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Chancellor's Testimony at the FY 2015 Performance Hearing

Friday, March 4, 2016

Chancellor's Testimony at the FY 2015 Performance Hearing

Government of the District of Columbia
DC Public Schools

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FY 2015 Performance Oversight Hearing on District of Columbia Public Schools

Testimony of Kaya Henderson Chancellor, DC Public Schools

Before the Committee on Education Council of the District of Columbia
David Grosso, Chairman

Friday, March 4, 2016

John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Room 412
Washington, DC 20004

Good morning Chairman Grosso and members of the Committee. I am excited to be here today to review DCPS’ performance in FY 2015. I am going to be very brief in my testimony today because I am excited to get right to our conversation about the progress that DCPS has made. I am incredibly proud of our work, and I have never felt more confident that DCPS is well-positioned to address the challenges we face going forward.

Let me start by highlighting a few achievements at DCPS of which I am particularly proud. You already know that, by just about every statistical measure, DCPS is showing remarkable improvement.

  • In FY 2015, we posted our highest graduation rate on record, 64%, an increase of 11 percentage points over 2011.
  • In FY 2015 our student satisfaction rate was 83%. After four consecutive years of improvement, that rate is up 18 points.
  • Also in FY 2015, NAEP scores showed that DCPS is the fastest improving school district in the nation for four consecutive years. Even more important, the improvements we are seeing span students across the city.
  • Finally, in FY 2015 and continuing into this year, we have seen four consecutive years of enrollment increase -- a feat we hadn’t achieved in decades.

I am very proud of these results because they show that what we are doing is helping all students across the city. But today I want to focus on two areas that have gotten less attention.

As an organization, we have a singular mission to prepare our students for a bright future in higher education and high-wage, high-growth jobs. All of our work is aligned to preparing our students for the future. We have done some remarkable things in our high schools recently to make sure our students are fully prepared for that future.

We are providing individualized support to students in our high schools. I have said many times that you can’t help our children unless you know our children. From our 9th grade academies that have increased promotion rates, grades, and attendance to the increased college counseling we are providing at Anacostia, Ballou, and Woodson High Schools, our schools are engaging deeply with each student to help him or her achieve success.

Our high school students are also taking record high numbers of AP classes and more students are passing those classes. More students than ever are applying for financial aid and visiting colleges where they are likely to succeed.

At the same time, our high schools are preparing students for success in great careers in industries like hospitality, culinary arts, biotechnology, communications, and biomedical science. Our students get real job training in these and more than a dozen other careers at their neighborhood high schools.

For example, Achaiah (Ashaya) Abul, a 12th grader studying Engineering at McKinley Tech, interned last summer at The World Bank; The World Bank was so impressed by his performance that they made a special request for him to come back and intern with them during this school year. In addition to his studies, and his World Bank internship, Achaiah took a Probability and Statistics course at Catholic University through our Dual Enrollment program. He is a candidate for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, and is currently considering offers to study Aerospace or Mechanical Engineering at either Embry Riddle Aeronautical University or Stanford University.

DCPS is preparing students for the future and I can’t wait to see everything those students achieve.

The other thing I want you to know about our schools is that our students are doing hard work. In every grade, in every subject, our students are wrestling with challenging material. Third graders are learning about alternative energy and social change through multi-media research. Middle grades students are using their knowledge of ratios and measurement to calculate the height of a giant based on the size of his pencil. Kindergartners are meeting people from their communities – people like police officers – to practice listening skills and asking questions. High school students are discussing and debating the role of gender in Islam. This is serious stuff. These are activities that are fun, rigorous, engaging, and that will prepare students for the challenges ahead of them in college and in their careers.

Now of course we still have a great deal of work to do. Quite frankly, the list of things that I want to do to improve our students’ opportunities is a mile long. Fortunately, as I said before, the district has never been in a better position to grow and improve. Let me mention just two areas where we plan to focus in the coming years, knowing that I am never going to be satisfied that what we are doing is enough for our students.

First, I am eager to show the world what we are going to do in our lowest performing schools. As you know, we are making investments to increase the school year at 11 schools across the city. This investment, however, only tells a small part of the story. Just adding 20 days to the school year isn’t enough for our students. Instead, we are going to make sure that we invest in teacher training, parent engagement, and enrichment activities at these schools. More time with a great teacher, fun activities, and engaged parents is a clear formula for success.

Second, I want to do even more to improve the quality of our teachers. We have the highest paid teachers in the nation, one of the fastest paths to a high salary of any district, and the most generous bonus structure. We have steadily increased the number of teachers and the quality of teachers in our district over the past five years. In fact, we have 18% more teachers now than we did five years ago! Our teachers are better than ever, are paid more than anyone, and we have more of them than ever, but I think there is still more we can do to help teachers succeed. That’s why we are making a big investment in training for teachers in the coming year.

I told you earlier that we are teaching students challenging material. That means we need to do more to prepare our teachers for the rigors of instruction. This is why we are creating avenues for teachers to plan together and work together in their schools with subject matter experts. All of our students deserve great teachers and by investing in teacher growth, we will be giving students the teachers they deserve.

Before closing, I want to take a minute to thank you, Chairman Grosso, and the members of the committee. Improving our schools is challenging work. While we all share the same goal of having great schools for all of our students, we also know that there are many competing interests under this broad umbrella. Under your leadership, Mr. Chairman, I feel that DCPS has a true partner and a good, critical friend. I am grateful to have the chance to work with you and your committee, and I am happy to answer your questions.