The designers of the Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA) were responding to a critique that the city’s “complex public education system … lacks accountability and has hindered reform efforts” (Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole, 2007, p. 9; see Chapter 2). In addition to giving control of the public schools to the mayor, the law called for the creation of new entities to govern and administer the public schools, changes in lines of authority, and improved coordination among city offices. The first two questions in the charge to our committee were whether the structures and roles outlined in PERAA were implemented as intended and whether they improved coordination and efficiency and established clearer lines of authority.
To answer these questions we reviewed the requirements of PERAA and analyzed the city’s major actions. In this chapter we first provide an overview of the city’s response to PERAA’s requirements and then discuss the functioning of the education agencies covered by the law. We next turn to analysis of the ways in which the agencies work together and our questions about the lines of authority. We also consider three issues that we judged to be important gauges of progress toward PERAA’s goals: data collection and access, the transparency of the budgeting process, and public engagement. Our overall conclusions are presented at the end of the chapter.
To explore these questions, we reviewed the provisions of the full text of PERAA and subsequent relevant amendments (see Appendix C);1 materials publicly available from the city, including documentation of goals, strategies, programs, and outcomes produced by the offices responsible for public education; performance and budget reports each agency is required to prepare; and materials and information about the agencies’ work supplied on request by agency officials. To understand how city leaders interpreted and acted on the provisions of PERAA, we also conducted structured interviews with city officials and employees in leadership roles in each of the education agencies and the D.C. Council. We asked these leaders to discuss the reasoning behind their policy decisions, their understanding of the governance structure as it currently functions, and their perceptions of the city’s responses to PERAA. These interviews were vital to the committee because there were no other possible sources for the direct observations of leaders who have been responsible for governing the public schools.
We also interviewed local experts on the D.C. education system and other specific topics, such as budget processes.2 These interviews, as well as additional conversations with lower-level agency staff members, helped us to understand complex procedures. We also used analyses of circumstances in D.C. carried out by independent researchers and advocacy groups as other sources of external views about agencies’ functioning. We used news coverage of developments related to the agencies’ functioning to check factual information about actions by agencies and the D.C. Council and other developments.
Our findings and conclusions are about the structure and functioning of city agencies and processes; we did not evaluate the performance of current or past city officials. All of the city officials whom we interviewed were hired after the passage of PERAA.
The basic structures described in PERAA are largely in place, though some of the structures have changed over time. The interagency coordination body that was called for is not in place. The requirement to have an ombudsman was initially met but the office was defunded, and then reestablished in 2014 by the D.C. Council.
1A summary of PERAA is available at http://www.dcwatch.com/council17/17-001b.htm#I%20Sec.%20102 [January 2015]. However, we conducted a Lexis Nexis search to obtain the complete text of the original law and subsequent relevant amendments. A document showing the full text and these changes is Appendix C, which is available at http://www.nap.edu/.
2See Chapter 1 for a summary of the interview process and Appendix B for a sample interview protocol.
PERAA’s primary focus was on five agencies that together would govern and operate the public schools. Two already existed: DCPS, the agency that had been responsible for all city public schools before charter schools
Key Provisions of PERAA
The Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA) included a number of significant provisions:
- It established a Department of Education, led by a Deputy Mayor for Education.
- It redesigned the State Education Office, converting the position of State Education Officer to State Superintendent of Education.
- It converted the position of D.C. school superintendent to D.C. chancellor, now appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council, and it granted the chancellor responsibility for the overall operations of the public school system.
- It tasked the new Department of Education with various planning, promotion, coordination, and supervision duties, along with oversight of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization.
- It established the Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education to provide parents and residents an entity to which they could express their concerns.
- It created the Interagency Collaboration and Services Integration Commission to coordinate the services of all agencies that serve children and youth.
- It significantly altered the duties and authority of the former Board of Education, which was renamed the State Board of Education, and removed it from the local, day-to-day operation of the school system. The new board was established as fully elected, as opposed to partly appointed.
- It established the Public Charter School Board as the sole chartering entity in the District of Columbia (though other chartering entities could be allowed).
- It mandated a 5-year independent evaluation to determine, among other things, whether sufficient progress in public education has been achieved to warrant continuation of the provisions and requirements of PERAA or whether a new law and a new system of education should be enacted.
NOTE: This summary was taken from a city website in 2011. See Appendix C for a compilation of the original law and changes to it since 2007, as of the writing of this report.
SOURCE: National Research Council (2011, p. 43).
were introduced in 1995, and the Public Charter School Board (PCSB), which was created to oversee the charter schools. A key change was to give the mayor direct control over DCPS. The other three agencies were new: the Deputy Mayor of Education (DME), a new State Board of Education (SBOE) to replace the former Board of Education, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which was to take over the state functions formerly carried out by the old Board of Education.
The first question in the charge to the committee was whether the primary provisions of PERAA were implemented and working as planned. We focus first on the structural responses to PERAA’s provisions before turning to an analysis of the agencies’ functioning. Figure 3-1 shows the basic governance structures before and immediately after PERAA. Table 3-1 shows the chronology of some of the key events in public school reform in the city, including the creation of new entities in response to PERAA. As Figure 3-1 illustrates, the basic structures described in PERAA are largely in place though there have been some changes since the law was first implemented.3 One structure that has changed is the office of the ombudsman, which was established, defunded, and then reestablished in 2014. A significant gap in the implementation of PERAA is the interagency coordination entity specified in PERAA.
Interagency Coordination Body
Over many years, D.C. has seen a number of attempts at establishing better coordination among agencies (see, e.g., Keegan and Chaplin, 2002), but none of them has been sustained. To address this problem, PERAA called for the formation of a structure that would coordinate across the city agencies responsible for education, health, mental health, social services, and juvenile justice. The Deputy Mayor for Education was given the responsibility of overseeing the structure, and the Interagency Collaboration and Services Integration Commission (ICSIC) was created to meet this requirement.4 However, this structure no longer exists.
ICSIC operated for approximately 2 years. Consistent with its charge, ICSIC held meetings and initiated pilot programs: see National Research Council (2011) for some of the accomplishments of ICSIC’s first 2 years and its plans for pursuing the other PERAA goals. According to a former ICSIC member, the commission was viewed as a significant improvement
3See Table D-1 in Appendix D for a description of the current responsibilities of the D.C. education agencies and what has changed since PERAA.
4The guidelines for the functioning of the structure to be created reflected the emerging literature on how to help prevent duplication of effort and initiatives that work at cross purposes, as well as make sure the needs of vulnerable children and youth are met (see, e.g., Clay, 2009; Comey et al., 2009; Rennie Center, 2009; Chang, 2011; Herz et al., 2012; Scott et al., 2014).
FIGURE 3-1 Education governance structure before and immediately after PERAA.
SOURCE: U.S. Government Accountability Office (2009, p. 7).
over prior coordination efforts because the department heads and the mayor were involved, and the members were energetic and enthusiastic. In 2010, however, ICSIC was dissolved, and a Statewide Commission on Children, Youth, and Families was established, but it, too, was subsequently discontinued.5
5This is an instance in which an agency website has misleading or old information. The DME website lists this commission as an active program, but the contact person is no longer employed by the city and no other information is provided. See http://dme.dc.gov/page/charterschool-resource-center [December 2014].
TABLE 3-1 Events in D.C. Public Education Reform
|1968||11-member elected board of education established by Congress.|
D.C. School Reform Act of 1995 passed by Congress
D.C. Financial Responsibility and Management Board (the “Control Board”) appointed by the President
|2000||D.C. referendum allowing mayor to appoint 4 school board members, total number reduced to 9.|
Enactment of PERAA
|2009||Office of Ombudsman defunded.|
|2011||OPEFM merged with other city agencies.|
|2014||Office of Ombudsman refunded.|
|Office of Student Advocate created.|
SOURCE: Data from National Research Council (2011) and Education Consortium for Research and Evaluation (2013b).
Currently, DME manages interagency coordination.6 In the absence of the entity that PERAA called for, coordination largely takes place in the context of individual projects that involve various office and agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, Superior Court, Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, OSSE, and PCSB. Those projects include
6In addition, OSSE runs a program called Strong Start DC that is a “statewide, comprehensive, coordinated, multidisciplinary system that provides early intervention therapeutic and other services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays and their families”: see http://osse.dc.gov/service/strong-start-dc-early-intervention-program-dc-eip [September 2014]). Although this program is a good example of the value of coordination, it is not broad enough to meet the goals specified in PERAA.
the Truancy Taskforce, the Graduation Pathways Project, and the Youth Re-engagement Center. As another example, DME recently coordinated with the Department of Health to advocate for more nurses to staff both DCPS and charter schools.
In 2012, a public-private entity, Raise DC, was established under the leadership of the DME with the mission of tracking benchmarks related to students’ progress to graduation and career and the general goal of supporting interagency coordination.7 Though established by DME, Raise DC is now completely independent of the D.C. government: it is privately supported, receiving no public funds. Members of Raise DC’s leadership council include city officials, such as the deputy mayors of education and health and human services, representatives from local philanthropic and business organizations, and community organizations. In 2013, Raise DC identified a set of indicators on which it hopes to report annually in pursuit of five goals (Raise DC, 2013, p. 11). These goals are similar to those in ICSIC’s original mission, but they do not include nonacademic goals related to healthy behaviors and families. In 2014, Raise DC collaborated with DME on the Graduation Pathways Project, which identified factors that influence graduation rates, improvement strategies, and benchmarks to be tracked (see Chapter 5) (Tembo, 2014).
Raise DC’s 2013 report notes that “one of the key challenges for sustainability [of interagency coordination] has been the shifting political environment and the lack of organizational capacity needed to keep partners continually focused on the goals of the effort” (p. 39).8 Indeed, the city has expended effort and resources designing a number of initiatives, getting them under way, and publicizing them, but it has yet to establish a sustainable model for coordination among government agencies. The coordination activities currently led by both DME and Raise DC may be sustained efforts, and both have the potential to expand. However, they do not meet the PERAA goals.
Office of the Ombudsman
PERAA established an ombudsman in part to provide a new avenue for parents and others to seek information and lodge complaints, a function that had been performed by the former school board. This office is a good example of how the city has adapted in its responses to PERAA. The law
8It goes on to note the need to identify another institution, besides DME, to serve as the “anchor or ‘backbone’” institution. The Community Foundation of the National Capital Region was identified in 2013 as having taken on that role, and Raise DC, which now has an executive director and 1.5 other staff members is housed there.
laid out responsibilities for the Office of the Ombudsman, including reaching out to parents and residents; serving as a vehicle for communication; receiving complaints and concerns, determining their validity, and developing a response; identifying systematic concerns using a database; making recommendations based on observed patterns; and issuing annual reports (Title VI). Staff members view the role of the ombudsman as representing the best interests of the student, having no bias in favor of either city staff or families.
This office was established and housed in DME in 2007, defunded in 2010, and reestablished in 2014 in SBOE. There were no procedures or resources in place when the office started again in 2014, so the staff have had to establish those systems.
Collaboration across the city’s education agencies is important to the ombudsman’s work, but the collaborative relationships are still taking shape. For example, the relationship between the Office of the Ombudsman and PCSB is not yet completely defined. The ombudsman and a PCSB parent liaison group have collaborated, and the two offices agree that the ombudsman’s role is to assist PCSB in identifying trends in reported problems and charter practices that may be violating laws. However, it is, in the words of one official, a “delicate balance” because of the possibility that charter LEAs may view the ombudsman’s office as “another government agency interfering with charters.” Similarly, the means of coordination between the Office of the Ombudsman and OSSE with respect to student discipline are still developing. Recognizing this problem, staff in the Office of the Ombudsman reported that they are working to improve communication about complaints that are filed with more than one agency and to open up channels of communication more generally.
It is too soon to make evaluative judgments about the newly established Office of the Ombudsman, though its first report—issued after just 6 months of operation—provides useful information about issues of concern in the school system (District of Columbia Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education, 2014). However, the new ombudsman faces some challenges in making the office a trusted resource. First, the office has a difficult reputation to overcome. The D.C. Council report that provided the basis for PERAA noted the ombudsman’s office that existed before PERAA was “ineffective for … reasons including community lack of trust, community perception of the office’s inability to resolve problems, rampant turnover and thus an inability to develop trusting relationships, and insufficient staffing to handle the problems presented” (Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole, 2007, p. 18). Moreover, the committee’s interviews with agency leaders revealed some skepticism about the value of an ombudsman: several expressed the view that the mayor and high-level administrators do not see the need for an ombudsman. Overall, the interviews
suggested a mixed view of how much benefit the ombudsman can bring to the city’s education system under current circumstances.
PERAA gave DCPS and the PCSB authority to continue pursuing their missions and the flexibility to make changes. Both agencies appear to have implemented changes that show promise and to be operating more effectively than they were before PERAA.
The Mayor and DCPS Chancellor
As discussed above, PERAA established the position of DCPS chancellor and gave the chancellor significant latitude in running DCPS (PERAA Title I).9 The mayor, Adrian Fenty, and the first DCPS chancellor, Michelle Rhee, used that flexibility to pursue several strategies that were prominent on the national reform agenda at the time: use of recruitment, evaluation, and compensation of educators to improve teacher quality; data-driven decision making; more uniform standards across schools; and greater school-level accountability through the use of student testing and other indicators. Most notably, the educator evaluation system was redesigned, and that change led to the dismissal of a large number of educators in the first years of PERAA’s implementation. DCPS also focused considerable energy on “right sizing” its schools. That effort included the development of recommendations from DME regarding student assignments and boundaries, as well as the closure of 15 low-enrollment schools to make more efficient use of resources.10
PERAA allowed new leaders the possibility of enacting a fundamentally different policy agenda. Even though a new mayor with a different leadership style, Vincent Gray, was elected in 2011, most commentators have noted that the policy agenda and basic approach to managing the public schools did not change significantly. In 2012, a 5-year strategic plan for DCPS was adopted: see Box 3-2. The current mayor, Muriel Bowser, who took office at the beginning of 2015, also has indicated that she does not in-
9We cite the provisions of PERAA by title, rather than using official legal citation format, since this report is not intended for legal specialists.
10Right sizing (or equalizing) in DCPS, initiated in 2008, has been a process for changing budgets, the utilization of school facilities, and other resources to optimize the match between enrolled students and school spaces: see http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/Parents+and+Community/Community+Initiatives/DCPS+Consolidation+and+Reorganization+Plan [March 2015]. This effort has been the subject of considerable controversy although DCPS had closed numerous schools because of enrollment declines before PERAA. A thorough evaluation of the rightsizing plan and its effects was beyond the committee’s resources.
DCPS Strategic Goals for 2012-2017
Improve achievement rates [on the DC CAS]: At least 70 percent of students will be proficient in reading and math, and we will double the number of advanced students in the district.
Invest in struggling schools: The 40 lowest-performing schools will increase proficiency rates [on the DC CAS] by 40 percentage points.
Increase graduation rate: At least 75 percent of entering 9th graders will graduate from high school in 4 years.
Improve satisfaction: 90 percent of students will say they like their school.
Increase enrollment: DCPS will increase its enrollment over 5 years.
SOURCE: District of Columbia Public Schools (2012).
tend to significantly change the approach that has been established, and she retained the chancellor, Kaya Henderson. It is generally expected that Mayor Bowser also will continue pursuing the goals of the 5-year strategic plan, but it is too soon in her tenure to assess her approach to public education.
DCPS’s structure reflects its priorities: see Figure D-1 in Appendix D. Senior officials who report to the chancellor lead the agency’s work in 11 areas. There have been several revisions to the DCPS internal office structure, but these changes have not altered the overall approach of the agency.11
Particularly because of the approach it took in addressing teacher quality, DCPS has attracted national attention and commentary, with some observers viewing the agency as a leader and others raising concern about the large numbers of teachers who were terminated. We were not able to find any independent assessments of DCPS’s functioning as an agency since
11One such reorganization is described in DCPS’s fiscal 2014 performance plan, p. 2. Available: http://oca.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/oca/publication/attachments/DCPS14.pdf [September 2014].
PERAA, nor were we able to conduct such an assessment. Instead, we focused on some of the specific actions that DCPS leaders have taken, which are discussed in Chapters 4 and 5. Our examination of these programmatic and policy choices suggests that some of them hold promise for improved functioning, oversight, and provision of services. Or, as one DCPS leader who has been with the agency for several years put it, “You no longer see the culture that makes you want to cry.”
Public Charter School Board
As noted above, PCSB was created by Congress under the D.C. School Reform Act of 1995,12 which specified that the board would have seven members appointed by the mayor with the “advice and consent of the Council” (38-1802.14). Until 2006, PCSB shared responsibility for oversight of the charter schools with the former D.C. Board of Education; under PERAA, the existing PCSB was given responsibility for all charter schools.
PERAA also specified the reasons for which a charter may be revoked: failure to meet academic goals set forth in the approved charter or violation of laws or regulations. Subsequent amendments to PERAA included the charter schools in the list of entities under the jurisdiction of the Deputy Mayor for Education (38-191) and designated the Office of the State Board of Education as responsible for approving the list of charter school accreditation organizations (38-2652).13 PERAA says little else about monitoring and accountability for the charter schools or PCSB itself.
As we discuss in Chapter 2, the charter sector has grown since PERAA was passed. During PCSB’s first 10 years (from 1997 until PERAA was enacted), the number of charter students in the city grew from a few hundred to more than 20,000. Since PERAA, the enrollment has grown to more than 36,000. In total, 102 charters have been granted in D.C., of which 8 never opened and 38 were subsequently closed.14 PCSB staff we interviewed expressed the view that the agency has also grown larger, stronger, and more professional in this time: see Appendix D for a description of changes in the agency’s mission.
PCSB initially handled accountability by requiring schools to undergo annual reviews of program development, compliance with federal requirements, special education, and financial management (District of Columbia Public Charter School Board, 2007). It could recommend remedies, issue
13See modifications to the text of PERAA in Appendix C.
14Some of the charters were granted, revoked, or both by the D.C. Board of Education, which no longer exists. For details, see https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eko38ox3vJHIRkSiYBUGvSOQ9kz3Nd9x-74Ud7gBJM/edit [January 2015].
warnings of its concerns, and revoke charters. Since PERAA, the board has taken steps to strengthen the accountability process. It added self-study review, special education quality review, and high school transcript reviews for some schools in 2008. In 2009, PCSB introduced a new performance management framework, which is mandatory for all charter schools (District of Columbia Public Charter School Board, 2008, 2009).15 Fully implemented in 2010-2011, the framework was designed to provide common measures for evaluation that included student achievement, high school and college readiness, and nonacademic indicators related to governance, compliance with local and federal laws, and financial management (District of Columbia Public Charter School Board, 2011). In 2011, PCSB added standardized school report cards (District of Columbia Public Charter School Board, 2011).
The program management framework brought additional rigor to PCSB’s performance as an authorizer. We identified three external assessments of PCSB’s performance as charter authorizer, all developed by charter advocacy organizations. We were not able to corroborate their findings with assessments by nonadvocates, but all rated the agency favorably, using measures that mostly addressed how well PCSB protects the autonomy of charter schools.
We note two issues. On the operating side, concerns have been raised about PCSB’s capacity to oversee the finances of individual charter schools. PCSB requested expanded authority to examine the financial records of the organizations (Brown, 2014a) that (see manage budget charter discussion, schools, below).16 The other issue relates to how PCSB is evaluated. PCSB asked the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) to assess how well PCSB was meeting its own goals as a charter authorizer because no D.C. agency had been evaluating PCSB’s work. Although this external evaluation provided useful guidance for PCSB, it is important to note that PCSB is a member of NACSA, and NACSA has a specific set of interests related to the functioning of charter authorizers. These interests might be different from those that are relevant to understanding and improving school governance in D.C.
The legal requirements pertaining to PCSB are minimal. The 1995 law that established PCSB clearly gave the mayor authority over it by requir-
15In 2012, PCSB began developing a program management framework for early childhood and another for adult education (adult education is offered in seven public charter schools (District of Columbia Public Charter School Board, 2013).
16Several charter schools have been accused of financial improprieties (see Brown, 2014a). One formal complaint alleged that a for-profit company diverted funds from a D.C. charter school: see divehttp://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/local/dc-attorney-general-complaint-for-injunctive-relief-from-community-action-partners-and-charter-school-management-llc/1021/ [January 2015].
ing that he or she appoint all of the members of the board. This procedure remains in place, and we note that after PERAA was enacted, both PCSB and DCPS were added to the list of entities for which the DME is to provide “oversight and support.”17 The 1995 law also establishes the nongovernmental status of charter schools and their freedom to operate. It sets out limited provisions concerning the role of PCSB and the criteria for the award or revocation of charters. PCSB has recently developed a new system for authorizing and reviewing charters that is more rigorous than the previous one, but the criteria used in this system are completely at the discretion of PCSB. As we note above, PERAA does not explicitly address monitoring or accountability for PCSB itself. We found no evidence that the mayor or DME takes any specific oversight actions other than appointing the board members.
The limited provisions regarding PCSB are a good example of a point noted in Chapter 2: the provisions of a law as written rarely anticipate all the circumstances that will seem important as the law is implemented. In this case, the question that arises is whether PCSB (or any other public body) should have responsibilities that were not anticipated by PERAA, given that charter schools are now educating 46 percent of public school students. This question relates to several other issues we discuss in this report, and we return to it at the end of this chapter and in Chapter 7.
All three agencies with responsibilities for oversight of public education are attempting to carry out their missions, but the impact of both the State Board of Education and the Deputy Mayor for Education has been modest, and there are serious problems with the functioning of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
In this section’s discussion of whether the new agencies established by PERAA are functioning as intended, it is important to note that the city’s implementation of the law’s provisions have evolved and are still evolving. Legislative amendments and other administrative actions have altered some of the governance structures. Lines of accountability have changed somewhat, and the missions and responsibilities of some offices have shifted (see Table D-1 in Appendix D). Decisions made by leaders within each agency have also been integral to the evolution of the changes brought by PERAA (see Chapter 2).
17See Table D-1 in Appendix D for a description of changes in agencies’ missions and responsibilities since PERAA.
Deputy Mayor for Education
The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, a position appointed by the mayor, was created by PERAA, but its responsibilities have changed since 2007 (see details in Appendix D). PERAA made DME “responsible for the planning, coordination, and supervision of all public education-related activities under its jurisdiction” (Title II, Sec. 202(b)(2)). DME’s jurisdiction originally included OSSE, the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, the Office of the Ombudsman, and “a comprehensive, District-wide data system that integrates and tracks data across education, justice, and human service agencies” (Title II, Sec. 202). Additional specific charges included coordinating among city agencies and reporting on the status of a Special Education Task Force and the reform plan it was to develop. It also included the charge to develop a plan for a “statewide, strategic education and youth development plan” that would articulate a “vision statement for children and youth from zero to 24 years of age” and include a time line, progress benchmarks, a framework for coordination with other agencies, and recommendations for policy and legislative changes (Title II). The elaborations in this provision were added after PERAA’s enactment.
PERAA called for the DME to develop a youth development task force. The response to this provision that we could identify is a Youth Reengage-ment Center, opened late in 2014. The center serves only a small number of students so its range is limited. We were unable to locate documentation of the special education task force that was also specified in PERAA, although city officials reported that the objectives for this requirement have been addressed in other ways, including special education reports and the work of Raise DC.
DME’s portfolio currently looks different in several respects than when the office was established. There have been several subtractions: the Office of the Ombudsman, which was defunded by the mayor in 2010 and subsequently refunded by the D.C. Council, was moved to SBOE; the Office of Public Education Facilities and Modernization is now under the city’s Department of General Services; and the comprehensive, districtwide data system is now under OSSE’s purview. There have also been additions: DCPS and the D.C. public library system are now included in DME’s jurisdiction.
Most of these changes occurred through executive action, rather than legislative amendment, and city officials viewed them as practical, rather than policy, decisions. For example, the view among city officials is that DME is supposed to focus on policy rather than implementation, which explains the transfer of the data system to OSSE. In addition, DME was the logical point of contact between the mayor and DCPS, which is under the mayor’s authority, and the public library system was assigned to DME
as part of the allocation of all agencies to one of the city’s five deputy mayors.18
Through inter- and intra-agency initiatives and commissioned reports (e.g., IFF, 2012; Ayers Saint Gross Architects + Planners, Fielding Nair International, 2013; The Finance Project and Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates, 2014; Tembo, 2014), the office has focused on selected critical issues in the city, including student assignment and school boundaries, the DC Common Lottery, facilities planning, truancy, graduation, and youth engagement. Overall, however, the DME staff is comparatively small, and its impact so far on public education has been relatively limited. Most important, as we discuss below, we could not find evidence of how the agencies under DME are actually accountable to the DME.
Office of the State Superintendent of Education
PERAA gave OSSE a significant challenge as a state education agency. The agency has evolved into a large and complicated bureaucracy19 since the law was adopted but it has struggled to gain its footing and earn the trust of D.C. government officials who must rely on OSSE.
For fiscal 2015, OSSE had a staff of 382 to serve approximately 83,000 students in a jurisdiction that includes 61 charter entities (each of which is formally a local education agency, LEA) and DCPS. To look at just one contrasting example, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Massachusetts has a staff of 570 to serve 955,844 students in 408 school districts and 81 charter LEAs. In other words, OSSE has one staff member for every 217 students, while the state agency in Massachusetts has one staff member for every 1,677 students. A comparison of the functions of D.C.’s 62 districts (DCPS and the 61 charter LEAs) and those of the 408 districts in Massachusetts might explain some of this difference, but as we discuss below, we also found evidence of management problems.
Handling the responsibilities of a state with respect to public education has long been a challenge in D.C. because of its role as both a state and a school district. OSSE took over the state-level functions that had been carried out by the former Board of Education, which include “grant-making, oversight, and state educational agency functions for standards, assessments, and federal accountability requirements” (Title III, Sec. 302(b)). OSSE was also given specific responsibilities with respect to establishing credit requirements, instructional time, early childhood, the education of children in the
18For a chart showing the organization of the entire city government, see http://mayor.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/mayormb/publication/attachments/DC-Government-Org-Chart-January022015_0.pdf [March 2015].
19See Appendix D for an organizational chart.
custody of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, and licensure, and it was empowered to “develop and adopt” certain state-level policies, in some cases subject to the approval of the State Board of Education (see below). OSSE is also responsible for special education private-placement tuition and monitoring and for the transportation of all special education students whose individual education plan requires it, whether they are in DCPS, charter schools, or private schools or institutions.20
OSSE altered the mission posted on its website during the time of our committee’s study. It currently lists responsibilities that range from managing all educational testing to running the school buses. Because of the scope of OSSE’s work, it was particularly difficult to evaluate its functioning and performance, but two concerns came to our attention: compliance with federal requirements for students with disabilities and management.
Ensuring compliance is one of OSSE’s primary responsibilities. D.C. has been out of compliance with federal requirements regarding students with disabilities for many years, though as we discuss in Chapter 5, there is evidence of recent progress toward compliance. The U.S. Department of Education recently praised OSSE for collaborating across LEAs in implementing federal requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), but it also cited OSSE for failing to meet guidelines with respect to improvement in the lowest-performing schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2014).
Looking at management, there has been considerable turnover in the position of state superintendent (appointed by the mayor) since OSSE was established in 2007. There has also been significant turnover among OSSE senior staff. This turnover is preventing OSSE from working steadily toward defined goals: initiatives that are approved and begun are then abandoned when new staff members are hired. Or, as a leader from a different agency put it, “they lurch from crisis to crisis.” The frequent shifts in management priorities that accompany turnover have also affected OSSE’s involvement in projects that are led by other agencies; OSSE’s inconsistent participation in these projects has hurt its credibility with the other agencies.
Concerns about OSSE’s management and functioning have come from many sources. For example, an important accomplishment for OSSE was securing a $75 million Race to the Top grant,21 and it undertook a number of initiatives as part of the application process. In early 2014 the U.S. Department of Education placed a hold on $6.2 million of that grant because of concerns about OSSE’s capacity to manage the funds (Layton, 2014).
20See http://osse.dc.gov/service/specialized-education-monitoring-and-compliance [March 2015]; http://osse.dc.gov/service/nonpublic-invoice-verification [March 2015]; and http://osse.dc.gov/service/student-transportation [March 2015].
21See http://osse.dc.gov/service/race-top-lea-grant-programs [April 2015].
Many of the top-level officials in other agencies whom we interviewed volunteered that they saw problems with OSSE. These critiques were noteworthy because they were unsolicited. The concerns of these officials focused on the difficulties of finding the right leaders for the agency and on OSSE’s capacity to carry out its mission. There have also been public critiques of the agency,22 and some OSSE staff members we interviewed acknowledged that their history has been rough. These staff members also noted that the high turnover has been problematic, and they reported being overburdened and understaffed. For example, much of the information technology and data-related work, as well as professional development support, has had to be contracted out. Indeed, OSSE cited difficulties with a contractor as the primary reason the data system SLED (discussed below) was not completed on time. At the same time, however, some staff members believe that OSSE is improving, “finally growing up,” in the words of one. Still, our evidence indicates that the agency has not yet solved the staffing and management challenges posed by the breadth of its mission or earned the full confidence of officials in other agencies, and we suggest that examination of OSSE’s role in D.C.’s city and state education responsibilities is warranted.
State Board of Education
PERAA provided that the new SBOE “shall advise the Chief State School Officer on various subject matters including, but not limited to, state standards, state policies, state objectives and state regulations proposed by the mayor or the Chief State School Officer and state policies governing the special, academic, vocational, charter and other schools established within the District of Columbia” (Title IV, Sec. 404(a)). SBOE was also to be responsible for “Approval of the state accountability plan for the District of Columbia developed by the Chief State School Officer” (Title IV, Sec. 404 (b)(2)) (see Appendix D).23
Prior to PERAA, the former Board of Education was responsible for both DCPS and the State Education Agency. PERAA’s provisions were
22For example, The Washington Post noted in 2011 that “Even supporters of mayoral control concede that the agency has yet to find its footing. Under the 2007 law, it is a kind of second-class entity: a state education agency in a place that is not a state, dealing with a school system led by a chancellor who is the city’s dominant educational figure and an unwieldy collection of public charter schools considered separate school districts in the eyes of the law” (Turque, 2011).
23We note that state boards of education in the United States vary in their structures and responsibilities (National Association of State Boards of Education, 2014a, 2014b). D.C. is one of eight states with an elected board, and one of only two whose chief is appointed by the chief executive of the jurisdiction. Twenty-three state boards, not including D.C., have the authority to appoint the chief state school officer, and many have authority over teacher licensure, which D.C.’s board does not.
intended to address concerns that the Board of Education was too involved in day-to-day operational issues, that it was consequently inefficient at meeting broader policy objectives, and that the state-level functions were addressed inefficiently by multiple offices (Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole, 2007).
The SBOE office is small and the board does not yet have a strong presence in the city, perhaps in part because its functions are limited and its relationship with other education agencies is not clear. For example, SBOE does not have the power to initiate policies, only to approve or not approve policies suggested by OSSE. However, SBOE has approved academic standards, and it proposed revised graduation requirements and diploma options in 2014.24 We did not find evidence of other activities the board has undertaken, though it meets regularly.25
The way that the education oversight and other agencies currently work together to govern and administer the city’s public schools does not meet PERAA’s goals. The agencies do take steps to coordinate with one another but the mechanisms compelling them to do so are limited. Consequently, the degree of coordination among them depends heavily on the collegiality of city leaders and other officials, rather than on organizational incentives and welldefined procedures.
Coordination Among the Oversight Bodies
PERAA established OSSE, DME, and SBOE to oversee the public schools, without specifying the working relationships among these entities. There is frequent collaboration across all of the education entities, but some of the direct lines of accountability and authority play a less significant role; see Figure 3-2.
As noted above, we could not identify any specific ways in which the agencies under DME’s charge are accountable to it. For example, the PERAA language indicates that the DME will supervise OSSE and other agencies, and this structure is reflected in Figures 3-1, above, and 3-2, below. Yet OSSE and DME view their relationship as largely collaborative rather than supervisory, even though the mayor appoints the superintendent. DME now includes DCPS in its charge because the chancellor reports
24D.C. is in the process of implementing the Common Core standards; these and the graduation requirements are discussed in Chapter 5.
FIGURE 3-2 Organizational chart of D.C. education agencies as of 2013.
SOURCE: Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education (2013).
to the mayor, yet neither DCPS nor PCSB was included in DME’s jurisdiction in PERAA’s original language.
The advisory relationship between SBOE and OSSE is similarly unsettled. The SBOE website notes that “in 2013, the SBOE became an independent agency from OSSE. The State Board works collaboratively with OSSE whenever possible.”26 We did not find a legislative amendment that made this change. According to one city official, OSSE’s role is to bring ideas to SBOE for approval—the board cannot initiate or implement initiatives on its own.
PERAA was specific in making OSSE responsible for many state functions, as noted above. The law also established that OSSE would “have
state responsibility for management and oversight of the public education system in the District of Columbia,” but it did not elaborate on what that general management and oversight would entail (Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole, 2007, p. 22). The agency budget and staffing information we reviewed (see Table D-2 in Appendix D) gives the impression that OSSE, with 382 staff members, is the lead education agency and that the DME and SBOE with (16 and 18 staff members, respectively) were designed to play policy and advisory roles. However, as we discuss above, OSSE has not yet fully assumed this mantle.
Coordination Between DCPS and the Charter Sector
Collaboration across DCPS and the charter schools was not an explicit goal of PERAA when the law was enacted, but such collaboration is increasingly important because the charter population has grown significantly, and there are points of intersection among all of the DCPS and charter schools. Perhaps most important is that students move between and among DCPS and charter schools from year to year and within academic years, which raises many issues, including the allocation of resources, academic continuity, and policies for students with disabilities and other needs for support. In 2012, for example, only 25 percent of public school students attended the neighborhood school to which they would be assigned according to boundary definitions. This low percentage reflects not only charter school attendance but also the special programs offered by DCPS—such as dual-language or immersion programs, International Baccalaureate, Montessori—that are open to all students by either lottery or selective admission (21st Century School Fund, 2014). These issues complicate the governance structure and the development of incentives for schools and charter schools to achieve PERAA’s goals.
Early evaluations suggest that the relationship between DCPS and the charter sector began with a noticeable degree of mutual suspicion: charter school leaders were sometimes dissatisfied regarding such issues as access to information and facilities, and DCPS leaders were sometimes apprehensive that the charters would siphon resources and support from their schools (Henig et al., 1999, 2001).
As of 2015, there is evidence that DCPS and PCSB have made efforts to collaborate. For example, the two have cooperated (with DME) in the development of the My School DC common lottery process that allows families to apply to some (though not all) city public schools through one online application. The planning for the implementation of the Common
Core standards and assessments is another instance of productive cooperation (see Chapter 5). Twenty-two DCPS and charter schools participated in the DC Common Core Collaborative, an initiative led by the E.L. Haynes charter school, in which a lesson study approach is being used to support teachers.27 Collaboration among DME, OSSE, DCPS, and PCSB has also occurred for the development of the equity reports described below, profiles of individual DCPS and charter schools that allow comparisons among them.28 One high-level official who participated in the development process said that the common language that the equity reports offer for discussing basic school attributes has been helpful to the relationship among DCPS and the charter schools.
Ongoing Sources of Tension
Other aspects of the relationship, however, are sources of tension. Long-standing issues have included coordination over the location of new schools, student mobility across sectors, and capital investment.29 Here we address the issues of school location and student mobility.
School Location. DCPS and public school advocates believe that better coordination with respect to facilities is needed. They argue that having a charter school located near a DCPS school that serves a similar population is counterproductive. The current DCPS chancellor has noted publicly that “either we want neighborhood schools or we want cannibalism, but you can’t have both” (quoted in Brown, 2014b).
From the perspective of PCSB and charter school advocates, facilities coordination presents difficulties. A charter has to be established and approved based in part on evidence of need for what it will offer before a location is even established. Once the charter is approved, the LEA must hunt for space, which is scarce. If the LEA is denied an available space because it is too near a DCPS school, the approved new charter school might not be able to open. PCSB staff believe that proximity to another school is not a valid reason for denying a charter the right to open and that proximity
27For more information about the program, Professional Learning Communities of Effectiveness (PLACES), see http://www.elhaynes.org/innovate-practitioners.php [February 2015].
29The D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, an advocacy group, filed a lawsuit on the grounds that the city has not provided uniform funding to DCPS and charter schools. For an example of public commentary on the issue, see http://greatergreatereducation.org/post/23592/the-dcps-charter-relationship-is-getting-heated-in-this-education-hot-spot/ [February 2015].
may even benefit the DCPS school: not surprisingly, DCPS staff do not see the situation that way.
DME formed an advisory committee to review attendance zones, feeder patterns, and school choice and make recommendations to address facilities coordination and other problems. The resulting report (DC Advisory Committee on Student Assignment, 2014) acknowledged the need for further review of the decision-making process regarding DCPS and charter school facilities, but it did not offer specific recommendations for how to resolve the issue.30 The report therefore recommended that DME establish a new representative task force to address methods for sharing information about facilities and enrollment across the two sectors, means of improving accountability and transparency for decision making, and processes for obtaining and considering public opinion.
Student Mobility. In order to examine student mobility in D.C., we requested data on mobility across the LEAs from OSSE. OSSE’s response was that these data were not available, but we located a link to a set of publicly available slides summarizing 2011-2012 mobility data from OSSE.31 In that year, OSSE reported 1,912 students moved from a charter school to a DCPS school, and 3,286 moved from a DCPS school to a charter school. DCPS had a net gain for the year of 338 students, and the charters had a net loss of 1,947 students. A PCSB report indicates that in 2014, the charter sector had a 4.5 percent average “new movement (midyear withdrawal or entry),” as compared with a 0.9 percent citywide average for the same year.”32
Coordination and information sharing are important to the academic progress of students who move—whether between types of schools or geographically (see National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2010). Ideally, information about mobility would be systematically available on a central website so that mobility patterns across schools and sectors and across time could be evaluated.
Challenges to Improving Coordination
Despite these ongoing tensions, leaders from both DCPS and PCSB expressed the hope that the DCPS and charter schools would continue to learn from each other and adopt approaches that have proven effective, rather
30The advisory committee’s PCSB representative resigned because of an objection to a recommendation regarding giving priority to “at-risk” students in the systemwide lottery (DC Advisory Committee on Student Assignment, 2014, p. 12).
32See http://www.dcpcsb.org/report/school-equity-reports-0 [April 2015].
than viewing the relationship as oppositional. The current DCPS chancellor has said publicly that she would like to see DCPS have the authority to authorize charter schools and benefit from some of the flexibility afforded to them.
Nevertheless, the current governance structure does not include mechanisms for encouraging or requiring that the DCPS and the other LEAs coordinate or collaborate.
Although D.C. has been called a “pioneer” in its adoption of charter schools, how to coordinate them with DCPS for the benefit of the city’s students is not evident. One challenge is that the charter sector, by definition, is decentralized. Charter schools were designed to have the autonomy to make many decisions independently. DCPS has the capacity to implement policies as a system, but there is no agency functioning in that capacity for the charter LEAs. As we discuss in Chapter 5, this fragmentation is a particular problem for serving the needs of English-language learners and special education students.
One way to promote coordination would be to give PCSB more authority over the individual charters. However, that approach runs the risk of creating an alternate school system, which would undermine the logic of having charter schools. Although OSSE might be the logical agency to foster greater coordination between DCPS and the charter sector, it has not played that role to date. Thus, the city is left to consider how best to ensure sufficient monitoring of the quality of education of all students attending any type of school at public expense.
In our examination of three areas that could reflect progress toward PERAA’s overall goals—data collection and access, budget transparency, and public engagement—we found mixed evidence. Efforts to improve data collection and access and to enhance public engagement appear to be bringing results, although neither approach is yet fully meeting the city’s needs. The budgeting process does not appear to be either simpler or more transparent.
Because we could not examine every aspect of school governance in detail, we focused on three key issues that might both reflect and support coordination and oversight: (1) the collection of and ready access to information about students, teachers, and schools, (2) transparency in budget decisions and the allocation of resources in ways that reflect the public’s priorities, and (3) public engagement. Our review of each of these areas identifies accomplishments and challenges for further improvement.
Data Collection and Accessibility
The city greatly increased the amount of data available on its public websites during the time of our evaluation, but there is still room for considerable improvement in coordinating what is already available and in making more comprehensive information available.
The original text of PERAA gave DME the responsibility to oversee the “development of a comprehensive, District-wide data system that integrates and tracks data across education, justice, and human service agencies” (Title II, Sec. 202(b)(1)(D)). Part of the purpose for maintaining a shared database was to support the work of ICSIC, the coordination body called for by PERAA (which no longer exists). To understand the availability of data about the public schools, we examined agency websites repeatedly over time, requested data and other information from city officials, and included questions about data availability in many of our interviews both with officials in leadership roles and with other agency staff members and experts in the community who routinely monitor and analyze educational data in D.C.
PERAA focused on the value of an integrated system for collecting and sharing education data to support the interagency coordination entity it called for, but there are other important reasons to collect data. Many states collect data on students from preschool through postsecondary education; on educators; and on other aspects of public education such as facilities, curriculum, and resources (see Data Quality Campaign, 2013, for discussion of states’ roles; Gill et al., 2014). The information can be used to identify trends over time and to support policy and programmatic decisions, and is critical to evaluation and continuous improvement. Many states are able to link education data with data collected by other agencies concerned with health, welfare, and employment, for example.33
D.C. agencies collect a considerable amount of data. As D.C.’s state education agency, OSSE has numerous specific data collection functions—in particular its responsibility for meeting federal requirements entails data collection—and the agency received a $5.7 million federal grant for this purpose in 2007. As the state agency, OSSE would logically be expected to have primary responsibility for maintaining centralized data on public education. And indeed, developing a data warehouse has been a key goal for OSSE.
In 2007, OSSE began work on a new system, the Statewide Longitudinal Education Data Warehouse (SLED) (Glazerman, 2010; Office of the
33For more on state-level data systems, see http://www.ccsso.org/What_We_Do/Education_Data_and_Information_Systems.html [May 2015].
State Superintendent of Education, 2010). SLED was to collect data on early childhood and K-12 education, special education, and demographics and enrollment, as well as data from other city agencies, human resources and professional development data, and data on postsecondary education. A vendor was hired to develop the system but was subsequently terminated. By 2010, OSSE reported that it had begun assigning unique student identifier numbers, had developed prototypes of the website, and expected at least portions of the site to be available to the schools (though not to parents or the public) by summer 2011. OSSE staff indicated that parents would eventually have access to SLED data pertaining to their children, but that access was not expected for at least 3 years after the launch of the initial site.
At that time, it was envisioned that SLED would collect data in a single repository that would allow historical views and the ability to link data across systems (Office of the State Superintendent of Education, 2011). It would not, however, be linked to a separate system, known as SEDS, that tracks special education data, or to another system for charter data, called OLAMS (no longer in existence),34 that was maintained by PCSB.35
When asked about its data activities for the Phase I report (National Research Council, 2011), OSSE staff predicted that SLED would be in place by mid-2011. A report to the U.S. Department of Education submitted by OSSE as part of its Race to the Top requirements indicated that SLED became operational in fall 2012,36 and as this report goes to press SLED is functioning.37 However, it does not provide the range of information about students’ educational growth and development from early care through elementary and secondary school and into college and career that was expected to be available. In March 2015, the SLED website provided adjusted cohort graduation rates for 2010-2011, a one-page fact sheet about the D.C. public schools, comparable fact sheets for each of the eight wards, enrollment audit information for charter and traditional schools for the years 2001-2009, and a dashboard allowing users to review DC CAS proficiency results for 2008. The OSSE website also posts a variety of other
34A public notice reported that OLAMS was shut down on June 30, 2011, see http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/DCWASH/bulletins/94a60 [October 2014].
35For OSSE’s explanation of difficulties with compatibility between SLED and the student information systems used by LEAs, see http://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/SLED_Demo_QA.pdf [October 2014]).
36For more information, see https://www.rtt-apr.us/state/district-of-columbia/2012-2013/ caer [October 2014].
37See https://sled.osse.dc.gov/SitePages/Home.aspx [March 2015]. However, on another page, the OSSE website still describes SLED as a future endeavor, see http://osse.dc.gov/service/ statewide-longitudinal-education-data-system-sled [March 2015].
information, such as enrollment audits, annual yearly progress reports, and graduation rate data.38
OSSE has developed another website, LearnDC,39 identified as a “one-stop education resource.” That website provides a considerable amount of information about individual schools (both DCPS and charter) and some summary information for the entire district, including DC CAS summary results, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), graduation rates, attendance, and the percentage of courses taught by highly qualified teachers (see Chapter 6 for discussion of these data).40 In addition, OSSE, DCPS, PCSB, and DME have collaborated to develop “Equity Reports,” which became available in 2014. These reports are described as “a complement to OSSE’s LearnDC school profiles, DCPS’ school scorecards and PCSB’s performance management framework.”41 The equity reports provide data that parents can use to assess individual schools and compare them with one another and with citywide averages for certain information.
The PCSB website recently developed a data portal and was adding material during the time we were completing our report. The site posts the equity reports and other data and documents, most of which concern individual schools.42 A summary equity report posted in January 2015—distinct from the equity reports for individual schools—provided aggregated demographic, discipline, and achievement data for the charter sector in comparison to the citywide average.43
All of these sites changed frequently during the time we were gathering information, and the committee notes the continual progress that has been made. For example, as we were preparing the report for publication, we found a new web page on the DCPS site, the DCPS Interactive Data Center, on which budget and enrollment information for fiscal 2015 and 2016 is posted.44 We also found data showing the numbers of students with disabilities in each classification served by DCPS and charter schools, as well as data on enrollment trends for the two sectors. However, there is no guide to what material is available where: there is duplication in the data on the
40Another site, Capstat, was the source of useful information for the committee’s Phase I report, but it is no longer operational.
41See http://osse.dc.gov/publication/dcps-equity-reports-sy-2012-2013 [February 2015].
various websites, and it is quite difficult to identify all the possible sources of information and establish which are unique.45
Several DCPS officials we interviewed discussed the use of data to support their own decision making. For example, through sharing of SLED data that are not made public with the Department of Human Services (about families receiving food or assistance46 and children in foster care), OSSE provided input on D.C.’s student funding formula. Another example is a report on pathways to graduation, which synthesized a range of data to identify key reasons that students do not continue on the track to graduation and uses that analysis to identify strategies for addressing the problem and develop an early warning system to identify students at risk (Tembo, 2014). These reported examples suggest that some city officials are using data internally in ways that reflect what has been learned in high-performing districts (see, e.g., Zavadsky and Dolejs, 2006), but we were not able to examine these internal activities or their effects.
Although the progress being made on data use is encouraging, more is possible for the city. SLED and LearnDC understandably keep student-level data confidential, but there are types of information that researchers and others could use to examine questions that cross sectors. If, for example, data about students in particular groups, and those who fall into more than one group, could be examined across all of the public schools (not just DCPS) and across time, users could better explore accountability for those groups. At present, most information is available only by schools, for DCPS overall, and for the individual charter LEAs and schools. We made numerous requests to each of the education agencies for access to the underlying data that would permit aggregation, but we did not receive it (see Appendix A).
To test our thinking about data accessibility in D.C., we examined the websites of several states. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, for example, maintains a website47 that allows users to click tabs to generate profiles of the state as a whole, indi-
45For example, on the OSSE page are equity reports for individual schools that provide data on enrollment discipline and attendance, DC CAS (Comprehensive Assessment System) performance, and midyear entry and withdrawal. The LearnDC site posts the same equity reports for individual schools in a different format; DCPS profiles for individual DCPS schools that also include information about clubs, sports, and facilities (these profiles are also posted on the DCPS website); brief school report cards that provide snapshots of the DC CAS and attendance data, as well as the percentage of highly qualified teachers and a school classification; profiles that summarize the equity report data; and a link for each school to a rating developed for an independent website called Great Schools (see http://www.greatschools.org/ [April 2015]).
46Such aid comes through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, two federal assistance programs for low-income families.
vidual districts, and schools. Tabs for the state provide data on students, teachers, finance, assessment, and accountability, much of it disaggregated by demographic groups. Another section of the website48 provides detailed data on indicators collected through the District Analysis and Review Tools Program and allows users to compare district performance. The Kentucky Department of Education has a tab for researchers49 that provides data on districts and schools, as well as a state-level report card that has tabs for detailed data on accountability, assessment, program review, learning environment, finances, indicators for improvement goals, and career and technical education.50 Florida and Illinois also have useful online information systems.51
These state websites demonstrate two important attributes of an effective state data warehouse: (1) an efficient and comprehensive system for collecting and maintaining the sorts of information the state needs to monitor its own performance and progress and (2) a platform for making these data, as well as associated documentation of programs and policies, readily available to parents, the community, policy makers, and researchers. It was difficult for the committee to systematically assess the first attribute because we could not develop a complete picture of what internal data may be available and which agency officials collect and use them. And although D.C. collects a great deal of data and documentation, its system does not have the second attribute. The committee recognizes that other states are in varying stages with respect to developing and maintaining data warehouses, but this is a critical function that merits high priority.
The lack of readily available data presented a significant challenge for our committee, and it is a source of frustration for some senior DCPS officials who would like to rely more heavily on data to support their decision making. More important, it is a significant gap for education governance in the city. Public access to comprehensive data across DCPS and all the charter LEAs in the city would support tracking and analysis of key information about schools and students, particularly with respect to students with disabilities and English-language learners (see Chapter 5). Valuable information the city may have is either not made public or is difficult to find in education-related websites that are not coordinated. We note also that PCSB updated its website recently and now requires users to go through
49See http://education.ky.gov/research/Pages/default.aspx [October 2014].
50See http://applications.education.ky.gov/SRC/ProfileByState.aspx [October 2014].
51For research on organizational report cards, see Fung et al. (2007).
a subscription-based service to download some of its reports and other documents.52
The city would benefit from having easier access to a broad range of information that would allow users to see comparisons across student groups, trends over time, and other analyses to address accountability questions across the entire jurisdiction (all DCPS and charter schools). It would also benefit from a clear understanding of the ways in which different education officials are using different types of data as they monitor and work to improve education quality.
The Budgeting Process
The budgeting process does not appear to be either simpler or more transparent than it was before PERAA.
For some city residents, the budget process for public education has long been a source of concern and frustration, and the growth of the charter sector has only exacerbated that frustration. Ongoing debates, lawsuits, and studies have highlighted concerns about both the adequacy of education resources for all students and parity between the charter sector and DCPS.53 Because a thorough examination of education-related allocations, expenditures, funding adequacy, reporting, and compliance was beyond our charge, we focused on how the changes and choices brought by PERAA have influenced the planning that is necessary to develop a fair and sound budget and the extent to which the public has input into that process. Our discussion of the transparency of the budgeting process is based on documentation available on agency websites; a study conducted for the DME (The Finance Project and Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates, 2013); interviews with budget analysts outside the government and PCSB staff, and fact-checking conversations with knowledgeable experts in the community. Our requests to speak with various DCPS budgeting officials went unanswered.
PERAA does not specifically address education budgeting, though the change in DCPS’s position from an independent agency to one under the direct control of the mayor did lead to changes in the budgeting process.
Before PERAA, the budgeting process started earlier in the fiscal year and included more public input than it currently does. OSSE’s predecessor,
52For example, downloading the full report posted here requires a paid membership in the service ScribD: see https://www.scribd.com/doc/238691457/2014-Discipline-and-AttendanceBriefing [February 2015].
53See, for example, The Finance Project and Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates (2013); http://www.21csf.org/csf-home/DocUploads/DataShop/DS_372.pdf [February 2015]; and http://www.dcfpi.org/areas-of-research/education [February 2015].
the State Education Office, convened a technical working group to make recommendations about D.C.’s student funding formula that would supplement input from the D.C. school board and the relevant D.C. Council committee. The working group held public hearings and meetings, and parents and others in the community brought specific issues and questions to board members. In addition, the superintendent convened a committee of DCPS administrators, principals, teachers, union representatives, parents, and community representatives to grapple with how to allocate funds under the weighted student formula instituted by then-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman beginning in fiscal 2000. Participants in and observers of the process whom we interviewed agreed that the committee’s recommendations strongly influenced the superintendent’s and school board’s budget decisions. The committee was disbanded in 2007.
The committee structure and technical working group have not been used since PERAA’s passage. Currently, DCPS leaders conduct workshops and hold community meetings to get input on their budget priorities. They also conduct a budget hearing, which is required by law.
Budget experts outside the government and others in the community have expressed concern that the current DCPS budgeting process allows too little time for input on the budget. In D.C., the fiscal year runs from October through September. Budgets are developed by the mayor and approved by the D.C. Council each June.54 The overall education budget is determined by projected enrollment numbers for DCPS and for the charter schools as a group, which are established in October, and revenue forecasts, which are released in February. The funds are paid out to DCPS on the basis of the projections, based on the audited October count of the prior year, and to the charters on the basis of their audited October counts for the current year. Charter schools are paid quarterly, with subsequent adjustments to their audited counts in their April payment, after the audit is completed (in January or February) (D.C. Code § 38-2901).
The D.C. Council hearings on agency budgets take place in April and May. This time line means that DCPS schools typically only have a few weeks from the release of the revenue forecasts to develop their budgets and allocate their funds. According to one nongovernmental budget analyst, local school advisory teams and parents have struggled to “digest the budget and make key decisions” on such a compressed time line. Charter schools are not so constrained—they proceed by their own schedules, though if their enrollment does not match their projections, they will have a budget
54The budget is then transmitted to Congress, which appropriates it along with the rest of the federal budget, and then to the President for his signature. Congress has line-item authority over the D.C. budget. Although Congress has not recently exercised this authority, it could put restrictions on the use of the budget.
shortfall later in the year. Charters can protect against this eventuality by saving up a reserve, because they can carry funds over from one fiscal year to the next; DCPS, by law, cannot do so.
Related to the lack of input and compressed time line is the larger question of transparency. A 2013 study commissioned by DME to determine the cost of providing an education that enables all students to meet rigorous academic standards provided a valuable overview of issues with the transparency in reporting expenditures (The Finance Project and Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates, 2013, p. 27):
[E]ducation budgeting, resource allocation, and financial reporting are not clear and easily traceable processes in DCPS or public charter schools. The state of financial recordkeeping makes it difficult to determine the total amount spent by cost category or to assess cost drivers and cost variations within and among DCPS and public charter schools. It is also difficult to trace funding from the source to the student and to understand the total amount of education spending in the city and how it is allocated to individual schools and to central office functions.
That study (commonly referred to as the adequacy study) found the lack of transparency to be particularly acute in the areas of capital investments and facilities maintenance and operations costs.
The nongovernmental budget experts we interviewed offered other specific concerns about the current budget reporting process. Those concerns covered a range of issues, including that
- it is difficult to determine how much funding is provided for each student who is considered at risk, even though such tracking is required by law;
- the equity between school types and wards is not well understood because the costs and expenditures are not broken out per pupil or for student groups;
- the actual DCPS budget does not match the records of the chief financial officer (CFO);
- the DCPS budget categories can vary from year to year and are seen as political; and
- the determination of comparability between DCPS and charter schools can be difficult because of different reporting formats and budget categories.
To some extent, the charter sector has greater transparency than does DCPS. An independent budget analyst noted that charters “publish everything” related to their budgets but that their expenditures “get lumped
into big categories,” which can make it difficult to determine exactly how the money is spent.55 There are no standardized formats or definitions in charter schools’ budgets or audits, though the PCSB is making progress in this area. The adequacy study also commented on the difficulty of ascertaining charter facility costs. In addition, the charter management organizations’ accounts are not open to the public, and there have been cases of mismanagement.56 The D.C. Council passed a law in March 2015 that is designed to improve fiscal transparency for the public charter schools.57
For its part, DCPS has taken steps in recent years to improve budget transparency. For example, DCPS has posted raw budget data for every school online, developed a “facts and figures” budget guide, and created an interactive data center (although it does not include per-pupil spending amounts). In addition, the D.C. Council Committee on Education has tried to make the CFO’s budget book more understandable by matching the actual DCPS budget to the CFO’s budget book. Continued progress along these lines could benefit the city by making information about budgets and expenditures more easily accessible to D.C. residents.
As we have noted above and in Chapter 2, changes in the budget development and reporting processes were not necessary results of PERAA. Instead, they stemmed from the choices of the mayor, the chancellor, and other leaders, using the flexibility PERAA made possible. Two other notable changes that are indirectly related to budgeting have occurred under mayoral control: the integration of DCPS into city government and increases in overall school funding.
On the first point, mayoral control has allowed DCPS to become more integrated with other city agencies and better take advantage of the services they provide. Before PERAA, the city was already trying to integrate services for DCPS with agencies that provide such services outside of public education. More of these transformations have occurred since PERAA. Now, for example, the Office of the Chief Technology Officer provides information technology services to DCPS, although this service also is still partly covered through the DCPS budget.58 Other services have been taken out of the DCPS budget: legal services are provided by the city’s attorney general, and facilities maintenance, construction, and planning are the responsibility of the Department of General Services.
55The definition of budget categories has also been noted as a concern for those who observe and work with DCPS budgets.
56See, for example, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/dc-charter-board-movesto-revoke-charter-for-community-academy/2014/12/16/12eeac5a-84d8-11e4-9534-f79a23c40e6c_ story.html [March 2015].
58According to two budget experts we spoke with, these services are budgeted inside DCPS, and DCPS makes interagency transfers to cover the costs.
On the second point, it is worth noting that funding for schools has increased since PERAA. One possible explanation for this increase is that PERAA called greater attention to problems in the D.C. education system. Another explanation is that PERAA has given D.C.’s mayors a greater sense of ownership and investment in the schools.
Although other leaders might not have chosen to direct additional supports and services to the schools, several long-time observers and participants in D.C. education and governance noted that this sense of investment had been missing before PERAA—even when the mayor could appoint four of nine school board members.
DCPS and PCSB have made efforts beyond the Office of the Ombudsman to address the need for improved public engagement.
PERAA called for the city to hire an ombudsman, required the new DCPS chancellor to obtain parental input and hold public meetings, and charged SBOE with holding monthly public meetings to receive citizen input. It made no other specific requirements with respect to family and community engagement. However, public engagement is a vital aspect of public accountability in any school district, and we address it as a separate topic because of its importance.
To learn about the city’s efforts to improve public engagement and accountability the committee conducted interviews with city officials and reviewed documents provided by those officials as well as some that we located independently. A report prepared by the research consortium DC-EdCORE examined the strategies and institutional approaches used by D.C. officials to engage the families and community members (Education Consortium for Research and Evaluation, 2014d). The authors of that report conducted interviews with city officials, parents, and others to obtain independent views of these efforts. The questions for these interviews were shaped in part by the issues that came up in the public meetings held by the committee.
The creation of the position of ombudsman to serve the entire public school community was the most prominent way PERAA addressed the issue of public engagement (see discussion of this office above). DCPS and PCSB also each have staff to address this issue, and we discuss those public engagement efforts in this section.
DCPS has an Office of Public Engagement, with a staff of 12-13 people and a separate response team (housed in the Office of the Deputy Chancellor) to address complaints. The response team grew in size in the years when there was no ombudsman. A 2011 document available on the website of the Office of Public Engagement provides an overview of its goals and evidence of the role of engagement in academic success.59
A primary mission of the office is to “provide the knowledge and support necessary for parents to support children’s education and make sure schools are a welcoming environment.” The office also engages with individuals who would like to contribute to citywide decision making and shape policy. That engagement occurs primarily with the central office, rather than with schools.
At the family level, DCPS currently is operating a home visiting program in 21 schools. Schools apply to participate, and teachers receive intensive professional development designed to provide them with tools for engaging with families and sharing lessons with one another. Families are then encouraged to invite teachers to visit their homes. Teachers do academic planning with parents, provide games that reinforce school activities, and build relationships with students and their families.
At the community level, DCPS uses public meetings, a parent cabinet with representatives from all eight wards, regular meetings with the public and with ward education councils,60 including small help sessions in the homes of parent volunteers. For example, DCPS held meetings in the wards affected by school consolidations to gather views about potential problems and to allow residents to ask questions.
The DCPS Office of Public Engagement has developed new strategies to meet the needs of younger families, such as web-based tools and rapid-response e-mail. The issues of concern vary across the city, and the office works with parent-teacher associations to avoid the possibility that traditional fund-raising and other volunteer activities exclude some families. One concern is that such volunteer efforts may support more enrichment (such as an after-school foreign language teacher) in schools in wealthier communities, where fundraising is more common, than in other schools. Public engagement staff address this gap by facilitating the sharing of skills, such as grant writing, across schools.
60Some of city’s wards have volunteer councils to represent their communities on public education issues.
PCSB approaches public engagement differently because the charter LEAs do not function as a single entity. Each LEA has its own board of trustees, and PCSB points to those boards as the primary mechanism for parent involvement in the schools. According to one PCSB official, 640 D.C. residents currently serve on charter school boards. By law the majority of each board must be city residents, and at least two members of every board must be parents.61 Because PCSB considers the possibility that choosing a school for their children is a source of empowerment for parents, the agency has focused on letting parents know which schools it considers to be high quality.
PCSB’s own board, which has seven members appointed by the mayor, holds monthly meetings and public hearings. The PCSB communications office holds sessions focused on particular topics, such as charter LEAs’ obligations with respect to Title IX.62
PCSB also receives and addresses complaints from parents in a way that is common in other school districts. Their first response is to direct the person making the complaint to the director of the school or the LEA’s board of directors. PCSB staff then follows up to be sure the complaint was resolved.
The interviews conducted by EdCORE provided anecdotal accounts of public engagement and accountability under PERAA from a group that included parents and others in the community. These interviews did not constitute a scientific sample, but they do suggest areas in which there may be room for improvement (see Education Consortium for Research and Evaluation, 2015).
We were asked two broad questions about the impact of the governance changes brought about by PERAA: whether the structures and roles outlined in PERAA were implemented as intended and whether they improved coordination and efficiency and established clearer lines of authority. We found that city officials have been responsive to PERAA’s goals and used its provisions in pursuit of improved operations. Both DCPS and PCSB have used new flexibility afforded by the law, and the education oversight agencies have worked to meet the charges given to them.
It would be unrealistic to expect a law such as PERAA to effectively address all of the problems that prompted it, or even to work in practice
61The committee was not able to independently confirm the composition of the boards.
62This amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act prohibits discrimination by gender for participation in any education activity that received federal funds, including sports.
exactly as it was intended, and the designers of PERAA did not explicitly address every aspect of the structure for education governance. The result is a structure that has some ad hoc elements and leaves unaddressed some issues that the city may wish to consider.
CONCLUSION 3-1 The city has executed most of what was called for in PERAA, and it has adapted some PERAA requirements in response to circumstances through legislative amendments and other administrative actions. The education agencies are mostly in place and carrying out their functions, but we note three problems:
- The interagency coordination agency called for by PERAA is not in place. The goals specified for that agency are partly being addressed by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, but the range of these efforts is limited.
- The Office of the State Superintendent of Education is not functioning effectively. The extent of OSSE’s responsibility and authority are not clear and the agency has not yet established a strong reputation as an effective state education authority. We were not able to conduct a systematic evaluation of OSSE’s current structure, operations, and priorities, but one is needed.
- The District of Columbia made notable progress in collecting education data and making it publicly available during the time of this evaluation. However, the city does not have a fully operational comprehensive infrastructure for data that meets PERAA’s goals or its own needs in its role as a state government, or the needs of residents, researchers, and other users. To meet these needs, D.C. should have a single online data warehouse that would allow users to examine trends over time and aggregate and disaggregate data about students and student groups, and to coordinate data collection and analysis across agencies concerned with education, justice, and human services.
CONCLUSION 3-2 PERAA’s objective of improving coordination among the Deputy Mayor for Education, the State Board of Education, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education has not been completely met, despite efforts by these agencies. PERAA does not clearly spell out the ways in which the agencies ought to coordinate, and this lack of specificity has led to confusion and duplication of effort. Coordination among DCPS and the charter schools is also limited.
CONCLUSION 3-3 Accountability to the public requires that information about administrative operations be transparent and easily accessible and that mechanisms be available for D.C. residents to express their preferences and concerns. Reestablishing the Office of the Ombudsman after a long hiatus was a positive step, but the budgeting process for education expenditures is neither simpler nor more transparent than it was before PERAA.
CONCLUSION 3-4 PERAA’s objective of establishing clear lines of authority has not been completely met. Because the Office of the State Superintendent of Education is situated at the same level as DCPS and the Public Charter School Board, the respective responsibilities of these agencies are not clearly distinguished. On paper, the Deputy Mayor for Education is responsible for oversight of all three, but we did not see evidence of how this oversight is carried out. No one agency has ultimate responsibility for the quality of education for all the city’s public school students.
CONCLUSION 3-5 The current governance structure for D.C.’s public schools represents a reasonable response to the requirements of PERAA. The goals that have not yet been met—regarding coordination and oversight—point to two questions for the city to consider (1) whether the current oversight structure provides sufficient monitoring of the educational opportunities provided to students attending DCPS and charter schools throughout the city and (2) how best to oversee the education of all students attending any publicly funded school.
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