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.

SBOE #EdPolicy Roundup: October 2019

By Sarah Arrington, Policy Fellow

This month, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its efforts to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The October 2019 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from the D.C. Policy Center discussing the need for increased access to high quality schools for at-risk students and one from The Education Trust that examines why teachers of color leave schools and what schools can do to retain them.

As we have done previously, SBOE will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.

“Access to Schools that Level the Playing Field for D.C.’s At-Risk Students” D.C. Policy Center, September 2019

Summary: This D.C. Policy Center report finds that though student test scores have improved, there are still achievement gaps that persist. That is why access to high quality schools is especially important for at-risk students. The report discusses “leveler schools”, or schools that level the playing field for at-risk students. In order to be a leveler school, schools must meet the target of growth (90th percentile) on the state report card in either ELA or Math. Twenty elementary schools and 12 middle schools met this target, and so, are considered leveler schools. There are leveler elementary schools in all wards aside from wards 2 and 3 and leveler middle schools in all wards aside from wards 3 and 6 however, the students who need these leveler schools the most often live the farthest away from them. Furthermore, there is simply not enough space for all the students who need access to leveler schools. While improving geographic access to high quality schools would help the situation, it is more important to improve and support schools that are not leveler schools but that serve at-risk to help accelerate academic gains. The D.C. Policy Center highlights ways that D.C. can support those schools:

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SBOE #EdPolicy Roundup: September 2019

By Sarah Arrington, Policy Fellow

This month, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its efforts to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The September 2019 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from the Education Commission of the States discussing STEAM education and its impact on student success and one from FutureEd that looks at how state testing systems are changing under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

As we have done previously, SBOE will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.

Preparing Students for Learning, Work and Life Through STEAM Education” Education Commission of the States (ECS), Mary Dell’Erba, September 2019

Summary: The Education Commission of the States (ECS) and the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) conducted a study on state policies that include STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education. They defined STEAM education as “an approach to teaching in which students demonstrate critical thinking and creative problem-solving.” This type of education focuses on learning through experience, exploration, inquiry, and creativity. Specifically with the addition of arts into a more traditional STEM program, they found that students had increased opportunities to practice active learning and divergent thinking, to build social and emotional skills, and to develop cultural competency. Continue reading

SBOE #EdPolicy Research Roundup: March 2019

By Sara Gopalkrishna, Policy Fellow

We’ve been shining a light on teacher and principal retention since October 2018—commissioning a report, hosting a public forum, inviting numerous expert witnesses to our public meetings, and convening a working group. As such, the #EdPolicy Research Roundup: March 2019 features two reports that touch on this important issue. One is a collaboration between the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) illuminating the issue of principal turnover. The second, published by the Education Commission of the States (ECS), is an overview of the education-related priorities of state governors (of which teacher quality is highlighted).

“Understanding and Addressing Principal Turnover: A Review of the Research”Learning Policy Institute, March 19, 2019

Summary: As school leaders, principals play a key role in retaining good teachers, promoting a positive learning environment, and ultimately providing a consistently quality education for students. This report emphasizes the importance of principals and that principal turnover is costly, both financially and academically for schools. From select research, five primary reasons why principals leave are found, many of which are comparable to the reasons often cited by teachers. The five reasons stated are:

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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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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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New SBOE Leadership for 2018

By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist

At this month’s public meeting, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) elected Ms. Karen Williams of Ward 7 as President and Mr. Jack Jacobson of Ward 2 as Vice President. Both members served in these roles during 2017 and both bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to their roles.

Additionally, the SBOE formally adopted a structure for upcoming policy, governance, and engagement committees to help achieve the goals of increasing equity and academic excellence in District public schools. The Board looks forward to continuing its work on the ambitious goals laid out in the SBOE strategic plan.

Below are the 2018 SBOE Committee assignments:

Administration & Budget – This committee monitors and oversees the State Board’s budget, personnel and governance.

  • Chair: Jack Jacobson, Ward 2
  • Members: Mark Jones, Ward 5; Lannette Woodruff, Ward 4; Karen Williams (ex officio)

Student Advisory – The Student Advisory committee ensures the voice of students is heard in improving education in the District.

  • Co-Chairs: Tallya Rhodes & Tatiana Robinson
  • Members: Students, Karen Williams (ex officio)

Educational Excellence & Equity – Regulations & Laws – This committee will focus on conducting high-quality policy research and analysis to support the State Board’s role in approving District education regulations.

  • Chair: Laura Wilson Phelan, Ward 1
  • Members: Ashley Carter, At-Large; Markus Batchelor, Ward 8; Karen Williams (ex officio)

Educational Excellence & Equity – Educational Standards – This committee will focus on reviewing and analyzing District educational standards.

  • Co-Chairs: Ruth Wattenberg, Ward 3; Mark Jones, Ward 5
  • Members: Jack Jacobson, Ward 2; Karen Williams (ex officio)

ESSA Task Force – ESSA implementation began during the 2017-18 school year. The task force will work diligently with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to continue gathering input from diverse stakeholders on the design and development of the new accountability system for the District.

  • Chair: Lannette Woodruff, Ward 4
  • Members: Jack Jacobson, Ward 2; Joe Weedon, Ward 6; Karen Williams (ex officio)

Public Engagement & Outreach – This committee is tasked with ensuring that all voices are heard on key education policy issues. Priorities will include developing a community engagement strategy that includes diverse stakeholders and expanding the breadth of participation at SBOE community meetings, forums, and roundtables around the District.

  • Co-Chairs: Markus Batchelor, Ward 8; Ashley Carter, At-Large
  • Members: Jack Jacobson, Ward 2; Karen Williams (ex officio)

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.