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DC Public Schools Allows Middle Schools to Fall Short of Required Science, Social Studies Instruction

Some DCPS Middle Schools Fall Short of Science Requirements
An investigation by the News4 I-Team reveals D.C. public schools are breaking their own rules and cutting back on required classes. Scott MacFarlane reports. (Published Thursday, Dec 13, 2018 | Credit Scott MacFarlane) An investigation by the News4 I-Team reveals D.C. public schools are breaking their own rules and... See More

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An investigation by the News4 I-Team reveals D.C. public schools are breaking their own rules and cutting back on required classes. Scott MacFarlane reports.

(Published Thursday, Dec 13, 2018)

D.C. Public Schools are intentionally falling short of providing the required science and social studies instructional time in at least four middle schools, a violation of its own standards, a News4 I-Team investigation found.

The impacted schools include Cardozo Education Campus, Kelly Miller Middle School, Brookland Middle and Eliot-Hine Middle. Internal records indicate many students there aren’t receiving the minimum required minutes of science and social studies class time — an average of 45 minutes a day.

District officials acknowledged the shortfall to News4, but a spokesman said the district has already taken steps to address the problem. And DCPS will further supplement students’ science and social studies education in other ways by next semester in a bid to make up for some of the lost time.

District officials familiar with the debate told the I-Team administrators have cited several reasons for cutting back on minimum standards, including budgetary problems, a need to hire additional social workers and behavior-related personnel, potential difficulty hiring qualified science instructors, and pressure to boost math and English testing scores.

Suzanne Wells, whose daughter attends Eliot-Hine Middle School, said she believes an imperative to raise math and reading scores is behind the change.

“That’s totally the reason why. The schools are under intense pressure,” she said.

A DCPS official issued a memo in October indicating the schedule change at Eliot-Hine is a “one-time adjustment” that isn’t anticipated to continue in the 2019-2020 school year, writing the school “should staff accordingly to provide adequate social studies and science time to all students” next year.

Stephanie Russell, whose daughter attends eighth grade at Cardozo Education Campus, is worried about the longer-term consequences of the shortfall.

“You can't take a break from science and then come back to it,” Russell said. “It's just best to stay focused and stay on task.”

DCPS declined requests for a formal interview but in a statement said the district “works with each individual middle school on their schedule to meet the needs of every unique school community and ensure that every student has access to the rigorous science content they deserve.”

The school district is considering changes for the spring semester at the impacted schools that would include hands-on learning exercises, field trips and deep dive science lessons, in which an entire day would be used to work on science lessons.

A DCPS spokesman said that would help students receive "close" to the required instructional time.

Michael Cohen, an expert in education policy and president of the D.C.-based nonprofit Achieve, said that while school districts nationwide are under pressure to boost math and English test scores, they should resist any temptation to reduce science or social studies learning. 

“If we are giving short shrift to science, we're really producing students who are neither scientifically literate nor just really having a deep understanding of the world around them,” he said.

Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Katie Leslie, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.

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