Testimony of Mark Simon
Wednesday, February 6th 2019
DC Council COW and Ed Committee Joint Public Roundtable Hearing on Lewis Ferebee
Chairman Mendelson, Committee chair Grosso, members of the Council, my name is Mark Simon. I’ve lived in DC for 46 years, sent my daughter through DCPS, served on 2 LSATs, and tried to be an active parent advocate for public education. I’m part of the newly formed Ward 1 Education Council. I’ve been a life-long educator, serve on the Board of Directors of EmpowerEd. and I’m an education policy associate with the Economic Policy Institute, a national think tank in Washington.
DC is a tough city to get to know the education landscape. Antwan Wilson came in mouthing support for the education reforms in place but quickly came to realize there were huge problems with the culture in schools and system-wide. He became a quiet advocate for changing the education culture, listening carefully to teachers, but he wasn’t around long enough to see it through.
Teachers hate the IMPACT evaluation system and blame it for teacher turnover. Parents and teachers decry a lack of transparency in the charter sector. We’re all frustrated by the lack of credibility of education data and the opaqueness of decision-making under mayoral control.
But most importantly, we have clearly not done right by our lowest performing students. The achievement gap has widened, not narrowed.
When the SBOE held hearings in 2017 on how the criteria for evaluating schools should be changed, parents and educators asked for school climate surveys to be part of the report card, but OSSE refused. Parents and teachers wanted to be heard. And they should be. OSSE says now that they’re coming around. But why the resistance?
I’ve listened closely to Lewis Ferebee since he arrived and looked into his track record in Indianapolis. He seems to have a lot of confidence in strategies he tried there, enabling charter schools to take over neighborhood schools that were failing. But what he did, we’ve already done. It’s no panacea.
He says he believes in the reform strategies in place here, that teacher turnover isn’t a big problem. I’m not sure we need an apologist for what we’re doing, a stay the course leader. He seems like a nice guy, but with all due respect, what we need is someone who’s curious and willing to be honest about what isn’t working, someone who will join the Council in welcoming independent research and transparency. We need a leader willing to recognize we need a mid-course correction. The fear-based culture that’s driving teachers away needs to be replaced with a collaborative culture. Teachers and parents must be listened to. I don’t hear that from Lewis Ferebee.
Amanda Alexander seemed more humbled, a listener. Perhaps after 20 years in DCPS she she’d have insights into what’s not working. The mayor provided only one resume to the Council, the public, and to the committee she empaneled to conduct the search.
Whether or not you vote down the nomination of Ferebee and suggest to the Mayor that continuing Amanda Alexander would be preferable, the instructions and oversight this DC Council provides need to be much more hands-on. Require DCPS to fix the broken fear-based culture that pushes compliance, replacing it with a culture that builds trust and collaboration. Bring in experts on building the teaching and learning school level culture and don’t assume that the reform strategies and top down mandates are working.
Over the past several years many others have spoken at length about this with you. The era of test-driven gimmicks and using rosy data to mask problems needs to be over. We need a leader willing to be honest about what’s working and what isn’t.
I’ve attached a letter that over 100 individuals and over a dozen organizations sent to the Mayor and Members of the DC Council last June when the Mayor was beginning her chancellor search. They never got a response, or the meeting asked for from the mayor or her search committee. The very thoughtful letter details the nature of the climate change that’s needed. You might take a moment to re-read it in preparation for asking questions of the proposed Chancellor.