this city, we are in a crisis. And everyone should be concerned. 

In my opinion it’s a sad time in our city, if not in our country. We’re standing with young people who are organizing against guns in schools. But it saddens me that we aren’t mobilizing against the miseducation of our black and brown children. They are dying slow deaths every day that they are not properly educated. Can we get a march together against that? Can we come together and demand better educational outcomes for them so that they can have a fighting chance in this world? 

I do believe that when one sector is in a crisis it affects the other sectors. We might not see a mass exodus from DCPS to other types of school systems, but as residents of this city, we are all in this together, regardless if it directly affects us or not.