Performance Oversight Hearing- PCSB and Deputy Mayor for Education
Testimony of Scott Goldstein, Executive Director EmpowerEd
February 15, 2019
Good Morning Chairman Grosso and Chairman Mendelson. My name is Scott Goldstein and I am the Executive Director of the teacher advocacy organization EmpowerEd. We asked teachers to submit input for oversight into both PCSB and the Deputy Mayor for Education.
First, on the Deputy Mayor for Education, I want to point out that I have been very pleased by the willingness of this Deputy Mayor to listen to the community. He has listened clearly to teacher voices and clearly integrated their thoughts on issues like the crisis in teacher turnover into his thinking and made it a priority. He has been out in the community regularly meeting with advocates and engaging in conversations- but not just with those who we might already agree, but soliciting broad feedback from diverse voices. We all applaud that approach- and others in the DC education community should take note.
I asked teachers what key questions they had for the Deputy Mayor. The top four questions were these:
- How are schools being guided to implement the Fair Access to Schools Act, since this applies to both sectors? How will schools and principals be held accountable for following the Act? What funding is available to them to implement?
- How would you define a viable, matter of right public school system? How are you working to achieve it?
- Do you support subjecting all public schools, including charter schools, to the same basic transparency rules- including FOIA and the Open Meetings Act?
- Is it a priority for you to take serious action to de-segregate our schools both racially and socio-economically?
The overriding question that faces the Deputy Mayor for Education is how will we plan comprehensively for education in this city. Teachers and parents are deeply frustrated that we continue to open and close schools at random without considering the whole picture. Acting Chancellor Ferebee said himself in his confirmation hearing that we should not just be opening new schools, especially next to existing neighborhood schools, in places where the specific demand does not exist. What is the Deputy Mayor’s strategy and timeline for implementing a comprehensive school plan in DC?
At the Deputy Mayor’s confirmation hearing I proposed an idea I would like to re-surface and hope to work with the Deputy Mayor on in the coming weeks and months. Much like any new building must receive an environmental impact report before being permitted, any new school should have to receive an equity report before being granted permission to open. There is a lot we need to take into account- including neighborhood demand, over and under-enrollment at surrounding schools, programming relevancy, the impact the new school will have on both enrollment and diversity at existing schools, what plan exists for ensuring the school will be staffed by a diverse teaching staff that reflect the student population and many more factors.
To start, there are several questions teachers wanted you to put directly to Director Pearson.
- Do you believe there should be accountability for charter schools as a system, related to its effect on education in the city, or only accountability for individual schools?
- Do you support teacher collective organizing in charter schools and would you support allowing charter teacher the options to participate in the DCPS pension plan?
- Who are all the agencies and actors that you believe have authority over the charter sector? If you believe it to be only PCSB, where in the law do you find that interpretation?
- What do you plan to do about the correlation between PMF scores and the at-risk status and SPED populations of the students the school serves? Will you prioritize intentionally de-coupling those indicators in how you measure schools to ensure you are measuring HOW the school serves instead of WHO they serve?
- How many discussions have you had with stakeholders about ways to improve teacher retention in the past year?
- Do you support subjecting charter school boards to FOIA and the Open Meetings Act? Why or why not?
- Do you believe it’s important for your schools to recruit and retain teachers of color? If so, what do you do to collect teacher demographics, analyze them, and take action to improve. If you’re leaving this up to LEA’s- how are you ensuring equity for all DC students, so that they can learn from adults who look like them, an incredibly important factor in their education.
We very much appreciate that PCSB has taken new steps to consolidate information that was already public into one central transparency hub on their website. That’s helpful for the public. But the overwhelming top concern we heard from teachers was this one- when the public charter school board proactively seeks input on policy- it is rarely teachers.
We know that schools with stronger family, student and teacher engagement produce stronger results- so we should do everything in our power to arm our families and educators with everything they need to be part of the discussion. If we want schools to be responsive to the needs of those they serve- we should ensure every single LEA is subject to the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act.
Transparency is in the system’s best interest. When stakeholders are involved in solutions on the front end, you rarely see bad headlines on the back end. A disturbing argument is often made that somehow transparency is divorced from our work to better outcomes for students. If you believe that, you don’t genuinely believe in the power of community engagement. Too often those in positions of leadership see transparency as oppositional. But transparency is the opposite- it’s how an organization shows it values those it serves and it’s how those in the community show loyalty to an institution they care deeply about. No one spends their free time attending a charter school board’s meeting because they don’t care about that school. All public schools should be equally public.
We hope that both the Public Charter School Board and the Deputy Mayor for Education will listen to the voices of teachers as they make policy with recognition that there are not “adult issues” and “youth issues” and that in fact better teaching conditions are better learning conditions. When teachers ask for policy makers to address turnover- it’s to ensure they’re students have consistency. When we ask for transparency, it’s to ensure students are being treated equitable across our schools. When we demand a diverse workforce, it’s because that matters to student outcomes, and when we demand diverse schools it’s because all students benefit from diversity. We look forward to working together more with teachers at the table as key stakeholders who should be engaged and respected in the policy process. Thank you!