DC teacher union claims widespread grade, attendance problems

WASHINGTON — The head of D.C.’s teachers union said grade and attendance irregularities at Ballou High School are not an isolated case.

“The problems that exist in our public schools are not new; they’re not unique to Ballou High School, and they’re widespread across the city,” said Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union.

The union and an advocacy group, EmpowerEd, released results of an anonymous survey emailed to the District’s 5,200 teachers.

According to the survey, nearly half the 616 respondents reported feeling pressured or coerced by a school administrator either to pass a student who didn’t meet the expectations for passing or to change a grade.

“It’s not just an instance of numbers that were too rosy to be true; what has been uncovered across the District is a culture of fear,” said Davis. “Teachers fearing principals, principals fearing the central office.”

Davis expressed confidence the union would work well with new chancellor Antwan Wilson, but was critical of the priorities of the school system, which came under mayoral control a decade ago: “This school system has an obsession with showing that there has been improvement, whether it’s true or not.”

Almost half of all respondents said their school set up barriers, such as excessive documentation, to prevent teachers from failing a student. Nearly a quarter said they submitted grades or attendance records that had been changed by someone else at the school.

“If we’re not honest with our students about their progress, if we’re not transparent about the problems, then we are failing our students, who aren’t getting the adequate help they need to become successful, productive citizens,” Davis said.

Records for 133 of 177 graduating Ballou seniors indicated policy violations, including excessive absenteeism.

In a statement, the union and EmpowerEd recommend changing the way teachers and principals are evaluated, solving the problem of high teacher and principal turnover, and other steps.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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