DC State Board of Education
FY 2014 Performance Oversight Hearing
Council of the District of Columbia
March 6, 2015 @ 11:30am
Testimony of Jack Jacobson, President
Good morning, Chairman Grosso and members of the Council of the District of Columbia. My name is Jack Jacobson and I am the President of the D.C. State Board of Education. I am joined by Jesse B Rauch, our Executive Director, and Joyanna Smith, the Ombudsman for Public Education. On behalf of the entire State Board, I wish to thank you for the opportunity to discuss the year’s accomplishments and to share our vision for the work ahead.
The State Board of Education plays a special role in the District’s governance system. Focused on student outcomes, we serve as an unbiased broker in education decision-making as we adopt policies based on the best interests of the young people of District of Columbia. The State Board has made great strides in these and other areas, and we look forward to continuing our joint efforts with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE).
The past year was a period of tremendous change and growth. We adopted new academic standards, approved an ESEA Flexibility Waiver extension, and conducted extensive work to revise graduation requirements, explore a competency-based learning framework, and review truancy regulations. Further, the State Board successfully re-established the Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education and appointed the Ombudsman, who joins me here today. In addition, the State Board is on the verge of establishing the Office of the Chief Student Advocate, a role that will provide a much needed voice for the students and parents of the District of Columbia.
In FY2014, the State Board established four strategic priorities that reflected our core values and aligned with our vision and mission statements – they comprise our FY14 performance plan. They are:
- Goal 1: Build a Strong State Board of Education;
- Goal 2: Operate as an office of policy, research and analysis;
- Goal 3: Operate as a convener of education stakeholders; and
- Goal 4: Operate as a public advocate.
I would like to share how we have progressed in these areas, where we intend to go, and any barriers to our collective success.
- Goal 1: Build a Strong State Board of Education
Since the State Board received personnel and budget autonomy on March 27, 2013, we have spent considerable time ensuring that internal systems are in place to support our work. Last October we adopted a revised set of organizational by-laws, including a mission and vision. We also established a policy agenda and calendar along with a policy adoption workflow. These tools allowed us to track our work and ensure that we were meeting our policy objectives. We intend to continue this practice in the current year.
I also want to highlight the roles of committees in the State Board. Last year, our committees conducted a tremendous amount of work to move the work of the State Board forward. For example, our Governance Committee successfully hired the Ombudsman for Public Education, our Truancy and Student Engagement Committee explored the impacts of the District’s compulsory attendance rules and their impact on students, families, and schools. In FY2015, we have continued to utilize committees, and the leadership and talents of Board members, to move ahead on critical education issues.
- Goal 2: Operate as an office of policy, research and analysis
The State Board is responsible for advising education policymakers on state-level education issues as well as approving many state-level policies. Additionally, State Board members engage in thought leadership on education issues facing the District in a variety of ways.
In the last year, the State Board has improved its policy, research, and analysis capacity. The policy adoption workflow has helped the State Board align itself. For example, we now develop committee reports on actions before the Board to ensure that not only the members are informed, but also the public. Final reports are published on our website.
In the last year, we conducted rigorous, informative research in several areas that led to:
- Adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards;
- Evaluation of the implementation of the ESEA Flexibility Waiver;
- Adoption of a ESEA Flexibility Waiver extension application;
- Adoption of revised School Report Cards;
- Review and proposed revisions to the District’s P.E. and Health Standards;
- Development of a draft Parent and Family Bill of Rights;
- Evaluation of the Compulsory Attendance and Truancy Rules; and
- Evaluation of the PARCC rollout.
In all of these circumstances, we followed our core values to ensure a full-breadth review of each item was completed and provided advice to OSSE and the Deputy Mayor for Education on the policies we considered.
As mentioned earlier, the State Board is vitally important in these issues, including the many others that fall under the State Board’s jurisdiction. In 2015, our committees are taking a broader approach to our policy work. We have established a Closing the Achievement Gap Committee, a Competency-Based Learning Committee, and an ESEA Waiver Committee. These broad committees will encompass our regular policy initiatives, but they will also produce research and reports to spur continued improvement in the supports we provide for the District’s students.
- Goal 3: Operate as a convener of education stakeholders
The State Board’s independence is a critical asset and allows the State Board to bring together stakeholders on timely education issues. In addition to bringing stakeholders together for roundtables on truancy regulations and a Parent and Family Bill of Rights, we convened over 100 stakeholders for a graduation requirements summit. The Board, at the encouragement of LEAs, also facilitated a meeting of LEAs to discuss the upcoming PARCC assessment with OSSE. We are also often called upon by OSSE to help convene meetings with education stakeholders in our communities to help educate the public on important education policy initiatives, and to ensure community feedback and we take pride in our partnership with OSSE.
We look forward to working with the new State Superintendent and the Deputy Mayor for Education to find ways to reach more community members and stakeholders and include the public in our work. We are already seeing success in the process to renew the waiver and I anticipate working with the State Superintendent to convene stakeholders to further review a competency-based learning framework this spring.
- Goal 4: Operate as a public advocate
The State Board continues to advocate on behalf of students and their families. As the State Board investigates and evaluates policies, such as those contained within the ESEA Flexibility Waiver or the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, we always keep the students, families, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders’ views in mind. They are our clients; they are who we work for. When we ask questions, it is to make sure that the best policy choice is made. We have also engaged in a great deal of work not directly within our purview, to the benefit of students and families. For example, we researched the distribution of nurses in our schools, which led to deeper discussions on what should be on our school report cards. We also spent several working sessions discussing the boundary and feeder pattern process with staff of the Deputy Mayor’s office to ensure that the school quality and equitable access considerations were a part of the solution.
I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight the exemplary work of the Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education. Since the Office of the Ombudsman’s establishment in late February 2014, the Office has resolved over 400 cases. Most of these cases involved either special education or student discipline, but a significant number of their cases involved bullying, school safety truancy, enrollment problems, and challenges facing homeless students. To manage these cases, the Office, led by Joyanna Smith, hired an Associate Ombudsman along with several fellows. However, Ms. Smith anticipates that the need for the Ombudsman’s services will eventually outpace the Office’s current capacity. As the Ombudsman continues to engage the community, we expect the caseload to continue to grow. The Ombudsman is already seeing an upward trend in their incoming cases. By the end of the current 2014-2015 school year, the Ombudsman anticipates receipt of over 300 cases; more than double what was received from February 2014 to August 2014.
By utilizing data to track trends and systemic issues facing students and families, the Ombudsman fills a vital role not only in helping families and students, but also in identifying changes to existing policies and rules and highlighting the need for new policies and rules. And, I am excited to share that we will be bringing on a Chief Student Advocate soon – and with that, our advocacy efforts on behalf of students and their families will multiply.
Critical Areas of Need
There are some critical barriers that I wish to address with the Council. One barrier is the State Board’s lack of authority to initiate consideration and adoption of policy initiatives for issues already within the Board’s jurisdiction. Quite simply, this has been one of the main reasons the State Board has been unable to revise the District’s graduation requirements to fit the changing needs of students and families, despite a strong appetite from a variety of stakeholders. More, I believe that the State Board could have worked with stakeholders and OSSE to make more progress on a competency-based learning framework for the District as well as consider revisions to compulsory attendance and truancy regulations if the State Board had this authority. There must be a role for the State Superintendent in our policy formulation, consideration, and adoption process, but I also believe that our current structure, unlike any other State Board in the country, should be changed and would benefit students, families, and the overall policy consideration process.
With the possible reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in Congress, I’d also like to highlight that the State Board would like to work with the Committee to ensure that our authorizing language is responsive to changes in Federal legislation; the State Board’s current authority has many holdovers from No Child Left Behind and certainly needs to be reviewed and updated to depend less on federal laws and regulations and more on what District students, families, administrators, and LEAs need to improve student outcomes.
On behalf of the State Board, I wish to express our gratitude at the opportunity to share our testimony before the Council. We are already appreciative of the efforts of the Committee to reach out to us and we look forward to working together to ensure that every student in the District of Columbia has the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
We are here to answer any questions you may have.