Education budget coming
The city’s budget process, which typically begins in March, will begin a delayed, somewhat truncated process, starting with Mayor Bowser submitting her new post-corona budget to the DC Council on May 12. Council committees will hear testimony from government agencies and invited public witnesses from May 14 to June 11.
As those of you who follow the education budget know, typically 100+ witnesses – including parents, students, teachers, Board of Ed members, and advocates – will testify before the DC Council about their concerns with the DCPS budget and the budgets of other city agencies. This year, hearings will necessarily be held virtually. Every committee is encouraging constituents to file their testimony via email or voicemail. In addition, each committee has made its own rules about how it will handle live testimony. Some committees have capped the number of people – or number from a single organization – who can testify. The Education Committee has decided that it will limit live testimony to invitation only.
The hearings (government witnesses only) for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education will be conducted on June 4, from 3 to 6 p.m.; for DC Public Schools and the Deputy Mayor of Education on Thursday, June 11, from 9 to 3 p.m. The Committee will mark up its bill, June 18, 2:30 to 4 p.m. Prior to these hearings, there will be a hearing on June 4, noon to 3 p.m., for invited public witnesses and for the government witnesses from the education and other agencies whose budgets are handled by the Council’s Education Committee. The State Board of Education will testify about its budget during that time, and, as president of the Board, I will testify for the Board during that period.
To submit written testimony to the Education Committee about the budget of DC Public Schools, the State Board, or the budget of any other education agency, email firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate “testimony” in the subject line. For voicemail testimony, call 202-430-5720. “Testimony received 48 hours before the hearing will be sent to all Council members and the agency representatives. All testimony will be made part of the official record.”
Fairer funding for DCPS
This year, more than ever, thanks to decreased city revenues and increased costs as a result of the COVID shutdown, it’s especially important to steer scarce funds to where they’re needed the most. For a few years, there have been discussions about the ways in which the city’s education funding formulas tend to underfund DC Public Schools in comparison to charters. This spring, the C4DC (The Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities) has adopted two position statements that put those concerns to paper – one on the funding of school maintenance and operations and the other on the handling of mid-year student transfers.
Distance learning and ReOpening our schools
Visiting schools on #Teacher Appreciation Day isn’t the same as last year! My heart goes out to our @W3EdNet teachers who in this tough moment are busting it every day for our kids. Here’s hoping it won’t be too long before our lovely buildings are no longer so sadly empty.
— Ruth Wattenberg (@Ruth4Schools) May 10, 2020
The W3EdNet conducted a survey of Ward 3 parents about distance learning. Totally fascinating. It’s Tolstoyan, in that some families are very happy – and every family that found distance learning challenging finds it challenging in a different way. The survey is from the early days of the shutdown, and my sense is that generally everything has notched up. Many thanks to our principals, teachers, DCPS, parents, students – everyone! – for making that the case.
But as we go forward, this survey and the actual quotes from parents help shine a light on some details of distance learning that can help make it work better for all. I also heard from parents apart from the survey. Among the key issues that stand out from the survey and my conversations:
- We need to streamline the number of platforms used (and Teams seems to be regarded as particularly clunky)
- This is really hard for younger students, weaker readers, special ed.
- The right mix of synchronous (live) and non-synchronous is complicated and may differ substantially for different families. In some cases, the amount of synchronous learning is as low as 1 hour a day (or none). Many parents hoping for more. For some students, it is very difficult to learn without teacher direction and the momentum of a class.
- Loss of morning meetings in some cases is a problem as, for some students, they are very important for motivation/connection.
- In some cases, parents feel that they’re being asked to conduct the instruction, and they don’t feel capable of doing it well – or at all.
- And, there were multiple kudos for DCPS, noting that in other nearby jurisdictions, distance learning got started later and many more kinks.
Again, thanks and plaudits to all, in and out of schools, for trying so hard to make this work! Teachers, principals, students, parents: Please feel free to keep me informed of what you’re hearing and experiencing. I’ll find a way to pass the concerns/recommendations on.
The Mayor’s ReOpen DC Advisory Committee
The Mayor convened the ReOpen DC Advisory Committee to advise her on steps to take as she works to reopen DC schools and other parts of the city economy. Unfortunately, the composition of the Education and Child Care Committee (as well as other committees) was initially baffling at best and insulting and counterproductive at worst. The appointments included multiple representatives from foundations and charter schools, hardly any representatives of parents, teachers, principals, or students – and NO ONE elected by DC voters to the State Board of Education or DC Council to represent them on either. Since then additional appointments have been made, but the issue remains.
The beauty and strength of our DC State Board of Education is that there is a representative on the Board from every ward in the city, as well as one at-large representative. We were able to draw on the input and insights from every one to prepare this report that we submitted to the education subcommittee of the Mayor’s ReOpen DC Advisory Group, which is providing recommendations to the Mayor. Among the key recommendations in response to two of the questions from the Committee:
1. What would it look like to center equity in reopening schools?
- COVID-19 has exacerbated the learning gaps between students of color and lower-income families and their more affluent and white peers. There must be a deliberate focus on closing this gap and identifying and mobilizing the supports needed.
- While planning to reopen, the District must continue its commitments to connecting as many students as possible via individual devices and ensuring reliable internet connections. This work should not stop if/when schools reopen.
- The school shutdown has disproportionately affected students who are less likely or unable to benefit from distance learning (on- or offline), students who are already behind academically, those with learning, attention, motivation, and executive function issues, and those who need and don’t have the adult support that could help them get organized, motivated, and focused. There need to be special efforts to reach out to, engage, and “catch up” these students.
- Determine how we will measure learning and instruction during distance learning (technical v. adaptive)
2. What would it look like to reopen schools in a way that results in a better education system post-COVID-19?
- Many students will arrive with substantial emotional needs AND will be far behind academically. It is critical to identify approaches, activities, and lessons that can simultaneously address these two issues. Students will need BOTH support for their social and emotional health (often known as SEL – social-emotional learning) AND their academic progress now more than ever. We need to think about how to provide BOTH without sacrificing either. When school re-starts, lessons that involve students in interesting learning/discussions about important content/literature with teachers and fellow students can help build the relationships that address SEL while also engaging students in important learning. Also of importance in the reopening of schools:
- Increase number of mental health staff in all schools, starting with schools East of the River.
- Ensure sufficient wrap around services for students and families in high need schools, i.e. existing Community Schools and Connected Schools models shift into high gear; plan to expedite expansion of model to more schools in high needs areas.
- All schools should have full-time on-site nurses.
- All schools should have on-site counselors and mental health professionals to support the likely increase in social-emotional needs that many children, teachers and staff will have upon returning post COVID-19; this can be done through expansion of community and connected school models.
The ReOpen DC Advisory Group has received both the W3EdNet survey and the report from SBOE, as well as reports from others. I hope the Committee and the Mayor take the recommendations seriously.
Changing the name of Woodrow Wilson High School
Why I signed the petition and why I urge you to also:
Woodrow Wilson may have done some great things; in fact the esteemed Woodrow Wilson Center is named after him due to his efforts in world affairs. But, his role here in Washington DC was not great. Here in DC, he worked systematically to demote and segregate DC’s African-American civil servants, who had built one of the country’s few middle class communities of that time. Here’s an account of President Wilson’s role in re-segregating DC. Due to this specific history, a group of Ward 3 and DC residents is working to change the school’s name. Here’s a review of the community forum conducted by The Wilson High School Diversity Task Force and the DC History and Justice Collective last spring about changing the high school’s name. See the group’s website here.
To move forward a discussion and proposal about the name change, the DC Public Schools Chancellor must formally initiate the process. So far, he has been reluctant to do so. I urge you to sign this petition asking for such a process to get started.
Why do DC teachers leave at such high rates?
According to studies sponsored by the DC State Board of Education and prepared by longtime DC education researcher Mary Levy, the average rate at which teachers leave DC schools annually (25%) is much higher than in other urban districts (19%). And, the rate is disproportionately and drastically higher–nearly 1/3 per year–in schools that educate more At-Risk students. Importantly, turnover in DCPS has been trending downwards in the last two years. Hopefully, this is the result of thoughtful effort and the decline will continue.
Why do they leave?
The DC State Board of Education commissioned an independent researcher to survey, interview, and focus-group a sample of teachers who have left our schools in the past two years. The new report is fascinating. In charter schools, the biggest reason for leaving is workload and school climate issues. In DCPS, these are both big issues, but the biggest is concerns around the conduct and use of the IMPACT evaluation system, including beliefs that the system was used to punish teachers for small incidents and created an unhealthy culture that pitted teachers against each other.
In both sectors, teachers believe that they were not respected, that their voices were neglected in school decision-making, that they were not supported in efforts to address student misbehavior, and that they couldn’t get the professional support they needed to address challenges was high.
Why does it matter?
In contrast, high teacher retention enables and promotes a strong culture which aids student achievement; and it allows students and families to develop relationships with teachers and the school. But, better than me saying this, listen to the students in this great (short) video explain why it matters to them and to researchers explain what the data shows.
The State Board has asked the DC Council to require the city’s school districts (meaning DCPS and each individual charter school or charter network) to report their annual turnover, so this issue can be monitored and has urged DCPS to keep these concerns in mind as it conducts its current review of the IMPACT system. Plus, what will really matter to address this issue is serious efforts in both sectors to the school’s culture and to provide years with mentors in their early years.
Helping out our city
Ward 3 Mutual Aid
As we head towards our 3rd month of pandemic, there are many in the city who need help, whether because their health or age prevents them from leaving home or their income has disappeared. I know many of you want to make contributions to groups that are helping. Through Ward 3 Mutual Aid, you can volunteer to run errands and deliver groceries to those who can’t go out, and contributions will support grocery runs in Ward 3 and around the city.
“Ward 3 Mutual Aid emerged from the citywide DC Mutual Aid Network: a vast community initiative to deliver essential groceries & hygiene products to those most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. While Ward 3 is far from the hardest hit, nevertheless we have hundreds of elderly, disabled, and other low-income residents who urgently need our support right now. Since our hotline first went live on Monday March 23, we have made an average of 50 grocery deliveries per week to neighbors who have either lost their income or lost their usual source of food assistance as a result of closures – and we expect this number to keep increasing….”
W3 Mutual Aid will:
1. Fund free grocery deliveries to people who have been impacted the most by the virus and/or cannot leave their homes,
2. Get medical and disinfecting supplies to care workers, volunteers, and other “essential workers,”
3. Get supplies to create hygiene care packages for needy community members,
4. Procure materials to produce homemade masks for those who need them the most such as the homeless, hospital workers, nurses, doctors, grocery workers, and more,
5. Stock up on food and hygiene goods more abundantly available in Ward 3 and make bulk deliveries to other wards,
6. Help fill any other mutual aid request put out by the DC community, especially those in marginalized communities.
In my last newsletter, I recommended contributing to Horton’s Kids, which provides academic and social support to students in the Wellington neighborhood in Ward 8. They continue to serve children during this shutdown, and I encourage contributions here too!