Betsy Wolf Testimony – Special Committee COVID-19 Recovery and COW Hearing: DC Ed After COVID-19 – May 26, 2021

Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery

and the

Committee of the Whole

Joint Public Oversight Hearing

The District’s Public Education System After the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 26, 2021

Good morning, Councilmembers, and thank you for the opportunity to testify. My name is Betsy Wolf, and I’m testifying as both a DCPS parent, and as an education researcher.

First, I want to talk briefly about what we know about the impact of Covid-19 on students’ learning outcomes. Across the country, we have generally seen decreases in learning according to multiple progress monitoring assessments, but this impact has not been experienced equally. Students appear to be more impacted in math than in reading, which may be because reading is more connected to students’ opportunities at home. We have also observed a disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on students’ learning. In DC, EmpowerK12 found large reductions in test scores for students classified as “at-risk” relative to pre-Covid norms. On the other hand, researchers have found less severe or even minimal effects of Covid-19 on test scores for affluent students. Some researchers have even estimated that some students have gained during Covid-19 relative to prior historical trends, possibly due to increased parental support or a homeschooling effect. However, we likely have no idea what the real impact is due to the most vulnerable students missing from the data.

Because the impacts of Covid-19 have been disproportionate, the solutions must also be targeted to the student populations who need them the most. Which brings me to high-dose tutoring, the intervention that everyone is talking about. Tutoring is one of the most promising educational interventions because it has consistently shown large and positive effects on student achievement, particularly for elementary school students and students struggling academically. Interventions that have the greatest impact are typically those offered directly to students, such as tutoring.

We know that tutoring has been proven to be effective in improving student achievement in the past IF:

  • Tutoring is offered one-on-one or in very small groups of students
  • Tutoring is provided by a paid adult, such as a licensed teacher or paraprofessional
  • Tutoring occurs frequently and is sustained over time with the same tutor
  • Tutoring is offered in addition to (and not in place of) core instructional time
  • Tutoring has a formal structure, where adults are trained and supported
  • Tutoring is informed by progress monitoring data on student performance
  • Tutoring is offered during the school day, when students are most likely to be present at school

But let me offer a slightly different perspective. High-dose tutoring isn’t new for some DC schools. Many schools have been serving students who are behind grade level for years, and many have been doing this quite effectively. I would argue that you might be surprised about the extent to which DC educators may be already aware of “high-dose tutoring” although schools may call it something else. The problem is that schools need more resources to do this effectively. Schools need additional staff to provide tutoring for multiple small groups of students during the school day. Covid-19 exacerbates the need because there will likely be even more students who need additional academic supports next year, and these students are likely to be concentrated at specific schools in DC.

Which brings me to what DC plans to do to address the disproportionate impact of Covid-19. What is the plan? What is DC going to do differently next year for schools serving students most impacted by Covid-19? Is DC going to provide additional funds or redirect resources to schools to provide tutoring or other supports? Because last I checked, DC’s traditional public schools (DCPS) were provided with pre-pandemic levels of staffing and told that there would no additional resources. Let me be clear: Are we really going to do nothing extra or different for kids next year? Are we really going to say, let’s pretend like this is any other school year, good luck? Because that is what has happened to date, and that is unacceptable.

The good news is that LEAs will receive additional federal monies, but how LEAs spend this money is so critically important. We need to get supplemental resources to schools, and the resources need to be allocated to schools equitably, not equally. We can’t have more of the same, top-down and autocratic budgeting approaches. We also can’t have new flashy initiatives that don’t have educator buy-in. No matter how good an initiative sounds, if educators don’t buy-in and do the work of carrying out the intervention, it will not work. We also need to honor the expertise that educators bring to the table. They have been doing this work, oftentimes thankless work, day in and day out for years. We also do not yet fully understand the implications of Covid-19. Schools might face different challenges than in years past, which may require different resources. Any decisions about how to allocate funds should directly involve school principals about what they think they need in their buildings to be successful to address their students’ needs, and these conversations need to be timely and ongoing.

Thank you for your time.

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