May 1 Newsletter: PARCC exemptions, Tenley/Wilson safety, Protecting school budgets, New health standards,

PARCC exemptions can be made for certain mis-assigned high school-ers

As parents know, it’s PARCC season.  The PARCC tests, which are given (in accordance with federal law) to all students grades 3-8, plus once in high school, are an important way for DC parents, residents, school officials and staff, and political leaders to know how student achievement is proceeding.
But, as The Beacon, Wilson’s student newspaper, has reported, some of the wrong students are being required to take the test!  I have heard many complaints from both parents at Walls and Wilson.  Upper classmen who took geometry years ago have been assigned to take the PARCC geometry test.  As the student newspaper reports, this makes no sense and is wreaking havoc with some seniors’ schedules, for example, causing students to miss review classes for their AP tests.
It’s not supposed be this way! Parents can email or call her at 202-724-7938 to request an exemption for their child. I can’t explain why DCPS and OSSE can’t/won’t just un-assign these students to PARCC.  Meanwhile, request the exemption.  I am told that this will not have any negative affect on how the school or any staff are rated.

State Board of Education News

SBOE adopts revised Health Standards.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) adopted revised health standards at our April meeting.  These new standards, last revised in 2007, were adopted at the end of a lengthy process that included discussions conducted by both the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and the SBOE with groups of health educators, students, and others.

Security in Tenleytown and around Tenleytown schools

Most readers are probably aware of the uptick in violent incidents in Tenleytown.  At a special community meeting last Saturday (Apr 30), Councilwoman Mary Cheh, and ANC chair Jonathan Bender led a conversation with our local Metropolitan Police Department Commander Melvin Gresham and other MPD police, Metro transit police, Wilson Assistant Principal Alex Wilson.  Plus, Mayor Bowser offered strong support, joining the conversation for a good hour.
The MPD announced that they were increasing both bike and segway patrols. Other ideas that will be further considered are staggering the dismissal times for Deal and Wilson, which together dismiss roughly 3000 students into a small area at the same time; creating better communication between Wilson high school staff and police; and, better supervising the path between Deal and Wilson.
Commander Gresham provided his email address,, asking residents to be in touch with him if they had information he should know.  To sign up for MPD District 2d’s list serve:

Next step on School Budgets—What’s the impact on kids of new, unfunded LEAP mandate?

As mentioned in my last newsletter, DCPS has mandated that all schools put in place a new professional development plan to replace the school system’s Master Educator program, which lost its federal funding. Here’s my testimony on this and other budget issues at the City Council’s Education Committee budget hearing. (Here’s my testimony in favor of establishing an independent education research entity.)
The plan may or may not be a generally good plan for professional development.  But, there are two problems:
First, with few exceptions, schools have to implement the program without additional staff. Since the program model requires many staff hours (Each teacher must participate in 90 minutes of professional development/observation weekly; staff must be assigned to provide the professional development; and the principal (or designee) must take on much more responsibility for teacher observations and evaluations.), most schools will have to redeploy existing staff and/or actually lay off some For example, in order to staff the new program as required, Hearst will have to let go of a needed and much-loved school counselor.  Eaton may lose its reading and math specialists.
The second problem is a familiar one—the declaration of a new educational program without adequate (or any) prior planning or consultation with staff or families from the schools, often resulting in plans that simply don’t make sense for a given school, regardless of the central office’s best intentions. I hope the City Council and Mayor’s office will prevail on DCPS to modify this effort–and, as importantly, to be more solicitous of school community views before mandating new programs.

Collecting the LEAP facts for Councilmembers Cheh and Grosso

Councilwoman Mary Cheh made a special visit to the Education Committee’s budget hearing to question DCPS officials about the staffing implications of LEAP, focusing on the example of Eaton, which, according to Cheh, fears that it will lose its reading and math specialists.  (Find her questions on this video at 2:15.)  In response to her questioning, DCPS official Jason Kamras insisted that no school should be required to cut staff to make this program work and that DCPS would work with any school in this situation.  To help assure that this commitment is met, schools really need to make sure that they fully understand how LEAP will effect their budgets. (Just prior to 2:15 see Cheh’s questioning on another important issue: Fillmore’s art program.)
The Ward 3/Wilson Feeder Network is now working with schools and Mary Cheh’s office to compile a report explaining the impact of the LEAP program on each Ward 3 school.  Education Committee
Chairman David Grosso has asked DCPS to provide him a report showing the budget/staffing effects of the program on each school.  It will be important to match this information with what is reported by folks in the schools.

My testimony to City Council

I testified before the City Council’s Education Committee on: Murch’s delayed modernization, the threat to Fillmore, the unfunded mandate posed by LEAP (more on this in main newsletter), and how funding for at-risk students is improperly being used to fund core educational functions.  
I testified before the City Council’s Committee of the Whole on the need for independent research about DC schools–and an , independent entity to conduct it.  For more information on the kind of research that I’m proposing, see the website of the Chicago Consortium on Education Research.

“Cornerstone” at Janney

DC Public Schools have been rolling out “Cornerstone” curriculum units, aimed at exposing students across the city to a common, engaging, rigorous curriculum units.
I just got to visit Janney k-3 science teacher Fran McCrackin (my kids’ former k and 1 teacher!) teaching a Cornerstone science/engineering unit in which students designed a permeable membrane appropriate for a frog. In preparation, the 1st graders experimented by pouring water through various barriers, including aluminum foil, cheesecloth, a sponge, and coffee filters, measuring how much water escaped through each barrier and how quickly.    Definitely pretty cool!
If you’re a teacher and would consider inviting me to observe your Cornerstone, please reach me at


Joe Reiner at Tenley/Friendship Library

Joe was a renowned English teacher at Wilson High School.  Hear him discuss his new books on teaching AP English, “Puzzle Me the Right Answer to That One” and “Teach Me
How to Work and Keep Me Kind.”
Wednesday, May 4, at 7 p.m.
Tenley-Friendship Library. 4450 Wisconsin Ave NW

Happy Spring!!!

April Newsletter

School budget news–More $$$,but less staff for many schools; Murch and Fillmore funding in jeopardy, “Assessing-out” proposal withdrawn, Data/research on DC schools conference draws large audience… More…
The Mayor’s city budget includes a funding increase for public schools of $75 million, which covers additional per student funds for increased enrollment and a 2% inflation adjustment (which is typical, though it was not provided to schools last year). This should have left schools with roughly the same staffing levels and funds as they had last year–and with the resources for increased staffing to handle increased enrollment.
In fact, many schools in Ward 3 and around the city report that despite these increases they must cut their teaching staff. Wilson high school is set to lose 7 positions; various elementary schools appear as though they will lose the equivalent of one or more direct service positions (i.e. classroom teacher, intervention specialist etc.) To see overall budgets from each school, use this data tool from Coalition for DC Schools.

An analysis released by the Coalition 4 DC Schools explains why there is more money but less “buying power”: First, the costs of almost all positions (principal, teacher, etc.) rose a small amount (which is indeed the kind of cost the inflation adjustment should be covering); Second, DCPS “has shifted certain costs that had not been carried on school budgets to school budgets.” In other words, schools must now pay from their regular budgets the cost of programs that previously had been funded by DCPS central office funds. This makes sense in terms of budget transparency, as it becomes easier to see exactly what is being spent in different schools. And insofar as the program cost is sent to the school along with the funding that DCPS previously used, there’s no harm to education. But, when formerly centralized programs are sent to the schools without funds, the result is that schools need to cut elsewhere.

Big reason is “unfunded mandate”
And that is the third and biggest reason that many schools have been left with less: a new, substantial unfunded mandate. As reported in the Washington Post earlier this year, DCPS has eliminated its Master Educator system, through which a good deal of teacher evaluation and teacher professional development was handled. Instead of the centrally funded ME’s, this year, existing school staff (mainly principals and assistant principals) will handle evaluation–taking these staff away from other duties–which must now be covered by other staff. Plus, most schools will be required to fund from their school budgets the costs of the new Teacher Leader Innovation program to provide the professional development previously provided by the Master Educators. In this analysis, DC schools budget pro Mary Levy estimates that the cost will be approx. $7m citywide, roughly equal to the new dollars that are not already dedicated to covering rising costs and the cost shifts explained above.
The result: It looks like increased funding for DC schools–but thanks to the shell game, many DC schools have less buying power.

Study shows that at-risk funds are being diverted to support core education
Two years ago, the DC City Council started appropriating special, additional funds to defray the costs required to provide a high quality education to the city’s most at-risk students. Known as
“at-risk” funds, a new analysis from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute indicates that “unfortunately, there is a pattern of using significant portions of the allocated at-risk dollars for general education purposes, thereby merely supplanting general education dollars.” Among the inappropriate ways in which at risk dollars are being used: to pay for guidance counselors, teachers, and other core staff that should be funded through the general education funds.

Testify on School Budgets
On April 14, individuals and school leaders are invited to testify before the City Council’s Education Committee about the DCPS budget. For information and to sign up, click here. You must sign up 24 hours in advance to testify. If you testify, please consider raising the issues above, and noting that they effect schools in Ward 3 and around the city.

Fillmore Arts Center–“Stay of Execution” seems more rhetorical than real
At the 11th hour, literally as school budgets were being sent to schools, the schools that depend on the Fillmore Arts Center to provide arts education, were informed that Fillmore was being eliminated. The effected schools, including Stoddert and Key in Ward 3, would have to provide arts in their own schools. Huge problem: Neither Stoddert nor Key has any extra space in which to house adequate art classes! As importantly, Fillmore represents a phenomenal model of great arts education. I visited and was blown away by the extraordinary quality of its program. In a city where so many students still don’t get strong exposure to arts education, Fillmore shows what we should be reaching for–not what we should be eliminating. Under pressure, DCPS agreed to maintain Fillmore through next year and to undertake discussions about how to move forward.
But reports suggest that the Fillmore staff is already being dispersed, meaning that Fillmore’s arts program will already be much weaker next year, all but assuring that not only won’t students get the arts they need but that the program’s ability to replicate and provide a model will be lost. That would be a huge shame for DC. For more info on the program and on how to help, click here.

Murch funds in jeopardy again….
Murch Elementary has not been renovated for 85 years. Proises to renovate it were followed by repeated delays. Now, months after a modernization plan was finally agreed to by all the relevant parties and funding was allocated to build it, it turns out that the estimate for how much it would cost were wrong! The Murch community was told that no more funds would be forthcoming; it would have to downsize the original plan. Councilwoman Mary Cheh just led a discussion with all the key players–including leaders from Murch’s PTO and School Improvement Team, key officials from DCPS and the DGS (Department of Government Services) and the architect—to identify ways to bring down costs without losing essential components of the previously approved plan. For more info, click Murch Elementary

Update: Controversial “Assessing-out” regulation is pulled back. Yay!!
In previous newsletters, I alerted you to a proposed regulation that would open the door to widely enabling students to earn high school graduation credits by taking assessments rather than courses. OSSE Superintendent Hanseul Kang deserves great credit for withdrawing this proposal from consideration after hearing how much concern there was about it. Thanks to the many DC residents who filed comments with OSSE, signed petitions, spoke up at meetings and otherwise expressed to both OSSE and the State Board of Education the many reasons that this proposal caused great concern.

Strong attendance at conference to discuss need for better data/research on DC education
Last summer, the National Academy of Sciences issued an evaluation, requested by the DC City Council, on DC’s educational progress. The overwhelming finding of the report, as I wrote about in the Washington Post last summer, was that so much of the information necessary to conduct the evaluation was unavailable. The NAS couldn’t even report on whether achievement among the city’s most vulnerable children had improved. An ad hoc group of DC residents, including myself, has been meeting with city education leaders, including Council Education Chairman David Grosso and Deputy Mayor Jennifer Niles about strategies for resolving this unacceptable situation.
One step towards a solution was a half-day conference held at the end of March among interested stakeholders, convened by the Urban Institute. Big thanks to all the key education leaders in the city who attended and spoke—including Grosso, Niles, State superintendent Hanseul Kang, DCPS chancellor Kaya Henderson, and DC Public Charter School Board director Scott Pearson. The attendance was over 150—suggesting that interest in this issue is huge. I should note that the conference was held during spring break week, greatly lowering the number of parents who could attend.
Let’s hope this is the first step towards a solution, not just a conference that goes nowhere!

Should students be able to test out of all courses? (no!)

February Newsletter:

**Should hs students be able to test out of any course?
–Citywide Task Force calls for letting students test out of foreign language and math courses, very defined, finite courses
      —But State Ed Agency proposes broad regulation that could allow testing out of any course
      —Big concerns that this will undercut course offerings
**Support TAG increase
**Vote on DCPS academic calendar

Add your Comments at the bottom

Update on Testing Out:

I reported last month that a citywide education Task Force (that I served on) had reached consensus on new ways for high school students to earn credit, including a proposal to allow high school students to test out of math and foreign language requirements. For a summary, see my January newsletter) The thinking–which I agree with–is that these subjects/courses are very sequential, defined, and finite. If you’ve mastered Spanish I or Algebra 2, there’s no need to take these courses in order to graduate! We don’t want to subject kids to boring, redundant coursework.
     But the Task Force did not recommend a testing-out option in other subjects, like U.S. History and World Literature, in which the subject matter is not finite or sequential.
I agree. These course are not “finite” in the way that Algebra 2 is. If a student arrives at high school ready to “test out” of U.S. history, the school should offer a higher level U.S. history course–perhaps an Honors or AP course. It’s hard to imagine a high school student showing up at an academic private school and being told that they already know so much U.S. History that there’s no need to learn more. I don’t think we should ask less of our public schools.
      Unfortunately, the state education agency (OSSE) has rejected the Task Force recommendation and wants full authority to let high schoolers test out of any class. OSSE has proposed a very broad regulation that would provide it with the right to allow testing-out in any high school course, at its discretion (although there is a promise not to do it immediately).
      But testing out sends the wrong message to teens–and undercuts new efforts to expand advanced course options across the city. As parents of teens know, we’re often trying to persuade our kids that they really don’t already know everything. It’s not helpful for the school system to say that they know all that’s worth a high schooler knowing!
      Plus, DC is now taking more seriously its obligation to offer courses that meet the needs of all students. This school year, for the first time, DCPS is requiring all high schools to offer a minimum number of AP courses. The Dual Enrollment program that has enabled students at Walls to attend classes and get college credit at partner college GWU is also available to students at Banneker and McKinley (partnering with Howard), KIPP (Trinity), and is further expanding–as is the HISCIP program that allows students at Wilson and elsewhere the ability to attend and get credit for classes at colleges such as AU.
These programs take resources and commitment. When resources are scarce, will schools find themselves choosing–or under pressure–to let students test out, instead of offering Honors, AP, and other advanced classes and programs?
OSSE has offered no educational rationale for its proposal. When asked to explain the purpose at a State Board meeting, the response was that OSSE might want this authority in the future and getting it now, as part of a broader package, would save time later. If there is a rationale, I’m all ears. Meanwhile, we don’t even know how basic or advanced the test might be–or what impact it could have, even unintentionally, on DC’s new course offerings and advanced course offerings at all schools.
      This is not a good way to make public policy. A big change like this deserves to be the subject of a full airing–with a full discussion of expected benefits and possible consequences–not just popped on us all as an undiscussed regulation.
       I’m eager to hear your views on this: If you would like to file formal comments with OSSE by February 2 , click here: . This site also displays the proposed regulations.

Support DC TAG increase
As reported in the last issue, the RAISE DC TAG team had a great success, winning $40 million in federal funding for DC’s TAG program. TAG, the Tuition Assistance Grant, provides DC residents with a $10,000 annual subsidy for their child’s tuition to any public college/university. The purpose was to provide to DC students the same low-cost access to a comprehensive, public land-grant college/university that residents of every state have. As helpful as the grant is, it has not increased since it was first enacted, a time when tuitions weren’t nearly as high as they now are. RAISE DC TAG is working to increase the amount of the grant.
As part of its campaign to show Congress how much support there is, it’s asking everyone to write/email your council member and ask them to support Jack Evans’ resolution introduced last summer…. “to expand the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program to fund the entire difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for DC students at four-year public colleges and universities throughout the US, Guam and Puerto Rico.”
To get on Raise DC TAG’s list, write them at:

Vote on the DCPS Academic Calendar
DCPS is still accepting survey responses. Go to:

Enjoy your holiday weekend. As always, feel free to email me with your comments and concerns.

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January 12 Newsletter

January 12 Newsletter! Happy New Year to all!

To get on my regular newsletter list, email me @ruth4schools,,

School News:-PARCC scores; TAG grants funded; DCPS budget process starts

Events: “Rosenwald Schools” Film/; Ward3-Wilson Feeder Education Network; Cross-Sector Task Force on Collaboration; City Council Hearing on proposed change to truancy; Special Ed discussion?

State Board of Ed Updates: State Diploma moves forward, but with big problem; New rules will allow high school students to test out of foreign language and math courses, and more.

School News
Parcc Scores—

**PARCC scores for elementary/middle school students are here. Ward 3 scores strong.
PARCC scores went home in December. As you review your child’s report, keep in mind that these are “baseline” scores. You can’t use them to determine whether your child’s achievement status has gone up or down. You can also view scores broken down by various demographic groups and grade in this OSSE slide deck .
Across Ward 3, schools had large numbers of students scoring at the 4/5 threshold. A score of 4 is defined as being the threshold at which a student will probably succeed in his/her first year of college without remedial support.

**Citywide scores show relatively few students on- track for college success. Racial/economic gaps are huge.
But, citywide, just 24% of grade 3-8 students scored at a level 4 or above in English Language Art and 25% in math.. An additional 24% in ELA and 26% in math scored at a 3, defined as “approaching” expectations.
This leaves a majority of city students scoring 1’s and 2’s, meaning they are, after many years of major education reform, way, way off-track for ultimately entering college, including community colleges, which are the gateway to most careers that don’t require a 4 year or professional degree.
The racial gaps are huge: 17% of black students, 21% of Hispanic students, and 79% of white student reached the 4/5 level. Insofar as results can be disaggregated by income, 11% of at-risk and 14% of economically disadvantaged students reached the 4/5 threshold. Racial and income gaps exist in Ward 3 schools as well.
Colbert King accurately and passionately describes the results as “painful.”

**Good news about rising average scores in DCPS has obscured the declining, stagnant, slow-rising scores among our lowest achievers.
DC’s average scores on NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress)–widely regarded as the gold standard for tracking student achievement–have risen in recent years, often more than in other cities, generating lots of laudatory media attention. But the gains (especially in reading; math has been better) have been isolated. Specifically, the lowest achieving 25% of DCPS 4th graders went down in reading every year since 2009, until this last year. Finally, scores jumped this year, with this group of students now scoring 8 points higher than in 2009—the equivalent of 1.25 points per year. In comparison, the scores among the highest achieving quarter of students increased every year—rising 16 points since 2009, an average of 2.7 points per year. Among the bottom 10%, 4th grade reading scores have risen 4 points since 2009. In comparison, the top 10th scorers rose from 255 to 270—15 points, in the same period.
8th grade reading is worse: The bottom 25% of 8th graders scored 214 in 2009 and rose to 216 in 2015. In contrast, among the top quarter of 8th graders, scores rose from 267 to 273 in those years: 2 points v. 6 points.
Let’s hope the recent jumps reflect something new and enduring.

TAG GRANTS get record funding! Congratulations to the TAG TEAM!
Congress’s omnibus appropriations bill, passed in December, includes a record $40 million for DC’s Tuition Assistance Grant Program (DCTAG). The program provides DC families with tuition grants of $10,000 per year for students who attend public colleges anywhere in the country (and smaller grants for those who attend DC’s private colleges). This is a huge victory, won with lots of hard work by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and the Raise DC TAG Committee. This energetic, effective group is led by DC residents Nora Burke, Heather Keith, Windsor Freemyer and Jennifer Felten. To get on their email list, write You can also follow them on Facebook (Raise DC TAG) and on twitter @RaiseDCTag.

DCPS budget process gets started
DCPS (DC Public Schools) is trying to launch the budget process earlier than in the past. This should create more opportunity for school communities and residents citywide to understand and influence the budget. On Jan 27, the DCPS management team is scheduled to approve final proposed school allocations; and on Feb 12, the allocations will be released to schools. Principals will have until March 7 to submit their budgets and any appeals. This allows for 3 weeks, instead of the days provided last year, for budget discussions. DCPS will submit its final budget to the mayor on March 18. The mayor will adjust as see she fits and submit it as part of the budget that she submits to the City Council on From there, it goes to the City Council as part of the Mayor’s budget, where there will be hearings, negotiation, and eventually the adoption of a final budget. See timeline here.

State Board of Education News

Coming soon: New rules on high school credit flexibility
The Board established a citywide Task Force, chaired by Ward1 SBOE member Laura Wilson-Phelan, to consider how high schools could be provided greater flexibility to award course credit. The Task Force was interested in both promoting the creativity that this innovation could enable and in assuring that the flexibility doesn’t further exacerbate the different levels of academic quality and rigor that currently exist across high schools. The Task Force Report was adopted by the State Board in December, opening the door for OSSE to develop new regulations to implement the main points of the report. Regs will likely be voted on in February. Key proposals are:

1. Students can get foreign language and math credit by passing an approved test. This resolves an issue that has been raised with me a number of times. The thinking is that in both foreign language and math, the course content is finite and well-defined. If a student has mastered the material and would benefit from being in a more advanced class, this proposal will allow that.

2. Schools can apply for a waiver of the current Carnegie unit rule, which defines a high school credit as being earned upon passing a 120-hour course (more for science lab courses). The goal is to give schools freedom to impart course material in different ways—for example, through a course that simultaneously taught math and science or that made use of internships or other experiences. According to the Board/Task Force report, the waiver would require students to learn the material set forth in DC standards, schools would have to report their achievement, and OSSE would evaluate the results of the waiver.

3. Students would no longer be required to take Algebra 1 in 9th grade. This change would allow high schools to bring students to an Algebra 1 readiness level, before enrolling them in Algebra 1. Now schools have no choice but to enroll all freshmen in algebra 1, regardless of a student’s preparation.

State Diploma moves forward; 3 (including me) vote against awarding diploma for recipients of unvalidated assessment
The Board unanimously supports awarding a new State Diploma to recipients of GED certificates. Publicly available research establishes that the newly upgraded GED exam is rigorous. In fact, a substantial minority of current high school students would be unable to pass the GED. Nonetheless, GED recipients are stigmatized in the job market. We hope that awarding a diploma to GED recipients will help them move forward in employment and further education.
But the Board was also asked by OSSE to support awarding diplomas for a second certificate, the NEDP (National External Diploma Project). In contrast to the research available on the GED, there does not appear to be any independent research validating that this certification reflects high school-graduation level knowledge and skills. Three board members (including me!) voted (unsuccessfully) to strip the NEDP from the resolution. All board members voted to move the issue forward. Since then, the OSSE superintendent agreed at the January 6 SBOE meeting to ask experts on her staff to identify and review the research on this assessment. See this article from the Washington Post on the issue and this post from Eduphile on the broader problem of defining what a diploma should reflect.

Congress (finally!) reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka NCLB), the main federal law addressing k-12 education
As a result, many decisions that have been the province of the federal government for roughly 15 years will now become the responsibility of the state, or in our case, the city. Many of these decisions will have to be decided collaboratively between the city administration and the elected State Board of Education. Among the key questions the Board will have to consider are: How will school success be judged; and what interventions should be put into place when a school is not adequately educating its students. Send me your ideas. I’ll keep you posted.

“Rosenwald Schools” film is back!
Tuesday, January 19, 7:30 pm
DCJCC– 1529 16th Street NW
Film Critic Roger Ebert says you’ll leave “gobsmacked” by this story of “the white man prominently framed on the wall of numerous black schools located throughout the American South.” His story “turns out to be the thread that unravels a historical yarn for the ages. Most viewers will likely have little-to-no familiarity with the events recounted in this documentary.”
Produced by Ward 3 filmmaker Aviva Kempner, this fabulous documentary is back for two more showing after packed shows last year at the Avalon and around the country. The screening will be followed by comments from Kempner and Wade Henderson, the head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Ward 3-Wilson Feeder Education Network.
January 27, 7pm, Tenley-Friendship Library
This new organization brings together parents, teachers, and community members to discuss and support our ward 3 schools and the students who attend them. The agenda for this meeting includes a discussion on Ellington High School with Matthew Frumin and a chance to discuss and provide feedback on the PARCC test with me! The feedback will feed into upcoming State Board discussions about PARCC and DC’s accountability system. The alliance is chaired by Tricia Braun and Brian Doyle, parents at, respectively, Key and Hearst. Find them @w3EdNet and
Focus Group on Collaboration between Charter and DCPS sectors
February 25, 7 pm, Janney Elementary School
The Deputy Mayor’s Task Force is holding focus groups across the city. The information above is for the focus group being held in Ward 3. For other times/places, see the link below. There is limited space, so if you want to attend, you must sign up in advance at

Education Committee hearing on new truancy rules
January 21, Hearing Room 500, John A. Wilson building
Currently, DC schools operate under the 80/20 rule; if you’re not present for 20% of the day, you’re marked absent. Enough absences, and you are referred to Social Services. Especially as implemented, this rule has wreaked havoc, burdening schools with extra paperwork, and leaving social service agencies overwhelmed with the truly needy cases competing for attention. But a proposed new law goes way too far the other way, possibly meaning that you are not truant even if you show up for just 15 minutes! That leaves a lot of space for finding a golden mean. A hearing is scheduled for Jan 21. To testify, telephone the Committee of the Whole, at (202) 7248196, or e-mail Renee Johnson, Legislative Assistant, at with name, address, telephone number, and organizational affiliation, if any, by the close of business Thursday, June 20, 2013
Discussion on special education issues with the State Board of Education’s Ombudsman?
I hear more about problems with special education than abut anything else. I recently attended a session at which the SBOE’s Ombudsman and Student Advocate conducted a session for parents about the special education referral process and services and the rights of parents and students. it was also a great opportunity for parents to explain the obstacles and hurdles they’re finding.
Please email me if you would like me to schedule such a session in Ward 3.
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October Newsletter
What do you want in your kids’ school lunches? Tell DCPS.

As DCPS gets ready to put out a request for proposal for a new school lunch vendor, it’s inviting input. Make your views known by completing a survey at

DC announces results from PARCC high school assessments. Scores are a wake-up call.

The results of the PARCC test for high school students (mainly 10th-graders) yesterday were announced yesterday. The scores show that 25% of the city’s high school students have met or exceeded expectations in English Language Arts (“met”=score of 4; “exceeded” =score of 5) and 10% have met or exceeded expectations in math. Another 17% in ELA and 24% in math “approached expectations.”
The ELA scores were much higher at School without Walls (97%); Banneker (74%); Wilson (50% met or exceeded); Ellington (50%); and McKinley (30%).
The scores are a reminder of how incredibly far we have to go to strengthen education across the city. But: It’s important to know that these scores, however low they might be, are not comparable to scores on DC’s previous test, the DC-CAS.

–PARCC scores measure “college-career readiness,” which DC-CAS never did.
Before PARCC, each state and DC wrote its own test and set its own “proficiency” threshold. And, in many cases, states set the thresholds at very low levels, resulting in (surprise!!) very high pass rates that were then hailed by education and political leaders. But, these same students often had to take remedial courses when they went off to college and career training programs, as their “proficient” reading and math levels were significantly below the minimums needed for post-secondary success. Many commentators have called this the Honesty Gap, arguing that, in effect, states weren’t being honest about what their students had achieved.

–With PARCC, the “meets expectations” level was defined in consultation with post-secondary institutions.

Specifically, the “meets expectations” level should reflect a roughly 75% chance that students will earn at least C’s in entry-level post-secondary courses.
As I reported in my last newsletter, I attended the PARCC standard-setting meeting for 7/8th grade last summer. I was very impressed with the professionalism and expertise with which the levels were set. PARCC will be conducting research to further determine if the thresholds ar set in the right place. Meanwhile, I feel pretty comfortable that with PARCC, students who “meets expectations” are on-track to success in their post-secondary schooling, whether college or career preparation.

–PARCC scores do not tell us whether achievement has gone up or down.
In short: if parents, kids, teachers, or others are distressed by any low scores, please keep this in mind: Whether low or not, these scores do not tell us whether DC achievement has gone up or down. They do not tell us whether the achievement of any given student has gone up or down. They do not tell us that teachers or schools have done a better or worse job. But, these scores do give both parents and policymakers a more accurate picture of whether students are on track for college.

–PARCC Scores for grades 3-8 will be released in November. Students will get score reports in their backpacks in December.
Citywide scores for grades 3-8 will be announced in November. Individual student scores will be sent home in December. Also in December, principals will get score reports for their schools, and teachers will get score reports for their current students and for the students that they taught the previous year. In the future, PARCC scores will be reported soon after the test is taken.

–National reading/math scores disappointing. DC improvement defies averages!

Lots of data this week! In addition to the PARCC scores, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), considered the “gold-standard” in tracking student achievement, reported its biennial reading and math scores.
According to this report, national average scores in both subjects in both 4th and 8th grades were down or stagnant, which hasn’t been true in many years. But DC defied the national trend, with 4th grade scores rising citywide in both reading (7) and math (3), with the increases in DCPS being even a point higher! With these gains, DC scores are inching up closer and closer to the national average. Data hounds can see more here.

–The continuing problem of over-testing and curriculum narrowing gets national attention– and possibly federal support for a reduction.

The PARCC test should have one purpose—to provide an honest picture of student achievement to stakeholders. As such, it is meant to be a once-a-year test. Starting next spring, the test will require less than ten hours of each student’s time.

But schools and school districts across the country for various reasons have mandated many additional tests—interim tests, unit tests, benchmark tests, and more. When I was running for the DC State School Board it was one of the issues that I heard the most about. I continue to get a steady stream of complaints from parents and teachers.

Yesterday the Council of Great City Schools (which represents the big-city school districts) issued a report documenting the national testing explosion. It found that the average student in the US now takes 112 standardized tests during her k-12 career. Totally crazy!!!!!
The report has caught the attention of the Obama administration, which has responded with a promise that the federal Education Department will help school districts and state education departments inventory and reform their testing programs.

Last spring, the DC State Board of Education (in its approval of a waiver of the No Child Left Behind Act) asked DC’s state superintendent to conduct an audit of student testing and curriculum narrowing. It looks like now, if the city chose to conduct such a study, we could get federal support for such an effort!

State Diploma for GED discussed by State Board. Employers and Educators Testify. Vote in 1 month.

Should recipients of the GED and NEDP (National External Diploma Program) high school equivalency certificates receive a DC State Diploma? The State Board heard testimony on this in July and again in October. We have now heard formal testimony from employers, providers of GED preparation (mainly adult charter schools), and representatives of DC’s secondary school stakeholders. In addition, I have visited several schools, including Academy of Hope Charter, Next Step Charter, and Ballou Stay that prepare students for high school equivalency certificates.

I have discovered that DC has one of the liveliest adult education sectors in the country. The schools that I visited are educating an incredible variety of adults—including immigrants who were never educated in US schools and adults who dropped out decades ago for reasons as diverse as needing to work, drugs, family issues, failing school, etc. –and providing them with a needed second chance to get an education and decent, stable employment. These schools also provide a second chance for younger individuals who more recently left high schools because it didn’t provide what they needed. I think especially of one young person who testified that she had left high school because she was bullied.

The students who ultimately earn their GED certificates in these programs will have, according to these school leaders, typically spent 18 months or more in preparation. In some cases, these adults are attending school on a daily basis; in other cases, it’s at night, over a longer period, as they juggle schools, jobs, kids, and the rest of life.

The newly re-normed GED test is rigorous
Last year, the GED revised and re-normed its test (as it periodically does). This is not an easy test: Its passing threshold is set at the point at which roughly 40% of current high school graduates would not pass it. And, yet, according to testimony, those who earn the certificate still believe that they are stigmatized in the job market. They have testified that with a high school diploma in hand along with their certificate, they believe that stigmatization would be much reduced. Further, they argued that regardless of whether employers looked more kindly on their applications, having a diploma would increase their own self-esteem and self-confidence with its own positive results.
(The State Board has not yet received norming or grade-level information on the NEDP or other information that rigorously compares the NEDP to DC state standards.)

Providing high school diplomas to adult students who have earned a GED seems wholly appropriate and deserved. It is a needed, deserved second chance. To help assure that recipients are not stigmatized by employers, the city should run a serious PR campaign informing employers of the GED’s rigor.

But let’s not incentivize current students and teens to drop out of high school!
I’m concerned, though, with one unintended consequence of this otherwise important policy change: What will the effect be on current high school students and teens, especially those who are marginally connected to high school, possibly on the cusp of dropping out. If they know they can walk out of high school the day they turn 18, take a GED exam, and get a diploma… might that tilt them towards dropping out?

The evidence suggests it could. A 2004 survey of young people who had recently dropped out conducted by the very respected National Educational Longitudinal Study, found that 40.5% of high school dropouts said one of their reasons (they could give multiple reasons) for leaving school was that they “thought it would be easier to get a GED.”

This was the second most frequently given reason. The top reason was “missed too many school days”—43.5%; in contrast, for comparison, 15.5% said that a reason was “Had to care for a member of family.”
Now, of course, the GED probably didn’t turn out to be as easy as these students thought. The research doesn’t tell us how many of them ended up as GED recipients–or dropouts with no certificate. My guess is a fair number ended up with neither.

Also, Nobel-award winning economist James Heckman–whose research documenting the huge pay-off of investments in early childhood education has fueled large investments in early childhood education (including here in DC)–has conducted research in this area. His research suggests that changes in the GED have a substantial effect on graduation rates. (It’s dense, but if you’re interested, here’s his paper.) Earlier this month, the city was rightly crowing about having increased the city’s grad rate by 4 points over several years! It would be terrible to thoughtlessly put into a place a policy that might undo these hard-won gains!

Lets have our cake and eat it too! Let’s add “guard rails”
I favor awarding a state diploma to adults who earn GED’s. But as we drop barriers to a diploma for adults, I would like the policy to build in “guard rails” that minimize the likelihood that it could lead to an increase in dropouts.
For example:

Raise the minimum age for earning a diploma so that you can’t walk out of school as soon as you turn 18 to take the GED and earn a diploma;
Don’t allow the city or schools to count GED recipients in their graduation statistics (Currently federal rules prevent this but, as noted in this Washington Post op-ed, this rule could be repealed along with other changes to the federal No Child Left Behind law.);
If the GED (a profit-making company that may be under pressure to make the test easier to pass) lowers its passing standard, DC shouldn’t award diplomas for these lower scores; according to Heckman’s research, high school grad rates seem to go down when passing the GED gets easier.
Let’s closely track the results of the policy, assuring ourselves that it’s leading to greater success for recipients of the state diplomas AND not incentivizing students to leave school. Given the high stakes, we should take a look sooner rather than later, maybe after two years. If the results are problematic, the policy should undergo an immediate review.
Wilson’s budget battle: In the end, the per-student budget isn’t reduced as expected…. Because 70+ out-of bounds students were dis-enrolled.

For those of you who have followed this, you know that Wilson’s enrollment was projected to substantially increase this fall, and an inadequate DCPS-proposed budget for the school would have left the school with a 10% per student funding decrease. Ultimately, after much community activism, a budget increase from Councilman David Grosso’s education committee, and great work by Councilwoman Mary Cheh and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, DCPS restored close to 50% of the cut funds, the amount the community had asked for.

All the while, DCPS claimed that in the end, Wilson wouldn’t really suffer from a per-student cut because, according to DCPS, Wilson’s enrollment wouldn’t really go up by the amount projected. In fact, DCPS used an existing rule to reduce Wilson’s enrollment by pushing out out-of-bounds students with substantial absences. Sadly, DCPS refused to reenroll at Wilson some 70 students who live out of Wilson’s geographic boundaries but who (largely) have attended Wilson feeder schools and gone to school with feeder school students since elementary school.

I think schools probably should have greater discretion to un-enroll students who are continually disruptive or absent (as charter schools are more able to do) if other efforts to support them fail, in order to maintain a strong learning environment for all students. But, rules have to be applied equally to all students.

A policy in which some students (based on zip code) can be expelled for certain behaviors and other students can do what they want is terribly unfair and an entirely wrong message to send to all of our students.

Wilson is on a trajectory to get more crowded. BUT DCPS needs to address Wilson’s overcrowding deliberately and thoughtfully–not with what seem to be unfair, ad hoc policies.

That’s all for now.
Happy Halloween!

Back-to-school newsletter

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Wilson Budget Saga–better, but continuing; Free Metro; PARCC Standards; What We Need to Know About DC Schools and Don’t; Credit Flexibility for HS students? Diplomas for GED recipients?

For those of you with kids in school, I hope you’ve had a great first week! I joined Councilwoman Mary Cheh on one day of her annual Ward 3 school readiness tour, which was also joined by new Ward 4 Councilman Brandon Todd. I saw the final touches of fix-up going on at Janney, Murch, Deal, and Wilson and met the new principals of Janney (Alysia Lutz) and Wilson (Kimberly Martin). Good luck to both of them and to everyone leading our schools, teaching and staffing our schools—and especially attending them.
As the school year starts, I want to share a few updates. As always, feel free to email me at You can also follow me on twitter @ruth4schools, which is the fastest way for me to get news out.

The Wilson HS funding saga—DCPS dribbles out additional funds.
As many of you know: Last spring, DCPS announced a cut for Wilson High School that amounted to a per-student cut of $1.8 million, equivalent to 10%. The Wilson community and CM Cheh, asked for one-half of it, $900,000, to be restored. Following a great deal of community advocacy, the Education Committee, chaired by David Grosso, added funding to the DCPS budget, with the intention that roughly $300,000 of the new funds would go to Wilson. Later, the full City Council, added more funding, with the intent of restoring full $900,000 to the Wilson budget.
That should have been the end of it. But, DCPS refused to pass on the funds to Wilson. At one point, the intent was to pass on just the initial $300,000. Then, it was just over $400,000. Then it was announced two weeks ago in the Northwest Current that it would be $640, 000. Now, I’ve heard it might be up to $680,000.
Why this budget restoration, still incomplete, had to happen in dribs and drabs–and not fully and early–so that Wilson could properly plan for the fall is baffling. Meanwhile, DCPS has said many times that if, indeed, enrollments are as high as projected this fall, it stands ready to work with Wilson to make sure the school is properly staffed. Stay tuned.
Strong schools need adequate funding; they also need that funding to be stable and predictable. Next year, I intend to be a more careful and early observer of school budgets here and citywide. If this is how Wilson is treated, what’s happening elsewhere?

Free Metro for students going to and from school/school events.
If you’re not already aware: Starting this school year, students can ride the Metro to and from school and school events for free. The free fare is handled through your student’s DC One Card. To sign up for the DC One Card or to sign the Card up for the free fare, go to

What we need to know about DC schools—and don’t. See my Washington Post op-ed!
As we know from our own Wilson saga, school budget transparency is minimal. But, there’s no public reporting of how high teacher turn-over is around the city (though anecdotes suggest it is very, and especially, high in high-poverty schools) or how much testing there is or whether it is eroding the science, history-social studies, and arts curriculum. We don’t really know how much progress students or schools are making!!! And, I could go on. A recent report commissioned by the DC Auditor and conducted by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences lays it all out, and it’s not pretty. See my op-ed on this in the Washington Post.
How will PARCC tests be scored? I went to one of the Scoring Conferences! PARCC is in the final phase of determining the scoring standards for last year’s tests. I was invited by the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) to observe one of the PARCC scoring conferences, where teachers and curriculum/instructional experts for each grade/subject work to recommend the standards that will be used to score each test. Participants included four teachers from DC! I was very impressed with the seriousness of the effort and the thoughtfulness of the participants.
The conference ran for five full days. Participants first took the test themselves and discussed and familiarized themselves with the official descriptions of what each score point (5,4,3,2,1) is supposed to represent. In a very systematic way, over three “scoring rounds,” participants discussed their scoring decisions with their peers, considered such additional information as how students actually fared on each question, reflected on the scoring decisions they had made, and modified their decisions if they so chose. The emphasis was not on consensus, but on “reflection.” The result was a final set of (median) scores that reflected where the group thought the “cut scores” should be set—that is, how many score points students must receive in order to reach each level (5,4,3,2,1).

So, how hard will it be? Based on what I saw the scoring will be pretty tough, and not too many students will be earning the top scores. Get ready for scores to be fairly low compared to the DC-CAS, DC’s previous test.
But, keep in mind the scores across the two tests are not meant to mean the same thing. Under DC-CAS, the key score point was “proficient,” with students also able to earn scores above and below that. With PARCC, the key question is: Is this student on-track to “likely” enter college without having to take remedial, non-credit-bearing courses. Going forward, PARCC will be following its students and adjusting the scoring thresholds based on evidence of how students actually fared in college and the workplace. For more on PARCC and its scoring, go to

When will we get results?
In the future, PARCC plans to report results soon after the school year ends. But, as this is the first year and scoring guidelines and other protocols and policies had to be established, results won’t be reported until late in the fall, probably November.

Please send me comments and observations on the PARCC. The State Board has been and will continue to provide feedback and advice to OSSE on the PARCC. I am very interested in any advice/feedback you have. Please email me at I will be providing informal feedback at our working meeting on Sept 2 and likely more formal comments at our public meeting on September 16.

Coming up at the State Board: High School Issues
The Board will be considering two revisions to high school graduation requirements, as described below. I am a member of the Credit Flexibility Task Force (chaired by Ward 1 State Board member Laura Wilson Phelan) and am leading the State Board’s work on determining whether to award diplomas to students who earn high school equivalency certificates. I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on both of these.

High School Credit Flexibility Task Force: This Task Force, which will ultimately make a recommendation to the State Board, is considering whether there are circumstances under which students should be able to earn high school credit (known as a “Carnegie” unit) for activities other than semester and year-long courses that provide a required number of instructional hours. On the one hand, this could allow sensible changes such as allowing students to earn foreign language credit for demonstrated proficiency in languages they learned abroad or at home. But, on the other, if not well-structured, it could easily open the door to awarding credit for substantially less or less rigorous work, which could undermine the meaning of DC high school credits—and exacerbate curricular inequities across DC schools. The Task Force, which I sit on, will be hearing testimony over the course of the fall.

High School Diplomas for High School Equivalency Recipients? The State Board will be considering whether recipients of the GED and another high school equivalency test, the NEDP, should be awarded DC high school diplomas. The GED has substantially raised its passing standard, fueling the case for this change. On the other hand, DC high school students are required to take a breadth of courses, participate in a range of class assignments, and attend school regularly over a sustained period of time, giving them a different set of qualifications. Should both groups of students get the same diploma? The Board will be looking at many aspects of this, including the rigor of the new GED standards.

Opportunities to participate
Collaboration between DCPS and Charters
The Deputy Mayor is forming a task force aimed at improving collaboration between DCPS and charters. For more information,

Student Advisory Committee
The State Board of Education is establishing a student advisory committee. The committee will have a certain number of students from particular high schools or collections of high schools. One of the members will be from Wilson High School. If you know of a student who should apply, send them to

Ruth Wattenberg,
Ward 3 Member, DC State Board of Education

July Update

Wilson Update…  PARCC Testing Reduced…  Curriculum Narrowing… DC Auditor on DC Schools…  SBOE wants to fix broken oversight …  DC Diploma for GED recipients?

Wilson Update…Again. DCPS fails (so far) to pass on to Wilson the funds allocated to it by the City Council.
This should not be so hard! After DCPS cut Wilson’s per student budget by the equivalent of $1.8 million, the city council adopted a budget on June 30 that allotted an additional $1.2 million to DCPS. The $1.2 million was based on Councilmember Mary Cheh’s request of $900,000 for Wilson High School, as well as another request of $300,000 for Ballou High School.
But as of two weeks ago, only about $300,000 worth of funding had been released to Wilson, and staff lay-offs were imminent. When I asked about the delay, I was told that DCPS was “clarifying” whether or not it intended to direct the full $900,000 to Wilson as intended by the Council! At the Ward 3 Education Town Hall, Councilmember Mary Cheh raised the problem, and the Deputy Mayor of Education (Jennifer Niles) promised to look into it.
Since then, Wilson has been offered the equivalent of another (roughly) $100,000. The Deputy Mayor of Education has told me that DCPS intends to direct a total of just $500,000 to Wilson and not the full amount voted by the Council. Wilson has now conducted lay-offs. (Wilson leaders have managed to spare teaching staff, but various support staff for the large school have been let go.) Wilson parent leaders (PTO President Kim Bayliss and LSAT Chair Jeffrey Kovar) are working closely with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson’s office to resolve this. As I say, this shouldn’t be so hard. DCPS can’t claim to not have the funds: It was given extra money by the City Council specifically for this purpose.
I keep thinking—If this is so hard for Wilson, with its very active parent community, how do other schools get treated in the budget process? There definitely needs to be more transparency, more communication, more input, and more predictability in how DCPS makes its budgets.
I hope I can report more positive news in the future.

PARCC Testing—Smoother than expected and changes for next year
First, kudos to DCPS, the city’s charter schools, and PARCC (the consortium that developed DC’s standardized reading and math test)! With very few exceptions, the testing went very smoothly, with few reports of technological failure. This was a huge first-time effort with much opportunity for problems. But, thanks to everyone, they were largely avoided. (The most serious complaint I’ve heard is that Wilson students uninvolved in testing were shut out of parts of the building during testing time, causing lots of problems.)
Second, kudos to PARCC for deciding to reduce the hours spent on testing next year. Clearly they heard the complaints and made it their business to respond quickly and substantively. PARCC will reduce its total testing time next year by 90 minutes (60 less in math and 30 less in English Language Arts)—and the tests will all be given in one “window,” not two, as was the case this past year.

… But we still have a testing problem.
Notwithstanding the deserved kudos, we still have a testing problem in DC, both in terms of time and the effect on the curriculum. Keep in mind that PARCC isn’t the source of most testing time. Much more time is likely taken up by standardized tests required by DCPS and individual charter schools. This was recently reported on in Greater Greater Washington/Eduphile
Narrowing of the Curriculum. More destructive is the extent to which class time (especially at the elementary level) has become narrowly focused on the heavily tested subjects (reading and math) and neglects less-and untested subjects. See this terrific article (How standardized tests are impeding learning in DC) from EduPhile, in which award-winning teachers worry that DC teachers have been led “to concentrate on reading and math at the expense of subjects like social studies and science.” I have now visited nearly 30 elementary classrooms across the city since being elected (DCPS and charters) and can report that with very few exceptions, the lessons I saw were almost exclusively focused on reading skills and math.
Cognitive scientists have made it abundantly clear: Reading comprehension depends on background knowledge. If we don’t teach these subjects well in elementary school, our kids won’t comprehend texts on this these subjects when they enter middle school.
DCPS named a committee to examine these issues some time ago. Neither the results nor the remedies were ever made public.

DCPS Cornerstone Curriculum Units Aim to Help.
But DCPS is taking a potentially important step. Teachers from around the city have been involved in creating lesson units across different subject areas. Teachers across the city will be required to address the material in one or more “cornerstone units” in several different subject areas in each grade. DCPS hopes this will help to bring about greater curricular equity and counter any skew towards curricular narrowing. I hope the lessons are terrific and that DCPS’s optimism proves merited. But with staff evaluations and school rewards based so heavily on reading and math scores, I’ll call myself hopeful but skeptical…

State Board of Education: Let’s look at the Evidence on Curriculum Narrowing.
I’d be more hopeful and less skeptical if I knew that the effects of the units–and the general state of curriculum-narrowing and testing–would be subject to independent examination.
The State Board of Education has called on the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to conduct a study on Testing and Curriculum Narrowing. How much narrowing is taking place? And how is it distributed across the city? As with so many other things, the students who are hurt the most by curriculum-narrowing are those from poorer families, who typically have fewer resources to expend on supplementing the school’s education.
I hope DCPS, OSSE, and our charter sector can cooperate on such a research study. That way, if there is a big problem, as my observations and the complaints of numerous teachers and parents suggest, the problem can be solved before it further jeopardizes kids’ education. That’s the point of doing the research. Nothing more, nothing less. Saying it’s not a problem, against all the circumstantial evidence that it is, doesn’t help our kids.

How goes mayoral control? New report from DC Auditor and National Research Council shows student achievement is generally up, but less so for poorest students.
Seven years ago, the City Council established mayoral control of DC Public Schools and eliminated the local school board that oversaw DCPS. Advocates argued that the dramatic change in governance was necessary to accelerate the pace of education reform, which in turn would drive up the achievement of DC students whose achievement had long been among the lowest in the country.
A 5-year evaluation of the law, commissioned by the DC Auditor and prepared by the prestigious National Research Council, has just been published. One set of conclusions is about student achievement. By various measures (the old DC-CAS tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), overall student achievement has risen between 2009 and 2014. But the gains “are much larger for economically advantaged students.” (p 6-8)
The report doesn’t note that according to the last four years of available NAEP data (from 2009-2013), on the all-important 4th-grade reading indicator, the lowest-achieving 25% of students made effectively no progress (down by one point among the lowest-achieving 10%; up one point among the lowest 25%).

DC Auditor’s Report: So much information is uncollected, unanalyzed or un-public! “No coordinated system of ongoing monitoring and evaluation.”
To me, the overwhelming finding of the report, on topic after topic, is how hard it is to figure out what’s going on in our schools, what’s working and what’s not. According to the report, information about many important topics is incomplete, much of the available information is not systematically reviewed or analyzed, and much of it is not made publicly available. Fundamentally, to quote the report:
“There is no coordinated system of ongoing monitoring and evaluation for learning conditions that covers all public school students.” And, “Education budgeting, resource allocation, and financial reporting are not clear and easily traceable processes in DCPS or charter schools.”
The report decries the lack of data, among other things, on learning conditions, school climate, facilities, academic supports for learning, outcomes for different groups of students, course-taking and completion, and “how well strategies for improving teacher quality are meeting their goals,” etc. The report notes that while charter schools generally report the least information, inadequate data, evaluation, and monitoring are a problem that greatly afflicts both DCPS and the charter sectors.
In addition to its call for a “data warehouse,” the report also calls for DC to consider “a program of ongoing evaluation that includes long-term monitoring and public reporting of key indicators, as well as a portfolio of in-depth studies of high-priority issues.” (p 7-13). I totally agree.

Fixing broken oversight system is an important goal of the State Board of Education.
In most states, the State Board of Education, working with the state’s education agency, is responsible for the oversight and monitoring of education. In DC, the state board has much less authority than similar boards have elsewhere. But we’re trying! In a March memo to OSSE (Office of the State Superintendent of Education), the Board called on OSSE to enhance what’s reported publicly about DC’s schools. Among the specifics that we called for:
**Reporting disaggregated achievement data (test scores) so that it’s possible to see how the city’s poorest and lowest-achieving students are faring.
**Studying the side effects of our state’s accountability system, especially reports of a narrowed curriculum and the loss of too much instructional time.
**Learning conditions, including school-by-school information on school climate, academic supports, teacher experience, and staff turnover.
**Budget transparency—especially about how funds targeted to at-risk students are used to support effective educational programs.

Next up on State Board Agenda: Should students who earn a high school equivalency certificate be awarded a DC high school diploma?
The State Board of Education is now considering this question. Currently, students who pass the GED exam or earn other equivalency certificates do not get a high school diploma. In our first set of hearings on this topic, (July15), we heard from leaders of the Academy of Hope and Next Step Public Charter School, two adult education charter schools that prepare students to take the GED or NEDP (National External Diploma Program) exams. These school leaders argue that the GED in particular has greatly raised its standards and that students who pass the exam possess skills and knowledge equivalent to their high school graduate peers. But, they say, these students, many of whom have overcome extraordinary obstacles to return to school, study, and pass the exam, are often discriminated against when they apply for jobs or 4-year college admission. (Community colleges typically welcome students with GED certificates.) According to these educators, fairness, as well as the ability of certificate earners to successfully move forward, requires that they should be awarded high school diplomas.
It’s a very compelling argument. On the other side, there is evidence from the National Bureau of Economic Research (though from before the GED raised its standards) that the ability to get a diploma via an equivalency certificate may encourage students to drop out, especially if schools have instituted higher standards, which DC has done in recent years. If you’re interested, you can view the Board’s hearing here. (The first portion is on proposed new health standards, followed by testimony on the new diploma.)
In the fall, the SBOE will conduct additional discussions at which we will hear from a wide variety of community voices and policy experts. If you have some knowledge or experience with this question, I’m very interested in hearing from you.

Happy Summer!!! If you want to keep up on DC/Ward 3 educational issues, follow me @ruth4schools. And, always feel free to email me at

June- Wilson Update: Thanks and congratulations to all! City Council appropri @ruth4schools

The City Council adopted its final budget yesterday, and the full $900,000 requested by Wilson leaders is included! Not only that, but the Council made clear that these funds were allocated to DCPS in order to assure (along with another priority), that Wilson got this full amount.

Congratulations to all—and especially to CM Mary Cheh!
Thanks to all of you who phoned and emailed Chairman Grosso. Thanks to all the parent leaders across all the schools that feed into Wilson High School who mobilized their own school’s parents, wrote, and testified. Thanks to the ANC’s that passed resolutions, testified, and visited Council members. Thanks to Wilson PTSO president Kim Bayliss and LSAT chairman and Jeffrey Kovar–and to Wendy Jacobson who helped lead a parent mobilization effort at Wilson. Also kudos to the folks at Wilson who made the decision early on to make the “ask” only for one-half of the lost per student funding.
A special, special thanks goes to Council member Mary Cheh, who has been totally and effectively on this without a break since the cut was first announced. Thanks to her efforts, Chairman Mendelson totally understood the importance of the issue and really took it on himself to make sure the money was found to restore the funds. Thanks, Chairman Mendelson! Thanks as well to Education Committee Chair David Grosso, who was able to put some extra money into the Education Committee budget two weeks ago, without which it would have been much harder to reach full restoration. And we are all indebted to Matt Frumin, who launched the very successful petition campaign that many of you signed and circulated and, through all of this, has provided information and analysis that everyone has used so effectively.
A special note to current and future Wilson parents: We have every reason to feel fully confident about the future of our high school. It is unfortunate that we have had to deal with the challenges of the last few months. But I think it’s clear that between our very strong community and our committed city leaders, Wilson’s future as an increasingly excellent school is secure!
Congratulations and thanks again!

Ruth Wattenberg,
Ward 3 Member, DC State Board of Education

Severe Wilson HS budget cut moves forward

May 7,  2015 Newsletter To get on my regular email list, please email me at

Today’s newsletter is heavy on the DC education budget!!! Now is the time to Contact Education Committee Chair David Grosso ( re: the Wilson budget cut! Also, two new education advocacy groups on the scene; how not to teach reading comprehension, reading comprehension; and School Events from Deal, Hardy, and Mann!

Severe 10% Wilson HS Budget Cut Moves Forward. Next Step is Up To City Council Education Chair David Grosso

As many of you know, DCPS’ proposed budget for the next school year singles Wilson High School out for a severe budget cut. The proposed cut of $350,000, combined with a projected enrollment increase of 176 students, will reduce per-student funding by 10%.

A terrific group of Wilson students–organized by PTA president Kim Bayliss–as well as Wilson’s LSAT chair Jeff Kovar and parent leaders from Murch and Shepherd, testified before the city council’s education committee (April 23), arguing forcefully for the funds to be restored. In response, Chairman Grosso agreed at the hearing that the Wilson budget cut needs to be addressed. He indicated his belief that DCPS Chancellor Henderson would, in fact, offer a solution when she testified in front of his committee the following week. I was optimistic when I left the hearing.

The response was disheartening. According to the Chancellor, no funding will be restored to Wilson. Instead, recognizing that the allocated funds are insufficient, DCPS will require that Wilson push out many of its out-of-bounds students, including by strictly enforcing a policy that dis-enrolls out-of bounds students with 10 absences. (Keep in mind: The way in which Wilson’s block scheduling policy interacts with DCPS’ scheduling policy means that students can be marked absent if they are just a little tardy—meaning in effect that students with one tardy a month can be kicked out.)

The Chancellor also testified that as the new school year approaches, if class size is a problem, DCPS will work with Wilson to find additional teachers at that time. But that just begs the question: We already know that the current allocation is inadequate to provide adequate staffing. Waiting until later just assures that the Wilson administration will be unable to plan properly and do the necessary hiring in a timely, responsible way.

Next week, the Council’s education committee will mark up the education budget. This is the time to reach out to Council Education Chair David Grosso  Or call at 202-724-8105. Please let him know that it is important to you that the Wilson budget get restored. He is an at-large Councilperson. You may have voted for him!!!

To see a collection of budget documents, go to the Wilson page of my website. I’ve posted letters to the Mayor and Chancellor from Councilwoman Cheh, Wilson parent leaders, and the Ward 3 –Wilson Feeder Education Network, as well as links to a web-based budget tool, a petition, and my testimony to the City Council.

Many schools are dropped from the modernization/renovation budget. Education Chairman Grosso seeks input on troubled process.

DC’s education spending includes an “operating” budget and a “capital” budget. Wilson is the target of the most devastating cut in a school operating budget. But many schools have been suddenly and without warning found cut from the capital budget. As a result, desperately needed modernizations and renovations at these schools have been further delayed, some of them for multiple years. As Chairman Grosso noted at the hearing, the way in which capital budget commitments have been made to schools, changed, and changed again year after year is not an appropriate or fair way to address the needs of schools.

Please click on this link to take the survey created by Chairman Grosso’s office and aid their effort to bring sanity to this system.

Great new tool for understanding the DCPS budget

Now you can see the facts for yourself! At the beginning of the budget debate, the “conventional wisdom” was that Wilson was losing so much money because DCPS was required to properly distribute a special allocation of funds for “at-risk” students made available by the city council. The suggestion was that somehow last year Wilson got more money than it should have to support education for its at-risk students and the proposed budget cut was just a righting of the ship.

This web-based budget tool gives the lie to that notion. Wilson got fewer dollars last year than it should have for its substantial at-risk population. Now that DCPS is being required by the City Council to properly distribute the at-risk funds, Wilson will receive more “at-risk” money than it did last year! Wilson’s very severe budget cut has nothing to do with the redirection of “at-risk” money. Wilson’s budget cut is due to a discretionary DCPS decision. With this tool, you can see where the money is going. You can look at the budgets of all schools across the city. You can also click on high schools to look at just the Wilson budget and other high schools.

Two new organizations to advocate for DC and Ward 3 schools

***Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities.

Newly founded to champion high-quality neighborhood schools in every DC neighborhood, this new group was founded by the ward-level education councils that exist in every DC ward and several city-wide education advocacy groups. Its first product is the terrific web-based budget tool, developed by Code for DC. As described above, which is providing DC residents the facts they need to understand, analyze, and critique the proposed DCPS budget.

In its prior, less formal incarnation, the group hosted a forum for mayoral candidates last fall and has called for greater budget transparency in school funding and better planning around school facilities. See here for C4DC’s 6 core principles. See here for its website.

***Ward 3 –Wilson Feeder Education Network

Launched by PTA and LSAT leaders from Ward 3 and Wilson feeder schools, this new group gives Ward 3 an organization that already has a counterpart in every other ward–a formal structure for sharing information and building relationships among ward schools and advocating for public school children in the ward and across the city. The group’s next meeting is Thursday May 14, 7PM, at Shepherd Park Library. You can follow the Network @W3EdNet and at

Reading Comprehension Requires Background Knowledge

Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham (my colleague on the board of the Core Knowledge Foundation) explains why a curriculum that focuses on “reading” while deemphasizing science, history, social studies and the arts actually hurts reading ability! He did a series of pieces for Washington/Post online. Here’s one of them.

School News

Heartbreak for Hardy  By a heartbreaking .2 seconds, Hardy’s incredible rocketry team lost its chance to be the first DCPS public school to get to the finals of the Team America Rocketry Challenge. The competition includes 689 teams, almost all high schools (while Hardy is a middle school), from around the country. Their .2 second loss was to Arlington’s famed science and tech magnet, Thomas Jefferson High School in Arlington. If you’re going to lose, that’s a pretty impressive team to lose to. Next year, Hardy!!

You might wonder, as I did: What does a rocketry team do to win a place in the national competition? According to Marcio Duffles, PTO president and team coach, “Design, build, and launch a rocket to a height of 800 feet, land within a window of 46 and 48 seconds and not break the “eggonaut” ????!!!!

Deal’s Spring Musical—Guys and Dolls

Three great shows: Thursday, May 7– 7PM/ Friday May 8—7PM/ Saturday May 9-2PM

Hardy’s “Night in Rio” Gala and Auction

May 15, 6:30-9:30pm. Hardy’s off and running with its first auction in six years! At the home of PTA president Marcio and Tracey Dufles-Andrade. 4770 Reservoir Rd. NW Additional parking available at the Lab School across fro the venue. To purchase tickets, Click here.

Horace Mann’s Summer Bash

June 8, 5-8pm. End the week with lots of family fun. Bring the kids–lots of games, lots of food, lots of fun!

Councilwoman Mary Cheh greets Wilson High School students testifying at City Council education committee hearing.
Wilson students address the DC city council's education committee.
Wilson students address the DC city council’s education committee.