Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on Education & Committee of the Whole

Jul 31, 2020

By Shannon Hodge, Founding Executive Director, DC Charter School Alliance

My name is Shannon Hodge and I am the Founding Executive Director of the DC Charter School Alliance (“DC Alliance”), the local non-profit that advocates on behalf of public charter schools to ensure that all students in the District receive the great public education they deserve. 

On behalf of the DC Alliance, I am testifying in support of the Expanding Equitable Access to Great Schools Act of 2020 (B23-0717) and the Child Enrollment Preference Amendment Act of 2020 (B23-0818). My written testimony also provides additional context for the African American and Cultural Studies Inclusion Amendment Act of 2020 (B23-0642). The bills before you today will create greater opportunity, equity, and access for DC students and support the work of our schools to improve educational outcomes for all students. 


B23-0717: Expanding Equitable Access to Great Schools Act of 2020 

All students in DC deserve access to high-quality schools and schools that offer unique programming. Nonetheless, too many DC schools lack the diversity reflected in the District’s population, even when their leaders have prioritized providing high-quality educational experiences for all students. We have learned over the past couple of years of experience and from the research of My School DC and the D.C. Policy Center that even when high-quality, popular schools are committed to providing access to a diverse group of students, they are not always able to do so. 

DC’s common lottery has improved the landscape for school choice in many ways. In a city with a complex, sophisticated educational landscape like the District’s, a common lottery is one way to level the playing field and improve access for all students. But as the D.C. Policy Center has noted, some of the existing mechanisms of the common lottery inadvertently maintain existing school demographics at the expense of increased access and diversity (1).  

We know that in some schools, the majority of open seats are matched to students who are siblings of the schools’ current students. And we know that students designated as “at-risk” participate in the lottery at lower rates than students not designated as “at-risk”. Taken together, what this means in (2) practice is that even if a high-quality school dedicated to equity and access enhances its recruitment plan and strategy to target students who are designated as “at-risk”, the school will inevitably fall short of its desired goal. There is simply no way for the school participating in the common lottery to prioritize enrollment of these students. 

The issue is simple. Schools want to serve students who are more representative of the city’s population. And families want more access to high-quality, high-demand schools that they may not have been able to access before. The common lottery should facilitate, not hinder, matches between these schools and these families. 

Just as the issue is simple, so too is the solution. The District needs to make more high-quality seats available to students designated as “at-risk”. The at-risk preference before you is one way to do that. 

The DC Alliance supports the at-risk preference because our schools support the at-risk preference. We recently surveyed charter school leaders, and more than half of them were in favor of a preference that would enable them to enroll more students designated as “at-risk”. Another quarter of the leaders responding were open to the preference. 

This preference is clearly something that schools want, and something that will enhance the choices that parents have already made. One of the DC Alliance’s responsibilities as an advocacy organization and, if you will indulge me for a moment, one of your responsibilities as public officials, is to ensure that all students, including those who are most vulnerable and most at-risk of academic failure, have equitable access to all the options this amazing city provides. 

We hope the Council will recognize the need for this lottery preference and give DC’s most vulnerable students greater access to high-demand schools of their choice. 

B23-0818: Child Enrollment Preference Amendment Act of 2020 

The Child Enrollment Preference Amendment Act of 2020 (B23-0818) is another bill designed to correct for unintended consequences of the common lottery. This will allow multigenerational schools to continue offering programs that benefit both parenting students and their children. 

The DC Alliance is pleased to support this effort to enact a minor but critical edit to the existing common lottery preferences to enable existing and future multigenerational schools to ensure their families can remain as one unit when they exercise choice to apply to a school that serves adult and early childhood populations simultaneously. In schools, as in many other aspects of the services we provide as a city, keeping families together is a priority that we can all value. Thank you for your consideration of this legislation. 

B23-0642: African American and Cultural Studies Inclusion Amendment Act of 2020 

The African American and Cultural Studies Inclusion Amendment Act of 2020 (B23-0642) is driven by a powerful purpose, namely ensuring that high school students have meaningful exposure to African-American history and culture. As the holder of a bachelor’s degree in African American studies, I can personally attest to the importance of ensuring that school curricula include the history, literature, and culture of the African diaspora. 

This bill is a powerful signal to the entire city. And while the DC Alliance supports the spirit of this legislation and recognizes its importance, we must emphasize the School Reform Act (SRA) grants charter schools exclusive control over their instructional methods and curricula. Under the SRA, charter schools have the ability to choose their curricula and tailor them to the needs of their students, models, and programs. In fact, many charter high schools already offer African American studies as part of their history, literature, and cultural course options. 

We also want to emphasize that the SRA has carefully assigned responsibilities for providing direction for curricula in that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) works with the State Board of Education (SBOE) to develop state-level standards. And local education agencies use those standards to develop curricula tailored to their students and schools. 

Earlier this month the SBOE formed a committee of representatives from both the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools to explore and improve social studies standards across all grade levels. We believe the Council should look to that committee’s report and OSSE’s and the SBOE’s actions in response to that support to achieve the purpose of this litigation. 

Thank you for your attention to these important issues and for the opportunity to engage. The DC Alliance looks forward to working together to continue supporting the needs of our schools and most importantly, our students. 

1 Coffin, C. (2020). At-risk priority in D.C.’s common lottery: Potential for Access and Diversity. D.C. Policy Center. https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Final_Priority-for-at-risk-students-in-common-lottery.pdf  

2 Peretti, C. & Parrott, A. (2018). Giving at-risk students preference in a unified lottery for public schools. My School DC. https://www.myschooldc.org/sites/default/files/dc/sites/myschooldc/page/MSDC%20At-Risk%20Preference%20in%20a %20Unified%20Lottery%204.26.2018_Final.pdf