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Biggest test coming to prevent student exodus from DCPS

The Washington Post's Emma Brown and Scott Clement write today about parents of D.C. public middle school kids pulling their children out of DCPS to attend charters or private schools. The result is exceedingly low enrollment rates after elementary school. Parents and politicians, especially head of the D.C. Council's education committee David Catania, have been calling for improvement to the city's offerings beyond the fifth grade. But the focus on fixing the traditional middle schools is in itself a little odd because up until now people had such a poor opinion of public education in the nation's capital they would do anything in their power to find an alternative. The Post reporters quote DCPS Chancellor Kay Henderson as stating, “I actually take that as an indication of our success. For a long time, people didn’t care enough about D.C. Public Schools to demand anything.”

The movement to attract more families to traditional middle schools is about to face a tremendous challenge. This year is the last one that all public schools in the city will be testing students utilizing the DC CAS. For the 2014 to 2015 term the standardized test relied upon for measuring academic proficiency rates will be the PARCC which is aligned with the Common Core curriculum. States that have tried measuring student knowledge based on the new standards have seen their scores decrease dramatically.

The Common Core curriculum has now ignited a firestorm of controversy across the 45 states and the District of Columbia that have adopted it. The political right has accused the Obama Administration of a government takeover of public education through its attempt to influence localities in accepting the curriculum through its Race to the Top grant competition. The New York Times had an article just yesterday about the left's problem's with the new standards. Here in the nation's capital we had a hint of what is to come last fall when Mr. Catania accused the Office of the State Superintendent of Education of staying with the old method for grading the 2013 DC CAS because a newer recommended methodology would have showed that attempts to fix the regular schools are not going as well as Mayor Gray would have us believe.

There will be enormous pressure to delay the implementation of the Common Core and the PARCC examination when student scores drop. But this would be exactly the wrong path to take. States have adopted the new curriculum because of its higher goals for what students should learn in school and its emphasis on accessing students' ability to reason instead of memorizing facts. It significantly raises the bar regarding public education and it does so that America can complete in a better position globally.

If we are really committed to education reform in the nation's capital then we will stick with the adoption of the Common Core on schedule.