We interviewed candidates in the April 1 primary and recorded the conversations on video. Over the next few weeks, we will be posting excerpts here about their views on education. Here are the discussions with DC Council candidates for Ward 6. See all of the segments here.
If you live in Ward 6 and like your current councilmember’s views on education, you’ll probably like those of Charles Allen. There’s a reason: Allen was Councilmember Tommy Wells’ chief of staff. Opponent Darrel Thompson’s ideas on education are less specific, but both (not surprisingly) support making all schools high-quality.
Both Allen and Thompson, whose background includes working for Senator Harry Reid, had similar answers on what to do about redrawing DC school boundaries and feeder patterns, and the anxiety caused by the process: make sure that every school is great.
As for how to do that, Thompson said we need to be “smart about our resources and our allocation.”
Allen talked about the need to target additional funds to students with higher needs in order to bring up struggling schools. He also pointed out that current feeder patterns often don’t make sense, noting that he could see Eastern High School from his front porch but was nevertheless zoned for Dunbar.
But he stressed the need to keep parents involved in the process and to keep politics out of it. The role of Councilmembers, he said, is to ensure some predictability for parents, as they did by requiring at least a full year’s notice before any changes go into effect.
Many of Thompson’s answers on education had to do with “looking at options” and “providing opportunities.” He often responded to questions about specific policies by saying “all options should be on the table.”
On how to increase the proficiency rate of DCPS students on standardized tests, currently at about 51%, he mentioned “expanding our options for pre-K” and ensuring that “we provide opportunities for parents that have children with disabilities.”
Other than that, Thompson called for increasing opportunities for students at all grade levels and closing the achievement gap between wealthier and white students and poor black students. Engaging parents, he said, is also crucial.
Asked about ideas like expanding the role of high-performing charter networks or extending the school day, he expressed qualified support but also called for caution.
On expanding charters, he said there was a need for proper oversight to guard against low-performing schools. “Not every charter school is like KIPP,” he said. On extended day, he said “we should look at it,” but we need to make sure that teachers, administrators, and parents are on board.
Allen, who has clearly been steeped in DC education policy, had answers at the ready for a number of questions. Asked what he would do about middle schools, which have recently been the subject of concern for their difficulty attracting families, he rattled off a four-point plan.
The points he listed were modernizing school buildings; recruiting dynamic school leaders and giving them more control over their budgets and programming; introducing rigorous academic programs such as the International Baccalaureate; and vertically aligning programs so that there is continuity within feeder patterns.
On the role of charters, Allen called for greater coordination between the charter and traditional public school sectors. Each sector should learn from the other, he said. And, he said, “If we’ve got a charter that is looking to open up in a certain place, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to DCPS.”
Last year, he said, 40 families that had enrolled students at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Ward 6 ended up going to BASIS, a newly opened charter school. The result, he said, was a significant loss of funds for Stuart-Hobson. He said the newly created unified lottery should help avoid such situations in the future.
Allen also came out against the recently floated plan to turn Dunbar into an application-only high school, expressing concern about what that kind of “skimming” of the best students would do to other neighborhood schools. Instead, he urged measures like creating different tracks, or instituting specialized “academies” within the school, to accommodate students at different levels.
To get your own sense of where the candidates stand and how they present themselves, you can watch the videos in their entirety by clicking on them below. Allen’s runs about 21 minutes, and Thompson’s about 13 minutes.