The Closing of More D.C. Schools

Empower DC | 11/7/2011, 9:28 p.m.

Empower DC, a well respected community grassroots organization hosted a gathering on Thurs., Nov.3 at the Dorothy Height Library to discuss D.C.'s plans to close more traditional public schools.

People assembled from all walks of life, including Ward 7 residents, parents, teachers, former principals, and representatives from Teamsters-local 639 attended.

Daniel del Pielago, organizer and facilitator of the meeting reminded attendees that District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson told parents last spring that the city could not afford to continue to operate more than 40 schools with enrollment figures lower than 300 students.

This summer, a decision was made by Deputy Mayor of Education De'Shawn Wright to commission the Illinois Facilities Fund (IFF) to conduct a foundational study which will help determine which schools will be proposed for closure.

While IFF has done similar studies in Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee and St Louis, it is interesting that funding for this project was provided by the Walton Family Foundation, which owns Walmart. No competitive bidding process occurred, and it is expected that the study will be completed by the end of November.

This study will be looking at schools' test scores to determine if a school is "performing" or not. They will not take into consideration other ways that a school is excelling for its students, parents and community.

In similar studies, schools were determined to either be performing or not performing based on whether they meet or exceed 75 percent of the state standard in both reading and math.

In D.C., that standard would equate to 55 percent or more proficiency rates on the DC CAS. The following figures reflect the number of "under performing DCPS schools" by wards: Ward 1 = 8 schools, Ward 2 = 3 schools, Ward 3 = 0 schools, Ward 4 = 11 schools, Ward 5 = 11 schools, Ward 6 = 11 schools, Ward 7 = 20 schools, and Ward 8 = 20 schools.

D.C. could potentially face high closure rates in some of its poorest wards.

After closing 23 schools during the Michelle Rhee administration in 2008, DCPS saw a 17 percent drop off rate in enrollment, according to Washington Examiner reporter Michael Neibauer's in his September 8, 2008 article: "DC Public Schools Enrollment Shows 17 Percent Drop Off."

Mary Levy, who was quoted in Neibauer's 2008 article stated that "parents want some certainty, and closing schools is pretty much guaranteed to lead to loss of enrollment because we have so many other options."

Those at the Empower DC meeting echoed these same concerns that were voiced in 2008.

Many at the meeting saw the goal of another round of school closures as part of an ongoing reform model to privatize public education by closing traditional public schools with plans of replacing them with charter schools.

Participants chimed in that D.C. Public Schools had not been transparent during this process and that the study had no plans to include focus groups of critical stakeholders.

While Deputy Mayor Wright has been quoted as saying there will be public input, it seems that community input will not be considered until after the preliminary analysis.

The meeting concluded with a brainstorming of ideas on next steps to fight closures of the city's traditional public schools. Plans are being made for additional meetings to be held throughout the city. Participants were encouraged to spread the word and get members from their school communities actively involved.

If you want to become involved in saving our public schools, contact Daniel by email @daniel@empowerdc.org