Three Events: January 22, 2019

Tomorrow, Tuesday January 22, three different events will mark an interesting convergence on the idea of justice in public education in DC.

First, at 4 pm, the public charter school board will hold a special board meeting at its headquarters (3333 14th St. NW), to vote on revoking the charter of National Collegiate Prep. (For more information, see the website here.)

The closure, which appears imminent given the recommendation of charter board staff (available here) and the fact that the school has one star (see here), would affect nearly 300 students, almost all of whom are African American, with a large majority at risk. A hearing last week about the closure (see here) featured parents, students, and staff who discussed what was not measured by the test scores that form the major part of the charter board rating system (PMF) and the city’s new STAR rating.

(Not that this closure is anything too unusual: I counted 8 DC charter schools in 2018 either closed or in the process of being closed. See here and here. Although many acknowledge how disruptive school closures are, they affect kids of color disproportionately.)

Then, starting at 5:30 pm, at Howard University’s Miner Hall (2565 Georgia Ave. NW), DC Area Educators for Social Justice will be holding a Black Lives Matter at School curriculum fair. Teachers can get materials and participate in discussions on educating themselves and their students about social justice, activism, and the Black Lives Matter movement. This event is sponsored by local organization Teaching for Change in anticipation of the Black Lives Matter at School week of action (February 4-8). Get more information and register here.

Then, at 6 pm, in the parent center at Eastern high school (1700 East Capitol St. NE), the new DCPS chancellor nominee, Lewis Ferebee, will be speaking along with deputy mayor for education Paul Kihn at the monthly meeting of SHAPPE (Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators). The agenda of the meeting is to discuss the landscape of DCPS high schools and equity therein.

As you may know, the city council will hold two public roundtables on Ferebee (January 30, 6 pm, Ron Brown High School, 4800 Meade St. NE; and February 6, 6 pm, Cardozo HS, 1200 Clifton St. NW; see here) and will have its confirmation hearing on February 12 (time, place, and official announcement TBD).

[1/22/19 am update: There’s now a petition out to ask the council and mayor to reject Ferebee: it’s here.]

Ferebee brings with him not only scandal (see here and here), but the closure of almost half the public high schools in Indianapolis and the conversion of other schools to charters. As Ferebee was reportedly not the choice of the chancellor selection panel (naturally constituted of mayoral favorites), the council has a lot of ground to cover between the will of the people and the mayor’s desires.

Or not:

After all, the council recently approved Ferebee’s boss, Paul Kihn, with nary a peep about the school closures Kihn oversaw in Philadelphia, and the fact that Kihn construed public engagement there as allowing parents at some underfunded Philadelphia schools to accept less funding or have their schools converted to charters.

More recently, Kihn has said that schools of right must “look at their role”–and has presided over decisions to expand application-only high school seats, while ruling out a middle school of right.

(I confess I don’t know what “look at their role” means, except that it sounds to me like “stay in their lane” or “know their place.” Isn’t the role of schools of right education for everyone? And isn’t the role of education leaders to make sure that those schools have all the tools they need to educate everyone?)

To be sure, Kihn and Ferebee (along with many other education leaders in our city) are part of a long line of education reformers for whom numbers that track closely with student socioeconomics define not only the performance of students, teachers, and entire schools, but the whole idea of public education. The subsequent decoupling of our public schools from rights and communities–from even the idea of equitable education itself–is not construed as a massive civic failure, but an achievement.

The question remains what we are achieving–and if justice is its price.

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