On November 8 and November 15, respectively, the city council will hold hearings for our acting deputy mayor for education (DME) Paul Kihn as well as a plan to put an expanded Banneker high school at the site of the closed Shaw middle school. Sign up is here, and more information is here and here, respectively.
Thank goodness for those hearings–because for a moment it looked like we didn’t have public schools.
On the same day in October that I got a mass email from acting DME Paul Kihn exhorting me, as a member of the public, to give input on what I would like in a DCPS chancellor, I also got a mass email from a private education advocacy group, PAVE, extolling the virtues of a new high school partnership between DCPS and Bard College, for a high school yet to be created, located in a yet-to-be-determined place somewhere in wards 7 or 8.
I got nothing from either DCPS or the DME (which has oversight of DCPS) about that new high school. (And I didn’t even sign up for any PAVE email!)
This simply incredible (non)public engagement came just days after I spent several hours at the last public feedback session on the master facilities plan (MFP), run by the DME’s office, where nothing was mentioned about the new Bard high school–nor about the newly announced plan for demolishing the closed Shaw middle school to build a brand new, enlarged campus for Banneker high school.
None of the communities involved had any knowledge or input, either.
In August, for instance, education advocates in Ward 7 asked the mayor to meet with them on the new Bard high school, to discuss its effect on existing DCPS high schools in the area, which are underenrolled.
They got no meeting.
This past weekend, after years advocating for re-opening DCPS’s closed Shaw middle school, Shaw community members met in protest of a decision that pitted their need for a neighborhood middle school of right against the deep need for a renovation for Banneker.
Members of the Shaw community this past weekend talking about re-opening DCPS’s closed Shaw middle school. Credit: Becky Reina 2018
So what do Bard, Banneker, and Shaw have to do with acting DME Paul Kihn?
Turns out, Kihn’s experience with public schools seems to showcase public pain of the same order:
–As deputy superintendent in Philadelphia, Kihn presided over school budget cuts and their aftermath–including the death of a child at a school that lacked a school nurse; attempts to change teacher compensation; and staff upheaval at the central office.
–At the same time, Kihn presided over school closures whose costs appear to have been underestimated, while new schools were created and two elementaries reconstituted without evidence that reconstitution would be effective.
–In an apparent attempt to increase public engagement, Kihn also presided over a practice in which parents could vote to turn their own struggling district school into a privately run charter school–without accounting for the effect of protracted deep cuts to district schools and the fact that the charters cost the city an extra $4000 per student in stranded costs. Perhaps worse, the conversions have not been an unalloyed improvement. (If this seems familiar, think back to the attempt by the cross sector task force to create by right charter schools.)
–Kihn is a proponent of the portfolio model of schools, by which public schools with low test scores are either closed or converted to charters. (During Kihn’s tenure, a Philadelphia school official called the portfolio model “dumping the losers.”) DC’s charter board has embraced this practice, overseeing dozens of closures in a decade. Both school closures as well as conversions could be enabled by DC’s ESSA plan, which calls for another operator to take over any school with low test scores for 3 or more years running (see p. 35-6 here).
–Kihn helped lead public meetings concerning test-heavy school report cards that closely resemble the report cards slated to take effect for DC’s schools in December. As in DC, parents expressed concern that schools would be effectively penalized for having poor resources and poor students.
–Kihn also participated in secret meetings about a universal lottery for Philadelphia schools (including, amazingly, private schools) that would be operated by a private company.
–Kihn helped create a “mystery shopping” program, in which officials posed as parents, to ensure charters were not denying admission to students. It closely resembles what charter board executive director Scott Pearson instituted in DC in 2012–either a charming coincidence or yet another tie between Kihn and Pearson, whose wives work together. More specifically, Kihn’s wife works for Pearson’s wife at the JPMorgan Chase Institute, which was founded by Pearson’s wife and does economic analyses for, among other clients, JPMorgan Chase, which has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in charter schools. And both wives and Kihn worked at McKinsey, a consulting firm that, among other things, works with school districts on “improvements” in which private actors get public education dollars (oh, I mean make “investments”).
In all of these, Kihn’s work appears to embrace the major tenets of education reform: that all publicly funded schools are interchangeable; that rights are subordinate to choice; that test scores tell all; and that public schools are not civic institutions, but products, like toilet paper or cars or pens.
In the resulting churn of new schools and closures (or what might be termed product movement), there is no real accounting of costs, whether in dollars or neighborhoods or humanity–perhaps because those bearing both risk and cost are not the same people making the decisions (or profiting from them).
Possibly worse, the public is always late to its own party in this scheme: kept away from actual decision making, left without knowledge of what is really going on, the public is reduced to one of two roles: vacuous cheerleader or pedantic impediment.
Not that this is anything new for DC:
Just days before the actual, living, breathing people in that picture above met to decry being left out of plans for something public in their community, funded with their money, the DC charter board met secretly to talk about charter reviews and renewals.
(Though not the first time: of the 26 public meetings I counted on the charter board website in a little over 1 year (October 18, 2017 through October 31, 2018), 7 of those charter board meetings (27%) were closed to the public.)
With the MFP soon to come out, it is not a far leap to connect the recent announcements about Bard, Banneker, and Shaw with the recent action of the charter board in helping to shape the educational landscape for years to come.
Now, we even have someone nominated as the new DME–with oversight of both DCPS and the MFP–to tie up the whole package of excluding the public from its own schools.
Whatever could go wrong?