Nov 8, 2011

A Call To Action: Save DC's Schools!

By Candi Peterson

In the midst of upcoming contract negotiations, there are big plans ahead to close our traditional public schools. Never in our history has been there been a greater need for teachers and school personnel to have an effective union. Our very future as educators and the future of our students will be determined by how vigorously we, alongside parents and community members are willing to fight to save our schools.

I invite all Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) members to come out and get involved in our WTU Representative Assembly to be held Tuesday, November 8 from 4:30-6:30 pm. at McKinley Technology Senior High School @ 151 T Street NE. Washington, DC. Let's do more than just give lip service to save our schools.

Earlier this week, The Washington Teacher blog featured an article about future plans to close additional public schools. Below for your perusal I have included an excerpt from the 21st Century School Fund newsletter which outlines the purpose of the Illinois Facility Fund (IFF) study which was commissioned by Deputy Mayor of Education, De'Shawn Wright and is expected to be completed at the end of November. As indicated in the 21st Century School Fund September/October newsletter (below), IFF's analysis is being conducted with plans to right size DC public schools and could lead to reconstitution of our public schools and/or replacement with school management operations. The loss of our public schools is a disinvestment in our school communities and may lead to fewer jobs, higher classrooms sizes, further declining enrollment and extinction of traditional public schools.

Independent public schools budget analyst, Mary Levy has applied IFF's  methods to DCPS and public charter school data. Ms. Levy's analysis has found that schools located in wards with higher socio- economic status are considered to be "performing" while schools in wards with lower socio-economic means are considered to be "non-performing". It is a no brainer, that schools in our poorest wards would likely be faced with closure of traditional public schools while schools in affluent wards like ward 3 would go unscathed. (see map below)

Empower DC, a grassroots community based organization is continuing to hold strategic planning meetings to fight school closures across the city and encourages all to become involved. Their next scheduled meeting will be held on Thursday, November 17 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. @ the Deanwood Recreation Center located at 1350 49th St., NE. For additional information, contact Daniel @ or call 202-234-9119 ext. 104. Please encourage your school community to get involved now before it's too late. Additional meetings will be held throughout the city at later dates.
Study for "Right-Sizing" D.C. Schools Anticipated
"The Deputy Mayor for Education, with a 100,000 dollar grant from the Walton Family Foundation, engaged IFF (Illinois Facility Fund) to study the capacity and performance of DCPS and public charter schools.

IFF has authored reports in Denver, Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Louis, using a defined method to determine what they term "performing" or "non-performing" seats.  This analysis is being done with an eye to "rightsizing" district schools which beyond consolidation could include reconstitution and replacement with school management organizations. 

Mary Levy, independent public school analyst, applied IFF methods to DCPS and public charter school data and found that where "performing seats" are located correlates with household wealth and family income of students.  So that ALL schools in high wealth neighborhoods are "performing" and those in low wealth neighborhoods and with large numbers of children from low income families are "non-performing" with a very few exceptions, as illustrated in a map and data-tables.   The IFF findings are expected to be issued at the end of November.  There has been no public input or discussion solicited on the methods, criteria, or purpose of this study. *Click on the underlined word map to enlarge the DC Wards map.

Nov 3, 2011

Closing Time For More DC Public Schools

By Candi Peterson

Empower DC, a well respected community grassroots organization hosted a gathering on Thursday evening, November 3 at the Dorothy Height Library to discuss DC's plans to close more traditional public schools. People assembled from all walks of life including Ward 7 residents, parents, teachers, former principals, nurses, representatives of Teamsters-local 639, community activists, ANC representatives and yours truly. Some familiar faces that I saw included: Mary Levy, former DCPS parent and DCPS budget analyst, Mary Melchior, DCPS parent from Capitol Hill Montessori and Richard Patterson, former principal of River Terrace Elementary school.

Daniel del Pielago, organizer and facilitator of the Thursday meeting reminded attendees that Chancellor Kaya Henderson told parents during the spring that the city could not afford to continue to operate more than 40 schools with enrollment figures lower than 300 students. This  summer, a decision was made by Deputy Mayor of Education, De'Shawn Wright to commission an Illinois based firm known as the Illinois Facilities Fund (IFF) to conduct a foundational study which will help determine which schools will be proposed for closure. While IFF has done similar studies in Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee and St Louis, it is interesting that funding for this project was provided by the Walton Family Foundation who owns Wal-Mart. No competitive bidding process occurred. It is expected that the study will be completed by the end of November.

This study will be looking at schools test scores to determine if a school is “performing” or not.  They will not take into consideration other ways that a school is excelling for its students, parents and community. In similar studies, schools were determined to either be performing or not performing based on whether they meet or exceed 75% of the state standard in both reading and math. In DC, that standard would equate to 55% or more proficiency rates on the DC CAS. The numbers below reflect the number of “under performing DCPS schools” by wards: Ward 1 = 8 schools, Ward 2 = 3 schools, Ward 3 = 0 schools, Ward 4 = 11 schools, Ward 5 = 11 schools, Ward 6 = 11 schools, Ward 7 = 20 schools, and Ward 8 = 20 schools. We could potentially face high closure rates in some of our poorest wards.

After closing 23 schools during the Michelle Rhee administration in 2008, DCPS saw a 17 percent drop off rate in enrollment according to Washington Examiner Reporter  Michael Neibauer's September 8, 2008 article: "DC Public Schools Enrollment shows 17 percent drop off." Mary Levy who was quoted in Neibauer's 2008 article stated: "parents want some certainty, and closing schools is pretty much guaranteed to lead to loss of enrollment because we have so many other options." Those at the Empower DC meeting echoed these same concerns that were voiced earlier in 2008.

Many at the meeting saw the goal of another round of school closures as part of an ongoing reform model to privatize public education by closing traditional public schools with plans of replacing them with charter schools. Participants chimed in that DC Public Schools had not been transparent during this process  and that the study had no plans to include focus groups of critical stakeholders. While Deputy Mayor De'Shawn Wright has been quoted as saying there will be public input, it seems that community input will not be considered until after the preliminary analysis.

The meeting concluded with a brainstorming of ideas on next steps to fight school closures of our traditional public schools. Plans are being made for additional meetings to be held throughout the city. Participants were encouraged to spread the word and get members from their school communities actively involved. If you want to become involved in saving our public schools, contact Daniel by email @  or call 202-234-9119 ext. 104.

Stay tuned as more details emerge on upcoming meetings.