Policy and Communications Manager
Education Reform Now DC
Thank you President Sutter, Vice President Thompson, and Representatives of the D.C. State Board of Education. My name is Joshua Hodge, and I am a Ward 6 resident and public education advocate. I am submitting this written testimony on behalf of Education Reform Now D.C. (ERN D.C.) on the proposed changes to the high school student service hours requirement for all D.C. public school students. For those who may be unfamiliar with our work, ERN D.C. is a non-profit organization fighting for a just and equitable public education system in Washington, D.C.
Currently, students are required to complete 100 hours of volunteer community service to graduate. The local education agency establishes the specific community service projects as well. During the pandemic, these service hours were waived. Now, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) proposes the hours be gradually increased in increments of 25 over the next four years back to 100 hours, from 25 in 2023 to 100 service hours in 2026, and to allow additional flexibility for transfer students.
While we welcome a change to the student service hours requirement, we believe that OSSE’s proposal can be strengthened to better meet the needs of our students. We recommend capping the total number of hours required for graduation from 100 to 50 and allowing students to earn compensation for the service hours they work, and reimagining how students spend their time.
Cap the number of service hours to 50
The current number of service hours required is far too many for students, as some stakeholders have shared. With current Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) data showing a steep decline in English Language Arts and math scores this additional time could be spent on studying, participating in high-impact tutoring, or preparing for life after high school. Recent data from EmpowerK12 shows that “students designated as “at-risk” were an average of 15-18 instructional months behind pre-pandemic national averages, and more affluent students were only 4-5 instructional months behind.” They predict that DC will regain pre-pandemic 2019 achievement levels in 2027 – five years from now. Therefore, we believe the total number of service hours should be lowered to 25 hours in 2023 and capped at 50 hours in 2024 and beyond. This is aligned with the D.C. State Board of Education’s High School Graduation Requirements Task Force recommendation to reduce the number of service hours to 50 in 2017.
Allow students to be compensated
OSSE’s proposal currently bans activities for which students are compensated, which we disagree with. DCPS states that students must complete “community service hours through a 501(c)(3) organization or a federal, state, or local agency” to “ equip students with the necessary skills and abilities for career and educational advancement as well as motivate students to take an active role as leaders in their communities.” We believe these goals can still be achieved through community service that is compensated. D.C. students should have the opportunity to be compensated for their service projects when funding is available. Nearly 50% of D.C. students are designated “at-risk”. Completing 100 hours of unpaid service may not be feasible for students who need to financially support their families. I know from personal experience, growing up in an extremely low-income household any amount of time that I was not in school, studying, or playing baseball was spent working to help support my family. About 30% of high school students have jobs.
Reimagining how students spend their time
Lastly, we would ask OSSE and the State Board of Education (SBOE) to think more creatively about how the District might use these extra hours to give students a meaningful and rewarding jumpstart on life after highschool.
- Dual Credit and Enrollment: Provide students with opportunities to receive high school and college credit for dual enrollment opportunities. The District has fallen out of step with other states who award both.
- Early Career Pathways: Incorporate extended Marion Berry Summer Youth Employment Programming (SYEP), internships, or apprenticeship opportunities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone, but especially on our students and schools. The last two and a half years have changed the way our students learn. Because of this, we think it is best to modernize and reimagine our high school student service hour requirement to better reflect this change so that students receive a just, equitable, and high-quality public education. Thank you for allowing me to submit my testimony.