narrowly approved a referendum that allowed the mayor to appoint four of the nine school board members. Then, in 2007, PERAA was enacted. Although these 17 permutations in governance structures were implemented over two centuries by very different decision-making processes and under sharply contrasting political conditions, each can be viewed as an effort to balance ideals of democratic accountability and representation with efficiency goals.
Although the 2007 law was regarded as a dramatic change, school administrators working under earlier governance arrangements attempted some reform strategies similar to those being implemented under PERAA. For example, in 2003, DCPS officials outlined a plan to give principals greater autonomy in return for improved student performance (Archer, 2003). This initiative, implemented in partnership with the nonprofit New Leaders for New Schools, was announced less than 2 years after another initiative, the Principals’ Leadership Academy, was implemented to transform principals into instructional leaders (Stricherz, 2001). One can infer from subsequent reports on educational quality in DCPS that these initiatives did not live up to their proponents’ expectations. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that while some past governance structures may have turned out to be ineffective, parts of their reform agendas mirrored those being implemented under PERAA.
Virtually all of the changes were prompted in part by the publication of myriad reports, commissioned by civic groups or other third parties, which were critical of the public schools. Beginning with a report prepared by Franklin Roosevelt’s Advisory Committee on Education in 1938, most documented the same problems: low student achievement on standardized tests; the inability of the schools to retain students; and DCPS students’ low rates of enrollment in postsecondary education, relative lack of success in obtaining employment, and poor performance on the armed forces induction tests.
Three decades later, in April 1967, the Washington Post echoed what scholarly analyses were documenting:
The collapse of public education in Washington is now evident. Reading scores reported in this newspaper show that fully one-third of the city schools’ pupils have fallen two years or more behind their proper grade level.… The real question is whether the city is going to have public schools, in any legitimate and useful sense, in the future.… Citizens, Congress and President Johnson now have an urgent obligation to face the truth that nothing at all will help, short of a massive reorganization of the Washington School system. (as quoted in Diner, 1990, p. 127)
The reports continued for the next 40 years, along with congressional hearings and media accounts documenting the failings of the District’s