Reposted from Valerie Jablow:

Fixing OSSE (And DC Democracy): Testimony From A DCPS Parent


[Ed. Note: On October 26, a subset of DC council members (Phil Mendelson, Janeese Lewis George, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brooke Pinto, and Charles Allen) heard hours of testimony on two bills that would change the governance structure of DC’s office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE).

One of the bills in the hearing would make OSSE an independent agency, while the other bill (co-sponsored by Lewis George and Robert White) would ensure its oversight by the elected state board of education (SBOE) and permit DCPS staff to run for elected office. In support of a change in governance, council members cited OSSE’s clear conflict of interest (wherein both it and DCPS now report to the mayor); the fact that many of our Black students are not achieving well; and OSSE’s withheld or undiscovered information about attendance, suspensions, and graduation rates in all DC publicly funded schools.

Public witnesses in support of the legislation noted that OSSE’s current governance shuts out the people most affected by its policies: parents, school staff, and students. In the meantime, true accountability for schools remains impossible when “bad news out of OSSE means loss of votes for the mayor” (per inimitable DCPS parent and ed researcher Betsy Wolf). Those opposing the legislation (mostly charter and ed reform interests) argued that it puts progress at risk, while adding a “burden” to schools and altering the “streamlined decision making” (our deputy mayor for education’s term) that currently exists.

Pointed exchanges occurred with questioning by Ward 4 council member Janeese Lewis George of the hearing’s sole government witness, deputy mayor for education Paul Kihn. In two sessions well worth the view (about 4:57:58 to 5:13:20 and 5:39:35 to 5:51:20 in the video), Lewis George asked Kihn about enrollment, use of federal covid relief funds, loss of Head Start funds, and retention of teachers. After about 5 minutes, a frustrated Kihn said the questions felt like a pop quiz and noted that he was used to responding in writing (!). Lewis George replied that she submitted the questions ahead of time, so not only had Kihn time to prepare answers, but also that this process ensured the answers got on the record verbally.

But beyond the (now) well-known and brutal history of our state education agency’s accountability gaps, the council testimony of Ward 4 lawyer and DCPS parent Robin Appleberry elegantly connected that history to the last 19 months of our pandemic—and to the idea and ideals of DC democracy itself.

Read on–and be sure to weigh in on the legislation before the record closes on November 9.]

By Robin Appleberry

Thank you, council, for holding this important hearing. My name is Robin Appleberry, and I am a parent in Ward 4. I have lived in DC for over 20 years, and my children have attended our neighborhood public schools for over 7 years. Based on my family’s experiences and the core principles of democracy, inclusion, and accountability that I know all of you embrace, I urge you to support the DC State Education Agency Independence Amendment Act, sponsored by Councilmember Lewis George, as well as sensible amendments to realize its goals.

Mr. Chairman, when you disbanded this council’s committee on education almost a year ago, you stated that every member of this council is now responsible for education. I agree. You and others on this council speak often about your commitment to equity in education. I applaud that commitment. And many of you have spoken powerfully about why statehood is critical to democracy and justice for DC. For example, last March Chairman Mendelson testified to Congress on behalf of this entire body that independent, locally elected representation is “the only way to ensure a . . . system that is sensitive to community values” and “the only way to give residents a full, guaranteed and irrevocable voice.” I agree. And those same commitments and principles should compel you to support the moderate and sensible reform proposed by the Lewis George legislation.

At the heart of your many statements to the people of this city and to Congress is the notion of checks and balances, the idea that power is unjust and unsustainable without transparency, accountability, and–perhaps most important–the participation of those directly affected.

But that is exactly what we have with unchecked mayoral control over schools.

Families living the reality of public education in DC have no reliable information and no real voice in the policies that shape our children’s health, safety, growth and well being. And let’s be clear–the majority of these children and families are Black, Latine, recent immigrant or otherwise in communities subject to vast historic and continuing inequity. So when we call for equity but oppose accountability to those most affected, we are performing, not leading.

Reopening during the pandemic is a perfect example: at every decision point in the last 19 months, the mayor has obscured, mischaracterized, withheld, or even refused to collect essential health data; infantilized, disempowered, and discounted the lived experiences of children, families, and educators; and misled the public and this council about the critical factors such as building safety, digital resource distribution, behavioral support services, staffing, and more. The message to me from the mayor, the chancellor, the deputy mayor for education and OSSE throughout the pandemic has been crystal clear: We know better than you what is best for your child. And not only should you trust us to decide that for your family, you should not ask us to explain ourselves, to show that our commitments are met, or even to share the data on which we rely to make decisions.

Experience has made plain that without the accountability and oversight that only a truly independent body can provide, the mayor and those who report to her answer only to this council, which cannot possibly serve as a close and comprehensive check on that consolidated power.

Even when this council identifies a serious gap and musters the collective will to act, its ability to remedy the situation is profoundly limited, by procedure and by bandwidth. We can look at the recent emergency legislation enacted by this council just weeks ago, which did not even manage to ensure that any student living with a medically vulnerable family member can learn virtually until the child can be vaccinated against covid-19. Would anyone here feel comfortable sending a member of their household to spend all day, every day in a building that may or may not have adequate ventilation with hundreds of unvaccinated kids who may or may not be wearing masks properly, and then to come home every night to live with a family member undergoing cancer treatment? If this is not what we would accept for our families, why do we accept it for anyone, and why is emergency city council intervention our only means of addressing these issues?

This is just an example. Whatever your views on reopening–and reasonable minds absolutely can land in different places–I hope we all agree that decisions affecting children and families should be made not for children and families but with us, and with transparency and accountability. Elected representatives with real oversight authority are the only way to provide that. Just as we don’t want congressional representatives from Utah or Florida deciding how we in DC can live, love, and keep each other safe, neither should our schools be run in secrecy by a handful of people who don’t meaningfully answer to the people whose lives they affect.

I want to emphasize that simply making OSSE into an independent agency is not enough–we need elected officials with the resources and authority to engage in meaningful oversight and to hold leaders accountable. We don’t just need someone to document when a DC agency is, for example, failing to fix HVAC systems, reporting buildings as safe when they are not, failing to conduct enough covid tests, or seeking ways to obscure the results of those tests. We need real checks and balances–a body to ensure that policies and practices actually change. An independent OSSE without the oversight and accountability of resourced, elected SBOE officials is not going to get us there.

It’s undeniable that education is at the very core of what this city is and what it can be. Education is not a perk of a robust economy, a luxury for the privileged, or a consumer good for the savvy. It is a human right to which every single child in this city is entitled, and it is the only way–the only way—for us to become a city that thrives. No amount of painted street slogans, hip restaurants, or new condos will save us if we give up on inclusive democracy and excellent, equitable education for all. By any measure, that is not what we have now.

In this moment, when you look at how the children of our entire city are faring under unchecked mayoral control, it is evident that the system is not “sensitive to community values” and we have failed to “give residents a full, guaranteed and irrevocable voice.” How can we ask Congress to respect democracy, when we ourselves do not?

I urge you to take a reasonable and balanced approach to restoring community voice in our schools by adopting the DC State Education Agency Independence Amendment Act, along with targeted amendments to that bill to enhance equity, inclusion, transparency and accountability for all our children and families. Thank you.

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:

Latest DC Audited Enrollment Figures for all, charters, and regular public schools

The latest audited enrollment numbers have just been released, but not in a very useful format.

They show that regular DCPS enrollment is pretty close to flat, with only a small change over last year, or even over the last seven years. However, overall enrollment in all taxpayer-funded schools in the District of Columbia continues to rise, mostly because of a steady 15-year-long rise in charter school enrollment and a large increase in the overall city population.

The strangest feature I see is that the high school enrollment (grades 9-12) is down at all types of schools, with apparently many of those students moving to ‘alternative’ schools, at least on paper.

As I said, I didn’t think the graphs put out by OSSE were very informative, so I’ve re-plotted them here. For example, they put the charter school and public school enrollments on different graphs with different scales, making them hard to compare.

My first graph is of overall enrollment figures for regular public schools and for the charter schools (which several courts have decided are NOT public entities)  since the start of the millennium:

audited enrollment, dc public and charter schools, 2001-14


The red line is enrollment in the charter schools, and the blue line is that of the regular public schools. You can see that the blue line has been just about level since 2007-8, when Michelle Rhee was appointed chancellor of DCP.

My next graphs explores where the students are. OSSE separates students into various “bands” which are a bit hard to decipher. PreK3, PreK4, and Kindergarten totals are counted separately, and then they lump together grades 1-3 (‘primary’), then grades 4-5 (‘upper elementary’), then grades 6-8 (‘middle’), and grades 9-12 (high school). Students in alternative schools, of unspecified ages, are counted separately, as are students enrolled in Special Education schools and those in adult learning centers.

This first one is for regular DC Public Schools. You can see that preK3 though grade 3 comprises just under half of the entire DCPS population.

overall dcps - only enrollment by bands, 2013-4


The next graph shows the same thing but for ALL taxpayer-funded schools, both public and charter. Notice that the ‘adult’ sector is larger here.

overall dc osse enrollment by grade bands, 2013-4And the next graph shows the same thing for just the charter schools:

overall dc charter enrollment in percentages by grade bands 2013-4We see a much larger fraction of students in the adult sector. Again, Prek3 through grade 3 makes up just under half of the total.

Now let’s look a bit closer at the changes from last year to this, by grade band. My first graph shows overall changes from last year to this year, in all taxpayer-funded schools in Washington DC. Notice the large increase in the ‘alternative’ population and the ‘adult’ population, followed by a somewhat smaller rise in grades 1-3. The high school population – both public AND charter – actually dropped, as did the number of students enrolled in a special education school like Sharpe. It appears that a large fraction of that drop is students being reclassified as “alternative” instead of being in a high school.

increases, decreases by grade level, all DC OSSE schools, 2012-3 ri 2013-4Now let’s look at the corresponding graph for the regular DC public schools:

actual increases or decreases by grade level, DCPS only 2012-3 to 2013-4


Notice that once again, there was a big jump in the ‘alternative’ population, followed by an increase of about 250 at grades 1-3. As in overall DC stats, there was a drop in grades 9-12 and in special education. (the number for grade 6-8 is a typo: it should be 50)

Lastly, here are the changes since last year by grade band for the DC charter schools:

actual changes in enrollment, dc charter schools by grade bands, 2012-3 to 2013-4


I was surprised to see small drops in all of secondary charter schools (that is, grades 6 through 12). We see robust increases at all other levels, especially at the adult and alternative levels. I’m not exactly sure what’s causing this; perhaps readers closer to the trench lines than me (retired 5 years now) can comment.

My understanding  from reading US census figures is that the number of teenagers in Washington, DC – and thus, the number of students eligible to enroll in grades 6-12 continues to fall, while the number of younger kids is increasing. Obviously, those little kids generally grow older, and soon we will see a robust increase in the high school enrollment in the public and charter schools — unless they and their families all move out of town or decide to spend huge amounts for private or parochial schools. Which I doubt will happen.

In any case, claims of huge increases in enrollment in the DC public schools under chancellors Henderson and Rhee are just wishful thinking — like most of the boasts on Michelle Rhee’s famous resume.


Comments are most definitely welcome, even if you need a magnifying glass to see the “comments” button.





Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 3:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Here is the ‘Smoking Memo’

Without any comment from me, here is the entire ‘Smoking Memo’.

erin dcps lawyer cheating memo page 1


erin dcps lawyer cheating memo page 2


erin dcps lawyer cheating memo page 3



erin dcps lawyer cheating memo page 4

Yes, DC’s Charter Schools “Lose” a Lot of Students Over the School Year – contrary to what their defenders pretend

Here is a little table on Charter School and regular DC Public School attrition or growth, based entirely on the statistics displayed in a very recent DC  OSSE report 

( )

I hope the table comes through legibly. If it doesn’t, please let me know and I’ll try a different tack.

It shows that there is very significant net attrition from the charter schools from October to June: 6.6% of the PCS student body left, for reasons that I can only guess at. (Many reasons have been proposed, including expulsion and informal push-outs.)

There is essentially no overall attrition from the regular public schools.

dcps and charter school enrollment

The columns labeled as “% change” and ” # changes” are counting from October. Negative numbers mean a loss of students; they are either indicated with a negative sign or parentheses.

Let’s look at this as a graph:

graph of dcps and charter enrollment

So, yes, there is a very significant attrition from the privately-run, publicly-funded DC charter schools — but not from the regular DC public schools –– as the academic year progresses. Anybody who says otherwise isn’t telling the truth!

What’s more, it looks like the ‘pushout’ is indeed a bit higher from March to April than in most other months (except from October to November), which is what a number of parents and teachers have been complaining about: students who charter school administrators don’t think will do well on the DC-CAS NCLB/RTTT exam, get pressured to leave.

And of course, the charter schools get to keep the funding for all of the thousands of students who are forced or pressured to leave: another point that parents and teachers have been complaining about.


All of which is sort of, if not perfectly, according to law and intention.

The intention is to remove “public” from any say in how schools are run, except as consumers. And, as in the market, them that has the most money gets the best education, and woe to those who don’t have any money or influence: their kids get the very worst there is.


(It would be nice to have a good, personal description of what it’s like in all of those sectors…  Maybe in a different post.)

Published in: on February 12, 2013 at 2:08 pm  Comments (1)  
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If you’re keeping score…

A handful of graphs and a bit of analysis of where are the highest and lowest-scoring students: in the regular public schools of Washington, DC, or in the publicly-financed but privately-run charter schools.

If you buy the current “party line” from most newspaper editorial boards and folks like Arne Duncan, Michael Bloomberg, the Koch Brothers, and Michelle Rhee, you would probably conclude that students in the charter schools are wildly outperforming students in the regular DC public schools.

Facts, as someone once wrote, are stubborn things.

It just ain’t so.

Look at these two graphs, which show bars that depict what percent of students in each of the public and charter schools are proficient in math:

The chart shown above is for all of the regular DC Public Schools. Notice that there are 15 schools (out of 117, or about 13% of the total number of schools) with proficiency rates over 80%.

Now let’s look at the graph for the DC charter schools:

Here, there are only four schools (out of 70 charter schools, or about 6%) that have 80% or more of their students scoring at what is called “proficient”.

What about reading? The situation is very similar. For the regular DC public schools, the chart follows here:

Here, there are 14 regular DC public schools out of 117 with student bodies where 80% or more of the students are “proficient” in reading on the DC-CAS. That’s 12% of the schools.

And in the charter schools, in reading, here is the graph for SY 2011-2012:

We see that there are only TWO (2) charter schools out of 70, or about 3%, where 80% or more of the students score “proficient”.

As I’ve written before, the regular DC public schools not only have the lion’s share of the high-flyers, so to speak. They also have the lion’s share of the low-achievers as well.

In math, there are 17 regular public schools, or about 15% of the schools, where less than 20% of the students are proficient in math. In the charter schools, there are only two schools (3%) with such low rates of proficiency.

In reading, there are 19 regular DC Public Schools (about 16%) with less than 20% of the student body proficient. In the charter schools, there are only two such schools (again, 3%).

By the way: none of this data is published at the regular NCLB/OSSE/DCPS data location, at least not yet. There are so far no breakdowns of student populations at each school by gender, race/ethnicity, proficiency in the English language, special education status, family income, AND grade — which is why I haven’t published anything on that. Seems to me that as time goes on, DCPS, charter schools, and OSSE are all releasing less and less information to the public.

I got this data here:

Published in: on October 4, 2012 at 11:01 am  Comments (10)  
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So, what’s with this supposed growth in population in DC Public Schools?

Remember the myth that under Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson, DCPS enrollment finally started to rise again?

Yes, it is a myth, as I will show you, using OSSE’s own graphs and tables. All I did down below is cut and paste.

If you look at the press release from OSSE and DC Mayor Gray, it looks like DCPS enrollment rose by by 2%.  You actually have to look pretty hard and really understand what you are looking for, if you want to find the dirty little hidden secret that the enrollment in DC public schools is actually DOWN by 1%. It’s contained here in this sentence:

  • DCPS enrollment had a slight decrease of 1%, from 45,630 to 45,191 (439 students).

“States across the country look at early childhood enrollment numbers to determine future trends and to gauge the trust parents have in their school system,” added Hosanna Mahaley, State Superintendent of Education. “Our amazing growth in the early grades and Pre-Kindergarten is a testament to the work of our school leaders, as well as the Mayor’s relentless early childhood efforts.”

So Mahaley tries to pretend that there really is big growth in DCPS, which isn’t true. However, part of the Education Deformers founding myth is that their ideas, which involve destroying public education as we knew it, will have amazing results, and that all of the results are wonderful.

The truth is otherwise: there aren’t any wonderful results. And they are destroying our public school system and turning the education of our youth over to people who at best have no idea what they are doing, even if they do have fancy spreadsheets and PPT presentations. And at worst want to move us back to a very unequal educational system that reminds me strangely of the Colored and White school systems that were still around when I was a little boy.

I think that many publications conveniently blur the differences between charters and real public schools when it suits their purposes. Here it makes the educational Deformers look good to add the numbers for public and charter schools.

Notice a couple of things: if all of the publicly-funded schools in a county or city start having enrollment increases, then there could be several reasons:

(1) Some of the students who used to be in private or parochial schools transferred to public schools, perhaps to save money, or parent(s) lost job(s), or school(s) closed down, or parents just changed their minds, etc. (Certainly possible. Problem is, I don’t have any data from private schools in DC in general, and I haven’t asked around yet; I just don’t know if they are growing or shrinking in general. As far as parochial schools are concerned, some of you readers probably remember that over the past decades, a LOT of catholic schools in DC have either closed or, more recently, converted themselves into charter schools to get the public funding.)

(2) The overall population of the region is growing for whatever reason, and that includes a number of children who were born somewhere between 2008 and 1993; and most kids do go to public schools. (DC’s population is definitely increasing, so this is quite plausible. If the population of a city is growing, and that includes kids of school age, then it stands to reason that unless their parents are home-schooling them or just not allowing them to enroll anywhere at all, then the public schools’ population will go up. It’s not rocket science, and it doesn’t really call for cheerleaders, either.)

(3) There are increased numbers of students moving across boundary lines (legally or not) in order to attend schools in the district in question. (I know that some Md and Va parents bring their kids to DC schools for various reasons, but I can’t tell you whether this trend is increasing or otherwise.)

(4) All the numbers are made up anyway, so there’s no way to know. (I hope we can trust these numbers!)

On the OSSE web page with the press release, I found some very nicely done graphs giving the long-term trends over the past decade.

First, let’s look at

OSSE’s own graph of DCPS enrollment over the past decade:

I hope you notice several things:

(1) DCPS now has the same number of students that it did in 2008/09.

(2) The numbers of students in DCPS has been essentially flat since 2008/09. You have to look pretty hard to find any real change at all since then, and if you do, you’re probably exaggerating.

(3) This graph does not go to zero; thus all changes look much bigger than they otherwise would.

(4) DC’s population was going down at a pretty steady clip for quite some time, until 2008/09. (When I started teaching in 1978, many, many schools were overcrowded.)

Now let’s look at the same graph from the same source, but pertaining to DC charter schools. 

I hope you notice several things:

(1) This graph DOES go to zero

(2) But its scale is totally different from that on the previous graph. (Given our natural human tendency to compare sizes rather than numbers, one could be forgiven for thinking that the number of charter school students now is equal to the number of DCPS kids)

(3) The # of charter students seems to be going up at a pretty steady rate, which we can estimate pretty easily. From around 2001 or 2002, there were abut 11,000 PCS students. This year, about 31,000 students, which means about 20,000 more students over about 10 years, or about 2,000 more kids per year.

(4) It’s not exponential growth.

Now, let’s look at a table that OSSE made that shows, by grade bands, what happened to the number of kids in DC public schools. As you can see, there are a few shifts of a few hundred students into and out of some grades. Big losers: grades 4-5 (down by 217 kids, or about 3%) and in grades 9-12, which is down by 311, or 3%.. There are some changes in Alternative and Special Education numbvers that I do not understand at all.

There are also some increases at grades PK4 and in grades 1-3.

Now let’s look at a similar table (again by OSSE) that gives figures for the charter schools.

Apparently the fact that the charter school numbers of  PK3 and PK4 students seem to jump around so much isn’t so important. But it does look to me that the charter schools are having a lot more growth in the earliest grades than the regular public schools are.

Another interesting trend: there are more adult students in the charter system (in particular, at Carlos Rosario) than in the regular public schools.

Another fact: the number of high school students in the charter schools went down by a larger percentage than it did in the public schools. Yes, there are roughly twice as many students in grades 9-12 in DCPS as in the charter schools, so that 3% drop in the public schools ends up being about 80 more kids than the 4% drop in the charter schools.

(Got that?)

But, in any case, both types of schools seem to be losing population in grades 9 – 12.

As usual, you can leave comments.

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 11:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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