By: Sara Gopalkrishna, Policy Fellow
Thanks for the ride, SBOE! As a DCPS parent and a doctoral student of education policy, these last five months as a Policy Fellow at the DC State Board of Education have been illuminating and fun. I have come to understand the structure of educational governance in the District and learned a lot about the people who operate within it. (One day, I’ll diagram it for you!) I was given to the time and task of listening to and watching City Council testimony on education issues and offices, and, of course, SBOE meetings. I had the opportunity to participate in First Friday tours of DC charter schools and peek into some high schools on an SBOE selfie tour to recruit high school students to serve as Student Representatives and members of the State Board Student Advisory Committee. The staff provided opportunities for me to explore DC student data, write memos, contribute blog posts, and ask a lot of questions!
Firsthand, I have seen commitment of Board members to elevating the successes and addressing the challenges of public education. At the core, these leaders are motivated by the goal of equity within and among District public schools. Since I arrived at the SBOE, the Board has been grappling with the issue of teacher retention. They have heard testimony from local and national policy experts, local teacher educators, and DC school leaders who face the challenges every day in their schools. By listening, asking questions, and discussing positions, SBOE members understand the problem and heard from students who suffer the consequences of teacher turnover in classrooms with long term substitutes and unqualified teachers. The Board is well-informed and ready to support efforts by OSSE and LEAs around the issue.
Components and consequences of the STAR Framework have been in the forefront during my time with the SBOE. This week, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) proposed policy on high school growth measures for a vote by the SBOE. To prepare for their decision, the Board has heard from national and local experts on policy and statistical analysis, as well as DC high school leaders, on the challenges and options for measuring high school growth as a factor in school ratings for ESSA compliance. As a complex issue incorporating student population differences and attributing students’ growth to their high schools, developing student growth metrics are no simple task. Developing an approach that is logistically and financially feasible in both DCPS and the charter LEAs, and also understandable by families, is a task for OSSE; Whereas, approving it is a task for the SBOE.
Of their own accord, the SBOE is potentially about to embark on the daunting task of updating Social Studies standards. Current guidance dates back to before Mayoral control of DC public schools and precedes the existence of the current SBOE structure. As the only governing body of District public schools that is elected directly and not appointed by the Mayor, this round of standards-revision serves as an opportunity for the SBOE to assert itself as a viable and informed body that is capable of bringing about meaningful educational improvement for public education in DC. I believe that revising K-12 social studies standards is an opportunity for the SBOE to increase its visibility and use its capacity to affect change.
In my time among SBOE staff, I have seen how a true parliamentarian follows Robert’s Rules. (Executive Director John-Paul Hayworth is amazing at this!) I have witnessed staff’s diplomacy, effectiveness, and kindness towards Board members, each other, and most importantly towards constituent families and students. From me, the SBOE (staff) has learned how proud I am of my local elementary school and that monthly potlucks can be a fun and comradery-building exercise!