Katy Thomas Testimony – DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing – February 26, 2019

WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF KATY THOMAS

kazt1978 [at] gmail [dot] com

SUBMITTED TO THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION & COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE

FOR THE PUBLIC HEARING ON

PERFORMANCE OVERSIGHT HEARING OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS

FEBRUARY 26, 2019

Chairman Mendelson, Chairman Grosso, Councilmember Allen and committee members, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am the mom of two current Miner ES students (1st grade and PK4) and a rising PK3 student. I serve as the PTO’s Vice President and Community Engagement Committee chairperson.  

OUTDOOR RENOVATION

In May 2018, Councilmember Allen announced he had secured $3 million in FY2019 funding for new playgrounds at Miner and Tyler elementary schools in Ward 6.  The Miner community was thrilled, as making improvements to our outdoor campus had been a top priority. When the announcement was made public, we were in the midst of working closely with DCPS to plan for improvements to our outdated ECE playground over the summer months.  We thought having such great advance notice and already established contacts with the right people at DCPS would give us a leg up in being able to thoughtfully plan and design our new $1.5 million outdoor renovation.

Our school community came together in early September for an initial meeting with DCPS to learn the timeline, expectations and process for a project of this scope.  Our students would be engaged in helping determine playground equipment while parents, teachers, staff and broader community members would participate in PTO-driven feedback sessions.  Meanwhile, DCPS would begin the process of securing a designer in October so that a contractor could be hired in December, equipment ordered by January and the project finished in time for the launch of SY19-20.  After hearing nothing from DCPS through October and most of November, and connecting with a parent leader at Tyler, who had also heard nothing in terms of an update/progress on their project, I reached out to DCPS in late November to find out what was going on and to express concerns about heading down a path of delays, rushed planning and little-to-no engagement with the school community in the process.

In response to my outreach, I was informed a decision had been made to hire a landscape architect vs a design+build contractor in order to ensure the landscape architect would be an advocate for the project throughout construction rather than merely a subcontractor of the general contractor.  We scheduled an in-person meeting for December 12; during that meeting both DCPS and DGS staff were in attendance to announce a RFP had just been released for landscape architects for both Miner and Tyler as a “bundle” project and to expect construction to start in June with final delivery by October 2019. A contract would be awarded to a landscape architect for the projects in early January 2019 and our school community would meet with them in January to review their initial plan, which would be based upon all the feedback our students, families and staff had submitted.

You can imagine my surprise when our principal announced at the February 2019 PTO meeting that no landscape architect had been hired and essentially zero progress had been made on the project.  I again reached out to DCPS who stated they and DGS were unable to complete the procurement process of a landscape architect in a timely manner, so had instead decided to pursue a design+build contractor.  I am unable to see the logic in switching gears at this point in the process and essentially have had confirmed that this process will be rushed, with little planning and engagement with the school community.  

The lack of communication, lack of engagement and lack of a consistent process is frustrating to say the least.  When the FY2019 began in October, our school community felt like we were ahead of the curve, ready to work collaboratively with DCPS/DGS to create a great product our students and be something our community could feel proud of and excited about.  Instead we are reeling in the dark and extraordinarily frustrated by the lack of communication, engagement, progress and planning to date. Now as we approach the six month mark since our initial planning session and there has been no visible progress made on our project, I urge the committee to hold DCPS/DGS accountable.  When CM Allen fought to get this funding in the FY19 budget, I can’t imagine his expectation was there would be approximately zero progress made as of February 26, 2019.

TECHNOLOGY

Miner’s PTO is a proud participant of the Digital Equity in DC Education coalition of parents, teachers and public education advocates from all Wards.  The group has been advocating for digital equity and technology reflective of the 21st century. The coalition sent to Mayor Bowser on January 10, 2019 outlining the failure of the city in preparing our children for the jobs of the future.  Specifically, the letter outlined the following urgent issues:

  1. Include dedicated and sufficient funding in the FY2020 DCPS budget to meet school technology needs equitably across the city;
  2. Direct DCPS to release a comprehensive, multi-year technology plan to define and provide adequate technology to every school, as recommended by the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor (ODCA) in 2017; and
  3. Ensure the capacity to maintain functional, up-to-date technology equitably across all schools.

When DCPS finally released its initial allocations for the FY20 budget last week, they proudly announced a $4.6 million investment for student laptops.  I’m not one to kick a gift horse in the mouth, so was glad to see this investment being made for students and the public recognition that DCPS is failing its students with respect to providing the tools necessary to learn. However, it’s a small step in the marathon we’re facing to ensure our students are being set up for success vs failure in today’s digital world.  To date, DCPS has released no Technology Roadmap, has no plan or resources to ensure adequate support for existing and new devices to be maintained, remains silent on all instructional technology needs and continues to avoid working in tandem with OCTO to resolve the current pitiful strategy of school-level tech support.

I feel like a broken record, having testified on this specific issue a number of times before this audience and to DCPS. In the fall of 2017, the ODCA released a budgeting report, Budgeting and Staffing at Eight DCPS Elementary Schools. Miner was one of the eight schools reviewed. In response to the Auditor’s report, then-Chancellor Wilson sent a letter to Auditor Patterson stating, “DCPS agrees with recommendation #4. Prior to the issuance of this draft audit report, DCPS’ Office of Information Technology began work to develop a comprehensive Technology Roadmap. Our roadmap includes five key areas: devices, infrastructure services, shared technology platforms, technology proficiency and data reporting. These core focus areas will provide mass enhancements in all areas of concern as detailed in the report. To date, the initial draft of our Technology Roadmap has been shared internally within DCPS’ central administration to obtain feedback from internal stakeholders. Additional feedback will be sought from school-based leaders, teachers, students, parents and members of the community. Upon completion and approval of the Technology Roadmap, the associated funding requests will be presented during the FY19 budget process.

According to the Auditor’s office, in late November 2018, after more than a year had passed since Chancellor Wilson stated a plan was already drafted and being circulated internally, DCPS decided it needs “more focused expertise to build a comprehensive technology roadmap spanning over the next several years and would be hiring a new Chief of Data and Strategy to lead the effort.” That new Chief was set to start December 10, 2018 and according to DCPS would be better able to move closer to defining the technology road map.

Admittedly, I am not familiar with the DCPS flow chart, but if the previous Chancellor tasked the Office of Information Technology to draft a comprehensive roadmap in 2017, how does the system decide a year later, in the absence of a permanent leader, that a new Chief has to be hired to redo this work?  Where is the 2017 initial plan? Why is DCPS hiring more central office staff to do a job already initiated?

Specific requests for the Education Committee and COW:

  1. Hold DCPS accountable to release a Technology Roadmap, which former Chancellor Wilson stated was drafted in 2017, share a timeline for engagement with school-based leaders, teachers, students, parents and members of the community and indicate how long students and schools will have to wait before the overwhelming need for technology is addressed.
  2. Ask DCPS to release details on its current 1:1 proposal. Released information should include a detailed breakdown of the components of their tech budget initiative and a funding profile showing the total cost over 3-5 years.
  3. Fully fund the new proposal put forth by DCPS for FY20 with the addition of resources fo adequate tech support and instructional investments.
  4. Require DCSP and OCTO to willfully collaborate on how to better support technology in schools.  This may require a modification to the existing MOU between the agencies and a full restructuring of how tech support is currently deployed.

GARDEN INSTRUCTION + HEALTHY FOOD

I grew up on a farm in northwestern Minnesota and assumed most kids had a couple deep freezers in their garage filled with homegrown meats, tended a huge garden all summer and spent time freezing and canning fruits & vegetables to get through the long winters.  That bubble burst as I got older and as a college student had to learn how to buy food at a grocery store. As a parent raising kids in an urban environment, who’s kids often think milk comes from the store, apples come sliced in a sealed bag and the only carrot that exists is considered a “baby”, I find it disturbing how little we are doing to expose today’s kids to where their food comes from, how to grow it or empower them to make healthy choices.  A handful of schools in D.C. have been lucky to engage in amazing programs like FoodPrints or FoodCorps to help increase students knowledge on fresh fruits and vegetables, get kids cooking in the kitchen so they can figure out that real food is cooked from scratch, not warmed up from a package and utilize real-world applications of math, science, reading, writing, social studies, etc.

Every parent and child that I know who has FoodPrints/FoodCorps programming at their school rave about how amazing it is – kids come home asking for ABC (apple-beet-carrot) salad, bursting with pride when one of the carrot seeds they planted starts popping up through the soil or tastes kale for the first time and realizes its not poison!   Imagine the academic gains that could be achieved if every child was exposed to and provided real food, cooked from scratch and empowered to build skills and celebrate healthy food choices. I urge committee members to go to a DCPS school with FoodPrints or FoodCorps and observe the excitement, growth and development students have toward healthy food choices.   

Once you’ve seen the magic happening, I hope you will join the many parents, principals, teachers, advocates and kids who celebrate this type of instruction and life skill building and make it a right, not a privilege to have a FoodPrints/FoodCorps type of program at each school. Miner is not one of the lucky schools able to bring in a FoodPrints/FoodCorp program to date, but I intend to continue striving toward increasing students exposure to our school garden, finding outside partners who actively help teachers get out of the classroom to utilize real-world academic applications and build awareness among our school community on the significant positive impacts of healthy food choices.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, I’m happy to answer any questions.

Serenity Rain Testimony – DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing – February 26, 2019

Serenity Rain

Ward 7 Resident

Parent and LSAT Chair, Anne Beers Elementary School

Testimony on the DC Council Committee of the Whole and Committee on Education

Performance Hearing on the District of Columbia Public Schools

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500

 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Serenity Rain, and I am a parent at Anne Beers Elementary with kids in Pre-K 3, Kindergarten and 3rd grade. I am here today to speak in support of the FoodPrints program as a parent, teacher, LSAT chair, community advocate, and trained social worker.

Two years ago, I began as the community advocate for the Beers Farm Share program and a Foodprints assistant teacher. The FoodPrints program was so compelling to me that last year, I left my job to begin a position as the Lead FoodPrints teacher at Anne Beers.

From my perspective as a parent, Anne Beers students are learning critical thinking, problem solving, team building and essential life skills in FoodPrints. This whole-child approach to education is very important to me and one of main reasons why I choose Anne Beers for my children.

From my perspective as a teacher, I’ve witnessed the impact FoodPrints has on the entire school. Everyone at Beers from the Principal to the Custodial Staff loves FoodPrints and are always eager to see what we are cooking next. We’ve got the whole school loving Kale and saying “Kale Yeah!” and being open to trying new healthy foods. Foodprints is the highlight of everyone’s of the day, and I feel like a celebrity when I push my cooking cart through the school.

From my social worker perspective, FoodPrints is healing. This is especially important at schools in which so many students are impacted by trauma, challenging childhoods, mental, physical and learning disabilities.

I’ve seen how a student experiencing stress is relaxed by digging in the soil, watering a plant, cutting vegetables, or grinding wheat berries into flour. And how students are excited they created something delicious and nutritious together! Just by participating in FoodPrints, children feel a sense of belonging, teamwork, and that they matter.

From my perspective as a community health advocate, FoodPrints and our farm share grants our school community access to fresh produce and healthy eating in a place known as a “food desert” with high rates of obesity and diabetes. Seeing students come to school eating honey buns and donuts for breakfast and having a packed lunch of processed foods and snacks is disheartening. Students are excited to try new healthy foods in FoodPrints because they are part of the process to harvest and cook the food.

Though Foodprints is amazing at our school, we face funding limitations. Currently only students preschool through 1st grade gets the full Foodprints experience. Upper grades participate on a very limited basis and students and teachers – and parents – continually ask if they will be able to participate more frequently. Limited funding is constantly looming over us and it’s a fear year to year whether or not we will be able to continue our FoodPrints program. We hope the city can invest in this program so that all our students can benefit. There is so much research out there that proves that a model like this works, and our students deserves the best we can give them!

Jennifer Mampara Testimony – DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing – February 26, 2019

Jennifer Mampara

FRESHFARM FoodPrints Program Director

Testimony on the DC Council Committee of the Whole and Committee on Education

Performance Hearing on the District of Columbia Public Schools

February 26, 2019

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500

Thank you to the Committee for holding this hearing and listening to community voices on our DC public schools.

I am Jennifer Mampara, the Director of Education at FRESHFARM and manager of the FoodPrints program. We currently partner with 13 DCPS elementary schools across the city to provide regular hands-on food, gardening, and nutrition classes throughout the school year. We have developed curriculum that is aligned with local and national science, math, ELA and health standards, as well as with the DCPS curricular scope and sequence at each grade level and local Environmental Literacy goals.

I am here today to share with the Committee our successes in our long-term partnership with DCPS that helps meet academic goals and the requirements of the DC Healthy Schools Act; provides opportunities for exciting, hands-on learning; and models new ways to engage with academic content for teachers. This has been an incredibly productive and successful partnership that began in 2009 and has resulted in FoodPrints programming that currently serves more than 4,500 DCPS students, 66% of whom are economically disadvantaged. We are reaching about 20% of the DCPS elementary school population at this time, and an additional 18 DC public schools have reached out to us requesting programming for their school communities.

This partnership has also resulted in DCPS school administrators, teachers, parents and students that express tremendous interest in sustained, academically integrated food, nutrition and environmental education at their schools. Year after year, many of our partner school principals choose to direct discretionary funds in their school budgets to contribute to the cost of FoodPrints programming for their schools. Year after year, parent teacher associations dedicate a significant portion of the funds they raise to make this programming possible.

An additional result is a unique and exciting collaboration with the DCPS school meals program in which recipes that students have been studying, cooking and eating during their FoodPrints sessions are prepared from scratch with the support of a chef coach once a week and served in our partner school cafeterias. This project began when the DCPS Food and Nutrition Services Director (Mr. Rob Jaber) noticed that when asking students what they would like to have more of in their school lunches, there were a few outlying schools with students requesting kale salad and apple beet salad instead of pizza and hamburgers. These outliers were students at FoodPrints schools, and since then, Mr. Jaber has been unwavering in his support for sustaining and growing the program.

In order to measure and communicate this success, we partner with researchers at George Mason University and Columbia University. Last spring, one of our evaluators, Dr. Katie Kerstetter, surveyed 150 DCPS administrators and teachers about the value FoodPrints programming brings to their schools and students.

The majority of respondents said that FoodPrints programming is “very important” or “important” (a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale) in providing:

  • Academic Support
  • Family Engagement
  • Nutrition Education and School Gardens Engagement
  • Social and Emotional Learning

This is some of the feedback we have received from classroom teachers:

“FoodPrints allows my students to access our unit themes in new ways. It allows my students to see how our ELA and Math units align to real-life situations.” – Teacher, Tyler

“FoodPrints is designed to  allow students to revisit the concepts and topics from class and to see them from a different perspective.” – Teacher, Francis Stevens

“Families who don’t usually participate are given an opportunity to engage in FoodPrints and feel a part of the community,” – Teacher, Marie Reed

“Many of my students have tried and enjoyed foods they didn’t try before and/or thought they didn’t like previously… FoodPrints perfectly fits early childhood education as it’s all about trying new things and investigating possibilities.” – Teacher, Francis Stevens

“[Through FoodPrints,] students learn to have more independence and how to hold themselves accountable.” – Teacher, Kimball  

“[Through FoodPrints, students are] working collaboratively and working out a plan.” – Teacher, Tyler

“Taking risks and trying new things.” – Teacher, Peabody

“Building the self-confidence to try new things in a safe environment.” – Teacher, School Within School

This is some of the feedback from school principals:

“Our students and families really feel this is an integrated approach to learn about healthy food and nutrition, where food comes from, and how to grow your own food.” 

“It’s critical that this kind of program gets into schools across the city, regardless of the economic status of their neighborhood, and that it is sustained.“  

“{FoodPrints supports] negotiating peer relationships in managing the kitchen, the tools and the garden”

This is some of the feedback from parents:

“FoodPrints has helped create the collaborative, creative environment that fosters growth, curiosity and learning, and it is part of the reason that we continue to be such happy members of our school family.”

“FoodPrints has transformed my daughter’s perception of food and living organisms. As a volunteer, I had a wonderful experience learning to make healthy meals for my family. I can’t wait to participate again!”

“If DC can do one easy, tangible thing to foster a healthy community, supporting this program is it. It requires so little and it teaches so much. I feel incredibly fortunate that my children are getting a great early foundation in healthy living through it. I hope you not only continue to support this program, but commit to robustly expanding FoodPrints so every DC child has access to it. “

At at time when over 30 percent of our youth aged 17-24 are ineligible for military service due to obesity, and 1 in 3 children born today will develop diabetes, food education at an early age is critical. I thank DC Public Schools for supporting the long-running partnership between schools and the FRESHFARM FoodPrints program, and I encourage the Council to recognize the importance of this partnership as a strength of DCPS that deserves ongoing financial support from the city.

Rebecca Reina Testimony – DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing – February 26, 2019

Testimony of Rebecca Reina

to DC Council, Committee on Education, Performance Oversight Hearing

DC Public Schools

on 2/26/19 at 12:00 pm, John A. Wilson building, room 500

 

Hello, I‘m Becky Reina, Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council. Our Education Council advocates for a stronger public education system that supports all our students and families, while making sure we safeguard our by-right neighborhood schools and work for greater resources, equity, transparency, fairness, and safety across both educational sectors.

I am also the mother of 2 Cleveland Elementary School students, where I have in the past served on the PTA and LSAT. Thank you for this opportunity to provide feedback on the performance of DC Public Schools. I want to preface my critique by saying I think all DCPS employees are striving to educate and support DC students. I have been very happy with my children’s direct classroom experience and I am proud to send them to a DC Public School. My critique is focused on DCPS as an institution. I have found DCPS Central Office employees to be smart and exceptionally hardworking; yet, the negative institutional and systemic pressures on them are often insurmountable.

Sometimes, I feel like DCPS is changing for the better: the creation of the Ward 1 Education Council was warmly received by DCPS and since our formation in January, we have already had some productive conversations on how our Education Council and DCPS can work together. However, I have also been disheartened by DCPS’s sometimes opaque decision making, poor communication, and tardiness in addressing urgent problems.

The W1EdCouncil is deeply concerned that the planning leading up to and underlying justification for the announced move of Banneker HIgh School has not been discussed publicly. While the decision appears to have been made solely by Mayor Bowser, DCPS employees have struggled – often ineffectively in multiple public meetings – to address public concerns, choosing instead to silo various stakeholder communities, pitting neighbors against each other due to perceived scarcity. After looking at the proposed Educational Specification for the new Banneker building, I am concerned that the Banneker community is not being afforded the robust planning process, focused on the school’s uniques needs, that has been afforded to other DCPS application high school such as School Without Walls. Banneker not only deserves a beautiful building on time, but also deserves the attention of thoughtful planning in collaboration with its community.

I see similar deficits in the school budgets that were released last week, many weeks late, leaving very little time to engage stakeholders. Teacher raises are well deserved. They should have been properly funded to protect the buying power within school budgets. The decision to imbedded the cost of security into individual school budgets is a laudable move toward transparency, but in some cases it obfuscates large cuts to individual schools. In Ward 1, H.D. Cooke, Cleveland, and Tubman all face substantial cuts. These three schools also have some of the largest percentages of At-Risk students in Ward 1: with H.D. Cooke at 49%, Cleveland at 61%, and Tubman at 65%.   In the case of Tubman, the funding cut is initially hidden when looking at the proposed budget because the “increase” in year over year allocation is entirely swallowed by security costs, leaving a proposed deficit of over $65,000. The Comprehensive School Model of budgeting hides even more cuts, because school leaders have so few real chances to reallocate money from one category to another. If Tubman decides not to use its allocated money for the library books they don’t need, they lose $10,000; they cannot reprogram the money to other uses. Outside of Ward 1, the cuts to comprehensive high schools across the river are truly horrifying: H.D. Woodson, Anacostia, and Ballou High Schools appears to face cuts in the $100,000s according to their public allocations, perhaps even a million dollars in the case of Ballou when security costs are included. These budgets are being justified by unrealistic enrollment projections for schools that receive new students through the school year. These budget games do not serve our students. The schools facing the worst budget cuts should not be the schools with the most needs. Even the schools with large raises now need to fear that the tap dries up next year and they are faced with losing staffers they brought on only a year before. Students need stability. Budgets that swing wildly year to year, forcing teacher and staff turnover and constant programmatic changes need to stop.

I am similarly concerned that DCPS employees continue to tell the MidCity community that there are enough DCPS seats at the middle school level.  Planning for by-right, neighborhood middle and high schools feels particularly pressing for Ward 1, because of increasing evidence that our neighboring schools of MacFarland and School Without Walls at Francis Stevens will be over-enrolled in the near future, in addition to the ongoing overcrowding in the Wilson High School feeder pattern. DCPS is holding well-run community meetings on these issues, but outreach and advertising of these meetings to parents has been lacking and the data that is being presented there does not match reality. In the 2017-2018 school year, over 1,600 students were enrolled in middle school grades in the area in and surrounding the Cardozo feeder pattern, and yet DCPS says it is satisfied with the status quo, with only 147 students in middle school at Cardozo that same school year. Charter schools can and do close without warning. Also in Ward 1, 294 Cesar Chavez Prep students are now looking for places to land; DCPS is the educational sector legally required to catch them if their families so chose. DCPS needs to welcome them and generally focus greater attention on the middle grades in the middle of the city.

I will end on a bright spot: DCPS listened to advocates and allocated money for better school technology. The perfect follow up would be a comprehensive plan that supports not only laptops for testing but also continuing classroom use even during testing of a computers, laptops, tablets, headphones, and SMART boards and maintenance of all these devices. I look forward to seeing that from DCPS soon.

Thank you again for this opportunity.

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

TESTIMONY BEFORE THE COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE AND THE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COUNCIL

 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, http://dcpsbudget.ourdcschools.org/.  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.  https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2016/econ/school-finances/secondary-education-finance.html.  These figures are self-reported by DCPS.

.