Allister Chang’s Literacy Goals for the State Board of Education
By March 9, 2022 0 380•
One of Georgetown’s rising stars is Allister Chang, 31, Ward 2’s elected representative on the DC State Board of Education (DCSBOE). He was elected in November 2020 at a dramatic time. Due to the pandemic, D.C. schools were functioning remotely from March 2020 until September 2021. Last fall, they opened to in-person learning as the highly contagious Omicron variant spread rapidly. Restrictions include testing, vaccine verification, quarantine rules and masking of students, teachers and staff both indoors and outdoors.
Not all is well. According to the Washington Post on Jan. 30, “Public education is facing a crisis unlike anything in decades, and it reaches into almost everything that educators do: from teaching math, to counseling anxious children, to managing the building.” In fall 2021, 39 percent of D.C. public school students tested below grade level in math, the Post reported. But only 30 percent of fourth grade students in D.C. performed at or above the proficient level in reading, according to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress exam. “That ranks D.C. 47th nationally,” Chang says.
A native Washingtonian and the first Asian-American to be elected to the DCSBOE, Chang focuses especially on reading. He has been advising on the writing and execution of D.C.’s five-year Comprehensive Literacy Plan — attached to a $16-million federal grant to improve literacy for students in the District. “Enabling children to become proficient readers is a key educational outcome,” the plan states. “Reading unlocks the world for children, allowing them to encounter new ideas and information, communicate with others, and express themselves effectively in school and daily life.”
Chang’s passion for literacy comes from an early age. “My parents came to D.C. from Taiwan,” Chang says. By third grade, he had more formal education than they did. Over the years, he has helped his father learn to read. After earning an International Baccalaureate in a public high school in Rockville, Maryland, Chang earned his BA from Tufts University and completed graduate studies at Harvard University’s School of Government. He worked around Europe for UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning and with the NGO “Biblioteques Sans Frontiers” — Libraries Without Borders. He was involved in unique literacy projects across international cultures.
In 2020, Chang earned a fellowship at Halcyon Incubator on Prospect Street to develop one of those unique literacy learning ideas into reality: to convert sections of local laundromats into social service and reading centers for clientele waiting for their laundry. He has just organized a non-profit organization to implement a model project.
Living with husband Michael across the street from Rose Park offered Chang a community leadership role. As a weekly volunteer for the Friends of Rose Park farmer’s market, he quickly got support to convert the limited market space for some 12 stalls along 26th Street’s ballpark sidewalk, to a village- like circle for some 25-30 entrepreneurs and shop keepers. He helped to persuade other Georgetown non-profits to sponsor newcomers to the market and to host music and entertainment. The market became a safe social center during the pandemic. He established reading circles for children, sponsoring among others a D.C. police officer who read her book — with her dog at her side — about her canine police service. He coaxed one of his neighbors, Rebecca Klemm, the “Numbers Lady,” to conduct lively math learning sessions while wearing her coned cap and cape. Chang is a board member of the Friends of Rose Park.
“I am working with colleagues to support literacy learning across the District,” says Chang, who proposed high dosage tutoring for students. But most of all he stresses that instructors in reading must be trained. “Just because you can read does not mean you know how to teach reading,” he advises. “Structured literacy training is essential for everyone who teaches reading.”
Chang serves on the Advisory Board of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards. Named on the “30 Under 30” List of the International Literacy Association in 2019, he is also an accomplished pianist.