WrittenTestimony on B23–0642, the “African American and Cultural Studies Inclusion Amendment Act of 2020;” and B23–0717, the “Expanding Equitable Access to Great Schools Act of 2020.”
Thank you Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Grosso and Members of the Committee on Education for offering this opportunity to provide testimony. My name is Jessica Sutter and I am honored to represent Ward 6 on the DC State Board of Education. I submit this testimony today as an individual.
I’d first like to speak about B23–0642, the “African American and Cultural Studies Inclusion Amendment Act of 2020;” which would require OSSE to develop an African American history and cultural studies curriculum for high school students enrolled in the District’s public school system.
As a former DC social studies teacher and current chair of the State Board of Education Social Studies Standards Committee, I agree that the District must do far more to ensure that all students have access to robust African-American history and cultural studies content, too often untold in, or forced to the margins of our collective national story.
The SBOE is currently working with OSSE on a comprehensive and public review of the currently outdated DC Social Studies Standards, written in 2006, which cover grades PK-12. The SBOE has convened a 26 member Social Studies Standards Advisory Committee comprised of teachers, administrators, academics, museum professionals and other experts to make recommendations on how to improve the framing, content & approach the District should take to learning standards for history, geography, economics, and civics.
With that process underway, I hope that Councilmember McDuffie and his Council colleagues will reconsider this legislation at this time.
As others have noted, learning standards are the purview of OSSE and the SBOE, but decisions about curriculum & course design are left to our LEAs. Our standards revision work is just beginning — our first SSSAC meeting was in July — but my sincere hope is that the work results in African-American history and cultural studies woven throughout 12 years of what we ask District students to learn. Rich & culturally diverse standards will allow LEAs to create many opportunities for students to experience Black history in the curriculum, not just in a single course in high school.
As my colleague Markus Batchelor noted, Karen Williams and I will be reaching out to Council to review the SSSAC process and answer any questions council members may have about the social studies standards and the revision process.
I’ll spend the remainder of my time on B23–0717, the “Expanding Equitable Access to Great Schools Act of 2020.” All DC students deserve access to strong educational programs. All DC students & families also deserve choices about the educational options which best suit their needs and interests. In DC, we have two ways families can access public school choice: families can move to a neighborhood with a DCPS school they choose for their child or they can enter the My School DC lottery to access charter school and out-of-boundary or citywide DCPS options.
We know — but do not often talk about the fact — that the former way of accessing school choice is driven by inequity. Neighborhood schools that are in-demand are often located in neighborhoods that are in demand, with high rents and home prices. Not everyone can afford to live in some of our most sought after public school boundaries, effectively limiting access to these school choices to more affluent families. Changing this path to access is difficult — it would require revisiting school boundaries or changing policy to allow for more out-of-boundary seats to be reserved in neighborhood schools. To be clear, I support difficult policy changes to integrate our neighborhood public schools & hope our increasingly progressive Council will consider how they can be instrumental in such efforts, both via housing policy and education policy efforts.
Our other path to school choice in the District, the My School DC lottery, offers a more expedient path to expanding equitable access to school choices for families. The lottery includes a variety of available preferences for schools to apply to enrollment processes. I urge Council to add an “at-risk preference” to that list.
Two recent reports from the DC Policy Center offer evidence that support the need for this legislative change. Yesterday’s update to the Landscape of Diversity in D.C.’s Public Schools report indicates that student diversity remains low in DC’s public schools. Last week’s report on the potential of offering an enrollment priority for students identified as at at-risk suggests that this legislation can both help increase socio-economic diversity in our schools and has the potential to improve match rates for individual students. A policy change that can both help influence both individual benefits for marginalized students and families and add to the general public good is truly valuable change.
As the DC population has grown and become more diverse, via rapid gentrification, more families have chosen to participate in public schools. Our choice system has also been good for the growth of participation in public schools — but we must continually adjust our systems to ensure truly equitable access for all children to both our highest quality schools and our breadth of educational options. I urge the Council to pass this legislation.