Just Tell Me: Who Voted For This?

Hey, Wards 1, 4, 6, and 8: did you know you’re in a “Green Zone”–a label given by the charter board to your wards because, well, according to a 2017 analysis buried in the charter board website, your wards are ripe for new charter schools?

Hey, Ward 7: did you know that someone offered your closed neighborhood school, DCPS’s Kenilworth Elementary, to a new charter school (the all-boys’ middle school North Star) without going through any RFO process, much less letting the community know?

(Sorry, that’s all I got on Kenilworth: no city official I asked about this in the past week has gotten back to me with any information about who made the offer, which the leader of North Star made public last week. For those keeping score at home, here’s the latest on enrollment since fall 2006: DCPS, -4,000 students; DC charter schools: +23,000 students.)

I’m an adult and DC citizen, so I just gotta ask: who voted for any of this?

Really: all the good citizens of DC want DCPS to lose students? Want the city to give away its neighborhood schools without a word? To have a public agency outline plans for  neighborhoods and wards without telling or involving them?

This goes into how our city just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to investigate one school, all the while no one in our city has any idea whatsoever

–whether our charter schools adhere to their own attendance policies;
–how attendance affects (or not) credits earned and graduation in our charter schools; and
–how credit recovery is used (and/or abused) in our charter schools.

In other words, what we now know in great detail happened at Ballou and other DCPS high schools could be happening at our charter schools right now–and no one knows (or apparently cares).

So I gotta ask: who voted for this?

As a resident of Ward 6 (a Green Zone!), I was amazed to read about my ward’s deep need for more charter seats–especially as the message was conveyed via an undated document buried in a website intended for new charter operators.

And, in a miracle of accounting, DC’s 21,000 empty seats at existing public schools, both charter and DCPS, cost nothing!

(Ah, the mysteries of demand and choice–where waitlists equal demand and empty seats don’t count, except as a reason to close by right schools.)

Then, too, I had to wonder:

Is it not enough that my kids’ elementary school in Ward 6 continues to lose 5th graders to charter schools marketing themselves to my neighborhood, such that it (and other Ward 6 schools) regularly experience instability and loss of resources to the actual detriment of the kids being served?

Is it not enough that my kids lost friends to charter schools marketing themselves to my neighborhood, such that I (along with other parents) have had to explain that friends of many years are never coming back? (Go ahead: ask my kids how they felt about that school choice.)

And is it not enough that my kids’ schools have been demonized by charter operators in terms of test scores or whatever they lacked relative to whatever the charter operators promised because the only metric for showing “need” for a new charter school in DC is an applicant’s word that it will be better than existing schools?

If anything, the discussions in the wake of Ballou have made clear that the “accountability” demanded through education reform–heavy emphasis on test scores; annual upheavals of personnel on the basis of those scores; and corruption and distortion of those measurements because of that heavy emphasis–is a one-way street, paved on the backs of my and other DC kids.

Who voted for any of this? I sure didn’t–and I know no fellow parent who did.

Hmm, Mayor Bowser, Deputy Mayor for Education Niles, and your fellow education reformers: seems that you own this rot.

So let’s expand the chancellor’s new integrity effort by bringing in integrity to all quarters of our education governance:

1. Real accountability would ensure that our tax dollars go to a fulsome investigation of attendance, graduation, and grading at all schools receiving public money. Ask yourself: Who voted for city officials to look away from the public schools that educate nearly half our kids?

2. Real accountability would also ensure that test scores and graduation rates are de-emphasized as punishment, reward, and/or virtue (or lack thereof) in favor of understanding what our kids need and then supplying it. This is neither new nor rocket science. As the recent WTU survey showed; as a recording from 2015 showed; as legions of parents, teachers, staff, and students testified for years running before our city council, the pressure on teachers and administrators to make everything look better than reality is very real because of the insane emphasis on test scores and the lack of support for schools and students. Ask yourself: Who voted for city officials to declare that the situation at Ballou and other schools was somehow new, different, and simply unimaginable?

3. Real accountability would demand that the agency in charge of all data on absences and graduation actually reports it. Every year. Our office of the state superintendent of education has had attendance data for years running, but has only one report–here–publicly available, at least as far as I can see. And never sounded an alarm, at least before the Ballou scandal. Ask yourself: Who voted for that?

4. Real accountability would mean that the cross sector task force would not be promulgating recommendations that few, if anyone, on that body created, for a purpose the public can neither know nor choose. Ask yourself: who voted for recommendations that, in some cases, task force members actively disagreed with?

5. Real accountability would ensure that our education agencies don’t devise grand plans (much less give schools away!) without continuous and full public engagement. No one should be surprised to hear about their ward being a “Green Zone” in a document that analyzes “need” like slick home decor magazines analyze the “performance” of high-end stoves–not as a public service, but as a sales pitch. Ask yourself: who voted to have a plan for public schools that utterly leaves out the public?

6. Real accountability would ensure that the public is aware that the charter board’s own analysis of its performance management framework (PMF) rating system shows a bias against schools with large proportions of at risk kids–for years running. Ask yourself: who voted to keep the public in the dark about that?

So tell me now about choice:

Who has a choice when a school is seen as something to be given away without a word–or when entire sections of the city are targeted for charter development without the say (or even knowledge) of taxpayers?

What choice can there be when government officials act in ways that the public can neither see nor comprehend until after the fact?

And what choice is there when what used to be a democratic guarantee of public education in every neighborhood now hinges on a literal luck of the draw?

And then tell me: who voted for any of that?

Starting tonight, with the first cross sector focus group; into tomorrow, when our city council reconvenes a graduation accountability hearing; and into next week and beyond, during performance oversight hearings for our education agencies, plenty of people will take time to remind our city officials what real demand, real choice, and real accountability are about.

[Hint: Those things don’t include terminating a person holding public agencies accountable, including the cross sector task force as well as the charter board.]

Here’s hoping our education leaders get the message this election year–when people WILL actually vote.

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