Besides a host of legislation relating to DC’s publicly funded schools being introduced last week, September is gearing up to be quite the month for DC education issues.
–On September 18, the city council held a roundtable hearing on independent educational research in DC–specifically outlining the contrast between the council’s effort to have an independent research entity housed with the DC auditor (bill 22-776) and the ongoing (and yet publicly unavailable) negotiations between the Urban Institute and the office of the deputy mayor for education (DME) for basically the same thing–except for the little issue of who’s controlling the data and research.
To be sure, it’s hard to describe exactly what the DME is working on with Urban, as the work’s publicly unseen, yet clearly being formulated by someone, somewhere, somehow. Underscoring this void, council members last week during the hearing called the DME’s work with Urban “secretive” and “preordained.”
A more accurate description might be “incomprehensible.”
For instance, in response to repeated questions about the status of what her office is doing, acting DME Ahnna Smith politely noted ongoing “conversations” with Urban. She also noted that everyone involved–which would be the DME’s office, the charter board, and the office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE)–were “operating with a sense of urgency.”
Yet, Smith gave no details of those “conversations” and no timeframe, noting only that there were a “handful” of meetings with Urban since July and a “couple” of calls. Since that kind of casual interaction also describes most people’s communications with the folks who deliver their pizza, it’s not clear where “operating with a sense of urgency” fits into this.
Today, the council will mark up its legislation for an independent consortium, while it already has funded it to some degree (the first staffer went to work last week, in fact).
–Also on September 18, the council introduced two bills that would limit the power of the mayor over OSSE.
One of the bills, introduced by Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh and at large council member Robert White, would make OSSE report to the state board of education, not the mayor. The other bill, introduced by council members Mendelson, Robert White, Grosso, Nadeau, and Trayon White, would make OSSE an independent agency, with the term of the superintendent lengthened, but still appointed by the mayor.
Two things are certain: the mayor is likely not to be happy if either makes it into law, since both temper mayoral control of school data and, if OSSE goes under control of the state board, campaign finance reform will have to ensure special interest money doesn’t sweep control of that body (as it seems to have for at least two current candidates, one of whom has a current contract with the charter board on school closures and who opined in 2017 that such closures are more a matter of asset management and not so much public involvement).
–Also on September 18, the city council introduced a bill to require all publicly funded schools in DC to better protect children from sex abuse. Multiple recent instances in our schools would seem to have inspired this legislation (see here and here). The legislation itself seems very straightforward–for instance, it outlines that starting next school year, all schools must have policies on training staff about child sex abuse as well as protocols for reporting staff members.
While this is very good on its face, its subtext is entirely discomforting: i.e., does this mean our publicly funded schools were not doing such, um, basic things before?
–The council funded an enrollment study for DC’s publicly funded schools, to be helmed by the DC auditor. Last week, a preliminary report was released, with the final promised for this Friday, September 28.
–The other week, the mayor added some people to the chancellor selection panel as a result of a lawsuit brought by DCPS parents (including me), students, and a teacher over the composition of that panel. (See here and here for more information.)
Two weeks ago, a judge was supposed to rule on a preliminary injunction in the case–and didn’t, partly because the judge did not have a chance to read all the materials (apparently, not an unusual situation in our overworked and understaffed municipal court).
Last week, the rescheduled hearing was supposed to take place–and didn’t, because the judge recused herself abruptly.
Now, the preliminary injunction hearing is slated for a different judge this Friday September 28, at 11 am in courtroom 200 of DC superior court.
(BTW, the Latin phrasing on the last page of the city’s filing above means that the panelists added on September 13 are to be considered as added when the panel was formed, at the end of June.)