Food for Thought on the Recent DC Schools Quality Report
In his recently released One City Action Plan, Mayor Gray refers to recommendations within a DC schools consultant report. The IFF report, as it is known, has been controversial for several reasons, most notably, that it suggests the District should close or reinvent 38 traditional DC public schools and three DC public charter schools. The report argues a turnaround in many of these schools could occur by having high-performing charter school operators replace low-performing DC public schools.
Just who is the IFF? IFF, formerly known as the Illinois Facilities Fund, is a nonprofit financial institution in the business of providing loans and real estate consulting to charter schools, private schools, and other educational organizations. They work very closely with major charter school operators, who often are looking to use public school buildings for facilities. The DC report was also partly funded by the Walton Family Foundation—of Walmart fame—which supports charter school expansion.
The report’s heavy reliance on test score data has also raised many concerns about its usefulness. The Mayor’s One City Action Plan includes direct reference to the study’s focus on availability of high-performing or “quality academic seats” under its education strategy. The report’s use of the term “performing seats” implies the only problem is with the school, which would lead to school closure as the only policy option. In reality, the varying levels of educational outcomes across DC neighborhoods can be more linked to a host of other challenges preventing a child’s academic success, and there are a number of community-driven solutions that could be explored beyond school closure. But the implementation of the IFF report recommendations will not lie with the mayor but with the DC public schools. To that end, Chancellor Kaya Henderson continues to say schools will be closed this fall while assuring concerned DC parents that the study is “a report, not a plan.” She has, however, also discussed the possibility of DCPS becoming its own charter school authorizer.
The source of the IFF report’s recommendations are important to keep in mind as DC’s Deputy Mayor of Education holds a series of community conversations on school quality in July and August, including one this evening. The discussions take place in the wake of the IFF report and are only taking place in five wards in the city (1, 4, 5, 7, and 8–essentially the same areas of the city where the IFF report suggests closing schools), but all education stakeholders are welcome to participate in the meetings and offer input. As the city continues to support two education systems, it is important that the community is actively involved in these conversations on access and school quality.