Farewell from Ward 3 Representative Ruth Wattenberg

When I joined the State Board eight years ago, the State Board itself was just eight years old! It had been rightly and urgently focused on initial tasks, like getting the city’s first academic standards written and approved. It was not really an arena for elevating issues and voices. Under our rules at the time, if public witnesses testified at State Board meetings, members couldn’t engage with questions or comments! State Board business was almost entirely limited to areas in which it had explicit statutory authority to approve new Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) proposals. The Board had to change. It has, and I have loved being part of that.

In the post-mayoral control era, stakeholders had nowhere to bring an increasingly distressing set of issues—high teacher turnover rates, too much testing, curriculum narrowing, pressure to graduate students who weren’t ready, inadequate support for students with learning disabilities, and shutdowns of local schools.

The State Board had to move beyond being an approval board to become a forum for hearing people and a platform for translating concerns into changes. But how? On what issues? Our first big foray was into teacher turnover. School officials claimed it wasn’t high, but staff and family on the ground saw that it was. We held hearings, invited experts, conducted original research, introduced legislation to collect and transparently publish turnover data each year. The State Board found the tools to elevate the issue. While it is still inadequately addressed, it is no longer denied.

Since 2018, State Board members have rallied around improving reading instruction, joined dyslexia advocacy groups, and helped rally the city and D.C. Council behind an initial dyslexia bill, a new OSSE Task Force, and, hopefully, a new bill that moves this work forward.  The State Board adopted a research report and recommendations for changing the STAR Rating and D.C. School Report Card, and OSSE is now making significant changes in the rating system (though still not what I and many others had hoped for). I am hoping that a much-improved Report Card will be adopted next year.    

Reimagining the State Board’s role in response to community needs took listening, creativity, guts, and lots of energy. Thanks to my colleagues and our indefatigable stakeholders, we’re on our way.  That’s the legacy I love to leave.

Published by DC State Board of Education

The DC State Board of Education is the District's elected voice on educational issues and advocates for a world-class education for D.C. students.

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