2016 Primary: The Candidates on Education
Independent 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)?
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 GROSSO: a. Absolutely. Not only am I committed to ensuring we have a citywide network of excellent DCPS neighborhood schools but I am working on a daily basis to make that a reality. I strongly believe that every child has the right to attend a high quality neighborhood school. Walking to elementary, riding a bike to middle school and catching the bus to high school is the vision I have for the future of our city. As much as I support the neighborhood school feeder approach I also support the opportunity for students to attend citywide schools when the situation is appropriate. For example, Duke Ellington and Banneker High Schools are two wonderful options for students in the District of Columbia. In addition, it will be interesting to continue to explore whether or not pre-k opportunities are made available via a matter of right. DCPS is piloting this option in some schools this year.
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 GROSSO: I strongly believe that better planning is paramount to school reform in the District of Columbia. When and where schools open or close are important questions for our city to answer. I believe we should answer those questions using using data driven analysis based on population trends and achievement gap data. The cross sector task force has the potential to help with this analysis but needs to produce more results sooner and not get bogged down in an “us against them” mentality between charters and traditional schools. My staff attends the meetings and reports that there does not seem to be a full commitment to addressing the opening/closing and siting of school buildings. Without that aspect addressed we will not have the best approach to school construction, opening and closing, and the appropriate support that will put us in the best position to succeed as a citywide school system. Further, the work I have done as chairperson of the Committee on Education regarding use of an objective approach to school modernizations can help inform this discussion. Several categories/data points I use include variables that capture the needs of the community that the school is supposed to serve. An approach similar to this one would help to better site charter schools and support neighborhood traditional schools.
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 (http://dme.dc.gov/node/885172) 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 GROSSO: b. Investing in our current DCPS middle schools
The Council of the District of Columbia recently voted in favor of a budget that I crafted in the Education Committee that prioritizes our stand-alone middle schools in the six-year capital improvement plan. This is one approach to investing in our middle schools, but we also must invest in a school based in its population and needs. Alice Deal for all may not be the most effective approach to improving our middle schools.
Attached is an op-ed I wrote in August of 2015 which outlines how I approach policy questions as Chairperson of the Committee on Education, and that is prioritizing equity over equality. This may be a more difficult and more expensive approach, but I believe it is how we make the most appropriate investments based on need.
I also take a data-driven approach to my policy decision-making. For example, this is why I introduced a bill that will help collect data and in-turn better understand and address the needs of each of our schools individually. In April of 2016 the Council passed the Youth Suicide Prevention and School Climate Survey Amendment Act. Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, a partnership between Child Trends, The Bullying Prevention Task Force, and the Office of the State Superintendent will begin surveying middle and high-school students about their experiences in their school.
The surveys will include questions on engagement (including cultural and linguistic competence, relationships and participation); safety (including emotional safety, physical safety, bullying and cyberbullying, substance use, and emergency readiness and management); and school environments (including physical environment, instructional environment, physical health, mental health, and discipline).
Once we have data from these surveys, we will be better prepared to fund to the unique needs of each of our middle schools. Taken together with commitments for full modernizations for our stand-alone middle schools, we will appropriately make data-driven decisions on programming that will meet the needs of our students, improve test scores, and better prepare our students for college and careers. This will not happen overnight, but it will be deliberate in order to maximize effectiveness.
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 GROSSO: I am never satisfied with the transparency of the budget process. I believe that it would be better for the entire city if we could do a better job making the budgets more transparent. That is why in my committee I make it a priority to post all of the budget and performance hearing documents on my website where the public can engage with them to help better inform the process. One of the challenges with the budget process is coordinating with several entities all at once. The Mayor, DCPS, and the OCFO all have to engage prior to the budget coming to the Council. This makes it difficult to get the information out sooner than it currently comes out. However, since I have been on the Council the process has gotten better and we will continue to work to make it more transparent.
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 GROSSO: I’m proud of the work I did as the chairperson of the Committee on Education last year to bring order to the overly-political capital funding process. I believe that the process should be objective based on the facility needs of each school building. In the budget this year the DME and DCPS introduced a ranking tool that had more to do with the population a school serves instead of the condition of the facility, the demand for the school, and community factors like projected population growth and by-right need. This is not how capital decisions should be made and therefore I reinstituted the modernization ranking tool this year, and improved upon last year’s work to guide our capital decision-making process. We also used data curated by the 21st Century School Fund in this year’s model, which was incredibly helpful. In the next few months I intend to introduce legislation to codify the capital ranking tool to bring some permanent order to the capital funding process, regardless of who may be a future Chair of the Committee. We have an obligation to fund according to need, not according to politics.
I also have significant concerns over the available capital funds in the six-year CIP. In FY17, we allocated $440.2 million (a $10 million increase over the Mayor’s proposed budget). In FY18 total capital investment drops to $184.7 million. In fiscal years 2021 and 2022 funding drops further to $141.6 million and $149.9 million respectively. This will not complete the work that is needed to fully modernize our entire school portfolio. I will work with my colleagues, the Mayor, and the CFO to fight for increased funding for school modernizations. It should also be noted that the future maintenance needs at our schools should also be planned for and fully funded.
RESEARCH & EVALUATION
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 GROSSO: Yes, I would support greater transparency and independent research and this year in the budget I funded OSSE with over $10 million to support their work regarding better collection and sharing of school performance data. This investment will allow us to do better research and better understand what is working regarding school reform in the city. I do not support the creation of an independent research entity in the District of Columbia at this time. I do not believe that it is necessary given the expansive work that is being done in the education sector.
POLICIES ON MEASUREMENT & TESTING
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 GROSSO: It is important that we continue to do standardized testing in the District of Columbia. Through testing we better understand the impact of our education approaches on students throughout the city. Then we are better able to adjust our approaches to meet the needs of all of our students. Testing can be a burden on schools and need to be properly balanced with other important activities. Fortunately, there is cross-sector agreement on the use of the Common Core Standards and the PARRC test which makes it easier to study the impact of our educational approaches throughout the city. I believe that we need to constantly study whether or not there is too much reliance on testing for performance purposes whether for teachers or schools.
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 GROSSO: I don’t believe this is an either/or question. When we are trying ascertain the quality of a school we need to take into account many different factors. For example, we need to balance both a. and b. to ensure that more of our students achieve proficiency, and at the same time examine the longitudinal growth of students in order to judge the quality of the school. There is no simple one determining factor that indicates a school is successful or high quality.