Council of the District of Columbia
Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery
Joint Public Hearing on the District’s Public Education System as it Emerges from the Public Health Emergency
May 26, 2021
Testimony of Jacqueline Pogue Lyons, President
Washington Teachers’ Union
AFT Local 6
Good afternoon. I am Jacqueline Pogue Lyons, President of the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU). I’d like to thank the Council, educators and the broader community for the outpouring of support that myself and the WTU received following the passing of President Elizabeth Davis earlier this year. As you know, Liz was a tireless and passionate advocate for our city’s educators and its students. As I appear before you today, I want to stress that her legacy of fighting for social and educational justice for the students of the District of Columbia will continue under my leadership of the Washington Teachers’ Union.
The last year has been trying for us all. Teachers were thrust into new learning environments, required to learn and adapt to new technologies on a dime with minimal training or preparation. COVID-19 exposed the stark digital divide that plagues our city. DCPS, rather than engaging teachers, our students and our families, rushed forward with ill-advised plans for broad reopening before it was safe resulting in distrust that continues to hamper efforts to bring students back into our school buildings. When we did partially reopen in February, it was successful because DCPS engaged teachers – the WTU signed a Memorandum of Agreement in December outlining key safety protections for our students and teachers – and communities through local school advisory teams that were tasked with customizing plans for their communities and inspecting the work done to prepare our school buildings for reopening.
Even with the partial reopening of our schools this spring, most of our students and their learning has remained virtual for the past year. As a kindergarten teacher, I know first-hand the importance of face to face interaction with my students, and I know that those experiences cannot be replicated in virtual settings. It is certain that many students, across all grade levels, have “lost learning” over the past year. No amount of investment in our community will change the outcomes for students if we fail to recognize the injustices and gaps that plagued our city prior to the pandemic.
When our nation entered the health pandemic, fewer than 40% all DCPS students received a 4+ on the District’s annual exam (PARCC) in English Language Arts (ELA). And across all grades, achievement gaps on PARCC testing for both math and ELA were growing (See appendix 1). As we emerge from the pandemic, we must have a plan and targeted investments that will not simply get students “back on track to where they were” but dramatically changes the trajectory of our educational systems in the District of Columbia to prioritize and close the longstanding opportunity and achievement gaps that plague our city.
I can also tell you that there are three needed investments that our city can make that would immediately help our students regain lost learning and close the long-standing and persistent achievement gaps. Smaller classrooms. Co-teaching models. And, School Librarians. I hope this committee will urge DCPS to reconsider its budget priorities and invest in these solutions using both local and federal funds.
First, Reduced Class Size. Research shows that students in smaller classes perform better in all subjects and on all assessments when compared to their peers in larger classes. In smaller classes, students tend to be as much as one to two months ahead in content knowledge, and they score higher on standardized assessments. The Washington Teachers’ Union believes that class size should be capped at 20 students in elementary schools that serve more than 65% students who are classified as “at-risk.” In Middle and High School ELA classes should be capped at 20 students in schools that serve more than 65% of students who are classified as “at-risk.”
Second, Adoption of Co-Teaching and Collaborative Teaching Models. Collaborative teaching is a process where educators plan together either by subject or in an interdisciplinary way and it brings together teachers to provide additional support in classroom settings. By establishing collaborative models, DCPS will ensure that student learning is placed into context that helps them make connections to other elements of the curriculum and the real world. DCPS should expand the amount of planning time available to educators to allow for the adoption of co-teaching and collaborative teaching models in all school communities. In settings where more than 80% of students qualify as at-risk, co-teaching models should be implemented.
And third, a Librarian in every school. Librarians partner with classroom teachers to provide equitable access to reading materials and co-teach resource-rich literacy. When schools have high-quality library programs and librarians who share their expertise with the entire school community, student achievement gets a boost. Librarians close the Information Literacy Gap with high school students. DCPS should ensure that all schools have a full-time librarian. Additionally, schools with an enrollment of more than 800 students shall be required to fund additional librarian positions to ensure all students have equitable access to the resources and programming school librarians provide.
Our neighborhood schools have long been on the front line of dealing with the trauma our students face and they’ve long been under-resourced. As we emerge from the pandemic, our schools should not have to make a choice between funding programs and positions to meet both the academic and social-emotional needs of their students. We must – for the first time – fund both. Additionally, in addition to ensuring our schools are fully-funded and staffed, I encourage the District to make two key investments that will shape the trajectory of our city’s students.
First, the city must invest to ensure that every student is supported in their school community. The Washington Teachers’ Union hopes that the city will invest in the Community Schools structure to help ensure needed support systems are in place for our students and families. Community Schools build partnerships with community organizations to connect our students and their family members to the resources they need to thrive. There shouldn’t be a one size, fits all approach to ensuring that every DC student has a well-supported, caring environment in which they attend school.
Second, the District needs to build out its broadband infrastructure with the goal of ensuring every family access to free high-speed internet service. Internet access is no longer a luxury that can be afforded to some students. In an increasingly complex and global environment, every student needs a computer and high-speed internet to access the materials and information to complete regular homework assignments and materials that build upon classroom lessons.
I’d like to thank you for taking time to listen to me today. I’d be happy to answer any questions.