Nomination of Lewis Ferebee for DCPS Chancellor
Testimony of Scott Goldstein
Executive Director, EmpowerEd
Chairman Mendelson and Committee Chair Grosso,
My name is Scott Goldstein, former DC teacher and Executive Director of the teacher leadership organization EmpowerEd. The fundamental question about this nomination should be whether the nominee has the experience and perhaps more importantly, the courage, to take on tough and politically perilous challenges in order to make the changes our students deserve. Our city’s achievement and opportunity gaps have only grown in the past decade, so accepting the current approach or nibbling around the edges of change is simply unacceptable. If we believe in equity, we cannot accept a system where those furthest from opportunity have to travel the farthest for it, instead of investing in every neighborhood school and listening to the educators who serve our students every day for a fundamentally different approach.
EmpowerEd is focused on elevating diverse teacher voices and retaining great teachers. As part of our work, our teacher action groups have outlined several key areas where we need a different approach. First, if we care deeply about our youth furthest from opportunity- we cannot be okay with persistent segregation in our public schools. The chancellor in New York has engaged with students, parents and educators to have tough conversations and make tough decisions. Is this chancellor prepared to do that? We simply cannot bring about equity if our schools remain this segregated.
Second, if we care about building literacy, we must accept the overwhelming research that in fact it is increased exposure to deep content knowledge (and not doubling down on time in explicit reading and writing instruction) that builds literacy. We have to prioritize social studies, science, elective study and the arts.
Third, we must prioritize authentic investment and implementation of restorative approaches to discipline- showing that we prioritize time in, not out of the classroom and we value all of our students lives equally.
Fourth, if we believe in democratic schools, we should distribute leadership, engage the public as decision-makers, not a box to check, and be fully transparent about our successes and our setbacks. I was encouraged to hear Acting Chancellor Ferebee say just a couple days ago “transparency builds trust.” That’s the approach we need.
And finally we must prioritize the retention of our educators, especially our teachers of color.
National education experts recognize teacher turnover as the canary in the coalmine of an unsustainable culture and system. The new Chancellor must show he understands and is ready to address teacher turnover and the culture that creates it. Washington, D.C. has among the highest teacher turnover rates in the country, far surpassing the teacher attrition rates in comparable urban settings. 25 % of teachers leave their school each year in both sectors, with 70 % leaving DCPS schools within five years. These rates are even worse in our highest-poverty, lowest-performing DCPS schools where 33 % of teachers leave each year on average, with many schools surpassing 40 %.
In particular, D.C. schools have seen a decrease in the number of teachers of color working in our schools in the past decade since reform efforts were implemented in 2007 and new evaluation policies were implemented in 2009. DC has experienced the largest drop in black teachers and largest increase of white teachers of any urban education system, and despite a growing Latinx population, only 7 % of DCPS teachers are Latinx. Without a consistent and diverse workforce, student achievement and growth suffer and we cannot sustain progress. When black students living in poverty have at least one black teacher in elementary school, they are between 30 to 40 % less likely to drop out, and are significantly more likely to go to college. This is an issue of equity. Growing up in a suburban school district I could expect teachers I knew in elementary school would still be there when I graduated. For me, that meant relationships, college recommendations, access to outside opportunities and positive adult mentors in my life. Our young people here in DC deserve the same, and frankly, the students I taught for the past decade, need more than I did positive adult mentors in their life that stay and build trusting relationships.
Contrary to long-held talking points, the data shows we’re also losing the teachers that even our evaluation system labels effective, with more than 50 % of the teacher attrition in the last 5 years being among those labeled “effective” and “highly effective.” In addition, teacher turnover across the board costs districts on average $20,000 per teacher. That money is spent on recruitment, onboarding and re-training new teachers, instead of deepening our investments in students. Put simply, if we want to invest directly in students, we have to reduce the financial drain (and loss of experience and expertise) of severe teacher turnover.
I implore the council to ask tough questions about how the chancellor nominee with work to truly integrate our schools- not by moving bodies alone, but by truly de-segregating and bringing equity to our communities. And second, how will he change the culture of the system, value educators, retain them, and invest in the future of our kids. Teachers are ready to inform that work and we need a chancellor who will listen to the voices of our primary practitioners. We look forward to DCPS’s next chancellor engaging with us in this work to elevate teacher voice and retain great teachers in DC. Thank you.