By: Amanda Menas
Ruth Wattenberg defeated Dora Currea for the Ward 3 Board of Education race by collecting 70 percent of the vote, meaning she will continue to work for residents for a second term on the board in addition to three new colleagues in wards 1, 5, and 6. Prior to the election, she said she was running because “we’re getting some real traction on a set of issues.” Since the election, she discussed some of her top priorities with The Current.
Oversight and mayoral control
Many of the new and returning members of the Board of Education have expressed dissatisfaction with mayoral control of the D.C. education system, specifically with regard to gathering data about the system and the students in it. The overall sentiment from Wattenberg was, “That’s now how it works anywhere else in the country.” Because the mayor appoints the state superintendent of education and leaders of the major bodies they supervise, the chancellor of DCPS, and members of the charter board, there is potential for conflict when all are responsible to the mayor.
“Elsewhere, where the mayor controls the local school district, that school district’s practices and data are overseen by a state education agency, whose superintendent is not named by or responsible to that mayor. D.C. residents and families deserve the same,” says Wattenberg.
A future step she is advocating for is the legislation proposed by Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh is to establish an education research collaborative that would “cast a skeptical eye on key data, questioning how and why, for example, the city graduation rate jumped every year despite static test scores.”
School overcrowding has been another major concern for Wattenberg, especially in Ward 3 schools she advocates for. The next step for both herself and the Community Working Group is a memo from DCPS discussing the growth of school enrollment in the future and accommodating the growth. She says, “The ideas will include early childhood centers, the leasing of space to house additional schools, and more. We then need to make sure that these ideas get incorporated into the city’s long-term facilities plan and budgets.”
With the new five-star rating scale for schools starting in December 2018 created by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), schools will be rated predominantly on math and reading test scores. Due to this, parents, teachers, and students are concerned. Wattenberg says she will “urge the State Board to energetically review the results of the rating system and determine whether they have a negative effect on school quality, including curriculum, and if so, to recommend changes.”
Changes since the 2017 Memo to the Chancellor
Wattenberg admits it’s difficult to take big steps as an interim chancellor. She says it is “more than a shame” that there is no one in the position permanently after eight months. The concerns she and her co-author Markus Batchelor held last summer regarding teacher turnover, rosy data, centralized mandates, and narrowing curriculum still stand. She said, “It is our understanding that DCPS is moving forward to expand and improve “community schools,” which aim to support student learning by providing needed social and health services to students and their families. “We are delighted by this movement and await a high-quality, well-monitored implementation!”