For the last few weeks, DCPS has been slowly rolling out its new ed specs for public review to various ward education councils.
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Right now, many DCPS schools remain on a waitlist for renovation with outdated equipment, spaces, and/or resources.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.
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.
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?)