Chairman and Councilmembers. I am Sandra Moscoso, a parent of two students at School Without Walls High School, president of the school’s Home and School Association, secretary of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization, and treasurer of the Ward 2 Education Council.
A lot has gone wrong this year, but I want to focus on where we have found success and what we need in order to ensure the remainder of this year is less chaotic. I also want to focus on ensuring that schools have what they need to support learning, social, and emotional recovery over the years to follow.
An incredible amount of time was wasted fighting over reopening due to lack of transparency by DCPS and in turn, lack of trust from teachers and school communities. It was not until teachers, administrators, and communities were brought into the planning (in December) that reopening plans gained traction, and reflected the needs of the schools. I hope DCPS and other education agencies will learn from this.
DCPS central office must empower principals and teachers. School staff are directly accountable to students and families and they must be the ones to drive the design of learning, social, and emotional programming. Empowering means administrators have time to give input BEFORE plans are announced to the city and cause confusion. Empowering means ensuring school leaders have the tools and resources to implement their plans, and it means supporting principals and teachers publicly. This last bit is particularly important in the environment where the public undermining of teachers by the Mayor and Chancellor has fractured trust in schools and has left many families feeling confused, powerless, and unhappy.
This is an oversight hearing, but it’s no secret our schools are set to endure system-wide cuts to school staff in SY22 due to inadequate budgets. Council cannot let this happen, particularly when DC is poised to receive $400 million that can be used through SY23, and it is entirely up to DCPS to use those funds for staff.
Schools should open their doors (or e-classrooms, depending on health and safety) with robust and familiar instructional staff, equitable access to technology, opportunities for students to pursue interests and build relationships, and most importantly – mental health resources to help students cope with current and ongoing stressors. Programs like Decoding Dyslexia and the original outdoor classroom, Foodprints, must also be funded.
The Office of State Superintendent for Education must also do its part by giving the public access to decision-useful data on attendance, mobility, teacher retention, and beyond. Administrators, together with school communities can use this to learn from each other, and to better design academic, SEL and enrichment programming customized for their students’ needs. I support an independent OSSE to better serve our students.
[And it’s not in my written testimony, but we need more transparency around school reopening data related to testing.]
As an education finance lawyer, a budget and policy analyst, and a DCPS parent, I have studied DCPS data and policies for 40 years. Below are results of some of my analyses.
Three weeks ago, DCPS posted proposed local school budgets for next year. A small group of us has downloaded and converted them to spreadsheet, and are still working on systemwide analyses. Preliminary results (numbers may change for a few schools) are that 49 of 115 schools will lose funding. One quarter of these have very small or no enrollment loss. As in previous years, school buying power is down. The average increase is 1.2% while the average teacher cost is rising 1.5%, administrators over 2%, aides 12%, office staff over 13%. No wonder parents are angry about cutting staff.
For many years I have categorized DCPS employees by a consistent set of definitions based on whether or not they serve students directly, which is what most of the public want to know when they ask about central office or “administration.”1 The number of central office employees has decreased a little recently, but is still much higher than in years much earlier when enrollment was much higher. Surely some of that cost could go to services in the schools. The number of central office full-time equivalent staff performing the same functions that DCPS now performs rose from 516 in 1981, when we had 95,000 students to 626 in 2007, when we had 52,000, and as of last month to 705 for 50,000. They include 4 Executive Directors, 9 Chiefs, 24 Deputy Chiefs, 75 Directors, 165 Managers and 41 Analysts. The system needs some number of these officials, and those who are good are worth a great deal. But do we really need 35 Executive Directors, Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs? 165 Managers?
1The source is personnel department lists of DCPS employees, obtained by FOIA or from submissions to the D.C. Board of Education (before FY 2008) or to the DC Council (since FY 2008), based on office of employment, program codes, job title, purpose of applicable grant funding, and DCPS website descriptions. Employees performing functions subsequently transferred or contracted out are excluded in the earlier year calculations.
Academic progress is limited, and at-risk students have benefited least from efforts since the mayoral takeover. In the decade after 2007, the District spent an average of 25% more per pupil in inflation adjusted dollars than in the decade before. Yet DC schools made greater progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment in the decade before the mayoral takeover than in the ten years after. The larger NAEP score increases that occurred before 2007 took place in all subgroups—low income, black, Hispanic, and special education. Increases since have largely belonged to whites and the well-to-do.
The same has been the case with PARCC scores: low scores for at risk and minority group students, and worse for special education students. The lowest achieving groups are black males, at-risk students, and special education students. PARCC score proficiency rates average 18.5% for black males, 17.6% for at-risk students and 8.9% for special education students. In most of our non-selective high schools only a handful of individual students perform at the “college and career ready level.” Scores on both tests inched up again last year, but achievement gaps between low-income and other students were huge and unchanged. Scores on both tests inched up again last year, but achievement gaps between low-income and other students were huge and unchanged.2 At the current rate of improvement – 2-3% annually – scores for these groups will remain pitifully low for years.
Due to the pandemic, the most recent test scores are from 2019.
NAEP results are similar. A sample below:
Although poverty and societal racism generally are factors generally, schools are responsible for at least two factors within their control, the failure to use much of the funding intended for at-risk, special education and English Language Learner students for them, and the continuing churn of principals, teachers, and funding in local schools, particularly those serving these students. Surely we could speed rates of improvement by dealing with the following:
At-risk funds too often supplant rather than supplement other funds. The at-risk funds added by the Council seven years ago are allocated at the same amount per at-risk pupil at every school, but according to my analyses, in the current year about 40% of at-risk funding in the school budgets supplanted base funds, in contravention of governing law. The level at which supplanting occurs varies enormously from school to school, and those whose funds are used this way have less, sometimes almost no extra resources dedicated to at-risk students. The DC Auditor has made detailed findings on this subject, based on FY 2018 figures, see https://dcauditor.org/report/d-c-schools-shortchange-at-risk-students/
Mental health services. DCPS uses some at risk funds for mental health professionals, most if not all of whom perform special education services required by law, hence not extra services eligible for at-risk funding. But even with at-risk funds included, the DC Auditor has found that DCPS adjusts funding needed for social workers and psychologists “downward in most cases” at least in low-income schools: 23 schools with the largest concentrations of at-risk students were funded for only 63% of required social worker/psychologist positions, while 19 schools with the lowest concentrations were funded for 125% of their required positions. https://dcauditor.org/report/d-c-schools-shortchange-at-risk-students/, pp. 16-22.
Local school budgets have been unstable and otherwise problematic. Individual school funding goes up and down from one year to the next, frustrating the continuity of programming and upsetting staff retention. The situation is exacerbated by the failure of funding to keep up with inflation and enrollment increase. In addition, when funding for special needs (special education, ELL, at risk, and Title I) is filtered out, there are variations among schools of thousands of dollars per student unrelated to academic or other student needs. Such discrepancies are displayed in the C4DC interactive web tool for FY 2021, http://dcpsbudget.ourdcschools.org/. I have a spreadsheet with pairs of schools in various parts of the city with the same enrollment, but differences of roughly $2,000 per pupil in their general education allocations.
“Highly effective” teachers are less available to low-income students. The schools with the highest percentage of teachers rated “highly effective” by the IMPACT system in 2018-19 were in Ward 2 (60%) and Wards 3 and 6 (54%). The schools with the smallest percentage of “highly effective teachers” were those with the highest percentages of at-risk students: Wards 5 and 8 (35%) and Ward 7 (36%). Figures in previous years are similar; figures for last year are not public. See DCPS responses from last year’s Public Oversight Hearings.
Staff instability in schools with the highest percentages of at-risk students. As with teacher turnover generally, these schools have seen a recent dip in staff departures, but still suffer compared to schools where 20% or fewer of the students are at-risk – 30% in the former compared to 20% in the latter over time. They have also changed principals more often.
High principal turnover continues but has dipped in the last five years to about 16% compared to 25% in the preceding five years, a rate that is comparable to national averages but is still problematic, especially given the critical role of principals in all aspects of school performance. Turnover is considerably higher in schools with higher levels of at-risk students. Research finds that principals need about five years to improve their schools’ performance, but only 48 of 117 DCPS schools as of this year had principals with tenures of 5 years or more. Moreover, while 88% of schools in Wards 2 and 3 have such principals, only 31% of schools in Wards 5, 7 and 8 have principals who have last that long.
Parents and community have pleaded with DCPS for improvement on all these issues with little movement. We need the Council to play its part in advancing the school system in a more constructive direction. Our schools need support and critical friends.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
1 The source is personnel department lists of DCPS employees, obtained by FOIA or from submissions to the D.C. Board of Education (before FY 2008) or to the DC Council (since FY 2008), based on office of employment, program codes, job title, purpose of applicable grant funding, and DCPS website descriptions. Employees performing functions subsequently transferred or contracted out are excluded in the earlier year calculations.
2 There was a small improvement in NAEP 4th grade math proficiency, but 8th grade gaps were worse. All gaps are much larger than they were before 2007.
3 These figures are for the entire ET-15 workforce, including counselors, librarians, social workers, etc., but numbers are almost the same for classroom teachers at both the system and school levels.
My name is Grace Hu. I am a DCPS parent and one of the co-leads for the Digital Equity in DC Education parent coalition. Since 2018, we’ve advocated for technology funding and a comprehensive technology plan that outlines how DCPS will fund and provide computers, IT support, and professional development for teachers to help them use technology effectively. As we begin preparing for next school year, the need for a comprehensive technology plan continues to be important.
We are encouraged that DCPS recently made the decision to centrally purchase and provide teacher laptops to schools. This is a step in the right direction. The burden for funding and providing laptops for both students and teachers will no longer be on individual schools and will no longer depend on a school’s ability to access PTA or other external funding, which previously had exacerbated inequities in the system.
Preparing for Next School Year
These next few months are critical to ensure that our tech infrastructure is ready for students in August 2021. We all know that the 2021-22 school year will be challenging for teachers, school staff, and families as we support students’ return to in-person learning and their recovery from trauma experienced during the pandemic. We do not need tech challenges to create additional disruptions and barriers as students and teachers work hard to close learning gaps created or exacerbated by the pandemic.
You can play a critical role in a successful return to school through oversight. We are asking you to ensure that DCPS is initiating the tech procurements, improving support systems, and upgrading school Internet infrastructure now, so that long-standing tech problems are not a barrier next school year. Key things you should be monitoring and asking DCPS about include the following:
What is DCPS’s timeline for
Placing purchase orders, receiving in the DCPS warehouse, and having OCTO technicians image student and teacher devices so that computers are ready to be delivered to all schools BEFORE the start of next school year?
Completing the technology audit of schools to determine the condition and number of working computers, which will inform each school’s allocation of technology for next school year?
A thoughtful and timely student device return program that allows time to assess the loss rate of devices and initiate the warranties that DCPS pays for?
What is DCPS’s plan for providing digital literacy training and training on any online platforms that will be used next school year for students and teachers? How will this training be responsive to family and teacher feedback that they need practical, hands-on training at various skill levels?
Will all schools have the Internet infrastructure to be able to handle devices for all students and teachers when they return to in-person learning?
How will DCPS and OCTO work together to improve tech support to ensure school staff and families get timely help for troubleshooting issues?
Comprehensive Tech Plan and DCPS Technology Equity Act of 2021
In 2017, the DC Auditor recommended that DCPS “create and make public a multi-year technology needs plan to define and provide adequate technology to each school. The plan should include expected costs and planned funding sources.”While we have seen parts of what could be a plan, we have not seen the kind of comprehensive multi-year plan (informed by engagement with families and educators) that other school districts have developed and published. The end date for DCPS’s original Empowered Learners initiative was 2022, and public documents on the initiative never articulated details on tech support, digital literacy training, and school Internet infrastructure. We will not achieve digital equity until we get past one-off, ad hoc decisions and purchases and establish a sustainable, predictable way of providing technology for students.
Last month Councilmember Lewis George and eight other councilmembers introduced the DCPS Technology Equity Act of 2021, which will require DCPS to conduct a needs assessment for each school’s technology, develop a comprehensive plan every three years, and set up an advisory committee to monitor and advise on the development of the plan. We were encouraged by the broad support for the bill’s introduction and look forward to its passage and implementation.
It has been four years since the DC Auditor made its recommendation on a multi-year tech plan. Many other school districts have comprehensive plans that are used to guide year-by-year efforts, provide stability and predictability, and hold city leadership accountable for implementing. At this point, we do not think DCPS will develop and publish the kind of comprehensive plan required without mandating it in legislation.
Again, the oversight that Council provides is an important lever in ensuring that our public school system is meeting the educational needs of our students. Thank you for the opportunity to raise these important structural issues that our students and schools are facing every day and holding our school leaders accountable to address them.
Thank you for taking time out of your evening (along with fellow Ward 6, Ward, 3, and Ward 2 families) to share your ideas with Chairman Mendelson and his staff about what an Academic Recovery Plan might look like for DC. There were some clear themes that emerged:
schools need to be funded at higher levels than in the past to support more mental health professionals, more social workers, more small group instruction staff;
schools need autonomy to make decisions on how to invest in programs that will support their school communities;
schools can’t be expected to do it all, and other city agencies and non-profits have important roles to play in the Academic Recovery Plan, e.g., DPR, out-of-school time providers;
repairs need to be made to school buildings, and creative opportunities need to be pursued to create more space, e.g., outdoor learning environments
teachers and parents need to know soon what the plan is for Term 4;
getting as many students who want to go back to in-person learning back into schools (or alternative spaces) as soon as possible is important to academic recovery;
no to high-dose tutoring and yes to more joyful learning and enrichment: and
transparency, making information easy to access, and communication are essential for a successful Academic Recovery Plan.
Today, Interim Superintendent Shana Young – head of the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) – sent a letter to DC local education agency (LEA) leaders, letting them know that OSSE will seek a PARCC waiver!
Below is an excerpt from the letter:
“We are writing to inform you that after careful consideration of this guidance, OSSE plans to seek a one-year waiver from federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirements around assessments, in order to suspend statewide summative assessments for students this spring, including Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) in English Language Arts and Math, Multi-State Alternate Assessments (MSAA), ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 and Alternate ACCESS.”
Your energy in getting the word out across every corner of DC was instrumental in quickly showing broad support to have our city seek a PARCC waiver this year.
We also want to recognize Councilmembers Allen, Lewis George, and Cheh for listening to school communities and introducing legislation today to require OSSE to seek the waiver.
Now this decision is in the hands of the US Department of Education. Here’s to hoping they will agree with us, our communities, and our local education leaders on what we know is in the best interest of students… cancel PARCC.
We’ll stay in touch – hope you will, too.
Sandra Moscoso, Suzanne Wells, Alexandra Simbana, Valerie Jablow, Dr. Betsy Wolf, and Grace Hu
We want to thank you for supporting the city-wide effort to cancel PARCC testing this school year, and asking the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to request a waiver from the US Department of Education (USEd).
As of today, 1150+ of you have signed representing almost 130 schools from all 8 Wards.
In way of update, on Monday (Feb. 22), we submitted the letter with your signatures to Mayor Bowser, Acting State Superintendent Young, DC Council Chairman Mendelson, and Deputy Mayor of Education Kihn, with copy to all DC Councilmembers and DC State Board of Education Representatives.
Later, the US Department of Education issued a letter discouraging blanket waivers. We are encouraged, however, as the letter also explicitly closes with:
“If a request for a waiver is appropriate, prior to submitting a waiver request…, as required under ESEA section 8401(b)(3)(A), you must provide the public and interested local educational agencies notice and a reasonable time for them to comment in the manner in which the state educational agency customarily provides notice and the opportunity to comment to the public.”
While the mixed message within the language of the USEd letter is disappointing, it does not discourage all waivers. As such, we continue to make the common sense ask of OSSE to pursue a PARCC waiver immediately and per USEd guidelines, provide DC school communities and the public “notice and opportunity to comment.”
We will continue to monitor OSSE’s response, and will share what we learn, and whether further action is needed from this community.
DCPS Budgets dropped this week! Thank you to Laura Marks, chief of staff to Councilmember Charles Allen, Anne Phelps, DC Council Counsel and Senior Advisor, and Jonathan Antista, Deputy Director for Budget, in the DC Council Office of the Budget Director (Starting at 35:48 Mins)
DC Council process in developing DCPS budget. We will be joined by Laura Marks, chief of staff to Councilmember Charles Allen, and Anne Phelps, Counsel and Senior Advisor, and Jonathan Antista, Deputy Director for Budget, in the DC Council Office of the Budget Director.
We also wanted to call your attention to two petitions circulating now:
After discussions with parents and teachers, school leaders and community members across the city, Ward 6 parents initiated this petition to cancel PARCC testing for this school year. Please consider signing this petition and sharing with your networks.
To: DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, Acting Superintendent Shana Young (Office of the State Superintendent of Education), Chairman of the DC Council Phil Mendelson, and Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn
– Esta carta está disponible en español a continuación. –
We (parents, educators and community members) strongly disagree with the decision of the DC Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) to proceed with systemwide PARCC reading and math testing during the pandemic and ask that you direct OSSE to submit a waiver to the Department of Education for all statewide testing this spring.
As background: federal guidelines state that OSSE requires DCPS and DC charter schools to administer a standardized test, in DC these are PARCC tests, to students in grades 3–8 and high school students enrolled in certain courses. Although the U.S. Department of Education waived testing requirements in March 2020 following pandemic school closures, and may do so again, OSSE is moving ahead with PARCC testing for SY20-21. States such as NY, NJ, and MI have signaled they will request waivers from testing. DC should too.
*DC Needs To Prioritize Time for Social, Emotional and Academic Learning Over Time for Testing*
Students and educators have already lost too much learning time to disruptions caused by school closures and waves of quarantines, community and family illness, economic crisis, inadequate attention to digital equity needs, and social and mental health impacts. We should be investing every minute of in-person or remote learning into making up for lost time – not adding to the time deficit.
Testing takes precious resources away from learning and other supports for students when they need them most. Testing this spring will happen over an 8-week period, deploying educators and staff away from providing learning and support services to proctoring tests and preparing and managing test logistics now through May.
These high-stakes tests add stress to students already burdened by added, unprecedented pandemic-related stresses. We should instead be reducing stresses and supporting students’ social, emotional and mental health.
Test scores won’t be valid or available in time to help students now nor to plan for addressing learning loss this summer or next school year. Not only will tests be invalid due to variations in testing environments, mandated standardized testing does not provide educators the data needed to meet individual student learning needs in real time, which is what we need right now.
For the sake of students, we ask that you cancel systemwide testing this spring.