The challenges for DC students and families in the last 20 months of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overstated. Loss of loved ones, financial stress, managing learning from home, and anxiety about the future have tested each student and family in DC. Sadly, these stresses are not new for many. In fact, systems in DC have long failed our students furthest from opportunity. Health care, child welfare, criminal justice, education—each have inequity encoded into their fabric and are therefore yielding inequitable outcomes for our children.
At Education Forward DC, we have heard the voices of our students and families telling us they deserve better. In fall of 2020, we spoke to about 200 stakeholders in DC, starting with students, families, and teachers. We heard clear themes in these conversations:
“School should be a place for the community to come together, not just a place to send kids.”DC Education Leader
“[The school] waits until something big or traumatic happens to save face. If a parent is voicing their opinions, they should address it.”DC Parent
“No one listens to a kid. Without [the] coach, who had a lot of power in the school, [I] would have been in a very difficult position. Shooting down someone because they are a child is discouraging and makes you not want to speak up.”DC Student
The concerns we heard are the primary driver for the plans we have set for the next five years to seize DC’s recovery from the pandemic as an opportunity to reimagine how our schools support student success. We believe all students should have access to schools that serve their full academic, social and emotional needs, and aim to double the proportion of schools that provide high-quality, high-equity experiences. We envision a future where students and families have a rich array of choices that meet their unique needs, and that each of those choices provides a fulfilling, supportive experience where students’ identities are affirmed, their interests are nurtured, their academic skills are honed, and their emotional needs are met.
Making this happen will truly require a citywide effort: every student, family, teacher, school staff member, principal, elected leader, funder, non-profit partner, and resident will have a role in making this a reality. And, we know this is possible, since DC is already the fastest improving urban school system in the country. Our students and families are clear that they are ready for the next horizon in terms of schools that truly meet their needs. For our part, Education Forward DC will invest in and support efforts across the District that:
- Focus on an equitable recovery to ensure schools are meeting students’ immediate needs and jointly develop a citywide vision for schools moving past the pandemic.
- Reimagine our schools through support of new and existing schools that align to students’ and families’ needs and initiatives that improve student well-being and mental health.
- Address barriers created by anti-Black racism by rethinking policies, school models, practices, talent pipelines, and partnership to explicitly address racial inequity.
- Support our leaders in order to retain our best educators and recruit and develop more Black and Latinx teachers and leaders.
- Foster policy change by elevating the voices of students and families and advancing policies that are responsive to their demands.
We are excited and humbled to work alongside DC’s students, families, and community to support our students in fundamentally new ways over the next five years.