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Heather Schoell Testimony – Public Oversight Roundtable on the Future of School Reform – March 19, 2018

This city is filled with smart people who get paid a lot of money to do their jobs to make education work, and to prepare students for success. I have several jobs that I take seriously. I’m the PTO president at Eliot-Hine Middle School, the PTO secretary at Eastern High School, and the LSAT secretary for both schools, and I do these jobs and come here today not because it’s good business sense taking time away from my actual job as a Realtor, or because I enjoy giving up me time and family time. I do it because there are kids who depend on someone to look out for their best interest. Every time a student is allowed to go onto the next grade, be it 1st or 11th, who isn’t on level, that is a student failed. Failed by his or her family, by teachers, by the administrative team, by the chancellor, by you, and by me.
A kid who I used to tutor in math when he was a little boy, who now towers over me as a senior in high school, I see him walking by house most every day, and I think of how the failure of the adults around him have allowed him to become a functionally illiterate man with few prospects, and that’s painful – he doesn’t deserve this. And I know that same failure of adults will affect the trajectory and the quality of the rest of his life, his future children’s lives, and likely their children as well. I beat myself up about it because I know I could’ve pushed to do more. He is only one of so many kids in this city whose lives are going be hard every day, scraping to come up with rent, being dependent on jobs that might pay just enough to get by, but never enough to save, let alone to thrive, to feel secure, to travel, and to make decisions based on future goals, rather than have few choices based on current circumstance. This is not about raising the minimum wage, but about raising the minimum standard of outcomes of our students.

So first, I’d like you to acknowledge that we’re talking about people when we’re talking about policy. Then I want you to step back and reorient your perspective so that when you’re taking about policy, you’re thinking about people – young people who will or will not have chances in life.

1. Reading is everything. If you can’t read, you can’t understand the math instructions (my young friend’s reason for doing poorly in math) and you can’t refer back to text to support your point of view in social studies. Worst of all, you’re excluded from understanding anything on your own – package contents, product descriptions, pharmacy instructions, your kids’ homework. You can’t read to your own children, perpetuating the cycle of illiteracy and poverty. These are the people we’re graduating – people who are ill prepared for life. Make early reading intervention a true priority with adding intervention teachers, with requirements for moving to the next grade, and with resources every year until we don’t have to talk about this anymore. Stick to the plan long term. And for older students who are somehow slipping through each year, that should end now with targeted interventions before school, during school, at lunch, after school, and over the summer. I don’t care if the District needs to hire a whole army of reading intervention partner organizations to share among geographic clusters. Just make it happen because this is more important than anything.

2. Partner organizations. I have been harping on this for years, but why is so much non-education support taking up so much of the education budget? Why do schools need to hire social workers and psychologists instead of teachers? Why isn’t the Dept. of Health on the hook for supplying school psychologists? Why isn’t Child and Family Services on the hook for social workers in schools so that kids don’t fall through the cracks and schools can hire teachers to teach? This is the reality of schools, that with the budget they’re given to work with, and the population of students that require social/emotional intervention, that they have to cut teachers to hire more social/emotional support. Stop it.

3. Charter schools continue to open and operate with opacity. They continue to thin resources, and in many cases, they are failing to meet standards. Charter schools can expel students who make trouble for them behaviorally and/or educationally, and DCPS schools must take them in, often mid-year, which has a huge impact on a school – usually negative, trying to get this student in line with the culture and climate, and with as little effect on the other students as possible. Charters should not have this advantage over neighborhood schools.

This shouldn’t be so daunting, fixing these three issues. Let’s just do it so we can get to making impactful and real differences in the future lives of these students. Let me know how I can help.

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Sandra Moscoso Testimony – Public Oversight Roundtable on the Future of School Reform – March 19, 2018

I am Sandra Moscoso, a parent of students enrolled in Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, and School Without Walls. I am also a former BASIS DC parent. I share this with you, because like many D.C. families, mine is a “Cross-Sector” family.

Like most D.C. parents of school-aged children, my most important engagement with government is through my children’s schools.  For almost 12 years, 8 months out of each year, I have started most of my mornings thinking about homework, projects, DC1 cards, and, of course, lunches.

I trust their schools with not just their education, but their health and well-being. It is thanks to one of my son’s elementary school teachers that I discovered he needed glasses. My daughter’s school nurse has my number on speed dial, because my daughter insists on treating the school playground like an american ninja warrior set.

Like any D.C. parent, I want my children’s schools to have all of the resources they need to educate them and their peers in an environment with adequate staff, materials, and equipment, I want their school community to enjoy a facility that communicates respect for the individuals who spend 7 to 10 hours a day there.

I will add that like most D.C. parents, I don’t care if my children’s school are public or charter, so long as the above criteria are met.

Unfortunately, as you know, that basic criteria of access to adequate staff, materials, and facility are not consistently met. This has been the case over my 12 year tenure in D.C. schools.

I witness annual angst during budget season, as LSATs and Principals struggle to retain the staff and resources they need to educate their students, without forcing them into wieldy class sizes.

I have witnessed in both public and charter campuses where my children have gone to school, spontaneous waterfalls INSIDE of the rooms where family events were taking place. I cannot count the incidents that have been reported by my children and their schools.

I think it’s safe to say, that while your own tenure in the education committee may not be 12 years, the testimony you have heard from parents and community members during your time is consistent with what I describe. It may be difficult or exhausting to hear again, but trust me, it’s more exhausting to have to live with it.

I have been told by school officials like you, that our budget is limited, and we have to make do. I am willing to accept this, so long as it’s clear that our schools are in good hands and the best decisions are being made with the best information available.

I do not believe that this is the case. I see no vision for how to distribute resources among schools. And there can be no vision, so long as each year introduces new schools into the mix, without any overall strategy around direction or consideration of impact to existing schools, public and charter.

When the Deputy Mayor for Education kicked off the cross-sector task force in 2016, I hoped the key issues of opening, citing, and closing schools would be addressed.

It’s been two years of work by the task force, but I worry that these key issues which have such direct impact on resources available to our existing schools – ALL of our schools, where children sit in class right now, public and charter – will not be addressed.

I think we can agree this is not a political issue, but rather, it is a practical issue of using common sense.

A recent memo by 3 concerned task force members to the DME states “the PCSB currently does not need approval for opening, closing or siting schools. They have not indicated that they would relinquish that independence, or coordinate across sectors on opening, closing or siting decisions.”

What is the purpose of a cross-sector collaboration exercise that has no chance of affecting policy? And what will the Education Committee to do ensure this is addressed and resolved, and ensure that our city does not falsely claim victory and risk moving on from this unresolved conversation?

How can we begin to imagine the future of public school reform in D.C. without answering these questions.

I am hoping for leadership from the Education Committee on this. We desperately need a  vision for our city’s education strategy, along with – of course – transparency to enable all of us to ensure reform is working.

Without this, we will continue to be a city whose education conversations will be dominated by the scandal at hand.

Thank you for your time and attention.

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Valerie Jablow Testimony – Public Oversight Roundtable on the Future of School Reform – March 19, 2018

I am Valerie Jablow, a Ward 6 DCPS parent.

Thank you for soliciting public feedback on improvements to PERAA, to ensure better public engagement and less politics in our publicly funded schools.

Toward that end, I have appended to my testimony a list of revenue-neutral improvements,[1] including making OSSE politically independent under the control of the elected state board, so that when problems happen, the first people alerting the public are not journalists, as well as changing the automatic right of first offer of closed DCPS schools to charter schools, which was undemocratically foisted on us by a Louisiana senator and entirely writes out the desires of DC communities for their public schools.

But one improvement must underscore all:

The driver of all public education in DC must be the democratic right to an education in local, municipally run schools.[2]

Public education is not creating only schools with high test scores or replacing the public in our schools with private groups who promise to do better–or with a small cadre of public officials making decisions in private. Nor is public education about creating or expanding schools when existing ones have deep and unmet needs.

Yet, with education reform and mayoral control, we have prioritized privatization and school choice:

–Instead of investing in rights, we have invested in chance via the lottery, which has ensured that schools left behind are really behind, losing enrollment and resources.

–Because of that right of first offer, many closed DCPS schools have become charters, so that children are forced to commute outside their neighborhoods just to avail themselves of their right to an education.[3]

–Our city exercises no meaningful oversight of charter schools–shown recently by the lack of any independent investigation of attendance and graduation problems therein.[4]

–And rather than ensure that all children progress, we have test-heavy accountability that incentivizes adults to behave badly, while such accountability never flagged what happened at Ballou.

None of this is democracy. Rather, it represents an educational theocracy whose central tenet is the belief—not fact—that schools with low test scores are “failing” and that school choice is democratic.

This is like saying that my choice of toilet paper at the grocery store is democratic. It’s choice, all right.

But it’s not democracy.

Embracing democracy in our schools can be done tomorrow without spending a dime–and would improve many things:

–Demand for charter schools would be a function of unbiased, third party analysis, not charter desire or lobbying.

–We would agree that there would be no more DCPS closures, and no more charter expansions, for at least 5 years until all existing schools are modernized, adequately resourced, and have programs in place to ensure that all students thrive.

–School closures, sitings, openings, and re-uses would be a function of local, neighborhood demand, choice, and investment, not test scores and not decision-making by small groups acting in private.[5]

–As an independent education data agency, OSSE would ensure test scores are not used to punish schools or the adults who work in them. That means prioritizing in our school rating system not test scores, but student growth as well as available school supports.

Democracy may be messy and complicated, but it’s why we are all here today. We need to embrace it in our governance of our public schools. Thank you.
[1].. Herein are seven, revenue-neutral policies and actions that would immediately improve our public schools and increase democratic oversight and control:

A. Make OSSE the politically independent and public education data agency that the PERAA report called for. We cannot afford to let our school data be used for political purposes, such that problems are not flagged and children suffer the consequences. OSSE could easily provide third-party, unbiased analysis of need for new charter schools, which under current regulations only new charter applicants do—a complete conflict of interest that has resulted in communities having to accept schools they never wanted and that deprive existing schools of resources. An independent OSSE would ensure that the money we spend on that agency right now would be wisely spent–and could also be used to track students, so we can provision our schools for the kids they have, when they have them. Finally, an independent OSSE could deliver on the original (and lost) promise of charter schools, to transfer knowledge and best practices. The best way to make OSSE politically independent and publicly run would be to put it under the control of the elected state board of education—and ensure term limits for board members. (An additional measure to ensure political independence would provide public financing of state board members’ campaigns—which would entail public funds, albeit a small amount relative to OSSE’s entire budget.)

B. Enforce the law regarding hiring the DCPS chancellor. For all three of our chancellors, this law has not been followed and resulted in processes that almost completely wrote out public input. Moreover, given what happened recently with Chancellor Wilson, DC needs a chancellor committed first to the right to an education in local, municipally run schools and only second to choice and privatization. See here: https://educationdc.net/2017/09/25/no-comment-4/

C. Stop using–and encouraging the use of—coded, politically charged, and inaccurate language to describe, characterize, and oversee our public schools. Schools are not “high-performing”—students are. Students can be “high-performing” without high test scores, while it is possible for a school to be good and not have any student in it with high test scores. And there is no virtue accruing to anyone in high test scores when there is no growth. Finally, “demand” is not the length of a waitlist nor the amount of money or time spent on politicians in the Wilson Building. Real demand is a function of public engagement and desire, not lobbying or waitlists. Remember: No parent is demanding more charter schools. No parent is demanding schools be closed. No parent demanded that DCPS shrink in its percentage of students from 91% in 1999 to 52% today. And no parent or teacher demanded the test-heavy accountability we have. Why did all this happen if no parent demanded it? Because we have an essentially undemocratic system of school governance in DC put in place and supported by millions of dollars of private money and interests annually. Parents allwant excellent schools for their kids—period. That cannot be accomplished if the very language we use to describe and oversee our schools is thusly coded to ensure a very uneven playing field that advantages school privatization and authoritarian control of our public resources at every turn.

D. Do not give a pass to one sector for oversight: If one sector is getting pressure to graduate kids or cheat on tests, the other is also. Investigating only DCPS in that regard makes it look like our charter schools are so much better and that the problems identified at Ballou only happen in DCPS. That is a political statement, not reality. Moreover, families who have chosen to send their kids to charter schools deserve to know as much as DCPS parents about the success and shortcomings of their schools. Toward that end, make charters subject to FOIA—other states have done so. There is no way for charter parents to know what really goes on in their schools, and if their individual school boards are not helpful, they have little recourse.

E. Enact a moratorium on DCPS closures and charter enrollment increases. We all have to recognize that unfettered growth of seats leaves behind kids in under-resourced neighborhood schools and that is morally and ethically (and possibly legally) not right. It is of prime importance to ensure these schools are provisioned adequately. Many low-income families are not entering the lottery because they cannot manage getting their kids across town to a different school—even provided that they get a chance to send their kids there. This is not a transportation problem: it is an urgent, unethical denial of rights. We must support the schools that all our kids have a right to. Closures have harmed neighborhoods and decimated feeder patterns, making it more difficult to ensure continuity in programmatic offerings, much less equity across neighborhoods. Right now, schools in Ward 3 constitute almost a different school system than DCPS schools elsewhere. This is little different than in 1967, when Julius Hobson sued DC for systemic inequities in our public schools. This statement from the 1967 decision in Hobson v. Hansen remains true today: “Because of the impoverished circumstances that characterize the disadvantaged child, it is virtually impossible to tell whether [their test score] reflects lack of ability of simply lack of opportunity.”

F. Change school siting and use laws that write out the public entirely from its schools, including the Landrieu act (see 38-1802.09), which demands that charter schools be given the right of first offer on all closed DCPS schools, and the municipal code that states that schools can locate anywhere with a 9000 square foot lot (see 11-401-2)—and without public notice whatsoever until well after the real estate transaction has happened (and then, only when an application is submitted to the charter board). Both the Landrieu act as well as the school siting act need to have clear provisions for involving the public in every step—first, getting public approval for the school siting before that decision is made and then ensuring that all public uses for any closed school are discussed publicly and acted on. Both of these laws have permitted the location and creation of charter schools that were notably against public wishes in their communities—see here: https://educationdc.net/2016/12/18/a-holiday-gift-like-this-may-be-happening-in-your-dc-neighborhood-right-now/ and https://educationdc.net/2017/02/26/happening-right-now-proposals-for-five-new-dc-schools-and-almost-4000-new-school-seats/. We also need a law to ensure the public voice in the use of closed DCPS schools when no charter school is selected in the first RFO. Recently, two closed DCPS schools (Winston and Fletcher-Johnson) were re-offered to charters—despite the communities near each demanding that the schools be used for many other purposes. That decision to re-offer both was made by the legal counsel at DGS—and completely without the consultation or approval of those communities. Finally, the law governing use of public buildings (see 10-801(g)) simply allows the mayor to give away whatever he or she deems not usable by DC—with some council oversight. But that law was notably not enforced or followed when DCPS offered its closed Kenilworth Elementary to North Star charter school without anyone in the public knowing. This was a terrible violation of the people who live near it—and completely upended the entire process of offering schools to charters (why that charter school, for instance, and not another?). Moreover no one on the council was consulted about it, per the law. It is difficult to support enrollment in existing schools when any school can be anywhere at any time without public notification or input. This has been particularly pernicious as we do not have a commensurately growing student population—so such changes would allow us to use our public education money much more wisely and include the public in a meaningful manner.

G. Do not succumb to easy myths promulgated by education reform and paid lobbyists for it. School choice is not free; the SRA can be amended; and parents who are not paid to appear before you themselves pay dearly to do so, whether with paid child care; time off from work; time commuting; etc. The other week, a council staffer blithely noted that the people who “scream” the loudest in the Wilson Bldg. get what they want. Ask how parents—many of whom cannot even make it to the Wilson Bldg. once a year—are to advocate effectively if loud “screaming” is required.

[2].. The whole idea behind American public education is that everyone can learn AND has the right to an education in a local school that is the responsibility of their jurisdiction with public oversight. This does not mean that everyone who is learning will have high test scores. We have equated high test scores with learning—and they are two very different things. Many good people in DC have worked for decades to establish rigor in our schools as well as pathways for students who will not go to college. Their work must be used as the basis for more equitable education policy in DC. If it had, for instance, we might still have Chamberlain as a vocational school—something we need now.

[3]. As DC’s ombudsman for education has testified frequently, privately run charter schools cannot guarantee the same education rights that DCPS schools can. This doesn’t make charter schools inferior—it simply makes them different. But when public policy is based on equating charter and DCPS schools, kids’ rights hang in the balance.

[4]. Another example is more recent yet: the charter board vote on 3/12/18 to revoke the charter of Washington Mathematics Science and Technology high school. The reason given for that “emergency” action was that the school has a precarious financial position, with no line of credit and no way to pay staff before the end of the school year. Yet, this situation is hardly new. The charter board’s most recent Financial Audit Review (FAR, released in July 2017) showed that the school had a similar revenue shortfall in 2014—with no apparent notice to the public (at least, I couldn’t find any—there is no way to track any “notice of concern” that the charter board might have issued for this purpose). Moreover, that recent FAR showed no fiscal concern with the school—even though the school’s debt ratio was at or near 1 in the last several fiscal years, indicating a substantial overleveraging that the public might have benefitted from oversight of and knowledge about. Finally, the most recent FAR showed five charter schools with even less cash on hand than Washington Mathematics Science and Technology. All of this suggests that the oversight provided on only one aspect of our charter schools—financial stability–falls very short of serving public interest, whether in public money wisely accounted for or enabling parents to choose stable schools.

[5]. The recent recommendations of the cross-sector task force highlight the desire to put opening, closing, and siting decisions in the hands of a few public actors making decisions in private, without involving the public in substantial and meaningful ways. Although this is very antidemocratic, it is hardly new in DC. The offer sometime this winter of Kenilworth Elementary, a closed DCPS school, to a charter operator without anyone in the public knowing is one example. Another happened at the end of 2017, when the mayor put forth legislation to issue more than $200 million in revenue bonds on behalf of KIPP DC—more than any charter school had ever benefitted from before in DC. Although the bonds were, by KIPP DC’s own statements, for the creation of new schools in Ward 7, no one there had been told about the bonds. Ward 7 residents went to the council and mayor to demand that the bonds not be offered—at the same time that KIPP DC reps showed up to demand the bonds be offered. These episodes are deeply antidemocratic and disrespectful of the whole idea of public education. Whose interests are being thusly served? See here: https://educationdc.net/2017/11/29/so-while-apparently-not-worrying-about-ballou-our-mayor-requested-230-million-in-dc-bonds-for-kipp-dc/

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Suzanne Wells Testimony – Public Oversight Roundtable on the Future of School Reform – March 19, 2018

Thank you Councilmember Grosso for holding this important public oversight roundtable on the future of school reform in the District of Columbia.  My name is Suzanne Wells, and I am the founder of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization.

It is critically important for our city to take an honest look at where we are after twenty years of school reform.  Yet, Mayor Bowser’s words about school reform in her State of the District speech last Thursday make me wonder if the city will be able to take that honest look.

The Mayor said “There have been some bumps in the road…some pretty significant bumps.”  I’m not sure the Mayor’s assessment of the state of our schools aligns with the assessment many of us who are testifying today would make.  While she wasn’t specific as to what those bumps were, I assume she was referring to the graduation scandal uncovered at Ballou, the enrollment fraud issues at Duke Ellington, and the resignation of both Deputy Mayor for Education Niles and Chancellor Wilson for not following the lottery rules.

While the Mayor sees these things as “bumps,” that doesn’t seem to show an understanding for some of the serious structural problems that have come about over the last twenty years of school reform in DC.

Before I share my concerns, I want to be clear in saying I think the city has come a long way in improving the public schools.  When my son started at DCPS in 1998, the schools were closed for the first three weeks because of a lawsuit brought about by Parents United over fire code violations in the schools.  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.  We definitely don’t want to take any steps back on these and other improvements made to the school system.

But many serious problems persist, and we are not meeting student’s needs because of them.  We have:

  • a continuing achievement gap between white and African American students;
  • excessively high turnover rates among both our principals and teachers;
  • our city leaders speaking only about the benefits of school choice (which perhaps, more accurately, should be referred to as “school chance”), and not acknowledging the very real downsides that come with school choice;
  • not invested equitably in our schools, and have not adequately supported many by-right schools so they are viable choices for families;
  • not done enough to create a supportive, collaborative environment for our teachers, but instead demoralize them, and hold them accountable for test score results that are sometimes out of their control;
  • an independent authority, the Public Charter School Board, that refuses to plan collaboratively with DCPS on the opening and siting of new schools;
  • over 21,000 excess seats across both the DCPS and charter schools while the PCSB continues to approve both new schools and enrollment increases for existing schools; and
  • no independent oversight body that should have spotted a problem like the graduation scandal before a reporter spotted the problem.

 

I would highly recommend our education leaders read the book Improbable Scholars by David Kirp.  This book studies what happened in Union City, New Jersey over the last twenty years.  Union City is a poor, densely-populated community composed mainly of Latino immigrants, that is four miles from Manhattan.  When the Union City Public School system was threatened with takeover by the State of New Jersey twenty years ago because of poor performance, the city didn’t look to education reform gimmicks to turn things around.  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 relied on obvious, tried and true actions, hard and steady work.  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.  Their superintendents have all risen up through the Union City Public School system. Today Union City students’ scores on state achievement tests approximate their suburban peers.  Union City has defied the odds, and is a poster child for strong urban education.

I have testified many times before this committee on cross-sector issues.  There is not time in five minutes to thoughtfully discuss ways to improve our public education system in DC.  I hope the Committee will set up an inclusive process where input from independent analyses, involved stakeholders and educators will play a role in shaping the future direction of public education in DC.  Everything should be on the table including mayoral control, adding more democracy back into our public school system, the independent authority of the Public Charter School Board, a moratorium on the opening of new charter schools and the expansion of existing charter schools, how best to close the achievement gap, and determining how to structure an independent way to analyze data generated by both DCPS and the independent public charter schools.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify on this important issue of future school reform.

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Suzanne Wells Testimony – DCPS Chancellor Hearing – December 8, 2016

DC City Council Committee on Education Public Hearing

Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools Antwan Wilson

Confirmation Resolution of 2016

December 8, 2016

Suzanne Wells

Eliot-Hine Middle School Parent

Founder, Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO)

Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing on the confirmation of Antwan Wilson as the next Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). 

On August 11, 2016, the Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities sent a letter to Mayor Bowser identifying qualities the public school education advocacy groups felt were appropriate for the next Chancellor.  These qualities included:

  • Experience as a professional educator and administrator;
  • Tenacity in advocating for current and former DCPS families;
  • Commitment to healthy and productive relationships with principals, teachers, communities, parents and students;
  • Management skills encompassing core school business functions; and
  • Demonstrated support for a well-rounded education for every student.

Since Mayor Bowser announced the selection of Mr. Wilson on November 22, 2016, I have had the chance to read newspaper articles about his tenure in Oakland, attend a meet and greet with him, and speak to a parent from Oakland.  What I have learned is that Mr. Wilson is in fact a career educator who has experience working in and leading a large public school system.  He has experience bringing about positive change in low-performing schools, and seems genuinely committed to meeting the educational needs of all students and ensuring they get a well-rounded education.

Areas where I believe the Education Committee should take a close look at Mr. Wilson are his 1) tenacity in becoming an advocate for DCPS and 2) commitment to healthy and productive relationships with principals and teachers.

In DC, where we have a strong and robust public charter school sector, and where choice is strongly promoted through efforts like My School DC, it is absolutely imperative that the next Chancellor be a tenacious advocate for our city-run public schools.  At your roundtable last week, Cathy Reilly testified that Mr. Wilson should be held accountable for increasing the enrollment of the students in DCPS and she suggested a modest and achievable growth rate of 3% a year.  I believe this is a very sound recommendation that absolutely should be included in Mr. Wilson’s contract.  If he is true to his word about lifting up low-performing schools, he should be successful in attracting families to their neighborhood schools.  If he is true to his word about meeting the educational needs of all students, he will keep families committed to DCPS.  Increasing enrollment in DCPS will be one of the surest benchmarks  Mayor Bowser and the Education Committee will have to evaluate whether Mr. Wilson is successfully performing his responsibilities.

Many have read the March 4, 2016, article about Mr. Wilson’s efforts to bring closer coordination between the Oakland charter schools and the district run public schools.  Some of the things Mr. Wilson tried to achieve in Oakland, e.g., a common enrollment system, are already in place in DC.  Mr. Wilson appears to want to level the playing field between charter schools and district-run schools by promoting the same criteria for academics, discipline and enrollment.  In doing this, we should hope Mr. Wilson will bring insights that will encourage comprehensive planning between the Public Charter School Board and DCPS before new schools are opened or schools are closed.  I hope he will be successful in working with the charter school community to address public charter school practices that work to the detriment of DCPS — such as starting middle school at 5th grade instead of 6th grade, counseling low-performing students to leave individual charter schools (to be accepted back to a DCPS school) before testing begins, and suspending low-performing or difficult students without working to address their individual needs.

In closing, I hope Mr. Wilson has learned from his experience in working with parents and communities in both in Denver and Oakland that while we may not always agree with each other, it is important to invest the time to listen to each other and sincerely seek to understand other’s perspectives.  Parents and communities can bring enormous support to Mr. Wilson if he works with them as partners, and not as adversaries, such that the changes he may want to bring about can be fine-tuned to address genuine concerns.

If confirmed, I wish Mr. Wilson the best of luck in his new endeavor, and I personally look forward to working with him as a parent of a DCPS student.

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Max Kieba Testimony – DCPS Chancellor Hearing – December 8, 2016

Testimony by Max Kieba, Maury parent

DC Council Committee on Education Hearing: PR21-1040 – Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools Antwan Wilson Confirmation Resolution of 2016

December 8, 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the proposed confirmation of Antwan Wilson as Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.  My name is Max Kieba: I’m a parent at Maury Elementary, serve as the School Improvement Team (SIT) Co-Coordinator for our upcoming renovation project and one of Maury’s representatives in the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO).

I wasn’t directly part of the selection process other than through CHPSPO we did provide some input on what we hope to see in the new chancellor.   While we’re collectively still getting to know each other better and look forward to learning more from him today, many aspects of his background and skill sets appear to address many of traits we asked for in a new chancellor and areas in which we can continue to improve… communication, helping to address the achievement gap, and equity for high quality education for all students.

We look forward to working with him with an open mind and hope he will do the same in working with us.   We also want to make sure he’s aware that while he is coming into a system that has improved in many ways, it also has room for improvement elsewhere.     Among some areas of improvement I’d like to highlight and which we’d like to better understand his approach and any thoughts he may have based on his introduction to the district and DCPS so far:

Improving Trust within the System

We are all part of the system, whether it’s DCPS front office, the schools, families or other agencies/stakeholders that may interact with one another.  DCPS is a key interface for so many processes, but there are unfortunately a lot of apparent trust issues at play that seems to go both ways… there is a lack of trust families have with DCPS, and apparent lack of trust DCPS has with its schools and families.  Many of these issues involve communication and effective community engagement, but at a high level the general perception is DCPS seems to believe it knows what’s best for the schools, makes decisions with little to no true engagement and the schools and families should just fall in line with decisions that are made.    It’s difficult for schools and families to trust DCPS if DCPS doesn’t trust its schools and families in the communication and engagement process.

Communication and Effective Community Engagement

We continue to have issues with open communication and truly effective and robust community engagement.   Most of my experience has been with the modernization/SIT process, but it seems to manifest itself in other processes as well.  While this can’t all be put on the chancellor position, there appears to continue to be a less than healthy culture at DCPS with respect to communication and engagement within and across certain offices (the silo effect), with other key agencies like DGS and externally with schools and their families.    Information is rarely shared in a timely fashion, or when information is pushed out it comes with little to no raw data with it or substantive rationale for the decisions.  In most cases, schools and families are then asked to provide quick feedback based on limited information because we don’t have time to discuss in detail.  When questions are asked in an attempt to have a constructive dialogue, the answer is usually they’ll get back to us (rarely do they in a timely fashion) or it involves another office we need to contact.  When we contact that office, no replies and the cycle repeats itself.    When we ask for public meetings to discuss further, little to no action is taken or schools have to take it upon ourselves to share information publicly or engage in discussions with others, again though with more questions than answers on what DCPS is thinking.  When someone from DCPS does attend a meeting, it’s usually not the people with decision making authority and the cycle continues.   We want to do what we can to be a team player, follow the process and have DCPS take the lead, but they sure make it tough. 

Continuing to support and invest in our middle schools

DCPS needs to continue to support, invest and help improve our middle schools.  DC enrollment is increasing and the families that are coming into the system are generally more affluent, have more education (and are more white) than the average DCPS student.  Those families are demanding high quality education for their children, yes, but they understand the importance of building a system that provides equality of opportunity (and quality learning outcomes) to all students.  That demand for increased quality can benefit everyone if DCPS can appropriately channel that demand/enthusiasm. The new chancellor should build on this momentum and work with families to keep them in the system (and keep them from moving to the suburbs).  Working with those families means being more transparent on decision-making and critically, moving very quickly to improve middle schools (so those families will stay). Mayor Bowser’s promise of “Deal for everyone” does not, we presume, mean that everyone has to enroll at Deal. The Chancellor should immediately act to make DCPS middle schools competitive with charters from an academic perspective.  Many of these “new” families were lured into DCPS by free early childhood education.  DCPS will keep them if they step up their game in middle school, but it needs to happen quickly.

Middle school decisions should all happen at the same time

The new chancellor should work together with the DC Public Charter School Board to find ways how we can make the decision processes for families more fair and equitable.  One key area is helping to encourage all charters to start their entry grade in grade 6, similar to DCPS middle schools, instead of grade 5.  To be clear, we feel public charters and DCPS do have a place together in the overall education system and there are many reasons families may choose a public charter over DCPS middle school.    However, we are losing far too many families in our school and DCPS in the 5th (and sometimes earlier grades) based often on the fear that if they don’t make a move then, they may have no shot.    In the process of making those early decisions, we also suffer with issues in testing results and the overall achievement gap especially when the better performing students are often the ones leaving the DCPS system earlier.   

Improve on equity

DCPS did not go far enough in solving the problem of using the education system to redistribute how students get assigned to schools. For more affluent/high demand schools, DCPS should introduce a percentage of low-income lottery spots.  With the boundary redrawing, we’ve essentially locked in the tight relationship between income and school quality/outcomes. Schools need to be sized to accommodate both their in-bounds population as well as sub group (10%-20% of total?) of income-based out of bounds lottery winners.   We need to honor the right to attend your neighborhood school, but also recognize the need that building a highly educated society requires a diversity of experiences and background all mixed together.  There aren’t very many US cities that have done a good job with this, but surely we can improve upon the existing model by giving more of an eye to equity.  This is a challenge at Maury with its already being overcapacity and challenges in right-sizing the renovation/addition given our tight footprint, but there are ways to do it right and we embrace diversity. 

School Nurse reduction/reallocation plan

We thank Council for helping to influence in a delay in the decision surrounding resource allocation of school nurses.  We continue to be concerned about the potential for a reduction.  We’ve had multiple 911 calls, broken wrists, asthma issues, etc. etc.  It would be great to make it a priority to prevent cutting our full time nurse.  Currently the issue may be on hold but there is a concern it may be sneaked through when no one is looking (again, the trust issue).  It’s fascinating to see the number of students that have health issues that will fall through the cracks if a nurse is not here.  The solution is usually to rely on “med givers” which are four paras that get pulled out of a classroom to attend the students.  The teachers in pre k 3 and 4 cannot be alone with their students and it has caused other unsafe scenarios when it happens in today’s world.    We need more hours not less.  Or if this truly may be the best approach for multiple reasons, we at least ask for more public dialogue. 

Status

Jablow testimony, DME Budget Hearing 4/13/16

I am Valerie Jablow, testifying about the ineffective public education stewardship of the DME’s office that I have experienced as a Ward 6 public school parent. This lack of effectiveness comes at the expense of by right schools and their students, who are the majority of children in DC.

 

Here are some examples:

 

Renovation of DCPS’s Eliot-Hine Middle School has been delayed again, despite mold, rodents, and persistent HVAC issues. Since Eliot was built 85 years ago, its upkeep and improvement have been minimal[1]—as has city investment in most other Ward 6, by right school facilities[2].

 

In the meantime, with charter middle schools starting in 5th grade and actively marketing themselves to Ward 6 by right elementaries,[3] Eliot-Hine’s feeder system has been decimated, and it has lost enrollment for years running.

 

The DME’s office has not addressed these crises.

 

In 2014, then-DME Abigail Smith offered a nearby closed school to charters, presenting data showing hundreds of empty seats at DCPS schools around and including Eliot-Hine.[4] When asked why create another public school in an area where her own data showed a glut of seats, the DME had no answer.

 

Then, during her performance oversight hearing last month, the current DME noted how the city created the misalignment of middle school grades between charters and DCPS[5]—leading to the depopulation of many DCPS elementary and middle schools. The DME testified that she has no idea how to solve this problem.

 

Another example:

 

In March, the DME rolled out data on programmatic capacities of public schools.[6] Charter schools estimated their own capacities, according to current and future uses, curricula, and staffing. Capacities of DCPS schools were estimated by DGS mainly according to square footage.

 

My daughter’s DCPS school, Watkins Elementary, as a result appears to be slightly underenrolled even though it has been fully enrolled—and not meeting ed specs–for decades.

 

And yet, on the basis of this data, the DME analyzed DCPS school utilizations and outlined plans for schools thusly considered underenrolled.[7]

 

But the DME did not outline charter school utilizations–not even for the 44 charters currently in former DCPS spaces.[8] Nor did the DME’s data account for the high closure rate of charter schools,[9] despite both pieces of information being vital to any comprehensive public education planning in DC.[10]

 

The mayor and her deputy supposedly oversee all public education in DC. The buck stops with them for misalignment of middle school grades; poor conditions at schools like Eliot-Hine; and underenrolled schools.

 

And the buck stops with them for equitable planning that would prevent these problems in the first place. Saying “I don’t know how”; pretending no one has oversight of charter schools or enrollment; or shifting the burden to a temporary, volunteer group (the cross sector task force) are excuses that hurt kids.

 

Here is how things could be better—tomorrow, if you and the mayor wanted:

 

–All charter and DCPS middle school grades aligned starting SY17.

–No school created or closed before the poor conditions at Eliot-Hine and other unrenovated schools are completely remedied.

–No school created until empty seats at existing schools are filled.

–School capacities and uses equitably analyzed across sectors—and, until they are, no school openings, closures, or new uses.

 

Our kids deserve education leaders who work for all DC public education students. Thank you.

—————-

Footnotes

[1] See http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/30291/eliot-hine-a-dc-middle-school-is-falling-apart/ and DGS data used to prioritize FY16 capital spending.

 

[2] In a March 2016 presentation, the 21st Century School Fund presented data on DCPS capital expenditures from 1998 through 2015 by ward. Expenditures for Ward 6 were the lowest in the city, both as measured in costs per square foot as well as per attending student:

 

Ward 1: $44,076/student; $169/sf

Ward 2: $48,038/student; $214/sf

Ward 3: $54,373/student; $323/sf

Ward 4: $36,078/student; $149/sf

Ward 5: $59,244/student; $254/sf

Ward 6: $29,426/student; $126/sf

Ward 7: $33,362/student; $165/sf

Ward 8: $44,541/student; $148/sf

[3] This is obvious to anyone who lives on Capitol Hill and has children in its public schools, but it was recently documented in a story on March 2, 2016 on WAMU (see http://wamu.org/news/16/03/02/5th_grade_dropoff) and also on the blog educationdc.net (https://educationdc.net/2015/09/08/where-have-all-the-4th-graders-gone/).

[4] This was the offer of the closed DCPS elementary Gibbs. Besides the glut of seats, the community around Gibbs objected to its reopening as a school and the process by which that was undertaken. See http://anc6a.org/wp-content/uploads/GibbsProcessConcernsDGS.pdf

 

[5] This was on March 2, 2016, at the performance oversight hearing before the council’s education committee. The exchange on the DME’s recognition of misalignment of middle school grades between charters and DCPS began at the 4:17 mark. At 4:21, Charles Allen asked, “Is this something on the table for the cross sector task force?” The DME responded that the task force would be “truly collaborative,” but warned that “decision rights” are not on the table and she would not enact a “fiat.” She then stated, “I don’t know how we are going to solve it.” The charter school board, she noted, would have to choose to have schools to start at certain grades—and then said that it is not in her power to make them do that. See here: https://educationdc.net/2016/03/24/performance-oversight-tidbits-deputy-mayor-for-education/

[6] Some of this data was used for facts sheets for the cross sector task force, but most appears to have been part of the master facilities plan supplement.

[7] See page 6ff of the MFP supplement, available here: http://dme.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dme/publication/attachments/SY15%20MFP%20Annual%20Supplement3%207%2016.pdf

[8] It is not clear if the city still has the public information about square footage and programmatic capacities for these buildings—but it should, given that many are still owned by the city and leased.

[9] Depending on how one calculates this, the charter closure rate goes from a low of 33% to a high of 40%. The NRC report on mayoral control of schools (http://sites.nationalacademies.org/cs/groups/dbassesite/documents/webpage/dbasse_165783.pdf) noted that 102 charters have been granted in DC since 1996, with 38 since closed and 8 never opened, making for a charter closure rate approaching 40%. A report from the Progressive Policy Institute (http://www.progressivepolicy.org/slider/tale-of-two-systems-education-reform-in-washington-d-c/) notes that a third of all charters have closed between 1998 and 2015, making a closure rate of 33%. See https://educationdc.net/2015/10/07/predicting-the-education-future-in-dc/

 

Adding in DCPS closures makes the school closure rates even more stark. Using 21st Century School Fund data, I counted all DCPS schools closed since 1996, when charters started here. I got 65 schools closed. If you add to this the NRC number of closed charter schools since 1996, you get a total of 103 public schools closed (65 + 38) since 1996, for a closure rate of 51 public schools per decade–or 5 entire public schools closed every year on average in the last 20 years.

 

That is a huge number to sustain for both communities and resources in our city. Add to that the fact that the head of MySchoolDC, the DC public school lottery, testified in March before the council that the most important factor for parents choosing schools is proximity to their home.

 

Our high rates of school closures simply prevent parents from enacting school choice, all the while decimating communities that depend on those schools.

 

[10] Let us not forget another piece vital to education planning: the growth of the student population and the growth of the number of schools. In DC, we do the latter far more than the former. In 1999-2000, DC had 185 public schools serving 74,800 students. In 2014-15, DC had 223 public schools serving 85,400 students (data from the 21st Century School Fund).

 

Thus, over a decade and a half, with a gain of 10,600 public school students (14% growth), we have 38 more public schools (20% growth). Each school created requires infrastructure and staffing, raising costs overall. The mismeasure between those numbers adds to those costs.

 

And adding to all those costs is the high rate of school closures, as detailed in footnote 9 above.

 

Simply put, if we want to plan well for our public school students and save money while doing so, we need to stop creating and closing so many schools.

 

I have found nothing among the materials the DME cites or creates that mentions this.