Testimony before the Council of the District of Columbia
Committee of the Whole & Education Roundtable 0 PR 23-0061
The Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools
Dr. Lewis Ferebee Confirmation Resolution of 2019, February 12, 2019
Submitted by Signe Nelson
Good afternoon, Chair-Persons and Members.
My name is Signe Nelson, 19 years an ESL teacher, currently serving in Ward 4 where I also reside. I also sit on the WTU Executive Board. I am here to voice my own objection to the Mayor’s choice for DCPS Chancellor, Dr. Lewis Ferebee
I do not know Dr. Ferebee personally. I won’t comment on his lapse of judgement as a mandated reporter – I can’t say whether it is more or less serious than the lapse of judgement that cost Antwan Wilson his job.
Nor do I object to the nation-wide search for the best available talent and relevant track record. In fact, in my opinion, complicity in the failed policies and practices of the Rhee/Henderson era, and the lack of demonstrated will or ability to move DCPS in a new direction, effectively disqualify the leading internal candidates.
My real concern is privatization of public education. Funding for education is the first or second line in every state budget, including the District of Columbia. That’s a lot of money. We have charter schools thanks to Congress, through the District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995, not because our citizens EVER voted to use Washington, D.C. as a laboratory for a charter school experiment. Charter expansion got a big boost during the Rhee-Henderson years with the closure of over 40 neighborhood schools of right. At the same time, DCPS turned over key functions to outside contractors closely allied with the charter world, and funded by pro-charter philanthropists. And we are under relentless attack by charter expansion interests masquerading as democratic, grass-roots activism, also funded by pro-charter philanthropists. It should not really come as a surprise that the expansion of the charter sector to nearly 50% of enrollment, and the ill-conceived “reforms” of the last 12 years have led to little appreciable improvement in the educational experiences and outcomes for the overwhelming majority of our children in both sectors. On the deepest level, I believe it is all about the money.
What I am seeing here right now disturbs me, and it should disturb you, too. The Mayor hires (and the Council confirms) a deputy mayor, whose premier expertise is in charter conversion. She backs charter advocates in SBOE elections. Now she offers us a chancellor, who rather than turning schools around, turns them over to private operators. It looks to me like the plan is to continue to privatize at the expense of public education, by setting the foxes to guard the hen house. This is the same strategy the President uses to weaken Federal departments and agencies by placing them in the hands of individuals hostile to their missions. Whose plan is this? Who is making education policy behind the scenes? In Indianapolis it is the Mind Trust. In L.A., it is Eli Broad’s plan. In Washington DC, is it City Bridge Education? Education Forward DC? DC Public Education Fund? The City Fund? Walton Family Foundation? As Deep Throat said, “Follow the money.”
So now it is on you. If you confirm Dr. Ferebee, it will be your responsibility to monitor him closely. Require transparency and accountability. Defend against unelected, private interests making education policy to suit their own agenda. Maybe he will surprise me. Like Dr. Ferebee and Mr. Kihn, Antwan Wilson was a Broad Fellow, but he surprised many of us by not following a Broad agenda. Some folks think that’s the real reason he is no longer with us.
As we go forward, keep in mind the fable of the frog and the scorpion: A scorpion asks a frog to ferry him across a swollen river. Familiar with the scorpion’s deadly reputation, the frog refuses, but the scorpion reassures him with soothing words and an appeal to logic: “It would be against my own interests to sting you,” he reasons, “for it would bring about my own demise.” Half way across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. “Why?” gasps the frog with his last breath. “Because it is what I do.” sighs the scorpion with his.