Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Report: US only average at educating students

By Matt Buccelli

A recent sample of test score data from around the world is causing significant concern among American education observers and public officials.  The report, which tallied the math, science, and reading scores of 15 year-olds in each of the 34 countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD], demonstrates mediocre results for the United States, and shows us lagging behind many other Asian and European countries.  On the 1,000 point scale of the International Student Assessment, we scored a 500 in reading, 502 in science, and 487 in math. 

The results sounded alarm bells for many public officials.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan referred to the results as "a massive wake-up call."  Added Duncan: "Have we ever been satisfied as Americans being average in anything? Is that our aspiration? Our goal should be absolutely to lead the world in education."

Representative George Miller [D-CA], the outgoing chairman of the House Education Committee, expressed similar distress. "Average won't help us regain our global role as a leader in education. Average won't help our students get the jobs of tomorrow. Average is the status quo and it's failing our country."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Break

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone reading out there -- if you're helping us tutor right now, we're thankful for you!  If not, we've had an awesome semester so far in DC Reads, and we'll continue to keep you updated on all aspects of our tutoring and community involvement as the year progresses.

For now, we'll post another great sentence about education from Joanna Peiser, senior in the college and another member of our Advocacy Committee:

"To me, education means creating a better tomorrow for myself and others."

Agreed.  Have a great break!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Program Snapshot: Afternoons in the 3rd grade

We have four different tutoring programs within DC READS: our traditional one-to-one after-school tutoring for third graders; Saturday tutoring at libraries and community centers; morning tutoring, where we serve as de-facto teachers' assistants in classrooms for all the different elementary school grades; and then our 4th and 5th grade program, which functions as an after-school classroom run by a group of tutors and coordinators and focuses on personal development goals, writing, vocabulary, and other forms of student enrichment. Over the course of this year, we'll be posting a mixture of tutor and coordinator reflections to allow us to convey our experience as educators and mentors, while also filling our readers in on exciting developments within each of our programs.


The following post was written by Justine Achille, a sophomore in the NHS who is currently tutoring at Kenilworth Elementary School:

The session was going to go great. I knew it. I had printed out a vocabulary activity that I made up that I knew my tutee would enjoy, and I was bringing the white board. I didn’t really have a plan as to what to do with it, but that didn’t matter. As a rule, all tutees love using white dry-erase boards, and mine is no exception. So in my mind, the day was going to be a hit, without a doubt, and at first, everything was going just as planned. We ambled through a book about a nice woman who owned “The Strawberry Inn,” and then we began to tackle my vocab worksheet.

Outside of Kenilworth Elementary
First, I should probably back-track and explain that my tutee has been obsessed with the idea of “creating a community.” When I first heard this I was completely blown away. My tutee, this little third grader, is thinking of ways to build a good community! So I asked her how she would go about doing this, excited about what kind of insight she might have about the workings of a community or town. Her reply was something along the lines of: well… we could use milk cartons…and construction paper….and…Of course. She means literally, let’s build a community. I have to say, I should have probably expected this. But nonetheless, I decided to try to work with the idea. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

To me, education...

We're starting a new feature here on the DC Reads blog.  It's an idea born out of our excellent tutor advocacy committee, which is currently doing a yeoman's job helping to advocate for just education throughout Washington, DC.  More on that as the year progresses.

Anyway, in our last meeting we were sitting around talking about things we can include on the blog, and one of our members came up with a very simple concept: one sentence, from everyone on the committee, describing what education means to them.  Brilliant!

So from now on, throughout the year, we'll be posting one of these sentences each week.  Our inaugural sentence comes from Hannah Hill:

"To me, education is the only national tool that ubiquitously provides a forum for reform and development."

Well put.  Stay tuned for more -- and as always, happy reading!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vincent Gray Ward 8 Town Hall Meeting

By: Hannah Klusendorf

Last week, in a crowded Ward 8 church, fifteen DC Reads coordinators and tutors gathered with nearly a thousand Ward 8-ers to hear future DC mayor, Vince Gray, overview his proposed agenda. A waning sound system and a delayed start aside, the town hall meeting provided me with some illuminating, though vague, information in regards to education. After promising to unite the Wards together to form one DC, Gray turned his attention to creating one DCPS.

Gray claimed that rumblings alleging he would “turn the clock back on education” were “ridiculous.” He spoke of his positive voting record within the Council for education reform measures – a point he brought up many times while on the campaign trail. But that night, he seemed to directly speak out against Rhee and her supporters. Following the primary election results, she did call Gray’s victory “devastating to the children of Washington, DC.” Gray reassured all that there is “only one thing that matters: improving the educational outcome for the children of the District of Columbia.” Duh.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

DC Reads Program Snapshot: 4th and 5th Grade

We have four different tutoring programs within DC READS: our traditional one-to-one after-school tutoring for third graders; Saturday tutoring at libraries and community centers; morning tutoring, where we serve as de-facto teachers' assistants in classrooms for all the different elementary school grades; and then our 4th and 5th grade program, which functions as an after-school classroom run by a group of tutors and coordinators and focuses on personal development goals, writing, vocabulary, and other forms of student enrichment. Over the course of this year, we'll be posting a mixture of tutor and coordinator reflections to allow us to convey our experience as educators and mentors, while also filling our readers in on exciting developments within each of our programs.


Coordinator Reflection: Matt Buccelli

This past Thursday in our 4th and 5th grade classroom at Houston Elementary School, we had a "poetry café" to celebrate some of the work our students have been doing and give them a chance to share their creative material. For the previous two weeks, we had been teaching a unit on poetry and its different styles. After going over basic poetry terms like rhyme, couplet, alliteration, stanza, and syllable using the rap song "I Can," by Nas, we spent four classes teaching our kids to write acrostics, haiku, cinquains, and free verse poems. During each class, students had the chance to share their work quietly with a friend or individual teacher, but we intentionally put off having kids share their poems with the class and instead reminded our students during each lesson that if they behaved well and continued to worked hard, our efforts at writing would build up to a class spent sharing our poetry and eating treats. In each class building up to the poetry café, every student in class wrote at least one poem in each style; some who finished early wrote more, while others chose to draw illustrations to go along with their poems. Many of our students had the opportunity to draw illustrations but chose to write more poems instead.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rhee Out, Henderson In

By: Hannah Klusendorf
Since Adrian Fenty's defeat in the DC mayoral primary, there has been much speculation as to the fate of his right-hand woman, Michelle Rhee. After all, she did support Fenty's bid for re-election, and while campaigning for him, she hinted that a victory for Grey would mean resignation for her. It’s no secret that Gray and Rhee have had a pretty rocky relationship in the past. When asked about the possibility of keeping Rhee, Grey responded, "Well, we'll see."

Apparently, Gray and Rhee saw something. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ward 7 Promise Neighborhood Celebration

This Saturday, several DC Reads coordinators attended a neighborhood celebration to mark the awarding of a $500,000 federal grant to the Parkside-Kenilworth community in Ward 7 for the planning and implementation of a new Promise Neighborhood. The site in Ward 7 is one of 21 across the country that was recently selected by the U.S. Department of Education for its Promise Neighborhood Planning Grant program, and it includes Kenilworth Elementary School, which is one of the places where we tutor on Friday afternoons.

Location of the new Promise Neighborhood (click to enlarge)

DC's Promise Neighborhood will be modeled, in part, after the Harlem Children's Zone in New York, which spans a 100 block radius and takes a community-based approach to improving educational outcomes for kids. The idea is that by working to comprehensively build communities, we will also insure that students achieve at a higher level; both the Harlem Children's Zone and the Promise Neighborhood planned for DC seek to foster a safe, nurturing environment for kids by combining good schools, after-school programs, and other opportunities to engage youth with affordable housing and health care, job training, and other so-called "wraparound services" for adults.

The celebration on Saturday took place at the Mayfair Mansions, a sprawling complex of several apartment buildings in the Promise Neighborhood community. There was free food and a live DJ who led several games of musical chairs with the children in attendance. There were also two ponies. At one point, about two dozen people got up to do the Cha-Cha Slide, which drew Noelle's excitement, and she did an awesome job following along.

Noelle does the Cha-Cha Slide

Several community-based organizations that will be involved with the new Promise Neighborhood were also in attendance, so it was good for DC Reads to be present and explain our role in the community. Certainly our tutoring program plays a big part in offering the kind of comprehensive support for kids that the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood will aim to encourage with its new grant, and we did a lot of networking with the other organizations that were out on Saturday. The woman representing Head Start, which helps low-income kids go to preschool, actually turned out to be the grandmother of one of my tutees in the fourth and fifth grade program at Houston Elementary School, which is located just outside of the Promise Neighborhood area. Aside from being a nice coincidence, I think this really illustrates why DC Reads tries to establish its presence in the communities where we serve. The more we can show up and make connections with people who have a stake in our success, the more successful we will ultimately be.

For more information on the Parkside-Kenilworth Promise Neighborhood, check out their website. We'll also keep you updated on its progress as the year progresses.

Monday, October 4, 2010

This week in education: New page on the Huffington Post

The Huffington Post has just launched a new education page as part of its sprawling website. For those of you who read the Huffington Post (and those who don't!), the page follows the same basic layout as the rest of the website, with top stories and relevant education news running down the center, flanked by video links and columns by various players in the education world.

Portraying the new page as a response to the growing interest throughout the country in education issues, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington asserted in a post to the main website that America is having an "education moment." We at DC Reads certainly hope she's right: from our ongoing work in schools, we know that fixing the education system in America will not be easy. Still, tackling this eminently pressing issue with the thought, care, and critical thinking it deserves requires as much of a sense of urgency as this country can possibly muster. The more informed people are about not only achievement gaps and other struggles in urban schools, but also the stagnation and mediocrity of the US education system as a whole, the more we can encourage innovation and find diverse, well-thought out solutions that tackle the array of tangling and complex issues that have long complicated efforts to improve public schools.

To view the Huffington Post education page, click here. From now on, it will also appear as a link in our sidebar.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Will Rhee stay or go?

By Matt Buccelli

After City Council Chairman Vincent Gray's triumph over incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty in the September 14 DC mayoral primary, the jury is still out on what Gray's victory may mean for the future of DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. During Gray's tenure as council chair, he and Rhee have maintained a rocky relationship, and on the day after the primary, Rhee chose to characterize the result as "devastating for the children of Washington, DC." (ouch) Over the course of the campaign, Rhee signaled that she wouldn't work for Gray should he win, and given her engagement to the current mayor of Sacramento, California, she may be ready to skip town anyway. For his part, Gray remained mum during his bid for the mayoralty about whether or not he would keep Rhee, and has refused to make any decisions on administrative personnel until he is officially the mayor; even in heavily Democratic DC, the presumptive mayor-to-be still has to at least go through the motions of a general election in November.

Basically, we're unlikely to hear anything for awhile. But that shouldn't stop us from speculating anyway on what Gray's victory means for the Chancellor and for the future of DC education policy as a whole.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Welcome Back! Fall 2010

Hey readers!

Welcome back to the DC Reads Just Education blog. After a busy three weeks of tutor recruitment and training, DC Reads is finally back in the saddle and doing what we do best -- helping kids learn to read, that is. We sent our first tutors to site this afternoon, and we've got a busy week and year ahead, with more morning tutoring sessions, additional afternoon times, and a new after-school classroom curriculum for fourth and fifth graders that we developed and used for the first time this summer.

DC Reads is back, and that means our flagship blog, Just Education, is too. Last year we debuted the blog as a project of our awesome Advocacy Committee, and we look forward to developing the blog further in the coming weeks and months. When you read our blog, you can expect to find updates on our work in and outside of the classroom, along with individual analysis about DC Public Schools and the broader public education system in which we tutor. We will also look to connect you with a wide range of material concerning the education system in DC and across the country, from the Washington Post education page to other online resources. Throughout the year, we will continue to attend Chancellor's forums and other public events designed to connect the DC community with the progress of its school system.

Check back frequently for updates and new developments, and if you're helping us tutor this semester, have an awesome first week!

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Degree of Education: Why Georgetown Is and Should Be Expanding its Influence in Education

By: Marc Patterson

When Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, came to the town hall meeting in Gaston Hall on Monday May 3rd, he gave encouraging words on the power of education to transform lives. “We cannot let any child fall through the cracks, regardless of the difficulties they face at home…poverty is never destiny,” Duncan pressed the crowd of teachers, parents and Georgetown students. I cannot help but feel the disconnect however, because despite the thriving network of tutors Georgetown has created, not to mention one of the highest matriculation rates into Teach For America in the country, no Georgetown student has the opportunity to seriously engage education as a field of study through this university. In order to train both informed political advocates for education reform and teachers who will demand the reform they need to be effective, Georgetown needs a program in education. The University’s Jesuit tradition and value of social justice demand it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

WMATA service cuts could affect DCPS students

By: Jake Schindler

According to Washington Post education columnist Bill Turque, several student-only bus routes that serve DCPS turned up on a list of possible WMATA service cuts. On Friday, he wrote about the issue on his D.C. Schools Insider blog:

“D.C. public schools do not have yellow school buses that take students to regular school programs, but WMATA serves some schools with special bus lines that are for students only. On the list of possible route cuts are the buses that serve Watkins Elementary and Peabody Elementary; Deal Middle and Sousa Middle; Anacostia High, Eastern High, McKinley High, Spingarn High and Wilson High; and Duke Ellington School of the Arts.”

Encouraging Dreams of Higher Education in D.C. Public Schools

By: Hannah Klusendorf

Below is an opinion I wrote for The Hoya for the April 13th edition. The link is, but I posted the article just in case. In the article, I presented how severe the education gap is in D.C. and how Georgetown students specifically can/should rally around D.C. issues like education reform. As I wrote, a Georgetown degree will mean nothing if we do not use the knowledge it represents to serve the community as a whole. Hope you like it!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Upcoming Field Trip to the National Museum of American History

By: Kelly McAllester

When you tutor for D.C. Reads you often have unexpected revelations. Some of these revelations, such as when you discover a book your tutee truly loves to read, make every struggle up to that point worth it. Some, however, make you wish you could do something more than just help children learn to read a couple hours a week.

This was the case when I discovered last semester that many of the kids I was tutoring had never visited the National Mall, or been to a single Smithsonian Institution museum. Think back to your own third and fourth grade memories. How many field trips had you been on by the time you left elementary school? I personally remember visiting the state capital, an old mine, and a historic colonial village in the fourth grade alone. It isn’t right that the kids we tutor haven’t been exposed to some of the best museums in the country which are not only located in the same city where they live, but are also free!

Chancellor's Forum Recap

By: Matt Buccelli

Last Wednesday night, I went with several other tutors and coordinators to one of DCPS chancellor Michelle Rhee's monthly community forums. This one took place at Kimball Elementary School in Ward 7, and the was centered around the district’s attempts to develop an action plan for improving DCPS high schools.

After an introduction by Chancellor Rhee, one of her deputies detailed how and why DC is moving forward with its plan to improve secondary schools. Rhee’s deputy said that DCPS is currently engaged in a three-phase plan for secondary school transformation --- after coming to agreement on expectations for high school students and tactics for moving forward, the school district will examine student performance and best practices from other urban school districts, and then create a final plan for meeting its expectations. In other words, DCPS’ “Vision for DCPS Secondary Schools,” as the forum was billed, is in its infancy.

DC Students Show Reading Gains

By: Matt Buccelli

Amidst a bevy of disappointing new federal reading data, modest gains in DC reading scores stand out as a bright spot.

A report from the National Assessment on Educational Progress (NAEP), which the federal government uses to monitor reading proficiency in the states, shows that while reading scores in 49 of 50 states have stalled while the No Child Left Behind law has been in effect, DC schools have made steady gains in reading since 2003. The DC NAEP scores remain below the national average, but DC joined Kentucky, which was the only state to achieve significant gains, as the only public school systems to improve steadily in reading since the enactment of No Child Left Behind.

To read the rest of the article, go to

Fall 2009 DC Teacher Firings

By: Katie Seymour

Out of all the controversial actions Michelle Rhee has taken during her career as Chancellor of DC Public Schools, her fall 2009 layoffs of several hundred teachers have inspired the strongest reactions in the public yet.

Warnings about upcoming layoffs began circulating publicly in September, when Chancellor Rhee announced that she would have to fire an unspecified number of teachers as part of an effort to address a $40 million deficit in the DCPS budget. On October 2, 2009, the Chancellor followed through by firing 229 classroom teachers, as well as over a hundred more school employees, prompting an immediate backlash from groups of students, teachers’ unions, and the DC City Council. Ever since, supporters and detractors have debated whether Chancellor Rhee’s actions were a legitimate move to save the public school budget while doing the least damage possible or a political ploy to replace older, higher-paid teachers who have resisted her reforms with newer, lower-paid recruits.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Official Welcome to Just Education

Dear Reader,

Hi and welcome to our humble little blogspot! Two days ago, this was just a little pipe dream the DC Reads Coordinators thought up. Now, thanks to a tutorial, a 30-day trial of Photoshop, and a pot of coffee, that pipe dream is now a reality. The first two posts lay out why we think the DC Reads Advocacy Committee and this blog are important; we feel confident that the ensuing days and posts will prove their worth. In fact, thanks to our enthusiastic committee, we even have a bunch of great posts just waiting to be posted. (Yay, team!) I hope that this blog can become a resource for you—something to check out for videos, links, articles, and commentary about pressing issues in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) System. If you are interested at all in contributing to our blog or getting involved in the DC Reads Advocacy Committee, please contact us at

Happy DC READs-ing!


Hannah Klusendorf
Georgetown University COL ‘12
DC Reads Coordinator

Monday, March 22, 2010

Educating America in the New Decade

By: Jonathon Munoz

The new decade finds America traveling on the long road of economic recovery. It is hard not to ignore the immediate effects of such a crisis. For example, as of Dec. 2009, 15.3 million Americans were unemployed with an unemployment rate of 10%[1]. At the beginning of the recession in December 2007 the unemployment rate was 0.5% with 7.7 unemployed Americans. It is important to mitigate the immediate negative effects of the crisis for obvious reasons, but there is a big difference between the semblance of economic stability and the real thing. With so much money being poured into the economy to promote stability and increase consumer confidence it is easy to focus on the symptoms of the crisis while ignoring its causes.

The current crisis gives us a unique opportunity to fundamentally change the way the country learns. If fiscal responsibility is truly a long-term goal for America, it must invest in education. We must create educational policies that foster innovation while promoting accountability, both on the part of local and state officials. A study by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northwestern University recently reported that students who dropped out of high school were 63 times more likely to be in prison than students with a four-year college degree. Also, “on average, each high school dropout now costs taxpayers more than $292,000 in lower tax revenues, higher cash and in-kind transfer costs, and incarceration costs relative to the average high school graduate.”

Mission Statement of D.C. Reads Advocacy Committee

By: Jonathon Munoz

As students of Georgetown University we find ourselves in a unique situation. Not only do we each bring with us a particular set of conceptual tools and personal skill sets with which to assess and solve problems, but as students in D.C. we also have an opportunity to use our individual resources to advance social justice issues both locally and nationally.

Our focus on educational issues does not only stem from its inextricable relation to the social sphere as a whole, but we choose to focus on it because it is a process with which all have intimate and familiar knowledge. Bringing with us varying personal perspectives formed in different local educational contexts, we have the ability to have a very diverse dialogue with others. It is this dialogue that is the kernel of social justice, and it is the extension of this dialogue that is the raison d’etre of this advocacy committee.