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.


Anonymous said...

We need to get more people on board to stop these closures. It is very apparent that this type of reform is about privatizing the school system.

efavorite said...

Considering that charters aren't performing at higher levels than regular DCPS schools it seems like closings will just shift kids, not improve their education.

It sounds like the adults have given up on trying to improve education and are now focused on moving the money from public to private hands.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting the word out on school closings. I shared with my principal and the teachers and PTA at my school. Keep up the good work.

Interesting post by William said...

This appeared on Concerned4DCPS list serve and is a must read:

"School closing in DC only in a tangential sense have anything to do with educational policy. Closing schools in DC is more about housing and
social policy designed to displace middle and work class families with those of how in theory have higher incomes and demand less city services. This
primarily means a community and economic development public policy designed primarily to displace Black middle and work class families with children, although Latinos are also negatively affected by this public policy.

Education reform for the most part is a vehicle for implementing this larger policy, which charters being a significant tool. In the policy charter schools served two purposes, income for developers early on to help them generate income why land banking parcels of land and two to accelerate the depopulation of public schools in targeted neighborhoods. If this was the deep south this policy would be illegal under civil rights laws.

School closures are a disinvestment policy to accelerate this policy. The results of this disinvestment policy is then used to justify further
disinvestment. Biases around race, class and ethnicity allows policy makers to get away with this."

Mary Melcohior said...

I think there are a few very important issues with the IFF report. First IFF is a charter advocacy organization and it will work to analyze data to
support the idea of closing traditional public schools and replacing them with charters. It sets a standard of "good schools" based on test scores and will not include in that analysis different subgroups within a school.

So if one school has overall worse scores than another but out performs the "better" school on every subgroup it will be closed because of overall
test scores are lower. It will not do any adjustment for charter dumping, and it will not evaluate any other value of schools, or legal requirements.
So if closing a school will mean many thousands of dollars in additional transportation costs for DCPS that will not be included. I'm not sure DCPS
would do that analysis either, but that is a separate issue.

The other thing is the IFF report is happening at the same time as the Public Education Reform Commission is doing work on the "fairness" of the
allocation of funds between DCPS and charters. The commission has 4 charter representatives for one DCPS representative and their first list of
data needs read like a laundry list of complaints by charters about DCPS getting extra funds. Some of them were incredibly egregious, like looking
at special directed funds for DCPS outside of the per pupil allocation, but not looking at the same for charters. Nothing about charter dumping,
nothing about extra requirements for DCPS like guaranteeing walking distance to schools. Additionally our deputy mayor for education has
suggested that Ward 5 doesn't need to improve middle grade offerings from DCPS, we should just get a nice charter school. And he probably won't be
working with our local charters but bringing in national chains where he might get a cushy job after he has messed things up here.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back blogging and writing in themail.

Marvin the Wise said...

Closing is a necessity. We cannot afford to give everyone a "neighborhood school." That is crazy. We are ruining our budget. It will lead to teacher layoffs,

Anonymous said...

I am for closing the "idea" of a traditional school. Naturally, we don't want oversized classrooms. What I am saying here is that the idea of the traditional classroom is not what the students of the future need. Students need the real esate of the actual building that houses the classroom, but not the current educational paradigm. I imagine that students in a iTouch world would do well in a classroom that keeps up with the way society has rewired their brains. It does no good to put today's student in a traditional analog classroom where they are bored and failing. This is a new time that requires from teachers and communities innovation that at least matches the innovation of the emerging young mind.