Ready High School Project


What DCPS Comprehensive High Schools are Doing to Ensure that our Students are College and Career Ready

This year DC VOICE changed the focus of its community action research.  After six years of the Ready Schools Project’s focus on the supports all schools need in order to provide high quality education for their students, DC VOICE focused solely on the 10 comprehensive high schools, those schools that have open enrollment with no selection criteria other than the school’s geographical boundary.    Two conditions spurred this decision: 
  • Over the past six years, DCPS has improved how it provides schools the basic supports they need – and that is wonderful news, and is a testament to the power of the data collected by DC VOICE volunteers each year as part of our community action research.    Now it was time to go deeper in our information gathering.
  • One of the biggest challenges for our schools today is ensuring that our high school students graduate ready for the worlds of work and college.   While we knew that the stated mission of DCPS – and of the nation  – is to graduate students college and career ready, we also knew, at least from available test data, that many of our students arrive at our high schools – particularly the open enrollment comprehensive ones – several grades behind academically, and poorly prepared to fulfill that mission.
At the same time DC VOICE collected data through our interviews with high school principals we worked with the Data Team provided by our Collaborative for Education Organizing grant to collect publicly available data on DC high schools.  The big lesson learned from this latter effort was that there is a great deal of data available, but not all of it is readily accessible, and not in formats useful for the very persons most affected by the data, i.e. parents, students and teachers.  We are indebted to both the persistence of the Data Team and the assistance of DCPS’ Office of Accountability for additional information on our high schools.
We used a two-part survey instrument for the confidential interviews with principals: 
  • Part I continued to build on the community schools and parent/community involvement data DC VOICE has gathered in past years, leading to action by community members at  DC VOICE Town Hall meetings.  
  • The Part 2 questions were based on a college readiness framework developed by the Annenberg Institute (Annenberg Institute, 2007).  Based on the effective practices in a group of “beating the odds” high schools in New York City, the framework has four sections:  1) Promoting Academic Rigor, 2) A Network of Timeline Supports, 3) A Culture of College Access, and 4) Effective Use of Data.
This report presents the college and career readiness data.  While we reviewed suggestions from other sources (see list at end of this report), we based our inquiry on the Annenberg Framework because it reflects what is working at other urban high schools, and is research-based and field tested.  We adapted it to include: 
  • More emphasis on career as well as college readiness.  Not only are there many good jobs and careers that do not demand a college degree, but also the same readiness level is required for success in both career and college.
  • The importance of starting earlier than high school to focus on college and career readiness.  We added questions on whether our high schools are working with their feeder schools and whether career/college readiness work is beginning at 9th grade, and not waiting until 11th or 12th.
  • More emphasis on how much parents are involved in career/college readiness preparations and decision making.  Research continues to highlight the importance of high school students having strong supports from the adults in their lives, both at school and at home. 
  • Use of a four part rating system for the responses:  1) not implementing, 2) beginning to implement, 3) moderately implementing, and 4) full implementation.
Four themes emerged from the interviews conducted with the10 DC high school principals. Each of these themes becomes a call to action on issues presently challenging our high schools and their students in Washington, D.C.:
1)  Remedial vs. Advance Placement (AP) compete for resources/focus. 
2)  College/career supports are needed by all students and early on.
3)  Parent/community involvement is a great challenge for most high schools.
4)  High school leadership changes affect school improvement progress. 
DC VOICE thanks the many volunteers who helped design the Ready High Schools Project, and who attended training sessions and then conducted the interviews with high school principals.  We are also grateful to the principals who made the time to meet with our volunteer researchers and provide the information in this report.  We know how very busy and demanding their days are, and appreciate their willingness to participate in this year’s DC VOICE community action project. 
Our intent here is to provide baseline information about the college and career readiness of our high schools.  Our principals and indeed our whole community know much more needs to be done.  At this time of transition to a new Mayor who has promised to keep education reform front and center, our hope is that this report can spur high school reform efforts.  Such efforts – to support and enable our high schools to provide the quality education our students deserve to launch them successfully into the world – must involve all of us:  not just our schools, but the whole city of Washington, D.C.


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