A Secret Task Force of Billionaire-Backed Ed ‘Reformers’ Have Once Again Monopolized DC School Leadership

Valerie Jablow writes periodically about abuses of leadership in DC publicly-funded schools. In this post, she reports on a task force — completely unknown to the public — that is in charge of deciding what to do about ‘learning loss’ during the current pandemic.

I’ll quote a few passages, but I advise you to read the whole thing here.

“The task force members, almost to a person, have ties to ed reform, school choice, and charter proliferation, with many working for organizations that have received private foundation money (Walton, Gates) that has fueled the same.

“The only public hint that the task force existed at all was dropped back in December, when a COW report said this on p. 7 (boldface mine):

“’The Committee [COW] has also worked to understand the learning loss students have experienced during the pandemic and what strategies the District should pursue to mitigate it. Recognizing that the pandemic is an unprecedented situation and that alleviating substantial learning loss would require innovative, yet proven methods, the Committee assembled a taskforce of public education experts and researchers in May 2020For the past six months, the Committee has met regularly with the taskforce and gained a deeper understanding of the learning loss that is occurring in the District. The taskforce has also identified strategies that have been used to ease the learning loss that occurs annually over summer break and ways to adapt those strategies to the current situation. The Committee has used this information to guide its oversight of DCPS and public charter schools’ mitigation efforts. Moreover, recommendations from this taskforce helped guide the Committee’s budget priorities for the fiscal year 2021 budget.’

“The idea of the council meeting with this (non-teacher) task force to worry over learning loss (and its BFF, re-opening schools), while at the same time limiting public voices at hearings on re-opening in December and January (not to mention entirely eliminating the education committee), is pretty rich.”

“But it gets even richer when you consider the following:

“–Only a bit more than half of the DCPS slots allocated for in person learning were claimed days before it was slated to begin, which suggests less-than-enthusiastic buy-in for in person learning.

“–The office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) is determined to move ahead with PARCC testing, despite the fact that it’s not likely schools will make the 95% participation OSSE requires before imposing penalties—and that testing conditions will be, uh, variable.

“The irony with that last piece is that applications for seats of choice are waaaaay down this school year, with nearly every ward and every grade seeing huge drops in applications through the lottery.

“Despite that reality (outlined at the January meeting of OSSE’s common lottery board), the board touted the success of its annual Ed Fest, which this year featured 1,473 virtual participants (out of more than 90,000 students in DC’s publicly funded schools—but hey, who’s counting?)”

Jablow also points out that it’s very hard for parents, students or teachers to keep up with all the school closings (especially among the charter schools) in DC. Also, it remains the case that in DC (as in most of the USA) the worst-run schools are reserved for underserved, low-income Black and Latino children. Here are a couple of charts on this:

A Modest Proposal: NRFEL

I have a modest proposal.


The lower a student performs on the various tests, obviously the more resources it takes to get that student up to par (however you define “par”).

Obviously, right now, regular public schools, especially those in low-income areas, have disproportionately large percentages of those such low-performing, high-needs students.

The current, popular accusation is that the school teachers in those inner-city schools are deliberately sabotaging the learning of those students (and causing that low performance), under union protection.

It is charged that if schools were privatized in general, and/or if teacher union organizations were smashed, then freed-up non-union public schools, and also charter and private and parochial schools, would do a better job.

But today, let’s be honest. All of those high-performing schools are selective. And/or, they put out the low-performers, and the ones they consider ‘rotten apples.’

There has to be some place for housing the kids who are put out of, or simply not allowed in to, more-exclusive schools (be they charter, boarding, magnet, ritzy private, ritzy public, etc., etc…). And guess where that is?

Right. The regular, comprehensive public schools. Especially in poor rural areas and the inner city, there are lots of kids with lots of serious deficiencies, which take a LOT of work to overcome. But many of these schools are totally overwhelmed — I’ve seen it. I’ve seen schools in total chaos, where much of the time, nearly no teaching and learning can possibly take place. Or else it takes an absolute Superman or Wonder Woman to accomplish some teaching in one corner of the school, and only with lots of administrative support, which is denied to the rest of the school…  I’ve seen that, too.

OK,  If those other schools do so much better, let’s try a truly randomized experiment to see if that’s really true. Or else let’s give all of our kids the opportunity to go there.


But what if we turn that on its head? And actually use the ONE positive proposal that Michele Rhee, ever came up with?

Here it is: In four words, it’s this:

USE A REAL LOTTERY.

Use a real lottery for all.

I will call my proposal the Non-Revokable Full-year-long Exchange Lottery (NRFEL for short).

Under NRFEL, in every officially designated ‘failing’ public school, all of the low-performing students would be placed in a lottery. Based on the outcome of the lottery, those students would be selected either to :


(1) stay at their regular school, or

(2) to attend a randomly-selected high-performing school; said school would be either…

(a) located within a two-hour bus ride of the home of the student, or

(b) be a boarding school located anywhere in the USA.

Important terms:

(3) All this would be for no extra taxpayer dollars. Yup.

(4) None of these exchange students could be denied entry, for any reason.

(5) None of these exchange students could be subsequently be put out by the receiving school, FOR ANY REASON until the end of the school year, and the students and their parents would know that. (6) Re-assessments would take place exactly once a year, during the summer break, to discern whether the exchange should continue. If the student then is performing adequately, he or she would return to his or her original school. Let me repeat: those high-performing schools would include ALL high-performing schools within a 2-hour bus ride. Oh, and they also include ALL boarding schools in the nation. For no additional money.

Don’t worry about overcrowding the receiving schools. NRFEL takes care of that. as follows.

(7) Each student in each high-achieving school is also placed in a lottery.

(8) Every school that receives one of the low-achieving or handicapped students from a ‘failing’ would simply send back one adequately -performing student, chosen at random in this second lottery. It could be worked out later whether there would be exact, one-for-one exchanges, or whether all students being moved would be put into a general “pool”.  This is a 1:1 exchange ratio: one kid in, one kid out. So class sizes, overall, wouldn’t rise. But there might be need for physical therapists, mental health and social service professionals, reading and math specialists, as well as security guards in some cases. None of which the school district shall be liable for funding.

A very good question arises: what if the receiving school receives so many low-achieving students that it is overwhelmed and enters the category of “failing school” because they are unable to work enough of a miracle in one year? Well, then they can enter the lottery the next year on the other side of the tracks (so to speak).


One aspect I haven’t decided on yet for NRFEL is whether there should also be a similar randomized exchanges of teachers and staff and administration between high-achieveing and low-achieving schools. So I will put this is up for debate. Perhaps this feature could be a separate experiment in geographical region. (Imagine teachers and staff at Sidwell, Holton-Arms, and BCC randomly exchanging places with teachers at schools in deepest Anacostia or inside the near-DC PG County Beltway area.)


I know what you are thinking: NCLB has something like this, but often there is no room in the ‘receiving schools’. In fact, this has happened a lot in DCPS already. NRFEL takes care of this. First, it’s random, so it’s not merely selecting the kids with the most-motivated parents. Second, it’s ALL schools, no matter what denomination, ownership status, or jurisdiction. The exact numbers of exchange students and their distribution could be debated in committee hearings. I propose that each geographical region (think, Washington Metro Area, or Greater Washington, or Delmarva Peninsula, or Greater New York) would take a census of all youth, and their academic levels, to decide how to allot those students among high-and-low-achieving schools. After all, just about all of our public school students have to take lots of standardized tests. What better possible use could we make of this data? NRFEL’s goal is equalizing educational opportunity for all youth, and isn’t that supposedly what America is based on?
Let me emphasize one thing. None of these receiving schools would have the right or capacity to send any of these students back, nor to expel them. They would have to keep them and deal with them for a full school year, whether they are sick, incarcerated or hospitalized, or truant, or  whether they come to school each and every single day and join the rugby or football or hockey or computer-tech club at their new school. For no extra expense, remember.


What ever could we use to ‘persuade’ parochial and private schools to go along? Public charter schools and magnet schools are funded by public money anyway, so they would have to comply. But think of this: private and religious schools get substantial benefits and subsidies from society and government. I will just mention one public subsidy for these schools: tax exemption!


(BTW: have you recently noticed the bill for tuition at the high-flying local private schools?)


Oh, and the low-performing schools can’t put their high-performing return-exchange students out, either. Though those schools might just find that those students will hold their own pretty well, forming substantial fractions of the school’s student government, athletic teams, and other clubs, not to mention their honor roll…


Waddaya say?

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