It’s Time to Examine the District’s Education Governance

Councilmember Robert White
3 min readFeb 24, 2021

Our country and city are in a unique moment where we are taking a fresh look at things, from police brutality to inequities in our criminal justice system. But one thing that’s not getting coverage, because we don’t see photographs or viral clips, is that the District’s schools are not working for students of color, English Language Learner students, or students with disabilities.

Consider the facts:

  • Math
  • Only 21% of Black students meet or exceed expectations, compared to 79% of White students.
  • 16% of at-risk students, 23% of English learners, and 7% of students with disabilities met or exceeded expectations.
  • English Language Arts
  • Only 28% of Black students meet or exceed expectations, compared to 85% of White students.
  • 21% of at-risk students, 20% of English learners, and 8% of students with disabilities meet or exceeded expectations
  • Teacher Turnover
  • The District has the highest teacher turnover rate in the country. A quarter of our teachers leave our school system every year. Over half of our DCPS teachers leave within three years, and 70% leave within five years.

The only way we could consider this system successful is by just considering white students, who make up 16% of DC’s public schools.

We are not educating Black students well. Period. Full stop. I don’t give a damn how good the school buildings look. Black students, who make up 75% of our schools, aren’t doing well. A great city has great schools for every child, and equal opportunity for all students. And of course, in order to serve students well, we need great teachers to help solve this problem. But how can that happen if half of our teachers leave DC Public Schools within three years?

Fourteen years ago, our schools were in bad shape. Any reasonable person knew we needed to do something. We did something. But 14 years later, the data show that this path isn’t working for the majority of our students, and that we are on track to never close the opportunity gap. This is to say nothing of the vast communications gaps that leave parents out of major decisions, like school re-openings and Principal changes.

As a DCPS parent myself, I know that we can’t just stand by. That is why, on March 2, I will introduce a Resolution to establish a Special Committee to review school governance of DC schools. In a school system that boasts accountability, this is our opportunity to hold ourselves accountable (myself included) to take a hard look at our education governance structures and best practices from other jurisdictions over a six-month period in order for us to reset, determine what we are doing well and what structural changes we need to make to give every student and family a chance for success, and to find space to listen to families.

We can make this moment of conversations about racial equity and calls for social justice meaningful by working together as a community to explore how to give more hope in our schools for every student. We can listen to our parents, students, and teachers. We can work together to examine what’s working in other parts of the country.

As we grapple with equity across everything the government does, we can’t lose sight of the fact that our housing policy, criminal justice reform, and social services all serve to create a gentler landing when people fall. But the point of education is to stop them from falling in the first place. Yes, this is a great challenge, but educating our children is also our greatest responsibility as a city. When I look at my daughters, I know there is too much at stake to not act for them and for the other children in every zip code of our city.