Transforming Public School Teaching in the Nation’s Capital

By: Maria Salciccioli, Senior Policy Analyst

One of the most interesting conversations I attended this summer was the report release event for FutureEd’s A Policymaker’s Playbook: Transforming Public School Teaching in the Nation’s Capital. The event opened with remarks from Council Chair Mendelson, Council Education Chair Grosso, and Interim Deputy Mayor Smith. Thomas Toch then presented some of the findings from his report. He said that the Rhee era, under Chancellors Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson, was marked by a “transformation of the profession from low-status occupation with weak standards to performance-based professional providing recognitions, responsibility, collegiality, support, and significant compensation.” He noted that these improvements were actually what Michelle Rhee’s critics were looking for, and no other districts have accomplished them to the same extent. The results were achieved through initiatives that unions and Rhee’s other adversaries opposed, but also those they supported:

  • The IMPACT evaluation system
  • Performance pay and staffing (top salaries rose in the 10-year period from $87,000 to $132,000 for 10-month schools)
  • The LIFT career ladder, which provides leadership opportunities for classroom teachers
  • School-based professional development through the LEAP system

The result was a greater number of new hires with teaching experience (from 66% to 84%), retention of 94% of highly effective teachers and only 49% of minimally effective teachers (who only make up 5% of the teaching force). However, Toch acknowledged that there are still troubling facts and trends: only 15% of black students scored proficient on PARCC reading assessments, LEAP implementation is uneven, zoned high schools are a major challenge, and poverty is a formidable barrier. He concluded by saying that despite these issues, schools are much better than they were before the reform era.

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Diversity Matters: Getting Public School Choice Right

By: Maria Salciccioli, Senior Policy Analyst

On May 15, Ruth Wattenberg (Ward 3 Representative) and I attended Diversity Matters: Getting Public School Choice Right. The event was sponsored by The Century Foundation (TCF) and hosted at the Newseum. The morning opened with the release of a new research report, National Snapshot of Charter Schools’ Integration Efforts. The research focused on “diverse-by-design” charter schools, meaning those with both a stated commitment to diversity and a diverse student body, defined as both socioeconomically diverse (30% – 70% of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch) and racially diverse (no more than 70% of any racial group). The researchers, Halley Potter and Kimberly Quick, identified 125 schools that met these criteria out of 5,692 they studied. In 100 districts that held these successful charter schools, common practices included:

• Redrawing boundaries (this included 40 of the 100)
• Weighted lotteries
• Intentional charter school locations
• Targeted outreach to families of underserved students
• Weighted pre-k lotteries, with opportunities for pre-k students to stay at the school in the years to come
• Magnet schools that pull from the entire district
• Transfer policies with preferences for low-income students

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Foundations Give Back to DC Schools

By: Maria Salciccioli, Senior Policy Analyst

LaSalle-Backus Education Campus was the recipient of a generous library transformation grant from the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation, Heart of America, and the Dale Jr. Foundation. The school, located in Ward 4, won the award because its students showed a consistent commitment to literacy through the Redskins Read Program. On Friday, April 20, Ward 4 Representative Dr. Lannette Woodruff and I went to the grand opening of the beautiful new library. The three foundations donated $100,000 to the project, and in addition to a complete redesign, the library also gained 350 books, 20 iPads, 20 laptops, 20 sets of headphones, new furniture, and a Smartboard.

When we arrived, we saw Redskins players painting an inspirational message on the wall outside of the library, and they were happy to interact with students, staff, and other attendees. Dr. Woodruff also had the opportunity to meet Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The school had prepared a short ceremony, complete with a ribbon cutting, and they had chosen a group of 2nd and 8th grade students to watch the ribbon cutting. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans spoke, as did the school’s principal, Justin Ralston, and its Assistant Principal who oversees literacy, Shelly Gray. Heart of America’s President and CEO, Jill Heath, spoke directly to students and asked them to commit to reading more and taking advantage of their new space.

The event was fun for everyone involved, and we were excited to see the beautiful new space for LaSalle-Backus’ students. We hope it inspires even more students to become lifelong readers!

Vote Now for District Science Whizzes!

By: Maria Salciccioli, Senior Policy Analyst

A group of three female students from Banneker High School made the top 10 in a national engineering contest sponsored by NASA. The winner will be determined by a vote, so they need your help! The dynamic trio – Banneker students Bria Snell, India Skinner and Mikayla Shariff – are referred to as the “In3 Team.” They have created a water filter to address the issue of excess lead in urban water systems; their filter is designed specifically for school water fountains.

Voting is open now and will last through Monday, April 30, 2018. Voting is open to anyone in the 50 U.S. states and territories. To support the In3 Team:

Step One: Visit https://opsparc.gsfc.nasa.gov/finalists-grades-9-12/ where you can read all about their project by clicking on the blue box:

Step Two: Scroll down until you see the bottom that says cast your vote

Step Three: Click on the names: Mikayla, India, and Bria

Step Four: Vote!

Hurry! The voting window closes April 30th. Winning teams will visit the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for two days of hands-on workshops with scientists and astronauts.

Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Academic Development

By: Maria Salciccioli, Senior Policy Analyst

Earlier this month, I attended the Aspen Institute’s event: The Practice Base for How We Learn: Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. The event was cohosted with the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. I was interested to learn what they’d be saying, in part because the State Board of Education’s ESSA Task Force is examining all aspects of how to provide a well-rounded education, and focusing on students’ emotional as well as academic development is increasingly gaining respect as a key strategy.

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School Discipline Reform: Hard Lessons from the Front Lines

By: Maria Salciccioli, Senior Policy Analyst

Student discipline has been a hot topic in DC lately; Education Chair of the DC Council, David Grosso, proposed legislation that would ban non-violent infractions as a reason for suspension, which would lead to a decrease in school suspensions. He also held a hearing, inviting the public to testify on discipline policy, and roughly 90 witnesses signed up to testify[1].

In addition to Councilmember Grosso’s proposed legislation, there have been a few public events in DC about student discipline. SBOE Policy Fellow Kit Faiella wrote a blog post about one event at the Center for American Progress (CAP), “In Class Not Cuffs: Rethinking School Discipline.” Ombudsman Joyanna Smith was at the CAP event with Kit and noted that while the conversation was held in DC, none of the speakers or panelists addressed DC’s pending legislation or the multiple hearings Councilman Grosso has held on student discipline. I attended another event at the Fordham Institute entitled “School Discipline Reform: Hard Lessons from the Front Lines.” I was curious to see how this event might compare – would it make more connections to the DC context?

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Tour of Eagle Academy PCS

By: Maria Salciccioli, Senior Policy Analyst

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At the Board’s January Public Meeting, we heard testimony on the ESSA school report cards that the SBOE is working with the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) to produce. Two school leaders testified that the format of the report cards disadvantages schools that only serve early childhood students, because it only includes growth from 3rd grade onward. Pre-K through 3rd grade schools make tremendous gains with their students during those years, which won’t be evident to families who look at school report cards in their current form.

With this information, the Board aims to partner with OSSE to think about nuanced ways to present early childhood schools’ student outcomes. Board member Dr. Lannette Woodruff (Ward 4) wanted to understand what an early childhood campus really looks like, so I joined her for a tour of Eagle Academy PCS. Eagle’s CEO, Dr. Joe Smith, was one of the school leaders who testified at our meeting. We visited the Congress Heights location, since it’s the larger of the two.

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Employer-Driven Innovations in CTE

By: Maria Salciccioli, Policy Analyst

The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) held an engaging discussion on October 20th, called Employer-Driven Innovations in CTE: Promise, Practice, and Opportunities for Policy. I was excited to attend and learn about any potential connections between the latest research and what our High School Graduation Requirements Task Force is doing – we have a lot of people on the task force with deep expertise on the pathway to college, but we want to make sure we incorporate the career and technical education (CTE) voice into our conversations, and one way to do that is to take advantage of the amazing panels that often take place around the city.

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Millennial Views on Education

By: Maria Salciccioli, Policy Analyst

Last week, The Raben Group hosted Dr. Cathy Cohen from the GenForward Project at the University of Chicago at a panel event titled “Millennials and Education: New Research on America’s Most Diverse Generation.” Dr. Cohen presented rich survey data on millennials’ views on a host of education-related issues. (Millennials were defined as current 18- to 34-year-olds.)

Laura Jimenez, Director of Standards and Accountability at the Center for American Progress, and Dakarai Aarons, Vice President of Strategic Communications at the Data Quality Campaign, joined Dr. Cohen to offer expert analysis of the data, examining potential causes for the trends expressed in the survey data. By the panel’s own admission, Aarons was the only one of the speakers who is himself a member of the millennial generation; nonetheless, all three offered great insights into data, access to education, and challenges in our education system illuminated by survey responses.

Cohen presented data generated in response to a survey that was administered in June and July of 2017, disaggregated by race and ethnicity. Questions included: What is the role of a student’s economic class in determining educational quality? What is the role of race in determining educational quality? Are U.S. schools held accountable for the performance of students of color? What are the best ways to improve education?

Some of GenForward’s findings:

  • Most millennials gave their own education a high grade, but they gave lower grades to U.S. public schools. 26% of black students, 31% of Asian students, 32% of Latino students, and 20% of white students think U.S. schools deserve an A or B letter grade. The rest rate our schools C or lower.
  • Across every racial and ethnic background, in rank order, the top three ideas on how to improve K-12 education were the same: increase school funding, improving teacher training, and increase teacher pay.
  • While slight majorities of black and Asian students said students of color receive a worse education than their white counterparts, slight majorities of Latino and white students responded that race is not a major determinant of educational quality.
  • In contrast, over 70% of students of all races said they believed that low-income students receive a worse education than their white peers.
  • The survey data suggest a majority of millennials support charter schools and school voucher programs, particularly for low-income students, with the strongest support coming from black respondents. However, as the panelists pointed out, neither charters nor vouchers ranked among millennials’ top ideas for improving education, indicating approval for the concepts but not necessarily energy or deep buy-in to either.

According to Cohen, the commonly held assumption that millennials are uniformly more progressive and inclusive than generations before them is not supported by the available data. Those who value equity in education, she argued, must therefore do more to shape public opinion and not simply assume that trends will become more favorable with the passage of time. As an example, Cohen cited responses to a not-yet-published question on whether millennials believed in the existence of the school-to-prison pipeline, noting that white respondents were the least likely to agree that it is a real phenomenon.

Jimenez addressed millennials’ competing interests; millennials want more money in public schools, but they also support publicly funded vouchers, which pull money out of traditional public schools. They want greater levels of personalization, which require more data on individual students, but they also call for fewer tests. She talked about the strong case to be made for fewer, better assessments, which would move schools toward personalization without over-testing.

It would have been admittedly less compelling but useful to see the full set of questions during the presentation; one thing I was curious to see, for example, was the list of options respondents were given when asked to rank the best ways to improve education nationally. Full surveys are available at www.GenForwardSurvey.com, and I look forward to reading the full questions and seeing what they’ve asked millennials in the past.

A student from American University asked the panelists’ thoughts on a survey item on extreme speech. Asked if universities should curb extreme speech, black and Latino students supported the idea to a greater extent than their white or Asian peers. Aarons worried about the balance in asking schools to curb extreme speech – which may make minority students feel safer, particularly in our current political climate – and simultaneously ensuring extreme speech limitations are not defined in ways that ultimately disempower minority voices.

I’m interested to see survey respondents’ thoughts about more education issues (while the presentation did not present the full data set, a paper is available online), and I’m glad to hear that there are organizations thinking about next steps and how to have conversations that increase public support for equity. But I also think that those of us who are invested in educational equity have a lot of work to do in terms of changing the hearts and minds of our 18- to 34-year-old peers.

 

Why I Love Education Policy (And You Should, Too!)

By: Maria Salciccioli, Policy Analyst

From June 28 – 30, the Education Commission of the States held its 2017 National Forum on Education Policy in San Diego, California. I had the opportunity to attend and relished the chance to meet education leaders from around the country and learn more about other states’ innovative education policies.

Day one focused on school choice policies, and in the opening plenary session, DC got a shoutout from Fordham Institute president Michael J. Petrilli, who called the city “school choice nirvana” and said that the robust charter sector spurred DC Public Schools to improve. He also noted that charter schools need to provide a great education for students with disabilities and minimize suspensions if they want to serve students well. After the plenary, we moved into small group sessions on school choice, and I chose “Expanding School Choice through Open-Enrollment Policies.” One of the session leaders was a superintendent from a small district in New Mexico. Students in New Mexico are allowed to attend schools outside of their home district, but the size of their large rural counties makes that prohibitive. To maximize choice in a rural state, the superintendent’s strategy as a school leader is to increase options within the district by providing online learning, experiential learning, and other opportunities beyond the traditional classroom setting. While DC’s innovative lottery seems to be leaps and bounds beyond what most states offer, the strategies other states used to diversify students’ educational experiences can potentially benefit District students.

The second day had a strong focus on equity, which was much more relevant to the work we do at the State Board. The morning opened with a panel of leaders discussing their states’ biggest achievement gaps and their strategies for addressing them. A panelist from the Alliance for Education asked about the potential impact on a state’s economy if all high school dropouts became high school graduates. I wondered how that logic might resonate in DC, a city with a highly educated workforce where only 69% of students graduate from high school. This marks an improvement over the past several years, but our graduates are not always college- and career-ready, and we need to get them there. I left the session feeling energized about the work our high school graduation requirements task force will do over the next year. I also attended sessions on how Minnesota used data to close attainment and equity gaps and on how Kansas aligned high school education with career opportunities. I took lessons away from both sessions that will certainly inform my policy work here in the city.

The conference ended with some conversations about school finance and a networking lunch that took place steps away from a beautiful beach. It is a testament to the attendees’ commitment to education policy that the indoor sessions were so well attended, considering that the Pacific Ocean was in view of the conference hotel! The State Teachers of the Year, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several US territories, were in attendance and did a wonderful job of representing the educator perspective at the conference, which kept conversations from getting too far into the weeds and away from the students we’re all working to support. Having the opportunity to spend time with them over lunch was a highlight of the week. I left feeling energized about the great work we’re doing for students in DC, and I also felt more motivated than ever to go above and beyond to support our high school graduation task force, as well as our upcoming ESSA task force, as they work to close achievement and attainment gaps across the city and provide all District students with a great education.