When George W. Bush first ran for president, he told everyone paying attention, including his audience at the NAACP, that he would challenge the “soft bigotry of low expectations” inside and outside America’s classrooms.
Well, something went terribly awry at Ballou High School in the nation’s capital: In April, only 57 seniors were on track to graduate, but 164 seniors received diplomas in June.
City officials bragged that all grads had applied for college and been accepted. Moreover, some of the students who received diplomas had been absent for more school days than they were marked present.
The bigotry was exposed by NPR and American University’s WAMU Radio, whose joint investigation forced D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson to face the microphones and the cameras.
The two most interesting bits of information from their joint press conference were that the graduates would be keeping their diplomas and City Hall would be launching a probe.
The in-house probe will be in the hands of deputy mayors and the D.C. Council, who also await a separate report from the State Board of Education on the city’s graduation issue.
Yet the D.C. high school graduation scandal is hardly news anymore. As the school board said at the start of this academic year, “[T]he majority of students who graduate D.C. with a high school diploma are not prepared to succeed in college or a career.”
So, let’s get the timeline straight: First, every graduate at Ballou applied for college, and every applicant was accepted to a college. Then in April, only 57 seniors were on track to graduate, but 164 students received diplomas two months later. Then in September, the Board of Education released its stunning assessment that most graduates aren’t prepared for college or a career. And this week, NPR and WAMU have reported about possible grade fixing and corruption.
Oh, and the month before the Ballou graduation, the schools chancellor attended a public meeting and faced a barrage of questions and complaints about Ballou, chief among them was the fact that the high school had lost 21 teachers during the 2016-2017 academic year.
The mayor, who is seeking re-election, said the internal probe “will determine exactly what happened. And if we find that things were done wrong, that there were mistakes made, or even if we find that we can make policies and procedures more clear, that’s what we will do. And we will hold everybody accountable for making sure that this school, just like any school in our system, is run in a way that meets our highest expectation.”
We can only hope.
Still, it was D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson who addressed the Ballou situation for the bald-face bigotry and all that implies: “We are cheating our students,” he said.
Small wonder why so many young people in and around D.C. live on the fringes.
• Deborah Simmons
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