DC School Reform: Follow the Money

Given the low test scores and low graduation rates in the District of Columbia public school system, few would argue that things need to change in DCPS.  Unfortunately, years of experimentation, blaming teachers, closing schools or turning them over to charter school companies has done considerably more harm than good.  The question should be asked, why doesn’t the mayor give more credibility to the solutions offered by school stake-holders–students, parents, teachers and members of the surrounding community?   The answer becomes clear when we look at who’s been pushing for all this reform despite the fact that IT’S NOT WORKING.

In January of 2012 the Gray Administration through the Deputy Mayor for Education’s office released a report by the IFF (Illinois Facilities Fund) entitled “Quality Schools”.  This report was paid for with private money from the Walton Foundation and the report is recommending the closure/turnover to Charter of 37 DC public schools.  When you take a close look at all of the money behind these efforts it is very clear the agenda these pro-charter/pro market-based education reform organizations have. Check it out:

Walton Foundation (owners of Walmart) – The Walton foundation is one of the key funders of market-based education reform.  Education reform in this case meaning–choice in the form of charters, competition rather than cooperation, deregulation and a lack of accountabilty, no unions, data-based decision making and high-stakes testing.  In addition to the IFF, here are the organizations funded by the Walton foundation can be found on their 2011 education reform grant list.
Illinois Facility Fund or IFF – The sole criteria used by Illinois Facility Fund’s “Quality Schools Report” to judge how a school is performing was the DC CAS test scores.  Given the controversy over test score erasures, this source is questionable at best.  The study was paid for with a $100,000 grant from the Walton Foundation.  Aside from providing research and data services, the IFF is also a lender to various “non-profits” one key group being charter and private schools.  Is it any surprise that their report suggests that DC turn more public schools into charter schools, which would increase the demand for their service as a lender.
Deputy Mayor for Education Reform De’Shawn Wright – Before coming to DC, De’Shawn Wright worked in Newark, NJ under Mayor Corey Booker and was a founding partner of the Newark Charter School Fund, which was created with the help of a $4 million dollar grant from the Walton Foundation.  The Deputy Mayor of Education (DME) is planning to have meetings over the summer on “Quality Education” which are being funded by the CityBridge Foundation.
CityBridge Foundation (founded by David and Katherine Bradley) – CityBridge Foundation is paying for Public Agenda to plan the meetings the DME’s office will be having around “Quality Schools”.  CityBridge Foundation counts the Walton Foundation, FOCUS (Friends of Choice in Urban Schools), KIPP DC, Charter Board Partners, amongst its “Partners”.   To see a full list of partners go to  http://www.citybridgefoundation.org/Collaboration/Current-Partners and http://www.citybridgefoundation.org/Collaboration/Thought-Partners.  Katherine Bradley sits on the Executive Committee of the Federal City Council on the Education Reform Committee.
Federal City Council – The Federal City Council is a group of the District’s most politically powerful business leaders (bankers, the media, etc.) who have a lot of behind-the-scenes influence on what happens in our city.

For more info and to join Empower DC’s campaign to fight school closures please contact Daniel del Pielago at 202-234-9119 xt. 104 or Daniel@empowerdc.org

3 comments to DC School Reform: Follow the Money

  • Thank you to Daniel del Pielago from Empower DC for providing some important context to the current community engagement effort going on in DC, though we would like to take a moment to clarify our role within that context.

    We understand that this effort is coming at the heels of studies and initiatives that have been controversial and we agree, too, that it’s often helpful to understand the interests of funders when making sense of a situation. However, any description of the current efforts is incomplete without also honoring the good intentions of the various actors who are trying to find a better path forward.

    Public Agenda seeks to improve problem solving within communities by engaging diverse members in authentic, productive dialogue and making sure all stakeholders have a seat at the table. Our motivation for participating in the DME’s community engagement initiative is to create opportunities for more voices to be a part of decision making around access to quality schools in DC. We know that the challenges faced in DC run deep, but these conversations, in our view, are opportunities to support public problem solving in ways that can mean better results for thousands of kids.

    We take our mission very seriously and have been openly critical of public engagement efforts that are less than authentic, are doubtful of the quality or importance of public knowledge, or show a lack of commitment to following up on the results of engagement. We bring these expectations to all of our engagement work, and the project with the DME and CityBridge is no different. If we thought that special interests had this community engagement effort rigged, we would not have agreed to be a part of it.

    The participation and knowledge of several organizations like Empower DC are critical to not only improving opportunities for DC’s young people but also to bringing community voice to these improvement and change efforts. We thank Daniel for being a valuable addition to the planning meetings and for bringing a critical perspective to the development of this project.

    – Jyoti Gupta and Gwen Wright, Public Agenda

  • Thank you Daniel for the informative post.

    @Ms. Gupta and Ms. Wright: The basic DME statements about the Engagement Initiative mention says: “Such conversations are frequently a first step in a larger process of community engagement, collaboration and action and have been put to good use in hundreds of communities nationwide.” But they outline NO LARGER PROCESS at all beyond including neighborhood conversation responses in a report due out fall of 2012. This means little, if any, actual engagement with community ideas before they make their recommendations… And DME has been pretty clear about it’s unwillingness to “guarantee” any weight to community thoughts.

    Moreover, by dividing the “conversations” into neighborhood pockets and NOT ALLOWING ANY CITYWIDE DISCUSSION about a decision that could, without exaggeration, destroy public education in DC, is just unconscionable. Neighborhood views are essential, of course, but they cannot be the whole story here.

    Is Public Agenda in a position to insist on an authentic, sensible process that actually includes all concerned about our schools. Maybe beginning with — just to take one example — a schools-related conversation that occurs while parents of school children are not out on vacation??!

  • Without impugning Public Agenda, BTW — seriously: this is unrelated to their work — some of us are calling on the Mayor and the Council Chair to “Reject Venture-Controlled ‘Public’ Education” in the District. Please read and considering adding your voice —

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