The inspired choice of Antwan Wilson as new chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) brings to light several factors which should go a long way toward supporting his success in the dynamic education landscape of the Nation’s Capital.
Wilson is a hardworking leader passionate about his work, an educator who describes his morning routine as beginning at 3AM with a regimen of exercise, prayer and meditation. Colleagues describe him as a good listener who brings out the best in those he works alongside. Both Oakland and Washington, DC are politically-charged communities where an astute ear can be a valuable asset. And both cities feature robust education ecosystems infused with an urgency to shrink deep achievement gaps with school-based solutions in response to complex economic circumstances.
Wilson’s support for a combined application process, where parents indicate their preferences for particular district-run or charter schools, drew criticism in some circles in Oakland. But DC’s common lottery, instituted in 2014, has been exceedingly popular with parents and has generally functioned quite smoothly and effectively.
Approximately a quarter of Oakland’s public school students attend charter schools, but the combined population of charter and district-run schools has been in decline. In DC, nearly half of students attend charter schools, but both sectors are experiencing substantial growth in their student populations.
Both districts are immersed in promising campaigns to raise graduation rates, with significant gains already in evidence among black males and students with special needs. Wilson’s most recent State of the Oakland Schools address highlighted successes with initiatives that have reduced out-of-school suspensions by half since 2011, and credited the program with contributing to reducing juvenile felony rates by three-quarters citywide.
Along with continued progress in these critical directions, Oakland’s success advancing Personalized Learning during Wilson’s tenure as superintendent may represent the development with the greatest potential to accelerate academic gains as DCPS chancellor.
Oakland has achieved impressive progress with initiatives to personalize teaching and learning to scale, leveraging technology and innovative instructional models supported by well-designed professional development strategies for teachers.
Earlier this year, one particularly promising Oakland USD initiative, a partnership with Summit Public Schools, was awarded a $10 million XQ Super School prize for its proposed high school redesign model. The undertaking represents a shared effort that also included Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the Silicon Schools Fund, and the California College of the Arts. Washington Leadership Academy, a DC charter that combines personalized learning, project-based learning and real-world experiences including internships, won the same XQ Super School prize earlier this year, and is currently in its first year of operation.
There are a number of important reasons the DC Public Schools are well positioned for success in these areas.
First, Oakland’s groundbreaking personalized learning work, initially in eight pilot schools, was the result of a remarkable, attentive partnership with the Rogers Family Foundation, and later with the Next Generation Learning Challenge. The partnership shared not just financial resources, which were essential, but also the talents of remarkably talented, persevering and gifted leaders whose tireless work overcame the inevitable hurdles to its success.
The Nation’s Capital is similarly fortunate to benefit from deeply involved and highly capable philanthropic leaders like the CityBridge Foundation and Education Forward, DC. Together, their work in recent years, including their Education Innovation Fellowships program and Breakthrough Schools DC, has built a powerful human capital network of education leaders equipped with the knowledge and tools to tackle the challenging work of personalizing teaching and learning to scale in an urban environment.
Second, the track record is already promising. One DC Public School is already producing remarkable student gains working with Summit Basecamp. Truesdell Education Campus saw its eighth graders more than double their grade-level proficiency rates in English Language Arts on the PARCC exam, to 28 percent in 2016. Truesdell, with a student population 100 percent eligible for free or reduced price meals and nearly half English Language Learners, implemented Basecamp as part of an inaugural nationwide cohort.
Third, DC is already well on its way to developing the necessary know-how to succeed in expanding this work to scale. Personalized learning is already building its own constituency of parents and families who have experienced firsthand its benefits. The DC Public Schools already have a talented team, led by David Rose, Deputy Chief of Education Technology and Library Programs, and John Rice, Director of Technology Programs for Secondary Schools. Like Dr. Wilson’s extremely capable personalized learning team in Oakland, he inherits a capable team he knows can build on its progress to date.
Find Archived Articles: