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Letter to the Editor: Arlington Public Schools Turns Its Focus Away from Science

The following Letter to the Editor was written by former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and his wife Rohini. The Chopras are Arlington residents and parents of Arlington Public Schools students.

While many Arlingtonians are mobilizing to protect much needed science investments in the wake of proposed Trump administration budget cuts, a more pressing local threat has emerged that needs our immediate attention: the June 1st Arlington School Board vote that, if passed, will unnecessarily weaken our best shot at helping lower-income kids succeed in science and, thus, prepare for the jobs and industries of the future. And it does so without adding a single new seat to handle APS-wide over-crowding challenges.

The School Board notes that the proposed changes to its enrollment and transfer policy are to “make it easier for families to understand the school options available.” However, what the proposal actually does is arbitrarily change those options – re-classifying some schools to eliminate neighborhood access and others to eliminate choice or lottery access. How the Board re-classifies each school appears arbitrary with no published explanation, justification or criteria including whether it is a reflection on school quality, student demand, or any other factor.

Absent School Board transparency, a group of families have “crowd-sourced” as much publicly available data to piece together the net impact and the answer is bad news for families interested in boosting their child’s performance in science, especially for lower-income families. Roughly 20% of Arlington Science Focus enrollment is via choice/lottery, a figure that falls to zero if this passes. Worse, by eliminating the neighborhood zone for Key Elementary, up to 240 students who could lose in the lottery, including native Spanish speakers, will be forced into an already overcrowded ASFS (runing today at 120% capacity).

Why should this matter? For a low-income family wishing for their child to succeed in science, here’s the bad news: unless you live in the Key Zone neighborhood, you will not have access to ASFS, an award-winning school that delivers, for 93% of low income kids, proficiency or higher on the 5th grade science exam, a rate that places ASFS among top 5% of elementary schools statewide.

The School Board COULD have proposed to treat Key Elementary and ASFS similarly to allow that low-income family to apply for enrollment via lottery, but without justification as to why, they are poised to choose to limit access for ASFS while expanding it for Key.

More insidious is the risk to ASFS’ impressive results. Despite a taxpayer-funded evaluation of APS science results in 2014, not a single publicly available evaluation explains why ASFS is so successful. A fellow Obama White House policy maker and neighbor, Ben Harris, notes that children benefit–or suffer–from being in a classroom with children at a different educational level as their own. Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby found that economically disadvantaged African-American and Hispanic children in Texas showed marked benefits from being in a classroom with kids who had higher test scores.

In other words, diversity matters. And this policy hits right at the diverse enrollment mix currently at ASFS. Coupled with its award-winning integrated curriculum that embeds science and discovery in all classroom instruction, ASFS results need further study before materially changing its composition, curriculum, or level of parental engagement on account of family choice.

I urge you to call, write, or show up to the June 1st School Board meeting and demand a return to evidence-based policy-making that we have so loudly called for at the federal level when attempting to fight back the Trump Administration’s attacks on science, health, and the social safety net. Such a call will result in a call to expand access via choice/lottery slots to Arlington Science Focus. Anything less would be irresponsible.

(Update: APS just posted this FAQ which includes this depressing quote: “Ensure that no students who live outside of the current Science Focus/Key boundary zone are enrolling in Science Focus for the first time, beginning with the 2017-18 school year.”).

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

Photo via Arlington Public Schools

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Morning Notes

McDonald’s to Open Next Week in Rosslyn — The new McDonald’s restaurant in Rosslyn is expected to open on Monday, May 8. It will feature “mobile and kiosk ordering, with six touch-screen kiosks,” as well as “table service, with servers bringing customers their food after orders are placed using the screens.” [Washington Business Journal]

Petition Against Proposed APS Policy — Among those signing a petition against a proposed new school enrollment and transfer policy is former U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra. He writes: “We need to be expanding, not restricting access to Arlington’s award-winning, integrated elementary school science curriculum! Counter to the data-driven ‘Arlington Way,’ this proposal is inappropriately rushed with debate or impact analysis. Sad!” [Change.org]

ACPD Officer to Be Added to Memorial — Arlington County Police Cpl. Harvey Snook is being added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in D.C. Snook died last year of cancer caused by his service during the recovery effort at the Pentagon following the 9/11 attack. Snook will also be added to Arlington’s Peace Officers Memorial on May 10, the first name added since 2005. [WTOP, Arlington County]

Arlington Woman, 109, Still Stays Up Late — Viola Graham, a 109-year-old resident of Arlington, says she still feels young and still doesn’t go to bed until midnight. Graham also “takes no medicine, besides the occasional Tylenol.” [WUSA 9]

Britt McHenry Goes Off the Air — Arlington’s own Britt McHenry is among the mass layoffs at ESPN. Though the sportscaster is going off the air, she said last week via Twitter that her fans would see her again on TV “soon.” McHenry formerly worked for WJLA (ABC 7) in Rosslyn. [Florida Today, Twitter]

Gubernatorial Candidates in Arlington — Democratic candidates for governor in Virginia, Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello, will be debating at a progressive forum in Ballston tonight. [Facebook]

Flickr pool photo by GM and MB

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Reaction to Clinton’s Pick of Kaine as Running Mate

On Friday, Hillary Clinton announced that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) was her VP pick, capping months of speculation about the Democratic presidential nominee’s running mate.

The announcement rippled through Virginia politics, with elected officials from a local level on up weighing in on the decision.

Among Democrats representing Arlington in Richmond or across the Potomac, many were quick to praise the pick.

Said Sen. Mark Warner, in a statement:

I enthusiastically applaud Secretary Clinton’s choice. Without reservation, I can say there is no one of higher integrity and trustworthiness.

I first met Tim Kaine in law school 37 years ago, and our paths crossed years later in Virginia politics.  Whether serving as mayor of Richmond, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, governor, and now as U.S. senator, Tim has always shown a commitment to serving others.

He always finds reasons for hope and optimism in every situation, and he is centered by his faith and his family. Our country, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, will be very well-served by electing Tim Kaine as Vice President.

Said Gov. Terry McAuliffe:

I am thrilled to congratulate my friend Senator Tim Kaine on his selection to join the Democratic ticket with Hillary Clinton. As a Mayor, Lieutenant Governor, Governor and United States Senator, Tim Kaine has demonstrated that he is the right choice to help lead our country forward as Vice President of the United State. His experience, intellect and dedication to making life better for people from all walks of life will make him an enormous asset to Secretary Clinton throughout the remainder of this campaign and as a leader in her administration over the next four years. This is a proud day for every Virginian.

Said Del. Alfonso Lopez:

Secretary Clinton has made a wise choice in Tim Kaine as her running mate. He is an extraordinary public servant who has dedicated his life to helping others. In his administration, I coordinated and supervised Congressional and Federal Relations for the Commonwealth and the Governor. In that position, I saw firsthand his intelligence, innate decency and ability to get folks from all points of view to work together.

A tireless champion for the citizens of the Commonwealth, Tim Kaine takes a pragmatic and results-oriented approach that has earned him respect on both sides of the aisle. He is a strong addition to the Democratic ticket and will be a true asset to a Clinton Administration.

Simply put, my old boss and friend U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is one of the best public servants and one of the best individuals I’ve ever encountered. In a world that sometimes feels like it has lost its way, the nation will benefit greatly from the leadership, compassion and infectious optimism of Tim Kaine.

Said state Sen. Adam Ebbin:

The speculation about who Gov. McAuliffe might appoint to replace Kaine in the U.S. Senate, should he and Clinton win the presidential race in November, has already started.

Among the local names being mentioned as possible Senate appointees are Rep. Don Beyer, Aneesh Chopra and Del. Lopez.

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Arlington to Host Democratic Lt. Gov. Debate

Aneesh Chopra in the Obama campaign headquarters on Columbia PikeThe Arlington County Democratic Committee will host a debate between the two Democratic candidates for Virginia Lieutenant Governor.

Aneesh Chopra and Ralph Northam will debate each other on Wednesday, June 5, at George Mason University’s Founders Hall (3351 Fairfax Drive). The debate is scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m., during the monthly ACDC monthly meeting.

“The debate will give Arlingtonians a chance to learn about both candidates just six days before they go to the polls to cast their primary vote,” the organization said in a press release. “The event is free and open to the public.”

Chopra, an Arlington resident, was the country’s first Chief Technology Officer. Northam is a former Army doctor and a current state Senator. The winner of the June 11 primary will face the Republican candidate, minister and attorney E.W. Jackson, on Nov. 5.

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Arlington Resident Chopra Announces Run for Lt. Gov.

Arlington resident Aneesh Chopra announced today that he is seeking the Democratic nomination for Virginia Lieutenant Governor in 2013.

Chopra, who lives with his wife and two children in the Donaldson Run neighborhood, says he’s running to create “new opportunities” for Virginians and to help solve the state’s “biggest challenges.”

Chopra, who was appointed the  first Chief Technology Officer of the United States by President Obama, said he’s also going to work to support the president’s reelection. Last month he joined actor Kal Penn at two events for Obama supporters in Arlington.

The following statement was issued by Chopra this afternoon.

“We live in a time of profound change. In our communities, our Commonwealth and our country, people are looking for pragmatic solutions that address our biggest problems, create opportunities and improve our lives.

Ideas matter. And so does action to make our economy work for everyone.

Since I left my position as U.S. Chief Technology Officer, friends, neighbors, business and community leaders have encouraged me to take action by running for statewide office. I’m humbled by their support and pleased to announce that today, after months of reflection, I enthusiastically filed my candidate qualification to seek the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor in 2013.

As Virginia’s Secretary of Technology, I worked with communities across the Commonwealth to plant the seeds of new ideas to ensure all Virginians have the skills they need to compete in the 21st Century economy. We created hands-on high school technology training through Virginia STAR, accelerated efforts to prepare more people without a high school degree for jobs of the future through PluggedInVA, and harnessed the power of mobile technology to support great teaching through our Learning Without Boundaries initiative.

I remain excited about these efforts and the new opportunities we have to bring Virginians together to solve our biggest challenges in the years ahead. I am committed to seeding innovative ideas that support a quality workforce and educating Virginians throughout their lifetime to strengthen and maintain a state economy that is built to last.

Over the next several months, our Commonwealth and our country face important choices. I will work hard to help elect President Obama, Governor Tim Kaine, and our exceptional roster of Democratic Congressional candidates this November. In addition, in the days, weeks and months ahead, I look forward to continuing to listen to Virginians, hearing directly from them about the issues affecting their families and serving as an enthusiastic advocate on their behalf.”

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