Civics Education, Inequities Facing Incarcerated Youth, and More: Takeaways from the 2019 NASBE Conference

By Emily Gasoi, Ward 1 Representative

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:

Civics Education

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.

Putting their civics convictions into practice, several states/territories, including Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, and Guam sent student representatives to the conference. I attended a round table discussion at which student representatives described the process of applying and then either being appointed or elected to serve on their respective State Boards. Maryland and Massachusetts student representatives are elected by a statewide student council and have full voting rights. The DC SBOE chooses two student members from a pool of applicants each year. DC student representatives can vote, but their vote is merely recorded, not counted. I plan to reach out to the students I met to learn more about their respective systems and whether or not full student voting rights might be something the DC SBOE should pursue.

Our Responsibility to Incarcerated Youth:

The “Educating Incarcerate Youth” panel I attended also focused on the need to provide students being educated in detention centers with knowledge and skills that will help them navigate school, work, and life once they’re released. This was a different take on civics education, but the overlap was clear – whether they are learning in general education settings or detention centers, students need access to real-world learning. As one of the panelists, Hailly Korman of Bellwether Education Partners, aptly noted, “Many of you rightly focus on disrupting the school to prison pipeline. But we can’t let the students who are already in the system to feel that they’ve been thrown away. We need to create a prison-to-opportunity pipeline as well.”

Some takeaways from the “Educating Incarcerate Youth” panel:

  • Panelists noted that, while more than 30,000 youth are incarcerated in the United States each year, there’s often little attention paid to the quality of education accessible to students in detention centers.
  • Not surprisingly, therefore, schools within these centers are too often characterized by poor quality facilities, inadequate course offerings, and inadequate resources, meaning that these youth are disproportionately likely to “face an array of barriers to transitioning to a crime-free, productive adulthood.”
  • The panelists urged us as state board members and other school system leaders to work toward greater coordination and communication across agencies, and to “be more aware and responsible for providing oversight” to ensure equality in terms of educational quality.
  • To prevent students from entering the system, some panelists suggested “equity audits” for general education schools that would help principals assess the degree to which already vulnerable and marginalized youth are being disciplined and suspended.
  • Bellwether shared a great simulation tool called Rigged that takes “players” through a series of decisions a student on probation might have to make in order to stay on track toward their high school graduation.
  • Ultimately, the panelists emphasized that better metrics and more funding are most important points to advocate in order to address the problems facing educational settings within juvenile detention centers (like our general education sector, only more so!)

Providing participants with an example of what’s possible, 2019 Teacher of the Year, Rodney Robinson, gave a keynote talk about how he takes a student-centered approach to civics education, empowering his students– all of them African American boys assigned to a juvenile detention center school in Richmond, VA – to push for social change. With them, Robinson has explored the historical roots of the U.S. prison system, the ongoing effects of racial segregation, and voting rights.

Concluding Thoughts:

Several panelists and speakers discussed the narrowing effect that two decades of over-emphasizing test scores has had on civics, as well as other essential subjects. Acknowledging both the necessity and difficulty of creating conditions conducive to forging more holistic and, frankly, more 21st century-appropriate school systems, other panel and speaker topics included real talk from states attempting to shift to alternative assessment systems, the science of how trauma impacts children’s capacity to attend to their learning and how state leaders can best support learning that serves our most vulnerable students through policy, state board members from Kansas and Indiana sharing their ambitious and impressively effective constituent engagement strategies, and more.

Overall, I found this to be one of the most practical conferences I’ve attended. I came away with lots of connections and resources that I am fired up to share and put into practice over my next three years on the State Board.

A Voice for Change: Dayja Burton, Student Representative

By Dayja Burton, SY2019–20 Student Representative

At first, I had no idea what the role of Student Representative of the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) would entail or that it even existed. But, after my teachers at McKinley Technology High School introduced me to the opportunity, I knew this would align with my personality and life goals.

My name is Dayja Burton and I am a senior at McKinley Technology High School. My school focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (S.T.E.M.) and I participate in the information technology (I.T.) department with a concentration in networking/cybersecurity. This program provides me with a hands on education and opportunities that will help me in college and later in my career. Outside of the classroom, I am a member of the flag football team and the editor-in-chief of the YMCA Youth and Government program. My involvement with various organizations correlates to something that is important to me.

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Fulfilling My Civic Duty: Alex O’Sullivan, Student Representative

By Alex O’Sullivan, SY2019–20 Student Representative

I applied to be a SY2019–20 student representative on the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) because I know the importance—now more than ever—of fulfilling my civic duty by actively engaging with my community, and serving with elected officials and driven high school students to provide voices for youth throughout the city is a great way to do so.

I am a sophomore at BASIS DC PCS where my favorite classes are English Language, US Government, and Calculus. Outside of school, I play baseball, and am an avid fan of other sports such as basketball and football. I enjoy politics, and I am a board member and delegation leader of YMCA’s ‘Youth and Government’ program, a mock youth form of city government. I also write poetry and serve as the co-founder and President of my school’s poetry club. I love math and I tutor third-grade students at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in English and Math, and this school year I will be a member of the NSBE Jr. (National Society of Black Engineers), where I will participate in math-related competitions. Throughout the school year, I participate in youth speech competitions, and in 2019 I won the 2019 BIG (Blacks in Government) Youth Oratorical Chapter Competition on the injustices of the American judicial system.

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Paul’s Top 5 Moments at SBOE

SBOE Staff 2019

By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist

So many firsts. My first government job. My first time working with politicians. My first time running multiple social media accounts and a blog. In October 2016, I stepped into a position that did not exist before. Excited, yet intimidated, I relished the opportunity to develop the role into what it is today. Much thanks goes to our Executive Director John-Paul Hayworth, our tremendous staff, and our passionate Board members for trusting me with this role and allowing me to make it my own. As I finish up my final week serving as public affairs specialist for the DC State Board of Education, here are a few moments I won’t soon forget.

1. #SBOESelfieTours

SBOE Selfie Tour 2017

As a staff member, I loved getting out into the community and visiting District public schools as often as possible. This helped keep my ears to the ground and helped to connect the education policies we were working on with the realities of children attending school. Whether it was Back-to-School events, school tours, education events, or student representative swearing-ins, I always felt honored I was able to capture these moments as they happened. In spring 2017, we embarked on the first #SBOESelfieTour, a public engagement campaign where staff and Board members visited a variety of schools over a one or two-day period to help promote specific policy issues or campaigns. During these quarterly tours, we dropped off flyers and materials about our open applications for student representative and Student Advisory Committee, applications to join our High School Graduation Requirements and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) task forces, and back-to-school information on the work of the State Board, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Office of the Student Advocate. The ultimate bonding experience for staff, these outings proved to be a great way for us to connect with the schools we served.

2. Going Live

#DCGradReqs Task Force Meeting 2017

Running a livestream for every public meeting, working session, and task force over the last three years was thrilling, challenging, and nerve-wracking all at the same time. Every conversation, debate, vote, public testimony, and ceremonial resolution was captured live via our Periscope or FacebookLive feed. I wouldn’t call myself an expert videographer or photographer, but I managed to hone my craft as time went on. The toughest parts were when the WiFi or phone connection would drop or when I needed to inconspicuously capture substantive conversations at our task force meetings. Our dedicated group of viewers always keep me on my toes in the chat box, never really leaving me a moment to relax. But, I loved engaging with them in real time to help make their viewing experience valuable.

3. ESSA Community Engagement

ESSA Community Meeting 2017

In February 2017, the State Board partnered with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to co-host community meetings in all eight wards of the District. Members engaged with the public on the draft Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan to find out what community members wanted DC to include in its final accountability plan. With a smaller staff back then, John-Paul and I traveled around to schools in the District with translation equipment, projectors, printed materials, and a projector screen to ensure these events went off smoothly. It was a sprint that month, with three meetings per week for four weeks straight in the evenings. But, it was worth it! It was a great way for me to learn the unique challenges and concerns of residents in every part of this city early on in my time at SBOE.

4. Spotlight on Teacher Retention

Teacher Retention Forum 2018

In May 2018, SBOE contracted with local education researcher and data analyst Mary Levy to produce a report on teacher and principal retention in the District of Columbia. In October last year, we released the commissioned report along with three recommendations. The report found that teacher turnover at the DCPS system level is roughly 19 percent, and average annual teacher turnover at the school level in both traditional public schools and charter schools has consistently been about 25 percent. The report also found that turnover in DCPS neighborhood schools is highest in Wards 5 and 8, but that charter school turnover rates are largely the same regardless of location. The impact of this report has been wide-ranging, and the State Board has continued to analyze this issue in 2019. Through community forums, expert panels, and engagement with teachers and administrators throughout the District, we have deepened our knowledge on this issue. The SBOE is poised to continue the conversation in the new school year and I am grateful to have been a part of these efforts to shine a light on such an important issue.

5. Launching the SBOE Blog

When I started my role, I wanted to create a way for us to connect more with the community. I felt that SBOE needed a way for Board members and staff to share their views on specific education policy issues. I also wanted a space for us to publish information, feedback, and takeaways from key events. Thus, this blog was born in December 2016. With the breadth of communications and media relations functions I performed over the years, it was a challenge at times to carve out time each month to get content posted. But, with the help of our dedicated staff, we’ve managed to post a few blogs each month. It’s been a great outlet for us to get our voice across in a unique way.

  • SBOE SelfieTour 2017
  • EdFest 2017
  • SBOE SelfieTour 2018
  • DCPS Pride 2019
  • Langley Elementary Tour 2019
  • SBOE Staff August 2019
  • Staff Nats Game 2017
  • SBOE Excel Academy Visit 2018
  • SBOE Staff May 2019

Together, we’ve worked hard to communicate the message of the State Board through meetings, task force sessions, selfie tours, press releases, community newsletters, media responses, and countless community events. With a focus on transparency, we streamed every public meeting, working session, and task force meeting live on Periscope and FacebookLive. With the help of staff and our dedicated fellows, we’ve been able to expand our social media presence – adding an Instagram and LinkedIn account and maximizing our Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages.

And now, I am fully ready to take on a new professional challenge! I am staying in DC, so I’ll be close. From time to time, I may pull up a SBOE meeting on Periscope to catch the latest on the work of the State Board. It will be a nice change to be on the other side, watching as an interested and supportive District resident. I can’t wait to see what’s next for SBOE.

Dayja Burton and Alex O’Sullivan to Serve as Student Representatives

2019-20 Student Representatives

By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist

Earlier this summer, the State Board of Education was thrilled to announce the selection of Dayja Burton, a rising senior at McKinley Technology High School, and Alex O’Sullivan, a rising sophomore at BASIS DC PCS, as Student Representatives for the 2019–20 school year. For the length of their term, these outstanding students will join our nine elected State Board members in policy discussions and community engagement efforts, bringing the voice of students directly to decision makers. With their direct experience in the classroom, student representatives provide a unique voice during policy discussions and offer a vital perspective on teacher retention, education standards, and our state accountability system.

Dayja Burton is a McKinley Technology Zelinger award winner, a recipient of the Perseverance Award, and a member of the Principal’s Honor Roll and National Honor Society. Alex O’Sullivan is a member of Youth and Government, co-founder and president of his school’s poetry club, and a volunteer tutor at his local elementary school. As Student Representatives, Burton and O’Sullivan will also co-chair the 2019–20 Student Advisory Committee (SAC), a volunteer group of students from District high schools in both D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) and the public charter sector.

The State Board began an open application process for both the Student Representative positions and the SAC in March, receiving 40 applicants from both traditional public and public charter school students. The SBOE sought students who were passionate about serving their community, as these individuals bring a vital voice to the education policy-making process in the District.

The SAC serves as the voice of students in the State Board’s work. They are consulted on issues of policy before the Board. The SAC meets at least once per month. Each year, the Committee sends the SBOE a report on a matter of importance to District students, providing recommended next steps. If rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors are interested in joining the Student Advisory Committee, contact us at sboe@dc.gov. For more information, please visit sboe.dc.gov/studentvoices.

Strawberries & Salad Greens Day

Strawberries & Salad Greens Day 2019

By: Ashley MacLeay, At-Large Representative, and Alexander Jue, Policy Analyst

Earlier this month, we had the chance to visit Aiton Elementary School in Ward 7 and Murch Elementary School in Ward 3 for their Strawberries & Salad Greens Day festivities. Since 2011, the Health & Wellness Division at OSSE has sponsored this city-wide event as a way to showcase locally grown produce in school meals.

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Aiton Elementary School partnered with DC Central Kitchen to teach students about different fruits and vegetables that could be grown in the District. Students were able to touch and taste local fruits and vegetables like cherry tomatoes and cucumbers grown from a truck garden. In addition, the students learned proper knife techniques and cut strawberries, kale, and carrots. They mixed the ingredients together with a strawberry vinaigrette dressing to create a fresh summer strawberry salad that everyone enjoyed.

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A First Fridays Visit to DC Bilingual Public Charter School

By: Caitlin Peng, Policy Fellow

On June 7, I had the opportunity to tour DC Bilingual (DCB) Public Charter School as a part of First Fridays, a series of monthly tours that spotlights top-performing D.C public charter schools. Not only was this my first time participating in a First Fridays tour, but also my first time stepping foot into a public charter school. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but by the end of the tour, I experienced a snapshot of a public charter school where a strong sense of community permeated throughout the hallways and classrooms.

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Thanks for the Ride!

Staff Selfie Tour April 2019

By: Sara Gopalkrishna, Policy Fellow

Thanks for the ride, SBOE! As a DCPS parent and a doctoral student of education policy, these last five months as a Policy Fellow at the DC State Board of Education have been illuminating and fun. I have come to understand the structure of educational governance in the District and learned a lot about the people who operate within it. (One day, I’ll diagram it for you!) I was given to the time and task of listening to and watching City Council testimony on education issues and offices, and, of course, SBOE meetings. I had the opportunity to participate in First Friday tours of DC charter schools and peek into some high schools on an SBOE selfie tour to recruit high school students to serve as Student Representatives and members of the State Board Student Advisory Committee. The staff provided opportunities for me to explore DC student data, write memos, contribute blog posts, and ask a lot of questions!

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Castle on the Hill- Our Visit to Cardozo Education Campus

Cardozo Visit May 2019

By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist

Last week, Cardozo High School Assistant Principal Matthew Kennedy and his leadership team welcomed State Board members Ruth Wattenberg (Ward 3 / President), Ashley MacLeay (At-Large), Emily Gasoi (Ward 1), and some of my SBOE staff colleagues for a school tour and lively education policy discussion at one of Ward 1’s education campuses. Cardozo Education Campus is essentially three schools in one, with a middle school, mainstream/traditional high school, and an International Academy for English language learners in one building. The historic “Castle on the Hill” campus serves students from grades 6–12 at this neighborhood DCPS school in the District’s northwest neighborhood of Columbia Heights.

During the first portion of the visit, we sat down with Assistant Principal Matthew Kennedy to learn more about the unique programs offered at this combined middle/high school. In addition, State Board members engaged in a discussion with school leaders and teachers on different ways to measure academic growth during high school. Academic growth, the progress a student makes over a particular time period, is one of the indicators used by the District in its STAR Framework and in its school report card. This visit was timely as the State Board looks forward to a proposal from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) related to a high school growth measure next month.

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A “First Friday” at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS – East End

By Sara Gopalkrishna, Policy Fellow

No one should ever turn down an opportunity to tour a pre-K classroom in DC. Lucky for me, an opportunity was presented to me. As part of the First Fridays tour of DC charter schools, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Charter School welcomed us to their new East End campus. Stokes PCS is known in the city as providing dual-language instruction for elementary school students. They offer Spanish-English and French-English elementary school classrooms. Linda Moore founded the school in 1998 and named it after her mother. After moving from its first location in Mt. Pleasant to 16th Street NW, the first campus eventually found its home in Brookland.

With the Brookland campus in such high demand—that it seemed that only siblings could enroll—it was time to expand after 20 years. With careful and deliberate planning, the Stokes team planned and opened its second campus in fall 2018, enrolling 135 pre-K and kindergarten students. Tucked in the eastern-most corner of the city in Ward 7, Stokes East End is the only bilingual elementary school east of the river. The school shares a building with Maya Angelou PCS, a high school. The two schools strategically share the gym, the cafeteria, and other resources such that the young scholars and older ones are kept separate, using shared spaces at different times of the day.

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