Mary Levy Testimony – DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing – February 26, 2019


 Performance Oversight on the District of Columbia Public Schools 

Mary Levy      February 26, 2019

As an education finance lawyer, a budget and policy analyst, and a DCPS parent, I have studied DCPS data and policies for almost 40 years, including the period when both our daughters were going through DCPS, from pre-kindergarten through grade 12.  Below are summaries of some of my recent analyses, but first I want to talk about funding for DCPS local schools.

Last Thursday, DCPS released proposed local school budgets for next year.  Although schools were closed for winter break, principals and LSATs were given until Sunday to petition for changes to the many required positions and expenditures, along with another five days to make the limited choices permitted.  Parents are reporting that their schools will have to cut staff, even where enrollment has not decreased.  We have just received a spreadsheet from DCPS showing all the schools, but I have not yet had time to analyze it to assess these concerns definitively.  Nonetheless it is apparent that many schools will suffer higher pupil/staff ratios and less money for supplies and materials because increases are small, while the average staff position costs have almost all risen significantly and budget totals include substantial new sums for security costs now transferred from central accounts.

We do not yet know DCPS total budget for next year, nor where the rest of the money is going, but we do know that DCPS central offices are very expensive and much larger than they once were, and given this, we have to question whether local schools should be losing staff.

Screenshot 2019-02-26 14.31.01

For many years I have categorized DCPS employees by whether or not they serve students directly, which is what most members of the public want to know when they ask about central office or “administration.[1]”  The number of central office full-time equivalent staff performing the same functions that DCPS now performs has risen from 516 in 1981, when we had 95,000 students to 626 in 2007, when we had 52,000, to 797 this year for about 49,000.

Below are November 2019 counts of central office staff with common titles.  Certainly the system needs some number of these people.  Those who are really good are worth a great deal.  But do we really need 45 Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs?  86 Directors?  180 Program Specialists?

Title # of FTEs Title # of FTEs
Chief 14 Program Specialist 180
Deputy Chief 31 Project Manager 73
Director 86 Coordinator 144
Manager 79 Analyst 55
Specialist 84 Program Coordinator 9

According to the most recent statistics from Census Bureau fiscal reports, DCPS central office spending in FY 2016 was 10.8% of total current expenditures, compared to the U.S. average of 1.9% percent.  DCPS is spending $2,260 per pupil, which is ten times the US average of $226.[2] If central office were reduced to a more reasonable level, DCPS would not have to cut local school resources or use at-risk funds to supplant rather than supplement services for at-risk students.

What is happening is all the more painful given that we are spending more money on schools in recent years but seeing only limited academic progress.  Since 2007, the District has spent an average of 25% more per pupil in inflation adjusted dollars than in the decade before.  Yet DC schools made greater progress on the NAEP assessment in the decade before the mayoral takeover than in the ten years since. The larger NAEP score increases that used to be occurred for all subgroups—low income, black, Hispanic, and special education.  The significantly higher spending has brought many benefits, but slower improvement suggests that we need seriously to question the efficacy of recent reforms.  As to performance specifics for DCPS:

  1. Low overall achievement.  Scores on the best test available, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), have increased at about the same rate since at least 2003, but remain dismally low.  If one adjusts scores to control for the demographic changes, about two thirds of the DCPS gains since 2003 remain for 4th graders and 8th grade math students, but 8th grade reading gains almost disappear.  Comparing the adjusted scores to the big city NAEP average, DCPS 4th graders are improving faster, but remain noticeably lower.  DCPS 8th graders improved only a little more in math and not really at all in reading, and remain way below the big city average.  PARCC scores, only available for the last four years, resemble NAEP scores, and like them are inching up, but so slowly that it will take decades to reach respectable levels.
  1. The lowest achieving groups are black males, at-risk students, and special education students.  PARCC score proficiency rates are about 14% for black males and at-risk students and about 7% for special education students. In ten of twelve of our non-selective high schools only a handful of individual students perform at the “college and career ready level.”  At the current rate of improvement – about 2% annually – scores for these groups will remain pitifully low for years. Achievement gaps remain horrendous.

Screenshot 2019-02-26 14.37.37

Perhaps we could speed rates of improvement by dealing with the following:

  1. At-risk funds too often supplant rather than supplement other funds.  The at-risk funds added by the Council five years ago are now allocated at the same amount per at-risk pupil at every school, but according to my analysis, somewhere between 26% and 45% of at-risk funding in the FY 2019 school budgets supplanted base funds, in contravention of governing law.  The unclear 19% is used for mental health professionals, most if not all of whom perform special education services required by law, hence not extra services eligible for at-risk funding.  DCPS could, but does not, separate out extra services.  The level at which supplanting occurs varies enormously from school to school, and those whose funds are used this way have less, sometimes almost no extra resources dedicated to at-risk students.
  2. Local school general education funding discrepancies.  When funding for the variable special needs (special education, ELL, at risk, and Title I) is filtered out, there are variations of thousands of dollars per student unrelated to academic or other student needs.  Such discrepancies are displayed in the C4DC interactive web tool for FY 2018,  For example, two high-need middle schools with the same size enrollment differ by about $3,000 in their general education per pupil allocations as do two high schools. In addition, individual school funding goes up and down from one year to the next, frustrating the continuity of programming.  Figures for next year are currently unavailable.
  3. “Highly effective” teachers are less available to low-income students.  The schools with the highest percentage of teachers rated “highly effective” by the IMPACT system in 2017-18 were in Ward 2 (58%) and Ward 3 (54%).  The schools with the smallest percentage of “highly effective teachers” had only half as many:  Ward 5 (28%) and Ward 7 (29%).  Figures in previous years are similar.
  4. High levels of teacher turnover generally.  System-wide, almost 20% of the entire ET-15 workforce (including counselors, librarians, etc.) leaves DCPS each year.  At the school level, 25% leave each year.  Over a period of three years, 55% of teachers leave their schools and over five years, 70% leave their schools.  These rates are much higher than those of other school districts, including urban districts.  Almost half of all newly hired teachers, whether experienced or new to the profession, leave the system within two years; 75% leave within five years of their hiring.
  5. Staff instability in schools with the highest percentages of at-risk students.  In these schools one-third of the ET-15 staff leave annually, compared to 20% of teachers at schools where 20% or fewer of the students are at-risk. Over three or four years some of these schools have almost no continuity.  They also change principals more often than other schools.
  6. High principal turnover ranges in the last six years from 16% to 26%.  From last year to this year it was 20%. Research finds that principals need about five years to improve their schools’ performance, but only one-third of DCPS schools this year have principals that lasted that long.  Most schools have two or three principals in five years.
  7. Teachers and students by race/ethnicity. Since 2009-10, DCPS teachers have consistently been about 32% white and about 59% minority, with the remainder not reported.  Blacks have made up about 50% of teachers, Latinos have risen from 3% to 7%, and Asians have been 3-4%.  Student enrollment in the last six years has gone from 10% white to 15%, from 71% black to 60%, and from 15% Hispanic to 20%.
  8. DCPS enrollment increased in the last ten years, but not nearly as fast as the school-age population. DCPS is losing almost one percent of market share each year.  Attrition of grade level cohorts beginning with 1st grade dipped a little a few years ago but is now rising to earlier levels in the decade.  The biggest drop-offs occur between 4th and 5th grades (about 12%-13%) and between 5th and 6th grades (about 33%).  One bright spot is that in 28 schools in affluent and gentrifying neighborhoods, in-boundary enrollment has risen in the last ten years by 2,755 students.  These schools are thriving.  Unfortunately, others are declining.
  9. Budget transparency is lacking, as is meaningful participation in budget decision-making.  Parents and community are invited to state general preferences, but have no opportunity to affect the criteria or other specifics of budget allocation because budgets are announced only when it is too late to change them.

Parents and community have pleaded with DCPS for improvement on all these issues.  We need the Council to play its part in advancing the school system in a more constructive direction.  Our schools need critical friends.

[1] The source is lists of DCPS employees, obtained by FOIA or from submissions to the D.C. Board of Education (before FY 2008) or to the DC Council (since FY 2008), based on office of employment, program, job title, purpose of applicable grant funding, and DCPS website descriptions.  Employees performing functions subsequently transferred or contracted out are excluded in the earlier year calculations.

[2] Derived from U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finances:  2016, May, 2018 Tables 6, 7 and 19.  These figures are self-reported by DCPS.


Signe Nelson Testimony – Roundtable on Chancellor of DCPS Dr Ferebee Confirmation – February 12, 2019

Testimony before the Council of the District of Columbia

Committee of the Whole & Education Roundtable 0 PR 23-0061

The Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools

Dr. Lewis Ferebee Confirmation Resolution of 2019, February 12, 2019

Submitted by Signe Nelson


Good afternoon, Chair-Persons and Members.

My name is Signe Nelson, 19 years an ESL teacher, currently serving in Ward 4 where I also reside.  I also sit on the WTU Executive Board. I am here to voice my own objection to the Mayor’s choice for DCPS Chancellor, Dr. Lewis Ferebee

I do not know Dr. Ferebee personally. I won’t comment on his lapse of judgement as a mandated reporter – I can’t say whether it is more or less serious than the lapse of judgement that cost Antwan Wilson his job.

Nor do I object to the nation-wide search for the best available talent and relevant track record.  In fact, in my opinion, complicity in the failed policies and practices of the Rhee/Henderson era, and the lack of demonstrated will or ability to move DCPS in a new direction, effectively disqualify the leading internal candidates.

My real concern is privatization of public education.  Funding for education is the first or second line in every state budget, including the District of Columbia.  That’s a lot of money.  We have charter schools thanks to Congress, through the District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995, not because our citizens EVER voted to use Washington, D.C. as a laboratory for a charter school experiment.  Charter expansion got a big boost during the Rhee-Henderson years with the closure of over 40 neighborhood schools of right.  At the same time, DCPS turned over key functions to outside contractors closely allied with the charter world, and funded by pro-charter philanthropists. And we are under relentless attack by charter expansion interests masquerading as democratic, grass-roots activism, also funded by pro-charter philanthropists.  It should not really come as a surprise that the expansion of the charter sector to nearly 50% of enrollment, and the ill-conceived “reforms” of the last 12 years have led to little appreciable improvement in the educational experiences and outcomes for the overwhelming majority of our children in both sectors. On the deepest level, I believe it is all about the money.

What I am seeing here right now disturbs me, and it should disturb you, too. The Mayor hires (and the Council confirms) a deputy mayor, whose premier expertise is in charter conversion.  She backs charter advocates in SBOE elections.  Now she offers us a chancellor, who rather than turning schools around, turns them over to private operators.  It looks to me like the plan is to continue to privatize at the expense of public education, by setting the foxes to guard the hen house.  This is the same strategy the President uses to weaken Federal departments and agencies by placing them in the hands of individuals hostile to their missions.   Whose plan is this?  Who is making education policy behind the scenes? In Indianapolis it is the Mind Trust.  In L.A., it is Eli Broad’s plan. In Washington DC, is it City Bridge Education? Education Forward DC? DC Public Education Fund?  The City Fund? Walton Family Foundation?  As Deep Throat said, “Follow the money.”

So now it is on you.  If you confirm Dr. Ferebee, it will be your responsibility to monitor him closely.  Require transparency and accountability.  Defend against unelected, private interests making education policy to suit their own agenda.  Maybe he will surprise me.  Like Dr. Ferebee and Mr. Kihn,  Antwan Wilson was a Broad Fellow,  but he surprised many of us by not following a Broad agenda.  Some folks think that’s the real reason he is no longer with us.

As we go forward, keep in mind the fable of the frog and the scorpion: A scorpion asks a frog to ferry him across a swollen river.  Familiar with the scorpion’s deadly reputation, the frog refuses, but the scorpion reassures him with soothing words and an appeal to logic: “It would be against my own interests to sting you,” he reasons, “for it would bring about my own demise.” Half way across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. “Why?” gasps the frog with his last breath. “Because it is what I do.” sighs the scorpion with his.

Scott Goldstein Testimony – Deputy Mayor for Education & District of Columbia Public Charter School Board – Performance Oversight – February 15, 2019


Performance Oversight Hearing- PCSB and Deputy Mayor for Education

Testimony of Scott Goldstein, Executive Director EmpowerEd

February 15, 2019

Good Morning Chairman Grosso and Chairman Mendelson.  My name is Scott Goldstein and I am the Executive Director of the teacher advocacy organization EmpowerEd.  We asked teachers to submit input for oversight into both PCSB and the Deputy Mayor for Education.

First, on the Deputy Mayor for Education, I want to point out that I have been very pleased by the willingness of this Deputy Mayor to listen to the community.  He has listened clearly to teacher voices and clearly integrated their thoughts on issues like the crisis in teacher turnover into his thinking and made it a priority.  He has been out in the community regularly meeting with advocates and engaging in conversations- but not just with those who we might already agree, but soliciting broad feedback from diverse voices.  We all applaud that approach- and others in the DC education community should take note.

I asked teachers what key questions they had for the Deputy Mayor.  The top four questions were these:

  1. How are schools being guided to implement the Fair Access to Schools Act, since this applies to both sectors? How will schools and principals be held accountable for following the Act? What funding is available to them to implement?
  2. How would you define a viable, matter of right public school system? How are you working to achieve it?
  3. Do you support subjecting all public schools, including charter schools, to the same basic transparency rules- including FOIA and the Open Meetings Act?
  4. Is it a priority for you to take serious action to de-segregate our schools both racially and socio-economically?

The overriding question that faces the Deputy Mayor for Education is how will we plan comprehensively for education in this city.  Teachers and parents are deeply frustrated that we continue to open and close schools at random without considering the whole picture.  Acting Chancellor Ferebee said himself in his confirmation hearing that we should not just be opening new schools, especially next to existing neighborhood schools, in places where the specific demand does not exist. What is the Deputy Mayor’s strategy and timeline for implementing a comprehensive school plan in DC?

At the Deputy Mayor’s confirmation hearing I proposed an idea I would like to re-surface and hope to work with the Deputy Mayor on in the coming weeks and months.  Much like any new building must receive an environmental impact report before being permitted, any new school should have to receive an equity report before being granted permission to open.  There is a lot we need to take into account- including neighborhood demand, over and under-enrollment at surrounding schools, programming relevancy, the impact the new school will have on both enrollment and diversity at existing schools, what plan exists for ensuring the school will be staffed by a diverse teaching staff that reflect the student population and many more factors.

To start, there are several questions teachers wanted you to put directly to Director Pearson.

  1. Do you believe there should be accountability for charter schools as a system, related to its effect on education in the city, or only accountability for individual schools?
  2. Do you support teacher collective organizing in charter schools and would you support allowing charter teacher the options to participate in the DCPS pension plan?
  3. Who are all the agencies and actors that you believe have authority over the charter sector? If you believe it to be only PCSB, where in the law do you find that interpretation?
  4. What do you plan to do about the correlation between PMF scores and the at-risk status and SPED populations of the students the school serves? Will you prioritize intentionally de-coupling those indicators in how you measure schools to ensure you are measuring HOW the school serves instead of WHO they serve?
  5. How many discussions have you had with stakeholders about ways to improve teacher retention in the past year?
  6. Do you support subjecting charter school boards to FOIA and the Open Meetings Act? Why or why not?
  7. Do you believe it’s important for your schools to recruit and retain teachers of color? If so, what do you do to collect teacher demographics, analyze them, and take action to improve.  If you’re leaving this up to LEA’s- how are you ensuring equity for all DC students, so that they can learn from adults who look like them, an incredibly important factor in their education.

We very much appreciate that PCSB has taken new steps to consolidate information that was already public into one central transparency hub on their website. That’s helpful for the public. But the overwhelming top concern we heard from teachers was this one- when the public charter school board proactively seeks input on policy- it is rarely teachers.

We know that schools with stronger family, student and teacher engagement produce stronger results- so we should do everything in our power to arm our families and educators with everything they need to be part of the discussion. If we want schools to be responsive to the needs of those they serve- we should ensure every single LEA is subject to the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

Transparency is in the system’s best interest.  When stakeholders are involved in solutions on the front end, you rarely see bad headlines on the back end. A disturbing argument is often made that somehow transparency is divorced from our work to better outcomes for students.  If you believe that, you don’t genuinely believe in the power of community engagement.  Too often those in positions of leadership see transparency as oppositional. But transparency is the opposite- it’s how an organization shows it values those it serves and it’s how those in the community show loyalty to an institution they care deeply about. No one spends their free time attending a charter school board’s meeting because they don’t care about that school.  All public schools should be equally public.

We hope that both the Public Charter School Board and the Deputy Mayor for Education will listen to the voices of teachers as they make policy with recognition that there are not “adult issues” and “youth issues” and that in fact better teaching conditions are better learning conditions.  When teachers ask for policy makers to address turnover- it’s to ensure they’re students have consistency.  When we ask for transparency, it’s to ensure students are being treated equitable across our schools.  When we demand a diverse workforce, it’s because that matters to student outcomes, and when we demand diverse schools it’s because all students benefit from diversity. We look forward to working together more with teachers at the table as key stakeholders who should be engaged and respected in the policy process. Thank you!

Martin Welles Testimony – Deputy Mayor for Education & District of Columbia Public Charter School Board – Performance Oversight – February 15, 2019

Public Testimony of Martin R. Welles, Esq. For



Deputy Mayor for Education

District of Columbia Public Charter School Board

Friday, February 15, 2019

10:00 a.m., Hearing Room 120, John A. Wilson Building


Good Morning Co-Chairman Mendelson and Grosso, members of the Education Committee and Committee of the Whole.

My name is Martin Welles and I’m a parent of 3 children who attend Hardy Middle School.  My children have also attended Amidon-Bowen Elementary School and Appletree Charter School.  I am an active volunteer and serve on the Jefferson Middle School SIT (school modernization team), Amidon-Bowen and Payne Elementary LSAT teams, and on the Board of Directors of Hardy PTO as Vice-President Civic Engagement, the Board of Directors of Near Southeast Community Partners as Treasurer, and on the Board of Directors of Capitol Hill Little League as Treasurer to name just of few of my volunteer activities. I do have a full-time “day job” as well.

My comments today will be directed toward both the DME and the Charter School Board:

Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn:

First of all, I would like to welcome DME Kihn to DC government and thank him for his hard work since arriving.  Many of you know that Near Southeast Community Partners (NSCP) originated the “Feed the Feeder” series – a Principals Roundtable and Networking event to strengthen our neighborhood feeder school patterns.  In DME Kihn’s first week on the job, he attended our Ward 6 Feed the Feeder event and was one of the first to arrive and last to leave.  He spent the entire night meeting and speaking with teachers and parents.  I heard many positive comments from attendees and they were impressed with his willingness to listen.  When offered the microphone to provide some words, he said he was just there to listen.  I’m not sure I would ever pass up a microphone – so I don’t know what to make of that.

On another occasion, after reviewing the facts and understanding the situation, DME Kihn honored a commitment made by the previous administration.  It was the right decision and put an end to a contentious situation.  In short, DME Kihn’s approach has been reasoned and informed.

However, I did attend another event in which DME Kihn was a panel speaker on “Equity in Education.”  His presentation and remarks were focused on the District of Columbia, but I did find the narrative conveyed to be a little off-putting.  He articulated data that pit one Ward against another.  He seemed to convey that a Ward that was showing high scores, was somehow to blame for another Ward’s low test scores.  I walked away thinking that his comments seem to suggest that a high achieving Ward, rather than being celebrated, should be punished for being successful,  I would like to see excellence celebrated and invigorated, regardless of what Ward it exists.  Making every Ward’s neighborhood schools strong and desirable should be the priority, but it should not be a zero sum game.  There is room for growth and excellence everywhere in DC.

There are several hot button issues that I will require attention in the near future:

Amidon-Bowen:  Developers are trying to get a zoning variance to build a 50-foot tall, 32-foot wide, 40 unit dormitory to house actors and interns.  The lot is restricted to 3 stories, but more importantly the want relief from property line setbacks because the lot is only 40 feet wide.  The proposed building will be right on top of the playground and become a constant source of noise complaints.  Additionally, granting a zoning variance to the developer will waive the District of Columbia’s property rights to add capacity to the thriving Amidon-Bowen school in a neighborhood where 18,000 housing units are slated for development.  The developer has submitted a bad plan, and neither the DME nor DC Council should support it.

Hardy Middle School – Science Teacher Position:

The 7th grade students at Hardy Middle School have been without a permanent science teacher for almost the entire year.  Due to a series of unfortunate events, a substitute had to come in and teach.  Even though it was doubtful the permanent teacher would return quickly, the position was encumbered and that prevented hiring a dedicated science teacher.  DCPS and the DME’s office need to figure out a way to attract a permanent “substitute” teacher, and double encumber the position.  It would be nice if the DME could step in with a special budgetary authorization to double encumber a position so that when, and if, a teacher returns, the long term substitute is not forced to leave and so that two teachers could make up for lost ground.  An offer was finally made to a full-time science teacher, but I learned yesterday that the new hire was not able to start.  This is a serious problem, not only specific to Hardy Middle School 7th grade, but likely throughout the school system.

Hardy Middle School Capacity:  Hardy received a 5 star rating and that has certainly increased the desire of families to attend Hardy.  The 3rd floor of the building contains the Fillmore Arts Center.  As Hardy continues to grow, the need for classroom space becomes greater.  It is time to start shrinking the footprint of Fillmore Arts Center at Hardy Middle School and find a new location for them.  The first step would be for the Fillmore Arts Center to vacate classrooms that are in the 6th grade hallway.  These classrooms could be used for 6th graders so that they do not have to run up and down stairs to get to their classes on time.  It is also my understanding that the number of schools busing to Fillmore has reduced due to expansion and modernization at their own schools.   Fillmore offers a great curriculum, but it is only available to relatively few students anyway, and Hardy needs the space.

Thank you DME Kihn. Thank you to the Council for listening to my comments I look forward to continuing to work with you.


I’m not sure the taxpayer of the District of Columbia is getting what they bargained for with the Charter School sector.  The reason I am unsure is because Charter Schools are not subjected to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or open meeting laws.  Therefore, there is not any real way to know how much of our taxpayer dollars are spent on teacher salaries, benefits, building leases, and administration.  We do not know to whom the Charter Schools are beholden, if anyone.  I would like the Charter School Board to contractually require Charter School operators, in exchange for the $100s of millions of taxpayer dollars, to hold open meetings, to operate transparently at the same level as DCPS, and to be accountable to their customers – the parents and students who attend and the taxpayers who fund their enterprise through the FOIA.

The time for reform is ripe.  Of the 17 schools that received a 5 Star rating – 12 were DCPS schools and only 5 were charters.  The promise of Charters was that through innovation and freedom from regulation, they would be able to provide superior education to our children.  With the number of Charter School closings – either through abandonment or loss of license – it is clear that promises made during the application promises were hollow.  Granted, closing a low performing Charter school may be a way to instill fear among operators, but it really has an adverse impact on families who are now left without a familiar place, a familiar teacher, or a familiar peer group.

What was a promise of niche education, has turned in to mass education.  The Charter School model has now become to replicate DCPS and all its great offerings.  The innovation and methodologies that were promised 20 years ago materialized in very few schools.  And while there are several excellence Charter Schools, I’m not sure that the bulk of the sector has lived up to the hype and expectation.

I implore this Council and the Charter School Board to adopt transparency and compliance with the FOIA and open meeting laws. It can be done on a contractual basis, it doesn’t necessarily have to be legislative.

Martin R. Welles, Esq.

Parent of 3 Children at Hardy Middle School

Vice President, Hardy Middle School PTA

Member, Student Assignment and Boundary Committee

Member, Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Cabinet

Board of Directors, NSCP – Treasurer

Board of Directors, CHLL – Treasurer


LL.M. Georgetown University Law Center – Taxation

LL.M. George Washington Law School with Highest Honors – Litigation

J.D. Loyola New Orleans – International Law

M.A. Loyola New Orleans – Communications

B.A. Viterbo University

A.A. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse



Valerie Jablow Testimony – Roundtable on Chancellor of DCPS Dr Ferebee Confirmation – February 12, 2019

Committee on Whole and Education

Public Roundtable on the Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools

Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee Confirmation Resolution of 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

I am Valerie Jablow. As a parent of teenage DCPS students who started with DCPS in preK, I would like to connect that experience to this moment as you consider the chancellor nominee:

Hardly any of my kids’ teachers are still left in their elementary and middle schools. Most left because they were treated poorly or refused to teach test prep. We have had at least 10 principals leave in that time. All my kids’ schools have annual budget shortfalls that result in programming uncertainty or cuts. When we parents plead for something for our schools, no matter how basic (i.e., windows that don’t leak), we are told it means another school will go without. I have never heard this zero sum game invoked when a new school is approved or expanded. And when I speak to DC leaders about schools of right as vital civic assets that ensure rights are upheld–not just another choice–I hear silence.

Despite the public’s consistent demand for equitable neighborhood schools of right[1], our schools of right have had wildly inequitable funding, offerings, and support that appears to track with socioeconomic capital[2]. As test scores also track with socioeconomics[3], some schools of right will soon likely face closure[4]. And our relative school ratings ensure we will always have low-rated schools[5], thus providing a steady market for privatizers.

Since I became a DCPS parent in 2005, many of our city’s public schools have been closed[6]. Some neighborhoods now lack any school of right[7]. As charter growth here has no ceiling[8], DCPS has continued to lose school share everywhere except in wealthy areas[9], while our supply of school seats has greatly outstripped our student population[10]. Yet, we have made little progress closing our achievement gap, improving attendance, or involving the public meaningfully in school decision making[11].

Because of all that, here are some questions I would like you to get answers on from this nominee:

  1. Will you commit to closing no DCPS schools and commit to privatizing none? If not, why not?
  2. Under what circumstances will you be willing to publicly go against the executive and what she or her staff recommend or want?
  3. What did you learn from the school sex abuse scandal in Indianapolis and what are you doing to ensure nothing like that happens in DCPS? Will you put into place rules that will require the first action to be reporting to law enforcement? If not, why not?
  4. How will you address disparities in offerings at DCPS schools of right, particularly at the middle and high school level, as an Alice Deal for All is more remote than ever?[12]

These questions are at the heart of the pain I and tens of thousands of other public school parents have experienced for the better part of two decades here. If you, as members of our only statutorily meaningful elected oversight body for public schools, are not willing to ask these questions of this nominee, please let us know why.

Thank you.

[1] This has been articulated loudly and clearly at nearly every hearing held by the council education committee in the last 5 years by my recollection. It was also codified within the boundaries commission report of 2014. See here:

[2] This too has been articulated loudly and clearly at nearly every hearing held by the council education committee in the last 5 years. To see what it looks like in terms of at risk money, school libraries, teachers, and modernizations (to name just a few documented areas), see the following, respectively: and;, and Regarding inequitable programmatic offerings in DCPS high schools, our new deputy mayor for education had nothing to say when I noted how my high school of right offers 1 foreign language, while one across town offers FIVE. See here: Unbelievably, the inequity even goes into snow removal:

[3] See here for an analysis by researcher Betsy Wolf:

[4] Melissa Kim at DCPS said as much during the December 4, 2018 meeting of SHAPPE, noting that the writing is on the wall regarding DCPS closures next school year. In addition, on p. 35 of our ESSA plan (see here, it notes that after a few years of low test scores a school is subject to takeover by another operator.

[5] I discuss this toward the end of this blog post here: The relativity of the star rating, along with the fact that the number of 5 star schools is capped, came up at an LSAT meeting at one of my children’s schools. Oddly, for a system based on so-called “market” principles, it would seem that the only incentive involved here is punishment.

[6] Again, thanks to researcher Betsy Wolf for tracking this, since no one in our city government appears to be doing so OR tracking the public money lost when, say, a charter school pours millions of dollars of public money in its privately owned facility, only to close and the facility is then unavailable for public use despite the massive expenditure of those funds. See here:

[7] Some examples off the top of my head: Woodridge (Taft and Woodridge closures; both are charter schools); Mayfair (River Terrace was closed as a neighborhood school); Eastland Gardens (Kenilworth was closed and was offered to a charter outside the process mandated by DC code); Fort Lincoln (Marshall was closed—which ironically had been the receiving school for when Woodridge was closed). All of these neighborhoods are surrounded by high volume commuter roads, such that getting in and out is not easy for children younger than teens on foot. Moreover, each neighborhood has a fair amount of land and housing devoted to them, such that a critical mass of kids could be available—even if all do not elect to attend their neighborhood school. But when you destroy that network of publicly owned schools—arising out of the symbiotic relationship between the city, peoples’ living patterns, and the need to ensure rights in education in every quarter–then you are precluding rights. It’s not exactly a surprise that the in boundary schools for kids in those areas are not well-attended. Our city has thusly not only precluded the possibility of a school of right in every neighborhood, but also ensured a steady supply of kids to charters that moved in. We have never had a conversation about this as a city—it’s been done by fiat, without the public’s direct consent.

[8] The SRA calls for only 10 new charter schools a year—but there is no ceiling on the expansion of already existing charters. As a result, even a conservative forecast for sector growth, from the recent master facilities plan, calls for DCPS to become a minority school system. See here:

Gotta ask: are you prepared for the ramifications for DC education rights? Because that 2027 scenario in that link means a whole lot of kids will be forced to give up rights they enjoy now in DCPS.

[9] This is mainly Ward 3, whose plans for school expansion are outlined in two recent documents: and

In both documents, the idea of limiting out of bounds enrollment in Ward 3 schools was not desired due to issues of diversity (i.e., Ward 3 schools without OOB kids are not diverse). As laudable as diversity in Ward 3 schools is, as a policy matter effected by accepting kids out of bounds (OOB), it inevitably makes capacity an issue in that ward.

This is not without consequence: Building extra DCPS capacity in a ward with relatively few resident kids will inevitably mean that outside of Ward 3, the crunch of low enrollment at DCPS schools will accelerate, such that the “trend” in the footnote above (showing essentially the massive shrinking of DCPS) will look quaint.

Curiously, there was no mention of busing Ward 3 kids to other schools such that the diversity of *those* schools is increased.

In the end, the diversity of Ward 3 schools with selected OOBs slots at young ages comes with a price that in Ward 3 presents itself solely as overcrowding–while the price in other wards is continuing severe underenrollment of DCPS neighborhood schools. One can argue this is a chicken/egg thing (those schools were bad or not resourced enough, ergo everyone left who could get to Ward 3), but regardless, the pattern is clear and, from my perspective on the east side of rock creek park, very damaging.

Again, I must ask: are you prepared for the denial of rights that the massive shrinkage of DCPS everywhere but in Ward 3 represents?

It doesn’t have to be this way: the city could do the slow and steady work of provisioning those schools outside Ward 3 adequately such that parents would not feel that they have no choice. Right now, there is nothing in place to ensure that this happens. It’s not rocket science—it’s slow, steady hard work that takes years of effort and commitment.

What are you willing to do?

[10] The 21st Century School Fund in 2017 created one of the most grotesque documentations I have ever seen of this oversupply of school seats here: Even if half of this is disputed, it’s still a large number. Growth of our student population under any forecast shown in our current master facilities plan can almost entirely be accommodated with existing seats.

[11] All of these have been documented exhaustively in council and state board of education hearings, the latter especially regarding how our ESSA plan—with a 70% test weight—doesn’t follow what the public relentlessly said it wanted. The test weight, however, was what DFER wanted—and phone banked its way to. And of course, we know the public had NO input into Bard and Banneker, all the while the plans themselves did not follow the PACE act nor were accounted for in terms of where that money will come from:

[12] At a recent SHAPPE meeting, on January 22, 2019, the chart below was handed out, which is a handy, if incomplete, look at just how inequitable offerings in our high schools are. Ron Brown, for instance, was founded to provide young African American men opportunities they would not get in other high schools. It has the fewest programs here. I would wager that if Banneker and School Without Walls had been included, the shame encoded on this chart would be much greater.



Suzanne Wells Testimony – Roundtable on Chancellor of DCPS Dr Ferebee Confirmation – February 12, 2019

Committee on Whole and Education

Public Roundtable on the Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools

Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee Confirmation Resolution of 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  My name is Suzanne Wells.  I am the president of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization, and the parent of an 8th grader at Eliot-Hine Middle School.

I first want to thank Amanda Alexander who has served as interim Chancellor.  She stepped into the role at a difficult time, and she led DCPS for the past year with a calm and steady hand.

Last March, the Education Committee held a hearing on the Future of School Reform in the District of Columbia.  I testified at that hearing about a book called Improbable Scholars by David Kirp.  The book describes the efforts the education leaders in Union City, NJ took to improve the poor performance of its public school system.  They didn’t open a single charter school; they didn’t fire teachers, and they didn’t hire people known in the ed reform movement to lead their school system.  Instead, they realized there were no quick fixes to rebuilding their public education system and closing the achievement gap.  They began focusing on quality early childhood education, a strong focus on literacy and project-based learning throughout the school district, and nurturing and supporting their teachers.

Today the city has made large investments in modernizing the schools, textbooks arrive at the school on time, we have quality PK3 and PK4 programs, and DCPS has developed a curriculum for teachers to follow. But there are so many more critical changes that need to occur.  Last May, a group of education activists issued an open letter saying the next Chancellor needed to change the culture at DCPS. The culture of an organization is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes it.  Today, DCPS’ culture is characterized by:

  • One of the highest teacher and principal turnovers among comparable urban school districts across the nation that creates tremendous instability in our schools;
  • Differences across the schools in the course offerings and experiences the students receive;
  • Inequitable funding in relation to the student’s needs;
  • Too many top-down mandates including those from the Mayor;
  • Too much listening to the needs of individual schools and communities, and too little action to address those needs;
  • Inadequate support from city agencies that should be providing wrap-around services to overcome students’ non-academic challenges to learning;
  • Too much politically-motivated hype about DC being the fastest improving school district in the nation, and a lack of willingness to look honestly at data to understand where our schools need to be improved, and how best to improve them;
  • Rolling out short-lived initiatives that take resources away from the basics, and then get forgotten when the next leader takes the helm; and
  • Broken feeder systems that do not support a city-wide system of quality, by-right neighborhood schools.

To address these deep and widespread problems will take an exceptional leader. One who is experienced at turning around a school system that is not performing. Someone who is skilled at doing the day-to-day, often unglamorous, common-sense work that will be required to change the culture of DCPS.

The next Chancellor of DCPS will face many challenges:

  • Trying to achieve the Mayor’s campaign promise of an “Alice Deal for all” that is no closer to being achieved than when she made the promise over four years ago. Trust me, the middle school my daughter attends, and the middle schools in Wards 7 and 8 are no Alice Deal.  The next Chancellor must find ways to close the great disparities found in the offerings at middle schools across the city, stop the high turnover among their teachers and principals, and begin attracting families with middle school students back to DCPS.
  • Reversing the top-down decision that was made to move Banneker to the former Shaw Junior High School site instead of creating a new Shaw Middle School that was promised to the community for years. Will the next Chancellor be able to convince the Mayor there needs to be a willingness to change the decision as public input is gathered on a middle school for this part of the city?
  • The Sunday Washington Post contained an article about admission to the selective high schools being based on PARCC test scores. Will the next Chancellor find a fair way to address the needs of students who this year are being unfairly screened out of five selective high schools solely based on their PARCC test scores without looking at their overall student record?

As the Council considers the nomination of Dr. Ferebee, I’m reminded of a 2010 article in The Washington Post about the search for a new Montgomery County superintendent to replace Jerry Weast who was retiring.  Someone speculating on the replacement to run one of the top school systems in the country said “It will be a crowning accomplishment of someone’s career to be the superintendent there.  It’s probably not going to be a hotshot young reformer.”  DC has had its share of hotshot reformers.  Let’s not make the same mistake again.  I ask the Council to confirm Dr. Ferebee only after they have thoroughly vetted he is someone who has the experience needed to successfully run an urban public school system, and the skills needed to bring about a desperately needed culture change at DCPS.


Alexander Padro Testimony – Roundtable on Chancellor of DCPS Dr Ferebee Confirmation – February 6, 2019


AT THE Public Roundtable on PR23-0067, the “CHANCELLOR OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS DR. LEWIS D. FEREBEE Confirmation Resolution of 2019,”


FEBRUARY 6, 2019

Good evening, Chairmen Mendelson and Grosso, members of the Committee, and Council staff. I am Alexander M. Padro, a 19-year ANC Commissioner serving central Shaw. Seaton Elementary School and the site of the old Shaw Junior High School are located in my ANC Single Member District.

Over the past 10 years since Shaw Junior High School was closed in anticipation of the construction of a new middle school to consolidate Garnet Patterson and Shaw Junior High on the site of the old Shaw school, I have had the opportunity to see the DC Public Schools in action under several chancellors. Most recently, under Interim Chancellor Alexander, I have seen DCPS at its worst.

As I’m sure you know, in October of last year, Mayor Bowser announced that instead of renovating Banneker Academic High School’s current historic building on Euclid Street, for which the Council approved over $140 Million in the capital budget, DCPS wants to build a new building for Banneker on the site of the old Shaw Junior High School. This decision was made without a complete feasibility study of the renovation potential of the current building, and with no outreach or consultation with the Shaw community and adjacent Center City neighborhoods that would be served by the Shaw Middle School.

In the wake of this announcement, the families and communities whose children will be forever deprived of the ability to walk to an in boundary, by right middle school in proximity to their elementary schools have banded together to fight to reverse this decision, which was made with zero transparency and no consideration of the decade of promises made to us by three mayors, including Mayor Bowser.

The elementary schools in my community have come a long way in the nearly two decades that I have been in office. All the elementary school buildings have been renovated, enrollments have grown, and achievement has increased. Our five elementary schools have won multiple awards, including principal of the year. Parents even apply to send their children to our schools from out of boundary because of their diversity and programming.

But the lack of an in boundary, walk to middle school is forcing a growing number of parents to re-evaluate their commitment to living in our neighborhoods. When their children are in the third grade, parents are beginning to plan to put their kids in charter schools and even move out of the neighborhood and the District because of the uncertainty posed by the middle school years.

Cardozo Education Campus houses a very small middle school program, which is the de facto middle school of right for our neighborhoods. Unfortunately, because of the distance from the feeder schools and limited programming, Cardozo’s middle school grades are the option of last and only resort for those parents who cannot make other arrangements for their kids’ middle school needs. Some of the feeder schools have dual rights to other schools outside of the neighborhood. Other kids are scattered among the charter schools in the neighborhood. Approximately 3,000 students at our five feeder schools are whittled down to a few hundred because DCPS has failed to deliver on the promise to build a new middle school for them. And now, Mayor Bowser proposes to steal the site that has been reserved for the neighborhood’s middle school for an application-only high school that already has a home.

If confirmed, Mr. Ferebee faces a litmus test: how he handles the unnecessary conflict that DCPS has caused by treating the renovation of Banneker High School and construction of a new middle school in Shaw as a zero sum game, while a win-win option that would address both needs has been left on the table, ignored and unexplored.

Will Mr. Ferebee stand by DCPS’ ill-informed, poorly considered decision to callously ignore a decade of promises made to Shaw and adjacent Center City neighborhoods regarding the need for a middle school for their children and DCPS’ decision to refuse to consider options that would allow enrollment to expand at Banneker without abandoning the school’s historic home? Or will he pause the process long enough to make sure that all parents and families have an opportunity to be engaged in a dialogue about whether there need to be winners and losers in this chess game that Mayor Bowser is playing with two school communities?

How the chancellor nominee handles this conflict and his role, as he perceives it, in overseeing DCPS and his own decision-making process is directly relevant to whether he can ever earn the confidence of the District’s parents and citizens.

There are thousands of people in Shaw and Center City neighborhoods that are furious with the way that DCPS has handled the proposal to build a new Banneker High School on the site of the old Shaw Junior High School, with the resulting loss of the site of the long promised new middle school for these communities. There are also thousands of members of the Banneker community, including alumni, who likewise have been left in the dark and unconsulted in the process.

Will Mr. Ferebee ignore the decade-long history of broken promises and ignorance by DCPS of the needs and desires of Center City parents for a middle school, as well as DCPS’ opaque processes and lack of engagement with affected communities? Will Mr. Ferebee pay lip service to a goal of increasing transparency and genuine community engagement reform or end the minimal, check-the-box outreach for which the school system has been notorious for decades?

While DCPS has begun a series of community engagement meetings about the Center City neighborhoods’ middle school needs, DCPS has reneged on a commitment to engage the Shaw community on the Banneker at Shaw project. No community meetings have yet been scheduled, despite an RFP process to build the new school that has a response date next week.

If Mr. Ferebee believes that he is merely a rubber stamp, that his job is only to implement Mayor Bowser’s decisions, without regard to public input, facts, and common sense, that he has no intention of ever developing fact-based recommendations and making decisions independently and objectively, then this Council should not confirm his appointment as chancellor. If he demonstrates an unwillingness to pause the Banneker relocation process and evaluate the need for a Shaw/Center City Middle School and require DCPS to undertake the vigorous public engagement and exploration of all viable options that should be required when such a momentous decision affecting future generations of our children is at stake, then such a hostile posture should disqualify him from confirmation in this position.

This concludes my testimony. I am available to answer any questions you may have for me here or after the hearing.