The Summer Of Official Concern™

Whatever honeymoon existed for Chancellor Wilson ended abruptly last month, with revelations that suspensions in DCPS are not accurately recorded (thus artificially lowering DCPS suspension rates) and with teachers at high-poverty DCPS schools testifying on July 19 before the state board of education about the poor retention of their colleagues and a culture of administrative “distrust” and “bullying” of DCPS teachers.

Rightly, many people are outraged:

–At its July 19 meeting, the state board of education changed rules to directly ask testifying DCPS teachers questions (including a heartbreaker from Ward 8 board rep Markus Batchelor about whether the baleful consequences of high teacher turnover would get more official attention if such turnover occurred at more affluent schools—answered with unanimous yeses);

–Chair of the council education committee David Grosso hinted in the Post story that he may introduce legislation to deal with inaccurate DCPS reporting of suspensions;

–Grosso also indicated he is convening meetings with a “working group” of district leaders over suspensions and expulsions;

–Several local organizations have listed demands for DCPS in regard to its suspensions; and

–Chancellor Wilson has apparently agreed to an audit of suspensions in DCPS.

Even the Post editorial board met with the DCPS chancellor over suspensions–a clear sign of Official Concern™!

But none of us can say with a straight face that this is all just about the kids.

After all, the problems themselves are a result of adults’ actions. And all of those actions, and some of the concern articulated in their wake, have yielded direct benefit for adults:

–Lower your suspension rate for your school, however you do it–and look better!

–Get rid of teachers–and consolidate administrative power and validate standardized testing!

Perhaps worse, all of those actions recently promised by public officials–the hearings, the meetings, the legislation, the publicly stated concern–seem to ignore 45% of DC children.

That would be the 45% of our DC kids who attend our charter schools, which like DCPS also have unbelievably poor teacher retention and not entirely clear suspension data.

About the latter:

On February 2, the council held a hearing on an OSSE report on suspensions in our city’s public schools, both DCPS and charters, for the 2015-16 school year. Discussing the high rates of suspensions in both sectors, and its disproportionate impact on students of color and with disabilities, experts testified about the inherent civil rights problems in a lack of common definitions and requirements for discipline across schools and sectors, something that the OSSE report blithely noted (on p. 8)–and quickly moved on from.

(BTW, OSSE is our state superintendent of education’s office–you know, the officials in charge of oversight of ALL our kids’ public education in DC. As in 100%, not 55%.)

Days after that council hearing, the GAO issued a report on DC charter school suspensions that was a bit more, um, pointed. It noted that there is no coordinated plan in DC to deal with expulsions and suspensions across the city and that the available data for our charter schools is incomplete, without any tracking of charter schools sending children home for a day instead of formally suspending them, thus artificially lowering suspension rates.

(Hmm: Sound familiar? As far as I know, no one on the Post editorial board called for a meeting with anyone in the city about that.)

For sure, one reason for such lack of Official Concern™ may be that the Post analysis of DCPS undocumented suspensions and other poor disciplinary reporting depended on FOIA’ed information about DCPS attendance–something impossible to obtain in that manner from our charter schools, which are privately operated and not subject to FOIA.

As with the experts testifying before the council in February about suspensions, (and unlike the OSSE report), the GAO report also determined that uniform protections do not exist for DC students regarding suspensions and expulsions–and documented how the agencies involved (OSSE, the charter board, and the deputy mayor for education) walk back from any meaningful oversight for 45% of our kids.

As far as I know, no one has proposed legislation regarding that.

Indeed, for all this summer’s Official Concern™, our charter schools appear to operate in blissful, if baleful, obscurity.

In just the last year, for instance, charter operators spent millions of dollars on real estate without telling a single citizen in those areas about their expansion plans until those plans were, literally, done deals. One charter school was even approved to expand despite the opposition of most of its own parents. (See the testimony from the June 19 charter board meeting at 4:49:20 in response to the charter board approving an expansion of Mundo Verde.)

Perhaps the loneliest person in all of this is our ombudsman for public education, Joyanna Smith, who put the finger precisely on the problem during the council’s February hearing.

Noting nonregulatory and advisory guidance for suspensions and expulsions that OSSE promulgated in its report, Smith said the following (starting at 3:33 in the hearing video; boldface below is mine):

“[OSSE’s nonregulatory guidance] displaces the burden of the state educational agency to require due process protections for students and places it on LEAs [local education agencies–i.e., our public schools] to implement and on parents to demand. Thus, the nonregulatory guidance is not far-reaching enough to protect many of our students of color and students with disabilities from being removed from the classroom either through suspension or expulsion. As a city, we need to think about the legacy we are creating on behalf of our children. In preserving the autonomy of our schools to have latitude in the creation of their own policies . . . we also need to evaluate why the current mechanisms, which have been proven not to work, continue to be broadly implemented in schools.”

Official Concern™ this summer lags far behind that February mic drop.

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