Paying (Off) The Public Voice

Back in the olden days of this spring, our office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) announced a deadline of May 4 for obtaining feedback on its state report cards in a variety of public meetings as well as online surveys.

At the OSSE session I attended, we looked at mock-ups of report card web pages–only to be told that the content of most of the pages was already determined. The session was, instead, to discuss the arrangement of the elements on each page of the school report card, as well as anything else we might want to have on the report cards (without, of course, any promise that it would ever be there).

(Ed. Note: Ever get the feeling that sometimes life imitates a Seinfeld episode? “So you can arrange the elements–but you cannot change the elements.”)

Well, seems everyone in the city (except wards 3 and 5) gets another bite of that apple–now with pay!

(Just who is paying–and why–remains a bit unseen.)

Starting tomorrow, Monday June 4, and continuing through the month of June, a private advocacy organization, PAVE, will be conducting feedback sessions on the state report card–and providing participants with $25 gift cards. A spokesperson for PAVE told me that the organization is “partnering” with OSSE for these sessions–and that OSSE will host additional ones in June.

(No word on why wards 3 and 5 were left out of PAVE’s $25/head party–but then, I guess it’s a private affair, right?)

So, you can get richer via a $25 gift card sourced (possibly?) from your tax dollars or (possibly?) from unknown private sources (well, not exactly unknown–mainly charter advocacy groups like the Walton Foundation and CityBridge) for providing feedback to a private advocacy organization that has no actual public responsibility (and is not subject to FOIA) except as that responsibility has been delegated to it without public notice by OSSE–which, as we have seen, is not exactly, erm, politically independent. (And for a larger overview of the lack of political independence of OSSE and other DC educational agencies, see this.)

Gosh, what could possibly go wrong?

4 thoughts on “Paying (Off) The Public Voice

  1. I think it is good that they are paying people for their time and experience that they give when they participate. The DC public system relies too much on parent volunteer time. It may also incentivize a broader, more diverse group to come out.

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  2. Well, I agree that our city relies too much on parent volunteer time. But this is being done on behalf of a city agency. And our city (presumably) is doing this with the interest of increasing parent participation in something that desperately needs public voices.

    Unfortunately, all of that is a pretty big presumption. We know nothing, for instance, of the arrangement between OSSE and this group; we don’t know why this group was (presumably) chosen by OSSE (why this group and not another advocacy organization); and we don’t even know what money it is that is being handed out!

    In other words, we the public know very little of how this came about or why–and we certainly don’t know the parameters of how the public’s input will be used.

    I wish I could feel, as a parent, that this was empowering. But it is not because I feel used for a process about which I know very little that may be using my tax dollars for purposes I cannot even tell. To me, that’s pretty DIS-empowering.

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  3. Don’t know–am endeavoring today to find out more, since this is not obvious per OSSE’s website (nor was I able to find anything for this listed in the awarded contracts database nor the databases of solicited or sole source contracts, all of which are available here: https://ocp.dc.gov).

    Of course, I may be missing something–I am certainly not a contract expert!

    But I do know as a parent and citizen that the why and how of this isn’t very obvious–so even if public engagement is the goal here, this process seems to leave out some basic and obvious pieces of transparency.

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