Democratic At-large Primary Candidates' Responses


Question 1. How committed are you to ensuring we have a citywide network of excellent DCPS neighborhood schools serving children from pre-K through high school to which families have a right to attend (without being subject to a lottery)? 

a.    Absolutely
b.    It would be nice
c.    It is not necessary given the other choices available

If “Absolutely,” what steps would you take to make it a reality? If b or c, what is your response to families around the city who crave both quality and predictability?  

DAVID GARBER:  a. Absolutely. My first priority and responsibility will always be toward DC kids and families. For two and a half years, until recently, I worked as a substitute teacher in DC Public Schools. I worked in 40 schools across the District, in every ward, every feeder pattern, every age level, ability level, and discipline level. Not only was that experience an incredible window into the traditional public school system, I also saw first hand the amazing youth population here in the city, the potential these students have, and how much further we still have to go to give kids, especially from parts of the city where resources are fewer, a pathway to success.

As your At-­Large Councilmember, my goal will be to use the budgetary process to ensure that: schools are staffed appropriately, there is increased funding for facilities improvement, and funding for programmatic diversity like language immersion programs across the District. We have the money available to invest in the most important community resource for our kids – our DCPS schools.

VINCENT ORANGE: no response

ROBERT WHITE: a. Absolutely. Every parent should have full confidence that his/her child will get a first-class education at the neighborhood school. No exception. For too many parents in too many neighborhoods, this is far from the reality. 

Whereas many parents have to rely on success in a lottery for a charter school slot or an out of boundary slot in a strong performing school elsewhere in the city, I will push for a school rebuilding process that develops strong turnaround plans for each underperforming school. The planning process must engage communities, including parents and non-parents and must include a multi-year funding plan. By engaging parents and communities in the process, we have a shot at getting broader buy-in and increasing future enrollment.

Question 2. According to a recent report by the 21st Century School Fund/Code for DC, the city now has 85,000  students in DCPS and charter schools but capacity to serve 102,000 students in the sectors combined. The Deputy Mayor of Education has convened the Cross-sector Task Force, one goal of which is to “Develop a framework for coordinating processes on school openings, closings, and facilities planning.” As we consider developing a framework for opening, closing or expanding schools, what goals and approach would you like to see pursued?

a.    A framework and planning process designed to guarantee a strong matter-of-right option from pre-k through high school in every neighborhood, complemented by choices.
b.    DCPS and the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) each opening, closing and expanding schools based on their independent assessment of demand leading to whatever infrastructure results. 

If you do not believe there should be a mechanism for coordinated planning, what is your vision for what the education infrastructure should look like 10 years down the road? How should we ensure our money spent on public education is spent efficiently and effectively? 

DAVID GARBER: a. There should absolutely be a mechanism for coordinated planning around decisions related to school openings, closing and facilities planning with the overall goal of providing students with access to quality schools in their neighborhoods.

VINCENT ORANGE: no response


Question 3. Many believe an increasing number of DCPS elementary schools are gaining traction and the next major challenge is to strengthen our DCPS offerings in the middle grades. Several factors are at play: The Mayor called for replicating the success of our largest middle school – Alice Deal. The final recommendations of the Student Assignment Committee ( called for opening four new middle schools. And, last year’s PARRC scores revealed that half of DCPS’ middle schools have fewer than 1 in 10 students at the highest levels (4 and 5), while many of our DCPS middle schools have yet to be modernized. What is your approach to the middle school challenge?

a. Opening as many charter middle schools as families will enroll in (Please explain what the landscape of middle schools would look like in 10 years, given this approach.) 
b. Investing in our current DCPS middle schools (Please explain what that investment should look like, and what the middle school landscape should look like in 10 years, given this approach.)
c. Another approach (Please explain.)

DAVID GARBER: c. My approach would focus on making sure that we look to replicate the success of both DCPS and DCPCS schools. Right now there are about 12 vacant DCPS school facilities. With an expected increase in population we must work in collaboration to re­open these schools to meet the growing demands for high­ quality public schools, especially middle schools.

VINCENT ORANGE: no response

ROBERT WHITE: We must invest in our DCPS middle schools to enable them to succeed. We have building capacity in those schools. We need to fill them with programs that are responsive to the needs of their students. And we need to be sure we provide wrap around services for those with the greatest needs. We lose kids in these early years of adolescence. We must do what we can to give them the best chance we can. 


Question 4. Are you satisfied with the transparency, planning mechanisms, and adequacy of the DCPS and charter school budgets? Are you satisfied with the mechanisms for community input and the time allowed for planning to inform those budgets? If not, how would you like to see the transparency and planning processes improved for each sector? 

DAVID GARBER: A lack of transparency around our budgetary issues creates challenges for community participation and limits the Council’s ability to conduct oversight. We can improve the transparency of the DCPS and charter school budgets, especially with respect to at­risk funding. I will support and push efforts to increase the amount of time OCFO and DCPS have to coordinate and develop specific recommendations on funding so that the public can be more informed and engaged when these budgetary issues are before the Council.

VINCENT ORANGE: no response

ROBERT WHITE: No. We all need a full understanding of how our tax dollars are used. No corners of the budget should be hidden, including spending as it relates to the operations of management companies. We also need a common template so we can see how spending differs between sectors. In terms of planning, we need a process that starts as early as possible and seeks input for the community. In the fall, an assessment should be made of what needs must be met in the coming budget. Further, we should measure what we are providing against the findings of the adequacy study recently conducted by the city. We should be asking ourselves whether we are providing what we think is necessary to meet the needs of our kids and crafting our budgets around those assessments. 

Question 5. Many call for reforms of how we spend our capital dollars on public schools (which accounts for one-third of the city's capital budget). The recent 21st Century School Fund/Code for DC report shows the level of work yet to be done, and disparities, in addressing decades of neglect in our public buildings. The DC Council Education Committee last year outlined a new data-driven approach to the modernization queue, and this year, DCPS and the DME introduced a different set of criteria to determine the order in which schools are modernized. Meanwhile charter schools receive a per pupil allocation for capital spending, which they are not required to spend on capital expenses per se, and which some spend leasing privately owned space. What do you see are the biggest challenges of capital spending on our schools? Would you suggest new policies or approaches?

DAVID GARBER: One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen with regards to modernizations is that the city doesn’t have a great track record of following through with timeline promises. In many cases, schools are promised a modernization as part of the budget, then then those funds are pushed back, often years away. This leads parents and caregivers to lose faith in the improvement process within DCPS ­­ and leads families to choose out of boundary schools or charter schools. School modernizations are one of the best ways to give communities confidence in the city’s investment in our public schools. It’s not everything, but it is a critical first step, and it’s one we have to be better about following through on ASAP.

VINCENT ORANGE: no response

ROBERT WHITE: We need a candid assessment of what needs to be done in terms of modernizations, not just the schools that have yet to see a modernization, but those that received phase 1 modernizations and continue to need work. We also need a candid assessment of projected demand. Then we need to invest aggressively to fully modernize our full complement of matter-of-right neighborhood schools by a fixed date and take that capacity into account as we formulate our citywide comprehensive planning. We, of course, must also bear in mind that bricks and mortar are only a part of the puzzle and must ensure that we provide the kinds of programs and services that can fully meet our children’s needs in those schools. We also must recognize that children are in schools for eight hours per day and outside of school for 16. For our students in need, we have to begin seeing how we address stability in families through complementary programs and support. 


Question 6. The National Research Council’s PERRA Report identified real challenges in getting basic comparative data from the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) about student results, teacher workforce characteristics, school learning climate, and the success of teaching and learning strategies being employed. The report recommended creating an independent research entity that could look at what’s working and what isn’t across the whole city and both sectors.  Would you support greater transparency, independent research, and the creation of an independent research entity akin to the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research?

DAVID GARBER: Yes, I would support the recommendations of the PERRA Report.

VINCENT ORANGE: no response

ROBERT WHITE: We absolutely need to empower independent actors to conduct thorough analyses of what is working and what is not in our education space. Unfortunately, education involves politics, and winners and losers are declared that have nothing to do with our children and families. There are also those who can be counted on to be critical of everything. We need neutral and experienced experts to help us sort through the data and credibly help us understand what is working and what is not. And for them to do that, they need access to all the data and a platform. Additionally, we need to overlay education data with data from neighborhoods and communities. As mentioned in my answer to question 5, there are many factors to success in the classroom that start before the child enters the school building in the morning and ensure that a child makes progress at night. We need to expand the angle we use in viewing our schools, and more importantly, in planning a path for the success of our children. 


Question 7. We’ve fully transitioned to the Common Core Standards and the PARRC test (in place of DC CAS), but we still have legacy testing in place (e.g., ANET, Dibbles, TRC, SRI, iReady). Have we gotten the amount of and approach to standardized testing right? Are the stakes attached to standardized tests right? (For teachers and principals, test scores are part of their evaluation with pay and employment consequences. For schools, scores are public and can affect enrollment and decisions on closure.) 

DAVID GARBER: While standardized tests create a baseline for student success, they are only one measure of a student’s success. I do think there is room for improvement with respect to how we assess and measure our students.

VINCENT ORANGE: no response

ROBERT WHITE: There is still too much testing and much of the data generated is misused. As I described above, we need to pull the camera back and think about our goals. The choice of tests should reflect how to measure our progress towards those goals. After that, we are either blindly or negligently undermining the progress that our kids and teachers could be doing on the substance of the classroom coursework. My perspective is that the culture of testing should be more diagnostic and less evaluative. The purpose of tests should be to find weaknesses in student learning (and in teaching) and address them. The goal should be that when results come back the question is “did individual students do better this time or last?” And “are there strategies we can use to help individual children experience educational break-throughs?”, not “how did we do”. 

Question 8. Which is a better indicator of the quality of a school? 

a.    The percentage of children achieving proficiency
b.    The average amount of growth achieved by children at the school

If you believe the b (growth) is a better indicator, are we focusing adequately on it, and if not, what steps should be taken to do so? 

DAVID GARBER: We have to look at both, but understand that in more challenged schools, option B may be a more helpful indicator. Proficiency is good, but excellence is even better. Let’s set the bar high.

VINCENT ORANGE: no response

ROBERT WHITE: Option B. Currently, the default measure of school quality is percentages of proficiency. We should move to growth measures as the default. 

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