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April 20, 2012

Charter school finance and real estate advisor Illinois Facilities Fund (IFF) issued a report that recommends major disruptions for children and families in 37 public schools in Washington, D.C. This latest report mimics IFF reports about Denver, St. Louis, and Chicago. An IFF report may be headed your way soon.

D.C.'s Deputy Mayor for Education released the IFF report, "Quality Schools: Every Child, Every School, Every Neighborhood," earlier this year. The report identifies a "service gap" between the "supply and demand" for "performing seats" in the District's K-12 schools. The District administration is using the report to recommend closing local public schools and adding so-called "turnarounds."

The District of Columbia currently has 56 charter operators and 41% of its students in schools governed by private boards. This movement to private operators reflects one of the major thrusts of the self-declared "education reformers," that is, aiming to end local democratic control of schools.

The IFF report recommends closing local public schools and turning them over to "high performing charter operators." But in fact, the charter operators have not proven themselves to be "high performing."

Experts who reviewed IFF's analysis conclude that its "flawed methodology" led to findings that misrepresented both the strengths and weaknesses in D.C.'s schools, as well as recommendations that fail to address the real challenges the schools are facing.

Reviewers Michael Siegel of Public and Environmental Finance Associates and Mary Filardo of the 21st Century School Fund agree with the direction of the IFF report's title: every child and every neighborhood in the District needs quality schools. But they assert that IFF's study will not help the District reach that goal. The Siegel-Filardo review comes to the following conclusion:

Unfortunately, the study's methodology, analysis, and recommendations are so seriously flawed, they fail to provide a valid basis for any actionable policies.

If IFF's proposals are implemented, the reviewers believe that:

The immediate effect would be to halt and hamstring scheduled modernizations of schools throughout the District. The [proposals] would cause unwarranted disruption and uncertainty for thousands of students and families, while reducing accountability and fostering public distrust.

The reviewers also point out that IFF's proposals would "close and transfer governance of dozens of [public] schools to charter operators," and turn over control of these public real estate assets---the land and school buildings themselves---to a charter board for use and disposition as it sees fit, with no oversight.

IFF's report credits the pro-voucher Walton (WalMart) Foundation with a generous donation for the study. Diane Ravitch has written about Walton: "This foundation is known for its love of all things private, and its antipathy for unions, government regulation, and public education." According to Walton's accounting of its grants, it gave "$2.2 million to IFF, an organization that recently drafted a report to redesign the District of Columbia's public schools by increased privatization," Ravitch reported.

IFF's recommendations mirror similar school closing and privatization reports for other school districts, including Denver, St. Louis, and Chicago. In Chicago, recently announced school closings are being challenged in court, where plaintiffs filed a new complaint on March 28, 2012, seeking to prevent most of the closings.

Shutting down struggling schools has become a high-profile strategy of education "reformers" across the nation, according to the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. But there is abundant evidence that

closures harm students and communities. At the same time, educators from around the country continue to put forward data and compelling stories about their successful work to improve student performance without closing schools.

See, also, "The Way Forward: From Sanctions to Supports," urging New York City to adopt proven and effective interventions to improve schools, instead of continuing its failed policy of closing schools. After 10 years of trying, the City's experience shows that closing schools "has not and cannot successfully address the needs" of the schools or the students. The Way Forward's authors press New York City to "refocus" its efforts on successful interventions.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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