TESTIMONY TO THE DC CITY COUNCIL ON THE 2007-8 DCPS BUDGET

By Dorothy Marschak, President CHIME (Community Help In Music Education)

April 5, 2007

 

The priority attention the Council has given to DCPS this year is to be applauded, but I find it hard to understand how the proposed change in governance will increase the performance of our students under the proposed budget—with the smallest percent increase given to any government agency.  The assumption of another big shift in enrollment from public to charter schools in the budget seems to imply a lack of faith that the public will respond favorably to the changes in governance, while promoting further outsourcing. I will focus my testimony on the impacts of this predicted enrollment decrease on the ability of DCPS to offer a balanced and quality education (which does more than teach how to pass the high-stakes standardized tests).

 

Question 1: What is the best way to draw up the school budget? Is it first to decide on the funds to be allocated (the Mayor announced long ago there would be no increases) and then, in Procrustean fashion, cut education to fit the funds?  Or, alternatively, should there first be a policy decision on the goals of public education and the best way to achieve them, followed by a determination of how much it would cost to implement them, and then negotiating about how to raise the needed funding? Isn’t the latter way the  way businesses and non-profits have to do it, and doesn’t government also do it, for example when it wants to fight a war, or build a stadium, or a convention center?

 

Question 2: What should be the goals of public education that the budget should reflect and advance?  In my testimony to the Council on February 7, I raised the question of what the goals of public education should be, a public discussion I think we still need to have. We do have the goals adopted by the Board of Education in the Master Education Plan, which I believe the Mayor has also endorsed. I believe the incorporation of a decrease of over 3,000 students in the proposed budget will work against the attainment of these adopted goals.

 

Impact of projected enrollment decrease on the arts and other curriculum offerings: With the projected enrollment decrease , the funds available to many  Principals from the weighted student formula will probably drop again, as they have been doing in recent years, even more than usual since they are based on next year’s projected rather than last years actual enrollment—that will be a double hit.  Those are the funds out of which, under current law, the Principal has to decide whether to hire music teachers, art teachers,  PE teachers, reading specialists, counselors, 2nd language teachers or many others whose need does not vary with enrollment, yet for all of which there has never been enough funding even for larger schools to hire. So, year after year, more and more of these “optionals”—ie music, art, PE, 2nd language—are eliminated.  This is combined with new curriculum mandates that leave almost no time during the school day for the arts or PE to be taught, even if they were funded.  The new HS curriculum, for example, just adopted by the School Board, allocates .5 unit for music and art in 4 years of high school. Middle schools are following suit. According to DCPS, 35 of our elementary schools (over 1/3) and 4 of our secondary schools currently offer no music at all, and that number will probably increase under the current budget.  What has happened to our once-famous DC school bands?  Blowing in the wind, blowing in the wind.  Not blowing in our schools or neighborhoods, with a handful of exceptions. By the way, I encourage you to visit the exhibition on school bands (that CHIME initiated and contributed to) at the Anacostia Community Museum, before it closes May 14 to appreciate the important role school bands used to play in DC.

 

Suggestions for aligning the budget with the goals:

Assure every school can offer a balanced curriculum for the whole child:

1. Take music, art, PE and foreign language out of the Weighted Student Formula, and make sure every school is funded with at least one teacher in these subjects no matter the school size. Make it mandatory through 8th grade that every child have at least 2 periods of arts and 3 of PE every week, even if it means less drilling in reading and math. The arts, aside from their intrinsic value, promote academic achievement as well, and it is unconscionable not to provide physical exercise for our children, given growing obesity.

2. Provide for foreign language training for every child beginning in 1st grade. Learning another language helps with English as well as preparing for living and working in a multi-lingual and global society.

3. Offer life skills for at least 2 periods a week up through 8th grade, including conflict resolution, civics, sex education, financial skills, behavior for success.

Insourcing (an alternative to outsourcing):

1.  Fund at least 2 field trips/month for every school—for arts, science, history, government. Some of our DCPS students have never been outside their neighborhoods, and have no exposure to the world outside of them.  Such trips promote interest in learning and meaningful participation in society.

2. Fund expenses of bringing community professionals (particularly in science, government, health, the arts) into classrooms to bring in their expertise and excite learning.

3.. Build up school bands again by providing school-time for instrumental instruction. Hire adjunct instrumental or band teachers for schools that can‘t afford two music teachers. Partner with after-school programs for more intensive instrumental instruction. Solicit business community support for instruments and uniforms.

Extend the school day:  Extend the school day for at least 1 more period until 4 PM to include all the above during the school day.

Mentoring and tutoring: Fund adequate mentoring for new teachers and principals, and for students needing extra help.

Accountability:  Work to change accountability measurement from high-stakes standardized tests to value-added testing to measure improvement in each child.