The Lemonade of DCPS’s Strategic Plan

This past week, DCPS rolled out its strategic plan for the next 5 years, with an appearance by Magic Johnson, whose relationship to the school district goes into its food contract, which itself is (still) shrouded in a lack of, well, outrage on the part of elected officials, despite the fact that some city officials were once outraged.


Despite such unfortunate overtones, DCPS’s strategic plan is nice enough, with a vision and a mission and strategic priorities. And its importance is such that the council’s education committee will hold a hearing on the strategic plan next Thursday, September 21–sign up is here.

Of course, visions, missions, and other high-minded things may come and go, but priorities usually entail money and thus have a tendency to stick in the public consciousness.

So, let’s take a look at what DCPS is offering now for its strategic priorities for the next 5 years:

–Promote equity
–Empower our people
–Ensure excellent schools
–Educate the whole child
–Engage families

On this website, each strategic priority has its own short list of tasks to be accomplished, which is helpful and basically unassailable. After all, who doesn’t want excellent schools or engaged families or equity?

What isn’t helpful (or even knowable) is what remains unsaid behind all of that.

For instance, on the equity piece, the DCPS roll-out says there will be an effort to “prioritize budgeting and resources for students who need them most.”

Well, wasn’t this what the at risk funds were supposed to achieve? (You know, the ones that were found to have been misused or simply unaccounted for?)

Or is this referring to DCPS’s Excellence Through Equity initiative? This is funded by $2.8 million of DCPS’s recent bump-up in funding by council action over the mayor’s initial allocations for FY18.

According to DCPS spokesperson Janae Hinson, that $2.8 million for Excellence Through Equity is being apportioned to schools on the basis of their PARCC scores: specifically the number and concentration of students scoring at levels 1 and 2. The funding–which schools had to apply for by September 1–is supposed to be used for social-emotional supports, core instruction, and/or ensuring attendance is strong.

Soooo, what happens if an application is denied or if there is some reduction or increase of whatever a school might be eligible for of these funds?

I sure don’t know–but after asking was told that more details would be forthcoming in October.

Which is fine and well–except that is many weeks into a school year in which one of my kids’ schools apparently is eligible for $55,000 in additional funding—and another eligible for $900. One school might buy some books with that money–but another could actually have additional staffing, except that it’s unwieldy to hire in the middle of a school year.

So much for planning.

Perhaps the most important part of DCPS’s strategic plan is the section on goals, which underlie accountability.

In this case, most of DCPS’s goals for the next 5 years are increases in performance benchmarks: higher test scores, better graduation rates, higher school ratings, more student satisfaction.

But one goal in the strategic plan may not represent an increase at all: by 2022, DCPS plans to serve 54,000 students.

That would be an increase of about 7000 students from current levels–or adding a little more than 1000 more students per year for 5 years.

According to the charter board, in the last few years DC charter schools have added 2000-3000 students per year.

Soooooo: why would DCPS assume in its strategic plan for the next 5 years that it would have possibly half (if not less) the current growth of charter schools?

Two very good reasons:

ONE. Our city’s office of planning has predicted about 100,000 DC children between the ages of 3 and 17 in 2020 and about 113,000 by 2025. Given that about 89% of all DC kids attend public schools in any given year (thanks to Will Perkins for that estimate), that means about 89,000 kids could be attending our city’s public schools in 2020 and about 100,000 in 2025.

Extrapolating from those estimates, in 2022 our city could have 106,000 school-age kids, of which as many as 94,000 could be attending our public schools.

Which means that the DCPS goal of 54,000 students in 2022 would be 57% of the total.

Which is about what its share currently is.

Now, you could argue that 57% of DC public school students represents growth for DCPS regardless, given that the percentage of students in DCPS has been on a steady decline since charter schools began here in 1996. (After all, treading water doesn’t look so bad when you might otherwise be on the bottom of the ocean.)

TWO. But there is a second reason why DCPS might accurately assume less-than-stellar growth for the next 5 years: lack of education planning everywhere else in DC.

For instance, this spring, the charter board approved several new schools and thousands of new seats–even when most parents at one school opposed their school’s expansion (hello, Mundo Verde!). Both Rocketship and KIPP DC were approved to expand, with the little community involvement for both happening well after the fact of their applications to the charter board.

More recently, Ingenuity Prep submitted an application in July to start a new school in the Ward 7 neighborhood of Parkside. Earlier this week, the school was slated to apprise that community of its plans at a meeting of ANC 7D—but pulled out the day of the ANC meeting.

Yet, despite the fact that the community had apparently no input on those plans or even detailed knowledge about them, Ingenuity Prep’s application will be the subject of a charter board hearing next week, on September 18—and a charter board vote in October. [UPDATE 9/18/17: According to an ANC 7D commissioner, Ingenuity Prep pulled its application to start a new school. The application is still on the charter board website somewhere, since the links above and below still work–but there is no mention of it anymore on the charter board website section “items open for public comment” nor in the section on charter applications nor on the agenda for tonight’s board meeting. Might be nice to have public acknowledgement of the withdrawal–you know, that whole public record thing.]

Underscoring such stunning lack of public involvement, Ingenuity Prep’s application makes clear that the school had been working on a location for its new school for more than a year. The application outlines placing the new school on a plot of land near an existing DCPS school and an existing charter school. That land is owned by developer CityInterests, which has stalled on developing it, despite being asked by the community for years running to put retail on it. (Apparently, public education money has better returns than Giant, Target, or Harris Teeter–who knew?)

For its strategic plan, DCPS met with the public in every ward and garnered feedback before putting out its strategic plan.

Contrast that with the fact that there is (still) no reply to a letter asking that the charter board revisit a vote that was taken in violation of DC law–though the charter board did cry foul to the city agency that ruled it had violated the law.

(Somehow, I don’t think this kind of public engagement–or lack thereof–is what our state superintendent of education had in mind to discuss this coming Saturday, September 16, at its parent and family engagement summit.)

In the end, that $2.8 million I and other DCPS parents apparently know so little about for Excellence Through Equity is but a drop in the bucket compared to the public money that our charter schools will garner by 2022 because of the sector’s explosive and uncoordinated growth in DC. Sadly, that growth–as we have seen with Rocketship and KIPP DC and apparently now with Ingenuity Prep–appears to be as much, if not more, about real estate as it is about children.

Absent any action by city leaders (who have been more or less completely absent on all of this), expect these trend lines to continue:

Total Enrollment


In the end, perhaps we should hand it to DCPS: This new strategic plan is nothing less than a nice lemonade made out of the rotten lemons of absent city leaders, lack of equitable planning, and rapacious real estate interests.

Well done–as long as you can last.

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