Testimony for the DC State Board of Education Public Meeting – September 16, 2020

Press Releases

September 17, 2020

Jess Giles
Deputy Director
Education Reform Now DC

Good evening! My name is Jess Giles. I am a Ward 7 resident, an equity advocate, and the Deputy Director of Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC). ERN DC is a non-profit organization that fights to ensure that every student, particularly students of color and students from low-income families, has a high-quality education. We believe in a family’s right to choose where they want to send their child to public school — whether that’s in-boundary DCPS schools, out-of-boundary DCPS schools, or public charter schools. We are committed to advancing racial equity in public education, closing opportunity gaps, and regularly evaluating education reforms to see if they are working as intended. It is through a racial equity lens and with this perspective, that I am pleased to provide testimony tonight.

Educating Students During COVID-19

The impact of COVID-19 has been catastrophic for DC. According to DC government records as of September 15, there have been 14,743 positive cases and 617 people have tragically lost their lives due to the virus, with communities of color being disproportionately impacted. Three out of every four people killed by COVID-19 in DC are Black. There have been 144,065 Unemployment Compensation claims filed in the District since March 13. Many of our students and families are experiencing compounded trauma through the loss of loved ones, economic hardship, and the relentlessness of structural racism. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the mayor, DC Council, and DC State Board of Education to ensure that every student in both DC Public Schools and DC public charter schools has the resources they need to succeed. This means calling and/or visiting every family with a child of school age to ask them if they need help enrolling in school. This means ensuring every student from a low-income family is provided with free internet access and devices as well as 24/7 support for distance learning. (It is completely unacceptable that our entire city does not have high-speed internet and it infuriates me to know that there are students in the nation’s capital hooking up their devices to free wifi in Safeway and the DC Library to attend virtual classes.) This means ensuring that every school has school-based mental health support and that every student experiencing trauma is given the appropriate assistance to help them cope. This means our recovery efforts include providing identified students with high-dosage tutoring so they don’t fall further behind in their school work. This virus more than anything in recent history is testing whether or not DC is doing everything in its power to ensure every student is set up for success in life, college, and career. Every student can learn. We must do better. We urge the State Board to champion these efforts. 

SR20-11 STAR Framework Resolution

On December 10, 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which updated the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, was signed into law by President Obama. Under the strong guidance of the DC State Board, and through many countless hours of stakeholder input and buy-in, the DC School Report Card and STAR Framework was launched in December 2018 to give parents, communities, and policymakers a tool that provides important information about school performance. It includes metrics like PARCC data that can be reliably and validly measured, information on student subgroups — which is incredibly important for assessing equity, measures academic growth, and provides additional funding to schools with a one star rating. It is for all of these reasons that ERN DC supports the DC School Report Card and STAR Framework.

ERN DC fundamentally believes a child’s race or socioeconomic status should have no bearing on the quality of her public education. An equitable public education system provides equitable access and inclusion, equitable treatment, equitable opportunity to learn, equitable resources, and ensures opportunity and performance gaps are virtually non-existent; none of these goals are measurable without a strong accountability system. To ensure that our schools are truly serving the needs of all students, including students designated as at risk, we must maintain a rigorous system of accountability that shines a light on student subgroup performance. With that said, an effective rating system should not penalize schools based on the percentage of students served that are considered “at-risk.” That is why we believe the STAR Framework should be reevaluated because it sends inaccurate messages that schools with more at-risk students are of lower quality, which is simply not true and can have negative impacts, on schools and on decisions made by families exploring their school options. We urge State Board members to reflect on what it means to optimally measure effectiveness without lowering expectations for student achievement and to assign higher star ratings to schools that are effectively educating certain student subgroups (e.g., students with disabilities, English learners, at-risk students). This is the equitable approach we should be aiming for.

If we truly care about closing gaps and ensuring that all students succeed, then we should support, not penalize, schools for serving students that have been marginalized in this city. Of course, to do so effectively requires more than accountability; we must fully fund all of our schools and provide them with the necessary support to ensure high-quality learning. This means fully funding the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula; at-risk weight; school-based mental health program; high-quality, culturally-affirming and responsive, evidence-based social emotional learning programs; trauma-informed training; restorative practices; and many other critical supports for students. 

In conclusion, we urge the State Board to ensure the DC School Report Card and STAR Framework reflects our values, provides clarity about how our schools are doing, and includes metrics that can be reliably and validly measured.

Equity Statement and Framework

Overall, we support the Equity Statement and Framework and commend the Board for taking this step. We strongly recommend that the Board consider efforts to enhance teacher preparation and quality and support so when we attract more Black and Brown educators to DC they are here to stay. 

Thank you for allowing me to present testimony on how we can ensure all of our students receive a high-quality education.