Since 2007, private donations have pumped over $120 million into the D.C. school system’s “crown jewel of public policy,” based on glowing reports of student success.
However, the District’s schools are now the target of a federal multi-agency probe. More than 900 out of last year’s graduates, “should not have been awarded diplomas because of truancy and other problems.”
The FBI teamed up with the U.S. Department of Education and the local Inspector General to investigate the entire school system, “with a focus on Ballou High School, where questions about graduation rates first emerged.”
As with everything else in the Obama administration, the Washington, D.C. public school system was riddled with lies, fraud, and corruption.
Last year’s graduation rate was an all-time high of 73 percent but it was nothing but smoke and mirrors. A third of the students should not have been given a diploma. Too many missed classes and “improper” make-up classes should have disqualified unprepared students.
“Teachers felt pressure from school administrators to pass students,” a recent report found. Nobody is sure how long “that practice has been common.” It may turn out in the investigation that “there was a deliberate effort to manipulate graduation numbers from top school officials.”
Behavior problems were swept under the rug. The school system got caught misrepresenting student suspension rates last July by “barring many students from attending high schools because of behavior problems without formally marking them as suspended.”
Former U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan once pointed to D.C. schools as an example of “what can happen when schools embrace innovative reforms and do the hard work necessary to ensure that all students graduate ready for college and careers.”
Serving as “a national model for education reformers,” schools in the nation’s capital have been something both sides of the political aisle could point to with pride.
According to Jack Jennings, school leaders across the country are now paying “a great deal of attention to what is happening in the District, especially because high graduation rates have been so heavily emphasized by reformers as a measure of success.”
Jennings is the founder of the Center on Education Policy and also served as general counsel for the House Committee on Education and Labor.
Because the “metric” of graduation rates has become the prime indicator of student success, “the District’s problems with graduation rates could ultimately be a moment of reckoning,” Jennings proclaims, “similar to the 2009 cheating scandal in Atlanta’s public schools.”
That scandal “led to racketeering convictions for 11 teachers who tampered with standardized test scores to hide students’ poor performance.”
Relying on misleadingly bogus numbers creates “toxic” consequences, claims Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers.
“It’s yet another wake-up call about this flawed logic that metrics are the be-all and the end-all. When these metrics and targets become more important than learning, they create a fertile climate, an environment, for scandal and for abuse.”
Conor Williams, a senior education policy researcher at the New America Foundation, seconds that opinion. “It’s clear that there are systemic problems around rigor, around accountability, and around transparency.” He has two of his own children in the system but his are in charter schools.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is up for re-election. She weighed in on the issue recently, stating, “Let’s make no mistake about it, we are in a very different place with our public schools.”
Max Eden is one of the conservative pundits calling for a closer look at “metrics-based reform.” Along with colleagues at the Manhattan Institute, he has long warned, “that students would suffer as their teachers and principals gamed the numbers.” He then adds, “I think it poses a profound problem for the education reform movement, which held D.C. to be its star child.”
Leadership changes have both cleared the way to clean up the mess and muddied the waters of responsibility. In the last year and a half, the system’s Chancellor, Kaya Henderson, resigned in September of 2016 and was succeeded by John Davis as temporary “interim chancellor.”
Davis was himself replaced last February. Antwan Wilson, the current holder of the top school job, “has pledged to retrain principals and teachers on the city’s graduation policies and begin a centralized review of graduates’ academic transcripts to ensure that they are eligible to receive diplomas.”
The goal by 2020 is to have “end-of-course” exams to assess whether students mastered the material in core subjects. What an awesome idea! They might even call them “finals.”
The locals in Maryland are going to be a lot more skeptical the next time the district brings home straight “A’s” on their report card. “When we are told repeatedly that numbers are rising and progress that we are making is fantastic and wonderful, and then we find out it may be based on faulty or fudged information, that makes one skeptical,” said Mary M. Cheh, a D.C. Council member (D-Ward 3).