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Valerie Jablow Testimony – DME and PCSB Performance Oversight Hearing – February 13 2018

My name is Valerie Jablow. As a DCPS parent and Ward 6 taxpayer, I want to ask you some questions, as you are charged with oversight of our education agencies.

Last week[1], council members spoke with the DCPS chancellor about pressure on teachers to pass students and attendance policies not being followed. I appreciate the scrutiny.

1. But does the relative lack of scrutiny of our charter high schools mean that what happened at Ballou hasn’t happened there? We know from the OSSE report on all our high schools[2] that there has been no oversight of charter schools’ adherence to attendance policies; how those policies (or any attendance) affects credits earned; public reporting of charter school graduation requirements; and charter credit recovery. This means that what happened at Ballou could very well have happened at our charter high schools.

2. Our city has embraced test scores and graduation rates as barometers of learning, teacher performance, and adults’ financial rewards. We know that resulted in immense teacher pressure at DCPS.[3] How is it possible that our charter schools are immune to those same pressures, given that the charter board has reported that its average promotion rate for SY16-17 was 97%?[4]?

3. When will graduation rates, absences, and credits be similarly accounted for in each LEA, so we can have reliable, apples to apples data?

4. Has anyone explored connections between teacher attrition and pressures on teachers to pass students? Teacher attrition averages about 20% annually in DCPS.[5] Using reported attrition rates for SY16-17, I calculated that average teacher attrition in our charter schools was almost 26%, with a fifth of DC’s charter schools having teacher attrition rates greater than 60%.

5. If the mayor is in charge of our public schools, why hasn’t her deputy been called before you in the graduation accountability hearings to address the questions I just mentioned? Unlike Chancellor Wilson, both the mayor and her deputy have been overseeing our schools for years.

6. Among her duties, the deputy mayor oversees the cross-sector collaboration task force, which is currently promoting its recommendations[6]. At the same time, someone in our city government apparently offered DCPS’s Kenilworth Elementary to North Star charter school without a word to the public.[7] Who made that offer and what does it consist of? My requests to the deputy mayor about this have gone unanswered.

7. And what does collaboration mean if the public is excluded from decision making by public bodies? My ward—along with wards 1, 4, and 8—is being targeted by the charter board as a “green zone” for charter school development. I found this out only because a document created for new charter operators says so[8]—not because anyone in city government informed me.

8. And why make such promotional efforts when there are currently 21,000 empty seats at charter and DCPS schools?[9]

Thank you for sharing publicly whatever answers you may have or find to these questions.

 

[1] This was during the graduation accountability hearing, held by the council committee on education, February 8, 2018.

[2] This was the first of two reports issued in the wake of Ballou, dated January 16, 2018, and available here:

https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/release_content/attachments/Analysis%20of%20Attendance%20and%20Graduation%20Outcomes%20at%20Public%20High%20Schools%20in%20DC%20-%20Jan%2016%202018%20-%20sm.pdf

On page 2 of OSSE’s executive summary, we learn that “information related to graduation requirements at individual charter schools/LEAs is not consistently made publicly available in an accessible way” and “PCSB current policies and procedures do not currently include a review of student attendance data to determine if schools comply with their own attendance policies to the extent they impact earning credits” and “PCSB current policies and procedures do not currently include a review of school- or LEA-level policies related to credit recovery or other alternative opportunities to earn credit and compliance with these policies is not included the 12th grade transcript audit process.”

[3] This was fully outlined in the final Alvarez & Marsal report from January 30, 2018, available here:

https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/release_content/attachments/Report%20on%20DCPS%20Graduation%20and%20Attendance%20Outcomes%20-%20Alvarez%26Marsal.pdf

[4] See the performance oversight responses to the council from the charter board here:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/a11m43vyh6ffihi/AACIX8OYR2d4_sPmS76puSZ_a/Performance%20Responses/D.C.%20Public%20Charter%20School%20Board?dl=0&preview=FY17+PCSB+Performance+Oversight+Qs+FINAL.pdf

Information about promotion rates is in response to question Q12, on p. 19.

[5] Courtesy of Mary Levy, who has extrapolated teacher data from annual DCPS budgets for years running, we know that teacher attrition in DCPS averages about 20% a year, with the newest hires having higher rates of attrition and staff with good ratings leaving at higher rates from schools with the most impoverished students. (See https://educationdc.net/2016/04/20/does-testing-produce-better-teachers-or-just-more-contracts-for-consulting-about-them/ and https://educationdc.net/2016/12/12/the-crumbling-tower-of-pisa/ for more information.)

More recently, I collected from the annual reports of our charter schools the self-reported teacher attrition rates for each DC charter school, available here:

http://www.dcpcsb.org/report/evaluating/charter-school-annual-reports

In SY16-17, for the 110 charter schools for which there is reported teacher attrition data, I counted that 37 charter schools had attrition rates of 20% or less (33.6% of the total); 21 schools had attrition rates between 20-29% (19% of the total); and 52 schools had attrition rates equal to or greater than 30% (47% of the total).

For that school year, I found that 23 charter schools had attrition rates of 60% or more (20.9% of the total), with 10 having teacher attrition rates at or above 80%. All of the latter were Friendship schools except for DC Bilingual; Shining Stars; and Washington Mathematics, Science, and Technology.

This breakdown is similar to what I recorded last year from the same source:

Um, Teacher Retention Is Not Just A DCPS Problem

[6] For more information, see here: https://educationdc.net/2018/01/24/keep-the-public-in-our-public-schools-sign-up-for-focus-groups-on-cross-sector-task-force-recommendations/

[7] On February 1, 2017, at a Ward 7 Education Council meeting, a representative from North Star College Preparatory Academy for Boys shared that their school had been offered the closed DCPS Kenilworth Elementary starting SY18-19. This was the first time anyone in the community had heard about this offer. Many in the community had hoped DCPS would reopen this school because they had lost many by-right schools to charters.

[8] See here: http://www.dcpcsb.org/file/charter-programs-need-and-growth

This document is accessible, as far as I can see, ONLY from this web page for new charter operators:

http://www.dcpcsb.org/report/charter-applications/start-charter-school

For more information, see here:

Just Tell Me: Who Voted For This?

[9] The 21st Century School Fund analyzed empty public school seats across DC using recent enrollment numbers:

https://educationdc.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/excess.pdf

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