Arlington, VA

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

APS parents are known for their engagement on issues with the School Board.  But why should parents direct their attention to the County Board?

The most obvious answer is because APS relies on the County for its funding. However, the County’s independent priorities and policies affect not just APS’ budget, but also its policies and decisions.

It is, therefore, in the County Board’s interest to understand the needs of its school system and community. County Board members should recognize the challenges APS faces and understand how it operates and uses its resources. They should appreciate and acknowledge how its own policies and decisions (housing, transportation, land use, zoning, “community benefits” from developers, bike trails, sidewalks, bond allocations, etc.) impact APS’ resources, how efficiently it can use those resources, and the resulting types of services and quality of education APS delivers.

APS parents should be just as concerned about County Board candidates’ positions on issues as they are about candidates for school board. With a special election to fill Erik Gutshall’s County Board seat upon us, now is the time for voters to ask themselves some questions they may not typically consider when voting for County Board:

  • How well do County Board members understand our school system, the expectations placed on Arlington public education today, and how school and County issues relate to each other?
  • Do they understand the effects of development, housing policy, and land use decisions on individual school enrollments, transportation and boundary policies, and APS’ ability to provide equitable and inclusive learning environments?
  • How will their positions impact school crowding; or how attendance zones can be drawn; or the instruction that can be implemented; or how employees can be compensated; or accessibility of school facilities for staff, substitute teachers, parents, volunteers, and even community members attending events and using facilities?
  • Do they have ideas about ways the County can partner with APS in providing supportive services (such as childcare or preschool, after-school enrichment, mental health services, transportation, etc.) so that APS can devote more of its budget and attention to academics and instruction?

The argument that only 20% of Arlington residents have children in the schools has grown tiresome. The fact is, far more than 20% of Arlington residents have had, have, or will have children in Arlington Public Schools. Furthermore, every resident is affected by the quality and reputation of Arlington’s school system and the resources it uses from the County’s coffers – whether in the form of property values, available amenities, quality of public services, or by inefficient delivery systems unnecessarily diverting money from other community needs and desires.

School and County Board members differ on even the most fundamental matters, such as the urgency of issues APS is facing due to demographic shifts in Arlington. A friend said recently, “Denial is bad public policy.” It is time for County Board members to stop denying the challenges APS and parents tell them they are confronting. The two boards do not have to see eye-to-eye, but it is not County Board members’ role to determine schools don’t need expensive parking because they prefer to encourage alternative transit, or that APS does not need more land or buildings because education will look different in the future. APS has 28,000 students to educate now, and Arlington is not the progressive city with the sophisticated public transit system the County likes to believe it is.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued detailed guidance this week for the phased reopening of schools. Because each of the three phases includes six-foot social distancing in school and on buses, Arlington Public Schools (APS) will have to provide a hybrid model of education this fall, with limited in-person instruction, combined with online learning.

The Governor’s guidance for instruction is as follows:

  • Phase I – continues remote learning and allows in-person instruction for students with disabilities;
  • Phase II – adds limited in-person instruction for preschool through third grade and English learner students; and
  • Phase III – allows in-person instruction for all students, with new content taught.

While the timing of moving through these phases is not explicit, it appears that Phase II is intended for summer school and Phase III is anticipated for the fall.

APS class sizes are too large for social distancing. A recent report of the American Federation of Teachers on school reopening states that classes should have 12-15 students to maintain recommended social distancing. The APS 2019-20 Class Size Report shows average class sizes of 22 students for elementary schools, 21 students for middle schools, and 20 students for high schools.

APS does not have enough buses to maintain social distancing for students who ride the bus. An APS presentation on school opening estimates that school bus capacity will be reduced by 75% with social distancing. Given that more than 65% of students ride the bus, ridership would be cut from 18,942 students to 4,736 students in the fall, based on projected fall enrollment of 29,142 students.

Recognizing the impact of social distancing, the Governor’s guidelines offer sample school schedules for Phase III, with students attending school physically one or two full days per week, half-days four days per week, or two to three days per week every other week.

APS must determine how many hours per week each student can attend school for in-person education considering Arlington’s student enrollment, square footage of classrooms, and bus capacity. An additional consideration is the effect of COVID-19 on the APS workforce and how many teachers and staff will request to work remotely because of health considerations.

Another factor affecting the number of hours available for in-person instruction is the APS budget. The School Board’s adopted FY 2021 budget slashed expenditures by $55.6 million, compared with the interim Superintendent’s proposed budget. The budget lacks funding for more buses and drivers or for more teachers to reduce class sizes. In fact, the budget increases class sizes by one at each grade level, for a savings of $4.9 million.

Phase III school reopening in Arlington could have all students return to school for significantly reduced hours per week, or it could allocate the limited resource of in-person education in a different way.

The Governor’s guidance has a focus on equity and identifies “vulnerable” students who should receive targeted attention.  These include young learners, English learners, students with disabilities, those at risk of not moving to the next grade level or not graduating, and students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.

APS Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran has convened a task force of parents, teachers, students and citizens to advise him in developing the APS reopening plan. Key to the task force considerations should be the APS core value of equity: “Eliminate opportunity gaps and achieve excellence by providing access to schools, resources, and learning opportunities according to each student’s unique needs.”

Arlington has significant achievement gaps between groups of students, and these gaps are expected to increase as a result of school closures. Such disparities have long-term consequences, affecting post-secondary educational opportunities, jobs, and wages. Therefore, in-person education in Arlington this fall should focus on those students who need it the most.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Project Peace Prevention Committee and Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with the Community Progress Network and Second Chance

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) A new strategic plan. A newly-developed definition of “equity.” Years of exponential enrollment growth. Turnover of several high-level administrators and, in a few months, two board members. The hiring of the first Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer. The naming of the first new superintendent in over a decade. A shutdown due to a pandemic.

It has all come to a head and has created the perfect opportunity to pause and reset.

This pandemic should serve as a wake-up call to APS and the County to identify and fix the problems with student and parent access to online information and materials.

According to APS data collected, 95% of devices accessed the system in the past few weeks. That is impressive and encouraging. It does not mean all of the remaining 5% cannot access. Some students have chosen not to engage, some may be using another device available in their home, and some may not be able to continue with school due to circumstances caused by the pandemic.

APS and the County cannot fix every issue with online learning, but they can fix the basic problems of availability of devices and internet access and need to do so before the start of the next academic year. Schools have the devices. The County needs to find a way to resolve any lack of internet access.

This distance learning experience is a wake-up call to APS to finally develop and implement a district-wide ed tech curriculum that serves as an effective supplement to classroom instruction and that can facilitate a seamless transition to an effective online program when necessary.

The 1:1 technology initiative has been in place 6 years and we continue to endure vast inconsistencies and insufficient teacher training in how to optimize the use of devices for the benefit of instruction and learning. We cannot wait any longer.

This is a wake-up call to build a broad, integrated network of resources with APS and County working as a unit to identify, facilitate, and deliver needed services.

The beginnings of such a network can already be seen through the efforts to identify locations for new school facilities and collaborating on data used for enrollment projections. Other signs of an emerging network include APS referring parents to County programs as alternatives to eliminated summer enrichment programs, and collaboration between APS and the County for food distribution programs and increasing internet access through mobile Wi-Fi hotspots.

These are efforts to build upon, and this is the perfect time to assess the various needs of students and families, to identify whether APS or Arlington County is responsible for addressing those needs and determine how one can support the other to facilitate filling those needs. For example, education is the primary responsibility of school while social services are a major function of government. Schools could identify students and families in need of mental health and social services and offer space for County providers to deliver the actual services.

Another example is preschool and extended day programs. There is a need and desire for more preschool opportunities and APS’ extended day programs have waitlists. The County also runs preschool programs and may be able to expand its offerings more easily than APS. The County can also work to encourage and support the establishment of more private preschools, daycares, and extended day programs to extend APS’ offerings.

Finally, this is a wake-up call and a perfect opportunity to re-evaluate APS’ definition of equity and how it impacts APS policy decisions.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

On February 27, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that there were 16 COVID-19 cases in the United States.

That same day, the Arlington Public Schools (APS) interim Superintendent presented her proposed FY 2021 budget, with total expenditures of $725.9 million. That reflected an 8.4% increase in expenditures over the current year, added 265 positions, and increased per pupil spending from $19,921 to $21,290. It included a step increase and cost of living adjustment for employees. Revenue was estimated at $698.4 million, with options presented for spending reductions to reduce the $27.5 million budget deficit.

In March, schools were closed, non-essential businesses shuttered, and stay-at-home orders were issued for most of the nation. By April 23, the number of reported COVID-19 cases in the United States had increased to 865,585.

When the School Board met on April 23, the economic impact of COVID-19 was evident in the proposed budget it adopted. Following the revised recommendation of the interim Superintendent, expenditures proposed in February were cut by $54.8 million — a 7.5% reduction in spending.

The School Board’s proposed budget is balanced, with expenditures matching the revised revenue estimate of $671.1 million.  Most of the change in revenue results from a decrease in the transfer that APS will receive from Arlington County: $21.6 million less in ongoing funds and $3.7 million less in one-time funds. That is based on the County Manager’s revised budget, which estimates $55.7 million less County revenue than was included in his initial proposed budget.

The new budget reality means that APS will spend next fiscal year about the same that it does this year, while educating more students, and facing other increased costs. As detailed in the interim Superintendent’s revised budget, FY 2021 expenditures will increase by about $1.5 million. That does not cover the $11.77 million estimated cost of enrollment growth, which is projected to increase by 4%, adding more than 1,100 students next year.

In the new budget reality, most of the proposed increases in the February proposed budget are eliminated and its reductions are retained, including cutting the Foreign Language in Elementary School program.

The compensation increase costing $15.3 million is eliminated. According to the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) Guide, which compares 10 local school divisions, Arlington ranks at the bottom of the 10 school divisions in salary for a teacher with a master’s degree at step one of the pay scale, and at or near the top for teachers with more experience. Because employing quality teachers is a key factor in student success, Arlington’s ranking for new teacher pay is cause for concern.

Class size is increased by one at every grade level, for a savings of $4.9 million. The WABE Guide shows that Arlington now has the lowest class size (students per classroom teacher) for high school, second lowest for middle school, and is in the middle of the pack for elementary school.

To balance the budget, reserved funds are used, reducing these from a current balance of $28.5 million to $12.1 million.

The School Board’s final FY 2021 budget, to be adopted on May 7, likely will be very similar to its proposed budget. If revenues come in higher than now projected, the School Board should first replenish its reserve funds.

It is hard to find a budgetary silver lining in any of this. But maybe it is this. Arlington’s commitment to quality public education continues. APS now spends the most per pupil in the region, at $19,921. Even with the new budget reality that reduces per pupil spending to $19,624, that is more than our neighboring jurisdictions invest now.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Project Peace Prevention Committee and Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with the Community Progress Network and Second Chance.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Last week, Arlington Public Schools revealed its continuous learning plan for the remainder of the academic year. As with all APS decisions, the plan is controversial and parents have been quick to react with criticism.

I initially approached this week’s column intending to discuss the most contentious aspect of the plan. But no matter what APS does or doesn’t do, parents will continue to criticize and debate. So, upon considering the conversations I’ve had, my own reactions, and comments I’ve heard and read, I decided instead to look for some silver linings.

I am in something akin to a “Twilight Zone” episode wherein I find myself in a (literal) stay-at-home mom role with no idea what day of the week it is, a teen and pre-teen inexplicably unenthused and uncooperative with the thoughtful schedule I’ve outlined, a husband able to escape to an office one full day a week, juggling my own paid and volunteer work while trying to consolidate academic expectations from 14 teachers using Canvas (or not) in 14 ways. Maybe it will all come together in time to return the kids to the classroom into the much more capable hands of their teachers?

Meanwhile, as I ignore sibling exchanges and commentaries in response to my nagging about screen time, daring to suggest the kids fill their time by helping out more around the house, I welcome the diversion of some possible positive outcomes from APS’ distance learning plan:

  • Struggling students have a unique opportunity to significantly improve their year-end grades, possibly boosting their self-confidence and maybe becoming a turning point for some.
  • Most students will enjoy the reprieve from the daily stresses of school and the academic pressures and expectations causing significant anxiety and depression.
  • Many will have time and opportunity to pursue self-selected topics and to learn in ways more suited to them than the structured school day and prescribed assignments.
  • Parents have been inspired to become more involved and actively help other school communities in need.
  • APS and PTAs are coordinating with County efforts to supply and manage food distribution programs.
  • New connections between PTAs are being made. A more substantive PTA partnership program may begin to emerge – partnerships that continue beyond the current crisis at hand and that benefit students academically and socially.
  • Partnerships and collaborations taking place now can create a foundation for a countywide network for providing ongoing services and to respond to future crises more efficiently and effectively – reducing time required to coordinate while people wait for the help they need.
  • The move to “distance learning” and APS’ decision not to introduce new curriculum content highlight the disparities and obstacles that exist in our County and schools. With increased awareness of the severity of disparities and all students being directly impacted by APS decisions based on equity issues, perhaps APS and the County will feel more pressure to solve existing problems and devise more creative and collaborative solutions.
  • APS could consider enrichment options and better use of its tiered system of support instruction to compensate for material missed this year and students being expected to learn more information more quickly next year.
  • APS has renewed reason to evaluate whether its 1:1 digital device initiative is the best model or if there is a more equitable model for designing instruction that better facilitates the allocation of devices and resources, ensures every student has access to a working device at home, and allows students to be taught new material via distance learning when necessary for any reason.
  • Maybe my kids will learn to cook — or at least feed the dog.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

There is a new reality for students, families, teachers, staff, and school leaders: K-12 schools are closed through the end of the academic year, as ordered by Virginia’s Governor.

With this new reality, what are the priorities, challenges, and opportunities for Arlington Public Schools (APS) students?

Nutrition

As of October 2019, APS had more than 8,000 students eligible for free or reduced-price meals. That is 29% of the student population – a percentage that will increase as parents are laid off and lose jobs. Ensuring that Arlington youth have nutritious meals daily is a top priority.

APS is providing free grab-and-go breakfast and lunch for all Arlington youth ages 2-18 on Mondays through Fridays available for pick up between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Kenmore Middle School and Barrett, Campbell, Drew, and Randolph elementary schools. For next week’s spring break, a week’s worth of food was made available in advance. Beginning on April 13, Hoffman-Boston and Key elementary schools will be added to the sites offering these meals. The federal government recently waived the requirement that students be present to receive these meals.

APS staff are to be commended for quickly putting this food distribution system in place. However, not all families who need support can access one of these five sites. Across the country, and in neighboring jurisdictions such as Fairfax and Loudoun counties, school buses are being used to provide food to students in their own neighborhoods.

APS should consider expanding its food distribution to include schools buses. In time, school buses also might be used to distribute other items, like school supplies and books, for children in need.

Mental Health and Safety

Another top priority, especially now, is mental health and safety. Families are facing the stress of job losses and managing work with children at home full-time. There is the fear of loved ones becoming infected with the virus.

In these stressful times, child abuse and neglect as well as domestic violence may increase — putting children more at risk. APS has 125 school counselors, 38 psychologists, and 31 social workers serving our more than 28,000 students. In normal times, these dedicated staff is stretched thin. These are not normal times. The County and schools should work together to ensure that students and families are receiving the support that they need.

Learning

Students, their families, and teachers are adjusting to distance learning.

In a March 26 update, APS states that students on track to graduate as of the end of the third quarter will be able to graduate. In addition, students in good standing as of that time will move to the next grade level. During the fourth quarter, students with failing grades will receive assistance to help them improve and advance to the next grade level. These are important priorities.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

People assert “social engineering” to oppose ideas to increase the socioeconomic diversity within our schools or neighborhoods. Where has this indignant outcry been as Arlington County policies “socially engineered” us into the segregated neighborhoods and schools we have today?

“Social engineering” is always applied as though it is necessarily bad. The fact is, all public policies and practices socially shape our communities. Is it “social engineering” per se that people object to? Or the intended results that potentially threaten their status quo?

Arlington County’s development and zoning regulations and housing policies reinforce and perpetuate the same impacts of redlining from decades past. Concentrating affordable housing for the lowest income levels in a few specific areas of the county has created segregated neighborhoods and, by consequence, segregated schools.

We have “socially engineered” ourselves into a situation whereby some schools require a broad range of supportive services not traditionally provided by a public school. To support families, Community in Schools programs are implemented in high-needs, high-poverty schools. Arlington has done so at Carlin Springs Elementary School, and there is support for expanding that model to others.

Some argue it is more efficient to bring services and resources to the schools near where many people in need live and where their children are enrolled. This is not necessarily a bad idea. But even if this is the preferred model, what about children and families in need at more affluent schools where a Community in Schools program is unlikely to be implemented?

A more equitable approach would be to ensure that all services and supports are accessible by any student in need at any school in the district. Intentional segregation should not be implemented for the sake of efficiency. People should not have to live in low-income neighborhoods zoned to a specific school offering the unique services they need. Affordable housing should be sufficiently available throughout the County. Disadvantaged families should be able to send their children to any school and receive the same assistance in accessing the services and programs they need.

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Ed Talk: Accountability

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Accountability in education means having clear goals for student achievement and data that is readily available to decision-makers and the public to assess progress toward those goals.

Strategic Planning – Setting Goals

Strategic planning charts a long-term course for school divisions, setting goals and specifying metrics to provide accountability.

The Arlington Public Schools (APS) 2018-24 Strategic Plan includes this goal: “APS will eliminate opportunity gaps so all students achieve excellence.” The Plan includes performance objectives for this goal, such as:

  • Increased achievement for all reporting groups on district and state assessments shows progress toward eliminating the opportunity gap.
  • All students will make at least one year’s worth of growth as measured by federal, state, and/or district assessments.

However, the Plan includes no quantitative benchmarks for academic performance. How much should achievement increase by 2024? How is one year’s worth of growth calculated?

Compare this with the APS 2011-17 Strategic Plan. For the goal that every student is challenged and engaged, the Plan included 21 key performance indicators, setting quantitative targets for 2017 for achievement in reading, math, science, and history/social studies, as well as for on-time graduation rates, enrollment and performance in advanced classes, and SAT/ACT scores.

For the goal of eliminating achievement gaps, the 2011-17 Plan had 23 key performance indicators, each including data for seven groups of students – resulting in 161 performance targets.

The School Board should build on its Strategic Plan to add quantitative key performance indicators. Establishing these targets as part of the Strategic Plan is critical for APS staff and the public to know what the expectations are for our students.

Monitoring Progress/Data Transparency

How does the School Board monitor student performance? One method is program evaluations.  These are thorough reviews that include classroom observations, data analysis, and recommendations for improvement, conducted about every six years for each academic discipline.

For example, an extensive English Language Arts (ELA) Program Evaluation was completed in May 2019 and considered during a January School Board work session. The previous ELA evaluation was completed in 2013.

APS collects vast amounts of student achievement data, as required by law. In previous years, the School Board reviewed data for the key performance indicators in its Strategic Plan during a series of meetings each fall. The Board could see how different groups of students were performing on a variety of measures over many years. From this, the Board could consider what was working well and where adjustments might be needed to enhance success.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The word “equity” derives from the Latin aequus, meaning “equal,” or “fair.”

Arlington Public Schools’ (APS) strategic plan refers to “equity” this way: Eliminate opportunity gaps and achieve excellence by providing access to schools, resources, and learning opportunities according to each student’s unique needs.”

Arlington County defines “equity” as “…all populations having access to community conditions and opportunities needed to reach their full potential and to experience optimal well-being.”

APS’ reference implies an individual approach to equity, whereas the County’s definition suggests a systemic approach. Indeed, APS consistently employs a non-systemic approach to matters: targeting programs and community partnerships at individual schools; relying on principals and PTAs to identify and fulfill each school’s needs, instituting exemplary projects to create a unique focus for each neighborhood elementary school, and supporting diversity through option schools rather than promoting diversity in all schools.

This approach has resulted in strikingly different academic experiences from school to school, notable disparities in perceived school quality and student achievement, exaggerated anxieties about potential boundary changes, and divided communities.

Whereas, with a systemic approach to equity:

  • Every school should be able to meet the needs of any student at any time;
  • No middle or high school teacher would know which elementary or middle school a student attended based on their academic preparedness in any given subject; and
  • Boundary discussions would be void of phrases like “lesser than,” “worse,” or “less desirable.”

Any student should be able to transfer from any neighborhood school to another for any reason – moving, boundary change – and pick-up right where they left off. No student should find themselves notably behind their new classmates academically, or conspicuously ahead and repeating instruction. No student should be obliged to live within a particular school’s attendance zone in order to receive the educational or social support they need, or struggle because they live where those supports are not readily available in their assigned school.

Instructional consistency across the district helps ensure students from every school are similarly prepared for middle and high school coursework so that there is no distinguishable correlation of students’ preparedness in math, or level of achievement in a world language, with the school they previously attended.

An equitable school system offers fewer reasons for pushback against boundary changes and, therefore, more civil discourse. All APS schools are good, but they are not equal. Academic and social experiences and opportunities differ widely, fueling divisive rhetoric and pitting neighborhoods against each other.

What is the pathway to equity? De-segregation.

The most effective way APS can ensure equity is to create a reasonable balance in socioeconomic demographics across schools.  Economic diversity facilitates equality in available resources such as PTA funding, parent and community volunteers, and other community assets. This in turn enables each school to sufficiently support its teachers and students and vastly narrows the range of disparities between schools.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

While many believe that Arlington Public Schools (APS) currently is engaged in an elementary school boundary process, it is not. Instead, APS proposes moving entire school populations from one school to another. It then will consider boundary changes in the fall of 2020, offering no details on what those might look like.

Making adjustments to school assignments is necessary to create an attendance zone to fill seats at the new elementary school at the Reed building opening in 2021. In addition, APS intends to redraw the attendance zone for Arlington Science Focus School to address significant crowding in that part of the County.

APS has a detailed policy for boundary changes, which includes consideration of the following factors: efficiency, proximity, stability, alignment, promoting demographic diversity, and contiguity. However, there is no policy governing the current “school move” process and APS has been explicit that it is not considering demographics.

Research is clear that students — all students — do better in diverse learning environments.

Yet many of our schools are not diverse. The socio-economic differences are stark: the average eligibility for free/reduced price meals for neighborhood elementary schools in south Arlington is more than three times that of neighborhood schools in north Arlington – 52.58% compared with 15.58%.

We also know that there are significant gaps in academic achievement between poorer and wealthier schools. For example, the Standards of Learning math pass rate last year at Carlin Springs Elementary was 62% (free/reduced price lunch eligibility — 81.15%) and for Tuckahoe Elementary it was 98% (free/reduced price lunch eligibility — 1.51%).

The School Board’s boundary policy appropriately considers promoting demographic diversity, recognizing that this has an impact on student achievement. Students in diverse schools also have the benefit of learning about and from others with different backgrounds, languages, and life experiences.

Among the APS core values is equity, which is defined this way: “Eliminate opportunity gaps and achieve excellence by providing access to schools, resources, and learning opportunities according to each student’s unique needs.”

APS should consider lack of diversity in schools as an opportunity gap.

As APS staff, community members, and the School Board engage in the current process, I suggest that the four equity questions I referenced in my November 1 column be asked:

  • Who benefits?
  • Who is burdened?
  • Who is missing?
  • How do you know?

Since APS is not considering demographics in its school move process, these questions cannot be fully answered. We do know that the burden of one of the proposals may fall disproportionately on low-income students, since it would move nearly all students at Campbell, Carlin Springs, and Key elementary schools. And given what appears to be the lack of any community support for the proposals, who benefits?

The Board should not move thousands of elementary school students in a process that is separate from a boundary process and that does not consider demographic diversity. To do so misses the chance to reduce opportunity gaps by increasing diversity at our elementary schools.

Instead, school moves and boundary changes should be considered together, with data about the free/reduced price lunch population and racial/ethnic composition of each elementary school that would result. And consideration should be given to other tools that have been used in the past to address crowding, diversity, and achievement, such as option and team schools.

Achieving more diversity across our elementary schools, most of which are neighborhood schools, is challenging. But we cannot make any progress if promoting demographic diversity is not even a factor in the process of assigning students to different schools.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Project Peace Prevention Committee and Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with the Community Progress Network and Second Chance.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington Public Schools (APS) is moving forward with the implementation of a Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer (CDEIO).

APS posted the vacancy in early October and hopes to have the position filled by January. There is a sense within the Arlington community that this process is being rushed – unnecessarily and to the detriment of APS’ own efforts.

Whether you believe the position is unnecessary or you consider it essential to eliminate systemic biases, there are legitimate concerns about the circumstances under which APS is pursuing its implementation:

  • APS has not indicated the specific situations or problems it is aiming to solve with this position;
  • A lack of explicit objectives and measurable goals to be achieved may be setting the stage for certain failure;
  • Filling a new, high-level position in the absence of a permanent superintendent may create inconsistency or incompatibility in expectations when leadership changes; and
  • The work of the CDEIO would likely be guided by APS’ policy on diversity, equity and inclusion, which APS is still developing and the School Board has yet to adopt.

Adding to concerns that this process is being rushed is the uncertain degree to which the School Board is committed to the continued investment needed to enable a CDEIO to succeed. After the recent successive budgets that have precluded the addition of other important personnel, will the future Superintendent and Board members commit the necessary funds in subsequent budgets for staff support, training programs, or other resources the CDEIO requires?

If the Board does not invest sufficient resources, opponents who argue a CDEIO is unnecessary or will be ineffective will be proven correct.  Community fears that creating this position is nothing more than checking a box to reassure the community of the Board’s commitment to diversity and equity will be confirmed. It will merely serve as distraction while the Board forges ahead with boundary changes, capacity solutions, and instructional program decisions without a sense of obligation or responsibility to address diversity or equity within those processes and decisions.

It is noteworthy that the Arlington County Board adopted an equity resolution this past September. Despite the County’s intention to establish an interdepartmental task force that includes Arlington Public Schools, the County did not consult with APS as it developed its resolution. A joint policy on diversity, equity, and inclusion would ensure consistency in terms and definitions used by County and Schools, a shared vision and uniform practices across County and Schools, and an acknowledgement of County policy impacts on APS’ ability to provide equitable educational and social opportunities to all students.

Nevertheless, APS’ policies on equity and inclusion and diversity will be driving factors in all aspects of administration and instruction. Therefore, this position must not be allowed to fail and APS must make every effort to maximize a new CDEIO’s chances for success.

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