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For years, students, parents, teachers and community members, oftentimes out of frustration, have testified before the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) about a bevy of education-related issues, many of which fall outside of the state board’s purview.
This phenomenon has, in part, inspired the formation of an SBOE Board Governance Committee.
For two years, this committee collected and shaped what has come to be known as the Education Governance Report. Nearly two months after the report’s release, SBOE members say they want the D.C. Council to act on recommendations outlined in the document.
If brought into fruition by the D.C. Council, the SBOE’s recommendations could change the dynamics of SBOE’s relationship with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), D.C. Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB) and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) — all agencies that control aspects of the District K-12 education experience.
“The one thing we were solving for was how to make our family experiences more positive and equitable. That was the grounding question,” said Eboni-Rose Thompson, Ward 7 SBOE representative and SBOE president.
In the Education Governance Report, SBOE provided six recommendations.
Recommendations included giving SBOE the authority to initiate policy, amend policies brought on by OSSE, and request and acquire data from OSSE, DCPS, DCPCSB, and DME. SBOE also requested that it be authorized to approve school openings, closings and locations and elevate education-related issues.
In the report, the SBOE also requested that it receive notification of education policy changes along with explanations from education agencies about their compliance, or noncompliance, with SBOE requests.
Other recommendations championed by SBOE center on the creation of a central hub under the Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education and the Office of the Student Advocate that tracks the progress of community members’ education-related concerns.
SBOE has also requested the creation of a citywide board that oversees DCPS operations and facilities.
“It’s long overdue [that]we revisit our governance structure given that we had changes like charter schools in the 1990s and mayoral control in 2007,” Thompson said. “We’ve taken some time to learn about experiences with the city and you need people to share those experiences and draw conclusions.”
Local Education Agencies Push Back
SBOE is scheduled to discuss the transmission of the Education Governance Report to the D.C. Council during a working meeting on May 10.
The Education Governance Report represents a culmination of surveys and focus groups conducted with mostly underrepresented residents in the education realm about their experiences navigating the local education system.
Focus group participants designated quality of education, frequency of testing, bullying and mental and behavioral health support as the main education concerns. Participants also expressed a lack of awareness about the functions of agencies within what had been described as an overwhelming system education. According to the Education Governance Report, participants sought clarity on agencies to contact for specific issues and more of a streamlined approach to communication.
In a March letter, Deputy Mayor Paul Kihn, State Superintendent Christina Grant, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and DCPCSB Executive Director Michelle Walker Davis expressed concern about SBOE’s recommendations. They said the recommendations would “disrupt and destabilize” the work done under 15 years of mayoral control in the realms of high school completion, pre-school enrollment, and educational investment.
Other qualms addressed in the letter centered on what had been described as a lack of clarity around problems in the education system and the sample size of less than 1,200 to represent an education system that serves hundreds of thousands of young people.
The only recommendation where the education officials and SBOE aligned concerned the formation of a centralized website or education governance hub within the Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education and the Office of the Student Advocate.
DCPS and DCPCSB didn’t respond to The Informer’s request for further comment while a DME spokesperson referred to the aforementioned letter. Though The Informer communicated with an OSSE representative, OSSE didn’t send comments before the filing of this story.
A Local Parent Speaks
Ward 1 parent Renee Davis said that she welcomes any change in the District education system that takes education agencies out of mayoral control. For her, the status quo has placed DCPS and other education agencies in a silo, much to the detriment of children with disabilities whose needs extend well beyond a traditional classroom.
In making her case, Davis reflected on instances where a lack of communication between District education agencies and its counterparts in the Medicaid financing space precluded her daughter from getting the support she needed while navigating the medical and education systems, particularly as she transitioned between the elementary, middle, high school and post-K-12 levels.
“Mayoral control doesn’t encourage entities to collaborate across sectors, especially when you’re trying to leave DCPS and go beyond education for more societal services,” Davis said. “If you don’t have education officials at the table, they’re not able to provide you signals with where you need to go next. Parents of children with severe disabilities end up pulling their children out of school and relying solely on the Department of Disability Services to provide that next pathway. That shouldn’t be the only alternative.”
Thank you so much for bringing your readers’ attention to the SBOE’s important report on how the governance change of 2007 is being experienced in reality and its recommendations to improve it. I’m ready to leave DC because of my experience with it and I don’t even have children in any of the schools!
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