Kojo chats with two reporters who spent the past year following the launch of Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, D.C.'s new school for boys of color. Their stories are now featured in "Raising Kings," a collaboration between NPR and Education Week.
The District’s population explodes. Maryland regulators take Pepco to the woodshed. And Virginia’s governor proposes cuts to public education and Medicaid to shore up transportation and pensions. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Kaya Henderson Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
Politics Hour Extra
D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson addresses a recent report about the large achievement gap between black and white students in the District’s public schools.
D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson talks about the importance of literacy and explains what DCPS is doing to better engage students in learning.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Later in the broadcast, Festivus, time for the airing of the grievances, Tom. I hope you have your grievances ready to be aired.
MR. TOM SHERWOODI pared the list.
NNAMDIYou've pared the list. There's been too -- so many of them over the course of the year, but that's for later in the broadcast. Our guest this hour is Kaya Henderson, chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. Thank you so much for joining us.
MS. KAYA HENDERSONThank you for having me.
NNAMDITom Sherwood has been named a Washingtonian of the year for the year 2011. Congratulations, Tom. I think it is...
SHERWOODOh, by the Washingtonian magazine.
NNAMDIBy the Washingtonian magazine.
SHERWOODGive them credit.
NNAMDICongratulations. I think it is well-deserved.
SHERWOODWell, thank you very much. (unintelligible) have some kind words in the page that's devoted to me. So I appreciate it.
NNAMDII lied cleverly, yes.
SHERWOODIt's good. You were able to say something positive without lying. I thought that was good.
NNAMDIThis is true. This is true. But for Tom's...
SHERWOODThank you very much.
NNAMDITom's dedication to the city of Washington, D.C. is legendary. Before we begin to talk with the schools chancellor, a few issues that I'd like to go over. Let me start with Maryland. Maryland's Public Service Commission has fined Pepco a million dollars and used language that is unusual coming from any kind of public institution. I really loved it. It said Pepco offers myriad excuses for its performance, but we're not buying, the commission said in its audit.
SHERWOODYeah. I thought that was unusual language for a usually stodgy...
SHERWOOD...bureaucratic, you know, let's-weigh-the-facts-type organization, like a public service commission.
SHERWOODYou know, and it's -- you know, I talked with Tom Graham, the president -- Tom Graham, you know...
SHERWOOD...president, yesterday. And he said, we're not going to appeal it.
SHERWOODHe says we're going to spend the time that we would appealing it continuing to do what he says they've been doing for two years, which is trying to get Pepco in a more aggressive power maintenance program.
NNAMDIWell, what the Maryland public commission -- Public Service Commission said is that Pepco's tree-trimming practices were ineffective and contributed to power failures. Similar arguments, of course, have been made in the District of Columbia, but Pepco has always so far been able to apparently successfully refute those arguments.
SHERWOODWell, this is -- you know, it's very difficult. I don't want to defend Pepco or criticize them about the trees, but, you know, if he -- if you trim the trees, people come running and screaming into the streets, saying, why are you trimming my trees? And then if you don't trim them, they say, why don't you trim these limbs that are obviously over the power lines? And you can't (unintelligible) well, why don't we bury the power lines? Well, that would be a remarkable effort.
SHERWOODNew power lines, maybe it should be buried.
NNAMDIWell, I guess...
SHERWOODBut I just don't know how Pepco ever works its way out of this. Do you trim a tree, or they don't trim a tree?
NNAMDIAnd, of course, the argument over whether or not power lines should be buried is an ongoing argument having to do with the cost of it and the relative maintenance of it and the like. So I guess this is a discussion that we'll be continuing. I was just impressed with the kind of language the Maryland...
SHERWOODYes. That was very good because, you know...
NNAMDI...Public Service Commission used.
SHERWOOD...I think a lot of other bureaucratic organizations ought to do what I'd call simple English.
NNAMDIThat's right. And the D.C. Council has approved its legislation on ethics laws. We've been discussing this for the past several weeks. They voted down regulations that would have barred them from holding second jobs -- we expected that -- and regulations that would have required them to disclose when city contractors donate to their campaigns. That could not have pleased you, Mr. Sherwood, very much.
SHERWOODWell, I just -- there is a move in this bill to require more disclosures.
SHERWOODI wrote it in The Washington Post, and I just -- the head -- lead sentence was disclose, disclose, disclose. Instead of banning things, I want disclosure.
NNAMDIThat's who you are.
SHERWOODIf a contractor is going to give 10 donations from 10 different subcontracts that he or she might have, I just want to know that. If you don't -- if you ban something like that, then the contractor goes out and finds an uncle or an aunt or a nephew to give the money, and it buries the process even further down. I just want -- I want to see disclosure. And I think the bill goes farther than some people expected.
SHERWOODOf course, it doesn't go nearly far enough. Councilmember Tommy Wells of Ward 6 voted against it. The praise for that is he thought it was too tough. I mean, it didn't go far enough. Others would say, well, Mr. Wells, this was the -- you know, a much tougher than where we are before, so you voted for the status quo. So they'll -- it will play out in the coming campaigns how tough is this law and should it have been tougher.
NNAMDIAnd I, for one, think there should have been more disclosure about when city contractors donate to campaigns, but that's another story. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, not apparently doing that well in the polls. His polls are -- it shows that 34 percent of voters approve his performance, which is a little bit up from, I guess, a few months ago but still is a pretty low figure. But, I guess, he's got a couple of years left in order to -- in which to improve those figures, Tom.
SHERWOODWell, it's -- this is his first year. You know, there are a lot of people having their first year in various positions. We'll get to one later. But, you know, his approval at 34 is not very good, but his disapproval...
SHERWOOD...is 53 percent. This is the Clarus Research Group. And I want to point out to people who said, oh, it's just another poll, who knows what it was. This poll, during the campaign in 2010, accurately showed Mayor Gray -- Vince Gray at the time beating Adrian Fenty consistently through the campaign. So this poll, I think, is -- can be relied upon. But the worst news, of course, is not for Mayor Gray.
NNAMDIIt's for the council. The council has an even lower approval rating.
SHERWOODNo. The council is not the worst.
NNAMDII thought the council was the worst -- a 55 percent...
SHERWOODKwame Brown, the chairman, has 23 percent approval.
NNAMDISpecifically, yeah. Well...
SHERWOODI mean, that's almost just -- if you have enough relatives in town, you should get 23 percent. Thirty percent approve of the council, and that's way down...
SHERWOOD...from 54 percent. So if you look at the entire poll, whatever criticisms there are for Mayor Gray in this poll, he can always turn to say thank goodness for Kwame Brown because I'm not the worst in the poll.
NNAMDII want to get back to the poll in a second, but first, I want to leap to the fact that, despite the problems that we've been having, people still seem to be moving into the city in large numbers. We grew by 16,000 people in two years. Of course, most of those people probably moved in before we started having our current problems with the mayor and council. But that doesn't seem to have halted the march back into the city.
SHERWOODThere is a significant trend. It was beginning when Tony Williams was mayor. Actually, it was beginning when Marion Barry was mayor. But under Tony Williams and Adrian Fenty, the image of the city and the fundamentals of the city have been better and better. And we'll get to schools in a moment. But the entire image of the city has improved dramatically over the last decade.
SHERWOODAnd Mayor Gray himself, he says, you know, I'm going to continue these improvements 'cause we're going to have more and more people, though, of course, the flipside of that is gentrification and whether people who are poorer are going to be pushed out of the city.
NNAMDIYou know, I like to say that gentrification throughout history has been a problem. When it's compounded by racial issues...
NNAMDI...it becomes an even more thorny problem. So that's a problem we're going to continue to have. You remember board of trade president Jim Dinegar the other day saying that it looks like -- if you look at development downtown, if you look at the way the city is growing, people are going to keep coming in. But I wanted to get back to the polls for a second because I don't know if you observed what I observed.
NNAMDIThere seems to be a little bit of a gender divide in the polls. Did you notice that? All of our institutions that are led by women get pretty good ratings. Eleanor Holmes Norton, 78 percent -- 77 percent. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, 78 percent. And about half of District voters approve of schools chief Kaya Henderson.
NNAMDIWhat do you think is the reason for this gender division the way the polls show up?
SHERWOODWell, it's clearly the men are not carrying their weight.
SHERWOODYou know, we need to step up. The political males in the city need to step up.
NNAMDIWe need to step up for the plate. Probably the last piece of good news that schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson will get in this broadcast.
NNAMDIAs I said, she joins us in studio. Kaya Henderson, it's the end of the fall semester. It's report card time. And the D.C. Public School system did not get the kind of news that you wanted earlier this month when a federal study found that the District has the largest achievement gap between black and white students among major urban school systems across the country. Broadly speaking, what are you taking out of that study about the direction of the school system, and what might need to be done to change it?
HENDERSONWell, I'm not surprised by the results of that study. In fact, they mirror the results that we've seen in our local exam, the DC CAS. The NAEP exam showed us that we continue to struggle with ensuring that our children can read, that we've actually made significant progress in math, and that we've made the most significant progress in the middle school arena, which is interesting given all the conversation about middle schools going on in town right now.
HENDERSONBut what I think the NAEP study -- the TUDA results actually help me understand is that we've taken the right steps to address the issue. We put in place this year an academic plan that is aligned to the common course standards, which are a national set of standards that are much more rigorous than the standards that we've previously been operating under. And because we didn't have a standardized curriculum across the city, we didn't have to figure out how to transition from one thing to the other.
HENDERSONWe were able to go whole hog. Its primary focus this year is on literacy. And kindergarten through 12th grade, we are doubling down on teaching reading, exposing our children to literature, both fiction and nonfiction and ensuring consistency across the city around a deep engagement with texts.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join this conversation, call us at 800-433-8850, send a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Our guest is Kaya Henderson, chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODI was once giving a talk, and someone said -- stood up and said, how can we -- the city have a world-class school system? And I said, I'll just settle for better than average.
SHERWOODAnd I think there's a lot of aspirational talk, and I always try to bring it back down to a lower level. I've always thought -- I've never quite understood why teaching students to read has been so difficult. This goes -- you guys are doing it now, and (unintelligible) going to be a problem. I just don't understand why we don't teach children to read first before we try to get them anything else, why a young man can't play basketball or baseball or football unless he can do the percentages of how his score is calculated, so he'll know what that is.
SHERWOODIt just seems to me -- and I realize there have been back to basics programs. And it's like just almost bureaucratically -- there's always something new on the education horizon rather than just teaching reading and writing.
HENDERSONYes. So I think you're absolutely right. And I think there are different schools of thought around not just what it takes for kids to grasp the skills but also what engages children. And at the end of the day, I think we know what it takes to teach reading skills. At times, throughout our history, different educational fads have come through that said, actually, we shouldn't be teaching kids phonics or how to decode, that we should just expose them to a rich basis of literature, and they'll pick up the words.
HENDERSONAnd after a really long time, I think we figured out that we have kids who can't read, or even if they can read, they can't comprehend. And so we do have to get a little back to the basics. We have taught millions of people how to read. We know how to do it. And we have to double-down in -- especially in our areas where our kids are low performing and some of the...
SHERWOODLike children who have not done well in the late elementary years, and then they get into the junior high years when they start growing as individuals. They just have a harder time -- you have a harder time reaching them.
HENDERSONThat's right. And there's a culture around teaching reading, right? You have to be in an environment where people are reading to you. Whether at home or at school, you have to be in a place where you can actually access books.
SHERWOODYou have the technology for iPads and Kindle readers, and they're getting to be cheaper and cheaper, although still expensive, where students who are even from poor families can have them.
HENDERSONOne of the most exciting things about technology, Tom, is that it opens up a world of exposure to our kids. I was looking at a program the other day that has 155,000 books in its catalog, right? And so on your tablet or on your laptop, a kid has access to 155,000 books. That's better than any library we could send to them or any set of books that we could put in their homes. And so the ability for technology to unlock countless resources is really important.
HENDERSONWe've invested in technology in DCPS. We have laptops and whatnot, but we are actually piloting about 18 different educational technology solutions across the District from kindergarten to 12th grade to help kids with reading, to help kids with math and a few other subjects.
NNAMDIWe have a caller on the line who would like to join the conversation on the achievement gap. He is Michael Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools on our guest line. Michael Casserly, thank you for joining us. Michael, are you there? Can you hear me?
MR. MICHAEL CASSERLYThis issue about the achievement gaps in D.C. is really an important one. And Kaya was absolutely correct in stressing the school district's work in implementing the Common Core Standards. I think, as a lot of people know, the Council of the Great City Schools has published a number of very critical reports on the D.C. schools over the years, in part, because of the school district's lack of attention to the instructional program of the school district.
MR. MICHAEL CASSERLYI am more optimistic now than I have been in a very long time about the D.C. schools in large part because the new chancellor is attending to and focusing on instructional issues in ways that have not been done in the past.
MR. MICHAEL CASSERLYAnd when we went in earlier this summer to take a look at the reforms that the school district was beginning to put into place around implementation of the Common Core, I have to say, we were really quite impressed by the work of the district not only in implementing the Common Core Standards, but in comparison to the implementation of many states and cities across the country. In fact, the school district looked to us like it was among the furthest along of any major city in the country in putting those instructional...
NNAMDIMichael Casserly, they may -- this may have absolutely nothing to do with what Kaya Henderson has to do in D.C. Public Schools. But since you represent larger urban school systems, is there a difference between D.C.'s urban school system and others? Is the achievement gap a reflection of the differential between the income levels of whites in D.C. and blacks in D.C.?
NNAMDIBecause Washington, D.C., unlike a lot of other urban areas, does not have a white ethnic working-class community here, and I'm wondering if -- outside of Tom Sherwood, that is -- and I'm wondering if the gap that we are seeing is really a reflection also of income differential.
CASSERLYIt is. What you're looking at is a very large gap in D.C. As a matter of fact, I think it's the largest black-white gap of any major city school district in the country, but it's partly driven off of the income differences in this city that you alluded to. It's not the only reason for the gap. I'm sure there are opportunity gaps as well in terms of staff expectations and teacher experience and technology and access to curriculum and the like. But a couple of comparison cities might help illustrate the point.
CASSERLYAtlanta is a city that has very similar differences both in black and white achievement scores, but also in income levels. In Atlanta, you may know that the Buckhead and the highlands area of Atlanta have much wealthier, higher-income whites compared to the poor African-American students elsewhere in Atlanta, in just the same way that D.C. has more well-to-do white students west of the park compared with lower-income African-Americans in the city. And Atlanta's achievement gaps, while not as large as D.C.'s, are similar to the income gaps and achievement gaps that we see in D.C.
SHERWOODMichael, this is Tom Sherwood. Your good friend Bill Turque from The Washington Post wrote in June that -- about a report you had put out that the D.C. Public Schools score well below what one would expect statistically and that students show unusual difficulty in reading and interpreting texts and says there's much -- you say there's much work to be done.
SHERWOODAnd Bill, who writes aggressively about public school systems, says you were trying to hide the truth by lowering that down in your report. Did you ever -- I don't recall seeing a response to that. Did you have a response to that report, that story?
CASSERLYI don't recall exactly the particulars of that report or the story that he wrote. We did put out a report a couple of months ago that did indicate that the D.C. school scored lower than you might expect statistically given the demographic characteristics of the students in the schools. But the achievement gap in D.C. is clearly wide, but...
SHERWOODLet's hear from the chancellor. I'm sure you're familiar with Bill. What's your own thought about what he wrote?
HENDERSONSo I think that in Casserly's report, it laid out a ton of stuff, right? And whatever you wanted to highlight as the number one piece, I think there was a lot there to highlight. But I do think that it's really important for people to understand that we have made progress. When you look over the last five years at our progress on NAEP, it's steadily growing. We gave some ground this year, but not enough to be statistically significant and that, by identifying what really the problem is, it allows us to focus on the right solution.
HENDERSONAnd what was nice is that we undertook this work before the TUDA results ever came out. So it was confirming, you see, to show that the literacy piece, which we chose to focus on, is the piece that we're having the most problems with.
NNAMDIAnd, Michael Casserly, thank you so much for your call.
NNAMDIMove on to Paul in Silver Spring, Md. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULYes, Kojo, thank very much for taking my call. And I just want to thank the committee for getting together for this call today. I just have a quick question about two big topics that don't seem to get as much attention in discussions like yours and others. The big topics are teaching excellence as well as pay for performance. I don't know what the chancellor will say. Probably...
NNAMDIWhat do mean, specifically, about teaching excellence?
PAULHow that's implemented -- how that's implemented in a big school system like the D.C. school system.
PAULIf there's some detail involved. Several publications have had interesting articles about how other nations and other districts have implemented.
NNAMDIOK. Kaya Henderson can address that. And on pay for performance, are you asking whether she's for it or against it, essentially?
PAULRight, right. Essentially...
NNAMDIOK. Here she is. Kaya Henderson.
HENDERSONSo if you followed us for the last four years, you know that we've had a heavy emphasis on the quality of teaching primarily because the research shows that the most significant in school factor that can affect student achievement is the quality of the teachers standing in front of the classroom. And so we've undertaken Herculean efforts over the last four years to try to ensure that we have high-quality teachers in our classrooms.
NNAMDINot without controversy.
HENDERSONNot without controversy. The big piece that has allowed us to focus on this is a teacher evaluation system, of course, called IMPACT, where we...
NNAMDINot without controversy.
HENDERSONNot without controversy.
SHERWOODCan we just stipulate? We would just stipulate. And, you know -- doesn't know what the word stipulate means. We're all just going to agree that there's nothing about the school system that isn't without controversy.
NNAMDIThat doesn't have a controversy. Thank you. OK.
NNAMDII'll shut up.
SHERWOODNow, wait. Kojo, stop interrupting her.
HENDERSONChange doesn't come without some pain, right? But what our evaluation system allows us to do is, A, provide teachers with the feedback that they need to improve their teaching practice, B, it allows us to recognize and reward our highest performers, develop our middling performers and move out our lowest performers, and, C, it allows us to target our professional development to where teachers need it the most because we actually know as a result of this evaluation. And that allows us to focus on really improving the quality of teaching.
HENDERSONOne of the least talked about items around IMPACT is that about 60 percent of the people who are in danger of losing their jobs last year were able to move into the effective category because we were able to target professional development, and this...
SHERWOODWhat were they doing? That's a big number.
NNAMDIWill you stop interrupting?
SHERWOODWell, I'm actually adding to the conversation.
HENDERSONLet me tell you...
NNAMDINot without controversy, I might add, but go ahead.
SHERWOODWhat -- 60 percent of the -- on the borderline of being effective teacher, to give it a year to improve, what were they doing? Were they just not organized? Were they coming in late themselves? I mean, what, for example, made them unsatisfactory?
HENDERSONSo I think, in part, we had a system where, for years and years, the only feedback teachers got came on one page of paper with checkmarks on it. You don't have a clear understanding of where you're strong and where you're weak if you don't have specific detailed feedback. And by getting the specific detailed feedback -- we have instructional coaches in every single school, and the coaches were able to target those people who are minimally effective.
HENDERSONOur principals were able to focus on getting professional development to them. We, as a District, were able to move them in the right direction towards the courses and workshops that spoke to where they were struggling instead of people choosing professional development willy-nilly.
SHERWOODI think one of your biggest successes, unless I've missed it, is that the Washington Teachers' Union, who went to had its own change in leadership, hasn't been out there banging drums or beating on doors, complaining about you. What's -- they were just furious about Michelle Rhee for whom you were the chief deputy for three years. What is the difference? Is it your good nature and your friendly persona, or where has the Teachers' Union been on this?
HENDERSONWell, I think I have a history of working with the Washington Teachers' Union, from the early 2000s when I was consulting with the school district and help the Teachers' Union and the District come to some different agreements around how teachers are placed to the last four years I was the lead negotiator on the contract. And I meet with -- I met with, in my capacity as deputy, with the WTU every two weeks for two hours. We sat at a table together, and we worked through issues.
HENDERSONAnd I think that folks who know me know that I'm willing to sit down. I'm willing to listen. I'd rather us figure out how to solve problems before they become, you know, huge issues in the press.
SHERWOODNow, I've told people this, and they don't quite -- is that you were Michelle Rhee. You were doing -- you were implementing the various policies she brought about. But you were the -- were you the nice cop compared to the bad cop? She was a frowning, you know, chancellor.
NNAMDIWere you going out and getting drunk with Nathan Saunders in a bar or some place?
SHERWOODWell, it was George Parker at the time. But I do think it's significantly different that there is not this kind of drum -- and now you got to do -- closing some more schools maybe early next year at some point. When is the deadline for that if you got to decide if you're going to close more schools next year?
HENDERSONWe announce school closings up until January so that people have the opportunity to apply out of boundary.
SHERWOODBut it just seems to me a lot of the rancor has fallen to the waste side.
HENDERSONAnd I'm lover not a fighter, Tom.
SHERWOODI think it's significantly different.
NNAMDIPaul, thank you very much for your call. You mentioned closing schools. What criteria do you use when you want to determine whether the system should close a school or not? And when you do close a school in a neighborhood, does that allow you to make a greater investment in another school, presumably the one to which those neighborhood kids would be going?
HENDERSONWhen we close a school, we look at enrollment over the last five years, and we look at student achievement over the last five years. And if enrollment has been declining and student achievement has been declining, it makes a school a good candidate for closure -- not the only criteria. For example, we also look at geographic proximity of the next school. If closing a school means that kids would have to travel more than a certain distance in order to get to the next school, that's a significant factor as well. So we...
NNAMDIBut it just seems to me that if the city, according to Terrible Turk, is operating more than 40 schools with fewer than 300 students and more than half of those are located in Wards 6 and 7 and 8, that the cost of maintaining those building facilities can be transferred into more directly educational things if you closed the school.
HENDERSONThat's absolutely right, Kojo. In fact, when we closed 23 schools in 2008, the savings from that allowed us to ensure that there was an arts teacher, a music teacher, a school psychologist, a social worker in every single school, and that was not the case before. We are running an inefficient system of schools. That being said, DCPS is not the only group in the business running an insufficient -- or an inefficient set of schools. When you look at the total number of public schools that we have here in the District, including charter schools, we have over 220 schools for about 76,000 kids.
HENDERSONJack Dale in Fairfax has 185,000 kids in 200 schools. And so we have to start to look at our resource deployment and think differently about what the right size of a school is in order to maintain a good set of robust academic offerings, where those schools are located. We have the deputy mayor who's done a study with the Illinois Facilities Foundation -- Illinois Facilities Fund, which is looking at whether or not we have high-quality seats in all of our neighborhoods.
HENDERSONWe, as a city, have failed to plan where our schools are. We've let 1,000 flowers bloom. And while some schools are closing, other schools are opening, and we have to tackle that in a different way.
SHERWOODBut one thing that people complain about or not complain about, but Mary Cheh in Ward 3, the councilmember, talked about creating a new high school. That we -- that there are enough students now that you could use another high...
HENDERSONA new middle school. She wants a middle -- a new middle school.
NNAMDIA new middle school here in (unintelligible).
SHERWOODOr middle school to -- she's also talking about a high school...
NNAMDIBecause Deal is way overcrowded.
SHERWOODWell, yeah, I know about the Deal, but I thought there was an effort also. She -- I remember talking to her about not just maybe the Duke Ellington should become a high school. This is -- you look at me like you don't know what I'm talking about.
HENDERSONI have not heard that. I have heard her express interest in a new middle school.
SHERWOODMiddle school but...
HENDERSONYes. And part of the reason why Deal is overcrowded is because we don't have high-quality options in other neighborhoods. This is why the work that we're doing to expand the number of middle school seats in Ward 5 is really important. When you look at the number of kids who go to Deal who are out of boundary, it's significant, and it's because they don't see good options in their neighborhoods. And we have to fix that.
SHERWOODKwame Brown, the chairman, has made this an issue for himself. It's one of his education issues, to be (word?) for the middle schools.
HENDERSONYes, he has.
NNAMDIOn to Nick in Winchester, Va. Nick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICKHi, Kojo. My feeling the one topic that doesn't get discussed enough is control of the classrooms. And what I'm about to say is going to be, in part, politically incorrect. Those of us who are of a certain age know -- remember that if we misbehaved in class, we were likely to be paddled. Or if we really got (word?), we would get expelled for year. Now, I'm not necessarily suggesting either of those.
NICKBut several years ago, The Washington Post did a series of articles about the intercity schools and these young kids right out of college, without educational degrees, and they've been put in there to teach. It was very clear they didn't have control of the classrooms.
NNAMDIWell, let me ask Kaya Henderson to respond about control of the classroom. I remember my own elementary school paddling in Guyana, South America, fondly before -- I don't know where I buried that teacher. But here is Kaya Henderson.
HENDERSONI think the challenges in a classroom these days are very different than they were years ago, and, of course, the rules have changed. You can't paddle. You can't expel kids for the entire year. We have an obligation to provide them with an education, and both new teachers and veteran teachers struggle with classroom management. And this is why professional development is important.
HENDERSONThis is why the wraparound services are important in terms of the social and emotional needs of the children, and we have to do a better job of helping our teachers be able to confront some of the issues that they face in the classroom that have nothing to do with academics. We are dealing with a different culture at this point. In many of our homes, the kinds of behaviors that are appropriate at school aren't reinforced, aren't taught well.
HENDERSONAnd so our burden as an education system is not just to deal with the instructional piece, but we also have to enculturate our kids when they don't come from home with those values.
NNAMDII want to pursue that for a second. Nick, thank you for your call because Ben in Baltimore says he is a teacher in Baltimore and would like to address the issue of classroom management. Ben, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BENHi. Thanks for taking my call. Yeah, I'm actually a new teacher. And I look around, and I look around, and I think, especially in urban centers, you're dealing with a population that does have incredible struggles. And there are a lot of things that they have that, you know, I certainly didn't -- I didn't see as much when I was growing up. But I can also say -- we were talking about performance a minute ago. But the teachers that I see that are really failing -- and I'm not talking about -- you know, they're giving everything they can.
BENIt's one or two types. They're either totally burned out, or, on the other hand, they do not have any control of their classroom. And when you walk in, it's chaotic. It's a problem. It's -- you know, sometimes, it's downright even scary. And I think both of those are both a cause and effect of high burnout. You have teachers that are there for a little while. And then they work really hard, and things don't seem to be working. So they don't give up.
NNAMDIWhat do you think needs to be done about that, Ben?
BENWell, I don't know because, you know, I totally agree that suspensions and expulsions don't help kids. They just end up dropping out. I get that. But at the same time, school has to be school. And I don't think that it's fair that 10 percent of kids or 5 percent or 1 percent or whatever ruin the experience for the other 90 percent.
SHERWOODIsn't there some effort on this in-school suspensions where you may be taken out of the classrooms and virtually segregated or isolated and in a different part of the school?
HENDERSONYes. But those are short-term fixes to a longer-term problem. The real problem is the way our schools are arranged and the way we do school hearkens back to a 100-year-old model. And these kids come with a different set of sensibilities, a different set of things that engage them. We have to blow up school. Nowhere in our lives do we sit down and have a rotating cast of characters stand in front of us and talk at us for 45 minutes or 90 minutes, right?
HENDERSONThat's not how you do your work. That's not how I do my work. We figure out what is engaging to us. We engage in a project. We'll work together with different kinds of people. We utilize technology. And if we don't re-imagine high schools and re-imagine middle schools, our kids will continue to not be engaged.
HENDERSONOur kids will continue -- we're looking at kids who have previously been completely and totally uninterested in school, who, when you're able to engage them on tablets, with technology, with some of the gaming logic that is now being applied to educational work, they come alive. They are in it, right? They are competing against themselves or against other students and learning, and...
HENDERSON...we have to do things differently.
SHERWOODRight. I do -- while we're on behavior, I want to -- I don't want to miss this because there was an ugly incident in Baltimore Wednesday night, the Cardozo basketball team was in Baltimore playing with ConneXions School for the Arts. There was a very ugly sustained brawl there. You have a new -- well, what happened? What is the school's point of view in this? What happened, and what are you doing about it?
HENDERSONSo I saw the video, too, and it was reprehensible. It is disappointing when -- to watch children engaging in that level of violence. And the question that I kept asking is, where are the adults? And there was security there. I think we have to look at whether or not the security was enough and appropriate. We have to deal swiftly with the young people who felt like it was OK to continue to brawl.
HENDERSONAnd we have to do some real work with our young people, with our coaches, and then ensuring that the policies in place prevent this from happening. Children are going to fight, right? Sometimes things jump off, and that's the reality of it. But our inability to stop that quickly was very disturbing.
SHERWOODI was just -- I want to -- because I went to the Cardozo -- I think you were unable to go -- the mayor stood in front of Cardozo and announced how great the new renovations to that school is going to be. And for the first time ever, there's going be a gym. And I thought, well, that'd be great. We can have the brawls at home. We don't have to go all the way to Baltimore.
HENDERSONWell, that's not going to happen in our new gym.
NNAMDIIt's one thing to hear you articulate a vision of how we need to be getting our young people interested in school. It's another to talk about the here and now where you're implementing a new curriculum, which you're touting as one of the aggressive interventions that can change the arc of the system. What are the key components of this academic plan?
HENDERSONSo the key components of the academic plan are a couple-fold. First of all, there's what we call in education a scope and sequence that says you should be teaching this at this particular time. So, over the course of the year, you're going to cover X, and you're going to cover, you know, X1 at this point in the year, X2. The reason that this is incredibly important is because, prior to this, different schools were teaching different things at different times.
HENDERSONAnd depending on where you were in the city, you either had a robust set of academic offerings or not, without any standardization across the city. And I believe that our kids in Ward 7 and Ward 8 deserve the same caliber of content that our kids in Ward 3 are getting.
SHERWOODHow do -- well, how do you handle the differences in the schools whether it's a very bright student in Ward 7 or a dumb student or -- no, I shouldn't say that -- I'd say a learning...
SHERWOODA less-engaged student.
SHERWOOD...a learning-challenged student in Ward 3, say? Does a standardized test allow for the distinction so the person who wants to read five books in two months can do that as opposed to one who wants to read maybe one?
HENDERSONSo I didn't say...
NNAMDILike Tom and me, yes
HENDERSON...standardized test, right, but a standardized scope and sequence. And, yes, it actually allows for lots of differentiation. But it doesn't say, because you're a less-engaged student or because you're a challenged student that it's OK to only read one book. If the standard is five, then you're going to read five. If people want to go above the standard, that's absolutely fine. But we can't make excuses for our kids who are challenged.
SHERWOODBuilding the floor.
HENDERSONThat's right. The other thing is, you know, we're talking about how bad people's behavior is and how difficult teaching is and whatnot. I spent this morning on Fox 5 with Perea Brown-Blackmon, who is the D.C. Teacher of the Year, the first time in the last three or four years that DCPS has won the citywide Teacher of the Year competition. And this lady is absolutely spectacular.
HENDERSONShe does projects with her kids. She brings animals in. She takes her kids out. She's a cheerleading coach, a track coach and X, Y, Z and Q. And our schools are actually filled with people like Perea Brown-Blackmon. Yes, people are struggling. Yes, people don't know how to connect with their kids. But we also have people who are pillars of the community who are making it happen for our kids every single day. And to the extent that I can create an environment where more of that is happening more frequently and more consistently, then I'm doing my job.
NNAMDIHere is Bruce in Washington, D.C. Bruce, your turn.
BRUCEHi. I'm a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst to a -- coordinated a school-based warning project in D.C. schools run by the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, where, starting with grief therapy, we've made some appreciable gains. I'm going to give a mental -- a quick mental health focus in a bigger context. The superintendent -- if you want kids to -- if you want to lower the achievement gap, if you want kids to stay in school and not be prematurely pregnant, not be in the criminal justice system and develop some real skills for the future, yes, the superintendent is important.
BRUCEThe buildings are important. The food is important. The administration is important. The principals and the teachers are very important. But even if all these things are in place, what's not recognized is that most of this really -- it's called an inner-city kids from poor neighborhoods are essentially traumatized children. They have been subjected to so much literal violence...
NNAMDIAnd, Bruce, what, therefore, is missing, and what is being provided for these children?
BRUCEWhat is missing is to have really extensive mental health resources, like group therapy in the schools starting with pre-K or K and continuing for the most vulnerable students because they're so consumed with these kinds of (unintelligible). OK.
NNAMDIAllow me to have Kaya Henderson respond because we're running out of time.
HENDERSONSo I actually think Bruce is right. A lot of our children are traumatized. The challenge that I have as a steward of the school system is I'm not given resources to run a comprehensive mental health program. I'm not given resources to enculturate my parents with the values that I need them to send their kids to school with. And so this is one of the reasons why DCPS, now being a city agency, is a huge opportunity.
HENDERSONWe've sat down with the deputy mayor for Health and Human Services and begun to partner. In fact, we didn't even have a school nurse in every building until we were able to partner with the Department of Health. We've had extensive conversations with the Department of Mental Health to figure out how we support our young people who have been involved in tragedies. And this is -- these are all manifestations of the effects of poverty, which are real for our kids.
HENDERSONBut at the same time, whether I have those mental health services or not, the only thing that I can do for my kids is ensure that they are able to perform when they leave school because that is going to be the best solution to changing (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWe're running out of time.
SHERWOODQuickly, my theory is that we tend to victimize and make children victims. Yes, they have these difficulties. But the raising of expectations, you can change a lot of that behavior.
HENDERSONAnd we see it every day.
SHERWOODAnd I just worry about the victimization of people. And then they have any reason to do well because they feel like victims instead of, like, opportunity.
HENDERSONBut it's a serious tension, Tom. I think, you know, when I talk to teachers, they want us to acknowledge the difficulties that they face and acknowledge the challenges that these kids come with. But at the same time, we can't victimize. We have to address without letting it slide us down the slippery slope.
SHERWOODAnd let just say it very quickly. I know Mayor Gray has done a lot to talk about children in school at an earlier -- early childhood education, 3 years old, 4 years old, not waiting till 5. And would that make a significant difference within a few years of how children are perceived and thought in the middle schools?
HENDERSONYes. We expect to -- we expect that the bet that we've made on early childhood education will pay off over time, and I think that's where you'll really see the radical change in student...
SHERWOODAre you staying as chancellor? You've been there one year.
NNAMDIWell, wait, let's -- got to take a poll on that. Should Kaya Henderson stay as chancellor of D.C. Public Schools? Let's hear what Bob Marley has to say.
SHERWOODThat's not a code word (unintelligible).
NNAMDIThere you have it. She's staying, I guess.
HENDERSONThank you, Bob.
SHERWOODI remember the look on your face when you walked in with Mayor-elect Gray and Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee when they all were saying you're the person to take over for Michelle Rhee a year ago.
HENDERSONAnd what did I look like?
SHERWOODThere was a -- I thought I saw -- detected a hint of apprehension, but you stepped up on that stage. And here you are a year later.
HENDERSONHere I am.
NNAMDIAnd it would appear that she's going to stay for a while. Kaya Henderson is the chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. Thank you so much for joining us.
HENDERSONThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd now it is that time of the year when Tom Sherwood and others have to, well, this.
NNAMDIOK, Tom Sherwood, the airing of the grievances.
SHERWOODIt's too warm. I'm a four seasons person.
SHERWOODI want to enjoy all the benefits of whatever the weather brings, and I don't want it to be warm this time of year.
NNAMDIWell, if you'd like to call us with your grievances, 800-433-8850. We'd be happy to hear them now because...
SHERWOODAnd there's another grievance. Allow me to have the floor for just another second.
NNAMDIPlease do. You have the floor...
SHERWOODAdams Morgan, for the last couple of years, has had a very public posting of grievances. And I've gone there, and I've read them. People just write these things, most of which you cannot say publicly, but...
SHERWOODOr on the radio, for sure. And I've stood there and read them out loud. But now they didn't have it this year. They're not having the grievances. That's a grievance.
NNAMDISo that's a grievance.
SHERWOODIt is a grievance.
NNAMDIYou're having a grievance because they're not having the Festivus this year. Call us with your grievances for Festivus.
SHERWOODWe want to hear it.
SHERWOODNo long-windedness either. That would be another grievance.
NNAMDIDo you know what my grievance is with this Clarus Poll? Why did they have to ask people about Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty? It just seems as if there is a wish on the part of somebody else that one of these two former leaders would come back. And both of them have made it clear...
SHERWOODWell, he's -- you're just embittered because your campaign for mayor went nowhere.
NNAMDIThis is true.
SHERWOODYou remember that. I bet people don't even remember. That would be a grievance. But, you know, Anthony -- Tony -- I don't seem to get their names right. Adrian Fenty has said he will not run again. So anyone who's pining, hoping, wishing, thinking, urging, cajoling, whatever, you're wasting your time. Now, I have not heard the same decisiveness about Tony Williams. Now, he doesn't -- he told somebody recently, oh, that would be the craziest thing in the world for him to do. And I think Diane Williams might divorce him.
SHERWOODBut, you know, I would like to hear from the Mayor Tony Williams what his grievance is about whether he might run again.
NNAMDIWell, both of them, I think, have admirably stayed out of politics while they have not been in office anymore.
SHERWOODMayor Tony -- former Mayor Tony Williams gave a big speech at the D.C. Chamber of Commerce within the last week.
NNAMDIOK. Here we have Jason in Washington, D.C., who would like to air a Festivus grievance. Jason, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JASONYes. One of my pet peeves is people who start sentences with the word so.
NNAMDIIt's one of the reasons why Michelle Rhee is no longer chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.
SHERWOODIs that a grammatical error? Is that -- is it grammatically incorrect to start with so, or it's just annoying?
JASONYes. It's both. And I don't know why it just started recently. It seems to be a trend, almost like the way valley girls would use the word like.
NNAMDIOh, yeah. Well...
JASONAnd so now you hear people calling in on talk shows. You hear -- the chancellor just used it eight times to begin her sentences.
SHERWOODDid you -- she really used it eight times? You counted?
NNAMDIOh, I thought it was the previous chancellor who used it a lot.
NNAMDII didn't know that this chancellor used it also.
JASONEven people calling in on national talk shows who are journalists and who are educated as researchers start their sentences with the word so. It's so annoying.
SHERWOODIsn't there a sentence, though, so what?
NNAMDIWell, so, I guess, for some people, it makes you sound cool, like you have been thinking about this even before the question was raised.
JASONWell, you'll hear it now more than ever because you'd be aware of it.
JASONAnd just listen to the number of people who call in today or you talk to today...
NNAMDIAs a result of your Festivus complaint, we're going to ban any sentence that begins with the word so on this broadcast. Does that work for you, Jason?
JASONThank you. That would be so nice.
NNAMDIOK. You're welcome, Jason. Here is Mike in Alexandria, Va., with his Festivus grievance. Mike, you're now on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEFor a long time, I've been trying to convince my wife that I should be allowed to get a tattoo of the NPR logo if I can raise $5,000 for the station in the next pledge drive. And since Tom is going to get his D.C. flag tattoo, I am complaining that my wife will still not let me get my tattoo.
SHERWOODWait a minute. She won't let you?
MIKEYeah. She says I can't do it, or, rather, she says, it's your choice. Do whatever you want, which means, you better not do it.
SHERWOODWell, yes. I think you could start a sentence: So you're not going to get that tattoo.
MIKENo, I'm really offended. I don't get to have my tattoo or do good for the station.
SHERWOODYou know, NPR -- what if NPR changes its logo, though? Then you'd already be stuck. You'd have to get another one.
MIKEAnd I'll be cool in vintage.
NNAMDIRight. Well, Mike, I think that is an entirely legitimate Festivus grievance, so thank you for sharing it with us.
SHERWOODThat's a sentence with so.
NNAMDIWe got a Festivus grievance from Junette, (sp?) who says -- this is about the airing of grievances -- "My emails never get read on the air." Well, Junette, this one certainly did get read on the air, so...
SHERWOODShe's toast now.
NNAMDIExactly. Your grievance has been completely satisfied. We got this grievance from Michael -- uh-oh -- Michael in Tenleytown. "Sometimes my boss wears Cosby sweaters, cowboy shirts or even leather pants when he knows that he might be on video later in the day. I've tried to tell him about it, but he doesn't listen." That sounds a lot like our producer, Michael Martinez. Well, I've outgrown the leather pants, so that won't happen anymore.
SHERWOODYou look very nice today. You have some kind of, like, "Frosty the Snowman" sweater on. Did you know the ugly sweater? That was yesterday.
NNAMDIIt's not -- oh, it was yesterday, and I saw some really ugly sweaters on television during the course of the day yesterday. But, no, I've also given up the Cosby sweaters. Here's Erill (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Erill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERILLYes. I just tuned in, and I heard someone voice their complaint about using the word so. And so I thought that the entire show was dedicated to grievances about word pronunciation and grammar. However, that's what triggered me. I have to say that, more recently, I hear people -- perhaps the newscasters, maybe? -- pronouncing the long A sound as a short A. They read the word email. It's pronounced -- they pronounce it as e-mell.
ERILLOr instead of saying the word rail as what trains run on, they call it a rell. What is up with that? I know nobody else really gets with me, but it really gets me. I like the long A sound. It's one of my favorite...
SHERWOODI think we need to have a...
ERILL...and I don't like to see -- I don't like to hear it desecrated by people who should know better than me.
SHERWOODI believe, Kojo, you now have a show topic...
NNAMDII was not aware of this before.
SHERWOOD...the butchering of the English language. I'm from the South, so we do it all the time. It's, you know, second nature to us.
NNAMDII was not aware of this problem before you brought it to our attention...
SHERWOODEmail. How else would you say it?
NNAMDIErill, how would you say...
ERILLThe word is email. It's not e-mell.
ERILLIt's not -- yeah. Yes.
SHERWOODSounds like malware.
ERILLBut like I say, the long A sound is one of my favorite sounds. So when they say email, you know, I'm happy. But when you pronounce it e-mell, I don't like it.
SHERWOODIf anyone pronounces email, you should just stop and look with a stunned look on your face at them.
NNAMDIAnd send your email, Erill, to email@example.com. Here is Veronica in Northwest Washington. Veronica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
VERONICAMy grievance is people who claim to be native Washingtonians, who were not raised or born in the District of Columbia. If you are from Maryland, Chevy Chase, however close it is, Virginia, Arlington, Alexandria, Roslyn, you are not a native Washingtonian. And the media makes the mistake all the time. There's a difference between Metropolitan Washington, Washington, D.C., and native Washingtonians were born and raised here.
SHERWOODWe should just...
VERONICALove you guys and happy holidays...
NNAMDIHappy holidays to you, Veronica.
SHERWOODThanks, Veronica. We should just tattoo every native-born D.C. person with that NPR logo.
NNAMDIWell, Tom Sherwood is a Washingtonian of the year not because he is a native-born Washingtonian but because he has been here for a long time, and all of Washington either loves him or loves to hate him. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter. Happy holidays, everyone. See you, Tom. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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