Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright has encountered some sharply negative responses to the IFF study of school capacity in the nation’s capital.
The study commissioned by D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), made public Jan. 26, divided traditional public and public charter schools into four tiers, based primarily on test scores. It took a deep dive into 10 seriously underserved neighborhoods to assess their education needs.
Wright stresses that IFF delivered recommendations only, and he promises that the report is the beginning of a long conversation with communities about the future of their schools. But his statement Monday that the report “does not call for the closure” of DCPS schools and “does not recommend transforming those schools into charter schools” contradicts what is in the document.
On page six, the report says (with my addition of bold type for relevant passages):
1. Invest in facilities and programs to accelerate performance in Tier 2 schools.
2. Close or turnaround Tier 4 DCPS schools. Close Tier 4 charter schools.
3. Fill seats in Tier 1 schools, Sustain the performing capacity of Tier 1 schools.
4. Monitor Tier 3 schools.”
On Page 42, Recommendation 2 says:
“Within the Top Ten [underserved neighborhoods] close all Tier 4 charter schools or negotiate a transfer of the charter to a Tier 1 charter operator. U ndertake a cost/benefit analysis to determine whether to turnaround or close Tier 4 DCPS schools.”
On Page 43:
“If the cost/benefit analysis reveals that renovation is prohibitively expensive or an alternative DCPS school is a better investment, t he school should be closed.”
A bit further down on the same page:
“To retain building capacity, coordinate the closure of DCPS schools with [the Public Charter School Board]. As necessary, authorize a charter school within the same building or in the immediate vicinity before school closure.”
Wright appears to be trying to contain the incendiary politics that come with these issues. Over the last few days, some observers who were skeptical of IFF because of its connections to the charter movement have questioned the report’s methodology and conclusions.
Washington Teachers’ Union president Nathan Saunders expressed concern about the implications for traditional public school jobs. He described the report as “an assault on traditional public education and a serious threat to thousands of public school teachers that shoulder the responsibility of educating children every day in the District of Columbia.” He’s called a Feb. 23 membership meeting to discuss possible union actions. None of the District’s charter schools have unionized teachers--consistent with the pattern in most charters around the country.
In a letter to Gray, Cathy Reilly of SHAPPE (Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators) said the report leaves an impression that decisions have been made before people have had a chance to be heard.
“The choice to release this report with these recommendations as the out-of-boundary and enrollment process prepares to kick off has already hurt and destabilized the very neighborhoods we should be working to strengthen,” Reilly said. “Even if unintentionally, it sent the message to the communities where trust is very thin, that decisions have all ready been made. This severely threatens the potential of a process that will truly engage our citizens in a conversation about the quality education we all want.”
Mark Simon of Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform, questioned IFF’s heavy reliance on test score data, especially in light of evidence that raises the possibility scores were inflated at some schools by cheating in 2008-09. Simon added:
“The IFF researchers failed to consider recent history in DCPS, before making their recommendations. The track record of school turnarounds in DCPS since 2008 has been an embarrassment. Outside management firms have been brought in to run Dunbar, Anacostia, and Coolidge high schools. Two have abandoned their partners. None of them have achieved significantly better results. School consolidations have led to explosive results at Hart MS and elsewhere. The national report card for national charter chains has not been good. In other words, there is no silver bullet contained in changing the management of schools. Nevertheless, the folks at IFF are wedded to this recommendation as their bias. It will be resisted in DC for good reason.”