Ruth in the News

Ruth Wattenberg is the superior candidate for Ward 3

Originally posted by Fernando Laguarda, in the Washington Post on October 23, 2018.

The Oct. 20 editorial endorsement of Dora Currea to represent Ward 3 on the D.C. State Board of Education was stunning, and not in a good way [“For D.C. Council and school board”]. Anyone attending the Oct. 15 candidates’ forum at the Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library could tell Ruth Wattenberg is the superior candidate.

The Post appeared to have based its endorsement of Ms. Currea on Ms. Wattenberg’s failure to salute the STAR rating system for public and charter schools. But at the Tenley forum, Ms. Wattenberg made clear that STAR is flawed because it does not adequately measure student growth — a position widely shared by the education-policy community. Indeed, the reasons The Post gave about minding the achievement gap are precisely why experts are skeptical of rating systems like this. If fighting for equity and accountability, demanding access to data, and pressing the mayor and the school system’s appointed leaders to do a better job, as Ms. Wattenberg has done, represent a “negative influence on the board,” I’ll take more of it.


The "Canary in the Classroom": The SBOE's new report on teacher and principal turnover

Teacher turnover is the “canary in the classroom,” alerting us, as the canary in the coalmine did, to unhealthy conditions in our schools.  As education researcher Andy Hargreaves has written, “Fulfilled learners don’t come out of a system of frustrated and unfulfilled teachers.”
             Members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) have heard over and over again that teacher turnover rates are way too high and impeding good education.  Last summer, a number of teachers and advocates across the city testified before the SBOE on the issue.  
            Amazingly, neither DC Public Schools, the charter school board, or the Office of the State Superintendent of Education systematically collect and maintain these data.  So discussions about this important issue have largely revolved around individual stories and anecdotes.  Earlier this year, the State Board commissioned Mary Levy, a long-time DC schools researcher to prepare a report on teacher turnover. Here’s what she found:

  • 18-19% of teachers* leave DCPS (DC Public Schools) annually, 5-6 points higher than in other urban districts and roughly 10 points higher than the national average.
  • At the school level, in both DCPS and across the charter school sector, the average annual turnover rate has been consistently over 25%. In other cities the average is 16-19% annually.  Nationally, the range is about 16%.

  • In schools where more than 60% of students are at-risk**, the rate is over 30% per year! In comparison, the rate is about half that--18%--in schools with the fewest number of AR students. 

  • Among principals, the turn-over rate is also close to 30% in schools with over 80% at-risk students.

  • 55% of DCPS teachers leave the system over 5 years compared to 45% in other urban systems.

Why turnover is such a huge problem:

Two summers ago, after some 20% of the teachers at Wilson High School left, I worked with my Ward 8 colleague on the State Board of Education, Markus Batchelor, to write an article for City Paper that explored teacher turnover in DCPS. Here is part of what we wrote:

“Teacher turnover is bad for learning, for many reasons. Kids are constantly getting brand new, inexperienced teachers (not every departing teacher is replaced by a newbie, but with such constant flux, most surely are.) Study after study shows that first-year teachers are the least effective, followed by second- and third- teachers. After year three, teaching quality improves more slowly, though it continues to grow.  In DCPS, nearly a quarter of first year teachers leave after their first year and 46 percent after two years.  Meaning: We are virtually assuring that a large portion of our students each year—and an even larger portion in our highest-poverty schools-will be taught by the least effective teachers.”  For more, click here.


D.C. Needs to Get School Accountability Right

Excerpt from Northwest Current - Viewpoint. First published February 22, 2017.

Remember “No Child Left Behind”? That was the federal education law that rated schools solely on end-of-year reading and math test scores. The law focused schools on academic achievement, highlighted previously ignored achievement gaps based on race and income, and propelled initiatives to close these gaps.

But with its reliance on reading and math scores, the law had unintended, damaging consequences: over-testing, narrowing the curriculum and school goals, and failing to recognize high-poverty schools whose students were making strong progress. Plus, its strict focus on test scores discouraged schools from ensuring the rich curriculum and healthy school climate that research tells us improve student achievement.

The result was a national backlash and a new law — the Every Student Succeeds Act, enacted 14 months ago by a bipartisan vote of Congress — that requires states to create new rating plans, and gives them more flexibility over how to do it.

The D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education released its rating proposal on Jan. 31. Alas, the proposal — which is open for public comment through March 3 at — takes too little advantage of the new flexibility and keeps much of what was wrong with No Child Left Behind.

To read full viewpoint, click here

What D.C. Test Scores Don't Tell Us: From The Washington Post

Excerpt from The Washington Post - September 30, 2016.

The recent decline in test scores at two highly regarded D.C. high schools opens a window onto the meaning of test scores and how we use them.

D .C. Public Schools laid the blame for the recent decline in test scores at Wilson and School Without Walls mainly on students who supposedly tanked the standardized tests in order to focus on Advanced Placement tests.

But that is only part of the story.

Last spring, DCPS directed many students at these schools to take the annual reading and math tests in classes in which they weren’t enrolled. Some 12th-graders had to take tests in subjects they had not studied in four year — and had never studied at the school to which their scores would be attributed. This made no sense — and clearly would result in scores that also made no sense. School officials, parents and I asked DCPS and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to fix the problem.

Officials acknowledged that the testing assignments were nonsensical and blamed each other for this happening. But they didn’t solve the problem.

In their refusal to act, DCPS and OSSE officials gave the impression that the usefulness and integrity of the tests weren’t important, that the valuable time that students and teachers would devote to meaningless tests didn’t matter and that fixing the bureaucratic blunder wasn’t worth their effort. Not surprisingly, many students refused to take the tests as seriously as in the past.

To read full article, click here

Ruth's Testimony on Independent Education Research

Excerpt from Ruth's Testimony to DC City Council's Committee of the Whole (April 14, 2016)

Two weeks ago over 150 people came to a meeting about data, research and DC education. The need for more knowledge about our schools resonates. Lots of people want it, and what was clear from the testimony is that different folks—teachers, policymakers, advocates, after school programs, school leaders–need and want different stuff. The needs overlap but aren’t the same. Figuring out what data exists and doesn’t, what is needed by who, and how to get it is a huge challenge—both political and technical. It’s why our proposal calls for among other things an initial audit of what exists and what needs to exist. One need is for more and better raw data. I won’t focus on this except to note that part of what we don’t know is how our most vulnerable and lowest-income students are progressing—a huge hole in our knowledge—and something pointed out by the State Board of Education last spring in its report to OSSE on the renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act.

I want to on focus on another piece of our proposal that is less well understood, the need for research that is independent and public; that reflects a wide variety of viewpoints; that is practice based and improvement focused. The kind of research famously undertaken by the Chicago Consortium on School Reform, a partnership between University of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools, founded by Tony Bryk, now copied in more than a dozen cities. It has consistently produced some of the very best research that exists in education.

I used to think that the reason their work was so good is just that they were really good. But, I was on a panel earlier this week with Bryk, and I realized in a way that I hadn’t before that it’s not just that they’re good. They do something different. And we need that different approach—along with better access to more and better data.

To read full testimony, click here


What we need to know about D.C. schools

Read the opinion piece Ruth authored that helped launch the effort to create independent research collaborative. (Excerpt from Washington Post, August 27, 2015)

According to the report, information about many important topics is incomplete, much of the available information is not systematically reviewed or analyzed and much of it is not made publicly available. Fundamentally, to quote the report: “There is no coordinated system of ongoing monitoring and evaluation for learning conditions that covers all public school students.”  And, further, “Education budgeting, resource allocation, and financial reporting are not clear and easily traceable processes in DCPS or charter schools.”The National Research Council, at the request of the D.C. Council, and under the District auditor, recently released its five-year study on how D.C. education has fared since its governance structure changed eight years ago. The overwhelming finding of the report, on topic after topic, is how hard it is to figure out what’s going on in our schools, what’s working and what’s not.

I am a member of the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE), and I couldn’t agree more.  The state board is charged with approving the District’s school accountability and reporting plans as developed by the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE — the District’s state education agency). It also advises OSSE and others on educational program and policies. Yet, often we can’t get the information we need. Pity the parents without even a bully pulpit to speak from!  It’s time for the District to create a serious plan for collecting and using education data to understand and improve our schools.

To read full piece, click here

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  • Ruth Wattenberg
    published this page in About 2018-10-25 16:05:48 -0400