ERN DC Testifies On Recommendations for Bill 25-540, “School Improvement Amendment Act of 2023”

Washington, D.C.

November 20, 2023

DC Council’s Committee of the Whole Hearing:

Bill 25-540, “School Improvement Amendment Act of 2023”

Jessica Giles
Executive Director
Education Reform Now DC

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson, members, and staff of the Committee of the Whole, my name is Jessica Giles. I am a ward 7 resident and the Executive Director of Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC), a non-partisan, non-profit organization fighting for a just and equitable public education system for all DC students. 

At ERN DC, we believe all students can learn and be successful in life, school, and career. It’s vital that adults create the conditions under which that is possible. Unfortunately, this is not happening for all students in every area of DC. DC has deeply entrenched racial inequities that permeate our entire public education system and affect outcomes for our students, many of whom live East of the River.

In school year 2021-22, for every 100 students who start high school together, 25 will not graduate, 37 will graduate but not pursue further education, and 30 will start college but not complete within six years. Only eight out of 100 students will complete postsecondary within six years.  

In 2018, the average annual income of young adults (age 18 to 24) born and living in DC was only $15,095. The average income for those who did not complete high school was $10,103. Those who completed high school and postsecondary earned an average of $26,889. This is why it is critical for DC to demand academic excellence from every single one of our schools. 

Bill 25-540, the“School Improvement Amendment Act of 2023” provides the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) with additional support and resources to drive educational excellence at schools for DC’s lowest-performing schools. It is critical for all schools to set high expectations and demand high performance from every student. 

As the Committee of the Whole examines this legislation further, we offer several recommendations to clarify and strengthen the current language:

  1. Clarify how the DC Council is defining the “at minimum, the lowest 5% of all public schools” to prevent any confusion. (Line 28) Consider using the categories in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Accountability Plan to determine the lowest-performing schools, rather than creating a new, additional framework. 
  2. Require all lowest-performing schools to participate in the support program. Program participation should not be optional, based on whether schools want the additional “resources”. (Line 31)
  3. Articulate that academic outcomes must substantially improve within the 3-year school improvement cycle. (Line 33-34) Five years is too long to wait.
  4. OSSE already supports schools in the bottom 5% per federal requirements. Explicitly require OSSE to audit bottom-performing schools to examine inputs and outputs. e.g., What are the staff experience and vacancy rates? Are some teachers teaching out of their field (e.g., a teacher with social studies certification teaching math)? What are the targeted supports for student groups that are doing worse than others? What is the school’s chronic absenteeism rate and how is it being addressed? Does the school claim to be using evidence-based practices? If so, what are they and how impactful have they been? Any turnaround best practices, continuous school improvement models findings, or recommendations should be in response to those findings.
  5. Emphasize the need for schools to effectively utilize the funding they already receive to raise the bar in academic excellence. Funding is important, but ultimately it will take a change in how funding is used to see results. As written, schools in the program will receive additional funding as long as they are in the program, which provides a disincentive to exit. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to ground ourselves in the truth: that not enough is not being done for our students in DC, and any changes should be done with the best interest of students and their futures in mind. Thank you for ensuring school improvement is a part of your oversight duties and holding this hearing today. I am available to answer any questions you may have.