Housing Complex

Mayoral Candidates Aren’t Fans of School Assignment Proposals

Muriel Bowser isn't a fan of the administration's school proposals.

Muriel Bowser isn't a fan of the administration's school proposals.

In presenting several possible options for overhauling D.C.'s public-school assignment policies to a crowd of concerned parents last night, Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith acknowledged that any proposals coming from the administration of Mayor Vince Gray might not carry the same weight now that he lost his re-election bid in the Democratic primary. But she expressed hope that whoever becomes mayor in January would pick up where her team left off. "I would hope," Smith said, "that any new mayor coming into that seat would respect the process."

Respect the process? Maybe. But as of this morning, it's looking a whole lot less likely that the new mayor will pursue any of the proposals that are currently on the table.

Muriel Bowser, the Democratic nominee, weighed in first, voicing her dismay in a statement this morning over the plans that could transform a predictable assignment model—where students attend the schools within whose boundaries they live, or the ones those schools feed into—into one full of lotteries that might send students halfway across town for school, against their will. She also lamented that the proposals could pull minority students (and, not coincidentally, her Ward 4 constituents) away from popular schools west of Rock Creek Park:

The scenarios put forth by the Deputy Mayor for Education and the Advisory Committee on Student Assignment propose some very good ideas, including choice sets, the creation of four new middle schools, a new high school west of the park, the establishment of an application STEM-middle school, as well as a dual language middle school. But the proposals fail significantly in two notable ways: first, they limit cross-boundary feeders, and second, they severely decrease predictability for parents of students at the middle and high school levels.

From the outset, I’ve approached this discussion guided by the following principles: A new school assignment plan must maintain diversity with current, cross-park boundary and feeder patterns; establish predictable, by-right school choices at every level; and accelerate citywide middle school improvements. To gain my support, a student assignment plan must align with these principles.

The hard work of the Deputy Mayor for Education and the Student Assignment committee should be praised, but we must also commit to a process that is open, participatory, and that ultimately reflects the desires of parents and the best interests of their children. Only then will I be willing to support the final decision with the authority and financial commitment of my current, and possible, office.

Independent challenger David Catania followed suit with a statement a short while later:

Over the last seven years, we have asked parents to take a leap of faith, to reinvest in public schools. Anything we do to shock that fragile confidence will undermine our work to create a comprehensive system of high quality schools across the District. It is for that reason that I cannot and will not support any of the three policy options as proposed. Options “A” and “C” are wholly unacceptable. These two options would undermine our matter of right system, which provides parents with desperately needed predictability and academic continuity for their children’s education. Any proposal that would remove by-right neighborhood elementary, middle and high schools from our public education system is a nonstarter for me.

With respect to Policy Option “B”, I will not support it as proposed. As I have said all along, I will stand against any plan that removes students from a higher performing school and forces them into a lower performing one. Further, I have serious concerns with the elements of Option “B” that would carve out significant populations of African American and Hispanic students from the Deal Middle School and Wilson High School feeder pattern. I believe this option would on its face have a disparate impact on these communities and as a result the District could face valid inquiry from the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights division should it move forward.”

What, exactly, are Policy Options A, B, and C? I provided a brief overview of the changes they'd make—and the people they'd please and upset—here. But for a more in-depth look, the full content of the ideas, as well as the proposed new boundary map for elementary schools, is below:

Correction: Due to a copying and pasting error, a small portion of Muriel Bowser's statement was initially and erroneously included as part of David Catania's statement. We regret the error.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • DC

    While they appear to have similar positions, there's a huge difference between the candidates' reactions. Bowser is first and foremost concerned about Ward 4 families continuing to have access to Deal and Wilson. But she is open, and apparently enthusiastic, about "choice sets" for elementary schools across the city. Catania rules that out completely. Of all the proposals, this is probably the most radical and widespread. Bowser's either going to quickly realize this is not a third rail she wants to campaign on or Catania is going to find his first winning argument against her.

    Oh, and just compare the two statements. It's obvious which candidate had a quicker and firmer grasp of the relevant issues beyond "Deal for all".

  • samantha

    Face thefact that Nickles/Lightfoot/Fenty/Rhee did not have time to write her statement. She is out of her element completely . Save the City from Bowser !

  • Eric

    Interesting read, but I still don't think we should be writing about school boundaries in a Housing Complex blog. It weakens the focus of this column.

  • JCan0284

    Schools are where the money is. Isn't what this is all about because it surely not children!

  • Todd

    Eric - I couldn't disagree more. Schools play a major role in real estate and housing. If DCPS provided strong educational options throughout the city it would flourish. Areas previously considered non-starters would open up and it would help alleviate some of the affordability issues we have. On the contrary if legislation gets passed that is viewed negatively the city will retract and the suburbs will receive strong demand. This is very relevant to a Housing Complex blog. It speaks to a large component of the demand for housing in the city.

  • SayWhat

    Samantha, honey, please take a long walk off of a short pier.

  • DC Guy

    These releases illustrate a clear difference between Bowser and Catania. A difference that strikes at the heart of families in Wards 2, 3 and 6 who prefer reliability based on the current patterns. Bowser is clearly pandering to Ward 4, but the proposal really screws families who are out of bounds at schools like Hearst and Eaton where there is now uncertainty for Middle and High Schools.

    This is one strong check in the Catania box because it blows right into the supposed strength of the Bowser voter bloc.

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