Late 2019 Education Events In Brief (Anti-Democracy Edition)

Though We The People are so much more (and better!) than the philanthropists and privatizers proposing to “fix” our public schools (while naturally endeavoring to get a piece of DC’s annual $1.8 billion in public education money), many events in late 2019 show that DC school governance appears to operate on a very different principle.

–After a student was hit by a car near Rocketship’s Ward 7 campus, parents created a petition for safe crossings near the school. The school located there despite the protests of neighbors, who felt that traffic would be an issue. (Ironically, the only official hold-up in the school locating there was from–wait for it–the DC department of transportation.)

–Weeks after DCPS’s stealth announcement (late in the day before Thanksgiving break) of the possible closure of alternative high school Washington Metropolitan, a DCPS teacher got ejected from the city-run Ed Fest for–gasp!–collecting signatures on a petition to stop the school’s closure. Students at the school have protested the proposed closure, and they and teachers have pointed out how the school has been repeatedly underinvested in.

(Psst: you can sign the petition here.)

–This fall, the council held a series of (quickly scheduled & convened) invitation-only hearings on academic achievement (11/22), teacher retention (12/4), and truancy (12/5).

At the hearing on achievement (in part to discuss data that indicate growing achievement gaps), the chair of the DC council likened teaching to working on an assembly line, saying that children are “products” of the education system, while the hearing co-chair took offense at claims that increases in test scores in DC are due to demographic shifts (even though they are due to, uh, demographic shifts).

The hearing on teacher retention featured a council member and a witness (whose business is education consulting) debating the merits of teacher turnover–as if research showing its demonstrable harm simply, well, didn’t exist.

[Confidential to the deputy mayor for education and council chair Phil Mendelson: Gotta ask if these hearings were simply a dry run for candidates for the DC public education research practice partnership, for which a notice of invitation was just released?]

–The use of seclusion and restraints is not officially monitored in our schools, and the charter board is currently auditing the provision of special education services at a charter school.

–According to a recently released report, DC public school science performance is poor–which tracks with some of our investments in science and certainly with our investments in technology.

–As a follow-up to its June hearing on the master facilities plan (MFP), the council held a hearing on December 18 with invited witnesses. Council members appeared to wring their hands as to what ever could be done to actually have a plan! Recall that earlier this year, the council rejected the MFP proffered by the deputy mayor for education (DME) as long on data and short on an actual plan.

Yet, in the hearing, council members expressed concern about charters not having facilities, while not noting that a DCPS school (Excel) was being kicked out of its facility (which Excel leases from a charter incubator); questioned the DME as to why Mayor Bowser has released only one DCPS building to charters; and made no mention whatsoever of the need to secure education rights first before attending to discretionary schools.

Then, too, the council apparently didn’t bother inviting the head of DCPS to testify, while the DME and the executive director of the charter board spent time outlining what DCPS buildings they thought were available for charters (either 3 or 10, depending on the speaker).

Given such an interesting discussion, naturally no one asked why we have a growth ceiling of infinity for our charter schools–or what is the fiscal impact of creating ever more schools without a commensurately expanding student population. Nor did anyone seem to regard it as odd that at least one of the 2019 MFP hearings occurred while council chair Mendelson was dating the head of the charter school incubator initiative, which holds that Excel lease and is the beneficiary of legislation introduced in 2018 to exempt its private property from taxes.

Details!

–The principal of a charter school didn’t immediately report a student’s sexual abuse allegation, and we still don’t have a sexual assault policy for all our publicly funded schools–much less half of them.

–In a departure from past practice, the DC council will hold the oversight hearing for DCPS during the DCPS break. The idea apparently is to make it easier for teachers, students, and parents to attend the hearing–with the caveat that parents of young school children will have to find a babysitter or bring their students along. (No word on whether the council will provide childcare or healthy snacks.)

Here’s hoping for a better 2020–or at least a few days’ break from anti-democratic school governance.

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