I started my policy fellowship with the State Board in September 2019. Since my first day, I have grown professionally and as an advocate for equitable education. Through supporting the State Board’s public meetings I’ve learned the importance of elevating the community’s voice in all aspects of public education. Through conducting and synthesizing research on the issues raised by community members I’ve learned what it means to put in the work to create change. And through the support of my team, I’ve learned what it feels like to be surrounded by people who are fierce advocates for the community that they serve.
I will miss my team and working for the State Board and I will always be grateful for the opportunities and guidance they have given me over the past year. Here are some of my favorite moments from my time at the State Board:
On days when we had long meetings ahead of us, the staff would walk to a coffee shop nearby to fuel up on caffeine. Well, actually I am not a huge caffeine fan as my coworkers will tell you, but those outings were great opportunities to bond with my coworkers and to prepare for the State Board’s public meetings. We went to different coffee shops including Starbucks and Compass Coffee, but my favorite was our outing to Sharetea to get bubble tea. It was experiences like these that infused joy into the culture of our office.
2. School visits
Each month, the State Board and staff took trips to local schools to engage with the school’s community. These trips are some of my favorite memories because they allowed me to interact with the people whom I serve through my work. The visits were an opportunity to hear directly from the community about the work schools do to support students and the challenges they might be facing. One of the most memorable school visits was to the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, an all-boys school in Ward 7. We were able to talk to students about the programs and support their school provides them as well as their plans for the future. It was clear that cared deeply for their school and their community. The school visits reminded me of the hard work that schools put in to help their students succeed.
When COVID-19 struck and we were forced to start working from home, the State Board quickly came up with a new plan to ensure that community voices were still heard during this unprecedented time. The result of the plan was to hold our first ever Instagram Live event, which we called #LunchTimeLive. For the first #LunchTimeLive, we invited students and teachers to join Social Studies Standards Committee Chair and Ward 6 Representative, Jessica Sutter, to discuss their experiences with social studies in the District. The event gave us great insight into the community’s thoughts about the social studies standards and what the State Board should be doing to change them. The event also showed me how dynamic the State Board is when it comes to shifting its work and procedures to better serve the community.
The State Board’s Social Studies Standards Committee, chaired by Jessica Sutter, the Ward 6 Representative, is leading the District’s effort to revise the statewide social studies standards. The standards have not been updated since 2006 and are thought to be Eurocentric and exclusive of many cultures’ histories. In the Social Studies Committee’s effort to make the standards more inclusive and reflective of the racial and social backgrounds of DC students, the committee has taken steps to ensure the inclusion of student voice.
On March 24, the State Board held its first #LunchTimeLive event on Instagram Live. The event featured five DC students who shared their experiences with social studies and what they would like to see in the new standards.
Two students discussed the need to emphasize the experience of black communities. Kayla Higgs, a senior at Eastern High School and a member of Mikva Challenge, suggested that the standards should include a broader emphasis on the experience of black people rather than focusing only on slavery. Specifically, she advocated for including lessons on black culture before Africans were taken to the Americas as well as mass incarceration and President Obama’s election. Michael Blackson, a senior at Thurgood Marshall Academy and a member of Mikva Challenge and Pathways 2 Power, recommended that the standards should include black history outside of Black History Month in February. He also recommended more action civics and student engagement with the community.
Jada Epps, a junior at Thurgood Marshall Academy and member of Pathways 2 Power, discussed how she had the opportunity to learn about civil rights history at sites where history unfolded. This is especially relevant to DC because it is a city rich with historical sites that could be used for hands-on learning experiences. And finally, Cristian Cardona, a sophomore at Banneker High School and a member of Mikva Challenge, called for the new standards to implement relevant social studies topics in earlier grades so that students are exposed to the topics with enough time to become civically involved in their community.
The State Board also held a student panel at the April Public Meeting. The virtual panel consisted of three of the State Board’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC) members. They shared similar thoughts and suggestions as the students at the #LunchTimeLive event regarding the need for more inclusive standards.
Alex O’Sullivan, a Student Representative for the State Board and sophomore at BASIS DC Public Charter School, stated, “I’d like to see more modern social studies curriculum like learning about urban housing, modern day segregation in schools, police brutality and racial profiling.” Dayja Burton, a Student Representative for the State Board and a senior at McKinley Technology High School, stated, “by adding experiences of other cultures to the curriculum, students will be able to learn on a global level and be more open-minded and inclusive.” Shayla Dell, a sophomore at Duke Ellington School of the Arts and a member of the State Board’s Student Advisory Committee, stated, “I’ve always felt the lack of perspective from people of color in social studies. Misrepresentation leaves people confused.”
At both events, the students’ passion for social justice impressed the board members. The Social Studies Standards Committee will be incorporating the students’ feedback throughout the process of updating the standards. The students’ key insights confirm the need for community participation in the creation of the new standards. The Board will continue to solicit community feedback to ensure that the people who will be most affected by the standards will have a voice in creating them.
The next step in the standards creation process is to assemble a Standards Advisory Committee which will develop guiding principles for the new standards and advise the Board on what should be included in the standards. The application for the committee is live until Friday, June 12 at 12 p.m. ET. Find it here.
This month, the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its efforts to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The May 2020 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), which examines teacher evaluations and support during COVID-19 and one from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), which examines the impact of school closures during the current health emergency on student achievement.
As we have done in previous posts, the State Board will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.
Summary: Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) examined 44 school districts’ teacher evaluation methods. So far, only 18 districts have agreements that mention how they will approach teacher evaluations in the context of distance learning and school closures. Of those 18, only 13 districts have come to a decision about how they will proceed. The three common responses NCTQ has found include: 1) suspend the evaluation process for the rest of the 2019-20 school year; 2) keep only formative evaluations for this school year; or 3) issue summative evaluations when possible.
Seven districts have decided to move forward with summative evaluations for teachers that had enough evidence before school closures, including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. If a school did not have enough evidence of a teacher’s ability before the closures started, the school will either cancel or delay their evaluation of that teacher. Three districts—Albuquerque, Boston, and Dallas—will proceed with formative evaluations, meaning they will use the data they’ve already collected to give teachers support and feedback, but will not issue an evaluation rating. The other three districts have stopped the teacher evaluation process altogether for this school year.
While districts may not be giving teachers formal ratings, NCTQ believes that it is crucially important that districts continue to give their teachers feedback and support. Distance learning during COVID-19 school closures have presented both teachers and students with a brand-new learning environment, and NCTQ believes that teachers need guidance to continue quality instruction. Ideally, this support would also continue once teachers and students return to physical classrooms.
State Board Context: The D.C. State Board of Education has heard testimony from District residents and reviewed research which both suggest that the rate of teacher attrition in the District, 25 percent, is higher than the national average which is only 16 percent. The State Board is dedicated to further understanding the cause of this high teacher turnover rate and what can be done to improve it. The State Board’s most recent work on teacher retention is a survey which was sent to over 2,000 recently exited teachers. The survey explored why teachers voluntarily resigned or quit their position at a school, sector, or profession entirely. The independently contracted survey researcher also held focus groups and follow-up interviews to ascertain what could have been done to help the teachers stay at their school. The survey report found that:
IMPACT, the teacher evaluation system, was the primary departure driver in DCPS
Burdens of work culture and workload were primary departure reasons in public charter schools
Lack of support for teacher safety and mental health led to departure
Tensions with school leaders created hostile work environments
The State Board recognizes that the current global pandemic will likely exacerbate the pre-existing issues that District teachers face, like the effect of teacher evaluations such as IMPACT on teacher attrition. Local education agencies (LEAs) should evaluate how they will approach teacher evaluations during this time of distance learning. It is imperative that teachers continue to receive support and guidance throughout online learning and during the adjustment back to in-person learning. In its May Public Meeting, the State Board discussed a resolution that would ask the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to consider implementing a statewide professional development program for both teachers with less than five years of experience and school-level leadership. The State Board will revisit it in its June Public Meeting and will continue to hear testimony from teachers so that it can support them in providing all students in the District with the best education possible.
Summary: As the school year comes to a close in most places, researchers are trying to make educated guesses about how the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate opportunity gaps in education among students and widen the achievement gap. This NWEA research brief looked at seasonal patterns of learning loss in order to make projections about COVID-19 learning losses. Past seasonal learning research findings include three key trends: achievement typically declines over the summer months, declines are usually steeper for math than for reading, and the extent of loss increases in higher grades.
NWEA used historical data on summer learning loss and a national sample of over five million students, grades 3–8, who took growth assessments in the 2017–18 school year, to project possible learning loss in mathematics and reading for 3rd through 8th grade learners. While these models predict learning loss, the study acknowledges that summer learning loss data is different from distance learning data, since it is assumed that students are not receiving instruction during the summer. Researchers also extrapolated data as a starting point for distance learning losses. From data, they created two projections: a COVID-19 slowdown, where students would maintain the same level of academic achievement exhibited when schools closed (set as March 15, 2020), and a COVID-19 slide, where they projected the typical academic setbacks of the summer, but starting at the March 15 closure. The COVID-19 slowdown showed lower scores compared to where students would have ended on the typical last day of school. The COVID-19 slide suggested even worse learning loss than traditional summer learning loss because both declines started with lower March scores.
These projections suggest major academic setbacks for students from COVID-19 closures, especially in math. COVID-19 slide estimates predict that students will return to school in fall 2020 with roughly 70 percent of their learning gains for reading, and 50 percent of their learning gains for math, relative to a typical school year. Some grades suggest that students could return nearly a full year behind in math.
State Board Context: The State Board is committed to ensuring that all D.C. students have equal access to educational opportunities in order to be successful in school and prepared for their future careers. Specifically, this means that the State Board strives to hear from underrepresented student populations like students considered at-risk, students experiencing homelessness, students who identify as LGBTQ, and students with other unique requirements. In order to support these student groups, the State Board has been collecting information and hearing from constituents about how COVID-19 closures have impacted student learning. As distance learning may be needed in the next school year, the State Board will continue to assess the current learning environment so that its work continues to examine the pandemic’s effects on student achievement and outcomes.
On February 6, 2020, the State Board team visited the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) Central Detention Facility (CDF). Upon arrival, we were greeted by Director Quincy Booth, Deputy Director of Professional Development & College and Career Readiness, Amy Lopez, and Public Information Officer, Dr. Keena Blackmon. Before beginning the tour, Director Booth and Deputy Director Lopez gave us a quick overview of D.C. Jail.
For starters, they emphasized that the terms “jail” and “prison” are not interchangeable. Jails are facilities for those who are awaiting trial or have committed minor offenses while prisons tend to be facilities for those who have been convicted and have longer sentences. This means that D.C. Jail’s population is rather transient—some residents are housed for as short as a day, week, or month, while some are housed for several months or years. Consequently, while Director Booth and Deputy Director Lopez have invested heavily over the past two years to develop and implement educational opportunities and programs for all of their residents, a persistent challenge is how to ensure that their residents are gaining valuable skills, certifications, or even degrees before they leave.
Furthermore, Ms. Lopez discussed how one barrier is the building itself—there is one building unit in CDF that has no windows and little space. It is hard to expand programs when the building was not designed with classrooms in mind. However, despite these challenges, it seems that many of the educational initiatives are making a difference. We heard from residents enrolled in a number of the programs and they really impressed upon us how meaningful these opportunities are to them—like a window on the world that they hope to re-enter with new and immediately applicable skills. Here are a few examples:
By Sarah Arrington, Policy Fellow This month, the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its efforts to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The February 2020 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), which examines teacher preparation programs and one from the National Center for Homeless Education, which assesses the prevalence of homeless students in the United States.
As we have done previously, the State Board will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.
Summary: This report explains the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) findings of teacher preparation programs’ adherence to the science of reading. The “science of reading” refers to methods of reading instruction that have been proven successful by research. To assess whether teachers are actually acquiring the skills to teach the science of reading, NCTQ looked at programs’ required readings and assignments, syllabi, lecture topics, textbooks, and opportunities to practice. Researchers looked for evidence of dedicated course time to the five components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. They also looked for measures to hold teacher candidates accountable for learning each component. Some of their key findings include:
I first started at the State Board in late 2017. Since then, I’ve been on staff for 28 working sessions, 27 task force meetings, 26 public meetings, three performance oversight hearings, two budget oversight hearings, and one public forum on teacher retention. Throughout this time, the State Board has continued to develop as an institution, expanding its reach to take on important issues of equity in education in the District.
One thing I’ve appreciated about the State Board is its ability to work in collaboration with District’s education institutions on policy matters, including compliance with federal law, while maintaining the independent status that allows it to serve as a conduit for the voices of residents interested in addressing important issues in their school communities.
This is my final week at the State Board, and I’ll really miss the team here. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to support the State Board members in thinking about the most critical challenges in public education. But as a District resident myself, I’m looking forward to keeping in touch with the State Board and hearing about the office’s ongoing projects—this time as a constituent.
Before I go, here’s a reflection on my five favorite things about my State Board tenure:
In the new year, the D.C. State Board of Education will continue its “Research Roundup” series in an effort to increase the focus on selected education research and policy concepts, with a specific emphasis on the implications of research and policy on stakeholders in our communities.
As we have done previously, the State Board will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.
This month, both reports relate to social studies and civics. The State Board is currently embarking on a process to update the District’s social studies standards under the leadership of Ward 6 Representative Jessica Sutter. The state social studies standards have not been updated since 2006.
Since 2006, the D.C. State Board of Education has appointed two students to serve as representatives on the State Board. The student representatives are high school students in the District’s traditional public or public charter schools, and they each serve one-year terms. Each student representative is selected from a pool of applicants by the elected members of the State Board. They participate in all meetings and committees of the State Board by providing policy recommendations and testimony, and they co-lead the drafting of written reports; their votes are always recorded but do not affect the outcome of a State Board action.
My colleagues and I had the opportunity to share the work of our impressive student representatives and the power of student voice and representation while at the 2019 iNACOL Symposiumin Palm Springs, California. We led a session titled, “Empowering Student Voice in Policy Development and Discussions” which featured a virtual panel of three former student representatives—Brian Contreras, Tallya Rhodes, and Tatiana Robinson. They discussed the role of the State Board’s student representatives, the leadership they provided as co-chairs of the District’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC), and the policy-facing work they accomplished on college readiness, teacher retention, and school equity.
In late October, the State Board attended the iNACOL Symposium in Palm Springs, California.
iNACOL, short for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, is a D.C.-area organization that advocates for online, competency-based, and personalized learning opportunities for students. Since 2017, the organization has expanded to focus more broadly on personalized learning and promote policies that advance student-centered experiences.
On the first day, we attended pre-conference workshops, an opening keynote, and a surprise: iNACOL itself would be undergoing a surprise rebrand—effective immediately. Now known as the Aurora Institute, the organization formerly known as iNACOL would continue to focus on innovation and the transformation of education systems, but under a new banner that reflects its expanded, not-just-online-learning focus.
Over the next two days, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to sit in on keynote addresses, conference breakout sessions, and workshops with incredible people from all over the country (and beyond). But we were also there to lead two sessions of our own: one workshop on empowering student voice in policy discussions led by SBOE policy analyst Alex Jue and one on stakeholder engagement in education and the work of the State Board’s task forces.
In “Elevating the Hidden Voices of a Community: Equity and Authentic Stakeholder Engagement,” we had the opportunity to break down some of the work the State Board has accomplished in the District over the past two years with respect to community voice and stakeholder engagement around state-level education policy.
On October 16, I headed off to Omaha, NE along with a small group of SBOE colleagues and staff for the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) annual conference. NASBE is a membership organization that “develops, supports, and empowers citizen leaders on state boards of education to strengthen public education systems…” (see more about NASBE’s mission and purpose here).
I generally love the concentrated learning and networking that takes place at conferences, but this was my first time attending a gathering of state board members, and I had no idea what to expect. After three days packed with impressive keynote speakers, motivating panel presentations, inclusive decision-making sessions and ample time for unstructured discussion, I was not disappointed!
I am still processing everything I took in during my three days in Omaha, and there was far too much to share it all in this post, but I will attempt to seize on some common threads that ran through the talks and sessions I attended and share my key takeaways with you all:
One theme that ran through several of the convenings was the importance of providing students access to authentic, empowering civics education that leads directly to real-world opportunities. This resonated with some of the work I am leading on our Board with the Well-Rounded Education committee, which is conducting research to learn the degree to which DC schools are able to ensure students have access to non-tested subjects including arts, sciences, and social studies.
Some action- and thought-provoking points I took away from the panel on “Transforming Civics Education in an Era of Polarized Politics”:
• Asked to define what meaningful civics education entails, panelists generally panned the idea of using the US Citizenship test, which they deemed to be too narrow and inert, and instead noted that strong civics education both connects with and expands students’ lived experience. Several panelists, including one high school student, noted that authentic projects with real outcomes are more likely to engage students and lead them to feel more connected to the community and civically empowered to effect positive change.
• Panelists shared multiple models worth emulation:
• In Florida, the entire middle school curriculum is focused on civics education.
• Similarly, as of this year, in Massachusetts, the entire 8th-grade curriculum is dedicated to civics. In addition, state law now requires all middle and high schools to dedicate at least one semester to “’action civics’ – having students research and use local civic channels to solve problems in their community.”
• Illinois has also passed a statewide law requiring high schools to spend at least one semester on civics education. And in Chicago Public Schools, every high school has a “Student Voice Committee” designed to help students develop leadership and decision-making skills that will impact their school and home communities.
• Two related challenges panelists raised was how to effectively assess the quality of civics learning and how to make civics education a curricular priority without necessarily dragging it down with a narrowing accountability incentive.