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

EMpowered

Performance Oversight Hearing- PCSB and Deputy Mayor for Education

Testimony of Scott Goldstein, Executive Director EmpowerEd

February 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Testimony of Martin R. Welles, Esq. For

PERFORMANCE OVERSIGHT HEARING: 

COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION & COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE

Deputy Mayor for Education

District of Columbia Public Charter School Board

Friday, February 15, 2019

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

 

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

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

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

Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn:

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

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

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

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

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

Hardy Middle School – Science Teacher Position:

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

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

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

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CHARTER SCHOOL BOARD

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Martin R. Welles, Esq.

Parent of 3 Children at Hardy Middle School

Vice President, Hardy Middle School PTA

Member, Student Assignment and Boundary Committee

Member, Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Cabinet

Board of Directors, NSCP – Treasurer

Board of Directors, CHLL – Treasurer

 

LL.M. Georgetown University Law Center – Taxation

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

J.D. Loyola New Orleans – International Law

M.A. Loyola New Orleans – Communications

B.A. Viterbo University

A.A. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse

 

 

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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.