As the beaches empty, the traffic congestion returns to normal, and shopping discounts for clothes and school supplies all signal the end to summer and the start of a new school year, one may wonder what the new school term will bring for many students across the country besides new friends and homeroom classes. With many school administrators, teachers, students, parents, policymakers, and the American public still deeming the education system in a state of crisis, we know this will undoubtedly be a part of the many issues up for debate this election season with varying opinions and lots of progress still to make.
It should come as no surprise that America’s primary and secondary schools are widely seen as failing. There are steep gaps in achievement between middle-class and poor students, and even in the midst of high unemployment rates, business owners are struggling to find graduates with sufficient skills in reading, math, and science to fill today’s jobs. High school graduation rates, while improving, are still far too low with more than 25 percent of students failing to graduate from high school in four years. For African-American and Hispanic students, it’s only about 40 percent. In addition, test scores are not up to par, and show us that students across America are performing at levels far below their peers overseas. In fact, a recent report from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) states that our education system is so failed that it puts our National Security at risk.
There is no doubt that America’s students deserve better. If we examine this issue in our own backyard, and look closely at the children in the District of Columbia school system, we know they have recently been confronted with many obstacles in their quest for a promising education. There have been allegations of widespread cheating, embezzlement of educational funds intended for youth programs, dismissal of hundreds of poor performing teachers, and claims of excessive reliance on testing but not teaching and learning skills.
However, despite these many challenges for D.C. schools, there is hope on the horizon—which those in the D.C. school system would certainly welcome since reportedly fewer than 60% of D.C. high school students graduated on time in 2011. Beginning this school year there is anticipation and excitement for many students and parents in D.C., with the opening of a new public charter middle and high school that will enroll hundreds of students in grades 5 to 8 into its program.
BASIS DC is the name of the new charter school program that will seek to offer students the same internationally competitive liberal arts academic curricula that earned BASIS Tucson—the flagship program with six schools in Arizona—national acclaim and ranked among the top ten high school programs in the nation by Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and The Washington Post.
This program focuses on changing the behaviors and setting clear roles for students, teachers, and parents by making everyone accountable and active contributors in the learning process. This to me would seem to be a vital formula for success for a student since we know the responsibility cannot fall on the teacher alone, and that it takes the whole community or “village” to play an active role in a student’s educational journey. The program teaches students as early as 5th grade about organizational and study skills to provide them with the proper foundation to continue their matriculation through the college level; and hires teachers who can help to influence a student’s behavior by conveying that learning is exciting, rewarding, and worthwhile. In addition, parents must support and be involved in their children’s educational development and this program focuses on striking the correct balance by encouraging parents to be their children’s “cheerleaders” while still allowing their children enough autonomy to build the skills and personal responsibility they will need to succeed in college and beyond.
As a native Washingtonian and someone who has been taught the value of a quality education and reaped the benefits, it would be great to see along with the start of a new school year renewed hope for parents, teachers, and students that new programs are advocating and encouraging innovation in education in D.C. And, that educational models that focus on changing attitudes and behaviors of the entire school community can be replicated to fit the diverse needs of students in various geographic locations who all have the common goal of making a good education a right not a privilege. While I know this program alone won’t solve the national crisis, it could be the step in the right direction to show that everyone plays a role and is accountable in the future educational growth and development of a child’s learning, and help to restore faith and optimism in school systems one program at a time.