B24-80, D.C. State Education Agency Independence Amendment Act of 2021

B24-101, Office of the State Superintendent of Education Independence Amendment Act of 2021

Jessica Giles

State Director

Education Reform Now D.C.

Good morning Chairman Mendelson and Committee of the Whole; my name is Jess Giles. I am a Ward 7 resident and State Director of Education Reform Now D.C. (ERN D.C.). ERN D.C. is a non-profit organization that fights for a just and equitable public education system. Today, I am providing testimony in opposition to B24-80, the D.C. State Education Agency Independence Amendment Act of 2021, and B24-101, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education Independence Amendment Act of 2021. 

(1) Both bills would make OSSE weaker and less efficient.

Neither bill considers the complex nature of the work done at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which, if either bill passed into law, would result in a weaker and less efficient state education agency at a time when we need it the most. B24-80 would make the OSSE subordinate to the State Board of Education, which has many consequences including, but not limited to the following: OSSE being subjected to votes before doing its job; OSSE being pulled in two different directions by the D.C. State Board of Education and the D.C. Council; and OSSE focusing on new processes to achieve its expansive responsibilities. This would make OSSE even slower to respond to urgent issues facing our public education system. And with half the State Board members up for election every two years, their agenda and focus could change drastically, leaving OSSE stuck in the middle. The solution to red tape is never….more red tape. 

The management and oversight of the OSSE should remain with the Office of the Mayor because it allows the Mayor to address education as a whole and not in pieces. OSSE needs the support and collaboration of every District agency to accomplish their work best. Independent agencies are designated as such because they have responsibilities that should specifically remain separate or oversight requirements that are inherently separate from the executive. By definition of the broad array of duties and responsibilities at OSSE, it is not independent but interconnected by nature. A standalone OSSE could make decisions uncoordinated with other agencies such as D.C. Health, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), and the Chief Financial Officer, etc. At that point, those agencies would have to negotiate responses independently instead of being centrally coordinated. The Mayor should continue to be held accountable for the operations at OSSE and should be required to support the work at OSSE. The Mayor is also in the best position to recruit qualified candidates to be the Superintendent. The Office of the Mayor has the power to open doors and to pay a good salary. An independent OSSE would have much more difficulty attracting quality candidates to fill the job, and if OSSE were under the State Board, it would be an even more difficult task. 

(2) There is no evidence that other models of governance would advance student outcomes more than the current system in place in D.C.

CityDate of ControlStudent PopulationMethodChanges in Student Proficiency and Equity
Boston199154,000First city to implement this format. Mayor chooses Board from list of nominees Proficiency: Increased proficiencies 4th-10th gradeAchievement Gap: Remain high
Cleveland 199838,949Mayor chooses Board from list of nomineesProficiency: some initial growth but dropped in recent yearsAchievement gaps: have widened 
Chicago1995343,646Seven-member panel appointed by the MayorProficiency: Increased dramatically, but no progress in 11th gradeAchievement Gap: Remain high
New York City 20021.04 millionMayor has the power to appoint the city’s school chancellor and a majority of the Board – known as the Panel for Educational PolicyProficiency: Spectacular increases 4th-8th gradeAchievement Gaps: Narrowed but remain high 

In exploring four major cities that implement forms of Mayoral leadership with D.C. Council oversight, student proficiencies rose across the board. The Center for American Progress report shows that cities using this system tend to focus on teachers and use resources more effectively on average than those under elected boards. They also found that nationwide, school districts led by mayors see increased levels of student achievement. However, opportunity gaps persisted in all of these locations, which frustratingly underscores there are no better government models where opportunity gaps are non-existent. Therefore, advancing equity needs to become the priority in our governance process, taking me to my final point.

3) Focus on changes that put students in the center of our decision-making, close the opportunity gap, and allow our Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) students to thrive in life, education, and career. 

The pandemic has taken a tremendous physical and mental toll on our students, and they’ve lost a lot of instruction time. We have members of our school community who are burned out, and we have parents and guardians who are in anguish about how in-person learning is going. 

Families ultimately want to know two things: (1) their students are safe, and (2) they receive a high-quality education. We have not guaranteed Black and Brown families in the District either yet. We should be building on our progress by demanding racial equity, expanding access, targeting resources, and providing enhanced support to students “at-risk” and students with special needs. 

The Mayor, D.C. Council, and the SBOE must focus on the following:

  1. Ensure federal funding is targeted to “at-risk” students, English Learners, and students with disabilities; focuses on evidence-based approaches to learning acceleration; and is transparently spent.
  2. Measure learning across student groups and schools.
  3. Ensure funding follows students.
  4. Provide elementary school teachers with training in the science of reading.
  5. Support and grow our educator workforce now.
  6. Attract school-based behavioral health staff to D.C.
  7. Ensure students in the care of D.C. are learning and students with special needs get the education they are entitled to; replicate what works and get rid of what doesn’t. 
  8. Allow low-income Black and Brown D.C. students who want to attend college for free.
  9. Provide safe passage to students and prioritize traffic safety precautions around schools.

Thank you for allowing me to testify in opposition to both bills.