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D.C. Council Passes Stack of Education Bills That Start Small But Aim High…
By Bill Turque
The D.C. Council approved a package of education reforms on Tuesday intended to bolster the school system on some of its most challenging fronts, including more help for at-risk students and getting more high-schoolers to take college entrance exams.

Portions of the “Raising Expectations for Education Outcomes Act of 2012,” sponsored by D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, address problems that DCPS and Mayor Vincent C. Gray are already working on. Three of the five provisions are small pilot programs unlikely to make a big impact anytime soon. Funds for the projected $2.7 million pricetag will have to be identified.

But no one questioned the worthiness of the goals the bill sets.

“This is not just a bill about aspiration or expectations,” said Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3). “Beyond aspiration this is also a bill that provides support. We have to give our students the resources and possibility and dream that they will succeed.”

The provisions:

--An early warning and support pilot program to track how students in grades four through nine are progressing toward high school and college. The measure would identify those at risk of dropping out and give them more individual help. It requires the mayor to devise a plan to take the program citywide in three years.

--A requirement that the mayor establish a plan that ensures all high school students take the SAT or ACT and apply to a college or other post-secondary institution before graduating. Brown had originally pitched this as a graduation requirement. But DCPS pushed back on the idea of new graduation requirements and the exam and admissions fees students might face. The DC Public Charter School Board saw it as a drag on its autonomy.

--A series of financial incentives to get highly effective teachers--as identified by the IMPACT evaluation system--to work at high-need schools. The inducements include a $10,000 “transfer bonus,” housing assistance and possible income tax credits. The effort would involve no more than 20 teachers at first and would not begin until the 2013-14 school year.

--A pilot establishing five “community schools” similar to J.C. Nalle Elementary in Southeast. This measure, sponsored by Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), would turn the schools into centers for health services, job training, adult education and other social programs.

The bill was amended Tuesday to add a fifth provision, an early childhood measure sponsored by Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large). It requires Chancellor Kaya Henderson to ensure that 3- and 4-year-olds are ready for kindergarten and that students entering fourth grade be able to read and do basic math.

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