Empowering Student Voice in Policy Development and Discussions

By Alexander Jue, Policy Analyst

Our education system is more student-centered and student-driven than ever before. This means that policymakers and decision-makers must ensure student voice is elevated and actively heard.

Watch: Empowering the Student Voice

Since 2006, the D.C. State Board of Education has appointed two students to serve as representatives on the State Board. The student representatives are high school students in the District’s traditional public or public charter schools, and they each serve one-year terms. Each student representative is selected from a pool of applicants by the elected members of the State Board. They participate in all meetings and committees of the State Board by providing policy recommendations and testimony, and they co-lead the drafting of written reports; their votes are always recorded, but do not affect the outcome of a State Board action.

My colleagues and I had the opportunity to share the work of our impressive student representatives and the power of student voice and representation while at the 2019 iNACOL Symposium in Palm Springs, California. We led a session titled, “Empowering Student Voice in Policy Development and Discussions”  which featured a virtual panel of three former student representatives—Brian Contreras, Tallya Rhodes, and Tatiana Robinson. They discussed the role of the State Board’s student representatives, the leadership they provided as co-chairs of the District’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC), and the policy-facing work they accomplished on college readiness, teacher retention, and school equity.

Brian Contreras, SY14–15 and SY15–16 Student Representative and current senior at Stanford University, shared one of his favorite memories from his time on the State Board.

My favorite State Board memory is from the first meeting of the inaugural Student Advisory Committee (SAC). All the student members brought three topics they were interested in using the SAC to address and we discussed the merits of each one in depth, ultimately settling on teacher accountability.

 It was the first real forum I had seen for students from all different schools—traditional public and public charter—to explore all the issues they had with their education and then reaching a consensus.

 I would definitely consider my work on the SAC as my biggest impact as a student representative. Looking over the current SAC webpage now, I would bet that every issue that has been addressed in the years since the SAC’s inaugural year was raised at that first meeting, which I think illustrates the persistence of these issues and the importance of having a standing, student-led committee exploring them.”

The State Board continues to be impressed by the work and leadership of our student representatives and the SAC. The SAC meets on the first Monday of every month at 4:30 p.m. at 441 4thStreet NW.

Civics Education, Inequities Facing Incarcerated Youth, and More: Takeaways from the 2019 NASBE Conference

By Emily Gasoi, Ward 1 Representative

On October 16, I headed off to Omaha, NE along with a small group of SBOE colleagues and staff for the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) annual conference. NASBE is a membership organization that “develops, supports, and empowers citizen leaders on state boards of education to strengthen public education systems…” (see more about NASBE’s mission and purpose here).

I generally love the concentrated learning and networking that takes place at conferences, but this was my first time attending a gathering of state board members, and I had no idea what to expect. After three days packed with impressive keynote speakers, motivating panel presentations, inclusive decision-making sessions and ample time for unstructured discussion, I was not disappointed!

I am still processing everything I took in during my three days in Omaha, and there was far too much to share it all in this post, but I will attempt to seize on some common threads that ran through the talks and sessions I attended and share my key takeaways with you all:

Civics Education

One theme that ran through several of the convenings was the importance of providing students access to authentic, empowering civics education that leads directly to real-world opportunities. This resonated with some of the work I am leading on our Board with the Well-Rounded Education committee, which is conducting research to learn the degree to which DC schools are able to ensure students have access to non-tested subjects including arts, sciences, and social studies.

Some action- and thought-provoking points I took away from the panel on “Transforming Civics Education in an Era of Polarized Politics”:

  • Asked to define what meaningful civics education entails, panelists generally panned the idea of using the US Citizenship test, which they deemed to be too narrow and inert, and instead noted that strong civics education both connects with and expands students’ lived experience. Several panelists, including one high school student, noted that authentic projects with real outcomes are more likely to engage students and lead them to feel more connected to the community and civically empowered to effect positive change.
  • Panelists shared multiple models worth emulation:
    • In Florida, the entire middle school curriculum is focused on civics education.
    • Similarly, as of this year, in Massachusetts, the entire 8th-grade curriculum is dedicated to civics. In addition, state law now requires all middle and high schools to dedicate at least one semester to “’action civics’ – having students research and use local civic channels to solve problems in their community.”
    • Illinois has also passed a statewide law requiring high schools to spend at least one semester on civics education. And in Chicago Public Schools, every high school has a “Student Voice Committee” designed to help students develop leadership and decision-making skills that will impact their school and home communities.
  • Two related challenges panelists raised was how to effectively assess the quality of civics learning and how to make civics education a curricular priority without necessarily dragging it down with a narrowing accountability incentive.

Putting their civics convictions into practice, several states/territories, including Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, and Guam sent student representatives to the conference. I attended a round table discussion at which student representatives described the process of applying and then either being appointed or elected to serve on their respective State Boards. Maryland and Massachusetts student representatives are elected by a statewide student council and have full voting rights. The DC SBOE chooses two student members from a pool of applicants each year. DC student representatives can vote, but their vote is merely recorded, not counted. I plan to reach out to the students I met to learn more about their respective systems and whether or not full student voting rights might be something the DC SBOE should pursue.

Our Responsibility to Incarcerated Youth:

The “Educating Incarcerate Youth” panel I attended also focused on the need to provide students being educated in detention centers with knowledge and skills that will help them navigate school, work, and life once they’re released. This was a different take on civics education, but the overlap was clear – whether they are learning in general education settings or detention centers, students need access to real-world learning. As one of the panelists, Hailly Korman of Bellwether Education Partners, aptly noted, “Many of you rightly focus on disrupting the school to prison pipeline. But we can’t let the students who are already in the system to feel that they’ve been thrown away. We need to create a prison-to-opportunity pipeline as well.”

Some takeaways from the “Educating Incarcerate Youth” panel:

  • Panelists noted that, while more than 30,000 youth are incarcerated in the United States each year, there’s often little attention paid to the quality of education accessible to students in detention centers.
  • Not surprisingly, therefore, schools within these centers are too often characterized by poor quality facilities, inadequate course offerings, and inadequate resources, meaning that these youth are disproportionately likely to “face an array of barriers to transitioning to a crime-free, productive adulthood.”
  • The panelists urged us as state board members and other school system leaders to work toward greater coordination and communication across agencies, and to “be more aware and responsible for providing oversight” to ensure equality in terms of educational quality.
  • To prevent students from entering the system, some panelists suggested “equity audits” for general education schools that would help principals assess the degree to which already vulnerable and marginalized youth are being disciplined and suspended.
  • Bellwether shared a great simulation tool called Rigged that takes “players” through a series of decisions a student on probation might have to make in order to stay on track toward their high school graduation.
  • Ultimately, the panelists emphasized that better metrics and more funding are most important points to advocate in order to address the problems facing educational settings within juvenile detention centers (like our general education sector, only more so!)

Providing participants with an example of what’s possible, 2019 Teacher of the Year, Rodney Robinson, gave a keynote talk about how he takes a student-centered approach to civics education, empowering his students– all of them African American boys assigned to a juvenile detention center school in Richmond, VA – to push for social change. With them, Robinson has explored the historical roots of the U.S. prison system, the ongoing effects of racial segregation, and voting rights.

Concluding Thoughts:

Several panelists and speakers discussed the narrowing effect that two decades of over-emphasizing test scores has had on civics, as well as other essential subjects. Acknowledging both the necessity and difficulty of creating conditions conducive to forging more holistic and, frankly, more 21st century-appropriate school systems, other panel and speaker topics included real talk from states attempting to shift to alternative assessment systems, the science of how trauma impacts children’s capacity to attend to their learning and how state leaders can best support learning that serves our most vulnerable students through policy, state board members from Kansas and Indiana sharing their ambitious and impressively effective constituent engagement strategies, and more.

Overall, I found this to be one of the most practical conferences I’ve attended. I came away with lots of connections and resources that I am fired up to share and put into practice over my next three years on the State Board.

SBOE #EdPolicy Roundup: October 2019

By Sarah Arrington, Policy Fellow

This month, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its efforts to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The October 2019 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from the D.C. Policy Center discussing the need for increased access to high quality schools for at-risk students and one from The Education Trust that examines why teachers of color leave schools and what schools can do to retain them.

As we have done previously, SBOE will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.

“Access to Schools that Level the Playing Field for D.C.’s At-Risk Students” D.C. Policy Center, September 2019

Summary: This D.C. Policy Center report finds that though student test scores have improved, there are still achievement gaps that persist. That is why access to high quality schools is especially important for at-risk students. The report discusses “leveler schools”, or schools that level the playing field for at-risk students. In order to be a leveler school, schools must meet the target of growth (90th percentile) on the state report card in either ELA or Math. Twenty elementary schools and 12 middle schools met this target, and so, are considered leveler schools. There are leveler elementary schools in all wards aside from wards 2 and 3 and leveler middle schools in all wards aside from wards 3 and 6 however, the students who need these leveler schools the most often live the farthest away from them. Furthermore, there is simply not enough space for all the students who need access to leveler schools. While improving geographic access to high quality schools would help the situation, it is more important to improve and support schools that are not leveler schools but that serve at-risk to help accelerate academic gains. The D.C. Policy Center highlights ways that D.C. can support those schools:

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SBOE #EdPolicy Roundup: September 2019

By Sarah Arrington, Policy Fellow

This month, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its efforts to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The September 2019 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from the Education Commission of the States discussing STEAM education and its impact on student success and one from FutureEd that looks at how state testing systems are changing under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

As we have done previously, SBOE will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.

Preparing Students for Learning, Work and Life Through STEAM Education” Education Commission of the States (ECS), Mary Dell’Erba, September 2019

Summary: The Education Commission of the States (ECS) and the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) conducted a study on state policies that include STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education. They defined STEAM education as “an approach to teaching in which students demonstrate critical thinking and creative problem-solving.” This type of education focuses on learning through experience, exploration, inquiry, and creativity. Specifically with the addition of arts into a more traditional STEM program, they found that students had increased opportunities to practice active learning and divergent thinking, to build social and emotional skills, and to develop cultural competency. Continue reading

A Voice for Change: Dayja Burton, Student Representative

By Dayja Burton, SY2019–20 Student Representative

At first, I had no idea what the role of Student Representative of the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) would entail or that it even existed. But, after my teachers at McKinley Technology High School introduced me to the opportunity, I knew this would align with my personality and life goals.

My name is Dayja Burton and I am a senior at McKinley Technology High School. My school focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (S.T.E.M.) and I participate in the information technology (I.T.) department with a concentration in networking/cybersecurity. This program provides me with a hands on education and opportunities that will help me in college and later in my career. Outside of the classroom, I am a member of the flag football team and the editor-in-chief of the YMCA Youth and Government program. My involvement with various organizations correlates to something that is important to me.

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Fulfilling My Civic Duty: Alex O’Sullivan, Student Representative

By Alex O’Sullivan, SY2019–20 Student Representative

I applied to be a SY2019–20 student representative on the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) because I know the importance—now more than ever—of fulfilling my civic duty by actively engaging with my community, and serving with elected officials and driven high school students to provide voices for youth throughout the city is a great way to do so.

I am a sophomore at BASIS DC PCS where my favorite classes are English Language, US Government, and Calculus. Outside of school, I play baseball, and am an avid fan of other sports such as basketball and football. I enjoy politics, and I am a board member and delegation leader of YMCA’s ‘Youth and Government’ program, a mock youth form of city government. I also write poetry and serve as the co-founder and President of my school’s poetry club. I love math and I tutor third-grade students at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in English and Math, and this school year I will be a member of the NSBE Jr. (National Society of Black Engineers), where I will participate in math-related competitions. Throughout the school year, I participate in youth speech competitions, and in 2019 I won the 2019 BIG (Blacks in Government) Youth Oratorical Chapter Competition on the injustices of the American judicial system.

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Paul’s Top 5 Moments at SBOE

SBOE Staff 2019

By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist

So many firsts. My first government job. My first time working with politicians. My first time running multiple social media accounts and a blog. In October 2016, I stepped into a position that did not exist before. Excited, yet intimidated, I relished the opportunity to develop the role into what it is today. Much thanks goes to our Executive Director John-Paul Hayworth, our tremendous staff, and our passionate Board members for trusting me with this role and allowing me to make it my own. As I finish up my final week serving as public affairs specialist for the DC State Board of Education, here are a few moments I won’t soon forget.

1. #SBOESelfieTours

SBOE Selfie Tour 2017

As a staff member, I loved getting out into the community and visiting District public schools as often as possible. This helped keep my ears to the ground and helped to connect the education policies we were working on with the realities of children attending school. Whether it was Back-to-School events, school tours, education events, or student representative swearing-ins, I always felt honored I was able to capture these moments as they happened. In spring 2017, we embarked on the first #SBOESelfieTour, a public engagement campaign where staff and Board members visited a variety of schools over a one or two-day period to help promote specific policy issues or campaigns. During these quarterly tours, we dropped off flyers and materials about our open applications for student representative and Student Advisory Committee, applications to join our High School Graduation Requirements and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) task forces, and back-to-school information on the work of the State Board, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Office of the Student Advocate. The ultimate bonding experience for staff, these outings proved to be a great way for us to connect with the schools we served.

2. Going Live

#DCGradReqs Task Force Meeting 2017

Running a livestream for every public meeting, working session, and task force over the last three years was thrilling, challenging, and nerve-wracking all at the same time. Every conversation, debate, vote, public testimony, and ceremonial resolution was captured live via our Periscope or FacebookLive feed. I wouldn’t call myself an expert videographer or photographer, but I managed to hone my craft as time went on. The toughest parts were when the WiFi or phone connection would drop or when I needed to inconspicuously capture substantive conversations at our task force meetings. Our dedicated group of viewers always keep me on my toes in the chat box, never really leaving me a moment to relax. But, I loved engaging with them in real time to help make their viewing experience valuable.

3. ESSA Community Engagement

ESSA Community Meeting 2017

In February 2017, the State Board partnered with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to co-host community meetings in all eight wards of the District. Members engaged with the public on the draft Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan to find out what community members wanted DC to include in its final accountability plan. With a smaller staff back then, John-Paul and I traveled around to schools in the District with translation equipment, projectors, printed materials, and a projector screen to ensure these events went off smoothly. It was a sprint that month, with three meetings per week for four weeks straight in the evenings. But, it was worth it! It was a great way for me to learn the unique challenges and concerns of residents in every part of this city early on in my time at SBOE.

4. Spotlight on Teacher Retention

Teacher Retention Forum 2018

In May 2018, SBOE contracted with local education researcher and data analyst Mary Levy to produce a report on teacher and principal retention in the District of Columbia. In October last year, we released the commissioned report along with three recommendations. The report found that teacher turnover at the DCPS system level is roughly 19 percent, and average annual teacher turnover at the school level in both traditional public schools and charter schools has consistently been about 25 percent. The report also found that turnover in DCPS neighborhood schools is highest in Wards 5 and 8, but that charter school turnover rates are largely the same regardless of location. The impact of this report has been wide-ranging, and the State Board has continued to analyze this issue in 2019. Through community forums, expert panels, and engagement with teachers and administrators throughout the District, we have deepened our knowledge on this issue. The SBOE is poised to continue the conversation in the new school year and I am grateful to have been a part of these efforts to shine a light on such an important issue.

5. Launching the SBOE Blog

When I started my role, I wanted to create a way for us to connect more with the community. I felt that SBOE needed a way for Board members and staff to share their views on specific education policy issues. I also wanted a space for us to publish information, feedback, and takeaways from key events. Thus, this blog was born in December 2016. With the breadth of communications and media relations functions I performed over the years, it was a challenge at times to carve out time each month to get content posted. But, with the help of our dedicated staff, we’ve managed to post a few blogs each month. It’s been a great outlet for us to get our voice across in a unique way.

  • SBOE SelfieTour 2017
  • EdFest 2017
  • SBOE SelfieTour 2018
  • DCPS Pride 2019
  • Langley Elementary Tour 2019
  • SBOE Staff August 2019
  • Staff Nats Game 2017
  • SBOE Excel Academy Visit 2018
  • SBOE Staff May 2019

Together, we’ve worked hard to communicate the message of the State Board through meetings, task force sessions, selfie tours, press releases, community newsletters, media responses, and countless community events. With a focus on transparency, we streamed every public meeting, working session, and task force meeting live on Periscope and FacebookLive. With the help of staff and our dedicated fellows, we’ve been able to expand our social media presence – adding an Instagram and LinkedIn account and maximizing our Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages.

And now, I am fully ready to take on a new professional challenge! I am staying in DC, so I’ll be close. From time to time, I may pull up a SBOE meeting on Periscope to catch the latest on the work of the State Board. It will be a nice change to be on the other side, watching as an interested and supportive District resident. I can’t wait to see what’s next for SBOE.

SBOE Director Shares Best Practices to Engage State Policymakers

Leadership Exchange for Adolescent Health Promotion

By: John-Paul Hayworth, Executive Director

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure to serve as a panelist at the first in-person convening of the Leadership Exchange for Adolescent Health Promotion (LEAHP) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Our State Board of Education (SBOE) developed and approved some of the most comprehensive health education standards in the country in 2017, so it was a great opportunity to share our story with five state teams of government education and health officials, non-profit leaders, and practitioners and collaborate with them to address adolescent health in three priority areas: sexual health education, sexual health services, and safe and supportive environments. D.C. has one of the five teams in this first cohort of the LEAHP project (others are Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin).

The panel I was a part of focused on how to work with state and local policymakers to develop policy systems in which all students can thrive and have what they need to be safe, healthy and supported in school. Panelists shared best practices, common challenges and strategies to overcome them, and real-world success stories. I spoke about how to initiate, foster and maintain relationships with policymakers and their staff. We also discussed the “ick factor” that can limit or stymie vital conversations around topics that are uncomfortable for some people including sexual activity, mental health and LGBTQ issues. 

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Dayja Burton and Alex O’Sullivan to Serve as Student Representatives

2019-20 Student Representatives

By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist

Earlier this summer, the State Board of Education was thrilled to announce the selection of Dayja Burton, a rising senior at McKinley Technology High School, and Alex O’Sullivan, a rising sophomore at BASIS DC PCS, as Student Representatives for the 2019–20 school year. For the length of their term, these outstanding students will join our nine elected State Board members in policy discussions and community engagement efforts, bringing the voice of students directly to decision makers. With their direct experience in the classroom, student representatives provide a unique voice during policy discussions and offer a vital perspective on teacher retention, education standards, and our state accountability system.

Dayja Burton is a McKinley Technology Zelinger award winner, a recipient of the Perseverance Award, and a member of the Principal’s Honor Roll and National Honor Society. Alex O’Sullivan is a member of Youth and Government, co-founder and president of his school’s poetry club, and a volunteer tutor at his local elementary school. As Student Representatives, Burton and O’Sullivan will also co-chair the 2019–20 Student Advisory Committee (SAC), a volunteer group of students from District high schools in both D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) and the public charter sector.

The State Board began an open application process for both the Student Representative positions and the SAC in March, receiving 40 applicants from both traditional public and public charter school students. The SBOE sought students who were passionate about serving their community, as these individuals bring a vital voice to the education policy-making process in the District.

The SAC serves as the voice of students in the State Board’s work. They are consulted on issues of policy before the Board. The SAC meets at least once per month. Each year, the Committee sends the SBOE a report on a matter of importance to District students, providing recommended next steps. If rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors are interested in joining the Student Advisory Committee, contact us at sboe@dc.gov. For more information, please visit sboe.dc.gov/studentvoices.

SBOE #EdPolicy Research Roundup: July 2019

July Research Roundup Students

By: Jordan Miller, Policy Fellow

This month, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) continued its efforts to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The July 2019 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from the Center for American Progress (CAP) about the unique debt burdens Black and Latinx educators face and a second by David M. Houston & Jeffrey R. Henig on the effects of showing parents growth data when they search for new schools.

As we did last month, SBOE will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.

Student Debt: An Overlooked Barrier to Increasing Teacher Diversity”

Center for American Progress (CAP), July 2019

Summary: In this report, CAP outlines the way student debt uniquely impacts Black and Latinx educators. Black and Latinx students are more likely than their white counterparts to borrow money to complete their education as well as attain graduate degrees, making their student debt a barrier to attracting and retaining them as teachers. On average, Black teachers earn less than their white counterparts, which makes it even more difficult to repay the higher loan burden they carry. CAP outlines some policy recommendations:

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