Study: Mayoral control of D.C. Public School decreases transparency

TRANSPARENCY: A new study found that a change in control of the D.C. Public School has led to less transparency.

By Moriah Costa | Watchdog.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Transparency in Washington, D.C.’s Public Schools seems to have gone the way of its school board.

A study by the Education Consortium for Research and Evaluation found the education model for the city’s public school district restricts public access to decision-making.

“By most accounts, many changes have been afoot over the last seven years and there is acknowledgement that there is less dysfunction and more activity on the part of officials,” the report said. “But in return for expediency, some citizens feel that their voice in government has diminished with the abolishment of an elected school board.”

The Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 transferred control of the city’s public school’s to the mayor and dissolved its school board.

Instead, a chancellor appointed by the mayor oversees the school district.

The act also established the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which manages facilities and provides resources for students and a State Board of Education, which oversees curriculum and graduation requirements.

Those interviewed for the study said there is a lot of confusion about lines of authority.

Many said they were concerned that the lack of democracy and having a voice in education policy.

One official said mayoral control of education lacks enough check and balances. Some said the chancellor has the strongest connection to the mayor and the most influence on decisions that impact all schools. And another described meetings with DCPS and charter school representatives regarding assessments under the Common Core State Standards adoption process as “one loud voice and ten quiet voices.”

The report, published on Nov. 5, was the last of five reports on the reform act that were conducted by EdCORE, a research group at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the George Washington University.

Researchers interviewed 14 officials and an equal number of city residents. The number of people interviewed was limited due to budget constraints, said Heather Harding, executive director of EdCORE.

She said officials interviewed came from a variety of education agencies, including the mayor’s office and people involved with writing the reform law. Residents interviewed live in six of the city’s eight wards. Three others were involved with, or represented, the district’s charter schools.

While admitting it was difficult to adequately represent city residents with just 14 people interviewed, she said they “captured the mood of the city.”

“Fourteen people cannot address a citywide perspective at any level,” she said.

The study also found that citizens are concerned about the lack of collaboration between public schools and charter schools.

Charter schools remain autonomous and are regulated by the Public Charter School Board.

Some of those interviewed said they are concerned about the growth of charter schools, although they noted charter schools have provided families an option in areas where traditional schools have failed. One person interviewed described charter growth as “cannibalizing” public schools.

About 44 percent of D.C. students are enrolled in charter schools, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The study also found that while many officials say the community should be involved in the district’s education system, few have a solution to encourage engagement.

“I think there is a lot of lip service paid to engagement, but not a lot of it’s done,” one official told researchers.

The EdCORE reports will be used as data for an overall evaluation of the Public Education Reform Amendment Act by the National Research Council. That evaluation is scheduled for publication in May.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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