1. Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education in the District of Columbia
A high-quality public education for all children is an economic necessity, an anchor of democracy, and a moral imperative and fundamental civil right, without which none of our rights can be realized fully.
What steps will you take to ensure that:
Neighborhood schools are in walking distance from the homes of students.
[Every child should be able to walk to school. In our community, the limitations are not confined to the distance between one’s home and school, but also caused by the streets that must be traveled to get there. For example, I speak to many parents in my neighborhood who live very close to their schools, but because their child would be required to cross Pennsylvania Avenue, they do not consider that trip walkable for their child from a safety standpoint. We should be working to improve walkability by consulting with and listening to parents and teachers when we create boundaries/catchment areas, so we can at least begin to understand and mitigate these types of real-world issues. We could improve some of these real-world challenges by being open to input from parents with respect to where it might be useful to have additional crossing guard personnel stationed before and after school. However, short of substantial redistricting and opening of new public schools, it is difficult to conceive of a public school landscape that would alleviate those real-world concerns. That being said, I do not support the proposal to give special admissions consideration to children who live within a half-mile of a charter school, because that policy would serve to further divide our community and exacerbate divisions among schools that already exist. Under the current proposal, a charter school would have the option to institute this policy rather than being required to do so, and there would be no method through which we could ensure that schools were not making their decision based on criteria that could be inherently exclusionary, and perhaps discriminatory. Irrespective of intent, a charter school that chose to implement the policy would be doing so at the expense of students from other areas of the city who currently have an opportunity to access these schools.]
• Teachers are well-prepared, supported, have manageable class sizes and have time to collaborate so they can meet the individual needs of every child;
[I am a product of a public school education, and I am a mom who will soon be sending her daughter to public school in Ward 6. I am also a former literacy teacher, so I know firsthand the challenges faced by educators in low-resourced schools. At the risk of sounding simplistic, DC Councilmembers can properly support our teachers by providing them with the funding they need to do their jobs. Even as the DC Council touts the increased funding they have provided in recent years, when those numbers are adjusted for inflation we are spending less on our DC public schools now than we were a decade ago, which is unacceptable. According to the Tax Foundation and the Council for Community and Economic Research, when adjusting for cost of living, the District of Columbia ranks 42nd in the country in teacher salary. The FY 2018 budget included a funding increase that was insufficient, and the percentage of that increase that was routed to public schools was insufficient as well. I am committed to increasing funding to our public schools in such a way that it meets the needs of our schools, teachers and students, and that process starts by listening to teachers in order to fully understand the limitations and difficulties the current funding levels impose on them and on our students.
I was recently asked by a Charles Allen supporter what I would say to parents of well-achieving students who feel their children do not receive attention from their public school teachers because they are too focused on assisting low-performing classmates. My response was to reject the premise of the question, because I believe strongly that it is our shared responsibility to lift all children in our community and provide everyone with an opportunity to succeed.]
· Our children have an engaging curriculum that includes art, music, social studies the sciences and vocational education;
[A sad reality is that in the NCLB/ESSA era, the high-stakes assessments used for accountability purposes have had the deleterious effect of narrowing the curriculum. Teachers in our community have shared their experiences teaching in schools where “if it’s not tested, it’s not taught.” An oversimplification for sure, but it is not uncommon for subjects like art, music, and social studies to be limited to a half hour of instructional time as schools are increasingly focused on the tested subjects.
An engaging and diverse curriculum is critical for the development of our children, and it should be treated as such by our government. Just this week, I met with an 8th grader from Ward 6 who is preparing to attend Dunbar High School in NW, and is looking forward to its engineering program. She proudly shared that both of her parents attended Dunbar, and her father matriculated from the same engineering program she plans to attend. I also met with a high school senior in Ward 6 who attends Duke Ellington High School and studies visual art, and has already received a handful of acceptance letters from colleges across the country. Schools that promote programs that prepare and equip students with a well-rounded toolkit of skills and knowledge are invaluable. These are exactly the type of programs that we must continue to fund and encourage our students to enter.
Moreover, long-time art and physical education teachers throughout the country are observing that their current students take longer to develop motor skills and master tasks such as tying their shoes, and they attribute this change to the substantial decrease in the time, funding and attention that has been given to these programs in recent years. To the extent we are falling short in enriching our students today, we’re also setting them up to be less successful tomorrow, so we must allocate appropriate funds, resources and personnel to support and expand these programs, including for those children with special needs and/or language access needs.]
• Children have access to wraparound services to meet their social, emotional and health needs.
[Our community shares the belief that our children are our greatest asset and each deserves every possible opportunity to reach their full potential as individuals and for the benefit of society. Research has increasingly shown the benefits of integrating social and emotional development with academic learning. These approaches benefit all students but they are shown to be particularly beneficial for students who have experienced great adversity. It’s critical for our community’s public schools to prepare students not only for future academic success like high school completion and college graduation, but also the skills required to thrive as citizens and flourish in the workplace. Ward 6 is the proud home to schools that are emphasizing social-emotional learning skills and the competencies students will draw upon as they navigate future challenges. The teachers I have met throughout this campaign are champions for their students.
I believe our schools and our communities should not be defined by the performance of our elite, we should be defined by what we do to make sure we leave nobody behind. This means giving everyone a chance to succeed, especially our students with special needs, and nowhere is this more important than in our schools. I fully support dedicated supplemental funding for programs, including funding for dedicated staff at each of our schools who are available to help children with social, emotional and health needs. It is also important to me that we have the funding and capacity to provide these same services to students with language access issues.]
· How will you ensure that there is funding for these policies?
[To successfully integrate social, emotional and academic development requires investing in high quality professional development for our teachers. The learning sciences are rapidly developing each day and we’re learning more and more about how the child and adolescent brain functions and the pedagogies that contribute most to our learning. I want our teachers in DC to be treated like the professionals that they are and that means ensuring they have the opportunity to attend professional development conferences that equip them with evidence-based practices that they can use in their classrooms. When it comes to funding for education in DC, I reject the notion that we do not have the money in our budget to meet the needs of every student in our public schools. We don’t lack the budget flexibility, we lack leaders with the will to make education a priority. One has to look no further than the last DC budget cycle, when the DC Council had a budget surplus and chose to spend it on corporate and estate tax cuts. Government budgets are statements of morals and values, and a budget that directs money to the wealthiest among us while our schools come up short is a budget that I simply do not agree with. Simply put, I believe we can find room in our budget to adequately fund our schools. It is important for our leaders to identify essential programs such as these and provide them with ongoing dedicated funding, subject to ongoing oversight by the DC Council. This process starts by listening to teachers, administrators and parents, to understand the needs, and the current gaps that need to be closed. We live in a diverse city, so a one size fits all approach to school funding is not appropriate. This means we cannot look at funding for schools as simply a matter of arithmetic, we need to make sure that we are providing sufficient funding and establishing programs that are carrying out our shared vision of success and meeting the individualized needs of our diverse schools and student populations.]
· How will you ensure that the mayor enforces these policies in an equitable manner?
[By prioritizing dedicated funding and requiring dedicated personnel that is adequate to meet the needs of each school based on its enrollment size and demonstrated need, the DC Council can establish an infrastructure that is subject to well-defined benchmarks and has a chance to be successful. Using its ongoing oversight authority, the Council would be in a position to evaluate the successes and shortcomings and act accordingly. One of my concerns with DC government generally is the extent to which the DC Council cedes responsibility and authority to the Mayor by failing to conduct regular accounting, oversight or investigations where appropriate. Too often, we learn about shortcomings in our school system from reporters, after they have happened. Effective ongoing oversight by a legislative body is important not just when it uncovers problems or scandals, but because ongoing oversight leads to higher levels of accountability within government on a daily basis.]
2. Closing the Achievement Gap
Currently, more than 100,000 students attend our city’s public schools. The teachers, paraprofessionals and other school employees who work with these students each day care deeply about the quality of public schools and the education their students receive. But the fact remains that the city’s achievement gap remains at an unacceptably high level.
In your opinion, why do you believe the achievement gap persists in Washington, DC?
[Like the teachers I’ve met on this campaign, I strongly believe that all children can learn. The solution to closing our achievement gap does not begin and end at the door of our schools, which is why our teachers should not be evaluated on the basis of such gaps in their classroom, or blamed for being unable to singlehandedly close them. Unfortunately, our city is home to some of the worst racial and economic disparities in the nation. Many of our students in DC face some of the same socioeconomic and behavioral challenges I observed in my students when I taught in the Peace Corps. In my community, Ward 6, we live among some of the wealthiest people in the city, as well as some of the poorest. Our low-income children face health disparities, food insecurity, undiagnosed medical conditions, unstable housing, and many other challenges that our high-performing students never need to think about. I have spent substantial time meeting with our low-income neighbors and learning about their lives; many of our low-income children live with no access to internet, books or school supplies at home, lack a space at home to concentrate on homework, and they are often insufficiently fed, making it even more difficult to concentrate or get a good night of sleep. Many students come to school having experienced trauma or prolonged periods of toxic stress. We have learned from brain science that when students are in a heightened sense of stress response, it is incredibly difficult for students to learn. Unfortunately, they tell me they have not seen or heard from their current councilmember over the past four years, so they do not expect his votes to reflect an understanding of the hurdles they face.]
What policies will you support to close the achievement gap?
[No Child Left Behind was pitched as a solution to the achievement gap. Ironically, more students have been left behind because the one-size-fits-all approaches to accountability have limited schools’ ability to tailor instruction and assessment to fit diverse student profiles. Education philosopher Nel Noddings said, “there is nothing quite so unequal as sameness in curriculum and pedagogy,” and I couldn’t agree more. Each student learns at their own pace, in their own way, and should be able to demonstrate what they have learned in more ways than a standardized test. Personalized learning using adaptive technology that provides teachers with real-time data on how individual students are progressing is a promising approach to closing the achievement gap. In blended learning classrooms, teachers are able to use the data collected almost immediately to provide targeted instruction to individual students or small groups.
We give our children a fair chance to succeed when we begin to prioritize supporting them both in the classroom and at home, by doing more to provide access to safe, stable, affordable housing, food and healthcare. Unfortunately, our current councilmember has had countless opportunities to begin to address these issues, but instead chose to vote in favor of using our budget surplus to cut the DC corporate tax rate and slash the estate tax, policies that ultimately caused the disparities in our city to expand, not close. The consequences of these immoral decisions are seen throughout our city, including in our classrooms. We cannot close our achievement gap simply by asking teachers to do more, or changing our curriculum or test structure. We begin to close our achievement gap – and our wage gap, our housing gap, our health and wellness gaps – by passing laws and budgets that reflect a shared empathy and compassion for those around us, and a genuine interest in seeing everyone succeed.]
How are you going to ensure transparency in the budgeting process and make certain school funds (like Title I, Special Education, English Language Learners, and At-Risk Funding) are being spent where they are legally required, most needed and where those funds will provide the most benefit to students?
[Government transparency starts with a commitment from elected officials to be transparent. Everyone on the DC Council has a fundamental obligation to make information accessible to the people of our city, and they are falling short. Transparency in the budgeting process starts by holding hearings, meetings and forums at times and in places where parents and teachers can participate and testify. I know few parents, and no teachers, who are able to leave work in order to testify or participate in a budget forum or hearing held in the middle of the day. It’s incumbent on the DC Council to make sure important meetings are held at times where everyone can be heard, even if it means holding hearings at night or on weekends. Our city council is one of the highest-paid in the nation, so it seems perfectly reasonable to make that request of its members. We should be working as a community to appropriate dedicated dollars to programs, and hold appointees and staff in the Mayor’s office accountable for spending the money and carrying out the programs as our community expects, and our laws require.]
Would you support forensic accounting by the DC Auditor of DC Public Schools and DC Public Charter Schools budgets to ensure the money is being spent in direct service to students? Why or why not?
[Yes. There is a fundamental distrust held by many in our communities with respect to the administration of our schools, and whether our administrators and elected officials are being appropriately transparent and accountable for their decision-making. I support any efforts, including forensic accounting by the DC Auditor, to ensure we are providing full disclosure and transparency to our citizens, and are holding our leaders accountable for their performance, or lack thereof. There is a lack of disclosure, transparency and accountability at all levels of our DC government, and it imposes real-world harm on DC residents daily, which is one reason I decided to run for DC Council.]
DC Public and DC Public Charter Schools take on many large-scale initiatives in an attempt to address the achievement gap. One example is introducing models of computer-based “personalized learning” that include the purchasing and disbursement of large amounts of computer technology and purchasing expensive computer program licenses like Edgenuity.
How do you propose overseeing these funds and guaranteeing that they are being spent in an effective and equitable manner?
[I am supportive of any evidence-based large-scale initiative that will ensure gap closure, but I am not supportive of allocating substantial dollars for tools without accompanying oversight and quality measures in place. Blended learning and personalized learning has been shown to help students self-pace their learning while giving teachers valuable real-time data. So I am not opposed to investments in technology like Edgenuity just because it is expensive, but I am opposed to investing in expensive technology and not ensuring processes are in place to make sure it’s working for the students and teachers charged with using it. If programs like Edgenuity are demonstrating substantial benefit to our low-performing students, we should continue to invest accordingly. If, however, these programs are not providing a comprehensive solution, or are inaccessible or ineffective for students with special needs or language access issues, we need to identify those shortcomings and address them. I would be very supportive of creating feedback loops between panels of teachers and the city government, much like those that exist in the medical community among stakeholders, so we can identify best practices, and seek recommendations from those with daily hands-on experience with and exposure to these programs, to ensure we are allocating our dollars in the appropriate places.]
DC Public Schools also takes on a large number of initiatives in the local schools that require a lot of resources without providing additional funding. An example of this type of unfunded mandate is “LEAP,” a program that requires teachers to collaborate and engage in weekly professional development. On its surface, a program like this sounds good, but it has large time requirements, removes teachers from classrooms and lead to higher class sizes for the remaining teachers without additional funding. Despite repeated requests DCPS has yet to provide additional funds for this program and is leading to teacher burnout and increased churn.
How will you oversee the implementation of DCPS initiatives and make sure that local schools are being adequately staffed and resourced to carry them out?
[If teachers are being asked to do more work, they deserve more support, whether it be through increased pay, increased staff and teacher support in schools, or increased flexibility to carry out training and professional development exercises. The details and terms of professional development and training programs should be subject to collective bargaining, but all parties should start with a shared understanding that imposing new burdens on teachers means they will be sacrificing elsewhere, whether it be in the classroom, with lesson planning, or at home. That said, sustained, high quality professional development is important and I will make it a priority. Good professional development not only results in skill development for educators, but it can reinvigorate in teachers their passion for their subject area.
A common theme among teachers I have spoken to is the lack of time for lesson planning and other proactive work that improves the classroom experience for students. Teachers should not have to stay up until all hours of the night, in their own homes, doing work they get paid to do during the day. Requiring them to do so leads to burnout, and increases teacher churn. It’s fundamentally unfair, and it also sends the wrong signal to our teachers and parents, because the work they are doing matters a great deal to our society, and it should be treated accordingly. I would propose any new initiative that increases staff burden be accompanied by a burden assessment carried out by the DOE, and to the extent that we are adding extra hours or burden on our teachers and schools, it would be the responsibility of our government to provide appropriate funding and staff support accordingly before a requirement could be put in place.]
3. Testing and Accountability
Since No Child Left Behind was passed, and now under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), annual standardized tests have been used to determine student proficiency levels. This testing data has been used primarily for making high-stakes decisions— reconstituting or closing schools and terminating staff. Proficiency levels have been criticized as providing inaccurate measures of the effectiveness of schools that serve students who are behind academically. For example, a school that helped all of their students learn one year of material still would have a low proficiency rating if those students had started a year or more behind grade-level.
Alternately, student growth models have been developed to determine how many years of academic growth students have made each year. Such models require that the school system has accurate measures of each student’s skill mastery. This data then can be used to inform and adapt instruction. Acquiring this level of data requires tests that are adaptive — those designed to capture what a student knows, rather than simply whether they are performing at grade level.
What do you believe is the primary purpose of standardized testing?
[In current practice, the purpose of standardized testing is mostly limited to measuring student performance in order to make high-stakes accountability decisions at the school, district, or state level. However, I believe the primary purpose of standardized testing should be to measure comparative performance of students in the service of engaging parents in their child’s education and informing instructional decisions of teachers. Testing data might lead teachers to consider additional supports or enrichment opportunities a student might need to reach their full potential. Ongoing standardized testing could serve as a measure of progress for those students, in order to determine whether efforts to support their growth are successful. Standardized testing should not be used to punish teachers, or evaluate their performance. Teachers who are willing to guide and support low-performing students are doing particularly difficult work, and they should be supported, not punished. Standardized testing should also not be used to proactively dictate curriculum. Many teachers I have spoken with over the years expressed frustration when they felt at times as though they are being asked to “teach to the test,” which does not benefit our students.]
Who do you believe benefits from standardized testing, and how do they benefit?
[I believe standardized testing can benefit high-risk or low-performing students by measuring progress, rather than performance. It is an imperfect measure, but to the extent it allows us the ability measure improvement and establish trend lines, that information is useful to have if we can get it into the hands of teachers. Standardized testing can help identify low-performing students, and serve as a quantitative measure of their individual improvement that a teacher could use to validate certain classroom approaches or identify opportunities to try something new. The benefit of regular assessments is only achieved if teachers have the ability to see the results and identify approaches and lessons that have been successful, while also improving areas where academic progress has been slower than anticipated.]
There are teachers who do not have access to their current students detailed PARCC Score breakdowns in math and English, which are important to informing instruction and students mastering the material. How will you help get teachers access to this data?
[Since PARCC scores can and should be made available through online portals, it’s difficult to conceive of a justifiable scenario wherein a teacher is unable to access this information. The benefit of regular assessments is only achieved if teachers have the ability to see the results and identify approaches and lessons that have been successful, while also improving areas where academic progress has been slower than anticipated. I am supportive of any effort to ensure that teachers are able to gain access to these systems themselves to access scores, rather than rely on administrators to provide them. Every teacher who is charged with teaching students who are taking these tests should be granted access to the results, which serve as an important tool to measure progress and modify instruction techniques.]
Do you believe teachers should be rated using test scores? Why or why not?
[No. Test scores primarily measure static performance, they are an imperfect tool with respect to measuring achievement and progress. Teachers should be focused on the progress of their students, not evaluated based on static performance metrics that do not take into account factors such as special needs, language access issues, or other socio-economic factors that create and exacerbate achievement gaps in our schools and fall well outside the control of our teachers.]
Will you advocate with the Mayor and OSSE to switch to Common Core-aligned adaptive tests over non-adaptive tests? Why or why not?
[Yes. Adaptive tests provide a more useful evaluation of all students regardless of their current level of mastery. Adaptive tests are better able to identify and evaluate lower performing students, and that information provides educators with critical information that can be used to inform their instruction and support plans for those students. The purpose of testing should be to identify and support low-performing students, and adaptive testing provides a better chance to achieve that purpose.]
4. Governance of our Public Schools
In 2007 the majority of the City Council supported the mayor in changing the governance structure of DC Public Schools. The School Board no longer would be in charge of hiring and overseeing a school Superintendent, putting all of that authority under the mayor. The mayor was also given the authority to hire a position titled “Chancellor.” In most jurisdictions, School Superintendents have to pass rigorous coursework in educational leadership, receive state certification and have experience in leading. Chancellors, on the other hand, do not have the same level of requirements. The WTU believes that under the system of Mayoral Control there are no longer adequate systems of checks and balances when it comes to the governance of our public schools.
Will you introduce and/or support legislation that returns the power of oversight and hiring of a superintendent for DC Public Schools to a duly elected school board? Why or why not?
[Yes. Education experts have studied and debated the structure of public education in our cities, specifically as it relates to whether governance by a school board or Mayoral control leads to the best results for students and accountability to officials. Some suggest that the school board model leads to more access and accountability within communities, though studies also show that turnout in urban school board races is often about a third of what it is for a Mayoral race, which means fewer voices are deciding who will lead our schools, and wealthy stakeholders are more easily able to influence outcomes. A recent school board election cycle in Los Angeles attracted tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions from educational interests, which made the issues, and the money, increasingly difficult to track.
However, I would like to see DC have this conversation, because the public does not currently have full faith in our current governance model, with good reason. If we can implement a school board model that protects our elections from the influence of national stakeholders that have spent substantial money to elect school board candidates in other cities across the nation, I would support doing so in order to increase accountability at the neighborhood level, which is currently lacking. Many experts believe that Mayoral control allows for a level of transparency and accountability in a way that a more disparate school board system with high turnover cannot, which is why large cities throughout the nation have been transitioning to a Mayoral control model over the last ten to twenty years, but the recent scandals in DC have eroded public trust to such a degree that true reforms are necessary. We should be able to subject a school board to the same transparency and oversight requirements we expect of the Mayor.
The other overarching benefit articulated by those cities that have made this shift is that Mayoral control allows for long-term policies to be implemented without the deviation and policy shifts that result from a panel of regularly-changing school board members. Setting and executing large long-term goals, and having the institutional stability to do so, is a very worthy goal, so a move to a school board model should include a governance model that would not impede such policy objectives from being identified and carried out. One model that could further these ends would be a school board with an at-large chair who is elected to serve a longer term than other members, in order to provide the institutional stability needed to drive long-term reforms, while still requiring the support of, and accountability to, the board members on an ongoing basis. There are undoubtedly other school board models and best practices that could achieve this same goal, so that is an area worth exploring with input from experts and stakeholders.]
Local School Advisory Teams (LSATs) are required civic bodies within our schools that include is a group of elected and appointed members. The team (formerly the Local School Restructuring Teams) consists of parents, teachers, non-instructional school staff, a community member, and in some cases students, to advise the principal on matters that promote high expectations and high achievement for all students. The current implementation of LSATs has been wildly uneven throughout the District, with some schools having regular meetings and a principal who works with them, and others where the principal does not authentically engage. Under the current framework communities facing the latter are unable to do much about it, the “Advisory” being treated as such.
Will you introduce and/or support legislation that increases the power of the LSATs to empower parents, teachers and community within our local public schools? Why or why not?
[Yes. I am not interested in government theater, if bodies such as LSATs have been deemed by stakeholders to be important enough to exist, they should be empowered to make improvements when they identify problems. Parents, teachers and communities need to be empowered if we wish to achieve success in our public schools, not simply made to feel they have a voice only to have that voice ignored. That is always the case, but becomes particularly important when we have a demonstrated disparity in engagement from principals and other administrators, and a climate of distrust toward the city officials charged with overseeing our schools.]
In order to ensure accountability for our schools, will you support higher protections and additional oversight for whistleblowers who are then subject to retaliation?
[Yes. I have spent my entire campaign advocating for increased transparency, disclosure and accountability across our DC government. Whistleblower protections are critical if we wish to truly achieve a transparent government that is accountable to the people it serves. Offering whistleblowers full protection is always a common-sense reform in the eyes of those who believe in true government disclosure, and protecting teachers has become particularly timely in light of the recent school scandals we have seen in our city. In fact, there is no reason the DC Council should not take this on immediately as a way to show teachers, parents and the community that they take transparency and accountability within our public school system seriously.]
Washington DC is one of the few jurisdictions where public school teachers are not allowed to run for public office. In 2012 President Obama signed a law that removed District Government employees from following the Federal Hatch Act, but the DC Council enacted a law to maintain the same principles.
Will you be willing to introduce and/or support an update to the 2010 Local Hatch Act that allows teachers to run for public office?
[Yes. I am particularly sensitive to limitations placed on those who wish to run for office, having been told by many within our local democratic party infrastructure that they do not believe I deserve to run. I believe strongly that nobody in our government or our community has the right to determine whether someone should participate in our democracy by running for office. Teachers are members of our community, and running for office is a big commitment of time and energy. Anyone who believes they can improve their community by running for office should be given same right to participate in our democracy as anyone else.]
5. Cultivating Labor-Management Collaboration
In order to fulfill the promise of public education, the WTU believes the input of teachers and school employees is critical to the successful implementation of sustainable school reform. The collective bargaining process is the best way to guarantee that educators have a meaningful role in developing and implementing strategies to help students reach high academic standards. This includes the WTU having a meaningful voice in designing and implementing professional development, curricula and evaluation systems.
Specifically, how will you support the WTU in being more included in the process?
[I believe the professional development, curricula and evaluation systems should be developed in consult with teachers and school employees, with administrators and government officials understanding that those who are working in the space every day are best positioned to determine what can and cannot work in the real-world setting. To the extent that the implementation of policies and procedures has a meaningful budgetary impact, it would be the role of administrators and government officials to make those decisions, but reforms themselves should not be created, pushed or implemented without full input and guidance from the teachers who will be charged with carrying them out. I also believe teachers deserve to be involved in the process with respect to the time and financial costs associated with training and professional development requirements, because these changes can impose significant challenges for teachers. Training and professional development is important, but should be instituted in a way that does not impose unsustainable or insurmountable logistical or financial challenges for teachers.]
6. Serving Exceptional Students
The District has an obligation to provide students with special needs access to educational opportunities that are developmentally and emotionally appropriate. Due to lack of adequate staffing, oversight and targeted funding, students are not receiving their documented instructional (IEP) services — costing us millions in unnecessary lawsuits.
What structures and plans do you have to ensure students with special needs are receiving the services they need to succeed in school?
[It is inexcusable that students are not receiving services they deserve, and are entitled to by law. These programs deserve dedicated supplementary funding that meets the needs of every student, and there should be regular auditing by DCPS to ensure that each school is living up to its obligation to provide services to every student.
If elected, I will also push for an immediate markup and passage of the Language Access for Education bill. The number of residents in DC for whom English is not a first language continues to rise, yet DC lags behind most progressive cities in the nation with respect to accessibility to government services. As a Latina, this bothers me at a very personal level. At a minimum, we should be ensuring that children in our schools for whom English is not a first language are given the tools and resources to be successful, including translations of essential information and other materials that will contribute to their success.]
English Language Learners (ELL) require additional support in order to thrive in our schools. Currently too many of our schools are facing challenges adequately staffing these positions.
How will you ensure that our ELL students receive more robust and flexible resources and support?
[I would propose an amendment to the Language Access for Education bill that would lower the thresholds that trigger the presence of a language liaison from what has currently been proposed. A school could conceivably fail to meet the 5 percent or 500-student threshold and still be the only educational resource for a substantial number of children who will need assistance in order to succeed in school. I would suggest a method through which all students can be provided targeted support based on demonstrated need, without respect to whether their school meets a designated threshold. Our schools are unique, and our policies need to reflect that. The ability of a student to access needed services should not be limited by a shortage of staff or resources based on pre-set numbers, so any reforms must include mandatory dedicated funding that is flexible enough to meet the needs of every school, and adjust with an increase in funding or personnel if that is found to not be the case.]
Will you support guaranteeing that heritage language speakers be given priority for dual language programs? Why or why not?
[In an increasingly diverse city like DC, supporting heritage language speakers is critical in order to encourage and preserve the use of language and knowledge in our many communities. I would prioritize adequate funding, teacher recruitment and support to ensure that all of our students who wish to participate in dual language programs are able to do so. We are a city that has fallen well behind most comparable cities in the country when it comes to language access, and requiring waiting lists and priority lists for dual language programs is yet another example. Until such time as funding and infrastructure is in place to ensure that every student who would benefit from participation in dual language programs is able to do so, I would support guaranteeing that heritage language speakers be given priority.]
Will you support the pending Language Access Bill and ensure that DCPS and Charter Schools enforce it? Why or why not?
[Yes. The number of residents in DC for whom English is not a first language continues to rise, yet DC lags behind most progressive cities in the nation with respect to accessibility to government services. As a Latina, this bothers me at a very personal level. At a minimum, we should be ensuring that children in our schools for whom English is not a first language are given the tools and resources to be successful, including translations of essential information and other materials that will contribute to their success.
As part of any further consideration or markup of this legislation, I would like to see the thresholds that trigger the presence of a language liaison be lowered from what has currently been proposed. A school could conceivably fail to meet the 5 percent or 500-student threshold and still be the only educational resource for a substantial number of children who will need assistance in order to succeed in school. I would suggest a method through which all students can be provided targeted support based on demonstrated need, without respect to whether their school meets a designated threshold.
It is important for our elected officials to recognize that this problem exists beyond the walls of our schools. As an example, DC provides fewer language resources to Spanish-speaking residents than other large cities, even as our Latinx population continues to rise, perhaps in part because, unlike most major US cities, DC has never had a member of the Latinx community elected to serve on its legislative body.]
When schools receive a large amount of funds that are directed towards specific student populations (i.e., Special Education, English Language Learner, At-Risk) they are often finding that these funds are being used to supplant their general education funds instead of supplementing them. On the surface, it appears these schools are getting additional funding compared with schools that do not serve high levels of these populations. But, when broken down it is often apparent that these schools are receiving less general education funds than those other schools.
How will you ensure that specialty funds are not used to supplant local school budgets and our students get the fair funding they deserve?
[It is illogical for specialty funds to be considered as anything other than additional funding that should be directed toward students who require additional specialized support. Doing so sends an implicit message that our special needs and at-risk student populations are not deserving of specialized care and attention. I would advocate for a mandatory general education funding baseline that is set without regard to any additional specific funding that is sent to schools based on the unique needs of their student populations, and would push to ensure that special funding is earmarked to serve its intended purpose in such a way that it could not be absorbed into a school’s general funding or used to offset other cuts.]
7. Holding All Schools Accountable
What is the role of charter schools in D.C.? Do you believe they are adequately fulfilling that role?
[Charter schools emerged to bring innovation and testing new teaching methods that could then be replicated and adapted in other schools. They are given flexibility to achieve this goal. Charter schools also have the potential to meet the specialized needs of certain communities, and there are demonstrated examples of success in doing so whether because they offer unique programs, serve targeted student populations, or meet needs in communities that have a shortage of seats in their neighborhood schools.
While charter schools are providing high-quality education to many students, they have not been immune to problems and in some instances, have fallen short of the standards and measures they have committed to achieving. As such, it is important for additional steps to be taken to ensure that DC has adequate oversight authority over PCSBs, schools are subject to the same FOIA requirements as our public schools, and charter school funding does not come at the expense of public school funding and resources.]
How will you ensure that charter schools are meeting the same requirements as traditional public schools, particularly as they relate to access for all students (i.e., special education and ELL)?
[Unfortunately, the high number of nonprofits operating charter schools makes uniformity and oversight difficult for city officials sitting outside the PCSB. To alleviate the difficulties associated with ongoing oversight and compliance, I would support increased funding and authority for OSSE so they can fully exercise oversight and compliance activities and fully enforce IDEA. In concert with a push to expand the DC Council’s oversight activity in this space, something the Council has historically been hesitant to undertake, requiring certain charter school documents be filed with, and retained by, OSSE would hold charter schools and city officials accountable for performance and standards to a greater degree than is currently possible within our current system. I would also support modifying the reactive trigger policies currently in place, which inherently mean that in order for a government audit to occur, damage has to have already occurred. We should be seeking policies that allow us to proactively avoid issues, not wait around until someone flags a problem that requires a response. PCSB policies should be changed accordingly.]
Do you believe that charter schools should be allowed to hire unlicensed teachers? Why or why not?
[No. This is particularly important with respect to ensuring children with special needs are receiving a quality education, regardless of where they attend school. DC has long fallen short relative to the rest of the nation when it comes to prioritizing and funding educational services to students with special needs, which makes the need for ongoing standards, transparency and oversight all the more important. In addition to supporting licensure requirements for all teachers, I would support legislation to require charter school teachers working in special education to hold a license in special education, which is the same requirement to which DCPS teachers are held.]
Should charter school teachers have the right to organize and join a union? Why or why not?
[Yes. I believe every employee should have the right to organize and join a union, regardless of where they work. Unions are essential to ensuring a strong middle class, especially for workers of color and women. Having worked with legal services attorneys to demand rights for garment workers, car washers, domestic workers, construction workers, nail technicians, and other low-wage workers, I know how important unions are to protecting workers’ rights to equitable pay and other benefits we often take for granted. Teachers also deserve the right to bargain for things like personal time, sick days, duties during the day, reimbursement and training policies, and other important aspects of the job, regardless of whether they work at a public or charter school.]
If elected, will you introduce and/or support legislation requiring charter schools to follow the same FOIA request laws as DC Public Schools? Why or why not?
[I strongly support legislation that requires DC charter schools to be directly subject to FOIA laws. As is too often the case with the DC Council, several progressive jurisdictions have already taken this step, and it is time for our elected officials to follow this commonsense example. Charter schools receive substantial taxpayer funding each year, and in exchange for that ongoing funding it is exceedingly reasonable to demand high standards when it comes to performance and disclosure. There are inevitably instances where the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) is not able to be fully responsive to important FOIA requests that serve the public good, so it is reasonable to so expand our FOIA laws to include the nonprofit entities running the schools themselves.]
How will you pledge to solve the problem of misplaced and misdirected student allocations due to high student mobility from charter school to the traditional public school?
[It is important that students receive the education and support they deserve, so it follows that student allocations must follow students. I am committed to improving reporting, oversight and accounting measures at DCPS that would allow changes in the student population to be captured on a regular basis so funding can be moved accordingly.
The recent development at Duke Ellington should make it clear to all of us that regular comprehensive auditing is critical if we are to catch problems before they have a negative financial impact on our schools, students or city. It is important that these audits and any resulting changes occur without causing interruption to programs and services, so I would look forward to working with you to determine how best to implement such a policy without causing disruption during the school year, or limiting the ability of teachers and administrators to plan full-year programs based on their anticipated funding streams.]
8. Improving Early Childhood Education
We know from research that high-quality early childhood education and care programs like Head Start, Early Head Start, child care, preschool programs and full-day kindergarten increase the likelihood that young children, from birth to age five, will have the language and literacy foundation upon which later school success is built. Yet, as reflected in recent audit reports, universal pre-K has not been realized in the District, as too few children in our city—especially impoverished children—have access to quality early childhood programs.
How will you ensure all young learners have access to high-quality early childhood programs with appropriate funding in all parts of the city?
[I am currently living the importance of early childhood programs; each day I pick up my daughter from her toddler daycare she seems to have learned a new word, picked up a new motor skill, or flashed a new development of some sort. It’s truly amazing, and it has hammered home the importance of making these programs available to all children as early as possible. What’s more, I am witnessing daily the impact of an early education that is centered on social and emotional learning. Every child in the district deserves to benefit from learning how to collaborate, communicate, cope, and navigate interpersonal challenges.
DC should not only adequately fund the universal pre-K program to ensure that it’s accessible to every child in the city, but should seek to expand programs to daycares, and provide subsidies to families who wish to access these programs through a local daycare but cannot afford to do so. I am continuously dismayed at the DC Council’s lack of capacity to understand that the investments in health care, housing and education for our children we make today provide a return that benefits everyone in our city for years to come. Mandatory funding for these programs must be a priority every year; the budget allocation must increase immediately to meet the needs of every child in every part of our city, and the annual increase must keep pace with our growing population and the ongoing needs of our children.]
Achievement gaps begin before a student enters school in pre-K requiring extensive differentiation and scaffolding by the teacher to make sure all students are successful at mastering the material for their grade-level. How will you ensure that student-to-teacher ratios are low enough for our schools to be successful?
[As noted above, I was recently asked what I would say to parents of well-achieving students who do not receive attention from their teachers because they are focused on assisting low-performing classmates. My response was to reject the premise of the question, because it is our shared responsibility to lift all children in our community and provide them with an opportunity to succeed.
Student-to-teacher ratios should not be based on budgetary determinations made by the DC government, they should be based on information we receive from teachers and school personnel who are best equipped to determine what works for our students and what doesn’t. This feedback must be incorporated into our policymaking and funding decisions. Recognizing that each community, each school, and indeed each classroom is different, there needs to be sufficient flexibility within a school to determine that staffing levels are meeting the needs of all students. Our low-income children face health disparities, food insecurity, undiagnosed medical conditions, unstable housing, and many other challenges that our high-performing students never need to think about, so my primary concern is making sure they have the support they need to be successful, and that teachers are given the tools, resources and time they need to help them succeed.]
9. Implementing Supportive Teacher Development and Evaluation Systems
The best teacher evaluation systems are designed mutually with teacher unions to offer what most teachers are asking for nationwide: a system that supports the continual growth and development of teachers.
Punitive approaches to teacher evaluation systems produce a constant churn of teachers through mutual consent arrangements and cash buyout options. Studies show that students, schools and communities are negatively affected by this lack of stability. Furthermore, every year nearly $2 million of tax payer funds are spent by the district on early retirement and cash buyout options, leading to the perpetual separation of effective teachers and rehiring and training of new teachers.
Teachers in D.C. lost the right to bargain on teacher evaluation in 1997, and this loss means teachers’ voices no longer matter in an area highly pivotal to their professional growth, career advancement and effectiveness.
As Councilmember, will you support the WTU in lobbying efforts with Congress to return the right to collectively bargain on teacher evaluation? If so, how?
[Yes. I do not believe any level of our government should impose restrictions or otherwise infringe on the rights of any employees to organize, unionize or collectively bargain. Moreover, I am the only person in this race who has experience working in the federal government, having worked in both the executive and legislative branch, so I am the only candidate with a true understanding of what it takes to move legislation through our Congress.
How will you advocate with the mayor to change the current teacher evaluation policy so that teachers are supported in improving their practice, and not simply terminated after a single year due to a sometimes flawed and highly subjective evaluation system?
If an evaluation system does not take into account real-world challenges such as teaching with insufficient resources, or working with students with special needs or other performance issues, the evaluation system is inherently unfair. The same is true for any system that is unable to track and accurately measure progress over time. All teachers I have met agree that evaluation is worthwhile and measuring progress is important, because those things are in the best interest of our children, and as such they are willing to be subject to an evaluation process. It is exceedingly reasonable for teachers to expect that an evaluation be conducted fairly, in a manner that holds teachers to performance measures that take into account the difficulties of their jobs and do not trigger undue punitive responses that can in some cases be irreparable and career-altering. If IMPACT is not meeting these reasonable shared goals, it should be revisited in consult with teachers and administrators.]
How will you help redress those who are evaluated and terminated wrongfully?
[If a teacher is wrongfully terminated based an improper evaluation, they should immediately be given their job back, and should be compensated in full for any legal fees, lost wages, health benefits or retirement benefits lost during the process and be entitled to receive punitive damages from the city. If our government system is flawed to such a degree that a wrongful termination is allowed to happen, it is the responsibility of our government to make it right.]
Do you believe teacher churn is a problem? If so, how will you work to reduce teacher churn?
[Yes. Stability and continuity in our schools makes for a better learning environment for our children, keeps important institutional memory inside our school system, and allows long-term changes and improvements to be implemented with a measure of consistency and uniformity that benefits students. I believe we can reduce teacher churn by reforming our evaluation policy but also by supporting and empowering our teachers, through adequate pay and benefits, scheduled pay increases, expanded classroom resources, and limiting the financial and time pressures we place on teachers when we expand training and development requirements or limit funding for important programs.]
What are the three things the school district does well that you would continue to support and expand if elected?
[Our school district attracts great teachers; I would be privileged to work to support them with additional mandatory funding and resources to make sure they remain a part of our school district. Our school district has made strides in improving and renovating the elementary schools in our Ward, I would work to continue that process but also expand it to our middle and high schools so parents do not begin to look elsewhere for school options once their child ages out of elementary school. Ward 6 also serves as diverse a student population as any in the city, and the opportunity for our children to learn with and from each other is one of our great strengths. I would work to ensure that our neighborhood public schools remain the diverse reflection of our local community by supporting efforts to adequately fund and resource our schools and expand programs and performance so all of our families have a clear path to success in their neighborhood public schools.]
What are the top three challenges facing public education in the District of Columbia, and how will you address them if you are elected?
[The biggest challenges facing public education in DC is currently the lack of faith in our leaders caused by the recent graduation scandal and resignation of the Chancellor. We must immediately restore confidence in our school leadership by appointing and electing leaders who are committed to transparency, disclosure, accountability, and a strict adherence to ethical standards. We have fallen short of that measure, and need to take proactive public measures to correct course. This requires aggressive oversight, and honest assessments and discussions about where we went wrong and what we need to improve.
Additionally, a lack of funding, and understanding among our DC Council with respect to the importance of adequate funding, remains a substantial challenge. Simply increasing the budget for schools by a relatively static percentage year-over-year does not constitute a win if the increase does not take into account the specific needs of our ever-changing communities, students, and schools. We are spending less on our DC public schools now than we were a decade ago, which is unacceptable. The FY 2018 budget included a funding increase that was insufficient, and the percentage of that increase that actually went to public schools was insufficient as well. We need to correct each of these flaws in our current school funding methodology.]
If we endorse you and support your election, how will you work with us in the future?
[Whether you endorse me or not, I have been a teacher and I understand how important is for teachers to be listened to, especially by people in government who are in a position to provide resources and support. I don’t pretend to have all the answers to our complicated problems, but my experience in teaching and in government has given me a full understanding of how important these relationships are. That’s why I am the only candidate in this race who took the time and effort to complete this questionnaire myself, rather than have a staff member or volunteer do it for me. Teachers are among the most important people in our society, so I believe you deserve to hear from me, not someone pretending to be me. Regardless of your endorsement choice, I am committed to engaging and supporting your work, because our neighborhood children are more important than our local politics. Thank you for the opportunity to engage, and I hope to continue these important conversations in the future.]