DC Charter Schools Have “High and Disproportionate Discipline Rates” That DC Agencies Need To Coordinate About Pronto

Oh, that’s not ME saying that!

It’s the report that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published last week, called “District of Columbia Charter Schools: Multi-Agency Plan Needed to Continue Progress Addressing High And Disproportionate Discipline Rates.”

(Didn’t see or hear much about this report? Hmm–but here’s something.)

From November 2015 through January 2017, the GAO looked at suspension and expulsion data for DC charter schools from 2011 through 2014, with additional data from SY 2015-16.

Here are some conclusions:

Of DC’s 105 charter schools in SY 2015-16, 31 schools had suspension rates between 10% and 20%; 11 schools had suspension rates between 20% and 30%; and 5 schools had suspension rates greater than 30%.

This means that during the last school year, 47 DC charter schools–or nearly half–had suspension rates greater than 10%. And 15% of charter schools that year (16 total) suspended more than a fifth of their students.

DC charter schools’ suspension rates are high (about double) compared to the national average for charter schools. Suspension and expulsion rates in DC charter schools disproportionately affect black children (80% of DC charters’ population, receiving 93% of suspensions and 92% of expulsions) and kids with disabilities.

All of this tracks along the (not quite as awful) performance of DCPS for suspensions, which was not examined.

The report concluded that the education agencies involved–the DC public charter school board, the office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE), and the deputy mayor for education (DME)–need to develop an immediate plan to address charter school discipline issues, along with better data gathering about suspensions by the charter board.

Ironically, the charter board, in a December letter to the GAO after viewing a draft of the report, argued that by not including SY 2015-16 data in the first draft, real progress in reducing suspensions and expulsions in DC charter schools was obscured. In this final report, the GAO acknowledged this, noting that its analyses were updated with that SY 2015-16 data.

It also noted that doing so “did not materially change” its conclusions.

But in letters to the GAO after reviewing the draft report, both OSSE and the charter board took exception to the report’s conclusion that they have no coordinated plan to deal with expulsions and suspensions in DC charter schools. Both agencies took pains to explain that their lack of coordination and/or data sometimes was nothing they could do anything about!

The charter board, for instance, cited parts of the School Reform Act (which established charter schools in DC in 1995) as providing “a strong legal bulwark against the District government, including the public charter school board, mandating school disciplinary processes.” And in its response letter, OSSE noted that current law “does not provide OSSE clear authority to regulate” DC charter schools.

The charter board went even farther in its response letter, noting that since the report was being given to Congress, the GAO’s critique of the charter board’s inactions ensures “it ignores the law and thus the intent of Congress.”

This will get interesting, for sure, depending on how that charter funding lawsuit is decided, which is expected soon.

(Maybe we DC citizens don’t have the right to exercise any oversight of our charter schools–only the right to pay for them, no questions asked?)

In the grotesque parade of ironies that this report represents (not reported locally; highly vulnerable kids affected; no DC agency seeming responsible or apparently too legally tied up to do anything), perhaps the most grotesque was its publication amid the mayor’s and DME’s two recent proposals to increase enrollment at DC charter schools.

To wit: at Education Week, our mayor (as head of all public schools in DC) announced a walkability preference for charter schools in the lottery along with releasing closed DCPS schools for charters. At the same time, the deputy mayor for education has been pursuing a mobility proposal with the cross sector task force that would not actually address student mobility (and all its damaging sequelae), but simply increase enrollment at charter schools, by spreading enrollment of highly mobile students, who now most often enroll in DCPS.

During her announcement of the charter walkability preference, the mayor and her deputy referenced many people’s desire to increase “access” to “high-quality” schools. There was no mention of how high that quality is when a school suspends a third of its students—nor any way to account for it in the walkability preference weight. Nor was there any mention of the harmful effects of high suspension rates, which the GAO report noted might result in, well, student mobility.

Sadly, the people making those policies–mobility and walkability–had access to this study. Indeed, they had provided a lot of the data for this study!

And, except for the charter board, they’re supposedly in charge of all DC public schools–not any one sector of which has a monopoly on high quality.

The GAO report also mentioned something completely omitted from the mobility and walkability proposals, which was that some DC charter schools send students home for a full day rather than formally suspending them, thus avoiding having higher reported suspension rates. Although this violates DC law, the report noted that neither the charter board nor OSSE tracks or really monitors such practices.

Ironically, the DME’s mobility proposal seeks to address that lack of data in part, by tracking students and keeping accurate records on their mobility. But by making charter schools simply another option for those mobile students, rather than getting to root causes to reduce their mobility in the first place, the policy proposal ignores cause and effect entirely, along with the responsible use of that data–something that this report makes clear cannot be ignored.

In the end, this GAO report is less about practices at individual charter schools (or our sad rates of expulsions and suspensions) and more about how lacking our city’s oversight is, as exercised by the charter board; OSSE; and the DME together. That even includes data itself: “We determined that the school year 2013-14 FRPL [free and reduced price lunch] data for DC were not sufficiently reliable for our purposes,” said the report. “These FRPL data differed dramatically from the school year 2011-12 data and when we asked officials from OSSE . . . to corroborate these data, they reported having no confidence in the data they had reported.”


Want To Hear About The Walkability Preference? Call At Noon, Tomorrow, Thursday February 9

Last week, the mayor and her deputy mayor for education, Jennifer Niles, proposed having a charter school lottery preference called the “walkability preference.” Elementary-age children who live farther than half a mile from their by right school, but within that distance to a charter school, would get preference for that charter school in the lottery, should the charter school choose to offer it.

Tomorrow, Thursday February 9, from 12-12:45 pm, you can hear the cross sector task force discuss this via a phone call–as many of the task force members (like the rest of us) first heard about the proposal last week when it was announced.

At noon, call 515-604-9300, then enter code 821824. [UPDATE: This number and code is different from what had been previously announced]

As many as 10,000 DC children would be covered by this proposal, which would affect enrollments at many DCPS schools and require a change in the school reform act. The proposal has yet to be made into a bill that the council can vote on–and before any vote, there will be a hearing.

Expect a lively conversation.

Shouting Into The Hurricane: DCPS Ed Specs Edition

For the last few weeks, DCPS has been slowly rolling out its new ed specs for public review to various ward education councils.

The public has until February 12 to provide feedback. Here is more information, and here is the feedback form to submit your thoughts.

These ed specs are not merely an updated guide based on sound ideas about design, planning, and architecture for the places where our children will spend most of their waking hours when not in our homes.

Rather, these ed specs are no less than a detailed articulation of the finest ideals of any public education system anywhere: Natural light; grand entrances; plenty of beautiful space and clean air for all children; acknowledgement of, and accommodation for, 21st century education tools; and the recognition by city and community leaders that our by right schools are treasured civic institutions because they fulfill the very American democratic guarantee of an equitable public education for everyone in every neighborhood.

In a world that seems suddenly turned against democratic goodness and equity, these ed specs present a school system that I and tens of thousands of other DC parents desperately want and need: beautiful and equitable schools, filled with light and idealism and learning, in every neighborhood.

If only the people in control of our public schools believed in any of it.

Right now, DCPS elementary school children do not have their own school to go to this week because it is being decontaminated after an infestation of pests, which made their way inside from an opening in one of the walls.

The school was renovated not long ago.

Right now, there is a DCPS middle school whose classically beautiful original plaster ornamentation in its auditorium is being destroyed by water incursion.

The school was renovated not long ago.

Right now, many DCPS schools remain on a waitlist for renovation with outdated equipment, spaces, and/or resources. And yet others have financial commitments for modernizations that do not match what is needed or desired for them.

Between the idealism these ed specs were created in and represent and the reality that is lived by tens of thousands of DCPS school children every day is a gulf, an ocean, of public disenfranchisement that existed well before the current presidential regime and leaders in Congress.

And none of this even touches the fact that almost half of our public school students are educated in charter schools that have NO standards for their buildings—as in, no requirement to have a minimum space for classrooms or light or even cherished educational resources like school libraries.

Since 2007, our city’s mayor has been in control of all public schools, both charter and DCPS.

And yet, these ed specs make clear that no one is really in control, because if they were, last week would never have happened.

To wit:

About the time that DCPS was deciding to close down Savoy Elementary for its infestation and plaster was crumbling onto the floor of Stuart-Hobson’s auditorium, the mayor announced a plan to increase “access” to “high-quality” DC public schools by having charter schools offer a neighborhood preference in the lottery. (Never mind that the task force the mayor and her deputy mayor set up to discuss just such things had rejected this policy—as had another task force in 2012.)

The mayor also announced giving away two closed DCPS school buildings to charter schools.

And the mayor announced the beginning of work on a new facilities master plan for DC public schools. That would be the same master plan that allows charter schools to self-assess their facility conditions and capacities—which does not comply with the law.

And, while all these announcements were made to highlight “Education Week,” no one from DCPS was present. Or even apparently informed ahead of time.

And no one mentioned that DC charter schools do not have a monopoly on “high-quality” public schools in the city. Nor that these ed specs govern the half of the city’s public schools (and half of its public school students) that would be adversely affected by every single one of those announcements.

And no one mentioned that the mayor and her deputy—who are supposedly in charge of all public schools–managed to falsely equate a lottery preference for schools that can guarantee only access with the guarantee of equitable public education for all.

What can you say to this?

Maybe just a question:

Were such proclamations enabled by the more than $200,000 that charter advocate group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) spent this past political cycle on DC politicians?

For instance, as reported by WAMU, up to 10,000 children could avail themselves of the new preference proposal. With annual public funding of more than $9000 per student and $3000 per student for their facilities costs, charter schools opting in could thus gain as much as $12 million annually. Provided the proposal passes the council, whose members have received DFER campaign donations, that’s potentially a very good return on a one-time investment of $200,000.

So, while our city’s education leaders remain unwilling to create, site, or close charter schools with any consideration for existing schools or communities, much less for the comfort of the children inside those buildings themselves—and while they held a 3-hour celebration on Friday evening for “building” the “collaboration” shown by these events of “Education Week—these ed specs have been floated to parents, community members, and school staff like spectral talismans of the better angels of our democracy and its public education system.

That is: A public education system is not about “access” for anyone.

It’s about the civic institution of by right schools and their guarantee of an equitable education for everyone everywhere.

Read it here.

And, while you’re at it, urge our mayor and deputy mayor to read it, too—as they seem to have utterly lost faith in our democracy and its public education system.

(Or maybe they’re just not in control of our public schools after all?)

Hearings–And More Hearings!

It’s almost spring–and whether you are waiting for daffodils to bloom or our DC bald eagles to lay an egg (or two!), there is always a city council education hearing to attend, listen to online, or testify at.

Sign up here to testify or call 202-724-8061 (be sure to do both at least TWO business days before the hearing in question).

Performance Oversight Hearings

Tuesday February 14, 11 am: OSSE (the state superintendent of education office, which oversees DCPS and all testing, including PARCC and ESSA standards–hint, hint)

Wednesday February 15, 10 am: Deputy mayor for education, state board of education

Thursday February 23, 10 am: DCPS (public witnesses only)

Tuesday February 28, 10 am: DC public charter school board; bullying prevention task force

Tuesday February 28, 11 am: Department of General Services (sign up via the Transportation and Environment Committee at abenjamin@dccouncil.us or by calling 202-724-8062)

Thursday March 2, 10 am: DCPS (government witnesses only)

Budget Hearings

Tuesday April 25, 10 am: Deputy mayor for education

Wednesday April 26, 11 am: OSSE

Thursday April 27, 10 am & 5 pm: DCPS (public witnesses only)

Wednesday May 3, 10 am: DCPS (government witnesses only)

Thursday May 4, 10 am: DC public charter school board; state board of education

Public Meetings and Hearings on ESSA

Starting next week, on February 7, our DC superintendent of education (OSSE) is holding public meetings around the city to get feedback on how to implement the federal law known as ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), which is to replace No Child Left Behind.

OSSE’s proposal is here, and the OSSE website contains more information on ESSA here.

Public meetings on ESSA:

Wards 1 and 2: February 7, 7 pm, Cardozo High School, 1200 Clifton St. NW

Ward 3: February 8, 7 pm, Wilson High School, 3950 Chesapeake St. NW

Ward 4: February 16, 6:30 pm, Barnard Elementary, 430 Decatur St. NW

Ward 5: February 22, 6:30 pm, Brookland Middle School, 1150 Michigan Ave. NE

Ward 6: February 21, 6 pm, Capitol Hill Montessori, 215 G St. NE

Ward 6: February 27, 6 pm, CHAW, 545 7th St. SE

Ward 7: February 23, 6 pm, Dept, of Employment Services, 4058 Minnesota Ave. NE

Ward 8: February 28, 6 pm, Anacostia Library, 1800 Good Hope Rd. SE


The DC state board of education, our only directly elected school oversight body in DC, will hold a hearing on ESSA on February 15Sign-up is by sending an email to shoe@dc.gov by close of business on February 13. (More information on the board and ESSA is here.)

The state board must vote on what OSSE puts forth as an ESSA proposal on March 22. It is unclear what will happen if the board should reject OSSE’s proposal–but if you can weigh in on this, please do so.

Background: OSSE has until September to get its recommendations to the federal government. But OSSE is trying to fast-track this process, hoping to end it by April, which would limit not only public input, but negate the chance for the new DCPS chancellor (who literally started his job yesterday) to weigh in substantively.

In addition, despite public testimony against this, OSSE is currently using an 80% weight to test scores to judge elementary and middle schools, with a lower percentage for high schools–but without any accounting for growth at high schools. Thus, high schools with great growth and not great scores will suffer.

It doesn’t need to be this way.

Many public school advocates have proposed using the lowest weight allowable in ESSA for test scores–55%–and using other measures besides tests to judge schools, including proven school climate surveys.

But thus far, the state board has been getting plenty of phone calls and emails from charter school proponents in favor of the 80% test score weight–even when some charter advocates would prefer a lower weight.

This 80% weight is based on the DC public charter school board performance management framework (PMF), which is used to judge DC charter schools and, if test scores drop too low, close them. (The weight in the PMF is 70% for test scores.)

But when charter schools are closed on the basis of a neat and clean test score cut-off (and in DC, many have been), their students must go somewhere. That is where DCPS comes in. Simply put, DCPS is THE guarantor of public education in DC.

What this means on a practical level is not that DCPS struggles to take in students from closed charter schools or students encouraged to leave charter schools (although both may be a factor in school performance for some DCPS schools with high mobility).

Rather, because of its role as the by right school system in our city, DCPS is operating under fundamentally different rules than DC charter schools.

Thus, a high weight for test scores that may be neat and clean to judge charter school performance is inherently NOT going to be as neat or as clean for DCPS schools, which have different obligations and cannot close or retool their student bodies on the basis of a test score cut-off.

Indeed, as a civic institution, by right schools should never close profligately, because they are vital to every family in every neighborhood as the guarantors of the right to public education.

This does NOT mean that charter schools are not important to their families or to entire communities!

It does mean, however, that those schools are different from by right schools by their very nature. (Ironically, charter schools have been promoted on the basis of this difference—which makes forcing what is their testing standard on every public school in DC downright disturbing.)

DCPS School Libraries: The Continuing Saga of the Inequitable and Underfunded

[Ed. Note: The following is by DC public schools advocate Peter MacPherson]

What I write here appears to be a success story: right now, the District of Columbia Public Schools has a credentialed librarian in almost every school. The system as a whole has more books that meet national standards in terms of currency than at any time in the past half century. It is using a digital card catalog system more effectively than ever before.

Yet, on the whole, DCPS still has the most mediocre school library program in the Washington region. There are pockets of school library excellence, particularly in wards 3 and 6, and the situation has improved since 2012, when then-chancellor Kaya Henderson came perilously close to eliminating librarians in most DCPS facilities. Sustained and aggressive advocacy led by the Capitol Hill Public School Parents Organization (CHPSPO) in Ward 6 ultimately saved librarians in the system, led to the hiring of many more, and compelled the chancellor to create a task force to make recommendations on how to improve DCPS libraries. Advocacy also provided resources to some school libraries.

But the effort put forward by DCPS to build quality libraries in all schools has been extremely uneven and grossly underfunded. In the past five years, for instance, DCPS has never really embraced its libraries, despite overwhelming support for them. For me, the presence of great libraries in the schools has never been more crucial, extending far beyond their role in inculcating in students a love of reading. Quite simply, the library is where the world resides in a school. It is the repository of virtually every aspect of 5,000 years of recorded human history—and current theories about life in the mists of prehistory. Libraries are where students can find the light switch that can illuminate the pitch black room the world often seems.

This is why the efforts to improve DCPS libraries documented here show that continued public engagement on this issue remains crucial: DCPS is not going to provide quality school libraries on its own. They will have to be demanded of the school system.

The romance and power of school libraries has never been apparent during the school reform era in DC. Libraries need two key elements to succeed: books and librarians. At one time, the majority of DCPS campuses had little or none of either. While a DCPS school with enrollment of 300 students today gets one librarian, a high school of 1,800, like Wilson High, also gets money from DCPS for only one full-time librarian.

(To be sure, DCPS is hardly unique in its lack of support for libraries: no DC charter school is compelled to even have a school library—and some as a result do not.)

DCPS’s grudging support for its libraries has always been curious given a very simple maxim: public leaders are never punished by stakeholders for giving them what they want. DCPS’s ambivalence is curious also because school libraries can be an enormous boon to literacy-development efforts. For the entire education reform period, DCPS has struggled to bridge an enormous achievement gap existing between students from families of means and those without means. In the past 50 years there have been more than 60 studies showing that students attending schools with well-stocked libraries staffed by a credentialed librarian do consistently better academically and have higher standardized test scores. The benefit is even more pronounced for poor children, as Dr. Stephen Krashen, an emeritus professor of education at the University of Southern California, discovered in his research on the subject. (References are at the end.)

Despite clear public support and demonstrable benefit, DCPS libraries are making what at best can be called halting progress. A robust future for them is hardly guaranteed. DCPS library facilities collectively have a deficit of 350,000 volumes. That figure is derived by comparing what each school currently has in its collection with professional norms, developed by the American Association of School Librarians, that say each school library should have 20 volumes per student with an average publication date of no more than 10 years back.

But DCPS libraries remain weak where they have always been weak: in elementary schools with poor students and education campuses lacking parent organizations able to raise money. In spite of advocacy efforts over the past five years, the good libraries in DCPS elementary schools remain the achievement of parents who have raised money for books and other materials. The school system has left the status of the have-not libraries largely unchanged.

Materials I obtained through FOIA last summer make these divides especially clear: Raymond Education Campus has 6.7 books per student. Burroughs EC has around 8 books per student. Stanton Elementary in Ward 7 has 1.55 volumes per student, even after undergoing a $36 million renovation. The injury to students at education campuses with poor libraries is especially profound. These schools go from pre-K through 8th grade. A student who spends his entire primary and middle school years at an education campus will enter high school without ever having the widely known academic and developmental benefits of a quality library. Continue reading

Accelerating School Reform???

Not sure what announcements will be made this week other than city giving a long-term lease on the closed Keene Elementary School to DC Bilingual Public Charter School.  Must be why they chose this location for the event.





January 29, 2017


Susana Castillo (EOM) – (202) 727-5011; susana.castillo@dc.gov

Shayne Wells (DME) – (202) 215-8384; shayne.wells@dc.gov

Mayor Bowser to Kick Off Education Week, Announce Change to DC’s School Lottery System


(WASHINGTON, DC) – On Monday, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles will kick off Education Week in Washington, DC. The week will be marked by a series of events that highlight how the Bowser Administration is accelerating the pace of school reform in DC.

At Monday’s event, Mayor Bowser will announce a change to DC’s school lottery system for the 2018-2019 school year, as well as make a series of policy announcements.


Monday, January 30, at 10:30 a.m.


Mayor Muriel Bowser

Jennifer Niles, Deputy Mayor for Education

Scott Pearson, Executive Director of DC Public Charter School Board


DC Bilingual Public Charter School

33 Riggs Road, NE

*Closest Metro: Fort Totten Metro Station*

*Bus Lines: 60, 64, E4, K2, K6, R1, R2*