FOLLOW THAT STORY: Education Malpractice

Imagine going to a physician with a complaint about an ailment you have been experiencing for several weeks. Without examining your medical record or asking you any questions specifically related to your problems, the doctor writes out a prescription, hands it to you, and says come back in six weeks.

That scenario is comparable to what has been happening with DC public school students. The Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) has essentially developed and implemented policies that affect the academic achievement of more than 90,000 District public school students without collecting or using critical data about those students. Further, the data collection that has occurred has not been conducted over time to profile a broad and complete portrait of each student. It also hasn’t been analyzed or deployed in the development of plan to improve each individual student’s performance. The OSSE’s neglect has been particularly harmful to students who are considered at-risk or who attend low-performing schools.


The DC Auditor, Kathy Patterson and her team, released a report last month—Measuring What Matters--amplifying the harm and calling for the creation of a statewide longitudinal data system. City education leaders appearing before the DC Council last month essentially circled the wagon, criticizing the auditor and misinforming the public about what the OSSE actually has done in the area of data collection, usage and availability. I took great exception to their performance.


I was not alone. This week, Patterson submitted a 32-page letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, highlighting the inaccuracies in their testimony offered by education leaders including interim State Superintendent for Education Shana Young and her supervisor, Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn.


Consider, for example, that Young portrayed the OSSE as having a longitudinal system. However, under questioning by council members she admitted the OSSE has not created a “statewide education warehouse system” (EDW) and “was not planning to do this, asserting that it is more useful to have [local education agencies]…and schools to develop their own multi-tiered system of support.”


In her letter, Patterson correctly asserted that “a single LEA simply does not have the needed data to develop an EWS.”


Then, there is the matter of student transfer records which the OSSE seemed to suggest constitute longitudinal data. “What Young described are school transfer records that schools receive from sending schools when a student enrolls. These are snapshots of information and not part of an SLDS,” Patterson wrote in her letter.


“An SLDS includes interactive data views for all enrolled students, including all years of relevant data for each student, plus analytic capacities,” she added.


I could go on. But truthfully, I get enraged when I consider how much public money is being paid to functionaries who don’t perform their jobs. Those same individuals have treated public-school students shabbily, especially those from poor or working-class families.

It’s pathetic, in my view, that the auditor has to describe in such minute detail the parameter of a longitudinal data system. That is real cause for dismissal. Young and Kihn have been role playing while District students graduate without the quality of education they deserve or need, if they are to be successful, contributing adults to society.


This is not a superfluous debate about documents. Rather, there are real world consequences for OSSE’s failures. Consider that of the 128 DC public school students who recently enrolled in the University of the District of Columbia, a full 126 of them needed remedial academic assistance.


If this were a medical case, someone would have already filed a malpractice lawsuit. A similar reaction should be considered. Someone should take the DC government to court for the harm it is causing thousands of DC students, most of them from Black or brown, underscoring the inequity and injustice.