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Testimony of Mark Simon – DME and PCSB Performance Oversight Hearing – February 13 2018

Chairman Grosso and Members of the DC Council Committee on Education, My name is Mark Simon, longtime DCPS parent and public education advocate, and now an education policy associate at the Economic Policy Institute.

The DME’s Cross Sector Task Force represents one of her major responsibilities and hopes. It had big problems to address: Inefficiency duplication and lack of communication between two sectors and 67 LEAs; Schools not communicating about whether strategies are working. In fact, they treat what they’re doing with students as proprietary information and other schools as competitors. Schools locate wherever they choose or can find buildings, not where they’re needed. Both sectors maintain underutilized schools.

And there are intractable problems in both sectors, like teacher turnover, and disruptive mid-year departure or entry of students… I could go on. We all hoped the DME would address the rules of the game that you, the Council, and the Mayor have the power to write for both sectors. That’s why we have a DME and Mayoral Control.

The Task Force’s preliminary recommendations are underwhelming. They took two years and its astounding what they didn’t address. They took off the table most of the big issues and only addressed the narrow range of what representatives of the charter sector and DCPS allowed for discussion.

I wish there had been more members of the public on the Task Force. It just didn’t have the expertise or the will to grapple with what needed their attention.

Four crises they needed to take up and develop proposals to address:

1. Mid-year transfers of students and the instability it causes.

2. Inefficient and duplicative locating of charter schools about which parents have little say.

3. The teacher turnover crisis in both DCPS and charter schools — we can’t keep our teachers.

4. The lack of credibility and need for transparency on school data.

What’s the problem with the approach taken by the Task force on each of these crisis issues?

1. On student Mobility: Students moving out of one school and into another mid-year is disruptive – a problem covered in the press. Instead of trying to lessen it the task force seems to have come up with a plan to facilitate more midyear transfers of students. This could only have been proposed by a group of people representing the business side of charters, not students’ or teachers’ interests.

2. On Siting of Schools: The PCSB continues to maintain that granting charters has nothing to do with where they locate. This is insane. The PCSB could say that granting a charter is a two-step process, that the location must be acceptable to citywide planners otherwise the preliminary charter will not be granted. This just wasn’t taken up as a problem by the Task Force.

3. On Data Transparency: The Graduation Rate scandal that has befallen DCPS could easily have included the charter sector. Both sets of schools try to game the narrow set of data used to evaluate schools: graduation rates, attendance, and PARCC scores. Parents want different information about schools – about the quality of the teaching and learning climate – but it’s not available. Evidently the Task Force doesn’t see this as a problem. If it had concern, as members of the Council do about more spin and marketing than truth about our schools, it could have considered the need for greater transparency and independent research, but that wasn’t the concern.

4. On Teacher Turnover: Everyone in DC charters and DCPS knows the fact that they can’t hang onto teachers is a huge problem. It makes students cynical about why they should show up if teachers don’t stick around and its expensive to train teachers and then have them walk out the door. Why is DC such an outlier in this regard. It was never discussed by this task force.

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