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HomeCommentaryOpinion: In Opposition to Pairing Miner and Maury Elementary Schools

Opinion: In Opposition to Pairing Miner and Maury Elementary Schools

op-ed

As parents, there are few things more important than our children’s education.  As such, I applaud the Deputy Mayor of Education’s (DME) goal to provide all District students – no matter what block they live on or the color of their skin – with equitable access to high-quality schools. But approving of DME’s laudable goals does not compel support for DME’s half-baked plan (the “proposal”) to create a paired school between Maury Elementary School (1250 Constitution Ave. NE) and Miner Elementary School (601 15th St. NE). 

When the “proposal” was revealed at a Maury community meeting two months ago, I anticipated a detailed and coherent plan grounded in data. Given that the year-long Boundary Study was about to enter its tenth month, I expected DME to have considered alternatives and conducted extensive analysis before formulating a proposal.  Unfortunately, after attending all the meetings DME offered in the weeks that followed – from the in-person town hall at Anacostia High School to the multiple Advisory Committee meetings – my questions and doubts multiplied. 

Let’s start with the basics. The primary rationale for the proposal is that it would “[s]upport a more even distribution of at-risk students” across Miner and Maury by reducing Miner’s at-risk population from 64% to 43% and increasing Maury’s from 12% to 40%, according to DME’s modeling. Even the slightest probing into that modeling, however, causes it to unravel: as DME itself has recognized in private correspondence, its modeling “doesn’t follow the logical historic trend.”  

For example, DME’s model assumes that the percentage of in-boundary students attending the paired schools would be the “enrollment weighted average” of the existing in-boundary participation rate for the two schools in SY22-23. But that approach exemplifies DME’s flawed thinking that the pre- and post-pairing worlds will remain constant, ignoring both (1) the concerns and priorities of our community, and (2) the real-world data that exists on paired elementary schools.    

From DME meeting with Miner Elementary, Dec. 19, 2023. https://dme.dc.gov/node/1693206

Curiously, DME chose not to engage extensively with Hill families who would be attending this new combined school and whose input is essential to understanding the pairing’s impact on enrollment, in-boundary participation, and demographics. If DME had done so, it would have heard the community’s many concerns, including the enormous size of the new school, drop-off logistics and pedestrian safety, and the harmful impact that adding yet another transition could have on the academic performance and emotional well-being of our children. DME’s engagement with the community after releasing the proposal has been similarly shoddy: there has been just a single community meeting with each school to discuss the most disruptive proposal to arise from the Boundary Study. 

Even without engaging the community, though, these concerns shouldn’t have been surprising; after all, a 2017 DCPS survey of the Maury community’s view on this exact same proposal demonstrated that it was wildly unpopular, with community members raising some of the exact same concerns being raised today.  

Even more troubling is that DME failed to build into its model any data or lessons from other paired elementary schools, including one in the same neighborhood: Peabody-Watkins (the Capitol Hill Cluster).  

When asked why data from the Capitol Hill Cluster wasn’t built into the model, DME said it was inapplicable simply because those schools are about a half-mile farther from each other than Maury and Miner. But in looking past DME’s hand-waving to examine data from the Capitol Hill Cluster, it’s easy to see why DME wants to avoid that example.  

Peabody, which serves PreK through Kindergarten, is 60% white, 24% black, and 75% in-bounds.  Watkins, which serves Grades 1-5, is basically the mirror image: approximately 60% black, 32% white, and just 33% in-bounds. A whopping 30% of Peabody K students don’t make the transition to 1st grade at Watkins.  And, over the last decade, Peabody has become significantly less diverse, with its white population increasing from 48% to 60% and its black population dropping from 36% to 24%. What work has DME done to show that the Maury-Miner pairing would not follow a similar trajectory of significant attrition, decreased neighborhood utilization of the upper school, and a less diverse lower school?  DME’s unwillingness to assess the Capitol Hill Cluster in making the proposal has left these questions unanswered.  

The paired elementary school example embraced by DME – Billingsville Elementary & Cotswold Elementary, two elementary schools in North Carolina (the “North Carolina Cluster”) – further supports the notion that DME’s modeling is flawed.  In the five years since the North Carolina schools were paired, there has been about a 35% drop in enrollment and declining educational outcomes for the Economically Disadvantaged, Hispanic, Black, and White student populations, that can be seen in the comparison of 2017-18 School Performance Grades, with those from 2022-23 The outcomes from the North Carolina Cluster are objectively bad and fail to inspire any confidence in paired schools as a viable model.     

From DME Miner Elementary presentation, Dec. 19 2023. https://dme.dc.gov/node/1693206

By pointing to the North Carolina Cluster as an example of its vision, DME does not even claim that the Maury-Miner pairing is designed to improve educational outcomes for a single child.  While unfortunate, it isn’t altogether surprising: DME admitted that it did not consider educational outcomes in its modeling during a December town hall.  

With so many questions about the new paired school’s demographics, enrollment, in-boundary participation, Title I status, budget, and leadership team (among others) going unanswered, DME cannot even be sure that its most basic goal – the more equitable distribution of at-risk students – would be achieved.        

Despite what DME referred to during a December townhall as “mostly unsupportive” feedback from community members over the last few months, we’re now less than a week away from when DME is scheduled to finalize its recommendations and, still, only a single option has been presented to the community.   

We wouldn’t be in this position if DME had considered other, less disruptive alternatives to the Maury-Miner pairing at some point during the last 11 months.  As a Joint Statement signed by both the Maury Elementary PTA and Miner Elementary PTO points out, communities are generally “presented with an opportunity to engage with a variety of solutions,” but, for some unknown reason, that hasn’t happened here.  For example, it is unclear why DME presented modeling for at-risk set-asides – a much less disruptive option than the pairing proposal – for every DCPS school with fewer than 30% at-risk students except Maury.  

DME’s goals of increasing socioeconomic and racial diversity and ensuring equitable access to high-quality schools are commendable.  But I cannot support a rushed proposal that was inadequately studied and, based on all available empirical data, will result in the creation of lower-quality schools and a worse education for our children – including my daughters – than existed before the pairing.   

If you agree, please sign the Community Petition in Opposition to Pairing Maury and Miner Elementary Schools, which, after just one week in circulation, has amassed more than 200 signatures from members of our community.  Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen has also come out against the proposal as presented.  

Fundamentally, all we’re asking is for DME to provide our community with what it gave to other communities in the District affected by the Boundary Study: alternative proposals that are less disruptive than pairing schools, and sufficient time to consider them. 

Ben Wasserman lives in-bounds for Maury with his wife and two toddlers. Reach him at wassermanbenjamind@gmail.com.

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