My heart has been aching these past few weeks as details of the graduation scandal among DC Public Schools has broken. After Ballou High School in Anacostia reported that it had graduated one hundred percent of its Seniors and that every one of them had been accepted to college, some local reporters decided to take a closer look. What they found instead of success was that most of the graduates had missed so many days of school that they should have failed automatically!
When these reporters ran their exposé, the now former Chancellor of DC Public Schools rightly decided to take a closer look at every public high school in the District. Their findings were heartbreaking. Only two public high schools in all of the city had enforced their attendance rules. At Anacostia High School, over seventy percent of last year's graduating class failed to meet graduation requirements and the same is true of over forty percent of graduates at Eastern High School (the two schools most Cornerstone students would attend if they went to public school). At Dunbar High School, the report noted, for a graduating class of under 200 students, teachers had altered attendance records over 4,000 times.
I have been saying for some time that the reported improvement in student performance in DC Public Schools did not match what I was seeing based on the test scores of students coming to Cornerstone. Now that we know attendance, remediation, and other educational standards were altered to make the schools look better than they are, we can no longer turn a blind eye!
Don't get me wrong, I understand the pressure of wanting to help students who are struggling due to family trauma or other hard situations. I would be lying if I said we don't face that here at Cornerstone as well, but we do no favors passing students who have not only failed to earn their degrees, but who are also not prepared for what comes next. We cannot put our desire to report "positive results" ahead of our mission to educate children.
One of my eleventh grade students recently told a reporter that one of the reasons she chose Cornerstone was that she feared that a public school, with overfilled classrooms and rampant chaos, may not push her and make sure she is actually learning. She noted that "they may pass me, but I may not be passable." I remember hearing that and thinking how profound that statement was in light of the thirty-three percent of last year's DC Public Schools graduates who we now know "passed, but were not passable."
Lord, we pray for Cornerstone and for the DC Public Schools as they strive to ensure that students are educated and ready for the world they will face. Give their leaders wisdom, their teachers strength, and their students grit. Let us never lose sight of your work at Cornerstone and may we be vigilant in keeping the high standards you have called us to set.