October (2016) newsletter

To get on my regular email list, email ruth4schools@yahoo.com. Follow me on twitter @ruth4schools. Email me at ruth4schools@yahoo.com.

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 engagedcps.org.

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 (2015) newsletter

To get on my regular email list, email ruth4schools@yahoo.com. Follow me on twitter @ruth4schools.  Email me at ruth4schools@yahoo.com.

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 ruth4schools@yahoo.om. 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 https://idmsprdweb.dc.gov/manage/index.jsf.

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. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/all-opinions-are-local/wp/2015/08/27/what-we-need-to-know-about-d-c-schools/
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 Parcconline.org.

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 ruth4schools@yahoo.com. 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, http://dme.dc.gov/collaboration

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 http://sboe.dc.gov/release/dc-state-board-education-seeks-student-representatives-and-student-advisory-committee

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

Severe Wilson HS budget cut moves forward (2015)

May 7,  2015 Newsletter To get on my regular email list, please email me at ruth4schools@yahoo.com

Today’s newsletter is heavy on the DC education budget!!! Now is the time to Contact Education Committee Chair David Grosso (dgrosso@dccouncil.us) 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 dgrosso@dccouncil.us.  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. http://www.davidgrosso.org/grosso-analysis/2015/4/29/cip-priorities-fy1

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 www.facebook.com/W3EdNet.

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.

April 2015 HTML Newsletter

Newsletter, April 7, 2015

Lots of school news! Budget cuts proposed for Wilson… State Board of Education calls for study of over-testing and curriculum narrowing… Language Immersion Schools… Parent Cabinet… PARCC Comments?

Quick Communications Logistics: Some of you are receiving this on a listserve; others as an email. If you’re reading this on a listserve and would like to receive a regular email, please send me an email at ruth4schools@yahoo.com. If you’re receiving this as an email and don’t want to be on the regular email list, you should send me an email asking to be taken off the list!

 I’ve also started tweeting. Follow me @ruth4schools  Email: ruth4schools@yahoo.com. Visit http://ruth4schools.com


Proposed budget cuts at Wilson—

The proposed budget for Wilson High School has been severely cut at the same time that its projected enrollment is up. It amounts to a 10.5% per pupil spending cut from last year.  This is likely the largest cut proposed for any school and means that Wilson will likely have the lowest per pupil spending in the city.  For information on the cuts and their likely effect, please see this letter from Wilson’s PTA president and LSAT  to Mayor Bowser and this one from Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh to DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

Take action

1) email Mayor Bowser eom@dc.gov and your at-large city council members, Anita Bonds abonds@dccouncil.us, David Grosso dgrosso@dccouncil.us (chairman of the education committee), and Elissa Silverman esilverman@dccouncil.us.

2) consider testifying at the City Council when it holds its hearing on the DCPS budget on April 23, 10AM.  If you’re interested in testifying, contact: Christina Henderson, chenderson@dccouncil.us or by calling 202-724-8191.

3) sign this petition–and also consider circulating it to friends and colleagues, including those outside of Ward 3.  http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-wilson-high-school.html


State Board of Education Adopts “ESEA Waiver Report,” calling for a review of the side effects of DC’s accountability system, enhanced school report cards, more meaningful reporting of test scores

The No Child Left Behind law requires every state (and for this purpose DC is a state!) to adopt academic standards for each grade, to administer annual tests in reading and math, to report these test scores by school and subgroup, and hold schools accountable for student achievement.  NCLB required schools to get 100% of their students to the “proficient” level by 2014 or face sanctions. Given that the 100% threshold is, practically speaking, an impossible goal (at least if you maintain a high standard), the Department of Education allows states to apply for “waivers” of the law.  In return for adopting its own accountability system (that meets a number of federal guidelines), a state can get a waiver of certain NCLB rules. DC applied for and received such a waiver several years ago.  It’s now time for DC to apply for a renewal.  The renewal is handled through DC’s state education agency, the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE). OSSE has filed an initial waiver request and will make additional amendments later, after further discussions.

The State Board of Education thinks this is the right opportunity to revisit several aspects of our accountability system.  I was the chair of the SBOE committee on the Waiver Renewal.  The committee  recommended, and the full SBOE adopted, a set of recommendations that we hope OSSE will include as it pursues our city’s waiver renewal. You can see the full report here.  Some highlights are:

**Examine the side effects of DC’s accountability system—specifically, the excessive time spent on testing and test prep and the narrowing of the curriculum, especially in elementary grades, to the heavily tested subjects, meaning that history-social studies, science and the arts get squeezed out.  And, establish a task force to figure out how we can promote these subjects.

**Enhance the state report cards to or provide a broader view of school quality.  These report cards are heavily relied on by parents as they choose schools for their kids, and they send a signal to schools about what is regarded as important.

**More transparent, relevant reporting of key school data.

What do you think about these issues? Your responses will help determine how we pursue these issuesPlease email me here.

For a great piece on the growing interest in the connection between high-level reading comprehension and students’ knowledge of history-social studies, science, and the arts, see this article by Natalie Wexler in Greater, Greater Washington.  


Interested in getting DCPS to open up more language immersion programs? There’s an app a group for that.

            The DC Immersion Project wants DCPS to open up more language immersion schools.  Its leaders argue that lottery results show that parents want these programs.  Find out more here.   I’ve certainly heard this from a lot of parents!!!


DCPS Parent Cabinet—Congratulations to new members!

DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson has named a new Parent Cabinet, charged with discussing policies and programs with the chancellor over the next year.

Special call-out to the new members from Ward 3 and/or with kids in Ward 3 schools—Andre Carter and Thomas Strike (Stoddert); Vivian Guerra and Sweta Shah (Oyster-Adams); Corinne McIntosh Douglas (SWW), Michael Koppenheffer (Lafayette/Deal).  Click here for their bio’s.


Parents/Teachers:  What was your experience with PARCC???

According to the reports that I’ve gotten, the PARCC testing went pretty smoothly at most schools.  The big exception has been Wilson, where the logistics were very challenging.  I’m interested in any specific reports, good or bad, that you can share with me.  I’ll be passing them on at the right point so they can inform improvements next year. Email your comments to ruth4schools@yahoo.com.


Happy Holidays to those who celebrate Easter and Passover, and Happy Spring, finally, to all!


Please feel free to pass this newsletter on…

Jan 29 Newsletter: “Waiver,” new SBOE officers, Reno school opening

Hi All,
I was elected to DC’s State Board in November, sworn in on January 2, and attended my first formal meeting last week. With this note, I hope to begin regular communication with all of you. Below are announcements, requests, news, and so forth. Over time, I expect to have more information and links on my website, and I’m also figuring out how much, and what, to put in regular newsletters/listserve posts. Please consider all of this a work in progress!
Quick Communications Logistics: Some of you are receiving this on a listserve; others as an email. If you’re reading this on a listserve and would like to receive a regular email, please send me an email at ruth4schools@yahoo.com. If you’re receiving this as an email and don’t want to be on the regular email list, you should send me an email asking to be taken off the list!

New Officers of the DC State Board of Education
At our first official meeting, held last week, the DC State Board Members elected our officers for the year. The president of the Board is now Jack Jacobson, board member from Ward 2; the new vice-president is Karen Williams, board member from Ward 7. Congratulations to both of them! And, thanks to outgoing president Mark Jones from Ward 5 and outgoing vice-president Mary Lord, the Boards’ at-large member. The website for the State Board of Education is OSSE.dc.gov

Revisiting DC’s Accountability and Support Framework: The “waiver renewal”
Monday evening (Jan 26), the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) launched its effort to solicit public input on what’s formally called the “ESEA waiver renewal” with a meeting for stakeholders at the OSSE office.
You may wonder: What is the “ESEA waiver renewal” and what does it mean to get it renewed? Under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now known as the No Child Left Behind Act), (virtually) every child in every school needed to test at the “proficient” level by 2014—or the school could be sanctioned in various ways, including being shut down. Since virtually no school could meet this standard, the federal Department of Education offered each state the chance to file a “waiver” that could exempt its schools from this 100% requirement.
To get the waiver, the state education agency had to make commitments to the federal ED about how it would hold schools in its state accountable for improving student achievement and how it would help low-achieving schools to improve. DC (like most states) applied for and got a waiver several years ago. The waiver is now about to expire, so OSSE has to apply for a renewal. As part of its application, OSSE can revisit the commitments it made.
At Monday’s meeting, interim state superintendent Amy Maisterra indicated that OSSE has learned a good deal about what works and what doesn’t from its previous waiver and may revisit such issues as:

• The basis for evaluating student achievement
• The basis for categorizing schools and the names for those categories (Currently: Reward, Rising, Developing, Priority, and Focus)
• How it assists schools that are struggling
• How it can help schools with lower-achieving students to attract and retain excellent teachers

A series of additional public meetings will be held by OSSE and the State Board of Education to discuss these issues. Community meetings will be held around the city on Feb 12 (Ward 2), 21 (W6), 28 (W1), and Mar 7 (W8). If you would like to be on a special mailing list for ongoing information on the waiver, please email me at ruth4schools@yahoo.com, with waiver info on the subject line.

Celebrate the Opening of Deal’s new Jesse Reno School addition! The Deal Local School Advisory team invites the whole community: It’s tonight, Thursday Jan 29, 6:30-8:30 pm. Use the school’s main entrance to enter.

Wilson High School Principal Selection If you’ve been following the news at all, you know that DCPS did not renew the contract for Principal Cahall of Wilson High School; subsequently, in December, Mr. Cahall resigned, effective immediately. DCPS has launched its principal selection process.  Dan Shea, the DCPS instructional superintendent for Wilson, spoke to the Wilson community on January 14 to discuss the selection process.  According to Shea, DCPS is committed to a very aggressive search. Final candidates will be interviewed by a panel that includes parents from Wilson and its feeder schools; teachers; and a community member. The panel will make a recommendation to the DCPS Chancellor.

January 20

New chair of DC City Council’s Education Committee—David Grosso.  The new Chair was named by the Council earlier this month. Shortly after his naming, David Grosso held an open house for education advocates around the city. It was extremely well attended, with lots of good questions. In response to a question from Martha McIntosh, president of the Murch Home-School Association, Chairman Grosso made clear that his priority for school renovation were those schools that were over-capacity. That should be good news for Murch, which is busting at the seams and hasn’t been renovated for 80 years!

News as of December 2014

State Board of Education tables votes on GED and Competency based Education. As many of you may know, at its final 2014 meeting, the SBOE tabled a proposal to change DC’s high school graduation rules. Here’s the Washington Post article about it. The proposal had been put forward by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. Among the changes the proposal called for were:

Allowing DC residents who pass the GED to get a DC high school diploma
Eliminating the Carnegie unit as the sole way to earn high school credit and instead allowing schools to propose different ways in which high school students can earn class credit
Allowing students to accelerate their earning by testing out of courses if they can demonstrate their mastery of the course content.
Members of the Board voiced both support for and concerns with various aspects of the proposal. In the end, Board members voted unanimously against it because there had not been adequate time for either the SBOE or the public to consider the proposals. For more on this issue, click here.

National Association of State Boards of Education study group on Career Readiness. I’ve been named to this group. This will be a great opportunity for me to learn more about how our DC high schools can better prepare our students for the work world, an issue that has been and will be on the State Board’s agenda. My thanks to Mary Lord, the at-large member of DC’s State School Board and incoming President of NASBE, for nominating me!

NEXT SBOE meeting: The next Working Meeting is January 7 at 4:30. The next Public Meeting is Jan. 21 at 5PM. Despite their names, both meetings are in fact “public.” The Public meeting includes actual votes; the Working meeting includes presentations and discussions of upcoming issues. Both are held at 441 4th St NW, where the State Board offices are located.