Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on Education By Shannon T. Hodge

Oct 2, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Good morning Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Grosso, and members of the Council.

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 pleased to testify about distance learning in public charter schools during the public health emergency.

Today, you will hear from numerous members of DC’s education community, including school leaders, teachers, students, parents, and government officials. And one recurring message that you will likely hear is that distance learning is hard—really hard—for everyone. When school buildings closed in mid-March to allow the city to respond effectively to COVID-19, many assumed that schools would just need to flip a switch to have schooling take place at home. More than six months later, we all recognize how shortsighted that assumption was.

As we continue schooling during the global pandemic, we have learned many lessons, some of which I would like to share with you today.

In the last few months, the DC Charter School Alliance has regularly surveyed charter school leaders to understand more about distance learning in the city’s 128 charter schools and for the more than 40,000 students in charter schools. We learned that:

  • About one-third of charter schools are serving students in person, most with small groups of students, including students with disabilities and students identified as vulnerable;
  • About 20% of charter schools are providing childcare for children of their staff and another 50% are interested in potentially doing so;
  • Ninety percent of schools are providing meals to students, most at school sites, but also at posts set up throughout the city and by delivery;
  • Over 90% of charter school students have devices for learning and over 85% have access to the internet at home, including devices and access provided by their schools; and
  • Most leaders see remote learning as necessary and important, but not ideal.

We know and have seen that charter school teachers and leaders have adapted quickly to meet the academic and nonacademic needs of their students, including by accelerating learning plans to mitigate unfinished learning from last school year, providing in-person learning to small groups of students, and essentially redesigning their learning models to meet students’, families’, teachers’, and staff’s needs during these unprecedented times.

From our surveys, we have also heard loudly and clearly from school leaders about the challenges of distance learning, including that:

  • Validating student attendance, administering student assessments, and monitoring student engagement and learning are difficult;
  • Establishing learning routines is important and difficult, but possible, and may be undermined by intermittent returns to in-person learning;
  • The needs and concerns of families and students vary substantially across the city, so leaders must be attuned to the needs of the multiple communities represented in their schools;
  • Teachers, staff, and school leaders are focused, stressed, exhausted, and struggling.

While today’s hearing is about distance learning and not about reopening school buildings, I do want to share that there is great concern among many charter school leaders that many schools are not yet ready to reopen school buildings to all students. Not only are public health metrics complicated to understand and plan from, but school leaders are still working through the challenges of preparing facilities and HVAC systems, addressing staff childcare concerns and their physical and mental health needs, securing private nurses and on-site COVID-19 testing, and figuring out how students who use public transportation can safely get to and from school buildings. And school leaders recognize that many members of their communities will not send their children into buildings until COVID-19 poses no threat to them.

As I said earlier, distance learning is by no means ideal, but for many students, families, and schools, it represents the best option, and the charter sector is rising to the challenge of educating students during these unprecedented times.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome any questions.

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