A P-20 Council for DC?
by Luis F. Vivaldi, Program Associate, The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region
Leaving home this morning, as I stepped out onto my small street, I thought about how I was connecting with a network of individual commuters, streets, traffic lights and signs; each system working seamlessly together to get people where they need to be. It’s a cliché, but one that has been used to explain how a school system should work in the perfect world: students leave their homes and enter a system that ideally ushers seamlessly along the network of schools and supports into college and the workforce. But we’ve recognized for a long time that the system is fractured, and that students who graduate from high school — if they graduate at all – do so lacking the intellectual and sometimes social skills to survive and thrive.
This clearly was the message last Thursday when The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region (CFNCR) and the Double the Numbers Coalition held a public briefing, The Prospect of a P-20 Council in the District of Columbia. Using the same traffic metaphor, a P-20 Council is a system of independent networks made up of government agencies, community-based organizations and the private sector, all working together to improve the school system. The P-20 acts both as an advisory council to provide research and policy recommendations, and as the lead entity to implement policy and program changes to improve the school system, aligning it with future opportunities and pathways connected to employment and higher education so that students graduate college- and career-ready.
The creation of a P-20 is included as part of the District of Columbia’s “Race to the Top” application. The question, and focus of the discussion last Thursday, isn’t whether or not there will be a P-20 Council, but how it will be shaped and what will it focus on. The general impression leaving the event was incredibly positive, but cautious of the huge breadth of challenges before us. One is the lack of a repository of accessible, longitudinal data, which will be necessary to create and inform the kind of change that speakers noted in Tennessee and Florida. Another is aligning student evaluation and requirements along the pipeline between K-12, college and the workforce to ensure students are graduating ready for successful employment. One audience member mentioned the need of supports at home for students in challenging situations.
Clearly a lot of work has to be done…but where do we begin? How can we accomplish everything? And how do we know that we’re accomplishing anything at all?
There were a few clear suggestions on issue areas, and a recommended executive order is being developed for the Mayor’s consideration. While there was representation from multiple government agencies, including the District of Columbia Public Schools, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, and the Executive Office of the Mayor, it is citizens who will have to continue to place pressure on elected officials to act. In CFNCR President Terri Lee Freeman’s closing remarks, she called on the audience to continue to be engaged, and to reach out to Council members and others to support what needs to be done to fix the system and provide students with a working pathway to success.