Adios, foreign language in DCPS 9th grade classrooms.

So Chancellor Rhee is going to change the school schedule and shatter the dreams of the gifted by denying them 9th grade foreign language.

 DCists commenters are, of course, all over it. I commented there, and will clean up my thoughts a little in this post.
I’ve taught in 2 struggling districts, and I cannot possibly convince you how hard it is to get 2000 students into 5 or 7 classes a day in a way that:

a) fulfills all the graduation requirements
b) has an acceptable student-teacher ratio
c) accomodates all the other classes in a child’s schedule
d) has teacher prep periods built in so that teachers can plan/work together on curriculum
e) has lunches planned so that lunch periods–often there are 3 or 4–can occur with a controlled amount of student movement (such as, having all students on one floor eat lunch together)…

also, you have to be able to:

a) accurately project staffing
b) accurately project enrollment
c) get the kids who are enrolled to turn in their books and clear up any other “enrollment holds’ so that the can get their schedule before school starts and fix any issues

The barriers to achieving all those things are sizeable. So it’s actually a very difficult thing to do in a city, even in a good school system. So I am VERY sympathetic to the counselors. However, each school usually has one master scheduler who builds a schedule (it seems DC is going to implement block scheduling, which has its own proponents and detractors) and the other counselors have to fill it. And in a system like DC, counselors might switch schools frequently, so even the good ones may not have time to learn who the kids are and place them in schedules accordingly–and this is universally true of counselors of 9th graders, because 9th graders are almost always new to the building and its staff.

Also, there is a persistent and pervasive culture in many urban districts that “9th grade doesn’t matter,” which is a lie, but many kids cannot be convinced otherwise. So giving them a class that, if they fail it, requires summer school, or night school, or a 10th grade retake, is actually a way to have a meaningful consequence for failure in 9th grade–and there are precious few real consequences in DCPS, I can assure you.

The upshot: scheduling is very complicated and removing the guesswork for counselors might be a very good thing here. It gives them a year to learn who kids are, folks (and don’t bring up using student records–just don’t).

Does the average guidance counselor need to be better? Yes. Absolutely. But the training and opportunities for counselors of 9th graders to do an excellent job just aren’t there.

Perhaps Rhee will be able to put them in place so that this is merely a strategy for one or two years. And I doubt very seriously that this decision will cost any child a Marshall scholarship.

So, I ask you to think about the possible benefits to 9th graders _as a class_ across the city before you decide about this policy based on your off-the cuff estimation of possible potential harm to one imagined 9th grade overachiever.

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