So, While the Cross Sector Task Force Ponders Creating By Right Charter Schools . . .

the rest of us in DC are left to ponder the many actual–and urgent–cross sector issues, such as

Misleading (and noncompliant) data for public school capacity and utilizations;

–The misalignment between 5th and 6th grades in charter and DCPS middle schools such that enrollment is decimated in DCPS elementaries at 5th grade;

–Schools in disrepair and not having work done anytime soon (see this list of recent open work orders for just Ward 6 DCPS schools)–and yet having to market themselves actively to maintain enrollment (and thus their budgets and modernization priority);

–Millions of education dollars wasted or unaccounted for: i.e., more than half of the $35 million allocated in FY16 for at risk students in DC charter schools; $20 million for DCPS’s student tracking system that cost a fraction of that; Ellington’s ballooning renovation budget that ensures other schools are ignored; and DCPS food services costing more than they should;

–No accounting (or even discussion) of the cost of school closures: Since 1996, when charter schools started in DC, 65 DCPS and 38 charter schools have closed, an average of 5 DC public schools closed per year for 20 years running;

–No accounting (or even discussion) of the uncoordinated growth of schools: In 1999, DC had 185 public schools serving 74,800 students, and in 2014 had 223 public schools serving 85,400 students, a growth rate in 15 years of 20% for the number of schools and only 14% for the number of students–with some new schools placed adjacent to existing ones serving the same populations. (Data from the NRC report and the 21st Century Schools Fund.);

–The rationing of resources (school nurses, anyone?) to accommodate that longstanding 6% mismatch between growth in the number of schools versus number of students–all the while many existing schools have excess seats as new schools are created every year without a commensurate growth in the population;

–The fallacy that test scores mean anything beyond each individual student’s performance, even as our public schools are promoted by those very scores (and when the most commonly reported math scores in our middle schools are for different tests at the same grade combined as one score);

–The ongoing (and persistent) high attrition rates at both charter and DCPS schools; and

–No clear explanation for, or understanding of, mobility rates, despite the cross sector task force devoting several meetings this summer to student mobility–and despite evidence that such mobility harms our city’s most vulnerable students.

And yet, despite these urgent issues that affect every single public school in DC, the cross sector task force at its next meeting this coming Tuesday October 25 (6 pm, 2235 Shannon Place SE) will be again discussing–wait for it–making charter schools by right, prior to rolling this proposal out to the community sometime this fall.

(Hmm, wonder how that works? Oh, that’s how.)

Help DC’s Most Vulnerable Students on October 27

This coming Thursday October 27, at 10 am at the Wilson Building, the education committee of the DC city council will hold a hearing on the use and allocation of at risk funds in public schools. You can sign up to testify here before 5 pm on Tuesday October 25–or by calling 202-724-8061. (Written testimony can be submitted to Committee on Education, DC Council, Suite 116, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004.)

That same day (but an hour later, at 11 am), the council’s health and human services committee will hold a hearing on extending benefits under the welfare-to work program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Sign-up is here (or by contacting Malcolm Cameron, Legislative Analyst, 202-741-0909 or via e-mail at

These hearings address perhaps the most urgent issue in public education in DC: the deep poverty of many DC public school students and its many ill effects.

TANF benefits for DC’s neediest families have been slated to increase–but absent a plan to extend the time limits on those benefits, the families of about 13,000 DC kids will reach their TANF limits next year. That means no fiscal recourse–and thousands of kids stressed and even traumatized as a result.

According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI), a working group convened by the mayor will shortly recommend that the TANF time limits be abolished. But it remains to be seen how that recommendation will be translated into policy.

The creation of at risk funding in DC’s public schools was one way to address some of the difficulties facing DC’s poorest students. In 2013, this funding modified the uniform per student funding formula, specifically providing more funds for so-called at risk students: homeless; in foster care; high school students at least one year older than expected age for grade level; or those qualifying for TANF or SNAP funds.

But the use–and abuse–of these at risk funds is long overdue for public sunshine.

The DCFPI recently wrote a blog piece about a study on DCPS use of at risk funds. It found that almost half the time, DCPS used those at risk monies for things it should have been funding otherwise–a violation of the law that created at risk funding.

What that otherwise fabulous study neglected to outline was how the other 44% of at risk funds were spent in FY16–amounting to a cool $35 million.

That is because there is no good accounting for that $35 million: it went to charter schools, which were not entirely responsive on their use of those funds.

Indeed, only 49% of the charter schools surveyed by the charter board responded in any way–even though all DC public schools are obliged to report on their use of these funds.

(Not unrelated: the group at OSSE that sets policy regarding the uniform per student funding formula is weighted toward charter schools and interests.)

One can hope these October 27 hearings will cast disinfecting sunshine in all quarters and change the landscape for the better for DC’s most vulnerable students.

October 22: Parent and Family Engagement

Tomorrow, Saturday October 22, DC’s office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) is holding a parent and family engagement summit. It starts at 9 am and will be held at the DC convention center (801 Mt Vernon Place NW). Registration starts and 8:30 am–and breakfast and lunch will be provided.

More information is here and here.

The idea behind the summit, in its third year, is to inform parents and other education stakeholders about programs and resources regarding DC public schools, including after school programs, the state education plan (which is nice to know exists), and ESSA.

School Nurse Petition and Hearing

The impending changes to DC’s public school nurse staffing have prompted civic action:

–The Washington Teachers’ Union along with the DC Nurses Association is circulating a petition to Mayor Bowser, demanding that each DC public school have a full-time nurse. The petition has nearly 600 signatures already–you can add yours here.

–The city council will be holding a hearing on school nurses next week, on Tuesday October 25 at 2:30 pm in the Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW). Sign-up is here. If you wish to testify in person, be sure to sign up before Monday October 24. Otherwise, you can submit written testimony to Jess Giles, Legislative Analyst, at

It is not clear what the cost of this new staffing model is compared to that of the old model–but budgetary concerns have been a longstanding issue. Current law requires that a nurse is in each DC public school at least 20 hours a week. In recent years, however, even that standard has been occasionally hard to meet, as the contract held by the Department of Health for school nurses was not updated for years running, while more and more schools were created that needed nurses.

In 1999-2000, for instance, DC had 185 public schools serving 74,800 students. In 2014-15, DC had 223 public schools serving 85,400 students (data is from the 21st Century School Fund).

Thus, over a decade and a half, with a gain of 10,600 public school students (14% growth), DC had 38 more public schools (20% growth). During most of that time, the school nurse contract was not updated, and some schools with full-time nurses lost them.

The DC Department of Health, which is working on the new nurse staffing, promises to have a preliminary staffing list out in November.

More information on the nurse staffing changes is available here and here.

Why Education Is Important


This is what is left of my teenage son’s bike helmet after he was struck by a car while biking two weeks ago.

He went back to his DCPS high school this week, head and body intact–unlike his helmet, which most likely saved his life because he was wearing it.

In DC, we talk a lot about test scores as measures of public education.

But I think this helmet is much more useful in that regard than any test score.

After all, my son’s DC public school teachers and parents taught him to always wear a bike helmet while biking. His DC public school teachers and parents taught him the rules of the road. And his DC public school teachers and parents taught him how to read maps, so he could explore our urban turf on foot, bus, train, and bike.

Education is important–we need to treat it that way, especially with DC’s most vulnerable kids.

Cross Sector Task Force Call-In on Enrollment Stability–Happening NOW

Sorry for the late notice, but I just found out that two meetings of the cross sector task force are happening via phone–and one is right now, 1 pm, TODAY Thursday October 13.

This is the phone number to call for both: 515-604-9350, Code 821824.

The second phone call will be Monday October 17, also at 1 pm.

Here is the official notice of both (the phone numbers were not posted as of yesterday, but are available here).

The phone calls relate to discussions concerning one of two policy recommendations coming out of the task force to ensure enrollment stability in public schools. The call today is on transfer and exit policies.

The call on Monday October 17 is on the policy recommendation for by right charters.

Here are the draft policy discussions/recommendations for transfer/exit policies and by right charter schools.

Getting Ahead of School Nurse Information (Which Appears to Be Behind the Curve)

Starting tomorrow evening, there will be two public information sessions concerning the change in the nurse contract (and thus nurse staffing) in all DC public schools:

October 5, Dunbar High School (101 N St. NW)

October 17, Thurgood Marshall Charter School (2427 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. SE).

Both forums are from 6 pm-8 pm.

DCPS has one website for general information on school nurses, which provides a link to another website with more specific information. The memo on the latter website is from either the DC department of health or OSSE (not clear which, but the same information is posted on the websites of both agencies–I found nothing on the subject this morning on the charter board website).

This memo says that questions about school nurses can be directed to the DC department of health via email ( or phone (202-442-9411).