Testimony of Dr. Michelle J. Walker-Davis, Executive Director DC Public Charter School Board
Written Testimony of Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis, Executive Director
DC Public Charter School Board Hearing on School Improvement Amendment Act
Committee of the Whole
June 22, 2023
School Improvement Amendment Act
Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson, and members of the Committee of the Whole. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the School Improvement Amendment Act. I am Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis,
Executive Director of the DC Public Charter School Board. I want to start by acknowledging all the teachers who are responsible for a great start to the 2023-2024 school year. I have visited several schools this year and have seen students excited about learning and teachers passionately diving into lessons. I also want to recognize the hard work of our public charter school principals and LEA leaders. Not only are they fostering strong environments for learning in their buildings, but they are connecting families with wrap-around services, working to ensure students are safe in and out of school, and supporting their staff members to grow as educators and leaders. I know schools face many challenges, and I am happy to see educators meet the moment.
Every student deserves to attend a school with rigorous academics, highly qualified teachers, and opportunities to explore their interests. And we know that right now some DC schools need some additional support to make that vision a reality. We all support investing in schools, so students’ academic outcomes improve. The question is how we achieve that goal.
Investing in and supporting schools dovetails with our work to revise our accountability system, and why we chose to evaluate schools on a more granular level. Following the pandemic, it is more important than ever to focus on how schools serve historically marginalized students.
We appreciate that the bill includes language which requires OSSE to explain how their support model will align with our accountability system. As the District’s sole charter authorizer, DC PCSB has the responsibility to monitor and review public charter schools as well as renew their charters, pursuant to the School Reform Act. We do this by holding schools accountable to a set of goals approved by our Board, and we review their performance and compliance with their goals every five years. In review and renewal reports, we focus on a school’s progress to meeting its goals, academic expectations, and fiscal management. If a school needs to make significant academic improvements, our staff will recommend conditioning their continuance and require additional monitoring. During the period between reviews, we have multiple touchpoints with schools, assisting them on understanding their data and working with them to improve their outcomes.
We hope that OSSE’s proposal will recommend that the support program timeline aligns with our five-year review process. It is important that schools receive the full five years of OSSE support prior to coming up for review or renewal. Noticeable improvement often takes schools three to five years, and we need to evaluate the school based on its performance after the implementation of a full suite of support resources.
In addition to the time required to see outcomes improve, significant school improvement requires dedicated funding sources year over year. To drastically improve outcomes, schools may need to hire more support staff, teachers with specialized credentials, or revamp their
entire curriculum. These are costly investments. When the Council budgets for these support services in FY26, it is critical to fund the program fully based on OSSE’s recommendations and ensure that funding continues in future years.
While funding is key to successful school improvement, a strong plan needs to guide where resources go. As OSSE, DC PCSB, and other agencies collaborate to create the support program, we must reflect on how DC schools successfully improved in the past and focus on evidence-based interventions. For example, Perry Street Public Charter School successfully conducted a turnaround effort in the 2010s. From spring 2015 to spring 2019, Perry Street went from 7.6% ELA proficiency to 30.4% proficiency. They also worked with a research organization to evaluate what strategies led to their success.
Researchers found that the school significantly improved because of their intentional improvement plans, systematic day to day overhaul of operations, and a plan to sustain change. Perry Street created needs assessments at the start, and they routinely monitored their implementation and used their assessments to make data-driven decisions. The school also ensured they had board members and leaders dedicated to change. They revamped their talent philosophy, financial and operational practices, and their approach to curriculum and instruction. They also knew that teachers and principals needed coaching throughout the process to sustain improvements following the research period. These practices combined led to improved academic outcomes for their students. Research from outside the District also points to employing these practices for substantial improvement.
While there are many aspects of the bill which we support, we do have a few concerns. Any bill which addresses the operations and instructional choices of schools must ensure that the voices and perspectives of schools inform implementation. In the introduced language of the bill, there is no requirement that OSSE consult with public charter LEAs as they draft their report on the structure of the school support program. While I trust that OSSE will engage with schools, I want to be clear and consistent in legislative proposals that DC PCSB’s voice is not a 1:1 substitute for that of the people running individual LEAs. To that end, we recommend adding PK-12 public charter LEAs to the list of organizations that OSSE needs to consult as they build out the program. As the Council moves this legislation forward, I recommend that you also consider the unique needs of our alternative and adult schools as they require different services and supports than Pk-12 campuses.
We must remember there are many factors that impact student and school performance which are outside of the control of school leaders and teachers. Many DC students face food insecurity, unstable housing, and do not feel safe in their communities. We need to ensure
that the agencies and nonprofits which address these challenges also have the resources they need to provide wrap-around services to families. Schools are not health centers, and teachers are not public safety experts. We cannot continue to ask schools to take on these responsibilities without an impact on their primary responsibilities. Our leaders and teachers are experts on learning, and we must let them focus on instruction. Lessening these burdens will not only help boost academic quality but also decrease citywide staff turnover rates.
Like schools, nonprofit support groups need not only the funds but the right people to fill those roles. DC PCSB and our education colleagues want schools to have all the resources they need to create thriving learning communities and accelerate learning, but students must have their basic needs met outside of the school building as well. I know this is a common goal of education leaders and the Council, and I hope to see that whole child and family supports receive significant attention when you all negotiate the budget in the spring.
Thank you, Chairman Mendelson, and the rest of the Council for your commitment to equity and education. I am happy to address any questions that you may have. Thank you.