Who’s Afraid Of DC Education Data?

A lot of education reformers, it turns out.

That was apparent at last week’s council hearing on May 16. As you may recall, the hearing was a re-convening of the public roundtable on the future of school reform in DC held by the city council education committee on March 19. As a statement on the website of committee chair David Grosso noted, the roundtable was to “focus specifically on improvements to the D.C. Public Education Reform Amendment Act and other cross-sector issues [and] . . . to review the following: mechanisms for greater Council and public oversight and engagement, a more transparent school budget system, analyzing teacher and student evaluations, cross-sector issues, and highlighting ways to put a greater distance between politics and the education of our youth.”

Last week, the reconvened roundtable delivered on that in its first hour and a half, when DCPS and charter teachers testified about

–teacher churn and its attendant ills
–a rampant “pedagogy of poverty” that is damaging to students
–the need to ensure the open meetings act applies to charter schools
–the need for multiple assessment measures for both students and teachers
–the need to trust teachers as the professionals they are
–the need to meet students where they are, with a curriculum for that approach

In contrast, the last hours of the hearing were filled with education reform advocates, who offered few solutions other than to stay the course. Almost to a person, the ed reformers appeared aligned against a proposed independent research entity for public education in DC.

According to the legislation (B22-0776) authorizing it, the independent entity would be housed in the office of the DC auditor and would be created and overseen by a community and school agency advisory board. Such a collaborative would regularly audit data (and data collection) in all our publicly funded schools, create annual reports, and contract out independent research projects.

That legislation is supported by a variety of local education organizations (and this blog!) and sponsored by 7 out of the 13 council members.

Significantly, David Grosso is not among them.

In fact, Grosso spent the majority of the hearing last week speaking against the collaborative and, by the end of the hearing, promised to defund the entity of its allocated $500,000, saying that the money was better spent on out of school time. Grosso noted the entity would create a “burden” for schools and urged city leaders to “give them [schools] some space to actually do their work.”

Which is kind of funny, given the burdens that teachers testified about in that hearing as well as all that has happened in the last 6 months or so in our public schools.

(Sorry, no links: a basic google search on “dc public charter school scandal” turned up more than a million hits. Uh, maybe just read stuff here and listen to city council hearings since November 2017?)

Perhaps even odder than animosity toward a politically independent research entity that would provide more public oversight of our public schools was Grosso’s happy reception of those who testified that things are much better now than before.

For instance, here is what he said in the video at 2:26:37 (boldface mine):

“I just wish everyone would take a breath and go holy moly! The city is actually doing stuff! You know, we’re not just sitting back and watching these things happen. The press gets bombastic about it and puts headlines out there and everybody jumps up with a solution. Well, maybe everyone needs to just take a deep breath when the press does that and say, hey, let me look under the covers here. Let me see what’s really going on. What’s going on in our schools is not perfect–it is by far not perfect. But it is changing, and it is getting better really fast.”

Ironically, because of the (bombastic?) press and (bombastic?) teachers and parents testifying and writing, we now know that OSSE, DCPS, the charter board, and the deputy mayor for education have not been forthright regarding school matters and data, often apparently using the latter to politicize the former. Absent such (bombastic?) reporting and (bombastic?) testimony, how would anyone have been able to peer “under the covers” and “see what’s really going on” except those who control the information?

(Unless, of course, “what’s really going on” = only what our political leaders want us to believe.)

As it is, that roundtable was called not to outline how much better everything is now (than at some unspecified point in the past), but to find a path forward in the wake of those recent problems.

As in, accurately identifying issues and their solutions. Which everybody was solicited to provide for that hearing (i.e., no one was “jumping up” who had not already been asked to do so).

Interestingly, many of the most recent problems revealed by the (bombastic?) press revolve around data that our office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) is responsible for. After all, OSSE is the agency with the data that showed the problem at Ballou–but didn’t alert anyone. OSSE also refused to have an independent investigation of charter schools alongside DCPS schools for graduation accountability. And even when OSSE did investigate Ellington for residency fraud, it did not make clear, immediately, what metrics it was using nor what other schools it was investigating or how. (To see what this looks like from the perspective of an Ellington parent, see here.)

And OSSE is also the agency that has not created any centralized enrollment system, preferring instead to prioritize choice through myschooldc–even when an enrollment system not only could better track student mobility, which is a huge issue for at risk students, but also could help track potential residency fraud.

Not to mention that OSSE could promulgate different regulations for assessing residency, tying it to income tax filing, instead of hoping that school staff can accurately verify pay stubs. (OK, maybe there are school staff who know what every employer’s pay stub should look like–but what was that bit about giving them space to do their work? I am reasonably certain knowing what NASA’s pay stubs look like wasn’t in the training my school’s staff have received.)

To be sure, $500,000 to fund an independent research entity isn’t chump change. On the other hand, given that we fund OSSE with nearly half a BILLION dollars every year, we do not seem to be getting our money’s worth.

Indeed, asking to spend a tenth of 1% of what OSSE gets annually on an entity to ensure OSSE and other DC education agencies actually work in the public interest doesn’t seem to be asking too much.

(Well, except maybe for those who have something to hide.)

Come to think of it, maybe it’s worth contacting your council members to tell them just that. (An asterisk * denotes a council member who did not sponsor the legislation.)

Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1, 202-724-8181 (running for re-election)
*Jack Evans, Ward 2: 202-724-8058
Mary Cheh, Ward 3: 202-724-8062 (running for re-election)
*Brandon Todd, Ward 4: 202-724-8052
*Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5: 202-724-8028 (running for re-election)
Charles Allen, Ward 6: 202-724-8072 (running for re-election)
Vincent Gray, Ward 7: 202-724-8068
*Trayon White Sr., Ward 8: 202-724-8045
*Anita Bonds, at large: 202-724-8064 (running for re-election)
*David Grosso, at large: 202-724-8105
Elissa Silverman, at large: 202-724-7772 (running for re-election)
Robert White Jr., at large: 202-724-8174
Chairperson Phil Mendelson: 202-724-8032 (running for re-election)

3 thoughts on “Who’s Afraid Of DC Education Data?

  1. To me, it is a far larger and more acute problem that the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 removed the public’s seat at the table of public education decision making than the lack of an education research board is.
    That is why I so appreciated the testimony given at the March 19 round-table by the Ward 3 representative of the “state” Board of Education about the various ways that other cities with mayoral control have handled it, especially that DC’s version is the only one without a board of any kind to advise the mayor. I regret that I don’t have a link to that testimony, but what it shows is that it is possible to have heavy mayoral involvement while retaining democratic decision making.
    In other words, there are far more democratic ways of organizing the governance of public education in DC than what we have now, and I am much more interested in pursuing them than I am in supporting a bill for an education research board.


  2. Agreed that there are better ways to do public education than we do now in DC! Here, by the way, is Ward 3 state board member Ruth Wattenberg’s testimony for the roundtable part 1 in March: https://ruth4schools.com/2018/05/21/improving-on-mayoral-control/

    I will also note that while the research entity proposal is a welcome step, it is just that: one step. The ultimate goal of any governance of public schools must always be, as you point out, to maximize the public’s role in their public schools. In that regard, one could argue that this research entity is doing only what the council itself should be doing in terms of oversight! One could also argue that making OSSE independent of all political influence is truly the only way to go. Clearly, we have a long way to either place, much less agreement that things are not exactly going well. Until we get there, asking to spend a small amount of money to ensure better oversight is, to me at least, a welcome first step.


  3. Thanks for the link to the Wattenberg testimony. I would have to agree with an argument that “this research entity is doing only what the council itself should be doing in terms of oversight!” For sure, council oversight of the array of new agencies created by PERAA is vastly below what’s needed, but I see the cause of that as lying in that law, not in the lack of yet another entity. At any rate, it will be interesting to see how the bill for it proceeds.


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