Jan 26, 2012

Is It Closing Time Again For More DC Public Schools?

Written by Candi Peterson

Join Empower DC's Exposing DC's Equation for Displacement: Info on DCPS closings & plan of action Saturday,  Feb. 4 @ 11 am -1:30pm @  1419 V St NW

The headlines from today's top education stories reads: "Many public schools in D.C.’s poorest area should be transformed or shut, study says; more charters recommended" written by Bill Turque, Washington Post writer while Mike Debonis' blog: DeMorning Links reads: "School Closings Contemplated" and Channel Fox Five TV news reported the DC School System study recommends making major improvements or close three dozen under performing public schools or expand high performing charter schools.

The Washington Teacher blog first reported on October 31, 2011 about future plans to close additional DC public schools. An excerpt from the 21st Century School Fund September - October newsletter stated: "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 "right sizing" district schools which beyond consolidation could include reconstitution and replacement with school management organizations."

Not unlike other major cities including NY, Chicago, Ohio- DC has been at the forefront of shutting down traditional public schools. In 2008, twenty-three public schools were closed under former DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee and then mayor Adrian Fenty which led to a community outcry to save our public schools. Local education stakeholders voices weren't heeded by Rhee or Fenty and only one neighborhood elementary school- John Burroughs was saved from the chopping block.

Natalie Hopkinson who authored the article - "Why School Choice Fails"which appeared in the December 4, 2011 N.Y. Times discussed how this country’s reform policies in Washington, DC- put in place by a Republican led congress in 1995 led to the birth of many of our charter schools. Hopkinson wrote:" if a school was deemed failing, students could transfer schools, opt to attend a charter school or receive a voucher to attend a private school. The idea was to introduce competition; good schools would survive; bad ones would disappear. It effectively created a second education system, which now enrolls nearly half the city’s public school students. The charters consistently perform worse than the traditional schools, yet they are rarely closed."

The results of IFF's study recommend that DC make major improvements or close thirty six under performing schools in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods or expand high performing charter schools. It’s a finding that heralds the continued growth of the charter schools sector at the expense of the D.C. Public Schools, if not its outright domination. While some people are questioning the motives of the Illinois Facilities Fund, the study is “likely to rekindle impassioned debate about possible school closures and the future of public education in the District,” Bill  Turque notes. Officials tell Turque, education writer for the Post that any decisions about a “major restructuring” are at least a year and many community meetings away.

What comes as no surprise to anyone is that schools in ward 8 were identified as having the greatest need, according to the IFF study. The study recommended turning around or closing the following public schools: Simon, Patterson, Terrell-McGogney and Ferebee-Hope and closing two bottom-rung charter schools, Center City Congress Heights (pre-K to 8) and Imagine Southeast (pre-K to 5). H.D. Woodson Senior High School which is located in Ward 7  was also recommended for turn around or closure, a school which recently has undergone capital investment which cost millions of dollars in investment. 

One of the things that I find disturbing about IFF's report is the recommendation for DC to consider expanding charter schools in the 10 targeted neighborhood clusters and call for the DC Public Charter School Board to authorize about 6,500 new charter seats (current enrollment is about 32,000) while utilizing former public school buildings as incentives to get the public charter board to actively recruit the highest performing charter school operators to replicate their school models. 

The writing should be on the wall for all of us to see. If it's not, I don't know what to tell you. From where I sit, this situation looks bleak for working, middle class families and many of our teachers in some of our poorest communities. The loss of our public schools is a disinvestment in our school communities and may lead to higher classrooms sizes, further declining enrollment in DC public schools and extinction of traditional public schools and fewer teaching jobs. Now is not the time for parents, students, teachers, school staff and community members to sit back. We have to ask the hard questions, organize and demand to have a voice as education stakeholders or we may likely have a re-run of the 2008 school closures.

On November 8, 2011 - I issued a call to action to DC teachers and school personnel: "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 organizing 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 public schools." Won't you heed the call to get involved before your local school is reconstituted and turned over to a charter school, your job is lost and your community no longer includes you?

© Candi Peterson 2013


Confused in Missouri said...

According to the language of the Washington Post article on this, Gray wants to close 40 "traditional public schools" in poor neighborhoods and replace them with "high-performing" charters.

This language is flawed. A charter is not "high-performing" until it performs. Why do we think this unproven model will be better? Better for whom?

Confused in Missouri said...

According to the language of the Washington Post article on this, Gray wants to close 40 "traditional public schools" in poor neighborhoods and replace them with "high-performing" charters.

This language is flawed. A charter is not "high-performing" until it performs. Why do we think this unproven model will be better? Better for whom?

MM said...

great article and call to do something

P.C. said...


Sounds like DC leadership is on the run; cowering from its responsibility to provide an excellent education for all if its citizens. Poor, inept past "leadership" has brought this on, replacing our commitment to public education with an unproven, mercenary system.

Is this the legacy of the former chancellor? We knew the Rhee fiasco was mean-spirited and dangerous. Now we clearly see the consequences of her self-serving, vacuous, unethical practices: our own local government's abandonment of sense of mission and community, respect for the teaching profession, understanding and acceptance of diversity of students and communities, innovative teaching, and a substantive, enlightened, relevant, and transferable education for all of our city's children and young adults. Sadly, she continues her desperate campaign to attempt to justify her methods and herself nationally.

Has our Mayor and DC Council abdicated their responsibility to provide an excellent public education? Is this what we get for entrusting our officials? Is this really what we expected when we voted for the current leadership? Is the focus on numbers, test scores, and privatization really what we want in our hometown's education system? Aren't we more resourceful? And where is the articulation of values in all of this?

Hopefully our leaders, in conjunction with our licensed teachers and the Washington Teacher's Union under the current leadership will step up, mobilize our educators and citizens, and actively articulate the real values of a public education system for all of DC.

Each one of our public schools should provide an excellent education to it's community. Every student's educational needs and learning styles must be addressed. Our city's leaders must be helped to understand this is what we expect in a responsible, responsive, respectful public education system.

Anonymous said...

Every year around this time it is the same story. More and more schools in the same parts of the city are either cited as needing to close or to be reconstituted. The actions, however do not show any remediation to the actual problem. When will the system see the real problem that really plagues education? Children need to be taught and not just tested. How can you test when you don't teach the skills that are tested? These are issues that are really at hand. How can you teach when behavior management is out of control? This is true for many of the charters as well.

It is time that educators get on the same page and start looking at the real problems. It is a bandaid to rebuild a building and to take all personnel and shift them. There needs to be a long term solution that will make a difference in the lives of the children. If not, we are doomed to have an illiterate society continue to grow in our schools.

five to go said...

@anonymousJanuary 28, 2012:3:36am I like your point of view, "children need to be taught and not just tested". This system DCPS /DC Council are not understanding how learning/teaching works. We used to have a school board, yeah it was not always the best, but they served a purpose. The current school board/city council are not prepared to run the school system's budget. These people, and the current chancellor are ill prepared, they have no experience in operating a school system. The parents should be protesting about this latest flawed leadership failure to work for the students. We are more separate and unequal than ever before.

Candi Peterson said...

Empower DC, a well respected grassroots community based organization in DC will be holding a citizens summit on Saturday, February 4, 2012 from 11am - 1:30 pm @ 1419 V Street NW. At this summit they will discuss DC's proposed school closings and the efforts underway to save our public schools. Please join the effort. Contact Daniel @ 202-234-9119 or Daniel@empowerdc.org for more information.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your analysis and plight of saving our public education system. We all know that creating more public charter schools is not the answer nor solution to saving DC public schools. I agree with you, that parents, educators and members of the community must act now to save public education. We should focus more in putting additional resources (computers, books, staff, etc.) into these poor performing schools instead of dismantling them. Please keep me informed as to how we can unite in this effort to save our schools.

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efavorite said...

to confused in Missouri (?)-- it's the consulting group, IFF, not "Gray" who recommends replacing traditional public schools with charters.

Mrs. Cauliflower said...

To Mrs. eFavorITe:

Yes the nationally known and highly regarded firm of IFF did the study. The group is expert at finding ways for charters and public schools to mesh.
Mr. Gray is obviously highly disposed to the recommendations in the report.
Responsible parents like its recommendations, too.
We need to change how the teacher-centric world of DCPS is run, for the benefit of all the students, especially in Wards 7 and 8. You, Mrs. eFavoriTe, should know this is true. We look forward to your support.

efavorite said...

Dear Mrs Cauliflower - nice try at sounding like "just folks"

Here is a comment made on today's post editorial about the study that sums up my feelings. I did not write it myself. It was written by "LaborLawyer" but I do agree with it.

This IFF study identifies low-test-score schools and recommends "solutions" (turnarounds, closing, or replacement by charter school), but does not even attempt to determine why the students at these schools have low test scores.

As analysis, this is clearly worthless.

First, we should determine why the students in these schools have low test scores.

Then, after we have determined why the students have low test scores, we should recommend solutions to the low-test-score problems.

The IFF study -- in recommending turnarounds, closings, and charter conversions -- implicitly concludes that there is something in the instructional program (teachers, administrators, facilities) at the low-test-score schools that is causing the low test scores. But -- there is no evidentiary basis for this implicit conclusion. Rather, the evidence shows an almost perfect correlation between school family income and school test scores. This correlation demonstrates that the school's student characteristics, not the school's instructional program, are causing the low test scores.

If it's the students' characteristics that are causing the low test scores, then there is no reason to believe that the recommended solutions -- replacing the teachers/administrators, reassigning the students to another neighborhood school, or having the students enroll in a charter school -- will improve the students' test scores.

Of course, it's possible that certain changes in the instructional program would improve test scores. But, only if those changes were rationally related to the student characteristics causing the low test scores. For example, classroom disruptions lower test scores and low-income are more likely to be disruptive than high-income students; therefore, changes in the instructional program to improve student classroom conduct might reasonably improve test scores. Similarly, poor reading skills lower test scores and low-income students are more likely than high-income students to read far below grade level; therefore, changes in the instructional program to improve reading skills might reasonably improve test scores. However, the IFF study does not recommend these kinds of changes to the instructional programs.

In short, the IFF study makes no effort to determine what is causing the low test scores. Accordingly, its recommendations for improving those low test scores are worthless.