December 2017 HTML Newsletter

December 2017

The terrible, heartbreaking story about Ballou should remind all of us that when there is inadequate oversight of our educational institutions, the losers are our kids, especially those whose educational needs are the greatest and whose families have the least political power.   

According to the WAMU report, most of the Ballou students who were awarded diplomas last summer had been absent from classes for over a month.  According to those interviewed, many students only passed their courses because of what teachers said was a grading policy that effectively prevents failure and, frankly, because teachers were pressured to give passing grades, raise lower grades, and because students were assigned to less-rigorous “credit recovery” classes.  According to the article, teachers who objected to these practices faced retaliation via negative evaluations which can lead to dismissal.  The biggest losers were the kids, who didn’t get the education they deserved and will likely struggle as a result and whose school’s reputation has now been tarred.

It’s important to note: all of this happened while city officials congratulated themselves on the city’s ever-rising graduation rates.  And, it happened only months after a Washington Post story reported that an unprecedented number of the school’s teachers (roughly a quarter) resigned mid-year.

It’s also important to note: none of these allegations should be new to anyone who pays attention.  These complaints have been in the media and have been formally presented to at least the City Council’s Education Committee, the State Board of Education (see public comments) on which I sit, and DCPS.  At the July 2017 meeting of the State Board of Education, Scott Goldstein, the leader of EmpowerEd, described the school culture he has experienced as one “where anything, including grade inflation, under-reporting suspensions, and more happens not because of bad people—but pressure to put impressive stats on a shiny brochure for next year or the next campaign.” (For his full testimony, see “public comments”, above.)

It’s also important to note: Comparable concerns have been raised about a much broader range of issues affecting a much broader range of schools–indeed, about our entire system of educational oversight. Last winter, the Washington Post reported that schools had altered their suspension data, at the same time that the school district was touting its lower suspension rates.  In June 2015, no less than the National Academy of Sciences (see below) reported to the DC City Council on our weak system of oversight. Concerns about the inadequacy of credit recovery courses and their role in lowering graduation standards have been raised in DC and around the country for some time.

The reality is that when the city switched to mayoral control of its schools a decade ago, it did not establish a viable mechanism for overseeing those schools.  Schools and teachers face strict accountability for reaching specific outcome metrics, whether for high school graduation, test score thresholds, attendance, or suspension.  But, there is no effective oversight for the institutions that oversee these schools–and no oversight of the processes that lead to the outcome data.  Were the high school graduation rates reached legitimately? the suspension data? the test score increases?  No independent entity is responsible for even looking.   In effect, we’ve outsourced educational accountability to the media.  That’s not how it should be.

But the greatest problem isn’t the wrongdoing that is not caught, it’s the unhealthy culture that results and the damaging effect that that culture has on our kids’ education.   When we richly reward schools and their system leaders for school outcomes–and the political leaders who take credit for those improvements—-while ignoring the processes that produce the outcomes, it assures that over time, the processes will be corrupted. As important, when we ignore the processes that produce genuine improvement (or for that matter far to produce great improvements), we also make it impossible to learn from what works.

We need an independent and broad (not just Ballou, not just graduation and attendance) review of what happened at Ballou.  But, more broadly, I hope that one result of this latest news is a more energetic conversation about the need for independent oversight, research and evaluation.

Let’s revisit what The National Academy of Sciences told us about these issues when it was asked to study DC’s educational governance under Mayoral Control.  In its 2015 report, the renowned Academy:

—questioned “whether the current oversight structure provides sufficient monitoring of the educational opportunities provided to students attending DCPS and charter schools through the city.” [ p197] It reported that “Of significant concerns is ….that no one entity has  has both the responsibility and the authority for monitoring the provision of education and supports for students, particularly those at risk for school failure, across both the DCPS and charter schools. ”  It found that “Oversight of the ways all public schools are addressing the needs of these students is variable and in some cases minimal.”  [p201]

— raised specific concerns about how outcomes were reported, noting that it “did not have the data needed” [p 202] to understand student outcomes, noting in particular that “Publicly available reports [of DC CAS] often highlight only the overall proficiency rate…. [which] can mask important changes in the performance of the lowest scoring students and disparities in achievement among student groups…”[p204]

–noted that the lack of oversight and credible, adequate data existed for both sectors.   The NAS noted specifically that its “committee could find very little information about learning conditions in charter schools because many types of information are not collected systematically for this sector. We found slightly more information about DCPS schools but still saw many gaps in the information needed.” [p201]

-called for the city “to establish institutional arrangements that will support ongoing independent [italics mine] evaluation of its education system;” to assure that “the evaluation entity should have sufficient resources to collect and analyze primary data, including at the school level, rather than being entirely dependent on city-generated and administrative data”; and assure that “All products by the entity should undergo rigorous peer review. [p207]

–recommended that the city would “benefit from having access to ongoing independent evaluations of its progress….   Other cities including Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York, have programs that provide independent data collection analysis.  Each is structured differently, and their examples may e useful to DC.” [p207]

–calls for the city to “establish institutional arrangements that will support ongoing independent evaluation of its education system.” [p207]

The issues of research, evaluation, accurate data, transparency, and oversight are critical for improving our schools.   Here are articles that I’ve written on these topics since being elected to the State Board of Education three years ago, including an article for City Paper written in collaboration with my School Board colleague from Ward 8, Markus Batchelor.

What we need to know about our schools.  Washington Post 2015

What DC test scores don’t tell us. Washington Post, September 2016

Memo to the DC Chancellor: Enough with the mandates and rosy data.  Our recommendations for really raising student achievement,. with Markus Batchelor, SBOE rep from Ward 8. City Paper, August 2017

Why we should change how we report PARCC scores: An innocent error shows how city test score reports can mislead, Ruth’s Newsletter, October, 2017

My testimony before the City Council in favor of an independent research entity, spring 2016

See also, How can we close our persistent education achievement gaps in DC, by SBOE members from Wards 2 and 6, Jack Jacobson and Joe Weedon. Greater, Greater Washington, October 2017

Plus, relevant excerpts from City Paper article, with Ward 8 SBOE representative Markus Batchelor

A Memo to the DC Public Schools Chancellor

by Markus Batchelor and Ruth Wattenberg, Ward 8 and Ward 3 members of the DC State Board Of Education

lead article in City Paper, Aug 3, 2017, For the full article, click here

Enough with the mandates and rosy data.  Our recommendations for really raising student achievement. 

Most people don’t realize it, but the high schools in Wards 8 and 3—Anacostia, Ballou, and Wilson—and the elementary and middle schools that “feed their students to these schools enroll a near-majority of all students in DCPS neighborhood schools. In the school year that just ended, there wee 9144 students enrolled in those Ward 8 schools and 9703 in Ward 3’s. Citywide, DCPS neighborhood schools enrolled 43,389. It’s no secret that Ward 8 is the lowest-income ward and Ward 3 the highest. They are two very different communities, with divergent student and family populations. Nonetheless, and perhaps surprisingly to some, our concerns about our schools—in Wards 8 and 3, respectively, where we are the elected State Board of Education members–and for the system as a whole are quite similar.  As Board members, we have a special opportunity to meet, visit, and interact regularly with the families, teachers, principals, and staff who depend on and work in the DCPS schools across the city.     

Solutions to one perceived set of problems have a way of producing a new generation of problems. So it is with our school system. As our new chancellor prepares to release his new strategic plan in the next few weeks, he faces a different set of challenges from his predecessors. And so his agenda must be distinct. We are optimistic about the leadership and ideas that Chancellor Antwan Wilson is bringing to our schools, but we have some advice.

            “The past two chancellors inherited a school system suffering from horribly low student achievement. They were charged with taking urgent action. As they saw it, the core of the problem behind low achievement was inadequate teachers and principals—and, more broadly, a culture of low expectations where poverty was blamed for students’ failure. The reform agenda of these chancellors was clear: There was a laser-focus on identifying and removing inadequate teachers and principals and replacing them with better ones. The relatively lax system was tightened with a stream of mandates from central office. Evaluation criteria emphasized test scores and adherence to particular teaching and operating approaches. For a long time, a high-quality curriculum was an afterthought.

How successful this agenda has been is subject to debate. While average scores have risen, leading the district to be “the fastest growing urban school district in the country,” the rise is at least partly due to gentrification: The 8th grade reading and math scores of our poorest students have hardly budged. After 10 years of aggressive education reform under Mayoral control, the achievement and opportunity gaps across race and wealth have gotten wider.

      “Therefore, the DCPS reform agenda must change. There is consensus that successful schools—especially those with the lowest-income children—have, and depend on strong, supportive, trusting school cultures in which staff members hold high expectations for all students; where all staff are constantly improving and encouraged to recognize, understand and solve problems that are impeding achievement. Such schools can thrive only in districts that give them the autonomy to do what’s needed –and where data and research, good and bad, are transparent and welcome because they show whether progress is actually being made or whether improvement strategies need to be adjusted..….

     For the full article, click here

January 12 (2016) Newsletter HTML

January 12 Newsletter! Happy New Year to all!

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

Events: “Rosenwald Schools” Film; Ward 3-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 (2016) newsletter

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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 (2015) 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 (2015)

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

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 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: Visit


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 and your at-large city council members, Anita Bonds, David Grosso (chairman of the education committee), and Elissa Silverman

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, 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.


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


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


Please feel free to pass this newsletter on…

PARCC and State Board of Education Meeting (3/18/15)

PARCC assessment:  DC’s new student assessments are now being administered for the first time.  For basic information on the tests, questions and answers, and helpful, interesting links (including links to sample questions!), see my new  PARCC page by clicking here or on the PARCC button on the top navigation.  How is it going in your school?  As part of its work, the board will be reviewing the PARCC and its administration.  Please let me know your impressions. —

Next Public Meeting of State Board of Education: Wednesday, March 18, 5:30 PM at 1 Judiciary Square.  The Board meetings are regularly held on the 4th Wednesday of each month at the same time and place

A key piece of Board business will be to discuss the bureaucratically named “ESEA waiver.”  Despite its bureaucratic name, this waiver is the main current opportunity for DC to reconsider certain aspects of how it holds schools (and, to a lesser extent, staff) accountable.  For more on what the waiver is and does, see the blog post on the right, which also includes links to other sites relevant to the waiver.  Among the issues that the Board will consider as it reviews the waiver renewal:

–a one-year pause on using the scores from the new PARCC test for high stakes decisions such as the classification of schools and the evaluation of staff.

–a new formula for judging school progress and effectiveness, which would put greater weight on how much student achievement improves over a given year and less weight to students’ performance status (meaning whether a student scores at a “basic,” “proficient,” or other level).

–adding additional information to school report cards, including such information as the availability of a school nurse and the existence of extracurricular activities.

Comments?  Please email me at

What is the “Waiver Renewal”?

Background on the waiver renewal: The Office of the State Superintendent of Education has (DC’s state education agency, known as OSSE) launched its effort earlier this year to solicit public input on what’s formally called the “ESEA waiver renewal.” For the most up to date version of OSSE’s proposal, click here.

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. 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
• How it assists schools that are struggling
• How it can help schools with lower-achieving students to attract and retain excellent teachers