Thank you for the opportunity to speak today at the Roundtable on the District of Columbia Public Schools’ Strategic Plan for 2017 – 2022. I am going to focus my remarks on Goal 6, and the goal of having 54,000 students attend DCPS schools by 2022.
Every year since 1996, after the passage of the School Reform Act that established the independent Public Charter School Board (PCSB), the percent of students attending our municipally-run DC public schools has fallen when compared with the total number of students attending both DCPS and charter schools. In SY 2016/17, 56% or approximately 47,000 of the students between the ages of 3 through 17 attending public schools attended DC public schools and 44% attended charter schools.
When repeated requests to DCPS to understand how they arrived at the 54,000 number went unanswered, I turned to the 21st Century School Fund to get data on the projected growth in the number of students expected to attend public schools in DC in 2022. It is estimated there will be 96,000 students between the ages of 3 to 17 attending the public schools in DC in 2022. The goal of 54,000 students attending DCPS schools in 2022 means that approximately 56% of the total number of students attending public schools will be enrolled in DCPS. The same percentage that we have today.
On one hand, you could look at the goal of 54,000 students enrolling in DCPS in 2022 being a good thing in terms of stopping the decline that has occurred over the last twenty years. But the number 54,000 raises some questions.
- First, who decided that the split between DCPS and the charter sector should be 56% vs. 44%? Were these decisions made by our elected and appointed education officials with no public input?
- Second, every other goal in the DCPS strategic plan seeks to show growth and improvement. For example, DCPS wants to double the percent of students who are college and career ready and see 100% of the K – 2 students reading on or above grade level. Why does the strategic plan want to tread water when it comes to enrollment, and just keep the same percentage of students attending DCPS?
- Third, why have public comments encouraging DCPS to win back families who previously left to attend charter schools been ignored? In January 2017, a letter was sent to the Mayor that was signed by all eight ward education councils that said “growing the enrollment of the students in the DCPS’s neighborhood public schools is the most important performance evaluation criterion to establish for … [the] chancellor.” The letter suggested the enrollment should grow to 65,000 students by 2020 or 9000 more students than is in the strategic plan.
The charter school sector has a much more robust plan for growth. At the June 19, 2017, PCSB meeting the board voted to approve enrollment increases to allow four existing charter schools to open up five new campuses including three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. When you read the enrollment ceiling increase requests written by the charter schools, you understand that they all have strategic plans that seek to grow their enrollment. If DCPS wants to stay competitive in this school choice environment our city has embraced, it should have a strategic plan that seeks to win back families to our municipally-run schools rather than one that seeks to tread water. A robust growth goal will demonstrate DCPS’ success in lifting up low-performing schools and meeting the educational needs of all students, and that our city values its publicly managed, by-right neighborhood school system.