[Ed. Note: The following is an email exchange from December 2021 between a member of the public (who granted me permission to print this) and the privately held XQ Institute. The email exchange discusses how teachers were asked to organize DCPS students for interviews for XQ, even as some teachers (and their school administrators as well) apparently did not know the purpose of the interviews. Months later, DCPS families learned about XQ when they received an email from Chancellor Ferebee about DCPS’s partnership with the institute to redesign DCPS high schools. Since then, DCPS families have received yet more emails from XQ (see here and here, for example). XQ is a privately run initiative to “disrupt” public high school education, created by a billionaire who was never a teacher. DCPS’s involvement with XQ appears to be part of a larger effort to remake high school education in DC.]
Sent: Friday, December 3, 2021
To: Press <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To Whom It May Concern:
I’m writing on behalf of teachers in DCPS who have been asked to organize students for interviews for the XQ project. They are speaking through me for fear of retaliation.
They do not know the purpose of the student interviews, or who is sponsoring this effort. It’s unclear to me to what extent this is being conducted by DCPS central versus an outside research partner. If an outside research partner or consultant is involved, they are not adhering to standards for conducting research with minors:
–The research project should first be approved by an institutional review board.
–Participants in the research, such as students and teachers, should be provided with a one-page overview with information about the study and who to contact if they have questions.
–It should be communicated that the research is optional and has no negative implications for participants if they decline to participate. This doesn’t appear to be the case and is a major red flag.
–All participants in the research should be properly consented. If the students are 18+ or older, they can typically sign the consent forms for themselves. If the students are minors, parental consent is absolutely needed, and districts often implement additional requirements, such as fingerprinting for researchers who interact with students. This is another major red flag.
Please forward this email to the appropriate party so that I can get back to the teachers with some answers. I think we will likely both agree that this effort will certainly not empower teachers if they have no idea what’s going on.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
On Mon, Dec 6, 2021 Keith Dysarz wrote:
Thank you for reaching out. We very much appreciate your interest and concern. We have discussed this with DCPS and have copied them here as well.
To be sure, the student focus groups in question are not part of a research study, but rather an engagement opportunity for young people to envision change for their high schools in tandem with the Office of School Improvement and Supports and the Office of Secondary Schools. XQ is a lead partner in that work, and we can offer every assurance that we are operating within DCPS protocol regarding student focus group participation. Please feel free to learn more about us at https://xqsuperschool.org/.
Our facilitators are professionally trained and required to submit to all DCPS processes for accessing schools (background checks, fingerprinting, etc.). Students are recruited by their schools–not by XQ–to participate in focus groups on a wholly volunteer basis. Additionally, we have assent and opt-out procedures in the room, and student responses are collected anonymously.
All DCPS high school principals have attended information sessions regarding this work, and the Office of Secondary Schools will conduct additional outreach to everyone involved to ensure questions and concerns are addressed in advance of the focus groups. The DCPS team, copied on this email, are also available if you have further questions. And, if you wish, feel free to encourage the teachers to connect with the DCPS team or their school leader around this project; I’d encourage them to do so as well.
Thank you again for your inquiry, and thank you for your commitment to education.
Date: December 6, 2021
To: Keith Dysarz
Thank you for the response. I will pass along the information.
I believe the teachers did ask admin personnel about this project, but the admin were also not aware of what was going on.
I strongly recommend providing teachers (and whomever else is involved by recruiting participants or other) with a one-pager that a) explains the purpose of the project, b) provides contact information if someone has questions, and c) reiterates that student participation is strictly voluntary. This is typical practice in research projects. While this project may not technically be a research project, this step may go a long way to eliminate confusion and provide transparency around the purpose (and the fact that it is not a research project) for those involved or who may be affected by the outcomes of this engagement opportunity.