Mayoral Candidates Talk Education With Wilson Beacon

With the April 1st DC Council and mayoral primary just a few weeks away, let’s not rely only on the Washington Post for our news about our candidates.

Greater Greater Washington and its companion blog, Greater Greater Education, is posting video interviews with candidates for mayor and in the contested Council races. The topics they’re covering are housing, transportation and education.

And with education a hot topic in the race for mayor, there’s another perspective to take into consideration: That of the students. The Wilson High School Beacon conducted email interviews with some candidates, and scoured the campaign websites of others for hints of their positions. We’ve been given permission to republish the results from the January 31st issue of The Beacon. We’d also encourage you to subscribe. This student newspaper covers all of its operating costs with donations and advertising.

Mayoral Candidates Talk Education With The Beacon

by Emma Buzbee
Wilson Beacon staff writer

Say the word Washington, D.C. to anyone and a vision of America’s famous democratic buildings pops into mind. What often gets overlooked on the national scale is the government of D.C. itself. But to its residents, nothing could be more important than the upcoming mayoral election and its effect on education.

According to a Washington Post poll before the 2010 elections, 89 percent of registered Democrats believed education to be a key issue in their voting decision, in comparison to the still high 80 percent this year. The focus on education was especially sharp in 2010 due to the controversy regarding the Fenty Administration and Michelle Rhee. Though many liked Rhee’s tough attitude and modern renovations for schools such as Wilson and Deal, citizens in poorer wards thought she favored affluent areas like Northwest. Mayor Gray won thanks in part to opinions such as this, yet only 38 percent feel he has done a good job improving schools. This is significantly lower than his ratings in attracting businesses and decreasing crime, giving fellow democratic primary competitors such as Councilmembers Muriel Bowser (Ward 4,) Tommy Wells (Ward 6,) and Jack Evans (Ward 2,) a chance.

Mayor Gray, in an email interview, says he believes that to improve the GPA and graduation statistics in DCPS, more capable teachers should be hired, the new Common Core standards must be enforced, and all schools should have modern facilities. He acknowledges the issue of education inequality in D.C., stating, “We must do more to ensure that the course offerings and extracurricular activities are also comparable at every school.” Gray blames complications and a lack of clarity with the school boundaries system on the fact they “have not been revised in a comprehensive way since 1968.”

Andy Shallal believes education in D.C. is dropping to unacceptable lows but disagrees with conventional solutions to this problem. According to his website, Shallal thinks that in public schools today there is too much emphasis on standardized tests and obedience. He vows, if elected mayor, to improve schools by including parents, nurturing creativity, and increasing access. But the main issue, in Shallal’s mind, is the blame put on teachers for issues like poverty and unstable home lives when they are brought into the classroom. “Blaming DCPS [teachers] for student standardized test scores is like blaming hospitals for illness.”

According to Corey Goldstone, spokesperson for Councilmember Evans’ campaign, Evans believes that learning and education should “not stop when the final bell rings.” Instead, an emphasis should be placed on improving after-school activities, homework help, and one-on-one tutoring to help bridge the inequality gap between public schools. Councilmember Evans’ other strategy to decrease inequality is providing more jobs for D.C. residents, something he promises if elected mayor. An increase in jobs would then lead to “more money to invest in communities, [so] parents won’t need to apply through a competitive process, because they will have a quality school in their own neighborhood.”

For Councilman Wells, the best ways to improve education for high school students in D.C. involve motivation through job training, hands-on counseling to at-risk kids, and easier access to better schools. He said that to achieve his goal of 80 percent on-time graduation, when he becomes mayor, Wells would contribute $100 million to youth programs. His goal would be for every student to have the opportunity to have an after-school job or job-certification for future work. Wells thinks every family with an at-risk student should have their own provided counselor or social worker. He believes the current school boundary problems and contradictions exclude families from good public schools. It is his personal wish that all students be within a 10-minute walking distance of a quality elementary school, as this will lead to higher attendance.

According to his 2012 election website, Vincent Orange is responsible for the creation of the “Educational Policies for Third and Eighth Grade Students Act of 2005.” This bill, enacted in 2006, created graduation requirements for third and eighth graders. Orange’s reasoning behind the legislation was that simple regulations early on can be beneficial to students’ futures. Acts like this can be very important in “early childhood education to reverse the devastating trend that is negatively impacting the quality of life for our young people and the residents of the nation’s capital.”

Carlos Allen’s campaign website says “educational excellence is our city’s best long-term economic development strategy.” But Allen feels that this is not occurring due to poor early-education programs and a school system with too many outdated policies. Allen proposes the creation of public pediatric wellness centers with a well-equipped staff to go with it. Allen also believes new teachers to be vital, so one of his solutions is more rigorous student teacher training. Allen believes that DCPS has been hurting itself with constant arguments between teachers and administrators that “have destroyed morale and negatively impacted an entire generation of students.”

Councilmember Bowser of Ward 4 has contributed three bills on the subject of education. As she explains in an email interview, she was responsible for the Kids Ride Free Program, which gives students with DC One Cards free public bus transportation after school. One bill, the “DC STEM Fund,” issues grants to non-profit groups to improve STEM education and training for D.C. citizens. Bowser believes for our city “to remain competitive, we need to prepare our youth and older residents for the modern workforce.” The final bill, “Alice Deal for All,” is designed to improve the standards of middle school education across the city, to create “high-quality opportunities in every ward,” and to “keep students on a path to success.”

Reta Jo Lewis is a strong advocate for education. She published on her campaign website that she views education as “the great equalizer, unlocking doors for everyone in our city.” But Lewis also recognizes that in D.C., this nice idea is not always reality. To fix education inequality and improve schools in general, she promises to advocate for better teachers, include parents in the learning process, and create new programs for adult education.

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