Building Community and Positive Relationships: How Some D.C. Public Charter Schools are Changing their Climate

By: Brian Robinson, Policy Fellow

Last week the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) hosted about two-dozen school leaders from across the city to talk about ways they have built a positive school climate. The National School Climate Center defines school climate as “the quality and character of school life.” When schools have a positive school climate, students are more likely to want to attend school, feel safe at school, develop positive relationships with peers and adults, and be engaged with teaching and learning.

Center City PCS – Brightwood Campus was applauded by PCSB for having one of the highest attendance and lowest chronic absenteeism rates in the charter sector. This was true across all subgroups (i.e., special education, at-risk, black, Hispanic students). Some strategies they credit for their success include:

  • Engaging all stakeholders in monitoring attendance. The school’s counselor and operations manager meet twice a week to review attendance data. Teachers flag absences, particularly from students who aren’t usually absent. Parents know the school takes attendance seriously and alert them for planned absences.
  • Using varying strategies for different families. Strategies include daily wake-up calls, home visits, and personalized solutions to encourage students to come to school.

Friendship Tech Prep PCS was credited for increasing academic outcomes, as well as its high attendance and low suspension rates. School administration realized their practice of suspending students was overused and ineffective, so they evaluated different models of addressing student behavior. Most importantly, they included students in these conversations asking them how they want to learn, why they are absent, and how to make school “lit”. Out of these conversations, they made some changes including:

  • Switching to project-based learning, allowing students to engage with their learning in a more practical way.
  • Created committees led by students. The uniform committee created uniforms that students would actually want to wear. The attendance committee made administration aware of issues with bus transportation.
  • Implemented Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) where students receive rewards for early attendance or being “caught” doing good, as well as “dollars” to be redeemed for privileges such as “dress down Fridays”.

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Teacher and Principal Retention

By: Alexander Jue, Policy Analyst

Teachers are the foundation of a quality education, and they are vital to the success of our students and our schools. The goals of excellence and equity in education in the District of Columbia cannot be achieved without a thriving, highly effective teacher workforce.

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. The report was intended to establish a foundation for a deeper investigation of the challenge of retaining highly effective teachers.

In October, SBOE 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. At SBOE’s October 24 public meeting, over 15 public witnesses shared their experience on this issue. Continue reading

Looking Ahead: Education Policy Post-2018 Midterms

Education Policy

By: Brian Robinson, Policy Fellow

2018 was huge for education politics. Teacher evaluation systems were on the ballot. Democrats Andrew Cuomo (NY) and Jared Polis (CO) and Republican Bill Lee (TN) won gubernatorial races defending tough evaluation systems while Democrat Michelle Grisham (NM) won her gubernatorial race campaigning on eliminating her state’s system. School choice was on the ballot. Democrat gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsome (CA) won calling for a moratorium on charter schools and Republican Ron DeSantis (FL) won supporting public and private choice options. Some states’ voters approved tax initiatives to fund education while others rejected them. It wasn’t just issues on the ballot. 1,800 educators campaigned for governorships, state legislatures, and congress. Democrat Tony Evers, a school superintendent, defeated Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker while Connecticut elected 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes to Congress.

Now that the dust has settled on the 2018 midterms, where does education politics go from here? Education Week hosted stakeholders at George Washington University to discuss the future of education politics. Here are some takeaways:

  • The Future is ESSA: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has approved plans for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. These plans vary as states have significant flexibility in implementing the law. While it’s too early to analyze its impact on student achievement, the first national overhaul of education following the No Child Left Behind Act will be ripe with research opportunities.
  • States forge ahead without Feds: Partly design, partly frustration. ESSA intentionally transfers power to states in deciding how to measure student progress and turnaround low-performing schools. President Trump made his intentions clear in a 2017 executive order instructing DeVos to modify or repeal regulations or guidance that infringes on state and local school control. States have also challenged the federal government on issues such as regulating student loan servicers.
  • America is still Red for Ed: The movement that saw teacher strikes in traditionally red states like West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma and ushered educators into elected office isn’t fading. Former principal and North Carolina State House candidate Aimy Steele spoke of valuable lessons learned on how to organize, petition government, and use the legislative process to fight for students. Social Studies teacher and newly elected Oklahoma House Representative John Waldron said “you don’t get what you want for your kids by asking nicely.” Policymakers are on notice that they must move the needle on teacher pay and working conditions. Polis has already pledged to create affordable housing for Colorado’s teachers. West Virginia has done the same.

Education politics has the wind at its back. Hopefully this momentum can be sustained to tackle long pressing issues around equity, school violence, mental health, college preparation and affordability, and attracting and retaining high quality teachers for vulnerable student populations. Education Week’s Editor-in-Chief Scott Montgomery says, “our system of politics, our system of education are not meeting expectations.”America must maintain pressure on both systems in 2019 and beyond if we hope to see meaningful results.