Survey On Student Mobility Proposal

As you may know, the cross sector task force has formulated a policy proposal to address student mobility (access the policy proposal here). The task force held several public meetings to get feedback. Total attendance was about 60 people.

Given that 60 people doesn’t exactly denote a popular landslide, you may want to weigh in–and now can do so by accessing the survey electronically here or by filling out a paper copy of the survey and sending it to the staff for the deputy mayor for education (email is collaboration@dc.gov).

Related: The 21st Century School Fund has formulated a response to the policy proposal, available here. There is also a useful document the task force used in its deliberations, with stats on which schools have the most mobile students, available here.

Below are my responses to the task force survey:

Which of the purposes and goals (slide 13 of the policy proposal) do you agree with? 

I agree with none of the goals and purposes. “More equitably” distributing students who transfer mid-year or are “hardship” cases (without definition of hardship and without being able to identify the issues behind the mid-year transfers) makes controlling students the goal–not serving them, identifying their needs, or better supporting the schools that take them in–no matter how “equitable” that distribution is. (Oh, and what does that “equitable” mean here anyway?) The idea that this would “improve the experience” of these students is not at all supported by anything. Simply put, without data on what schools handling those students do now; what they need; how they succeed (or not) with those students; and knowing who those students are and why they are transferring, you are simply making lots of assumptions. There is nothing wrong with assumptions on one level–but in this case, you are imposing a policy on which you have utterly no factual basis to show that it is either needed or effective. But the last goal–“provide students with more access to high-demand schools”–seems to be the driving force behind this proposal. But again, this is not about serving those students–because if it was, you would KNOW that those students want and need “more access” to schools. And you do not. So, the goal seems to be to increase enrollment at more schools than just the majority of the receiver schools for mid-year transfers. That means the primary goal here is to ensure a greater charter school enrollment—not helping kids.

Which of the purposes and goals (slide 13) do you disagree with?

Every single one. If the goal is to ensure those highly mobile kids are well served by our public schools, then you would be formulating a policy that is based on what those students need; what the schools that are currently serving them do well (or not); and ensuring that whatever resources ARE needed to handle these students are made available to those schools and staff. But at no point did anyone show or discuss such information–in fact, we were told repeatedly that no such information currently exists. So why isn’t supporting those schools right now the primary goal? It is a secondary one, at best, of this policy. The primary goal appears to be ensuring that those students do not walk down the street and go to their in bounds DCPS school to register as they do now–but rather go through My School DC and be “counseled” about their options–without any assurance that other schools will do as well or even better. Pardon me if this sounds to me like the stuff that anti-abortion advocates want with access to reproductive health services for women. Those advocates don’t exist to provide what women seeking reproductive health services want–they simply want to ensure that their anti-abortion point of view is not merely presented to those women, but enforced. It’s an issue of control–not service or helping others. This policy is no different.

What is your reaction to and opinion of the following policy components:

[Rating Key: 1. Wholeheartedly endorse; 2. Minor points of contention but generally support; 3. Major points of contention and will not support unless it is resolved; 4. Seriously disagree and would never support]

Component 1: Having a centralized process for mid-year entries and transfer students for school year 2017-18

3. Clearly, the lack of data informing this policy is tied to this: we simply do not have information on who these students are; what their issues are; and why they are mobile. Tracking them theoretically would be helpful–but for this, you do NOT need My School DC. You need schools–LEAs–to get that information to OSSE. And you need OSSE to do its job with SLED, which already exists to track all public school students. Once you have that information, you will be better able to understand the needs of these students and the supports the schools that deal with them need. Absent that data, you cannot form a sensible policy that will ensure those students are served well by ANY public school.

Going through a centralized mid-year transfer process for attending an in-boundary DCPS school if the student is new or transferring

3. See my point above. You needed LEAs to do this.

Component 2: Holding set-aside seats separate from the wait list for currently enrolled students who are in crisis or experiencing special circumstances and need to transfer schools mid-year (i.e., hardship set asides)

3. This is one of those things that sounds good when you first see it but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. What does “currently enrolled students who are in crisis” mean? Does it include a student who is kicked out of a charter school that he or she really wanted? That’s a crisis for that family–but is that the same “crisis” as a student who absolutely needs to leave a school because he is being bullied and cannot stay? And what are those “special circumstances”? A parent who just got a job that is difficult to get to, so they have to move to get closer to public transit and thus have to change schools? In truth, there is a world of difference between a currently enrolled student coming out of the juvenile justice system and needing to RE-enroll and a parent re-locating his or her home in DC and wanting a school closer to that house that is not his or her in bounds school. In both cases, we can say that those students are “experiencing special circumstances.” And yet, if the point of this policy is to ensure that highly mobile students are dealt with well by their schools, then this differentiation is moot. But it isn’t, is it? So then what is the goal of this policy, if not first and foremost to serve those highly mobile students well?

Component 3: Holding set-aside seats separate from the wait list for student entering from out of state mid year (i.e., out of state set-asides)

4. Like the point immediately above, this really does not hold up. Think it through for a moment: we know NOTHING of students coming into DC. So what is the purpose of them being given a chance to get into, say, a school that anyone else in DC might not have any chance to get into at all? How would this serve them? How would it serve anyone? We know NOTHING of these kids–and we know NOTHING of what schools currently do with such kids and/or what they need! So, absent any proof that setting aside seats for out of state students would serve them (and we know it would NOT serve existing DC students), what is the purpose of this set aside of seats? The only deduction I can make of setting aside seats at all is that it ensures that charter schools would have access to enrolling mid-year mobile kids equal to that of DCPS, which has a greater likelihood to enroll them because it is a by right system and is where those kids would naturally go mid-year. This is not a small thing: DCPS does struggle with such enrollment. But that does NOT mean that we should simply “sprinkle” these kids throughout both sectors when we know NOTHING about what works with these kids; what they need; and what supports schools need to deal with them more effectively. There is no assurance in this policy, for instance, that any charter school with set-aside seats for mid-year students would be any better equipped to handle those students than any other school. This policy thus appears to be about controlling student movement–and increasing charter school enrollment–not about understanding what those students need; what they are not getting; and the supports the schools that take them in need.

Reducing wait lists after the school year has started

Other: This should be happening already. I have lost track of the harm done to by right schools that starting in April hire staff; enroll students; make plans; only to have it BLOW UP when a chunk of their students gets the magic phone call/email in, say, September from charter schools saying they have a slot. This lovely wait list gaming has a cost–but the gamers never need to witness it, and no one in city agencies acknowledges it. So let me outline a few items in that cost: mis-appropriated staffing (it’s kinda hard to fire someone four weeks into the school year when you suddenly have lost his or her ENTIRE class just because some charter school got around to its waitlist); staff morale (try being that staffer who is suddenly without students through NO fault of her or his own); kids losing friends; parents having to tell their children why they will NEVER see their good buddy again in school and that their friend really still likes them and that their school doesn’t really suck despite other families leaving precipitously); and planning (go sit on an LSAT for a while and see the utter futility of trying to undo in fall what you spent weeks doing in spring for the budget). If I sound bitter, it’s because this happens every single year to every single by right school in my neighborhood. Tell me who is benefitting?

Eliminating wait lists after the school year has started

Other: See above. It is curious to me: If the cross sector task force is all about the two sectors cooperating, and this policy proposal attempts to enforce that cooperation, why is getting rid of wait lists and their gaming NOT being offered as the main proposal here? Moreover, if you want to address wait lists, why not talk about the thing inherently attached to them, which is the 4th to 5th grade mismatch between charter and DCPS middle schools? That is a huge driver of why so many DCPS elementaries are depopulated in 5th grade. That’s certainly a dual sector concern. Now, you can say that the 5th grade depopulation is all DCPS’s fault and that if they just had better middle schools, this would be a moot point. Alas, however, school choice does not happen in a vacuum! In fact, it happens in a flurry of marketing, perceptions, and what other people like me and my fellow parents are doing. This is why the lottery may be blind as a bat–but school choice is NOT. (This is also why some choice-only schools have populations that are not even remotely randomly representative of the DC population.) Weirdly, this policy proposal presumes you can control the movement of mobile students, all the while our other school policies (including the gaming of wait lists and the mismatch of 4th to 5th grade in DCPS and charter middle schools) presumes we have utterly NO control. Hmm.

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