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Yesterday’s debate was substantive. Of course, not the presidential debate, but the State Board of Education debate hosted by the Office of Campaign Finance.
Six residents are vying to be the At-Large Member of the State Board of Education, a nine-member board that has helped shape policy from the social studies curriculum to the DC School Report Card. The Washington Post’s Perry Stein, who moderated the debate, asked the candidates about their positions on a number of education issues and no one interrupted each other so individuals were actually able to offer their perspective.
By a show of hands vote, every candidate but Dorothy Douglas said the mayor should not have control of schools as Muriel Bowser currently has. “It’s already set in place,” said Douglas, a former educator, when asked to explain why she supports mayoral control of the school system. (The Council transferred power to the mayor over the state superintendent’s office in 2007.) However, Chris Martin, a father and entrepreneur, told the teachers’ union in its survey that he “believe[s] our current education system of Mayoral Control of [the Office of the State Superintendent of Education] and [DC Public Schools] and a separate Charter Accountability system can achieve equity.” He admitted during the debate his position on mayoral control is complicated but ultimately believes OSSE should be independent.
“The mayor forced teachers and parents to protest in the streets to say ‘we are not ready to open schools’ and very recently put together a hybrid learning plan that did not captivate or include the voices of teachers and parents,” said Mysiki Valentine, with the Fair Budget Coalition, when asked to provide a recent example where mayoral control has proven detrimental. (School unions have said they’ve been excluded from reopening talks.) “I don’t think the mayor has really articulated a vision for how she wants education to go. And if you are going to have mayoral control, you have to have a strong vision,” explained Jacque Patterson, with Rocketship Public Schools, a network of charters.
The candidates also voted on whether D.C. should put a cap on the number of charter schools, and only Valentine and Le’Troy Murphy, a former student of DCPS, agreed there should be a limit. For context, the deputy mayor of education expressed concerns to the charter board last year about it approving more campuses because of vacant seats in existing public schools. Schools’ funding is tied to enrollment. Those who were against a cap argued for the need for an assessment and parental choice. When candidates voted on whether they supported a Council resolution to remove police from schools, only Patterson, Valentine, and Dr. Ravi Perry, with Howard University, agreed with lawmakers. But Patterson told the teachers’ union in its survey that he believes police and private security have a role in schools.
The debate got heated when Stein brought up the city’s five-star ranking and whether it is an effective way to measure schools. “I don’t agree with it. And I actually have to take responsibility for some of it because I sat on it as a task force,” said Patterson, “I think we put too much emphasis on the actual test scores.” (Patterson also signed a 2017 letter in support of the framework.) In response, Perry said “I would have never sat on any committee that played a role in that. And frankly, no apology is really acceptable to be honest because the data was clear then that standardized tests are racist and the outcomes produce racist outcomes that lead to resegregation of schools.” Patterson defended himself, saying “hindsight is 20/20.”
One thing the candidates all agreed on: The Council has not provided “rigorous” oversight of schools.
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