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Teacher Retention Testimony from Alice McNeill

I am Alice McNeill, reading specialist at Garfield Elementary School in Ward 8. First, thank you to the council for holding this hearing at a time where I, a teacher, can actually participate. This is my fourth time signing up to testify, and the first time when I can actually attend, as the hearings are usually during my contract hours when I am teaching children at school. I’m excited to share some of my thoughts with the council on teacher turnover and how to begin to effectively tackle the record teacher turnover in DC schools.

Teacher turnover is at crisis levels within DCPS.

At Garfield we are currently missing a third grade humanities teacher, fourth grade math teacher, art teacher, librarian, and music teacher. These are essential subjects that our students are missing. This also puts an additional strain on the teachers who are here, during an already difficult year, as COVID is still very much present and lack of instructional time due to over-testing remains an issue. We are stretched too thin trying to cover these extra duties to give children the education they are entitled to, as well as just physically keep them safe with adult supervision at all times.

The WTU contract expired over three years ago and is headed to arbitration. Yes, I am asking that the council exercise its oversight to make sure that we are not in this situation again, however, a valid contract is the floor, the very minimum, to attempt to address the highest teacher turnover rate in the nation. We need to be fairly compensated, have more planning time, and have a fair and efficient grievance process, however, there are other concrete steps the council can take immediately that would keep teachers in our schools.

First, restore COVID leave.

Teachers are indoors without a mask mandate and without weekly asymptomatic testing. Inevitably, many of us will test positive for COVID, and one infection wipes out all or nearly all of our annual leave. We will have to take unpaid leave while recovering from one COVID infection or be forced to come into school buildings when we are sick.

Secondly, end IMPACT.

American University found DCPS’ evaluation system to be racially biased, and that both teachers and school leaders interviewed quote “perceived that the high-stakes and anxiety-producing environment may cause them (or others) to leave DCPS.” To continue, “many teachers and school leaders perceived that IMPACT created an unhealthy environment of distrust, fear, and competitiveness in schools that trickles down into the classroom. These themes held true across teacher effectiveness ratings, teacher race, as well as Ward.” I can personally attest to these findings. I have taught in other districts and there was more collaboration between teachers, as well as support from school leaders, instead of the divisive and individualistic school community the competitive nature of IMPACT has created. Despite these findings IMPACT continues to be used even when we have other viable options. In fact, the WTU IMPACT committee met throughout summer of 2021 to review successful and collaborative teacher development and evaluation tools from other jurisdictions. We have suggestions prepared and ready for implementation. Teachers are professionals and should be treated as such. We must be able to have a say in our evaluation system.

We also need to stop the over-testing.

A Second grader in DCPS must take three different literacy assessments at the beginning of the year, at the middle of the year, and then again at the end of the year. This does not include mid-unit assessments, end of unit assessments, the controversial RCTs, and fundations (our phonics program) assessments. This seven or eight year old child must repeat these assessments three times a year, and that is only for one subject. There are also separate assessments for social studies, math, and science. Testing grades, meaning third and up, must take these school based assessments as well as the PARCC and ANET assessments. We are losing valuable instructional time because the students are constantly and unnecessarily being assessed. Each time an assessment is taking place, that means a student is not learning. We all lose at least one day of actual learning, and that is if the test is implemented within the whole group. Many of these assessments require a teacher to sit one on one with a student. The amount of time teachers and students spend assessing is preposterous. One literacy, math, social studies, and science assessment is sufficient.

I have other suggestions that involve scheduling flexibility, more mental health resources and staff in our schools, and changes to our public school funding system, but my three minutes are running short.

We work in the Nation’s Capital, our schools should be exemplary, they should lead the nation. Instead, DC schools have the highest rate of teacher turnover in the country.

The issues connected to teacher retention cannot be solved with our current governance system. We need a standalone education committee and within this committee we need teachers' voices not only included, but sought out and amplified. That means please continue holding hearings after 4 pm. Reinstating the standalone Committee in Education is a necessary first step, however, for long lasting change, we need to end mayoral control of our schools. Put educators, not politicians without any professional educational experience in charge. Thank you for listening.

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