Catching Up On March: Events & Happenings

1. On March 30, the DC council will hold a hearing for a FUN bill (more specifically, the Fairness in Use and Negotiation for All Recreational Property bill, 24-0554), which requires public engagement on, and council oversight of, all exclusive use or license agreements for the use of DC recreational properties for a year or more. Yes: currently the mayor can do whatever she likes with these public spaces–Jelleff and Old Hardy and a public park in SW DC were all signed away for YEARS to private entities by the mayor’s people without a single photon of public sunshine. The bill aims to at least slow such privatizing of public resources down; sign up is here.

2. While the DC council sent questions to all DC education agencies ahead of its performance oversight hearings (see the NEW link to the responses here), it is not sending any pre-hearing questions ahead of the upcoming budget oversight hearings for those agencies on March 28 and March 30. According to LeKisha Jordan (legislative policy advisor for the committee of the whole, which has oversight of DC education agencies), this was due to the budget hearing occurring within 10 days of when the budget was released, which did not allow enough time for review and drafting questions. Jordan said that the committee would likely have many budget questions after the hearings—and would post responses to them.

Jordan also noted that she expected performance oversight responses to council questions to remain posted through the end of the budget season.

Happily, just ahead of next week’s budget hearings, and months ahead of when it normally does so, DCPS posted updated budgets for its schools. Here is the website for all the DCPS school budgets, and here is a link to the mayor’s budget. Be sure to read the excellent analysis of school budgets here.

3. And speaking of responses to council questions:

DCPS’s responses to the council’s performance oversight questions were, uh, incredible. On p. 91 in responding to a question about retaining teachers, for instance, the agency said that “our teachers and leader are extremely dedicated and talented.” And then, literally, its next words were: “That said.” (Yeah.)

DCPS also didn’t answer a question about substitutes (p. 193), and in response to a question about partner organizations (p. 203) provided a list that was completely unverifiable (which also makes one wonder why bother asking such a question without guardrails to prevent such an inane response?). And that isn’t even getting into DCPS’s inherently unhelpful answer on its out of bounds enrollment (p. 132), which said nothing about the size of boundaries nor the capacity of the schools within them.

Possibly the poor answers are related to fewer questions (and questions without guardrails) coming from the council. For instance, we have not had for two years running any information about enrollment by ward by school—something that the education committee asked for annually and that allows planning to happen cogently. (But who needs oversight, when DCPS is clearly not even following the law regarding reporting covid cases?)

4. The DC council is currently mulling new members for the public charter school board (see here and here and here, for Shukurat Adamoh-Faniyan; Shantelle Wright; and Nick Rodriguez, respectively). All appear to have current business connections to charter schools:

–Adamoh-Faniyan is head of Reading Partners, which puts volunteers in DC’s publicly funded elementaries to help kids read;
–Wright is the former director of Achievement Prep (yes, the school that precipitously closed its middle school), who left that post only in July 2021 to work for a school choice organization; and
— Rodriguez has worked with several education privatizing firms, including Delivery Associates.

Naturally, expect unanimous confirmation because it’s always good when business is good (or something).

5. DC’s education collaborative (aka research practice partnership (RPP)) is seeking out research questions from the public. Their survey on this is here. They have also promulgated a survey on making their meetings better—see it here–ahead of the next meeting of the RPP’s advisory committee on April 25 at 6 pm. (Registration and more information is here.)

Now, I am glad that they are seeking feedback on their meetings, because the last one of the advisory committee (on March 15) was Orwellian. There was no view of attendees (and no list of them that I could see), while the RPP’s executive director, Josephine Bias Robinson, set out the rules for the advisory committee meeting—and then proceeded to run it. That’s kinda not what I thought would happen for an independent advisory committee, which was also charged with determining topics for research, separate from the RPP, its research council, and the private organization running the RPP, Urban Institute.

Silly me. Except for speaking briefly after Bias Robinson’s introduction of her as the interim chair of the committee, Jasmine Brann did nothing else during the entire meeting of the committee she supposedly heads except to close the meeting—literally during its last minute.

Yes: The RPP executive director (NOT the supposed head of the advisory committee) set out the mission statement and values for the advisory committee and the topics of the by laws of the advisory committee—only to cede the floor to someone from the office of the state superintendent of education, to discuss what data that agency has and doesn’t have. That was followed by a slide with 3 questions:

—In an ideal world what would DC education look like in 5 years?
—What do we need to learn to get there?
—How could data be helpful?

Me, I’d just like to know WHO gave the advisory committee the charge to envision what DC education looks like in 5 years as opposed to identifying research topics.

Despite Bias Robinson saying that the goal (of the RPP or the committee, not sure which) was to have a 5-year research agenda, what she actually asked about was what DC education LOOKS LIKE in 5 years.

Then it got even weirder: Two research council members (i.e., employees of research orgs with an interest in the proceedings of the RPP) posted questions supposedly based on (publicly unseen) survey results and then asked everyone present (which appeared to be both advisory committee and research council members) to give their responses to several questions. Those questions included the following: “in the next 5 years I would like to see . . . “ and “what do we need to learn to build an outstanding, diverse teacher pipeline?” The responses (at the 1 hour 14 minute and 1 hour 28 minute marks, respectively) were interesting, especially in that no one seemed to think it worthwhile to ask teachers about an answer to the second question—while the researcher leading the discussion has 0 hours as a teacher.

So, in this second meeting of the advisory committee (in which someone not on the advisory committee has been essentially running it), the implication was NOT that the advisory committee would be coming up with research topics–but that it would be basically working with the research council to access data so researchers somewhere can show how to “improve” DC education in the next 5 years—all courtesy of what the advisory committee identifies as stuff needing improvement and/or what they want DC education to look like in 5 years!

So, move over, Big Brother—and maybe let the RPP know how well they’ve mastered Newspeak.

6. Speaking of bait and switch:

Neighbors to Lee’s Ward 8 campus got wind of its application for DC revenue bonds to double the size of its school there 4 days after the DC council held a hearing about it on February 22—and 3 days after the hearing record closed. (Yeah–1 day for the hearing record.) Nothing about the revenue bonds was mentioned at two community meetings Lee held on the evenings of January 25 and February 22 (yes, the same day of the hearing). Nor were revenue bonds mentioned at an October 5, 2021 ANC8A meeting, where an ANC commissioner (who seems to be connected to the school in some manner) tried to get the ANC to vote in support of closing a paper alley on the Lee property, which would allow the school to build there.

Given the, uh, lack of public knowledge, it wasn’t surprising that the only public witness at the February 22 revenue bonds hearing for Lee was its executive director, Chris Pencikowski. And even though the ANC back in October did not move ahead with a vote on supporting the alley closure because basic public processes were missing (including proper code adherence for alley closure) and neighbors had complained for years about the school property, at the February 22 revenue bonds hearing Pencikowski alluded to a (publicly unseen) letter of support for the school’s expansion from the ANC commissioner. (See the hearing here, starting at about minute 8.)

Indeed, the presentation of Lee in that hearing was almost entirely not what neighbors had experienced or demanded—all the while the school’s expansion was presented as a public good. It didn’t even comport with what the school had previously represented to neighbors of the true size of its expansion. For instance, the revenue bonds legislation outlines an addition of 17,000 square feet—nearly doubling the size of the current building and building over most of the property.

As with the expansion of Latin to Ward 5 in the face of public critique against it (see here and here and here and here starting on p. 17 and here, starting on p. 9), Lee is persisting with a scorched earth policy. At Lee’s January 25 community meeting, for instance, Pencikowski said that until all schools in DC are better, schools like his are needed and that parents are choosing his school because the others around (and most especially those around his own) are failing and not wanted. (For the latter, he specifically mentioned by name Anacostia HS, Randle Highlands ES, and Boone ES.)

The irony, of course, is that such need is entirely in the eye of the beholder: Lee’s Ward 8 campus was on the edge of being fully enrolled for this school year and had relatively few seats on its SY21-22 MySchoolDC wait list (see historic waitlists here for all DC’s publicly funded schools). The expansion that the easy financing of revenue bonds enables will ensure Lee has capacity to more than double its enrollment at that location–even as the school’s neighbors had no say in Lee purchasing the building or being approved to expand (that was done in 2018 by the charter board, years before Lee was ever in Ward 8).

So stay tuned for the council committee report on Lee’s revenue bonds—for which neighbors (and I) were able to add our 5 cents’ worth (after an appeal to do so was granted).

7. As we are now beginning year THREE of the pandemic, DC parents and educators may be interested to take note that Verizon’s planning to “improve virtual learning” . . . in March 2022:

Now, you might say that DC’s lack of digital devices (and the political will to provide them) have been massive impediments to virtual learning in DC’s schools, but rest assured that Verizon is doing . . . something. (I still am awaiting a response from DC’s public service commission as to what, exactly, this something is—though I have no doubt whatsoever that it will be great for Verizon.)

In the meantime, the (unpaid, unheralded) folks who really HAVE been working on digital equity for DC’s students continue to do so.

8. Finally, for those who are sick (literally or figuratively) of arguments that personal choice will lead us magically to both freedom AND public health, this article is well worth the read.

Ostensibly about economist Emily Oster (and her well-financed right-wing arguments against commonsense safety measures in public schools), the article had a lot to say about individual choice as it applies to public education as well. To wit:

“When schools dropped masking requirements, supporters appealed to the concept of parents’ choiceBut individual choice is a disastrously inadequate framework for addressing collective problems like a respiratory virus. Allowing some people the “choice” to reject COVID safety measures precludes the safety and well-being of others.”

“‘Choice’ in the abstract is made to stand in for justice and fairness, and to substitute for the material resources that would make the capacity for choice meaningful.”

“The “choice” that she [Oster] justifies is really the “choice” to cast off obligations to others: the permission she offers affluent parents to disengage from the social contract. While the privileged seek a return to normalcy—or some sicker, poorer approximation of it—COVID will continue to infect and kill the working class and people of color at disproportionate rates.”

That said, if you have only a few minutes, you may prefer indulging in sarcastic wit about pandemic choices.

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