DC-CORE Member Laura Fuchs Testimony to DC Council on DCPS Digital Equity Bill
Testimony before the DC Council
By: Laura Fuchs
Given: November 5, 2021
In my 15 years as a teacher at HD Woodson my experience with technology and the complete lack of oversight provided by the Council is emblematic of the problems facing our district as a whole. Firstly, once again a hearing that educators would be able to provide great insight on is being held while we are in school. We know that under mayoral control the District’s higher-ups consistently lie, principals are under pressure to downplay reality and it is the unionized teaching force that have consistently stepped up, at great risk to ourselves, and spoken truth to power. We are the ones who know first hand what is going on in our buildings, yet we are consistently devalued as members of the public who can and should be able to testify because of when these hearings are held.
In 2007, my first year at HD Woodson, I taught in the Tower of Power. Let’s just say that we had chalk boards, I bought my own projector very quickly and the access to technology was difficult.
As an East of the River teacher who does not teach a tested subject, I basically have had zero regular access to technology. I just assume that the carts won’t be available – since testing takes so much time up – and that I should not rely on it. Most of my years teaching we also collected student cell phones, for good reason, and so we had to do work on paper. If I wanted students to do a research project, I would likely have to print out a variety of readings and give to students – another challenging prospect since we only got 1 case of paper per SEMESTER for 100+ students (let me tell you how much money I’ve spent on paper and how much time I’ve spent basically begging for it – DCPS is such a joke).
DCPS loves to create sweet backroom deals where we get laptops that do not meet the needs of our students in any way shape or form – usually because they are TINY and SLOW. When we first moved in to HD Woodson’s new building we had these tiny (like 10 inches) laptops that we knew wouldn’t work for long. We certainly were not 1-1, but this was a large infusion of technology for us. Within a few years they were basically out of commission. I used them far longer than anyone else would logically use them, but that was because it was certainly better than nothing.
Then our school tried the private route – getting grants and donor’s choose projects. This has been incredibly unstable. DCPS refuses to help fix anything. They like to try and block people from getting the cheaper options – even though WE are the ones getting the money together. And then with the instability of leadership and educators, if an educator who gets the grant leaves, they often take the technology with them.
Now in the pandemic DCPS attempted to not let the students have the meager technology that we had, but after pressure they relented. But there was no real plan. Schools were left on their own to figure out how to distribute and collect laptops – and let me tell you – some schools were better than others. I won’t blame school leaders – DCPS literally provided no useful guidance or support. Then they bought these little surface pros. IN A PANDEMIC WITH A VIRTUAL YEAR OF SCHOOLING students had tiny little laptops that could barely power Teams, Notebook, Canvas and all the other apps we needed them to be on in the course of a day. It was a complete joke. DCPS wanted students to have cameras on – have you ever USED the “laptops” – really tablets – that you forced our students to use? We needed laptops. Decent sized ones so they could have the multiple tabs and apps open and have it be useful.
But DCPS does EVERYTHING without consulting the educators and students who will use the devices. We need to have this equity plan to FORCE DCPS to do the right thing – work alongside the stakeholders who actually use the devices instead of sweet backroom deals with their buddies.
Also can I just ask DCPS to stop blocking google on our school internet? Bing ain’t it. Stop trying to force us to use Microsoft Products. We need access to google. Period. End of story.
So is this on the mayor? Absolutely. This has been going on before Fenty and kept going on after him. This isn’t just about Bowser. This is about a system of mayoral control and a Council that is too small and too uninterested in touching the third rail of education to question the narrative of how awesome things are. This is a council that would rather just throw money at the problem and call it a day. Do we need money? Absolutely. But in the current DCPS leadership’s hands? It is as good as throwing that money in the trash.
It will take a DRAMATICALLY different outlook from a Council that is far more aggressive and goes beyond a hearing and this bill to get these issues under control. But this is a good start. It will take proper budgeting that funds our schools based on its size and needs so that we can truly meet the needs of our students when it comes to access to technology.