independent monitoring of important features of its school system. The plan is based on the committee’s review of preliminary data and on its conclusion that first impressions of the implementation of PERAA and its effects, though informative, are not sufficient as a basis for decisions about PERAA or continued improvement of the city’s education system.
The committee agreed on several basic assumptions and goals that have guided our work. First, although many U.S. cities have undertaken significant reforms to change their schools and researchers have examined what they have done, there is no established model for evaluating a district involved in reform—or, for that matter, any district. Second, school districts are judged primarily on the academic achievement of their students, but achievement depends on how effectively a school district accomplishes its many responsibilities and pursues many valued educational outcomes. Third, we interpreted PERAA’s requirement for an evaluation broadly: to establish for the residents and leaders of DC a sustainable ongoing program of evaluation that provides reliable information they can use to improve the school system continuously, regardless of future political or personnel changes. Last, the committee approached the most challenging part of its charge—to explore the effects of the reform legislation itself—by distinguishing among the intent of the reform, as articulated in the law; its implementation, that is, the actions taken by the DC Public Schools (DCPS) and other responsible city agencies; and its effects on student learning and other valued outcomes.
PERAA is the latest in a long line of changes in the way the city’s public schools are governed. Since 1804, there have been 17 different governance and administrative structures, and PERAA was the second new approach since 2000. Many of these changes were responses to concerns about students’ academic performance, the quality of the schools and the teachers, and an ineffective central bureaucracy, as well as the perception that many DC residents were indifferent to the persistent problems.
The city’s education problems have been intensified by a history of segregation, and the city continues to struggle with many challenges related to race, poverty, and geography. Those challenges include inequitable distribution of resources and supports to schools in the lowest-income sections of the city, which are largely black, tensions over demographic shifts that change the character of neighborhoods, and a strong charter school movement. They have made reform efforts more urgent while complicating the city’s response to them.
Another factor in DC has been the city’s distinctive political status as a small geographic area under the jurisdiction of the federal government.