D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is promoting his education plan for the district.
The plan includes children from birth through early childhood. Gray is teaming up with leaders from the D.C. government, private, and non-profit sectors to accomplish his goals. But, some believe that the goals might be too ambitious.
Gray calls his plan “Raise D.C.” It’s meant to be a comprehensive and collaborative strategy to prepare children for school and to prepare students for the workplace.
The plan starts out long before kindergarten and continues long after high school graduation with the ultimate goal: ensuring that all district youth are career-ready by age 24.
At his weekly press conference, Gray unveiled his “Raise D.C.” program—an all-encompassing plan to improve education in the district—from cradle to career.
“We're really trying to figure out how we take the resources we have in the District of Columbia and get people working on the same page,” Gray said.
When the mayor opened the floor for questions, the press conference turned confrontational.
Community activist Dorothy Brizill questioned whether "Raise D.C." offered anything new. The Mayor explained he was bringing existing D.C. programs and agencies together by establishing clear and transparent goals.
“It's not so much that there's some fantastic great new idea. It's aligning the stars, connecting the dots, however you want to phrase that that has everyone moving in the same direction,” Gray said.
With this initiative, the mayor has set several benchmarks—such as improving the high school graduation rate from 59 percent to 70 percent in five years.
Working with local employers and non-profits, he also wants to create more training or job opportunities for youth not in school. It will also be used to increase the number of students attending UDC or the community college of D.C.
The advocacy group "D.C. Appleseed” says that the latter goal is admirable, but difficult.
“And that's going to take not only money, it's going to take input and support from the board of trustees at UDC to make the hard decisions that are going to go into moving that institution forward as a whole, both the community college and the flagship,” said Judy Berman of D.C. Appleseed.
D.C. Appleseed and other advocates say they'd like to see more emphasis on special education reform in this overarching plan.
Advocates want to track and evaluate special needs students and programs so that reform can happen. But, the district is weary about singling those students out.
As part of his early childhood initiative, the mayor also wants all pre-kindergarten teaching staff in the district to have a bachelors or associate degrees by 2014—an accelerated timetable from the 2017 timetable set by the Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Amendment Act of 2008.
According to D.C. Appleseed, and making that 2014 deadline happen could be very challenging. For a working Pre-K teacher, there are limited scholarship opportunities to pay for such education. Most local programs are geared toward traditional students—ages 18-to-24 - who attend class during business hours.