"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

DC Charterizing Depends on School Closures

Parents are getting up, standing up in DC against the Fenty-Rhee plan to convert public schools into corporate and Catholic charter chain gangs. From WaPo:
. . . .The demonstrators said they plan to boycott the 23 assemblies Thursday. They said they will instead attend "The People's Meeting" that evening at the Wilson Building.

Opponents also have have questioned the legality of the Fenty administration's meetings, asking whether they can be considered official public hearings without the participation of city leaders. Fenty signed a mayoral order Jan. 9 delegating authority to two dozen senior education officials to "chair" the meetings.

The well-organized assembly was an indication that Fenty and Rhee face strong, vocal opposition to the school closings. The administration says the closing of under-enrolled schools is the first step in education reform, to be followed by the creation of consolidated schools with special programs, such as those for gifted and talented students.

Leslie Saravia, a 10-year-old fifth-grader in bangs and ponytail, timidly read her speech from notebook paper in English and Spanish as Thomas held the microphone for her. Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up" rang out before she started speaking. "Please, please. I am begging you not to close down my school," said Leslie, who attends John Burroughs Elementary School. "This is my second home."

Lee Glazer, mother of three public-school students, said the proposal targets "children of color." No school on the closings list is in predominantly white Ward 3.

Mafara Hobson, a spokeswoman for Rhee, said Ward 3 schools do not have the enrollment decline seen in some schools in other wards.

Several speakers questioned what would happen to the closed schools. Some speculated that the buildings would find their way into the hands of developers and be converted into condominiums unaffordable to middle- and low-income residents. Those accusations spilled over into the hearing.

Parents at the hearing made the case for keeping particular schools open. Burroughs Elementary, which is in Ward 5, had the biggest presence. Gray said organizers had originally requested that the council hear testimony from 288 people in support of Burroughs but agreed to whittle it down to a dozen. Ward 5 has the largest number of schools slated to close, with seven.

Maria P. Jones, head of the Local School Restructuring Team at Burroughs, rattled off the school's statistics. She said that enrollment was up and that Burroughs was among the top 20 elementary schools in math and reading scores. "Why is Burroughs on the [closing] list?" she asked.

Rhee said schools were selected based on their "walkability" and other factors, including declining enrollment. Noting the school system's $50 million utility bill, she said the closures would save money that could go toward teachers and programs.

But several education advocates testified that the cost savings would be less than the approximately $23 million Fenty and Rhee have projected. "If these 23 schools are closed, it isn't really going to save us a lot of money, and it's not going to allow us to do exciting new enrichment programs," said Mary Levy, director of the Public Education Reform Project for the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Levy put the savings at about $14 million, based on her own analysis. Because finance officials have projected a deficit in the nearly $1 billion school budget, Levy said any savings would probably first be put toward closing that gap.

"Unless the council comes up with some other funding source, there's not just going to be the money there, for anything," Levy said. . . .

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