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The BookShelf Project: Creating In-Home Libraries for Children

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Education

Teenager Gets Accepted into 83 Colleges, Receives $3 Million in Scholarships

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Teachers and Students Walkout: Call Bullshit on Apartheid Schools in the Nation’s Capital

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“The realization of common opportunities for all within a single society… will require a commitment to national action – compassionate, massive, and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and richest nation on this earth.” – Report from The Kerner Commission, February 29, 1968

On Wednesday, teachers and students at Anacostia Senior High School in Southeast D.C. walked out to protest the facility’s poor conditions. Teachers said the cafeteria is flooded, no breakfast was served to students, there’s no running water, and bathrooms are broken, so some students were told to use bathrooms in a building three blocks away.

The need for this walkout exemplifies how the district has failed black neighborhoods and their schools. As one student told The Washington Post, “If it was any other school in the District, they would have closed school. That’s unsanitary.”

It didn’t have to end up this way. Fifty years ago, the Kerner Commission—appointed by President Johnson after a wave of civil unrest had rocked the country—offered the nation tough medicine on the best ways to resolve racial injustice. The 426-page document was a best seller, full of specific suggestions to break up residential segregation and increase black employment. But Johnson largely ignored his commission: Fifty years later, much of the work remains undone, especially in education. Despite a plethora of evidence about the benefits of integration, U.S. education reformers have not prioritized it.

Washington, D.C.’s public school system is just one example of how the impacts of racial segregation in our schools have been ignored. Not long ago, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) was among the country’s lowest-performing districts. In 2011, just 58 percent of students graduated on time. Over the past decade, district and city leaders began an aggressive effort to improve the schools. The heart of this strategy was revamping the human capital system, and the district put in place new strategies to recruit, retain, train, and compensate teachers and leaders. They overhauled the salary structure to dramatically increase starting and mid-career salaries, and they provided strong financial incentives to high-performing teachers who chose to teach in schools serving low-income students. Today, a high-performing teacher at a high-poverty school in DCPS can earn over $130,000.

The district also implemented high-quality, free, universal pre-school and pre-kindergarten throughout the city. They implemented higher academic standards and embraced an annual test aligned to those standards. And they invested millions of dollars in renovating school facilities. The city also tripled the size of its charter sector (from 13 percent of enrollment in 2001 to 44.5 percent in 2016) and designed a unified system that families could use to enroll their children in both district or charter schools. In the years since, DCPS has seen rapid gains on National Assessment of Education Progress scores, earning it the reputation as the nation’s fastest-improvingurban district.

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Tools for Success Scholarship

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