Putting families, students, and educators at the center of decision making: Emily Gasoi, Ward 1

By Emily Gasoi, Ward 1 SBOE Representative

I started as a classroom teacher in 1995 and I’ve been working in the field of education ever since. While every new chapter in my career has shaped my professional life, perhaps my most formative experience came when I had the opportunity to help start the democratically-governed Mission Hill School (MHS) in Boston.

My colleagues and I worked alongside visionary educator Deborah Meier, a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Recipient. We crafted the school’s mission statement and developed integrated, project-based curriculum, formative assessments of student learning, peer-review processes for teacher evaluation, and structures that would build and support a culture of democratic participation among the entire school community. The underlying purpose of all that we did was to help students develop their own talents and interests in preparation for empowered civic engagement.

Running for SBOE

My seven years at MHS greatly influenced my understanding of what the role of public education in a democratic society should be and, by extension, the direction that education reform should take. Despite a whole lot of thinking and doing in this realm, however, nothing could have prepared me for the most recent stretch of my professional journey: running for office.

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Putting Students First in #EdPolicy: Jessica Sutter, Ward 6

By Jessica Sutter, Ward 6 SBOE Representative

I love school. I’ve loved school since my first day of preschool when I walked in and never looked back to say goodbye to my mom. I’ve loved every school I’ve had the privilege to teach in. I’ve loved when school filled my heart with joy, like when my eighth graders got their letters of acceptance to high schools. I loved school even when it broke my heart after losing a student to gun violence in my first year of teaching.

I have worked in education for the past 20 years and have called Ward 6 my home for more than a decade. I’ve spent time teaching in classrooms in Chicago’s West Side, in East Los Angeles, and in our nation’s capital at the Blue Castle at Eighth and M Streets SE right here in Ward 6 where I taught eighth grade social studies and literature. In my work at DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, and as a consultant I’ve been lucky enough to visit hundreds of schools and classrooms throughout the District.

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Langley Elementary Touts Conscious Discipline

Langley Elementary Visit 2019

By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist

Earlier this month, Langley Elementary School Principal Vanessa Drumm-Canepa and PTSA President Christina Svolopoulos Robbins welcomed State Board members Ruth Wattenberg, Ashley MacLeay, Jessica Sutter, and some of my SBOE staff colleagues to tour their school. Langley ES is a PK–5 neighborhood DCPS school with approximately 300 students, located in the District’s Northeast neighborhood of Eckington in Ward 5.

During the first portion of the visit, we sat down with Principal Drumm-Canepa and Ms. Svolopoulos Robbins to learn more about the programs offered at Langley. Principal Drumm-Canepa and Assistant Principal Shaunte Jennings have transformed Langley in the past two and a half years through the implementation of a social-emotional learning (SEL) program called Conscious Discipline.  

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SBOE #EdPolicy Research Roundup: January 2019

By: Alexander Jue, Policy Analyst

Ensuring research and policy concepts are accessible to all stakeholders in our communities is important. Think tanks and policy-based organizations release reports and their findings on a regular basis, but some times the information contained within these reports can be difficult to navigate and understand to a more novice reader or layperson.

Each month, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) will feature and summarize a collection of reports highlighting trends and issues in education policy. SBOE will discuss the key findings, as well as explain the implication of the reports to the State Board’s work and priorities. This month we feature two reports: one from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) on the importance of teacher diversity and a second from the National School Climate Center (NSCC) on creating school communities.  

“A Vision and Guidance for a Diverse and Learner-Ready Teacher Workforce” – Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), January 10, 2019

Summary: Students benefit when their teachers come from varying backgrounds—racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic. Today, nearly 50 percent of American public school students identify as people of color, compared to only 20 percent of their teachers. CCSSO highlights research that demonstrates “students exposure to people who are different from themselves, and the ideas and challenges that such exposure brings, leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.” The CCSSO report discusses the need for “deliberate attention to build current as well as future teachers’ capacity to enact pedagogies and practices that recognize and embrace students’ cultures as assets in the classroom.” CCSSO suggests that all teachers be “learner-ready”—meaning teachers have developed the deep knowledge of their content and how to teach it, understand differing needs amongst students, and demonstrate leadership and shared responsibility. The CCSSO report casts a vision for what education systems look like when there is a diverse and learner-ready workforce, and outlines a series of preservice and in-service policy recommendations for achieving their vision.

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Meet Your New Ombudsman for Public Education: Serena Hayes

Serena Hayes Profile 2019

By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist

After an extensive search process, the SBOE announces the selection of Serena Hayes as the next District of Columbia Ombudsman for Public Education. Hayes is the third person ever to serve as the District of Columbia’s Ombudsman for Public Education, succeeding Joyanna Smith. The position was originally established as a critical component of the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 and was reestablished as part of the State Board in 2014. The Office of the Ombudsman is an impartial, independent, and neutral office that uses mediation and conflict resolution to resolve complaints and concerns for parents and families regarding public education in the District of Columbia.

Hayes, a resident of Ward 5, is a graduate of the Howard University Law School and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, and anthropology from Washington and Lee University. Ms. Hayes has coached individuals and groups on conflict resolution strategies, and empowered families in developing self-awareness, and find and use their voice. She has provided training across the District in conflict management and has provided re-entry mediation services at the D.C. Jail. She received the 2017 Lorig Charkoudian Volunteer of the Year award for commitment to mediation, for exemplifying quality in the delivery of mediation, and dedication to furthering her mediation skills. Ms. Hayes also facilitated large group discussion for the Consent Decree issued after the death of Freddie Gray, where listening sessions were held for Baltimoreans to generate criteria that would be used to monitor police conduct and improve the relationship between police and the city residents.

Ms. Hayes was appointed to her new role at tonight’s SBOE public meeting for a term of five years beginning on January 22, 2019.

Building Community and Positive Relationships: How Some D.C. Public Charter Schools are Changing their Climate

By: Brian Robinson, Policy Fellow

Last week the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) hosted about two-dozen school leaders from across the city to talk about ways they have built a positive school climate. The National School Climate Center defines school climate as “the quality and character of school life.” When schools have a positive school climate, students are more likely to want to attend school, feel safe at school, develop positive relationships with peers and adults, and be engaged with teaching and learning.

Center City PCS – Brightwood Campus was applauded by PCSB for having one of the highest attendance and lowest chronic absenteeism rates in the charter sector. This was true across all subgroups (i.e., special education, at-risk, black, Hispanic students). Some strategies they credit for their success include:

  • Engaging all stakeholders in monitoring attendance. The school’s counselor and operations manager meet twice a week to review attendance data. Teachers flag absences, particularly from students who aren’t usually absent. Parents know the school takes attendance seriously and alert them for planned absences.
  • Using varying strategies for different families. Strategies include daily wake-up calls, home visits, and personalized solutions to encourage students to come to school.

Friendship Tech Prep PCS was credited for increasing academic outcomes, as well as its high attendance and low suspension rates. School administration realized their practice of suspending students was overused and ineffective, so they evaluated different models of addressing student behavior. Most importantly, they included students in these conversations asking them how they want to learn, why they are absent, and how to make school “lit”. Out of these conversations, they made some changes including:

  • Switching to project-based learning, allowing students to engage with their learning in a more practical way.
  • Created committees led by students. The uniform committee created uniforms that students would actually want to wear. The attendance committee made administration aware of issues with bus transportation.
  • Implemented Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) where students receive rewards for early attendance or being “caught” doing good, as well as “dollars” to be redeemed for privileges such as “dress down Fridays”.

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Teacher and Principal Retention

By: Alexander Jue, Policy Analyst

Teachers are the foundation of a quality education, and they are vital to the success of our students and our schools. The goals of excellence and equity in education in the District of Columbia cannot be achieved without a thriving, highly effective teacher workforce.

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. The report was intended to establish a foundation for a deeper investigation of the challenge of retaining highly effective teachers.

In October, SBOE 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. At SBOE’s October 24 public meeting, over 15 public witnesses shared their experience on this issue. Continue reading

Looking Ahead: Education Policy Post-2018 Midterms

Education Policy

By: Brian Robinson, Policy Fellow

2018 was huge for education politics. Teacher evaluation systems were on the ballot. Democrats Andrew Cuomo (NY) and Jared Polis (CO) and Republican Bill Lee (TN) won gubernatorial races defending tough evaluation systems while Democrat Michelle Grisham (NM) won her gubernatorial race campaigning on eliminating her state’s system. School choice was on the ballot. Democrat gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsome (CA) won calling for a moratorium on charter schools and Republican Ron DeSantis (FL) won supporting public and private choice options. Some states’ voters approved tax initiatives to fund education while others rejected them. It wasn’t just issues on the ballot. 1,800 educators campaigned for governorships, state legislatures, and congress. Democrat Tony Evers, a school superintendent, defeated Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker while Connecticut elected 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes to Congress.

Now that the dust has settled on the 2018 midterms, where does education politics go from here? Education Week hosted stakeholders at George Washington University to discuss the future of education politics. Here are some takeaways:

  • The Future is ESSA: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has approved plans for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. These plans vary as states have significant flexibility in implementing the law. While it’s too early to analyze its impact on student achievement, the first national overhaul of education following the No Child Left Behind Act will be ripe with research opportunities.
  • States forge ahead without Feds: Partly design, partly frustration. ESSA intentionally transfers power to states in deciding how to measure student progress and turnaround low-performing schools. President Trump made his intentions clear in a 2017 executive order instructing DeVos to modify or repeal regulations or guidance that infringes on state and local school control. States have also challenged the federal government on issues such as regulating student loan servicers.
  • America is still Red for Ed: The movement that saw teacher strikes in traditionally red states like West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma and ushered educators into elected office isn’t fading. Former principal and North Carolina State House candidate Aimy Steele spoke of valuable lessons learned on how to organize, petition government, and use the legislative process to fight for students. Social Studies teacher and newly elected Oklahoma House Representative John Waldron said “you don’t get what you want for your kids by asking nicely.” Policymakers are on notice that they must move the needle on teacher pay and working conditions. Polis has already pledged to create affordable housing for Colorado’s teachers. West Virginia has done the same.

Education politics has the wind at its back. Hopefully this momentum can be sustained to tackle long pressing issues around equity, school violence, mental health, college preparation and affordability, and attracting and retaining high quality teachers for vulnerable student populations. Education Week’s Editor-in-Chief Scott Montgomery says, “our system of politics, our system of education are not meeting expectations.”America must maintain pressure on both systems in 2019 and beyond if we hope to see meaningful results.

Making the Grade: ESSA School Report Card Design Challenge

SBOE Team with Secretary Devos

By: Brian Robinson, Policy Fellow

Last week, the US Department of Education and the Data Quality Campaign welcomed policy makers, parents, researchers, educators, and students from all over the country to the Cleveland Park Library in Washington, DC. Our task was to work in groups to design a prototype for a school report card that meets the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA was signed into law in 2015 by President Obama and requires that state education agencies develop report cards for each school that provides accurate, accessible, and actionable data to the public.

Many states will assign letter grades (A-F) or stars (1-5) to schools based on a pre-determined formula that largely takes into account academic achievement and growth measured by student performance on statewide-standardized assessments. In D.C., policymakers have committed to a School Transparency and Reporting System (STAR) framework. All traditional public schools and public charter schools will receive a STAR rating (ranging from 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the highest).

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SBOE Provides Feedback on Credit Recovery and Personalized Learning Plans

Feedback Photo

By: Alexander Jue, Policy Analyst

In October 2018, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) was asked by two agencies to submit feedback and comments on a draft policy and a draft research report. The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) solicited public comment on its draft credit recovery policy that they hope to implement in January 2019, while the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor (ODCA) reached out to SBOE asking for comments on a draft report highlighting options for a personalized learning plan pilot program in the District; the report is scheduled to be released in the coming weeks. Both agencies reached out to SBOE for feedback due to SBOE’s previous work over the past year in both of these issue areas.

Below are definitions from the National Survey on High School Strategies Designed to Help At-Risk Students Graduate (HSS) that provide a high-level definition of the two policy areas on which SBOE recently provided feedback.

  • Credit recovery – The HSS defines credit recovery as a strategy that encourages at-risk students to retake a previously failed course required for high school graduation and earn credit if the student successfully completes the course requirements. Credit recovery courses may be available online or in alternative settings and can be scheduled at different times to suit the needs of the student.”
  • Personalized learning plans – The HSS defines a personalized learning plan as a formalized process that involves students setting learning goals based on personal, academic, and career interests with the close support of school personnel or other individuals that can include teachers, school counselors, and parents. Personalized learning plans are developed in a way that identifies the types of skills students need to pursue their academic and career interests and the steps required to build those skills, which may be attained through traditional educational pathways or through other innovative delivery mechanisms.”

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