March Madness (DC School Governance Edition)

–This afternoon, starting at 4 pm, the DC council is holding a hearing on the massive report by the DC auditor concerning how our office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) has been handling education data. In a word: badly. In more words: incompletely, inaccurately, poorly compared to other states, and possibly without regard for federal law. At least the Post (eventually, a week after the report’s introduction) covered it.

If agency heads testify, expect lots of defensiveness, even as two of the agency leads (Hanseul Kang and Scott Pearson) are no longer around to defend their agencies’ thorough non-use and/or non-collection of charter data (even as their actions furthered propaganda and enriched private interests).

In case this seems an exaggeration of how bad their respective tenures were for the public interest in DC, take a look at these graphs from the auditor’s report:

Now consider that each of the data points on the graph on the right (charters) represents untold numbers of living, breathing kids whose attendance was not tracked fulsomely and/or accurately.

Then consider that DC has a school rating system based in part on attendance data.

So it is that the leaders of those agencies promulgated a governance structure that not only left DC kids literally out in the cold, but also created ratings that could result in school closures based, in part, on flawed attendance data.

–In seeming accord with that publicly callous posture, the DC council is not holding hearings anytime soon on legislation that a variety of council members have proposed to examine or slightly alter the governance structure of our publicly funded schools and/or to ensure OSSE is independent of the executive. (See here and here and here and here.)

Council chair Phil Mendelson has indicated that he doesn’t want to touch DC school governance. Given that he was one of only a few people to not vote for mayoral control in the first place, this amounts to our council chair assuming the political posturing of a British monarch: he didn’t make the law, and while he knows the law has flaws, he will nonetheless keep a stiff upper lip while not changing, much less touching, anything whatsoever to do with the law.

To be fair, given that there is no council education committee anymore and thus no dedicated council staff to handle anything related to education, changing the law may be beyond the council’s capacity at this juncture.

OTOH, that lack of capacity is due to Mendelson’s own desire to oversee all things education in DC personally. It’s like, I don’t know, he wants to be the DC education monarch.

There’s only one hitch: we already have one.

Now, given how the council held on March 9 its only public witness performance oversight hearing for all public education agencies (leaving each of the nearly 200 public witnesses only 3 minutes each to discuss the expenditure of more than $2 billion), it seems the public has little role at the royal court. (Well, except to pay for it–naturally.)

–For the March charter board hearing, both the Ward 7 and Ward 8 representatives to the state board of education wrote testimony in opposition to the ambition of several charter applicants to locate school in their wards, citing among other things a desire on the part of residents to support the schools we already have. (See the representatives’ testimony here and here.) Naturally, expect much written and said ahead of the charter board’s vote in April on how needed the schools are (even as other new charters struggle with enrollment).

–On June 21, the charter board will vote on the desire of another charter school, Global Citizens, to co-locate at a school occupied by Friendship Collegiate, at 4095 Minnesota Ave. NE. The school was conditionally approved last year and put into this year’s school lottery.

A screenshot taken on March 15 of the My School DC lottery site shows Global Citizens being located at 4095 Minnesota Ave. NE–while a screenshot taken in December of the same site showed it had no location.

Fascinatingly, this lottery tail wagging the charter board dog is perfectly cool with everyone!

In an email sent to me in 2019, the director of the lottery, Cat Peretti, said that the lottery does not advertise locations when the school doesn’t have a secured physical location. Instead, she noted, the school can collect applications and create a waitlist, which becomes a match list once a location is secured.

For Global Citizens, that securing of its location apparently occurred sometime between December and March–in the middle of the lottery cycle.

The building in question at 4095 Minnesota Ave. NE—the former Woodson junior high–is owned by DC. It was closed in 1993, when it had 441 students. The latest enrollment audit puts its Friendship enrollment at 522, in a school building with a capacity of 1200 students per the master facilities plan. It thus appears that this co-location of Global Citizens is as much about monetizing a charter’s real estate as a location of another charter school.

This move appears similar to Friendship’s recent creation of a middle school at its Armstrong campus, which among other things allowed the charter to recoup its costs WRT that building’s otherwise unused capacity. Before its 1996 closure, for instance, Armstrong had almost 400 students. Now, as a Friendship campus, it has 308 elementary and 224 middle school students in a building with a capacity of 900.

So here are a couple of questions for the charter board:

What are you actually voting on in June WRT Global Citizens: its location or the monetizing of a charter asset for the benefit of another charter school?

Under what circumstances would you NOT vote for this school to be at that location, given that families have already been promised seats at that school at that location?

Expect no answers to those questions–but much written and said about how needed this school is at that location ahead of the charter board’s vote in June.

–Speaking of lack of public voice as public actors make decisions concerning public money:

Technically, LSAT meetings in DCPS are required to be noticed on the city’s calendar. But for one DCPS school (Maury), I was unable to find any.

That also goes for another school-related meeting, which is the disposition of the former DCPS school Wilkinson.

Here, for the record, is the notice of the disposition meeting, on March 30, obtained from the deputy mayor for education (and apparently posted nowhere else in DC).

The meeting is for an hour that day, starting at 6 pm.

Given that the council recently approved giving Wilkinson away entirely to either the Charter School Incubator Initiative or DC Prep (bypassing any messy public process with the messy public), one can only wonder that it will take as long as an hour for the privatizers to pop corks off their champagne bottles that evening.

(Or is that time to be taken up by the public weighing in on the celebratory tipples?)

In a March by-the-way announcement, the deputy mayor for education confirmed that the mayor decided months before (on Christmas Eve, no less!) to gift an extension of the lease of the publicly held old Hardy school, at 1550 Foxhall Road NW (also known as 4470 Q St. NW), to the private Lab School for the next 17 years—which essentially means it’s lights out for DCPS there.

Recall that DCPS is expanding Ward 3 capacity to the tune of at least $100 million in capital expenditures. Using old Hardy for that purpose (which actually was possible, since it was never offered to a charter and DCPS technically still controls it) would have saved a nice chunk of change.

Now, however, DCPS will build an entire new school building right next to another, entire school building it already owns.

If you think that’s not good planning, while wasting public resources to enable private concerns, you’d be correct.

But never forget that all this is actually a plan—it’s just not public.

Right now, for instance, DCPS is talking with folks in that area, to focus on what they want to do WRT that $100 million + in capital spending, before engaging others communities outside that area.

Charmingly, these discussions have also involved consideration of locating a high school at Hardy MS or Duke Ellington—without involving anyone from the latter, which is literally blocks from Hardy. To be sure, after some screaming and hollering of the hoi polloi, DCPS deigned to allow a few people from Ward 2 to have a seat at the (mostly Ward 3) table.

Expect more monarchical hijinks when DCPS ventures east of Rock Creek Park for public feedback on its (apparently predetermined) plan.

–Speaking of preordained ideas:

Deputy mayor for education Paul Kihn has been making the rounds of ward education councils, to get feedback on school response, recovery, and reimagining in the wake of covid. Given that one can only imagine what his office is imagining (see everything above), this exercise is a bit, uh, self-fulfilling.

For instance, at a recent meeting of the Ward 6 education council (W6PSPO), the deputy mayor’s slide deck showed three areas (school reopening, virtual learning, and accelerating learning) he wanted public feedback on (see a screenshot below):

Compare that to what the public at that meeting actually said, with major focuses on school budget cuts, staffing worries, and how all that will affect any planning whatsoever going forward.

(Though I have to admit I like how high-dosage tutoring in the face of so-called learning loss has been transmuted by our deputy mayor into “accelerating learning”–kinda like education as a microwave dinner.)

In truth, given that DC education leaders seem committed to conducting public business mostly in private (see everything above) except when they pop up on occasion (see above), I would settle for fewer public meetings and more answers to questions like:

Who is making the decision to cut DCPS school budgets every year without regard for enrollments or need?

How can we have schools not lose staff with their current proposed budgets, given that the pandemic has only increased need?

What do schools themselves say they need to re-open–and how are you responding to this need?

But best not for the masses to hold their breath for answers.

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