My Final Thoughts – Abby Ragan

By: Abby Ragan, Policy Fellow

My name is Abby Ragan and I am finishing up a term as a Policy Fellow here at the State Board. I graduated magna cum laude from American University last December with a bachelor’s in International Relations. Although my background has been more in the nonprofit space, I later realized I wanted to pursue a career in education policy and soon obtained a job offer joining Teach For America (TFA) here in the District of Columbia. Because of the gap between a December graduation and a summer start to my commitment with TFA and, thus, the opportunity to really explore anything I wanted, I searched long and hard for experiences where I would feel like I was making a difference and learning new things about the world around me.

In thinking about the months since, I know I will never be able to put into words the growth I have experienced here. As it comes to a close, I look forward to taking this new knowledge forward into the classroom as a English teacher this coming fall. Unlike many other internships and fellow positions, I didn’t spend my time making coffee or filing papers. At the State Board, I have had the opportunity to really engage with policy during a huge time of change for the District by writing memos and resolutions and watching DC Council hearings as well as push my research, data management, and writing skills to the next level. I have learned so much about the policy process and the educational landscape of the District while making a real impact on SBOE work, and I have never felt more a part of the DC community.

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The Future of American Schools is Bright

By: Abby Ragan, Policy Fellow

On April 25, The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institute and George W. Bush Institute co-hosted a forum called “Beyond Reading and Math: How to Accelerate Success for Students.” Under the new federal school accountability law, ESSA, states and schools now have the ability to both widen the definition of school accountability and push towards improved school quality and student achievement. The forum featured framing remarks by Jason Botel, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Delegated Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education, and a roundtable. Furthermore, the event publicized the release of a new Hamilton Project strategy paper on ESSA implementation, discussing state strategies for reducing rates of chronic absenteeism and framing the conversation going forwards.

After Mr. Botel grounded the forum’s conversation in student-centered solutions and empowered state innovation, the research authors presented their findings on chronic absenteeism. Theories connecting being physically present in school to better academic outcomes have never been more substantiated, yet NAEP scores show stagnation nationwide and a widening gap between subgroups while about 6.8 million students in the United States missed more than three weeks of school during the 2013- 2014 school year (Attendance Works and Everyone Graduates Center 2017). Further, the research shows that chronic absenteeism is persistent; in other words, schools that experience chronic absenteeism tended to show similarly high rates of such year after year. The District, too, has been battling these same issues for several years.

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NAEP Results Are In

By: Abby Ragan, Policy Fellow

On April 10th, practitioners, scholars, researchers, and advocates, including members of SBOE staff and Representative Wattenberg, gathered together to celebrate the release of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, known as the Nation’s Report Card. The biennial assessment is considered one of the most reliable measures of student achievement for elementary and secondary students in the U.S.

The morning started with Dr. Peggy Carr, Acting Commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics, discussing the transition to digital based assessments (DBAs) and the results of the 2017 NAEP assessment. Nationwide, significant gains were only seen in 8th grade reading since 2015. For the most part, DC is on par with national averages and has remained stagnant since 2015. However, the data delivered is useless without context; this was provided through three panels on the state perspective, literacy, and TUDA.

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Big Hairy Audacious Goals at Jefferson Academy

By: Abby Ragan, Policy Fellow

Earlier this month, SBOE representatives Ashley Carter and Ruth Wattenberg joined SBOE staff in a visit to Jefferson Academy (JA), a DCPS community middle school located in Ward 6. The environment at Jefferson Academy during the SBOE visit was warm and welcoming from the moment we entered the building. Everyone from security guards to front office staff to leadership to teachers to students were incredibly helpful and demonstrated a love for their school.

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The morning started with a conversation with Principal Greg Dohmann about the school’s history. Jefferson Middle School was rebranded as Jefferson Academy in 2011, giving rise to a new generation of Jefferson achievement. Jefferson’s feeder schools are primarily Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, Brent Elementary School, Tyler Elementary School, Van Ness Elementary School, and Thomson Elementary School although Jefferson received students from 29 different schools this year. Its destination school is Eastern High School. School enrollment reached 305 students in the 2016-2017 school year, with current numbers for this year at 316. The school expects this trend of enrollment growth to continue, especially considering their upcoming school modernization. 2/3 of the students who attend Jefferson are out of boundary, mainly coming from Wards 7 and 8. Jefferson has a vision called “Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)”: they are working to make 1) Jefferson the highest achieving middle school in D.C. for all students and for 2) all members of the JA community to love school.

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Visit to Chavez Prep Middle School

By: Abby Ragan, Policy Fellow and Matt Repka, Policy Analyst

Last week, two SBOE staff members had the chance to visit a Chavez Prep Middle School open house. Chavez Prep is one of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy, a DC-based charter school network. Serving grades 6-9, Chavez Prep has served Columbia Heights since 2009.The open house, which attracted several prospective students and their parents, consisted of a presentation by Director of Campus Operations Myisha Trice and introductions to the administrative personnel like Principal Kourtney Miller and Special Education Manager Aireen Sampson before concluding in a tour of the school. The administrators were engaged with the potential students present throughout their presentation, asking questions about their favorite subjects in school or what they would want to buy at the school store.

The Chavez Prep MS motto is “to prepare scholars to succeed in competitive colleges and to empower them to use public policy to create a more just, free, and equal world.” Administrators emphasized a dual focus on college and on public policy: at Chavez Prep, middle schoolers not only prepare for high school, but for college and beyond. They use “warm, but strict” methods and a 1-to-1 laptop-to-student model to aspire for success for their hardworking students. This could be seen through student incentives like a school store where students use credits for good behavior and work to earn small prizes or field trips, “Student of the Week” awards, and charts in hallways that display academic accomplishments and the progress of the whole grade throughout the semester.

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Pre-K Teachers: Ensuring Access to High-Quality Bachelor’s Degrees

By: Abby Ragan, Policy Fellow

On January 26th, New America held an event highlighting the publication of the report Preparing Pre-K Teachers: Envisioning Equitable Pathways to High-Quality Bachelor’s Degrees and creating a space for discussion of the report’s findings. Early childhood education (ECE) is an important phase for cognitive, behavioral, and social development in a child’s life and has been emphasized in recent conversations about the District’s educational landscape, including the February 27th public oversight hearing for Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). Thus, early childhood educators have a crucial function; however, the industry is deprofessionalized and the effectiveness of existing higher ed programs are questionable. Therefore, New America and Bellwether Education Partners posit that “the training that pre-K teachers have, and the compensation they receive, often don’t match the complexity or importance of their work.”

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SBOE Visit to DCI School

By: Abby Ragan, Policy Fellow

Earlier this week, Ward 3 representative Ruth Wattenberg, Ward 4 representative Lannette Woodruff and SBOE staff visited the new campus of DC International School. The group was welcomed by Principal Simon Rodberg and taken on tours of the building by pairs of student ambassadors. The SBOE team was able to sit down for a roundtable discussion with Principal Rodberg, Ms. Deirdre Bailey, the grades 9/10 Assistant Principal, Allison Sandusky, the Director of Student Culture and Lauren Games, the Communications Associate.

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DCI is a Tier 1 school serving grades 6-10 (with plans to expand to 6-12) with a one-to-one technology system based on three areas: International Baccalaureate, Student Agency, and Language Immersion. DCI plans to provide IB program offerings in both the Diploma and Careers tracks. DCI students are from all 8 wards, but a majority are from wards 1, 4, and 5- the same wards where DCI’s feeder schools are located. 51% of DCI students qualify for free or reduced lunch while 14% of the population receive special education services. These demographics present a diverse student body with varied opportunities and interests in clubs such as Baking, Debate, Sewing, Italian cooking, Star Wars, Homework Help, and Rock Band.

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