Archives for category: District of Columbia


Parents, students, and local officials plead with Chancellor Lewis Ferebee:


No student was ever helped by closing schools!

Stop the mayhem.

Stop the pointless disruption!

Support the school, don’t kill it.

Do not pave the way for gentrification and more charter schools.


In thinking back over the past decade, Peter Greene realized that Michelle Rhee was one of its defining figures.

For a time, she was everywhere. The media loved her stern and angry visage. She graced the cover of TIME and NEWSWEEK. She appeared on the Oprah show, NBC’s Education Nation, “Waiting for Superman.” And then she was gone.

For years, she was the face of the “reform” movement, a crusader set on busting unions, firing teachers and principals, and leading the way to nirvana. At one point, she boldly predicted that she would turn the public schools of D.C. into the best in the nation. After Mayor Adrian Fenty lost his race in 2010, Rhee stepped down as chancellor of the D.C.schools and launched StudentsFirst, which was anti-union, pro-testing, pro-Charter, and pro-voucher. Then it disappeared, never having raised the $1 billion she predicted.

Now the face of that same movement is Betsy DeVos, and the media doesn’t love her the way they loved Rhee, even though their goals are identical.

Like many of the big names in education disruption in the oughts, Rhee skated on sheer chutzpah. There was no good reason for her to believe that she knew what the heck she was doing, but she was by-God certain that her outsider “expertise” was right and that all she needed to create success was the unbridled freedom to exert her will.

And in 2010, it was working. The media loved her and, more significantly, treated her like a go-to authority on all educational issues. They fell all over themselves to grab the privilege of printing the next glowing description of the empress’s newest clothes. She was more than once packaged as the pro-reform counterpart of Diane Ravitch (though one thing that Rhee carefully and consistently avoided was any sort of head to head debate with actual education experts).

For the first part of the decade, it kept working. Students First became a powerhouse lobbying group, pushing hard for the end of teacher job protections. She was in 2011’s reform agitprop film Waiting for Superman. LinkedIN dubbed her an expert influencer. She spoke out in favor of Common Core and related testing. A breathless and loving bio was published about her in 2011; in 2013 she published a book of her own. She had successfully parleyed her DC job into a national platform.

2014 seemed like peak Rhee. I actually decided to stop mentioning her by name; I felt guilty about increasing her already-prodigious footprint. She seemed unstoppable, and yet by 2014 we knew that the TFA miracle classrooms, the DC miracle, the TNTP boondoggle, the StudentsFirst failures (far short of 1 million or $1 billion). Rhee was the Kim Kardashian of ed reform, the popular spokesmodel who did not have one actual success to her name. She was increasingly dogged by her controversies.

And then, in the fall of 2014, Michelle Rhee simply evaporated from the ed scene.

Greene traces the trajectory of her rise and fall in this post. What a spectacular rise it was, what an inglorious fall.

The parade has passed by, and she is no longer its leader. She is not even in it.

Michelle Obama surprised the staff and children of Randle Highlands Elementary School in D.C. by bringing them a box filled with $100,000 cash to buy whatever they need for the schools.

Valerie Strauss wondered why the school is unde-resourced, why teachers have to dig into their own pockets, when the city has a large surplus.

What about the schools where Ellen doesn’t send a gift of $100,000?

It really is a wonderful gesture, but public schools should not have to depend on charity to meet their basic needs.

Watch the video if you can. It really is heartwarming, and almost makes you forget that the city is failing to fund its schools.

Strauss writes:

Former first lady Michelle Obama recently walked into an elementary school in the nation’s capital and delivered a box with a stunning gift: $100,000 in cash, courtesy of entertainer Ellen DeGeneres. Children and adults screamed and jumped for joy when they saw the money in a genuinely heartwarming scene (that you can see below in the video Obama tweeted). And why not?

For one thing, Obama is, according to some polls, the most admired woman in the world. Having her show up at your school is a treat by itself. What’s more, the school can certainly use the money.

All of the mostly African American students at Randle Highlands Elementary School in Southeast Washington come from economically disadvantaged homes, according to D.C. Public Schools’ website, and Principal Kristie Edwards said in the video that many of the children are homeless or in the foster care system. Edwards says in the video that her school is in one of the “roughest” areas of the city, but that her students know they can expect “love and a hug” when they come to school — and that they will be safe.

As the box was opened, Obama said, “Ellen is giving you guys $100,000 to help you cover whatever business that you have for the schools, whether it is for the food pantry or whether it’s computer programs. We hope this will make sure that you will not have to go into your pockets any longer for these kids because we know how amazing you guys are.”

So what’s wrong with this picture?

“I had so much fun putting a smile on all of these little faces from Randle Highlands Elementary School in Washington, D.C. Thanks to the @TheEllenShow for letting me be a part of !”

The problem certainly is not a visit from a former first lady or an entertainer trying to help a school.

Rather, the problems are:

  • The funding system in U.S. public education leaves the poorest schools with the fewest resources
  • School system budgets do not provide most teachers with all the supplies they need to do their jobs — and this has been baked into the process for many years.
  • The D.C. government has had multimillion-dollar budget surpluses the past few years, and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is in charge of the school system. Why are there campuses that don’t have all of the supplies they need?

In her comments at Randle, Obama said she and DeGeneres hoped the $100,000 would “make sure that you will not have to go into your pockets any longer.” The reference reflected the fact that at least 94 percent of teachers nationally, according to the latest federal data, spend an average of nearly $500 of their own money on supplies, often for basics such as paper and pencils, tissue and furniture.


While we are on the subject of the District of Columbia, here’s an interesting tidbit.

Despite the drumbeat about “waiting lists,” charter enrollment declined, and enrollment in public schools increased. 

The numbers are not large but they seem to reflect a trend. Charter enrollment also declined in Michigan, DeVos’s domain.

Maybe parents are getting tired of schools that open and close like day lilies. There is something to be said for stability and experience.

At the same time, the traditional public school system experienced a 4 percent increase in enrollment, surpassing the 50,000-student threshold for the first time since 2006, figures from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education show.

Overall, enrollment in the District’s public schools — including charter and traditional public campuses — grew by 1.7 percent to 94,603 students in the 2019-2020 academic year, with the traditional system accounting for 54 percent of the city’s public school students…

The decline in charter school enrollment follows a rough year for the sector, with four campuses not reopening because of finances or poor academic performance. One of those schools, Democracy Prep Congress Heights, served 759 students.

A fifth school — AppleTree Early Learning in Southwest Washington — served 97 students and did not reopen because it could not secure a building.

And the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which is charged with overseeing the sector, said National Collegiate Preparatory Public Charter High must close at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year because of lackluster academic performance.

Valerie Jablow is a parent in D.C. whose blog follows the ethical scandals of public officials and the charter industry in her hometown.

This one is a doozy.

It is so crazy that I can’t summarize it.

Somewhere in this Pink Panther-style story are the moneymakers.

The guys who finance the real estate: Turner Agassi.

Tennis star Andre Agassi opened his own charter school in Las Vegas. He promised that every student would be accepted by a four-year college. Agassi donated $18 million to his school. The school was a disaster. Staff turnover was high. It was the worst performing charter in the state. It charter was turned over to NYC-based Democracy Prep.

Then equity investor Turner Capital offered to create a partnership with Agassi to build charter schools. That’s a lucrative business. Turner and Agassi hit the jackpot.

Disruption!  That’s the means and the end!


Former D.C. math teacher Guy Brandenburg attended the NAEP press conference in D.C. where Betsy DeVos explained what lessons the nation can lean from the NAEP results. 

DeVos thinks the rest of the nation should learn from D.C., which has the largest racial gaps of any urban district tested by NAEP; Or Florida, where test scores went down; or Mississippi, where scores rose even though it is at the very bottom of all stages tested by NAEP. When you are at the very bottom, it’s easier to “improve” your scores.

When Betsy DeVos is long forgotten, please do not forget that she held up Mississippi as a model for the nation!

Brandenburg wants the world to know that D.C. made its greatest gains before mayoral control.

I found that it is true that DC’s recent increases in scores on the NAEP for all students, and for black and Hispanic students, are higher than in other jurisdictions.

However, I also found that those increases were happening at a HIGHER rate BEFORE DC’s mayor was given total control of DC’s public schools; BEFORE the appointment of Michelle Rhee; and BEFORE the massive DC expansion of charter schools.

He has the data and graphs to prove it.

Since 2007, when the flamboyant Disrupter Michelle Rhee took charge of the schools of D.C. with an unlimited grant of power—no checks, no balances, no constraints—the cheerleaders for Disruption (aka “Reform”) have made bold claims about the D.C. “miracle.” This despite a major cheating scandal that Rhee swept under the rug and despite a graduation rate scandal that followed a nonsensical, false  claim by a high school that 100% of its students graduated.

Now this.

Blogger Valerie Jablow reports that the D.C. public schools face a major crisis of teacher attrition. 

In the wake of years of testimony about horrific treatment of DC teachers, SBOE last year commissioned a study by DC schools expert Mary Levy, which showed terrible attrition of teachers at our publicly funded schools, dwarfing attrition rates nationally.

An update to that 2018 study was just made available by SBOE and will be discussed at the meeting this week.

The update shows that while DCPS teacher and principal attrition rates have dropped slightly recently, they remain very high, with 70% of teachers leaving entirely by the 5-year mark (p. 32). Retention rates for DC’s charter schools are similar to those at DCPS–with the caveat that not only are they self-reported, but they are also not as complete and likely contain errors.

Perhaps the most stunning data point is that more than half of DCPS teachers leaving after 6 years are highly rated (p. 24). This suggests that the exodus of teachers from DC’s publicly funded schools is not merely a matter of weeding out poor performers (as DCPS’s response after p. 70 of this report suggests). Rather, it gives data credence to the terrifying possibility that good teachers are being relentlessly harassed until they give up and leave.

Sadly, that conclusion is the only one that makes sense to me, given that most of my kids’ teachers in my 14 years as a DCPS parent have left their schools–with only a few retiring after many years of service. Most of my kids’ teachers were both competent and caring. Perhaps not coincidentally, they almost always also lacked basic supplies that they ended up buying with their own money; were pressured to teach to tests that would be the basis of their and their principals’ evaluations; and feared reprisal for saying any of that.

(I’m hardly alone in that observation–read some teacher testimony for the SBOE meeting here, including that of a special education teacher, who notes that overwork with caseloads; lack of supplies; and increased class sizes for kids with disabilities are recurring factors at her school that directly lead to teacher burnout.)

In other words, high teacher attrition in DC’s publicly funded schools isn’t a bug but a feature.


A new movie will be released in a few days, telling the story of the D.C. voucher program.

The movie is called Miss Virginia, and the purpose of the movie is to persuade movie goers to love the idea of vouchers as a way to escape their”failing” public schools.

This is a bit reminiscent of the movie called “Won’t Back Down,” that was supposed to sell the miracle of charter schools. It had two Hollywood stars, it opened in 2,500 movie theaters, and within a month it had disappeared. Gone and forgotten. No one wanted to see it.

Mercedes Schneider doesn’t review the movie. Instead she reviews the dismal failure of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program [sic].

She guesses that  movie won’t mention any of the abysmal evaluations of the D.C. voucher program.

Surely, Miss Virginia thought she was helping her children by encouraging Vouchers. She made the mistake of trusting the rich white men like the Koch brothers, the Waltons, and Milton Friedman.

As Schneider shows, the D.C. voucher program is regularly evaluated, and the results are not pretty.


  • There were no statistically significant impacts on either reading or mathematics achievement for students who received vouchers or used vouchers three years after applying to the program.

  • The lack of impact on student academic achievement applied to each of the study’s eight subgroups of students: (1) students attending schools in need of improvement when they applied, (2) students not attending schools in need of improvement when they applied, (3) students entering elementary grades when they applied, (4) students entering secondary grades when they applied, (5) students scoring above the median in reading at the time of application, (6) students below the median in reading at the time of application, (7) students scoring above the median in mathematics at the time of application, and (8) students below the median in mathematics at the time of application.


  • The program had no statistically significant impact on parents’ satisfaction with the school their child attended after three years.

  • The program had a statistically significant impact on students’ satisfaction with their school only for one subgroup of students (those with reading scores above the median), and no statistically significant impact for any other subgroup.


  • The program had no statistically significant impact on parents’ perceptions of safety for the school their child attended after three years.


  • The program had no statistically significant impact on parents’ involvement with their child’s education at school or at home after three years.


  • The study found that students who received a voucher on average were provided 1.7 hours less of instruction time a week in both reading and math than students who did not receive vouchers.

  • The study found that students who received a voucher had less access to programming for students with learning disabilities and for students who are English Language Learners than students who did not receive vouchers.

  • The study also found that students who received vouchers had fewer school safety measures in place at their schools than students who did not receive vouchers.


  • The study found that 62% of the schools participating in the voucher program from 2013-2016, were religiously affiliated.

  • The study found that 70% of the schools participating in the voucher program from 2013-2016 had published tuition rates above the maximum amount of the voucher. Among those schools, the average difference between the maximum voucher amount and the tuition was $13,310.


  • The study found that three years after applying to the voucher program, less than half (49%) of the students who received vouchers used them to attend a private school for the full three years.

  • The study also found that 20% of students stopped using the voucher after one year and returned to public school, and 22% of students who received vouchers did not use them at all.

Parent activist Valerie Jablow is a whistle-blower about charter school abuse in the District of Columbia.

In this post, she describes the sweet deal that KIPP has worked out to its benefit.

It is a “game of insiders,” she writes.

Ferebee-Hope is a perfect example of how the mayor on down is enabled by law and practice to ignore every member of the public regarding the future of DCPS school facilities. In the case of Ferebee-Hope, however, the consequence of that disregard to the poorest ward in the city is dire–and appears to accrue directly to the benefit of one charter (and mayoral benefactor), KIPP.

Destroying Ward 8 Education Rights

Between November 2013 and January 2014, and about 6 months after public comment ended, a clause was inserted in the Comprehensive Planning and Utilization of School Facilities Amendment Act of 2014 that allows the mayor to turn any DCPS school over for a charter at any moment. (Yes, really: see D(ii) of that link to the law.) As DC public school expert Mary Levy has noted, there was no discussion of this clause by council members at the bill’s mark-up. Indeed, until the legislation was approved by the council in April 2014, no one in the public was aware at all of this provision (nor had a chance to object to it before it was approved).

In the case of Ferebee-Hope, it thus appears the mayor is simply exercising her right to turn the facility over for charter RFO without public deliberation.

But the loss of Ferebee-Hope as a school of right has far-reaching ramifications for Ward 8 DCPS schools of right, some of which are projected to be overcapacity in that area in less than a decade. Without Ferebee-Hope, there will be no way to accommodate those students in their schools of right in that area—which means that any student population in that area (currently very high and projected to grow 16% by 2025, per an August 8 community presentation by the deputy mayor for education (DME)) will inevitably benefit whatever charter school locates in Ferebee-Hope…

Charter schools in DC often complain that they struggle for facilities–but some appear a bit more, uh, equal to that struggle than others.

Indeed, this scheme ensures that whatever the public wants, or doesn’t want, with respect to their DCPS facilities can ultimately get reduced to whatever a charter school wants or doesn’t want–depending on how well-informed that charter school is, of course. Though we may never know the insider’s game here fully, certainly DCPS deputy chancellor Melissa Kim knows well KIPP’s ambitions, having worked for the charter before directly coming to DCPS as a central office administrator–and after showing no hesitation about the possibility of future DCPS closures.

Public facilities are simply closed and handed over without public involvement to private corporations. Anything wrong with that? Yes, everything. It is a theft of public property to give it away to a private charter corporate chain.


Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss wrote about a D.C. charter school that descended into chaos, with no meaningful oversight to protect its students. 

Top D.C. education officials knew for months about safety issues plaguing a charter school that serves some of the city’s most vulnerable children but did not force changes, public records and interviews with school employees show.

Students at Monument Academy Public Charter School fought during the school day, routinely destroyed school property and simply left campus without permission. Complaints poured into the city agency charged with overseeing the high-profile school, and some staff members reported to their superiors that they felt unsafe. Some child advocates and parents said they thought the school was dangerous, too.

Officials at the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees the city’s charter schools, acknowledged long-standing problems at Monument and said they believe they addressed those issues appropriately…

Still, unlike many charters, there was no dedicated security staff on the Northeast Washington campus of Monument — a weekday boarding school for middle school students, many of whom struggled in traditional schools.

At a public meeting of the charter school board in May, a member revealed that more than 1,800 safety incidents classified by Monument as serious were reported during the 2018-2019 school year. Those incidents included sexual assault, physical altercations, bullying and property destruction…

But the city’s charter school board did not direct the school — or Monument’s governing board — to take measures to ensure student safety.

“It is always appropriate for us to intervene when health and safety concerns emerge but not always in a public meeting setting,” Pearson said. “We were not prescriptive about what exactly they should do because we do not think that is our role.”

The handling of Monument by the charter school board — which prides itself on giving the 120 campuses in its sector autonomy — opens a window onto how the board operates. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run, and although they are subject to local and federal laws, they are not bound by the rules and bureaucracy of publicly funded school districts.

Monument’s governing board voted June 4 to close the school — more than six months after it said it realized that financial and academic issues were probably insurmountable.

Even then, that decision was not final: Monument, which serves about 100 students, reopened Aug. 7, partnering with another charter school operator. The campus remains a boarding school, where students live five nights a week.