New Education Committee in DC

Posted by on Saturday, January 12th, 2013 at 10:12pm.

A new Education Committee was recently established by the DC Council. For the first time in six years, the DC Council has created a stand-alone Education Committee chaired by David Catania, an Independent who holds an at-large seat. In his first couple weeks as chairman of the Council’s Education Committee, Catania has already had meetings on organizational development, budgets, truancy, free lunch, and more.

Catania wants to bring transparency to the school budgets.  He bemoans the “total absence of transparency in our budgets. These numbers don’t add up, and you can’t track them.”  Chancellor of DC Public Schools, Kaya Henderson, says she is excited to work with Catania and wants “to be as transparent as possible. I want people to know where our money is going.”

Chairman Catania plans to tackle the education budget and truancy in his first year. Catania refers to truancy as “child abuse, which is habitual, chronic truancy, which is robbing children of a chance of an education in the future.” Cardozo Senior High School in Columbia Heights has a truancy problem with 33% of students missing at least 20 days per year. In Anacostia, the truancy rate is 45%. But Catania is not only concerned with high school truancy. He says that 30-40% of elementary school students are also missing two weeks or more. 

Catania points out that there is a DC law that makes it a misdemeanor to allow your child to have two unexcused absences, with a minimum penalty of a $100 fine and a five-day jail sentence. Catania is upset that only 27 truancy cases out of 5,000 were investigated last year. In the future, Catania would like to see the letters from the attorney general sent to parents after 10 days of truancy. The letter would inform parents that they are violating a law and may be prosecuted. After 20 days of excused absences, Catania wants mandatory prosecution. Instead of putting parents in jail, Catania would like to implement a period of community service for the parents of a truant equal to the number of hours the student missed.

Catania also wants changes to the impact evaluation system of teachers. The current system rates teachers as highly effective, effective, minimally effective, or ineffective. Ineffective teachers are fired immediately, but minimally effective teachers are allowed to continue teaching for another year. Currently, minimally effective teachers number about 14% of the DC public school teachers. Catania says that “the evidence suggests that a new teacher would produce better results than a tenured, ineffective or minimally effective teacher.” Catania also wants to invest more in effective teachers to bring them to the highly effective rating.

As chairman of the Education Committee, Catania also plans to work on transportation, school readiness, safety, special education, and the achievement gap in DC public schools. According to Catania, “no one will be immune from the oversight of the committee.” Look for changes from the Council’s new Education Committee.

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