School updates: DC Schools chancellor and DCPS reverse some Wilson High staff cuts

November 8, 2017 by Leave a Comment

This is the latest newsletter from Ward 3’s elected representative on the DC State Board of Education, Ruth Wattenberg. Read on below for updates on the reversal of some Wilson High staff cuts, upcoming hearings and meetings with top educaton officials, and the new grading system for DC schools (not the students) being implemented next fall. Or, view the original newsletter here.

by Ruth Wattenberg

Wilson budget: Thanks to Chancellor Wilson and DCPS for restoring the staff positions cut this spring!

Anybody who reads this newsletter knows that I have been extremely critical of DC Public Schools (DCPS) for its budgeting practices – and especially for the repeated, three-years-in-a-row staff cuts at Wilson High School, totaling some 30 staff cuts over three years.

But now there’s good news! To their great credit, Chancellor Antwan Wilson and his staff worked with Wilson Principal Kim Martin and the Wilson LSAT (Local School Advisory Team) to restore the positions that were lost last spring.  Many, many thanks!

(Out of ten positions cut, five have been restored, and four educators from other schools have temporarily been reassigned to Wilson. For details on the staffing restoration, see the letter to Wilson parents from the school’s PTSO presidents.)

Kudos and thanks as well to the community that cares so much about Wilson. Many, many parents, students, and community members wrote, emailed, and called the chancellor, the mayor, the deputy mayor and members of the DC Council. Wilson’s PTSO and LSAT leaders testified before the Council and wrote letters and called throughout the summer. Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh was tireless in pressing the issue.

A very welcome beginning… but, just a beginning!

This is an important, very welcome start! That said, Wilson was understaffed when it opened in the fall, hiring to make up for the cuts is still underway, all the positions aren’t permanent, and Wilson is still down about 20 staff over three years despite higher enrollment (1,793 in spring 2015; 1,835 today). But fingers crossed, I am hopeful that in this next budget cycle, Wilson’s overall staff situation will be addressed – and that the broader broken budget process, in which inaccurate budget projections lead to reduced budgets that never get remedied (for all schools, not just Wilson!), will be fixed. I’ll keep you posted.

DCPS Budget Hearing, November 14, 6-8PM, at Stuart Hobson Middle School

Speaking of the budget… DCPS will hold its first budget hearing for the new fiscal year on Tuesday, November 14th.  If you are interested in testifying, register online no later than 3 p.m. Friday, November 10th. For questions/concerns, contact the DCPS School Funding Team at (202) 442-5112 or dcps.schoolfunding@dc.gov. I encourage you to attend!

Chancellor’s Community Forums

DCPS has announced a series of forums at which the chancellor and his top leadership will discuss priorities with the community.  For a full list of dates/times, click here. For Ward 3/Wilson Feeder schools, the forums are:

Monday, January 9, 2018, 6 to 7:30 p.m., Lafayette Elementary, 5701 Broad Branch Road

Monday, February 6, 8:45 to 10 a.m., Oyster-Adams Elementary, 2801 Calvert Street

Monday, February 6, 6 to 7:30 p.m., Hardy Middle School, 1819 35th Street NW

DC Council Ed Committee Roundtable on Special Education

The date: Monday, November 20, 2017, 10 a.m.

The topic: The state of special education services in DC’s traditional and public charter schools and OSSE’s implementation report on the “Enhanced Special Education Services Act of 2014. To testify, signup here or call the Committee at (202) 724-8061 by 5 p.m. Thursday, November 16th.

Apply: Student/Parent Advisory Committee, Office of the Student Advocate

 

The Office of the Student Advocate, housed at the State Board of Education, is charged with supporting families in their efforts to navigate the complexities of the DC public education system, including developing resources and boosting parent engagement. To aid its efforts, the office is launching the Parent and Student Advisory Committee. For more information on the advisory committee, click here. To apply, click here.

SPECIAL FOCUS

School Report Cards: What do you want to know about your school?

DC is developing a new “school report card,” as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This new report card will, for the first time, be common across traditional DC Public Schools (DCPS) and charter schools.  It will allow parents to compare schools “apples to apples.” As importantly, it will give parents the info they need to have useful conversations about the strengths and needs of their children’s schools.

The process: The content of the report card will be proposed by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and must get approved by the SBOE.  To aid its work, the SBOE has convened a Task Force on ESSA that will offer recommendations on the Report Card as well as other issues. To solicit public views, the SBOE and OSSE are running focus groups, SBOE members are meeting with school communities, and residents are encouraged to complete an online survey. (See below for participation information.)

What must the Report Card include?

As many of you know, starting next fall, every DC public school will be evaluated based on a new rating system that will grade each school with 1 to 5 stars.  The number of stars a school gets will be based mainly on whether students reach specific test score thresholds. The remainder is based mainly on attendance, re-enrollment rates, and English-learning progress among limited-English speakers. In high school, the rating will also be based on the percent of students who graduate and take advanced courses (Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate). In K-8 schools, a small amount will reflect how much students’ test scores increased relative to similar students.

The report card must also include such required information as per-student funding (provided by government sources); number of suspensions/expulsions; and the number of teachers who are inexperienced, on emergency credentials, uncertified in the subject they’re teaching.

What should the Report Card include?

What else would provide parents, educators, and policymakers the most useful, accurate view of our schools? What do you want to see on the report card?  See below to take the survey and for information on focus groups that you can attend.  Here are a few of my favorite ideas. They mainly reflect some of the most common requests that were expressed to the State Board of Education during the city’s debate about ESSA last spring.

Let’s highlight the “growth” made by a school’s students, so that a school’s progress isn’t masked by the heavily income-correlated STAR ratings. Almost every aspect of the STAR rating tells us more about the affluence of students’ families than what students have learned or school quality. In terms of test scores, consider this: Low-income students typically begin the school year multiple grades behind their more advantaged peers.

Even if a school full of students with very low initial scores improves their average achievement by well over a full grade – let’s say a grade-and-a-half or even a huge two full years! – that school’s students are still unlikely to reach the test score thresholds that would earn the school a high STAR rating.  This means that the STAR rating will almost certainly award the largest number of stars to the schools with the highest-income students and the smallest number to schools with the lowest-income students.

A poor rating for these schools, even though they may be effective, could and likely will lead families to avoid them, possibly leading to enrollment and budget drop-offs, causing great harm to effective schools and the students who attend them.  But, if we highlight the growth students make, not just whether they meet a certain score threshold, we would reduce this unfortunate problem.

Let’s highlight the attention elementary schools give to social studies, science, and the arts. The STAR rating holds schools accountable for an important, but very narrow, band of outcomes: mainly math and reading scores—sometimes to the disadvantage of other subjects and school goals.  I have heard many, many complaints about this, especially at the elementary level, where protected time for social studies, science, and the arts isn’t typically provided.  Research literature also speaks to the damage done by curriculum-narrowing.  The report card is our chance to encourage our schools to focus on a broad, rich curriculum. One idea: elementary schools should report how much time per week students spend on these subjects.

Report on the quality of a school’s culture or “feel.” Known in education jargon as “school climate,” it refers to such intangibles as whether students in a school feel safe, challenged, and nurtured; whether staff feel that they have the tools and support to be successful in educating their students; and whether parents feel welcome and respected.  This important aspect of school quality goes largely unmeasured in the STAR rating.  So let’s highlight it on the Report Card.

Some states are using sophisticated, nationally-normed student/teacher/parent surveys to report on this aspect of school quality. OSSE is currently piloting such surveys.  Also, especially high teacher turnover is often an indicator of an unhealthy school culture; the Report Card can report on that as well. (I called exceedingly high teacher turnover the “canary in the classroom” in this City Paper article.)

I hear a lot of interest from parents in having access to health information. For example, does the school have a full-time nurse? How much time is devoted to recess and physical education? Are the lunches nutritious?

Beyond school quality and effectiveness, schools have strengths, weaknesses, and offerings that may be of great interest to parents.  Does it have a special curricular focus?  What clubs/teams are available? Does it offer an after-school program? How much emphasis is put on test preparation Do students go on field trips?

What’s your view? Please take this survey. Plus, the State Board’s ESSA Task Force, State Board members and OSSE are scheduling community feedback meetings around the city.

I’ll be leading a session hosted at Hardy Middle School on November 16th at 7 p.m.  To register, click here. In addition, I’m meeting (or have met with) with PTSOs and/or LSATs at Janney, Wilson, and Eaton and would be very happy to schedule meetings at other schools as well.  Let me know if you’d like to be part of such a discussion. and, as always, if you have thoughts on the above suggestions or anything else, please email me at ruth4schools@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

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