November Events (And A Few October Leftovers)

While people continue to debate the new name of Wilson high school (see here and here), and DCPS finally hit the low end of its asymptomatic testing goal 9 weeks into the school year (12% as of October 18—woo hoo!), DCPS passed another covid milestone: 1000 cases after 10 weeks of school. While one may take comfort that this isn’t too high of a rate considering that DCPS has about 5000 staff and 50,000 students, DCPS has been averaging 100 cases a week since August 30, such that if this rate continues, we could expect an additional 3,200 cases by the end of the school year. (Or, as our deputy mayor for education (DME) might say: Algebra!)**

Thus we slouch into a busy November, building from a busy October:

–The DC state board of education (SBOE) is reviewing the controversial STAR rating and DC’s school report cards—and is asking DC residents to complete a survey on both by November 8. The survey is one of SBOE’s first steps in seeking to overhaul a rating largely (70%) based on standardized tests (PARCC) that have not been administered since 2019 due to the pandemic.

Per Ward 6 member Jessica Sutter, December may be the earliest SBOE will vote on a new STAR framework. Despite SBOE having little authority itself, it does have a role in approving whatever the office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) puts forth–and can provide models and advice to OSSE on both the rating and report cards.

Anyhoo, if you are concerned about the rating and/or the report cards based on it and wish to tell SBOE, their next public hearing is November 17. In the meantime, let us all hope that a private organization with billionaire bucks decides not to take democracy into its own hands and fund a phone-banking effort to force an SBOE vote on yet another version of a test-heavy school rating system—you know, like last time.

–On November 5, the DC council is holding a hearing on digital equity legislation, which would ensure DCPS would actually have a tech plan (I know, I know! No one has ever done anything like that—except when they have).

Fascinatingly, since posting the hearing notice sometime last month (see the original here–and see the current one here), the council amended it slightly to add on another bill for the same hearing, Bill 24-432, the School Financial Transparency Amendment Act of 2021. This bill would extend financial reporting deadlines for charter schools—and references a “School Financial Transparency Act of 2020” as the pretext.

The only hitch: I could find nothing of any legislation by that name in the legislative database for DC.

(Kinda makes you wonder about that whole transparency thing . . . but hey, it’s only a hearing on making digital tech in DCPS equitable—what’s a little unrelated bit about charters into the mix? I mean, isn’t that what equity is all about—a little for me and a little for thee?)

–DCPS is holding its own budget hearing on November 9. Sign up is here. This is an annual exercise in which DCPS says it listens to its communities, then proceeds to do whatever it wants. In this case, that desire appears to be scrapping the comprehensive staffing model—at least, from the tea leaves that we have thus far been given.

(Interesting thought experiment: ask how your school’s budget would look like in the new model being proposed versus the old model. Expect no obvious clarity—but plenty of reassurance that your school would receive more, uh, “resources” in the new model.)

–That same day, November 9, the DC council will hold a hearing on security in DC’s publicly funded schools. Sign up is here. Expect varied viewpoints about the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of police in our schools.

–The DC council will hold a hearing on confirming the mayor’s nominee for head of OSSE on November 12. Sign up is here. The nominee, Dr. Christina Grant, hails from Philadelphia, where she was in charge of charter schools—and while her time there and that of our DME Paul Kihn did not appear to overlap, their interests in school privatizing undoubtedly are very simpatico.

Expect the usual unanimous vote to confirm her—and Dr. Grant’s studied opinion that OSSE independence is bad.

–On November 23, the DC council will hold a hearing on bill 24-443 to ensure that all DCPS schools would have full-time librarians going forward no matter what budget model DCPS pursues in the future. (See note about DCPS budget hearing on 11/9 above.) Sign up is here.

Recall that the council acted earlier this year to provide funding for all DCPS schools to have librarians this school year. That funding maneuver was temporary, however, while this legislation would ensure a permanent fix.

(Pro tip: Look for earnest repetition of the words “burden,” “flexibility,” “nimble,” and/or “equity” by mayoral appointees and allies explaining why they cannot support ensuring all DCPS schools have librarians.)

October Leftovers

–The October 27 hearing on a covid vaccine mandate for students in our publicly funded schools featured mostly supportive public witnesses, including charter and ed reform interests who nonetheless remained adamant that schools should not be responsible for its implementation. Bandied about was the idea that a mandate could be delayed until next school year—which rather vitiates the entire idea of protecting kids and schools now.

Other witnesses, however, debated the number of deaths from the vaccine (yeah)–and some even said it was illegal to mandate anything authorized for emergency use.

(Good luck with that last piece—the Justice Department says otherwise, after a July 2021 review of a long history of mandate of vaccines under emergency authorization.)

Since that covid vaccine hearing, the covid vaccine for children ages 5-11 has been approved on an emergency basis, and the mayor announced a series of clinics to dispense it to kids.

A covid vaccine mandate could be a game changer for DC’s schools and communities. While some folks may make good on threats to move (or quit jobs) because of it, probably best not to hold one’s breath.

–The council is set to approve a deal to spirit away the closed DCPS school Wilkinson to the eager private hands of DC Prep, which has been hoping to complete renovations there in time for next school year. Recall that this deal was done outside the law and without much, if any, public notice—with the express approval not merely of the mayor, but also of the council chair.

Interestingly, the October 20 council report for the permanent legislation opens its background section with the statement that “D.C. Prep is a District of Columbia public charter school with a history of responsible stewardship of District property”–which is rather like describing the history of responsible employment by, I don’t know, a nominee for the head of OSSE as possibly the most important factor in her appointment.

While the report’s author, Ward 5 council member and attorney general hopeful Kenyan McDuffie, may have been doing what etiquette suggests one does when one has nothing else good to say, some parts of the report stretch truth to the breaking point.

Take this paragraph, outlining the justification of the offer of Wilkinson directly to DC Prep and to no other charter school:

“D.C. Prep found a piece of property off Frankford Street, S.E. in the Fort Stanton community that would allow it to build a middle school by right. However, there was fervent neighborhood opposition to building at Frankford Street, primarily due to traffic and construction concerns. Consequently, D.C. Prep decided to explore other locations. The Mayor provided a potential solution by suggesting that Excel Academy would stay at Birney while the D.C. Infrastructure Academy, which is currently using a portion of the former Wilkinson Elementary School, would move into a newly renovated facility at Spingarn. As a result, the D.C. Prep middle campus would be able to operate in Wilkinson.”

Let’s deconstruct this:

Anyone (yes, you too!) can put any type of school anywhere in DC as long as they have the minimum of a 9000 square foot lot. Because there is no planning of schools anywhere in DC, for charters this rule means essentially having private real estate adventures subsidized by the public, which pays >$3000 per student in facilities fees annually to cover it.

In June 2017, the charter board approved DC Prep’s middle school. In March 2019, DC Prep signed a 2-year lease to have its Anacostia middle school at Birney, starting in SY20-21.

In December 2019, DC Prep purchased its property at 1619 Frankford SE with the express intent of building its Anacostia middle school there.

That timeline suggests that from at least 2019 on, DC Prep had no intention of remaining at Birney beyond the term of its 2-year lease there.

So why fast-track an entire closed DCPS school with more than 130,000 square feet to a charter school with, literally, 78 students in the last audit?

Was it because the council chairman’s significant other was working for the private entity that held the Birney lease when it signed DC Prep’s lease there and stood possibly, maybe, to gain from such a transaction, since Birney’s lease would have to be bought out for the mayor to locate Excel there?

Or was it because DC Prep is so politically connected inasmuch as the charter board reversed its own disapproval of its Anacostia middle school because of outrageous suspension rates, amending its agenda the next month (in violation of DC law, no less!) to approve DC Prep’s Anacostia middle school?

Though such political hijinks were omitted from (or missed in?) this council committee report, they were also missed by the report on the legislation generated by the council office of racial equity (CORE).

Nonetheless, that CORE report was not exactly a slam dunk. Possibly because McDuffie couldn’t ignore his own body’s racial equity analysis (!), the council committee report noted the following:

“CORE’s analyses also indicates that the Bill could potentially exacerbate racial segregation in public schools, under-enrollment in DCPS, inadequate engagement of Black residents, and traffic and parking issues in the neighborhood around Wilkinson. Specifically, the Budget Support Act of 2020 granted the Executive authority to dispose of this parcel to D.C. Prep presumably without ample participation of members of the public in this decision-making process.”

Aw, but what’s a little disenfranchisement and segregation between friends? Look for unanimous council approval—and the studied opinion of council members that all that is actually good for DC.

**Oh OK, here’s the algebra bit:

“You’d have to do the algebra” was uttered on October 26 by our deputy mayor for education, Paul Kihn, at the OSSE governance hearing, starting at the 5 hour mark in the video here. Ward 4 council member Janeese Lewis George asked how many teachers had left DCPS last year. Kihn replied that the system retained 90% of effective and highly effective teachers. Lewis George asked again for the actual number, to which Kihn replied that “you’d have to do the algebra,” noting that it would be 90% of the teaching corps.

The only rub is that DCPS has three additional rating categories for its teachers, so that effective and highly effective teachers are only a subset of the total.

Which means that one cannot use 90% of the total to calculate how many teachers left DCPS last year.

(Seems Kihn didn’t do the algebra–but expects a council member to do it for him.)

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