City Desk

Dwan Jordon’s Image Takes Blow With New DCPS Test Scores

Sousa Middle School’s revolutionary principal, Dwan Jordon, has garnered substantial attention from the press this summer. A protégé of the Rhee administration’s reform movement, Jordan was featured on the front page of the Post on July 6, and has been the subject of three subsequent articles on the Post’s education blogs, Class Struggle and The Answer Sheet. His dictatorial management style has pinned him at the center of one of public education’s central dilemmas: how do you improve chronically underperforming schools without stomping on teachers’ toes? Jordon’s answer: forget about the toes.

Two years ago, Jordon began his tenure as principal at Sousa, where only 23 percent of students tested proficient in reading and 17 percent proficient in math. After a year under Jordon, Sousa’s scores rose around 20 points each. But that was only after 25 teachers and 25 support staffers—almost the entire original staff—had been either fired or had left of their own accord.

This year’s D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS) school-by-school report, released Friday, tells a different story: although scores continued to rise at Sousa, educators didn't see anything like last year’s success. Math scores at Sousa reached 46.4 percent proficiency, a 4.6 percent increase from last year, while reading scores topped off at 41.6, an increase of 2.2 percent. Sousa, along with 183 public and public charter schools, failed to achieve “adequate yearly progress.” (Which, of course, speaks to a frequent criticism of using test scores to evaluate teachers; it's hardly surprising that progress slowed a couple years after the scores practically doubled.) Now many former Sousa teachers argue the scores raise serious questions about the efficacy of Jordon’s "Big Brother" approach to running a school.

The Post’s glistening July 6 profile of Jordon and his achievements incited an outcry among fired teachers and staffers. Immediately following the article’s publication, Post reporter Jay Mathews addressed some teachers’ concerns on his blog. As Mathews points out, Jordon claims to be purging the system of inadequate teachers; however, those teachers remain in DCPS, teaching at other schools. One of those teachers who transferred from Sousa has also been rated as highly effective.

Eight former and current teachers contacted City Desk to voice their complaints about Jordon’s conduct before Sousa’s scores appeared on OSSE’s website Friday. Every one of them spoke of feeling humiliated, paranoid and subjugated. Some said they would have to retreat into the bathroom for privacy, since Jordon and his math and literacy coaches were known to prowl the halls and classrooms, watching and critiquing constantly.

“He would sequester teachers,” said one teacher (who, like all the teachers interviewed for this story, insisted on anonymity). “If he thought you had said something about him, he would sequester you in his room with four other people and say, ‘I hear you were talking about me with such and such.’”

Jordon was frequently compared to a tyrant or "Big Brother" of Sousa. Some teachers and staffers even say they went on stress and mental health leave, while others left in the middle of the school year, something that is almost unheard of in the school system.

“As a manager, you have to assess your personnel; but to set up your whole school as a meat grinder is not sustainable,” said another teacher. “When you see that many heads rolling, you just have to question what’s going on. You can get higher scores without burn and pillage approach to management.”

To give City Desk a taste of the experience working with Jordon, a teacher sent a copy of one of Jordan’s weekly bulletins, posted in the teachers’ lounge. In one section, Jordon is addressing the staff about quality of some teachers’ performances:

Some of you do not have a clue as to how to deal with adolescents. You are confrontational with them, you bait them, you react to their histrionics, thus adding fuel to the fire, and you incite them. Some of you have few skills as far as how to deal with this age group.

Some of our staff have gaps in their education. It is incumbent on you that no matter how many gaps you have, you must provide a quality education for all of our students.

City Desk asked Jordon about teachers’ less-than-flattering opinion of him. Jordon responded by e-mail, writing with a prosaic gloss,

Change is difficult and growing pains are bound to occur. But I value all of the successful teachers in our school; recognize each and every one of them for their successes; and celebrate their accomplishments. Without a strong teacher at the front of the classroom, our kids are doomed to fail. I look forward to working shoulder to shoulder with all teachers going forward.

But many teachers don’t look forward to working shoulder to shoulder with him. If this year’s DC-CAS scores have told teachers anything, it’s that real public education reform will not come from prophetic individuals who take it upon themselves to do the moving and shaking.

“[Jordon] thinks that because of some stupid test scores the kids learned better,” said one teacher. “But children need to learn human values and how to deal with people. And he doesn’t do that at all. He’s more concerned about himself than the children.”

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  • downtown rez

    Those former teachers need to explain why they couldn't raise test scores 25+% on their own before Jordan’s "Big Brother" approach. If they can't, they need to step aside and do what's right for the kids they used to fail to teach.

  • Lisa Smith

    Mr. Burchfield: You have done an excellent job reporting the facts on Jordon. It is my hope that Jordon's reign of terror will be brought to a swift end. Children and adults should not have to work in a hostile environment.Jordon's bully tactics would have never been allowed in any of the other surrounding counties. Also, I hope that Jordon can one day admit and acknowledge that there must be reasons why he is so hated by mostly all the teachers that have ever come across his path.

  • candycane1

    That was in a bulletin? Are you serious? That is super unprofessional! That is a clear example of how insecure and unqualified many of these Rhee thinking type principals are. That's not leadership. If a leader looks back and sees that he has no followers, what has he done? Principals that view themselves as "powerful" as opposed to knowing that their responsibility is to "empower" always fail. If this is how he uses his bulletins, he has missed great opportunities to be informative and resourceful. The very thing he accuses teachers of being,( inciteful, clueless and confrontational) is exactly the behavior he is modeling. This is no leader! He is just a bully. Actually, he got the results he worked for.

  • Indeed


    The statistical chance of almost doubling test scores in one year is extremely small. This happens either because of cheating or because the test was super easy. again, look at how bad naep scores are, a test that we don't prep for constantly. we are on a road to nowhere.

  • somebody

    Where were Mr. Jordan's weekly motivational tips;his staff development tips/reminders;kudoos to students and staff;upcoming weekly events;his student of the week; the homeroom of the week,and real school information for teachers in this God awful thing he called a bulletin? This is a middle school. These are only a few things research has proven to be an effective tool in a middle school setting.

    This "man-boy" has a lot to learn about what real school leadership is really all about and how it is suppose to work. He obviously does not believe in the team approach to winning or empowering his teachers to be successful.

    We set young leaders up for a fall if we encourage them to envision what they can do before they consider the kind of person they should be.
    -R. Ruth Barton

  • candycane1

    @somebody: Back at you:) His teacher handbooks should be entitled: "50 ways to lose your job." I'd like to know who is the instructonal supt that evaluates him. If documentation is required to substantiate how he communicates with stakeholders, this boy would be in a world of trouble. What you write definitely shows what you know. This man knows absolutely nothing. If he's a NLNS product this is a clear indication as well that they only teach data analysis and leadership development is not even on the radar. I'd like to hear him on the PA or even see his letters to parents.
    Like I said before, he worked for the results he got. A bully falls hard.

  • downtown rez

    The 25% gains happened over the course of two academic years, with the largest gains in the first year and more incremental in the second.
    This suggests not "cheating" (why hasn't some excessed staffer come forward?) but rather that the pre-existing school culture has set the bar way too low. The first year was all about low-hanging fruit. The second was about building on that and making marginal improvements.
    Honestly, 25% gains in two years is an amazing thing. Leave it to former DC education "professionals" and the WTU to try and spin it as failure.

  • Indeed


    25% gains in two years are only amazing if you have some sense of what they mean. What do they mean besides 25% gains on those tests? Please, explain. Is there any external validity? Any chance that this increase is associated with any other meaningful standard? Anything that actually impacts kids? Does this mean that they will do 25% better on the sat? 25% more likely to get into college? of course not.

  • downtown rez

    Life is full of tests. That is the way of the world. DC CAS is just another, like psat, sat, gmat, mcat, lsat, that first job interview...
    Honestly, if all you've got to say is that tests- empirical benchmarks- don't matter in the real world, than I'm not sure why you even bother trying.

  • Indeed

    Yes, life is full of tests that actually mean something. All of those tests that you've listed have an impact on the people who take them. dc cas doesn't. get it?

  • downtown rez

    Indeed I do.
    I get that you resent DCPS attempting to benchmark student and teacher performance.
    Me? I'd prefer to expand testing to each grade.

  • Indeed

    As someone who values data, perhaps you should look at studies that evaluate the use of testing. You are so convinced that these tests do what you're claiming: benchmark student and teacher performance. yet you can't really show that they do that. You just say they do and expect everyone to accept that.

  • Indeed

    And I don't resent anything. I would like to be proven wrong. But I need proof.

  • downtown rez

    Thanks, Indeed
    What we were doing obviously wasn't working. DCPS can't continue turning out 12th graders who read and do math on a 3rd grade level. And by the time the ultimate metric- graduation and college placement numbers- roll around, it's way too late.
    You can nitpick about the validity of this or that test and you can even imply that the scores are faked, but I don't think you can claim increased testing isn't a good thing.
    This DPCS parent is glad for the additional benchmarks and data points.

  • Indeed


    You're right, things weren't working. I'm glad that you are pleased. However, I'm fairly certain that we're turning out the same number of 12th graders who can barely read.

    I'm not nitpicking about the validity, I'm asking whether it is in fact a valid measure of anything besides taking the test itself. That is not small. And I'm not going to just believe because it's convenient to believe.

    and I will absolutely claim that increased testing isn't a good thing and will get you the data to prove it.

  • Kristen Foster

    @Downtown Rhee. I mean Downtown Rez. The teachers before you, I do believe were not given the same resources that your school was gifted at the specific time. They did not have two instructional coaches, two assistant principals, full service team, dean of students, a social worker for the general education,and let alone a socail worker for special education. You my friend have a distorted view of things, but lets fix it. Yes, the school test scores improved significantly the first year you were there. But did you teach the children, or did those OLD Sousa teachers teach the children. From the looks of it, they always had the desire to increase student achievement, they just did not have the resources at their disposal. Sure, its easy for you to say they were this, or that, when you yourself never worked in an environment that the school system treated as a dumping ground (for now, I will not even bring up your teaching experience at you know where, cause you know what). As of today, how many students did you and your leadership team trick or manage to have parents register elsewhere. Hmmm... In addition, you were allowed to handpicked your staff members, some whom quit as early as October 2009 (mind you school just started, thats suspect) others just couldnt deal with the immature behavior you intended on displaying. Nevertheless, you got the dream staff you wanted, and you abused the old staff, and from the looks of the test scores you have poor decision making skills!

  • downtown rez

    @ Kristen Foster
    Thank you for recognizing the extraordinary resources this administration invests in our children, and I hope you join me in praying they continue investing until every child has the best educational opportunity possible..
    Because our children deserve no less.

  • downtown rez

    I hope going forward scores and enrollment continue to increase and that, as these children continue to benefit from the increased educational rigor, you will come to agree these reforms are in the best interests of the city.

  • TeachRight

    The scores were lackluster this year for several reasons, including the fact that the seventh-grade English and eighth-grade math teachers resigned after Christmas break because they could no longer work in such an oppresive environment. The loss of such important personnel in the run-up to the DC-CAS cost the school and those students. The seventh-graders were crushed to learn that their beloved teacher, a young man who was only in his second year as a teacher would not return. That man, by the way, saw his students scores soar 25 points last year. Jordon told parents and students that he had fired the young man. It's a sad day when someone who was so kind, gentle and caring would find his name sullied for no reason other than for Jordon to try to save face. Though the scores were mediocre the students received an education --- an education in how NOT to treat people.

  • downtown rez

    I'm sorry, but it's hilarious reading all of the schizophrenic rationalizations about how students test scores doubling at Sousa in the past two years are proof that this principal is such a bad, (oh yes, such a very very bad) man.
    Y'all need to get a life. Preferably, one that doesn't put you in charge of someone else's kid's future.

  • Cheerful

    We're a part of a whole system with a single purpose--EDUCATING our youth. And why is this important? Knowledge gives power. Power to preserve self and Power to serve others. The less DE-pendent people are and the more INTER-dependent they become if the knowledge they have empowers them in that respect. It's should never be about passing tests, but can children coming through my classes within the education system will be equipped to take care of themselve and the help make this country strong and a better place than the way we found it. Everyone in this country has been granted that opportunity. There's a ripple effect positively if we all take children's success personally. Would you want your child to be taught by you? Would they be ready for the challenges life presents? Would they unselfishly position themselves to give back to the system that gave to them? No one works best under duress, but if the goal is BIG enough (quality education and training of our youth) then the facts don't matter. Be strong teachers. Do what you've been empowered to do with excellence whether you're given credit or not.

  • downtown rez

    Thanks, Cheerful
    And I'll say that as a DCPS parent, I've worked to support every teacher (and every behind the scenes yet helpful administrator) that my DCPS child has had.
    I'm grateful to and very appreciative of all of them, and I personally go out of my way make that clear whenever I can.
    Sincere (if anonymous) thanks to you all...

  • Educator

    1. Listening to former staff who were unhappy....isn't that always the case when change occurs...and aren't there always some disgruntled people...using the words of people who respond to blogs is hardly scientific and more often than not is more about the person and not about the situation in which they were not successful.....makes a sensational story but not one that reflects what has actually happened...just on disgruntled opinion...

    2. Have you ever visited the school to see what has occurred? Get a first hand view of the school and how it operates? Not the views of someone who was at the school when the scores were in the dumper and getting worse...

    3. The true the students feel about themselves, their school and the thoughts they have about their futures since the school has changed...

    Sousa is now one of the top five middle schools in the district.


    There is a sort of....complacency that sets in when teachers are not challenged. It is reflective of our kids at school. When this complacency kicks in, some teachers will recognize that that's occurring when they are called out on it. Some won't. However, change MUST occur for progress to be made. Unfortunately, sometimes that change has to be hard enough, especially when unions are involved.

    Unions, by their very nature, protect their members from overbearing companies/organizations. Yet they usually are the very instrument that prohibits any meaningful change for the better because of the nature of distrust that occurs.

    I am happy to see progress being made for our childrens sake.

    The teachers who have been let go are being given an excellent opportunity to reflect on what they can do to better themselves. Some may hate to hear that message.

    At one point, I was let go because of complacency in my line of work. I, however, took it to heart and embarked on making many meaningful changes because I realized that only I give value and meaning to my work. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I pray this occurs for those teachers.