Performance Oversight Tidbits: Deputy Mayor for Education

Below are some (OK–many) items that particularly struck me from the recent performance oversight hearing for the deputy mayor for education (DME) before the education committee of the council on 3/2/16. I have boldfaced the themes, which relate to all public schools in DC.

The DME position, directly under the mayor, now has a bewildering array of agencies in its purview: DCPS, OSSE (state superintendent for education), DPR (parks and rec.), the charter school board (PCSB), our state college (UDC), our public libraries, and the elected state board of education.

Interestingly to me, many non-government witnesses testifying at this hearing were charter leaders, parents, or advocates. More than a year ago, the DME came to my daughter’s DCPS elementary to talk about its renovation. As a preface to her remarks, the DME noted that she has no oversight of charter schools.

So, as the old commercials used to say: Does she, or doesn’t she?

You be the judge.

Starting at 2:40: Lots of people testifying about the value of language immersion programs. DC immersion impresario Vanessa Bertelli says that said she has made a data request of MySchool DC (which the lottery board needs to approve), in order to see what correlation may exist between school choice and schools with language immersion. She also notes that she obtained test score data from OSSE on schools with dual language programs compared to those without them. She says the former show better proficiency in math and English across all testing grades. She then asks the DME to include programming in the scope of the cross sector task force.

3:20: Mixing metaphors, education committee chair David Grosso says language immersion programs need to “bubble up” from schools themselves and would support the DCPS chancellor if she should institute them in DCPS.

[Ed note: It appears Grosso is saying that if an educational program like language immersion is deemed to have benefits, it should be mandated for DCPS and optional for charters. Does this then mean charters are not equal to DCPS—except when it comes to money? This detail is vital to suss out, given that the DME herself is possibly mediating a settlement of that charter lawsuit, alleging inequity in per pupil funding. (She thus might want to take note of Scott Pearson’s statement at the charter board hearing the other day that “Not all of our public charter schools have libraries. Some do, and some choose not to and spend their resources elsewhere.” So, if a charter decides to use its money in ways that ensure its facility lacks what some might deem vital pieces of a child’s education (library, cafeteria, gym, windows), this is OK as long as it gets the same money per student?]

3:38: The DME says her district priority goals (which apparently have not yet been released) include making “public middle schools the premier choice for all students and families.”

[Ed note: Hmm–wonder if that would include not siting a new charter school with an identical program smack dab next to an already existing school?]

3:47: The DME talks about charter equity as one of the reasons she was selected as DME, and then enumerates what she means in terms of her job: payments to charters being equated with those for DCPS; financing for charter facilities; kids ride free; and “enhancing access and opportunity.”

[Ed note: Soo, the plot thickens: does she or doesn’t she have control of charter schools, if these things are what she does as DME?]

3:51: The DME talks about how great the kids ride free program as something only for charters.

[Ed note: Sigh. That’s just sad.]

3:54: Grosso asks about PARCC and says he doesn’t hear a lot of grumbling about it. DME agrees. Apparently neither regularly share meals, stories, homework, or anything else with DC public school kids, their parents, their teachers, or DC public school administrators.

3:55: Grosso gravely intones about the “value of the data” collected for our public schools.

4:05: Grosso asks the DME what she is doing to follow through with the independent assessment/evaluation of DC public education that the law governing mayoral control of the city’s public school demands. The DME respond that she has met with a group that also met with him. Apparently, they discussed pulling together a “day-long event” in hopes of creating a long-term body for school evaluation.

[Ed note: I think she’s referring to this. But who really knows?]

4:07: Grosso asks about contracting for this evaluation effort directly, and she says she’s talked with three different groups about this.

4:08: Grosso again asks who she has engaged in this effort. The DME responds that she’s “not there yet” for a contract. She speaks about engaging the community in ensuring education delivers what it needs to. She says she wants to make sure there is data available for the public to use. She then notes that she is working with OSSE for data. She touts the “fact sheets” released for use by the cross sector task force as a “symbol” of analysis to be shared with the broader community.

[Ed note: See here for more information about those “fact sheets.” Oh, did I forget to mention Grosso is running for re-election?]

4:10: Grosso notes that it is important to get into writing about what the DME can do about an independent evaluation—and who is tracking the promises that we have made: “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that we embrace it. Just focus on independent evaluations.”

4:17: Charles Allen pipes up about the drop from 4th to 5th grade from DCPS to charters (see more here and here) and asks if she is collecting data on that. The DME responds that OSSE tracks it, and it’s on line. The DME also notes that the cross sector task force will be promoting enrollment stability, but that “we created a system that does this.”

4:21: Allen asks how to align the current misalignment of middle school grades in charters (which start at 5th grade) and DCPS (which start at 6th), which exacerbates the 4th to 5th grade drop: “Is this something on the table for the cross sector task force?” The DME notes that the task force will be “truly collaborative,” but warns that “decision rights” are not on the table, so DCPS and charter school board make their own decisions. She will not enact a “fiat.” She then states, “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 it.

[Ed note: So “we created a system that does this,” but the DME has no idea how to solve the problem–nor apparently any desire to solve it. Good luck, cross sector task force.]

4:30: After some brief discussion of delays in school modernizations, Grosso steps back in with a cri de coeur, saying that he cannot hold the DME accountable if she just has another meeting about evaluating our schools: “I need a deeper dive on this.” He notes he wants a “strategic, deliberate approach” to elucidate “what are we looking to accomplish.” “I don’t like deputy mayors very much . . . I think they are a barrier to accountability.”

4:36 Grosso asks about the outcome of the cross sector task force and its 2-year deadline. He rattles off items he’s concerned with: preference; 5th grade/6th grade mismatch; student discipline. The DME responds that the five goals of the task force (available here) are policy related and the only ones the task force will address. She then notes that there are other task forces she handles (i.e., transportation, truancy) and that “every single thing the DME’s office does is cross sector,” except perhaps the capital projects. Grosso asks for this in writing: how those task forces/working groups are tackling the issues differently.

5:22: Grosso: “I actually believe there is little or no cooperation happening” between charters and DCPS: “These PARCC test scores are the same problems in both; the gaps are the same, the kids who are left behind are the same. How are you going to try to coordinate . . . how are you trying to solve that . . . [so that] when you have a shining example of a program that works, you can then” translate it/expand it elsewhere? He then asks the DME if she meets regularly with charter board head Scott Pearson and DCPS chancellor Kaya Henderson. The DME responds that they meet monthly with the head of OSSE. Grosso asks about creating an environment to broaden those meetings. They then have a cordial discussion about principals from charters meeting with DCPS principals to improve schools in both sectors.

[Ed note: Funny they didn’t mention what might improve both sectors immediately without one word uttered between principals: having uniform expulsion and suspension policies; having uniform requirements for facilities (oooh, maybe all schools could have libraries!); or just having uniform requirements for teacher training and certification.]

5:29: Grosso asks what they are doing with the lottery data and preference; notes they might be doing a working group discussion of preference: “This would help inform the conversation extensively.” The DME notes that the lottery board needs to take requests about how the data is used—and although she is a chair of the board, she cannot say how that data will be used one way or another.

5:31: Cat Peretti, head of MySchoolDC, which runs the lottery, says that each LEA has access to its own lottery data. She sends out “weekly demand” reports to each LEA. She references the MySchoolDC data page, for aggregated data that is available here.

5:33: Grosso pushes back, asking about using the lottery data for programming, location, and why parents choose certain schools. “It would be interesting to know what parents are thinking.”

5:34: Peretti notes “robust” feedback from parents participating in the lottery, using surveys and focus groups. She notes that the primary piece that parents value in every school is the school’s proximity to their home; programming is third or fourth in priority. She noted that there were 3000 survey respondents and focus groups in each ward, out of a total of about 20,000 lottery participants this year. Grosso asks if the information is public, but Peretti says it is not, but has been shared with the Urban Institute (see here). Grosso asks to see it, and she agrees. “I think it will help inform some discussion around this,” he says. He notes a coming “debate about preferences.”

[Ed note: Really? Should we expect a change in the lottery? The end of by right schools? So many mysteries, so little time.]

5:37: The DME notes that starting in SY17-18, there will be two audited enrollment counts that will be the basis of the funding for all schools, rather than DCPS projected and charter audited enrollments. The idea is that this will promote enrollment stability and encourage schools to keep students and take new students throughout the year. Grosso asks for a timeline.

5:42: Grosso asks about closed school buildings and their use for charter schools—and about the process used to make them available. The DME responds that legislation passed in fall 2014 guides her office and that they are in the process of creating a list 30 days after the hearing on available buildings. She notes that the annual supplement to the MFP, which gives a classification list of vacant DCPS properties, is available—and that 30 days later, excess ones would be identified.

[Ed note: The list of building capacities and enrollment is here. As with the fact sheets the DME made available for use by the cross sector task force, which are apparently identical, these capacity lists are not standard between sectors. Charter schools are allowed to individually determine their capacities, taking into account current and future uses. DCPS schools have their capacities determined by another city agency, DGS, which uses a formula that ignores how the schools are used and judges capacity on how they ideally could be used, based on a maximum capacity that, if realized in the case of my daughter’s elementary, would absolutely violate current ed specs (not to mention also likely violate fire codes and basic decency). The DME’s data also show DCPS utilization plans for schools that, by this calculation, are either over- or underenrolled. There are no utilization plans for charter schools, even though a significant portion are located in former DCPS buildings and other city-owned structures that charters lease from the city, thus making them every bit as much of a public resource as any currently occupied or empty DCPS school. The view from such a pitch lends credence to what the dean of Howard University’s education school called the purpose of education reform: land development. (See here for another take on the same field.) For my part, I am still waiting, almost two years now, to hear from the city about how DGS determined there were no city uses besides a charter for the closed DCPS Gibbs school, given the needs articulated by the community around it for things other than a school in that location. Gibbs re-opened this school year as a charter school.]

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