The Ward 5 Quality Schools Community Engagement Meeting and the IFF Report: Why Community Meetings Must Challenge the IFF Report’s Legitimacy and Reject Its Recommendations
Written by Erich Martel, cross-posted from DCPS Watch.
Erich Martel is a Retired DCPS High School Teacher (Cardozo, Wilson, Phelps)
On July 31, 2012, I attended the Ward 5 Quality Schools Community Engagement Meeting, one of five ward meetings. It was initiated by the DME (Deputy Mayor of Education) to address the recommendations of the IFF (Illinois Facilities Fund) report, which recommends the closure, “turnaround” or “transfer to charter operators” of 37 DCPS schools, including five in Ward 5.
Before and during the Ward 5 meeting, the DME, DME staff and Public Agenda facilitator insisted that the meetings were not about the IFF report, but only to solicit the public’s ideas about school quality. In discussion group #3, efforts to include a statement opposing the IFF report were opposed by the DME staffer and the Public Agenda facilitator. Their response was to minimize the importance of the IFF report and to assure us that our concerns would be best addressed by describing the elements of “quality” that we want to see in our schools. The other part of their strategy was to split the participants into multiple groups, have them spend the entire time discussing, making long lists, then putting colored stickies on our preferences, and, finally, reports from each group to the whole group. No time was allotted for the whole group to vote on the recommendations.
This two-part strategy (divide participants into small groups; focus discussion on broad generalities, instead of the real issue) is designed to isolate concerned parents and community members in small groups and limit discussion to an agenda that avoids the most important issues.
The resulting lists of “qualities” will be attached to the DME’s recommendations, in his report. He will write that every quality criterion can be met by closure, turnaround, or transfer to charter operators, the IFF report’s recommendations. In the meantime, while the DME is diverting parents and residents’ concerns into make-believe discussions about school quality, the Public Charter School Board has initiated a speeded-up process for “experienced charter operators” to open new charters in DC by August 2013 and the DCPS Chancellor is seeking charter authority to cover up her and Rhee’s failed reform policies. Both charter initiatives have the full support of Mayor Gray and DME Wright.
The evidence (with links) supporting this analysis is below, followed by suggestions for moving forward. Statements or documents by the Mayor, the DME, the DCPS Chancellor and the Public Charter School Board all show that each one is seeking to increase “the number of high quality public charter school seats.” In fact, OSSE’s plan to water down graduation requirements may be part of their effort to attract charter high schools.
Evidence: The five “quality school community engagement meetings” are really about the IFF report
In written responses to the Council’ oversight questions, this past February, the DME wrote: “DME is beginning a process of community engagement based on the IFF report data. This engagement will begin in April 2012 and last through the fall. DME is working with DCPS, PCSB, and community members to hold facilitated conversations in each of the ‘Top 10’ neighborhood clusters as identified in the IFF report.”
The DME’s statement clearly means “public engagement” on the subject of the “IFF report data.” His next and final sentence attempts to shift focus away from the IFF report to something vague and undefined, “quality schools”:
“An integral part of these community conversations will be soliciting feedback from communities about their vision for quality schools.” (Office of the DME Performance Oversight Questions, 2/9/2012, p.12: http://www.dccouncil.us/files/user_uploads/budget_responses/fy11_12_agencyperformance_depmayorforeducation_responses.pdf )
Making “quality schools” an “integral part of these community conversations” does not negate the previous sentences’ focus on IFF data. More importantly, “feedback” can only be solicited for information already reported to those expected to give feedback. The community had information on the IFF report’s recommendations and its newly invented category, “performing seats,” after the report was posted in January. That is the only information which ward residents could study and then give knowledgeable “feedback.” The DME provided no information on the subject of a “vision for quality schools,” on which the community could give knowledgeable “feedback.”
There is nothing in the DME’s response that makes “the IFF report data” an off-limits topic as the DME, DME staff and Public Agenda facilitator tried to enforce.
The evidence that the Mayor, the DME, the DCPS Chancellor and the DC Public Charter Board are promoting a rapid expansion of charter “seats”
1) The Mayor supports and takes credit for the IFF Study and its recommendations.
“Action 2.2.2: Develop Strategies To Create In D.C. Public Schools And D.C. Public Charter Schools.
“The IFF study, Quality Schools: Every Child, Every School, Every Neighborhood commissioned by the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor of Education, indicated that the District will need to increase the number of educational options or “quality seats” that prepare children for future academic success in both DCPS and D.C. public charter school system. The study identified ten neighborhood clusters with a high need for quality academic seats. In conjunction with the report’s findings, the DME will engage the community in conversations to further examine academic needs in each of the neighborhood clusters. At the conclusion of the community conversations, the DME will release a report with recommended strategies to bring forth more quality seats in the District.” (Vincent Gray, One City Action Plan, p.25, July 2012: http://mayor.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/mayor/publication/attachments/One_City_Action_Plan.pdf )
2) Chancellor Henderson and Mayor Gray want DCPS to have the authority to grant charters
“Henderson voiced unconditional support for chartering authority Thursday at a D.C. Council hearing.
“Henderson said the traditional school system would benefit by giving schools the kind of freedom that charters enjoy. What we know is that autonomy leads to innovation and success,” Henderson said. She added that she viewed restoration of chartering authority not as a means of competing with the charter board but as a way to collaborate and move with dispatch to place good schools in underserved neighborhoods.” “District Seeks Return of Charting Authority” by Bill Turque, Washington Post, 2/23/2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-schools-insider/post/district-seeks-return-of-chartering-authority/2012/02/23/gIQAB54YWR_blog.html
Henderson’s touting of chartering authority as “autonomy [that] leads to innovation and success” is a deception:
a) The failure of many charter schools proves that innovation can lead to failure as well as success;
b) The current contract with the WTU allows for procedures, whereby the faculty of a school can vote to adopt a non-traditional schedule. If 2/3 or all faculty members (WTU bargaining unit) vote to adopt it, it can go into effect. Teachers who don’t like the non-traditional schedule have the right to transfer to another school.
If the issue is a longer school day, that can be negotiated via a memorandum of agreement or new contract provision with the president of the WTU.
The real reason is that Henderson does not want to go that route, because it would limit her ability to terminate teachers in schools that are closed, turned around or transferred to charters. She wants to use chartering authority as another vehicle to excess and terminate teachers.
c) Henderson has managed or co-managed DCPS for over five years. In most of the 37 DCPS schools cited in the IFF, the majority of the faculty has been hired by Rhee and Henderson since June 2007. The management and academic policies they implemented must be independently analyzed to determine the reasons for 37 schools to have failed.
3. The DC Public Charter Board is Seeking to “expand the number of high quality public charter school seats available to the DC public.”
– A speeded up process to attract “experienced charter operators” to open as early as August 2013;
– A process for new charter school start-ups to open as early as August 2014. http://tinyurl.com/cos67fl (on the DC Public Charter Board web site, 7/12/2012)
– See also: “DC Wants Experience Charter Operators, in a Hurry” by Bill Turque (7/3/2012), http://preview.tinyurl.com/8to6mh