Killing Them Softly By Neglect

January 1, 2018

     THE welfare of millions of children in America is at stake as 2018 opens. We may all be focused on what the delirious 45th president is saying on Twitter and whether Paul Ryan can hold onto his seat. Equally important is the fact that the country’s most vulnerable citizens are being neglected and abused by their government on multiple fronts: health and education are the most obvious.


In the District of Columbia a decade-old education reform movement has refocused on adults; officials pretend that children are first. They were breathless when complaints by teachers about students being allowed to graduate despite excessive absenteeism were reported on National Public Radio (NPR) and WAMU-FM, its local affiliate. No one mentioned the fact that each year many students leave DC Public Schools or some charter school without the requisite command of basic academic studies.  They are, for all intents and purposes, functional illiterates.


At the federal level the Senate and House of Representatives have failed to renew and fully fund The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Meanwhile, the future of at least 800,000 young people is in limbo, simply because they entered the country illegally as children. Never mind that many of them are now college students or young professionals making impressive contributions to their communities.

Interestingly, the Republican-dominated Congress had the time and the inclination in 2017 to provide a multi-trillion dollar tax cut for their wealthy buddies--and each other. Reportedly, they could not agree on how to fund CHIP, which affects the lives of 9 million children. President Donald Trump is more interested in architecture—a wall at the Mexican border has captured his imagination. He is unwilling to put that aside and instead focus on sparing nearly 1 million young people, who are part of The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, from being deported to birth countries they never really knew.


Some states, including Alabama, Connecticut, Colorado, Utah and Oklahoma, have already signaled that, without full federal funding, they are likely to close down the children’s insurance program, which is akin to wholesale abandonment. (And folks wonder why so many of America’s children are displaying obvious signs of trauma; some are even committing suicide before reaching adolescence.)


     DC elected officials have not indicated what course of action they may take. In the past, however, the city has made clear it will find the money to retain the level of health insurance it provides to the poor and working poor.  That generosity does not absolve the District in TBR’s assertion that governments are placing the lives and futures of their most vulnerable and youngest citizens at risk.

Thousands of DC school-age children are not receiving a quality education, although the city is spending nearly $2 billion to finance DC Public Schools and a network of charter schools, many of which are mediocre or downright disgraceful. When city officials embraced education reform, they promised improvements particularly for children from poor and working class families who did not have the resources to escape a deteriorating system.


District officials were all talk. TBR is waiting for action.


There was much hand-wringing around the so-called graduation scandal at Ballou Senior High School in Ward 8. Elected officials seemed to be competing for who could exhibit the higher quotient of righteous indignation. There were calls for investigation; DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson has launched one. At-Large DC Council member David Grosso (I) who has oversight of public education and libraries held a public roundtable where 50 individuals testified. He pledged to reconvene after the DCPS completes its probe into what went wrong.


Soon, he and everyone went on their holiday break, mimicking their federal counterparts.


     An investigation is not needed to answer the question about what went wrong. Since the 2010, when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty lost his re-election bid and his successor Vincent Gray showed DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee the door, District officials have been playing at reform.


They have thrown increasingly more money at the problem, without offering a realistic but radical vision. Moreover, while the mayor was supposed to be intimately engaged in public education, as per the reform legislation, Muriel Bowser she has ceded that territory to Jennifer Niles, the deputy mayor for education; Niles may be a nice woman but she lacks the gravitas and experience to significantly and permanently enhance the quality of services and outcomes for children in the District.


“Virtually nothing has changed,” Peter MacPherson, a Ward 6 resident and education advocate told me recently. Unfortunately, he and his family will be leaving the District for Chicago. That means one less voice for the under-served in the city.


“Kids from families with means or where parents are there [pushing] are getting what they need,” continued MacPherson, noting that those from poor or working class communities continue to bring up the rear.


“This has gone on for a decade. It’s time for everybody to stop cheerleading and start having a conversation about where we are,” he added.


TBR is tired of all the talk. And, everyone knows where things are. For an unflinching assessment, they need only look at the standardize test scores released in summer 2017. Far too many DC high school students are not college ready, based on the data released by the Office of the DC Superintendent of Public Education.


Even at the so-called high-performing schools like Wilson in Ward 3 are falling short.  Only 54 percent of the students who took the English language arts examination at that school were college ready; in math only 33.2 percent of the test-takers were at Level 4 and Level 5, which is considered proficient or above.

District officials were having conniptions at the alleged false graduation numbers at Ballou. Why wasn’t anyone screaming bloody murder at the fact that only 9 percent of the 247 test-takers there scored at Level 4 and Level 5.  In math, the numbers were far worse: Only 0.4 percent of the 240 students who took the exam scored at L4 and L5.


Grosso praised the test results across the city; he said they “confirm that public education continues on its upward trajectory.”


For whom? For the same people who were during pretty good before education reform, before the city accepted hordes of charter schools, before the budget for public schools ticked to the nearly $2 billion mark.


Grosso has said he intends to introduce legislation to create an Office of Teacher Complaints within the Office of Ombudsman for Education. To quote a joke from that marvelous comedienne Moms Mabley, who wondered why parents tell their children to watch the lights when crossing the streets. “Watch the cars,” Mabley said. “The lights never killed nobody.”


The teachers have many ways to registered their complaints and concerns. They have a union, my God. And the last thing that’s needed is another more bureaucratic tentacle to snatch up more public money.

District children, like those across the country, need elected officials who truly understand children are America’s future. That fact isn’t just some empty slogan.



























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