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Ed Secretary Arne Duncan Urges DC Schools to Continue Reforms

July 30, 2014

Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined Children’s Law Center today to talk about how schools nationwide and in DC can continue to innovate and give at-risk children a greater chance at future success.

Among his recommendations? Schools should think of themselves as “community centers” that provide a stable, nurturing environment throughout the year. He also commended DC schools on their steady gains in improving educational outcomes and called for continued progress – noting Children’s Law Center’s important role to keep momentum moving forward.

Hosted by McKenna Long & Aldridge, the breakfast discussion moderated by Executive Director Judith Sandalow brought together over 100 leaders from the legal, business and education communities.

Duncan noted that the roughly 100,000 public schools across the U.S. already play an important role in providing safe spaces and connecting vulnerable children to needed services, including free and reduced-price meals. He suggested that schools expand that role. “If schools become the heart and center of family and community life, we have a chance” at helping the most vulnerable children gain a foothold to a better life, he said.

Secretary Duncan noted progress within DC schools and a number of reasons for optimism in helping vulnerable students succeed, including:

  • Slow but steady gains in students’ reading and math scores within DC schools.
  • A manageable student population, with just over 80,000 students in DCPS and public charter schools.
  • A combination of public and charter schools, which allows families to have a “mix of options” for their children’s education, Duncan said.
  • What Duncan called a “smart talent strategy” that he said rewards good teachers and principals for school achievements.
  • Mayoral oversight of the school system, which Duncan said led to “clear accountability at the top” and allowed parents to hold District leadership accountable.
  • Per pupil funding levels that Duncan called “the envy of other school systems.”

Executive Director Sandalow joined Duncan in praising District schools for their progress but noted that Children’s Law Center “sees the kids who are not yet benefitting from the reforms that the Secretary is optimistic about.”

This included over 1,500 children and families that Children’s Law Center helped with educational needs last year, Sandalow said, including 3- and 4-year olds who were unnecessarily suspended from schools, children with autism and other special needs who were denied the extra support needed to allow them to learn, and foster children who had to fight to stay in a familiar school while coping with the break-up of their family.

Despite the need to improve, Sandalow applauded the solutions-oriented teachers, principals and other leaders within District agencies and elsewhere for their commitment to making continued progress in education.

She also noted sweeping education reforms that the District is poised to pass that would dramatically improve special education for children – historic legislation that would make a marked difference in the lives of many of DC’s most vulnerable children.

You can view more pictures from the July 30 breakfast event with Secretary Duncan on our Facebook page.