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
As Arlington Public Schools continues to grapple with ever-increasing enrollment, the school system is continuing to add relocatable classroom trailers to over-capacity schools.
Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy included $2.6 million in his proposed budget for the purchase of relocatable classrooms next school year. As the trailers are parked outside of schools, there is increasing concern about the loss of open, recreational space.
At Arlington Science Focus School, near Virginia Square, the PTA recently expressed concern that two additional relocatables, slated to be added next school year, would have to be placed on the school’s blacktop — thus resulting in the loss of a recess and phys ed area. (Four relocatables are already placed on a field outside the school.)
The PTA, working with APS, came up with a solution already at place at some other schools: a “six-plex” modular school unit that houses six classrooms and a common space, not unlike this one. The consolidated unit would cut down on the amount of open space taken up.
There are already five “six-plexes” in Arlington: two at McKinley Elementary and one each at Claremont, Oakridge and Taylor elementary schools.
APS spokesman Frank Bellavia says the school system works with schools, parents and neighbors to figure out the best way to place relocatables at schools. But the need for the modular classrooms, he said, points to the need for APS to continue building new schools and school additions expeditiously.
“We work with school leadership and the neighboring community to find the best location for the relocatables,” Bellavia said. “This is why we need more seats for more students.”
After the jump: the letter from the Science Focus PTA to parents.
Photo via Google Maps
Gas Leak Causes Evacuation in Clarendon — A Saturday gas leak forced the closing of Clarendon Blvd. near the Clarendon Metro station. Approximately 50 people evacuated six nearby buildings during the incident. Nobody was hurt. [Washington Post]
Proposal to Turn Basement into Classrooms — On Thursday, Arlington School Board members are expected to approve a $2 million project to turn basement crawl space into classrooms at Arlington Science Focus School. The project would end the need for the four relocatable classrooms on the school’s property, as well as a planned fifth. [InsideNova]
No GOP Treasurer Candidate So Far — The Arlington County Republican Committee doesn’t have any contenders so far to run in the special election for county treasurer. If no names are added by the August 15 deadline, Treasurer Carla de la Pava will be unopposed. [InsideNova]
U.S. Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner paid a visit to the children and faculty of Arlington Science Focus Elementary School this afternoon to campaign against underage drinking.
Wagner, sporting the bronze medal she won this year as part of the U.S. figure skating team, told the hundreds who gathered in the school’s gymnasium that after she started training to become a figure skater when she was 5 years old, she vowed to do whatever it took to get to the Olympics.
“When you’re an athlete, your body is a machine,” she said. “You want the ultimate machine, so you want to take care of it. So I made a lot of important decisions. I ate my fruits and veggies, I drank a lot of water and, when the time came, I said no to underage drinking.”
After the crowd of kids answered questions on the basic facts of underage drinking, they got a chance to ask questions of their own. One student asked how old the 22-year-old is –“someone should teach you not to ask a lady that,” she gamely replied before answering question — and another asked how much her medal weighed, which led to Wagner giving the little boy her medal to hold.
“This medal stays in a sock,” she said when asked where she keeps her hardware from Sochi, Russia. “I should probably find a better place for it.”
In addition to students and faculty, attendees at the event included state Sen. Barbara Favola, Del. Patrick Hope and Ralph Blackman, president and CEO of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibly.
Ft. Myer Daycare Investigation Widens — What started as allegations of assault against two workers at a daycare center on Ft. Myer has widened into a worldwide probe of military child care hiring practices. At least 31 daycare staffers at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall have been suspended after investigators found “disqualifying factors in their records, including history of drug use and past allegations of assault.” One official called it “a severe lapse in the background checks system.” [Washington Post]
DoD Relaxes Security Standards for Some Buildings — A loosening of the Department of Defense’s security standards for commercial office buildings may make it easier for the DoD to lease office space in Arlington (and elsewhere). Earlier this month, the Pentagon reversed a policy put in place in response to 9/11 that required that leased office space meet stringent anti-terrorism security standards, even for administrative offices within the DoD. [Washington Business Journal]
Marymount Seeking to Redevelop Ballston Property — Marymount University is pushing ahead with a plan to redevelop its 50-year-old “Blue Goose” building at the corner of N. Glebe Road and Fairfax Drive in Ballston. The university has proposed replacing the aging building with an office building and an apartment building. [Sun Gazette]
Science Focus Teacher Wins Recognition — “Arlington Science Focus School Principal Mary Begley was named Administrator of the Year by the Greater Washington Reading Council at its annual conference in Fairfax” on Wednesday, says a school press release. [Arlington Public Schools]
Flickr pool photo by Damiec
The incident happened just before 5:45 p.m., when police received a call for a truck that had crashed into a fence and a utility pole on the 1500 block of N. Lincon Street. The crash happened in front of Hayes Park and across from Arlington Science Focus school, in the Virginia Square neighborhood. The driver of the truck ran off after the accident, police were told.
After a short investigation officers determined that the truck’s owner had parked it with the keys still inside, and had just noticed that it was missing, according to police radio traffic. Police dogs were called in to try to track the suspect, but as of this morning there was no report of an arrest in the case.
Students, faculty, PTA representatives, school board members, Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy, and Del. Patrick Hope — along with Abraham’s husband and two children — were on hand when Abraham was told she was the first of eight teachers statewide who will receive the award this year.
Abraham will receive a $2,000 cash prize from the lottery, as well as $2,000 classroom supply credit.
“Beth’s commitment to students of all levels is unmistakable,” said Arlington Science Focus School PTA President Noah Simon. “Whether it is the differentiated guided reading groups she established or her firm yet supportive classroom management style, her students develop and keep the will to learn and excel.”
Simon also noted that Abraham has been working beyond her contract hours to help an at-risk student “whose behavior has not only improved, but is serving as an example classmates can follow.”
Funds raised by the Virginia Lottery provided more than $430 million last year for Virginia public schools, representing about 8 percent of state funding for public education.
Photo courtesy Frank Bellavia/Arlington Public Schools