Dear Residents of the District of Columbia,
This is not the year we expected. Our city, our school communities, and the State Board’s agenda planned for 2020 were changed in unprecedented ways by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, schools were forced to suddenly close this spring, and, as of now, our city is still struggling with how to re-open them safely and productively, at least for some students.
The pandemic also exposed in many ways our system’s weak mechanisms to build connection or be responsive to our families and communities. It made it more difficult to provide equitable support for students navigating distance learning and to adequately engage students, families, educators, and school leaders as we map a plan for reopening. A time like this requires a strong, independent, truly representative voice to influence decision-making and account for the diverse needs and views of our communities. Complicated challenges like re-imagining education under COVID can’t be met with top-down solutions; they require solutions that are built from the ground up.
While the elected members of the State Board do not have the authority to make operational decisions on reopening and other vital issues, we have strived to provide a public forum where community voices could be heard. Our monthly public meetings routinely address one or more key educational issues facing our students and provide a public comment period, at which any DC resident can comment on educational issues. Since the start of distance learning alone, the State Board has heard over 23 hours of testimony and public comment from students, parents, school staff, teachers, public health experts, education policy researchers. We seamlessly moved our public, working and committee meetings online, maintaining our commitment to transparency and accessibility to the public – and shattered meeting attendance records in the process.
With its authority to approve/disapprove city-proposed policies on certain issues, including how school quality is rated and attendance rules, the State Board worked this year with our partner state agency, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, to pass temporary changes to our attendance requirements to better fit the realities of distance learning in the wake of COVID-19.
Ruth Wattenberg, President and Ward 3 Representative
Markus Batchelor, Vice President and Ward 8 Representative*
Summary: State Board Priorities
In 2020, the State Board continued to advance many of its priorities from the previous year, as listed in SR19-5, “On Establishment of Priorities,” strengthening its commitment and efforts to the following items:
• Serving as a voice for D.C. families on key educational issues
• Reviewing and leading the revision of D.C.’s Social Studies Standards
• Teacher and Principal Attrition in the District
• Reviewing the STAR Framework and related issues
• Well-Rounded Education
• Centering equity through the Equity Statement and Framework
In addition to these priorities as established by SR19-5, the State Board has continued to support the leadership and work of its Student Advisory Committee (SAC), a cohort of students from high schools across the District that advises the State Board of education policy issues, and its two sister offices, the Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education and the Office of the Student Advocate.
Continue to read below to learn more about the State Board’s work throughout 2020.
1. A Voice for D.C. Families
As elected representatives, State Board members act as independent voices in public education in the District of Columbia. Over the past year, the State Board has heard testimony from hundreds of public witnesses about the education issues that are most critical to them. These public meetings have been an important platform for members of the community to voice concerns, especially since the beginning of distance learning and discussions of school reopenings.
The State Board has used its platform to convey constituent views to other education leaders in the District, such as the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), the Public Charter School Board (PCSB), members of the D.C. Council, and Mayor Muriel Bowser and her team. In addition to Board-wide public meetings, State Board members engage, inform, and elevate the voices of their constituents through newsletters, school visits, and ward-level meetings, and in various forums, including public roundtables of the D.C. Council.
2. Revising D.C.’s Social Studies Standards
Regular reviews and revisions of statewide education standards are important to ensuring that our students are prepared for future success in a changing world. Statewide standards provide the framework for the District’s public schools to select curricula that best suit their students.
The current social studies standards in D.C. were last revised in 2006. The standards pre-date even the existence of the State Board of Education itself! While the current standards feature strengths, a revision has been long overdue. The revision process presents an opportunity for the District’s social studies standards to be culturally responsive, anti-racist, to impart important social studies content in the early grades, strengthen student knowledge of democratic principles and values, and promote civic engagement.
The State Board, in partnership with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), began its review and update of the District’s statewide social studies standards in July 2020. To conduct this substantive review, the State Board convened a Social Studies Standards Advisory Committee.
The Advisory Committee is responsible for drafting guiding principles and making recommendations to the State Board and to OSSE on how the state standards should be revised and updated to reflect the needs of students and teachers in the District. The Guiding Principles were distributed for public comment in November 2020, and then presented and voted on at the State Board’s December 2020 public meeting in SR20-15.
Additional work of the Advisory Committee will continue into 2021 so that new statewide standards may be implemented by school year 2022–23 in District public schools. Learn more about the revision process on our here. The Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) is currently looking for applicants for the Technical Writing Committee, which will be tasked with rewriting the standards. The deadline to apply is January 15.
3. Teacher Attrition
The State Board has continued to prioritize the issue of teacher attrition in the District of Columbia since the release of its first report in October 2018—most importantly working to understand the reasons why teachers are leaving their classrooms, schools, and the profession entirely, and what can be done to help current teachers stay.
As one of the agency’s key issues in 2020, the State Board has published its March 2020 report highlighting results from a Departed Teacher Survey, presented findings from the report at the 11th Annual Data Summit, adopted several resolutions in support of recruiting and retaining teachers of color, as well as testifying at the October 2020 D.C. Council hearing on B23-0515 “Statewide Educational Data Warehouse Amendment Act of 2019.”
Learn more about the State Board’s work on teacher attrition and retention here.
4. The STAR Framework and Measuring School Quality
Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the District of Columbia measures school performance and characteristics through an accountability system known as the School Transparency and Reporting (STAR) Framework. The State Board has continued to work with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to steadily improve D.C.’s state accountability system.
This year, in its first step towards recommending changes to the current framework, the State Board’s Research Committee spoke with heard from D.C.-based and national researchers and experts on school measurement, and public witnesses about their views and recommendations on the STAR Framework. Among their various, sometimes differing ideas:
• Schools are being penalized for factors beyond their control.
• Low ratings are a cause of great stress at high poverty schools, often spurring higher turnover levels.
• If D.C. is to keep the STAR Framework, then D.C. should consider establishing new, equity-focused design principles, including revising student groupings and weights.
• Adjust elements of the rating formula, including re-enrollment, proficiency, and growth to better reflect school quality.
• Measurement of student growth may offer a more accurate measure of school quality.
• Consider how some states offer a “dashboard” of information on school quality as opposed to a single rating.
• Consider adding “leading indicators” to the framework that would identify whether schools have adopted practices likely to lead to the future, even if they haven’t yet led to higher proficiency levels.
The State Board adopted SR20-11, a resolution calling for the framework to be adjusted to minimize bias and for the Board to review other concerns and recommend other ways to improve the STAR Framework, and an interim report geared toward the four incoming State Board members-elect to ensure they are up to speed, which summarizes and assembles testimony, data, concerns, options, and pro/con arguments that the Research Committee has heard from the past year.
5. Well-Rounded Education
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) encourages states to expand their focus with respect to academic coursework—making a conscious effort to build accountability systems that are focused not only on English Language Arts (ELA) and math, but also on science, social studies, foreign languages, music, and arts. Under ESSA, states must work to provide all students with access to a “well-rounded education.”
The State Board’s Well-Rounded Education Committee members have continued their work to ensure all students in D.C. have equitable access to a well-rounded education. In an effort to better apply its research and support to schools during the pandemic (COVID-19), Committee Members realigned their research and support to District schools during the pandemic (COVID-19). Committee members defined well-rounded education as:
“Student access to balanced course offerings and experiences across disciplines, including ample time for humanities, science, art, physical education, as well as math and literacy. A well-rounded education involves real-world learning and culturally relevant content and provides students with the social-emotional support they need to thrive in school and beyond. Consistent access to a well-rounded education enables students to build essential background knowledge, see connections across subject areas, and apply their learning in meaningful ways.”
Ward 1 Representative Emily Gasoi and Ward 5 Representative Zachary Parker, co-chairs of the Well-Rounded Education Committee, also launched a new webinar series titled “Meeting the Needs of the Whole Child During Hybrid Learning.” Each webinar topic focuses on an aspect of the whole child approach, including providing social and emotional learning (SEL), mental health, technology support and engagement, and a well-rounded education, especially under the context of distance and hybrid learning.
Read all about the first webinar here, which focused on family engagement during COVID-19, and watch the second webinar, which focused on putting school communities at the center in reopening plans, in English and Spanish on our YouTube channel!
6. Centering Equity
As the education landscape continues to evolve, the State Board has adopted a revised Equity Statement and Framework, which is intended to serve as a guiding force for the leadership of the State Board. The Statement and Framework will be a central point of reference for equity and excellence in State Board discussions and decisions, and to ensure its work supports equitable outcomes in D.C. Read the Equity Statement and Framework here.
7. Student Voice
Since 2015, the State Board’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC) has served to directly connect the elected representatives with the voices of District students. Chaired by the State Board’s two Student Representatives, the SAC is comprised of sophomore, junior, and senior students attending a District high school. It meets at least once per month during the school year. As a group, the SAC works to bring important issues related to the student experience before the State Board for their consideration and action.
Each year, the Student Advisory Committee sends the State Board a report on matters of importance to District students and recommendations from student members. The SY2019–20 SAC co-chairs Dayja Burton and Alex O’Sullivan presented their final SAC report at the June 17, 2020 State Board Public Meeting.
The report originally centered on two topics: (1) Post-Secondary Preparation and (2) Maximizing Productivity Within the Classroom. In May 2020, a third topic, Distance Learning, was added when COVID-19 abruptly disrupted D.C. schools’ in-person learning for the remainder of the spring semester. For their final report, the SAC members designed and distributed a survey to students across D.C. A total of 107 students across all high-school grade levels and representing 10 traditional public schools and public charter schools filled out the survey. Read the full report here.
During the pandemic, SAC members moved their monthly meetings to virtual postures, refocusing their discussions around their experiences and ideas surrounding students’ and educators’ health, safety, workload, and students’ academic success across the District. Another major area of discussion focused on equitable resource allocation, where all students should be guaranteed access to working digital devices and high-speed internet.
On December 1, Alex O’Sullivan and Shayla Dell moderated a town hall on distance learning, hearing directly from high school students in D.C. on topics such as student mental health, workload, synchronous and asynchronous balance, communication and transparency, and class structures. Panelists also engaged directly with the audience by answering questions live.
That’s a wrap!
Check out the full 2020 Annual Report for more information and highlights.
*In the above introductory letter from the State Board leadership team, Markus Batchelor is signed as the Vice President and Ward 8 representative. Mr. Batchelor’s term ended at the end of 2020 and at the time of publishing this blog post, the State Board’s current Vice President is Dr. Emily Gasoi, who represents Ward 1.