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Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
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5

Learning Conditions

The fourth question in the charge to the committee was whether learning conditions improved overall and for diverse public schools and their students in the years after the Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA) was enacted. We approached this topic with the assumption that all students need well-crafted academic challenges and supports, as well as many other kinds of supports that allow them to take full advantage of academic opportunities. Curriculum, standards, and academic resources are important conditions for learning, as are other aspects of what takes place in school, including school climate, disciplinary policies, and teachers’ expectations. What students bring to school is just as important: learning is affected by social and cognitive development beginning at the prenatal stage; physical and mental health; family and neighborhood circumstances, cultural traditions and language; and socioeconomic status.1 Each of these factors can contribute to or mitigate disparities in students’ educational experiences.

Evaluating all of these factors at once is not possible, as the Phase I report (National Research Council, 2011) noted. D.C.’s education agencies collect a great deal of information about students and schools, but there is no coordinated system of ongoing monitoring and evaluation of learn-

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1For discussion of the ways academic and nonacademic factors influence learning, see, among others, Moss et al. (2008), Boykin and Noguera (2011), Duncan and Murnane (2011), Pullman et al. (2011), and Carter and Welner (2013). The website of the Stanford Center for Opportunity in Education also has many resources: see https://edpolicy.stanford.edu [September 2014].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

ing conditions that covers all public school students. In this chapter, we consider some of the functions that directly affect conditions for learning and how those conditions may have changed as PERAA was implemented.

We focused on evidence about the equity of learning opportunities across the public schools. Because we could not evaluate all relevant factors, we identified several key factors that affect students and schools that we judged would represent the range of issues that are important to reducing disparities. In this chapter, we discuss opportunities for students with disabilities and English-language learners, the use of attendance and disciplinary actions, and early childhood education and advanced placement offerings. We also address goals for improving how the city monitors learning conditions, a function that is essential to ongoing improvement.

There was limited information available on many topics we hoped to examine. We also note that it is not possible to attribute any changes in learning conditions directly to the passage of PERAA because so many factors influence learning conditions (see Chapter 1). For each of these factors, we describe what we learned about the agencies’ actions and notable changes for which we found evidence. We did not collect data on the implementation of programmatic decisions. That is, we describe the city’s intentions and decisions with respect to, for example, the implementation of the Common Core standards, but do not have direct evidence from the classroom about how these decisions have been implemented.

Sources for this chapter include

  • information and documentation provided by offices within the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), and the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (PCSB);
  • publicly available materials we obtained from agency websites;
  • interviews and informal conversations and e-mail exchanges with city officials and others with knowledge of the city’s schools and learning conditions, which we used to understand the functions and operations of the education agencies;
  • relevant scholarly research; and
  • reports from other sources that provide either context for understanding the current D.C. environment for learning or other relevant information about the city; including advocacy reports and the second of the five reports prepared for the committee by EdCORE (Education Consortium for Research and Evaluation, 2013b).

We asked officials at DCPS, PCSB, and OSSE a number of questions pertaining to learning conditions and requested data and documentation from all three. In response to these requests, PCSB explained that, by design, it

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
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does not systematically collect most of the information we requested. PCSB directed us to consult directly with each of the 61 charter-holding organizations2 for the information we requested. However, collecting, aggregating, and analyzing the data needed were not feasible for this project. As we discuss in Chapter 2, an important rationale cited by charter proponents for including charter schools in a public school system is that they should be independent of guidance about how they educate their students and manage their schools. Under this logic, each charter school (or its governing entity) is accountable for outcomes rather than for its approaches to instruction. Thus, by necessity, this chapter focuses primarily on DCPS, but, whenever possible, we discuss evidence for the charter schools.

We begin with an overview of the goals and structures designed to improve learning conditions in the city’s public schools. We then explore learning conditions for groups of students with particular needs. In the fourth section we examine academic offerings and supports available within the schools. The last section of the chapter presents our summary and conclusions about learning conditions.

INFLUENCES ON CONDITIONS FOR LEARNING

In the United States, it is the school districts, rather than the states or the federal government, which directly run and staff the public schools and have the greatest influence on learning conditions. In D.C., the issue is complicated by that fact that the city bears both the local (district) and state responsibilities for public education. As we discuss in Chapter 3, the way that the entities that govern D.C.’s public schools currently work together depends more on collegiality than on institutional structures and incentives, a situation that complicates the city’s efforts to ensure equitable learning opportunities for all students.

The role played by states varies across the nation and has been changing, partly in response to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which called on states to play a more active role in school improvement (Sunderman and Orfield, 2006; Center for Mental Health in Schools, 2009; Brown et al., 2011; Murphy and Hill, 2011). Traditionally, a primary responsibility for states has been to monitor compliance with federal rules and regulations, but they have also taken on such specific responsibilities as setting policies for or developing curricula, standards, and assessments; issuing charters; and licensing educators (U.S. Department of Education, 2008; State and Local Government on the Net, 2010). Broader responsibilities sometimes include providing oversight and guidance to local

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2Every charter organization (which may operate one or more school campuses) functions as an individual local education agency (LEA) or school district.

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
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school boards; coordinating statewide planning; promoting excellence in education; and overseeing the provision of educational services for individuals with disabilities and other groups with special needs.

The responsibility for learning conditions in D.C. is dispersed. There are technically 62 school districts or LEAs, DCPS, and the individual organizations that hold public education charters. D.C.’s two state-level agencies, OSSE and the State Board of Education (SBOE) also have responsibilities that directly affect learning conditions (see Chapters 2 and 3 and Appendix D). OSSE’s mission includes ensuring that all schools meet federal requirements, “providing resources and support to assist the District’s most vulnerable student populations,” and “providing resources to support children from birth to post-secondary education” (see Chapter 3). SBOE is responsible for setting academic standards and graduation requirements. The responsibilities of the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) are more general: its mission is to develop and implement “the mayor’s vision for academic excellence and [create] a high quality education continuum from birth to 24,” but as we discuss in Chapter 3, its staff is small and its focus is at the policy level.

A number of documents prepared after PERAA’s adoption discuss the goals city officials established for the school reforms: see Table 5-1. The goals apply across the public schools but because of the charter schools’ freedom to make most decisions, these goals have had more practical relevance for DCPS. Education plans put forward by Mayors Fenty and Gray as each took office also describe initiatives that were planned (Fenty, 2007a; Vince Gray for Mayor, 2010). DCPS’s performance plan for fiscal 2009 describes six objectives, each with a set of specific initiatives and sub-goals (District of Columbia Public Schools, 2009a). More recently, DCPS developed a guiding document, Overview of Teaching and Learning at DC Public Schools, which describes the means by which it plans to meet key performance goals (District of Columbia Public Schools, 2014c).3 These and other documents discuss many activities and programs; as a group they indicate that city leaders identified several goals in their initial responses to PERAA and have sustained their focus.4

For example, we discuss in Chapter 4 the emphasis that DCPS has placed on improving teacher quality. Other themes in DCPS’s education approach include continuity from early childhood through college and career readiness; improving the delivery of special education services, academic

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3The goals are described in A Capital Commitment (District of Columbia Public Schools, 2012); see Chapter 3.

4See, for example, Brown (2014c) and Chandler (2014d). See also a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (2009), which covers some of the city’s early responses to PERAA.

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
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TABLE 5-1 Selected Goals Documents

Document Content
100 Days and Beyond: 2007 Action Plan for the District of Columbia (Fenty, 2007a) Presented 23 goals for reforming education, in the areas of governance, early childhood education, pre-K–12, higher education/career and technical education/workforce training, and adult education.
Ensuring a Quality Education for All Children: Vince Gray’s Plan for D.C. Schools (Vince Gray for Mayor, 2010) Described Gray’s education reform plan with respect to leadership; a holistic, birth-to-24 approach to education; the quality of K-12 education; college and career readiness; and transparency, accountability, and sound management.
FY 09 Performance Plan for DC Public Schools (District of Columbia Public Schools, 2009a)

Identified six objectives and initiatives to address them:

  1. Ensure that schools provide a consistent foundation in academics, strong support for social/emotional needs, and a variety of challenging themes and programs.
  2. Retain the most highly effective and highly compensated educators in the country.
  3. Implement a rigorous, relevant college preparatory curriculum that gives all students meaningful options for life.
  4. Support decision making with accurate information about how our students and the school district are performing.
  5. Provide schools with the central office support they need to foster student achievement.
  6. Partner with families and community members who demand better schools.
A Capital Commitment: 2017 Strategic Plan (District of Columbia Public Schools, 2012)

Set five goals to guide improvement 2012-2017:

  1. Improve achievement rates
  2. Invest in struggling schools
  3. Increase graduation rate
  4. Improve satisfaction
  5. Increase enrollment
Effective Schools Framework, 2009 (District of Columbia Public Schools, 2009a)

Defined elements of effective schools and set expectations for schools and district pertaining to each:

  • Teaching and learning
  • Leadership
  • Job-embedded professional development
  • Resources
  • Safe and effective learning environment
  • Family and community engagement
Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×
Teaching and Learning Framework Resources Overview (District of Columbia Public Schools, 2014c) Sets detailed expectations for teachers and for professional development; designed as part of IMPACT system.
Overview of Teaching and Learning at DC Public Schools SY1415 (District of Columbia Public Schools, 2014c) Describes plans for meeting goals set forth in A Capital Commitment (District of Columbia Public Schools, 2012).

supports, student engagement, and curricular offerings; improving accountability; and modernizing school facilities. It was not possible to trace each objective across time, but the city has largely stayed with this course: both the 2011 selection of a new DCPS chancellor who had worked closely with the previous one and the decision by Mayor Bowser (elected in 2014) to retain her in 2015 were signs that the city’s recent mayors have pursued consistent goals.

STUDENTS

Many students in DC’s public schools need supplemental supports from the school system and from other city services if they are to learn and flourish. As we discuss in Chapter 2, D.C.’s public schools serve a population that includes high proportions of students in the groups that are often at risk for low performance or school failure. Significant differences in academic achievement and attainment between white and nonwhite students, between low-income students and their more affluent peers, and between students with disabilities and English-language learners and other students have all been persistent challenges in D.C. (see Chapter 6).

There is evidence that socioeconomic disadvantages, such as low income and parental education levels, can interact with race to exacerbate academic challenges for some students (Duncan and Murnane, 2011; for a discussion of these issues in a D.C. context, see Ashton, 2012).5 These circumstances also likely interact with disparities in the quality of educational opportunities across the city. An analysis by an advocacy group concluded that three factors influence achievement gaps (DC Action for Children, 2012, pp. 2-3):

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5Student achievement gaps are discussed in Chapter 6, but see, for example, Brown (2013a).

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×
  • the economic status of neighborhoods where students attend school;
  • the economic status of the neighborhoods where students live, and whether they are neighborhoods of concentrated poverty or neighborhoods of concentrated privilege; and
  • differences in school quality by neighborhood.

The students with the greatest needs are certainly not evenly distributed across the city’s wards (see Chapter 2). For example, Wards 5 and 6 and, especially, 7 and 8 have the highest percentages of children in families receiving aid through the three main federal programs that provide support to low-income children, youth, and families6 and the highest percentages of births to mothers with less than 12 years of formal education. Wards 7 and 8 also have the highest numbers of substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect (Child Trends, 2011).

Other factors may also interact with race, income, and parental education level for students. Students with disabilities, English-language learners, and students who are homeless, in foster care, or involved in some way with the juvenile justice system all may need supplementary supports. We could not examine supports and conditions for each of these groups, but we discuss indications we could find of equity across groups, schools, and wards throughout the chapter. We looked in detail at students with disabilities and English-language learners.

Students with Disabilities

D.C. has a long history of problems with providing appropriate and equitable educational opportunities to students with disabilities, and also with procedural challenges, including compliance with federal regulations regarding these students, who make up 13 percent of public school students. The city has worked on improving a bad situation with respect to students with disabilities and has improved compliance. However, we saw limited evidence of effective coordination across agencies and across LEAs with respect to these students’ needs, and their achievement levels remain the lowest of any group.

The city is very far from meeting its targets for the achievement of special education students, in terms of compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). An annual performance report prepared by OSSE showed the targets for these students’ achievement: approximately 85 percent of elementary and secondary students score at the proficient

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6The three programs are Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANFF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicaid and the State Children’s Health

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

level or above in both reading and mathematics.7 Yet in 2012, 19 percent of elementary students reached that level in reading, and 24 percent reached it in mathematics. Graduation rates for this group were also very low, 39 percent, in comparison with 59 percent for all students.

History of Challenges and Efforts to Improve

At the time PERAA was enacted, the city had among the highest rates of per-pupil expenditure for special education services in the nation and was serving many of them in nonpublic schools that were not, in many cases, the least-restrictive environments that are required under IDEA (National Research Council, 2011). The city has consistently had difficulty with federal compliance, as can be seen in a series of high-profile lawsuits extending back to the early 1970s. Perhaps the best-known recent case, Blackman-Jones, was two combined class-action lawsuits filed in 1997 that addressed violations under IDEA. It resulted in judicial monitoring of special education in D.C.: the city was only released from judicial oversight related to these cases in 2014. Although the judge found that due process for initial special education evaluations is now in compliance with federal law, not all of the identified problems have been resolved.

The city has made efforts to address the procedural problems in the years since PERAA. For example, it has worked to make sure that placement decisions are made within the appropriate time frame and implemented quickly: these efforts resulted in the dismissal of the Blackman-Jones monitoring (Chandler, 2014b). There has been a steep decline in the number of special education due process complaints in the city, though D.C. still represents a large portion of all due process complaints in the country (Samuels, 2014). The city also reports that it has increased funding for special education through the uniform per-student funding formula, which contributed to reducing the number of students educated in nonpublic settings by 50 percent.8

In fall 2014, the D.C. Council enacted three laws that were designed to improve special education. These bills aim to (Chandler, 2014c):

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7See http://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/release_content/attachments/FINAL_ESEA_Flexibility_Context_Executive_Summary_5_24_12_KI%20Edits%20%282%29.pdf [July 2015]. Student achievement data are discussed in Chapter 6 but this document provided information not discussed there.

8See http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/About+DCPS/Press+Releases+and+Announcements/Press+Releases/Mayor+Gray+Announces+End+to+Federal+Court+Oversight+of+District+of+Columbia+ Special+Education+System [February 2015].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×
  • reduce the amount of time parents wait to have their children evaluated,9
  • expand eligibility for early-intervention services,
  • start transition services for students at age 14 instead of 16, and
  • improve parents’ access to information.

DCPS officials we interviewed said they believe the changes called for in the new laws were already under way, and a special education advocate commented publicly that the progress already made means that the targets set in the legislation might realistically be achieved (Chandler, 2014e).

Our interviews with city officials and requests for data and documentation yielded some insight into the agencies’ current arrangements for addressing the needs of these students.

OSSE officials described the structure of the staff departments that play a role in supporting students with disabilities. DCPS officials described supports that have been implemented since PERAA, including the introduction of a new web-based portal and technical assistance team that assist school staff with federal compliance issues. They also noted improvements, such as an increase in school-based psychologists and special education staff, and the development of a diagnostic center that serves young children who may have developmental delays (Education Consortium for Research and Evaluation, 2013b).10 One official we interviewed described the progress DCPS has made in adapting IMPACT to address the skills and needs of special education teachers and noted that their strategy is to focus on improving quality across special needs populations by both analyzing individual cases and tracing patterns across schools. The official noted also an increase in individualized professional development and supports in schools.

We requested data and documentation about the qualifications of and professional development available to special education teachers. DCPS and PCSB both told us that data about qualifications are not tracked, though these teachers must meet the licensure requirements that apply to all educators. We were told by DCPS that it has minimal difficulty filling jobs related to special education, except in particular areas: one example they noted was difficulty in securing educators with expertise in behavior management in the classroom). DCPS shared sample professional development materials and schedules with the committee and told us that a new focus for special education is to help teachers and principals understand how to use the data that the city is collecting in their instructional plans.

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9The cap on the wait time had been up to 120 days, the longest in the nation (Chandler, 2014c).

10See http://www.earlystagesdc.org/about [January 2015].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

Placement: An Ongoing Challenge

One concern in D.C. has been the placement of special education students in private settings, at high cost to the city. In 2008, for example, about 20 percent of special education students were enrolled in private schools, at an average cost of $57,700 per student per year, with an additional $19,000 for transportation costs (National Research Council, 2011). At that time, DCPS was responsible for paying the private school tuition and transportation costs, but after PERAA these responsibilities were transferred to OSSE. A study commissioned by OSSE (American Institutes for Research, 2013) found that although the city had improved its compliance with federal regulations—it had reduced the numbers of special education students in private placements—the receiving schools were not well prepared to serve the returning students. The report said that participants in its study “reported deficits in system-provided resources for curriculum, technology, and behavior” (p. x) especially in staffing.

The 50 percent reduction in students in private settings reflects a significant effort for improvement in D.C., but the possibility that the students are not adequately served in public settings is still cause for concern. There are many benefits to reducing private placements, including reduction of costs and the possibility of returning students to the legally mandated least restrictive environment. The most important question, though, is whether these students receive more appropriate and equitable education as a result of the placement changes. This issue merits further investigation.

Another concern that has been raised in D.C. and in other cities is the possibility that charter schools are educating fewer students with disabilities, or fewer of the students with the most severe disabilities, than do traditional public schools. An independent government study found that the percentage of students with disabilities enrolled in charter schools nationwide was lower than the percentage in traditional schools and that fewer charters were serving high percentages of students with disabilities (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2012).

OSSE data show that in 2013-2014, 13 percent of all DCPS and charter school students (11,043) were classified as special education students (14 percent of DCPS students and 12 percent of charter students; see Appendix C).11 We also found that for that year, DCPS enrolled a greater proportion of students with disabilities than did the charter schools at three of the four classification levels: see Table 5-2. Of the 2,205 students with the most severe disabilities, 1,361 were enrolled in DCPS schools and 844 were enrolled in charter schools. Thus, it does seem that DCPS is educat-

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11A small number of charter schools have the exclusive mission of serving students with disabilities.

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

TABLE 5-2 Enrollment of Students with Disabilities

  Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
DCPS   2,775   1,956      522   1,361
Charter Schools   1,442   1,465      678      844
Total   4,217   3,421   1,200   2,205

NOTE: Level 4 is the category for the students with the most severe disabilities.

SOURCE: Office of the State Superintendent of Education (2013b).

ing somewhat more than its proportional share of the students with the greatest needs.

We requested data on the mobility of students with disabilities across DCPS and charter schools from OSSE but did not receive it. We also asked about this issue in interviews. One DCPS official offered the following explanation:

[A] charter school can choose DCPS to be its … LEA [local education agency] for purposes of special education [dependent charter school] or choose to be its own LEA [independent charter school]. DCPS is not a service provider for students in either independent or dependent charter schools. However, DCPS does complete evaluations for students who have been found eligible for special education services, or are suspected of having a disability, that are enrolled in dependent charter schools. In cases where DCPS is the LEA for a charter school, DCPS does not have any authority or mechanism to ensure that charter school students are receiving services in accordance with their IEPs [individualized education programs]. This framework has proven problematic for purposes of procedural compliance.

In another DCPS official’s view, the problem is that a charter school will receive all the required supplementary special education funds for a student while DCPS is still expected to provide supplements that a student requires, such as dedicated aides or home or hospital services. This official also noted that DCPS has no authority to address problems in charter schools: it can only report noncompliance to PCSB and to OSSE. This DCPS official believes that PCSB should develop a consortium to support small LEAs, who have limited resources, to assist them in meeting the needs of special education students.

We note that according to the D.C. School Reform Act of 1995, DCPS can be elected as the LEA for special education only for purposes of Part B of IDEA (D.C. Code § 38-1802.10). This provision has been confusing for city officials, we were told by a budget expert in the city, in part because subsequent legislative action modified the provision. An independent report

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

has recommended that this provision be abolished (American Institutes for Research, 2013).

Independent Evidence

We looked for independent evidence about concerns related to special education in the city. A recent report (American Institutes for Research, 2013) commissioned by OSSE examined the quality of special education programs in DCPS and the charter schools and made recommendations for improvement. We found these recommendations to be well supported, and they are listed in Appendix E. We highlight here a few points from the report.

The report found many positive elements in services for students with disabilities, including evidence of cross-disciplinary collaboration among educators, effective strategies for behavior management in the classroom, access to a grade-appropriate curriculum, and strategies for differentiating instruction to meet students’ needs. However, it also found significant variation in resources and practices across schools. It noted problems with staffing, including widespread concern among teachers and principals that special education programs are understaffed and that teachers often have difficulty finding time to take advantage of professional development opportunities that are offered. According to the report, assessment of staff needs for training is inconsistent, and accountability and support for those who teach students with disabilities are inconsistent.

Another report, prepared by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (2012), noted that many charter LEAs reported having insufficient resources to serve students with severe disabilities. We asked PCSB officials about the support they provide. One official reported that PCSB directs charter LEAs who want technical assistance in this area to resources available through external organizations. Nearly half the LEAs recently took up an offer from a group of outside experts to assist with a self-evaluation process, for example, the official reported.

The AIR report also addressed this issue, noting “a lack of alignment across and within school systems (e.g., DCPS and charter schools) … discrepancies in service and a lack of accountability” (American Institutes for Research, 2013, p. xi). Many of the authors’ recommendations (see Appendix E) suggest a need for coordination across all of the public schools. The report says, for example, that all public schools “should be required to participate in system-wide reform efforts related to special education,” that “OSSE should consider developing a special education consortium of DCPS, PCSB, charter LEAs, and non-public schools to articulate alignment of standards and curricula,” and that OSSE should work with DCPS, PCSB, and the charter LEAs to “develop a Master Plan for implementing

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

site-based, ongoing professional development” (p. xii). The report clearly identifies OSSE as the entity the authors believe should oversee the quality of the education of students with disabilities in every public school.

The U.S. Department of Education has recently reported that that D.C. is among the worst school systems in the nation in providing appropriate educational opportunities for students with disabilities, and it has the worst record of any state in the country for meeting federal special education goals.12 Because D.C. has been in the “needs intervention” category for many years, the Department of Education required it to spend about $500,000 in federal funds on student evaluation programs (National Research Council, 2011).

Serving students with disabilities is particularly challenging because it requires educational expertise and supplementary resources, while also involving both complex legal requirements and medical and psychosocial diagnoses. While we recognize the city’s significant improvements in compliance, problems remain. Two issues that merit particular attention are the capacity of the charter schools to provide appropriate education and support to students with all disability levels and the distribution of the students with most severe disability levels across the city’s public schools.

English-Language Learners

The proportion of students in D.C.’s public schools who are identified as English-language learners has grown modestly in the years since PERAA, from 7 to 9 percent, a total of 7,331 students in 2012-2013 (4,716 in DCPS schools and 2,615 in charters; see Chapter 2). We saw little evidence that D.C. has focused systematically on this group’s needs, but there are significant gaps in achievement between these and other students. For example, in 2014, English-language learners performed at about the same levels as economically disadvantaged students and black students—at a significantly lower level than white, Asian, and Hispanic students. Moreover, the performance of English-language learners in both math and reading declined between 2009 and 2014 (see details in Chapter 6). The English-language

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12Under IDEA, the Department of Education is required to rank states as falling in one of four categories with respect to meeting requirements for special education. In 2014, D.C. was among six jurisdictions in the lowest category—needs intervention (the others were California, Delaware, Texas, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the Virgin Islands): see http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/new-accountability-framework-raises-bar-statespecial-education-programs [January 2014]. A June 23, 2014, letter from the Department of Education to D.C.’s state superintendent describes the reasons the city was found to need intervention: see http://www2.ed.gov/fund/data/report/idea/partbspap/2014/dc-acc-aprltr2014b.pdf [February 2015]. With respect to D.C.’s record, see http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/08/08/37ratings-2.h31.html [January 2014].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

learners who were enrolled in charter schools fared worse, performing at a lower level than any other group except students with disabilities.

OSSE provided us with analysis of 2012 District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS) mathematics data for English-language learners from the 2012 DC CAS that includes a bit more detail.13 Their analysis showed that students who have relatively higher scores on an English-language proficiency test performed somewhat better on the DC CAS that year, and that the students who performed most poorly in mathematics were also those who have remained in English-language learning status the longest, 3 years or more. The analysis OSSE provided also showed that DCPS educates many more English-language learners, and more of those with the lowest levels of English proficiency, than do charter schools.

A number of challenges face students who are not fluent in English and the schools that educate them. These students are a disparate group, so it is important that schools both identify individual students’ needs for language and other academic support, and ensure that they progress academically while they gain fluency in English. Teachers need training and resources to meet the needs of these students, including accurate tools for assessing their progress.

We asked OSSE, DCPS, and PCSB for information about the education of English-language learners, and we also spoke with officials in each agency about these questions. DCPS and OSSE provided us with sample documents illustrating procedures they use for placement and classification, monitoring the progress of students who are not fluent in English in their academic subjects, and licensure and certification of teachers.

This overview is by no means a thorough examination of the educational status of these students, but we had little information to assess. The number of English-language learners in D.C. is not especially large, but we could identify no significant mechanisms for coordination across DCPS and charter LEAs with respect to their education and supports. We were told by a city official that there are no basic protocols or guidelines that apply to all schools. Because charter schools are evaluated by PCSB on their outcomes, not their practices, PCSB has no staff dedicated to overseeing English-language learning issues or students. DCPS’s office of specialized instruction is responsible for many issues and programs, including language acquisition, as well as early childhood programs, special education compliance issues, and inclusive programming for special education students. OSSE has a single full-time staff person responsible for Title III programs.14

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13This test is no longer used in D.C.; see Chapter 3.

14Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) covers language instruction for limited-English-proficient and immigrant students.

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

Title III funds are intended to support supplemental activities for English-language learners, but in the words of one city official we interviewed, “there is nothing to supplement.”

Another city official we interviewed commented that “there is no monitoring arm for how LEAs serve the ELL population.” For example, this person noted, the city provides $4,200 in funds in addition to the $11,000 allocated under the uniform per student funding formula (an additional $6,000 is provided for each special education student), but there is no structure for monitoring what LEAs do with these funds or determining whether they are addressing students’ basic needs. At the same time, charter schools have no consistent source of technical assistance or other resources, such as professional development, to help ensure that they are providing what English-language learners need. As a city official noted, “there is no way for people to know if they are doing it right.” Another official commented that “nobody is looking across ELLs. OSSE could do that but isn’t currently.”

The city would benefit from having systematic data and analysis covering DCPS and charter schools that addresses such topics as placement and identification of need, availability of resources, qualifications and professional development for educators, and technical support.

SCHOOLS: DISCIPLINE AND ATTENDANCE

Many factors are important to sustaining a constructive and productive school climate, and a comprehensive review of them was beyond the scope of this project.15 We focused on two—discipline and attendance—because together they provide a reasonable starting point for understanding conditions in schools.

We requested information about discipline and attendance and truancy from OSSE, DCPS, and PCSB. We also found several relevant reports prepared by D.C. agencies, information on agency websites, and reports prepared by other groups.

OSSE’s function with respect to discipline and attendance has been to collect and analyze information, and the office provided us with counts of discipline and truancy incidents for DCPS and the charter schools. DME has established a task force focused on reducing truancy, which posts information about its activities.16 PCSB tracks basic data about both discipline and truancy and provided this to us. DCPS provided us with documenta-

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15For further discussion and resources, see, for example, National School Climate Center (2007, n.d.); Cohen et al. (2008); and Thapa et al. (2012).

16See http://dme.dc.gov/page/reducing-truancy-and-reconnecting-youth-educationalopportunities [January 2014].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

TABLE 5-3 Discipline Incidents in D.C. Public Schools

School Level DCPS Charter Schools Total
Elementary Data
     from OSSE
     Data from PCSB
  1,048      596   1,644
1,598
Middle School
     Data from OSSE
     Data from PCSB
  2,146   1,251   3,397
4,301
High School
     Data from OSSE
     Data from PCSB
  1,492      640   2,132
2,627
Total
     Data from OSSE
  4,760   2,681   7,441

NOTES: PCSB data are for 2013-2014; OSSE data are for 2012-2013. OSSE indicated that for this purpose, “discipline is defined by the standards of the U.S. Department of Education (i.e. not discipline incidents based on breaking a charter school’s discipline policy.” PCSB did not define what incidents were counted. The total from OSSE, 7,441, does not match the total of the three counts they provided for the grade bands, which total 7,173. DCPS, D.C. Public Schools; OSSE, Office of the State Superintendent of Education; PCSB, Public Charter School Board.

SOURCE: Data supplied by OSSE, DCPS, and PCSB, as indicated.

tion of attendance and discipline policies and a summary of recent data on suspensions.

Discipline

Table 5-3 summarizes the discipline data provided by OSSE and the PCSB. There were more than 7,000 discipline incidents in 2012-2013 (among the 80,231 total students enrolled that year).17 An OSSE staff member advised us that for this purpose, “discipline is defined by the standards of the U.S. Department of Education (i.e. not discipline incidents based on breaking a charter school’s discipline policy.”

Separate data on suspensions and expulsions from D.C. public schools for 2011-2012 comes from an advocacy group (Every Student Every Day Coalition, n.d.): see Table 5-4. These data show 18,950 exclusions from the classroom that year: 11,226 in DCPS schools and 7,724 in charter schools.

This large discrepancy is puzzling, although the independent report

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17See http://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/SY13-14%20Enrollment%20Audit%20Overview%20%282.26.2014%29%5B1%5D.pdf [April 2015].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

TABLE 5-4 Independent Discipline Data for 2011-2012

Suspensions and Expulsions DCPS Charter Schools Total
Total Number of Students 46,048 31,557 77,605
1- to 10-Day Suspensions 10,836   7,170 18,006
10+-Day Suspensions      387      327      714
Expulsions          3      227      230
Total Exclusions from Classrooms 11,226   7,742 18,950

SOURCE: Adapted from Every Student Every Day Coalition (n.d.).

indicates that the data were provided from the city. It is likely that different methods or definitions were used in counting incidents. Although these data are hard to reconcile, they both highlight that the magnitude of the problem is significant.18

Analysis of some details in the discipline data from DCPS and OSSE sheds some additional light. DCPS provided the committee with information from a review of suspension data for 2012-2013: slightly more than 25 percent of the suspensions in DCPS elementary schools were for special education students;19 the highest suspension rates are in middle schools, followed by education campuses;20 the 8th and 9th grades had the highest rates of long-term suspensions.21

An OSSE report on out-of-school suspensions and expulsions in DCPS and charter schools included incidence data and recommendations for reducing the number of these incidents (Office of the State Superintendent of Education, 2013). That report indicated that nearly 10,000 students were suspended at least once during 2012-2013, with out-of-school suspension or expulsion being four times more likely than in-school suspension. We note that this figure is notably lower than the Every Student Every Day figure of 18,950 for 2011-2012, but it is substantially higher than the total number of incidents reported by OSSE for 2012-2013. The OSSE report indicated that discipline associated with violence, drugs, alcohol, or weapons was most likely for students in grades 6 through 9. The report also details the characteristics of disciplined students:

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18For a discussion of discipline and safety data, see http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011806. pdf [April 2015].

19Special education students are 14 percent of the total DCPS student population, but we do not have the percentage for DCPS elementary students; see Appendix C.

20Education campuses are schools that serve larger grade spans than most—some serve pre-K through grade 8 and some serve grades 6-12.

21DCPS also provided us with general descriptions of strategies for school safety and discipline, which are also posted online: see http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/Files/downloads/SCHOOLS/Youth%20Engagement/Disengaged%20Youth/DCPS-Approach-to-Safe-Effective-LearningEnvironment-August-1.pdf [February 2015].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×
  • male (1.68 times more likely than female);
  • attend DCPS schools (1.58 times more likely than charter school students);
  • black (six times more likely than white) or Hispanic (twice as likely as white);
  • eligible for support for low-income families, such as free or reduced-price lunch, TANF, or SNAP (1.3 to 1.5 times more likely than other students);
  • homeless (1.2 times more likely than nonhomeless students); and
  • receive special education services (1.4 to 1.7 times more likely than students who do not, depending on service level).22

The report notes that these disparities are similar to (in some cases less severe than) those found nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education. It also notes that research has shown a disturbing connection in the United States between severe school discipline and students’ later involvement in the judicial system. The report does not address possible explanations for the patterns in disciplinary actions.

The OSSE report also documents wide differences in the rates of disciplinary actions across city schools: there are 43 DCPS and charter schools that did not suspend or expel any students in 2012-2013, 37 schools that had suspended at least 25 percent of their students, and 8 schools that had suspended at least 50 percent of their students for at least one day. The report does not address the rates across wards or neighborhoods.

The report also discusses disparities between DCPS and the charter schools in terms of professional development on the topic of discipline. In a survey of teachers, 80 percent of those in DCPS schools and 93 percent of those in charter schools said they would like to receive more professional development associated with discipline-related topics, such as violence and substance use. The report noted that DCPS offers significantly more professional development than do the charter schools on mental and emotional health, alcohol and other drug use, and tobacco-use prevention (Office of the State Superintendent of Education, 2013, p. 25).

The OSSE report also found that “0.71 percent of 3 year-olds and 0.55 percent of 4 year-olds received out of school suspensions during the 12-13 school year” (Office of the State Superintendent of Education, 2013, p. 19) and noted that suspensions and expulsions at these early ages tend to increase the likelihood that students will have discipline and other problems in the future. The report recommended that schools not suspend or expel

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22Special education services are classified according to the severity of the disability addressed. We note that federal law protects students from suspension if the behavior at issue is related to their disability.

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

pre-K students. The D.C. Council recently passed a bill that would ban most suspensions and expulsions for pre-K students.23

The OSSE report makes other recommendations “to combat the loss of instructional time and create uniform discipline regulations throughout the District of Columbia” (Office of the State Superintendent of Education, 2013, p. 16). These include instituting procedural safeguards, following best practices established by the U.S. Department of Education, and requiring improved reporting regarding discipline for all charter LEAs. With regard to data collection and reporting, the report notes that without it “LEAs may be unaware of the disparities occurring within their schools,” and be “unable to remedy the situation” (Office of the State Superintendent of Education, 2013, p. 23).

The Every Student Every Day Coalition report does address differences across wards. It notes that suspension rates are highest in Wards 7 and 8 (35 percent in both) and lowest in Wards 2 and 3 (7 and 9 percent, respectively) and that these rates closely track poverty levels across the city. The report also discusses disparities between the DCPS and charter schools. Some charter schools serving the youngest children, the report notes, “employed suspensions at an alarmingly high rate” (Every Student Every Day Coalition, n.d., p. 5). Expulsions were much more common in charter schools than in DCPS schools: “[O]f the 230 expulsions during the 2011-12 school year, only 3 were from DCPS schools … just 11 charter schools accounted for 75 percent of the expulsions” (p. 9). One charter middle school suspended 67 percent of its students in that year (Brown, 2013c). The report makes recommendations that address classroom management and disciplinary guidelines as well as improved (disaggregated) data collection and reporting.

The Washington Post also reviewed discipline data and reported similar findings (Brown, 2013b). In 2011-2012, it reported, charter schools “removed 227 children for discipline violations and had an expulsion rate of 72 per 10,000 students; the District school system removed three and had an expulsion rate of less than 1 per 10,000 students” (p. 1). This review also noted that charter schools’ discipline policies vary: some are similar to those of DCPS, while “others have “zero tolerance” policies that allow expulsion for nonviolent offenses, such as skipping class, or for repeated minor infractions, such as violating dress codes.”

PCSB reported in 2014 that it had supported charter schools in significantly reducing the rates of these incidents.24 A summary of this effort

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23See http://www.davidgrosso.org/grosso-analysis/2015/1/6/pre-k-student-discipline-amendmentact-of-2015 [March 2015].

24See http://www.scribd.com/doc/238691457/2014-Discipline-and-Attendance-Briefing#scribd [January 2014].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

describes strategies for reducing expulsions and suspensions, noting that PCSB’s role is to assess discipline policies, analyze data to identify trends, and notify LEAs of them. The report indicates that between 2009-2010 and 2013-2014 expulsions and suspensions both declined: For expulsions, the total number declined from a high of 263 in 2010-2011 to 139 in 2013-2014; for suspensions, the percentage of students who received at least one out-of-school suspension declined from 14.5 percent in 2012-2013 to 11.9 percent in 2013-2014.

This assortment of information presents a picture that is in one sense confusing. The data from the various sources conflict with each other. The equity reports available at the LearnDC website25 (see Chapter 3) provide some discipline data for individual schools, but the Washington Post reported that D.C. officials “track only expulsions that they are required to report to the federal government, which include those due to violence, weapons, alcohol or drugs” but may exclude expulsions for other causes (Brown, 2013b).

At the same time, the available data clearly indicate that many of the city’s public schools, particularly charter schools, have relied heavily on suspensions and expulsions, and it is noteworthy that discipline problems are greatest in the schools with the highest numbers of low-income students. The comments we heard from city officials were in accord with three conclusions in several of the reports on the subject: (1) there is a lack of coordination with respect to discipline; (2) students and schools would benefit if there were an entity that could collect and analyze data; and (3) students and schools would benefit if there were an entity that could develop consistent approaches that would apply across DCPS and the charter LEAs.

We believe the city would benefit from monitoring a range of information, including

  • the number of discipline events, their nature, and where they occur;
  • outcomes for students who have been disciplined;
  • factors that contribute to high rates of discipline incidents in schools.
  • options schools have, other than suspension or expulsion, for addressing disruptive or physically aggressive students;
  • resources available for in-school suspensions, conflict resolution, or prevention strategies;
  • the provision of professional development to assist educators in working with students with behavior difficulties; and
  • family and community engagement efforts to address student behavioral needs.

__________________

25LearnDC is a city website on which information about DCPS and charter schools is posted; see http://www.learndc.org [March 2015].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

Attendance and Truancy

Both OSSE and PCSB provided us with limited data on truancy. As shown in Table 5-5, the data were for two adjacent years, but this difference is unlikely to account for the notable discrepancies in numbers reported for the charter schools. A report by D.C. Kids Count, which summarizes a review of city data on truancy and attendance and difficulties with city data, provides some useful analysis regarding the discrepancies (DC Action for Children, 2014). The report notes that there are multiple ways to calculate attendance problems, and it says that the way these data are currently tracked in D.C. makes it difficult to see the magnitude of the problem and may even disguise problems with chronic absenteeism. The report argues that tracking chronic absenteeism, including excused absences, would provide a better way to identify students who are at risk for academic problems because they are missing school time. A 2012 overview of attendance issues across the nations noted that few states were accurately tracking chronic absenteeism and made recommendations for improving data collection in this area (Balfanz and Byrnes, 2012).

Even using the limited data available, however, the report found evidence of a “crisis of school absenteeism” (DC Action for Children, 2014, p. 1), noting that “at least one in five DC students had more than 10 unexcused absences from school in 2012-2013.” Among DCPS students, 1 in

TABLE 5-5 Truancy Incidents in D.C. Public Schools

School Level DCPS Charter Schools Total
Elementary
Data from OSSE (2012-2013)
Data from PCSB (2013-2014)
  1,937   2,331
921
 
Middle School
Data from OSSE
Data from PCSB
     767   1,813
1,122
 
High School
Data from OSSE
Data from PCSB
  6,221   3,091  
Total: Data from OSSE 11,236 10,184 21,420a

NOTES: OSSE defined truancy as 10 or more unexcused absences in a year; PCSB did not define what was counted. DCPS, D.C. Public Schools; OSSE, Office of the State Superintendent of Education; PCSB, Public Charter School Board.

aThere were 5,260 “other” truancy incidents (i.e., not included in totals for DCPS and charter schools), but OSSE did not explain what this category covered. With that total added, the total incidents reported by OSSE is 26,680.

SOURCE: Data provided by OSSE and PCSB.

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

10 missed at least 20 unexcused days of school; among charter students, 1 in 13 did so. In that year, truancy was 42 percent in DCPS high schools and 34 percent in charter schools.

The report particularly emphasized evidence of problems with absenteeism among pre-K and elementary school students: one in six students ages 3-5 had at least 10 unexcused absences. Studies of rates in other cities have also found high rates of chronic absenteeism in pre-K: 26.5 percent in Baltimore, 45 percent for 3-year-olds and 36 percent for 4-year-olds in Chicago, and 50 percent in New York City (Balfanz and Byrnes, 2012; Connolly and Olson, 2012; Dubay and Holla, 2015; Ehrlich et al., 2014). Attendance problems in these early years have received less attention, the report argues, but have lasting effects on achievement gaps.26

The report recommends that D.C. improve its methods for monitoring chronic absenteeism and developing prevention and interventions strategies. Among its specific recommendations are that OSSE align its definition of chronic absenteeism with national norms and collect data on students who are absent 10 percent of school days or more and that individual schools be required to include detailed attendance data in their equity reports27 and school improvement plans (DC Action for Children, 2014).

OSSE has published a guide that discusses the causes of truancy, explains regulations designed to address it, and offers tips to parents.28 DME has a relatively new task force on truancy (see Chapter 3). However, these resources do not provide a clear picture of the extent and nature of problems or of the factors that contribute to them. We believe the city would benefit from improved data collection and monitoring in several areas:

  • accurate and consistent data, collected according to national norms, on attendance and truancy;
  • factors that contribute to high rates of truancy in schools;
  • outcomes for students who with chronic attendance problems and the links between early attendance problems and subsequent dropping out of school;
  • resources available for targeting truancy and attendance problems; • the provision of professional development to assist educators in addressing attendance problems; and
  • family and community engagement efforts to address attendance problems.

__________________

26See also http://www.urban.org/research/publication/absenteeism-dc-public-schools-earlyeducation-program/view/full_report [May 2015].

27Reports on individual schools available at the city website LearnDC, see http://www.learndc.org/ [May 2015].

28See http://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/Truancy%20Guide-ONLINE-021014.pdf [February 2015].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

ACADEMIC OPPORTUNITIES

This section considers changes in learning opportunities for all students since PERAA was passed. Inadequate learning opportunities for many students have been at the heart of critiques of the D.C.’s public school for decades, and there has been ample reason for concern. In 2011, the Phase I report (National Research Council, 2011) noted that the city was just embarking on many new initiatives designed to improve teaching and learning in response to evidence from 20 years of reports and evaluations that were critical of teaching, curriculum, and testing in the city. That report discussed the city’s history of persistent achievement gaps and problems with D.C.’s capacity to serve and support special education students. It also cited challenges the city was facing in serving its most vulnerable young people, particularly those in Wards 1, 7, and 8, who had the highest level of factors that put them at risk for school failure.29 We focused on three aspects of academic opportunity: developments in early childhood education, K-12 academic offerings, and college and career readiness.

Early Childhood Education

Early childhood education is a foundation on which other improvement efforts can build, and its benefits have been well documented (see, e.g., National Research Council, 2000; Yoshikawa et al. 2013).30 They include long-term gains in reading, language, and mathematics skills for children and long-term economic benefits for communities. The evidence that high-quality preschool can help narrow achievement gaps is particularly strong for black children (Ahmad and Hamm, 2013).

D.C. began a concerted effort to make pre-K education universally available before PERAA (Watson, 2010) and has continued to focus on early childhood education; the city now provides free pre-K programs for all 3- and 4-year-olds. Under PERAA, OSSE was charged with overseeing “the state-level functions and activities related to early childhood education programs” (Title III). In 2008, the City Council passed the Pre-Kindergarten Enhancement and Expansion Amendment Act, which provided funding to expand pre-K programming and improve quality. Under this law (38-273.01), funds are disbursed to public schools and to private, community-based pre-K programs on a per-pupil basis. OSSE is also required to report annually on the status of pre-K education in the city and on its monitoring and accountability process and to provide early

____________________

29See also Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools (2005).

30“Early education,” “preschool,” and “pre-K” are not precise terms but pre-K usually refers to programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, while the other two terms are more likely to encompass programs for younger children and those that include full-day and year-round offerings.

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

intervention services to infants and toddlers, from birth through 2 years of age, and their families.

OSSE has a Division of Early Learning to oversee programs for all children from birth to kindergarten entry.31 This office is responsible for licensing and compliance for all programs whether operated by DCPS, the charter schools, or community based. It also provides training and technical assistance and other supports. The office has evaluators who monitor health and safety compliance issues, as well as the quality of programming. For DCPS, early learning is the responsibility of the Office of Specialized Instruction. DCPS offers pre-K programming for 4-year-olds at every elementary school and programming for 3-year-olds at many. D.C. schools that are eligible for Title I funding under ESEA (those in which 40 percent or more of enrolled students are low income) provide other supports, including developmental and health screenings.

OSSE reports that it has established standards for early learning that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the standards for Head Start (Office of the State Superintendent of Education, 2013). DCPS also has standards for kindergarten readiness (District of Columbia Public Schools, 2010). OSSE has pilot tested a tool for assessing children’s readiness for kindergarten, and it has joined a research consortium that has won a federal grant to support continued efforts to improve the tool. Charter schools may identify their own assessment tools, with OSSE’s approval. We were not able to obtain information on plans for addressing readiness problems identified using this tool.

By 2013, OSSE has reported, the city had more than enough slots to enroll all of the 15,314 3- and 4-year-old children in the city (Office of the State Superintendent of Education, 2013). In 2012-2013, 13,182 children were enrolled in a free pre-K program, and another 5,718 participated in a Head Start program. Some critics have observed that not all families have been able to find slots in the programs they prefer, though the overall capacity is greater than the number of children enrolled (Education Consortium for Research and Evaluation, 2013b). We did not have data on how the spaces are distributed across the wards. DCPS uses a lottery system to allocate places when demand exceeds supply for particular programs.32

Monitoring the quality of early education programs is challenging (see, e.g., National Research Council, 2008; Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, 2012; Bornfreund, 2013; Diamond et al., 2013). OSSE is working with DME to develop a rating tool for monitoring the quality of pre-K programs and has issued grants designed to increase the high-quality pre-K options for children in Wards 1, 4, 5, 7, and 8, where the

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31See http://osse.dc.gov/service/about-early-learning [October 2014].

32See http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/Learn+About+Schools/Academic+Offerings#3 [February 2015].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

greatest numbers of children identified as educationally at risk live (Office of the State Superintendent of Education, 2013). PCSB is piloting a component of its performance management framework (see Chapter 3) that addresses early childhood; participation in this component of the framework is currently optional.33 DCPS staff told us they evaluate pre-K teachers using a program that is also used by Head Start programs; they are working on improving alignment between this program and IMPACT, the main program for evaluating teachers (see Chapter 4).

A DCPS official we interviewed said that PERAA had an important benefit for early childhood education because the flexibility the law allowed to DCPS officials made it possible to implement a schoolwide approach to Head Start, which in turn allowed DCPS to provide comprehensive Head Start services to all 3- and 4-year-olds in pre-K programs in Title I schools, regardless of income. The purpose of this approach was to serve more eligible children and families with comprehensive services, improve accountability, and “serve as a national laboratory for Head Start services.”

We found one independent assessment of D.C.’s work on pre-K education. An annual report on preschool education published by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) found that D.C. has “the highest percentage of children enrolled [in prekindergarten programs] at both ages 3 and 4 as well as the highest per-child spending [$14,690]” (Barnett et al., 2013, p. 43). D.C.’s pre-K program meets 8 of the 10 quality standards identified by NIEER. The advocacy group DC Action for Children has also commented favorably on the push to make pre-K universal while also pursuing quality.34

The city’s efforts with respect to early childhood have been impressive. The city would benefit from further investigation of

  • the availability of spaces in programs of quality in all wards and neighborhoods,
  • the development of children under age 3, and
  • the progress of systems for monitoring the quality of learning opportunities provided in all programs.

K-12 Academic Offerings

We identified three topics that would give us a picture of the equity of K-12 students’ academic opportunities: students’ access to rigorous coursework, the supports offered to struggling students, and the adoption of the new Common Core standards. This part of our evaluation could only cover

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33See http://www.dcpcsb.org/MISC/performance-report-glossary.aspx [September 2014].

34See http://www.dcactionforchildren.org/node/874 [September 2014].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

DCPS, because neither PCSB nor any other entity monitors this set of questions for the charter schools. The focus of this section is on grades 9-12. Although earlier grades are equally important, most of the information we could obtain was for grades 9-12. In response to our questions, DCPS provided documentation, responses to specific questions, and some data. We obtained additional data from published reports prepared by advocacy and research organizations.

Advanced Coursework

D.C.’s graduation requirements are the basis for the minimum offerings at all high schools: for example, students must complete at least one upper-level mathematics course to graduate, so every high school must offer one. For advanced mathematics, DCPS said the following courses are offered: algebra I, algebra II, algebra II and trigonometry, pre-calculus, elementary functions and geometry, advanced placement (AP) calculus, AP statistics, and chess. We note, however, that only some of these courses are usually considered advanced: the algebra sequence and geometry, for example, are generally considered standard mathematics coursework at the secondary level. In addition, we did not have data with which to examine the availability of these courses across schools or wards or whether the most advanced of these courses are available at every school. For advanced science courses, we requested but did not receive any information about the availability of courses offered.

DCPS reports on its website that at least four AP courses are offered at every traditional high school (i.e., all but the alternative schools; see below) and that every student who wants to take one can do so. DCPS pays the required examination fees and there are no requirements for enrollment.35 The DCPS website also indicates that two high schools also offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

In response to our requests, DCPS officials provided us with a variety of data on AP course enrollment, exam-taking, and scores. Summative data for 2009-2010 through 2012-2013 show that AP participation increased during those years and that the percentage of exams taken that received a score of 3 or higher36 increased slightly: see Table 5-6. DCPS gave us a list of AP and other courses offered at each of 15 DCPS high schools, as well as a spreadsheet with more detailed enrollment data. Tables 5-7 and 5-8 show the availability of AP courses across the wards and in individual high schools.

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35See http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/Learn+About+Schools/Academic+Offerings#0 [February 2015].

36AP exams are scored on a 5-point scale and a score of 3 is usually the minimum for which colleges will grant advanced placement credits.

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

TABLE 5-6 Advanced Placement Exam Taking

Exams Taken and Scores 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012 2012-2013
Number of Exam Takers   1,720   1,998   2,291   2,523
Number of Exams Taken   2,940   3,159   3,707   4,097
Number of Exams with Scores of 3, 4, or 5      808      984   1,117   1,269
Percentage of Exams with Scores of 3, 4 or 5        27 31.1 30.1        31

NOTE: Scores on AP exams range from 1 to 5.

SOURCE: Data provided to the committee by the DCPS Office of Teaching and Learning.

Table 5-7 shows how AP course-taking varies by ward: the number of unique courses offered for the wards, the number of students who registered for and actually took at least one of the courses, and how many special education students took at least one of the courses.37Table 5-8 shows the same information by individual DCPS school. More detailed analysis of the academic programs and other characteristics of the 14 high schools would be needed to fully explain the data, but a few points are striking. One is that Ward 3, with only one high school, has more AP class registrations than Ward 1, with four high schools (the largest number of high schools in any ward). However, it is important to remember that it is not clear how many students are represented multiple times in the respective totals; that is, it is possible that students in Ward 3 are more likely to enroll in multiple AP courses than other students. Another is that three schools, Columbia Heights, School Without Walls, and Wilson, stand out as having significantly more courses offered and more students represented in them than the other 12 schools.

A recent report prepared by the sponsor of the AP, the College Board, provides context for this information as well as some discussion of D.C.’s situation (College Board, 2014). The report confirms that AP exam-taking (as distinct from course-taking) has increased among D.C.’s public school students: in 2000, 22.2 percent of the city’s high school students took at least one AP exam; in 2006, 55.7 percent did so. However, the city has the largest opportunity gap in the nation for black students. This group made up 81.8 percent of graduating seniors in 2013 but represented only 67 percent of AP exam takers (although this was an increase from the previous year).38 Black students made up only 33.7 percent of exam takers who

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37The city provided us with counts of sections offered—not unique courses offered—but we used the course titles to count unique courses offered.

38These data include all public school students.

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

TABLE 5-7 Advanced Placement Courses and Enrollment, by Ward

Ward and Schools Total School Enrollment (2013) Unique Courses Offered Seats Taken Registered SPED Counta
Ward 1 (four high schools)   2,918        42   1,383   1,366        44
  Benjamin Banneker HS      430          9      264      264          0
  Cardozo EC      681          5        89        89          4
  Columbia Heights EC   1,266        16      815      798        38
  Ellington School of the Arts      541        12      215      215          2
Ward 2 (one high school)      585        21      787      783          2
  School Without Walls      585        21      787      783          2
Ward 3 (one high school)   1,696        28 1,726a   1,726        16
  Wilson HS   1,696        28   1,726   1,726        16
Ward 4 (two high schools)      871        13      239      235        26
  Coolidge HS      433          5        86        86          1
  Roosevelt HS @ MacFarland      438          8      153      149        25
Ward 5 (three high schools)   1,621        25      575      573        11
  Dunbar HS      628          6      113      111          4
  McKinley Technology HS      674        11      389      389          6
  Phelps ACE HS      319          8        73        73          1
Ward 6 (one high school)      783          6      174      171          4
  Eastern HS      783          6      174      171          4
Ward 7 (one high school)      762          7      203      203        16
  H.D. Woodson HS      762          7      203      203        16
Ward 8 (two high schools)   1,429          8      145      145          6
  Anacostia HS      751          3        58        58          2
  Ballou HS      678          5        87        87          4

NOTE: There are 35 Advanced Placement courses altogether; see http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/courses/teachers_corner/index.html [May 2015].

aSpecial education students enrolled.

bThe AP registration count for Wilson High School exceeds the 2013 enrollment count.

SOURCE: Adapted from data provided to the committee by DCPS.

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

TABLE 5-8 Advanced Placement Courses and Enrollment, by School

Schools (and Ward) Total School Enrollment (2013) Unique Courses Offered Seats Taken in AP Classes Registered for AP classes SPED Counta
Anacostia HS (Ward 8)      751          3        58        58          2
Ballou HS (Ward 8)      678          5        87        87          4
Benjamin Banneker HS (Ward 1)      430          9      264      264          0
Cardozo EC (Ward 1)      681          5        89        89          4
Columbia Heights EC (Ward 1)   1,266        16      815      798        38
Coolidge HS (Ward 4)      433          5        86        86          1
Dunbar HS (Ward 5)      628          6      113      111          4
Eastern HS (Ward 6)      783          6      174      171          4
Ellington School of the Arts (Ward 1)      541        12      215      215          2
McKinley Technology HS (Ward 5)      674        11      389      389          6
Phelps ACE HS (Ward 5)      319          8        73        73          1
Roosevelt HS @ MacFarland (Ward 4)      438          8      153      149        25
School Without Walls HS (Ward 2)      585        21      787      783          2
Wilson HS (Ward 3)   1,696        28   1,726   1,726        16
H.D. Woodson HS (Ward 7)      762        18      203      203        16

aSpecial education students enrolled.

SOURCE: Adapted from data provided to the committee by DCPS.

scored a 3 or higher (which was a decrease from the previous year). The gap for low-income students in D.C. is also the greatest in the nation: students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch were 73 percent of all students but only 48.5 percent of exam takers and 36.4 percent of those who scored a 3 or higher.

Overall, the study reports that just 14 percent of D.C. students who took an AP exam in 2013 scored a 3 or higher (an increase from 8.9 percent in 2003): for comparison, the national average was 20.1 percent. As noted above, OSSE reported that 31 percent of exams taken received a score of 3 or higher, but it did not provide its own data on the percentage of students who scored a 3 or higher.

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

It may be that the notable gaps across schools and groups of students in both course-taking and achievement in AP courses correspond to many other issues for D.C. students. Students who have been struggling in school are unlikely to aspire to take an advanced course once they reach high school. Schools may respond to limited demand for AP courses by offering few of them. It is important to track differences across schools and wards and carefully analyze the reasons for them because they point to challenges across the grades.

The committee requested information from the city on measures to help prepare students in earlier grades to aspire to and succeed in advanced classes, but we did not receive it. We found no evidence on possible variation in the rigor with which advanced courses offered across the schools and wards are taught or about measures to prepare and support students who may not be as ready as their peers to succeed when they do enroll. D.C. would benefit from having systematic information about course availability, course-taking, and performance.

The availability of rigorous coursework in DCPS secondary schools seems to be uneven across wards and schools. We believe the city would benefit from systematic monitoring of the rigor of academic offerings that are covered, for K-12 DCPS and charter schools,

  • strategies and resources for encouraging students at each level to pursue challenging academic opportunities;
  • resources for supporting students who attempt challenging options, such as AP courses;
  • implementation of rigorous curricula, such as AP courses; and
  • indicators of student access to college and careers.

Needs of Struggling Students

We had little information with which to assess efforts to support struggling students. DCPS provided some descriptive information, and we obtained some information from city websites. DCPS’s overview of teaching and learning (District of Columbia Public Schools, 2014c) describes efforts to better coordinate specialized instruction with teaching and learning goals for all students. It also describes tools for supporting students, including: 9th-grade academies; the Agile Mind curriculum,39 which helps students catch up as they enter high school; Response to Intervention,40 an assessment-based program for targeting the skill gaps of individual students

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39See http://www.agilemind.com/ [January 2014].

40See http://www.rti4success.org/ [January 2014].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

to try to reduce special education placements; and the provision of reading specialists for the lowest-performing students.

A DCPS official told us about a series of focus efforts the agency has made, first for elementary education, then for the middle grades, and most recently for high schools, but they did not provide documentation about these efforts.41 Outcomes for black males have been a particular concern in the city: DCPS recently hired a senior staff person to focus on improving outcomes for these students and reported that it will invest $20 million in support programs for black and Hispanic males (Brown, 2014b; Chandler, 2015c).42 These efforts are occurring at a time when national attention has increasingly focused on the needs of these groups, for example, through the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.43

DCPS has eight alternative high schools, which an official told us are schools designed to help the most challenged students complete their education. DCPS officials provided us with brief descriptions of each school: see Box 5-1. The information included data on course pass rates, attendance, and other indicators for some of them: see Table 5-9. These data show that 2,196 students are enrolled in these schools and that their academic performance and graduation rates are extremely low. We could not obtain any information on how students are guided to enroll in these schools, or detailed information about the academic and other programs that are available or the qualifications and training for the teachers who work with troubled students. We also could not obtain information on any charter schools that may specialize in serving young people who have had difficulty in traditional school settings.

A recent report from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (2014), a nonprofit organization that studies budget and tax issues in the city, notes that the school funding formula for 2015 includes a new weight for students at risk of failure and other negative outcomes and also increases resources for adult and alternative education and for students with disabilities and English-language learners. The report says that the additional funding will support planned initiatives, including a longer school day in low-performing schools and enhancements to curriculum and staffing for the middle grades.

D.C. would benefit from having much more systematic information about students who struggle in school at every level, beginning with pre-K, and the ways schools support them. Key topics to track across DCPS and the charter schools include

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41See http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/About+DCPS/Press+Releases+and+Announcements/General+Announcements/Chancellor+Henderson+wants+to+hear+from+you+regarding+middle+grades [January 2014].

42See http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/Beyond+the+Classroom/Empowering+Males+of+Color [February 2015].

43See http://www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper [February 2015].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

BOX 5-1
DCPS Alternative High Schools

These brief descriptions of DCPS’s alternative high schools are adapted from information provided to the committee by DCPS and available on the DCPS website. The information is as of 2012-2013.

Ballou STAY Senior High School

Ballou High School was established in 1989 as an alternative high school for students ages 16 and older who require an alternative setting from that of a traditional high school. Ballou STAY offers full educational programming and a wide variety of options for students, from traditional high school courses to certificated diplomas. Ballou STAY also partners with local community colleges to provide post-diploma and post-certificate support and job preparedness.

CHOICE Academy

Choosing Higher Options for Individually Centered Education, CHOICE, provides at-risk students an educational plan that is tailored to meet their needs. Students who attend CHOICE have had some behavioral difficulties in their neighborhood schools. The goal of CHOICE is to work with students to make better decisions when they return to their neighborhood schools.

Incarcerated Youth Program

This program provides academic services to students ages 16-22 years old who are incarcerated at the D.C. jail. Students are able to continue to work toward their high school diploma and GED. Additionally, the program provides services to students receiving special education and a certification program in graphic design.

Luke C. Moore Academy

The mission of the Luke C. Moore Academy is to provide a competent and compassionate secondary educational setting for young people ages 16-20 who have dropped out of high school or had difficulties in traditional school settings. The academy provides each student with an individualized program that addresses both the academic and social emotional needs of the student. It challenges students to become educated, productive, and responsible contributors to society.

  • indicators used to flag struggling students;
  • resources available to support struggling students;
  • outcomes for students, including referrals to special education, English-language learning, or school or community support services; and
  • public engagement efforts related to supports for struggling students.
Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

Roosevelt STAY Senior High School

The mission of Roosevelt STAY Senior High School is to deliver a high-quality academic and career or technical program in a student-centered, alternative environment that will lead to a high school diploma. The primary student population includes in-school day students enrolled in other high schools across the city who need to take additional classes in order to graduate on time, as well as older students returning to school. Students must be at least 16. Roosevelt STAY also offers programs for English-language learners, and GED preparatory and career pathway programs in culinary arts, computer repair, and hospitality.

Twilight Program

This program provides an innovative educational environment that meets the needs of at-risk youth. Students attend classes after the regular school day with a personalized schedule based on their individual needs. The program aims to create a positive learning environment in which every student can meet personal and academic goals.

Washington Metropolitan High School

This school was established in 2008 with a goal of providing students ages 15-19 with a high-quality education that is tailored to each student’s specific needs. This educational programming prepares the student to become productive and successful members of society. The students receive extensive interventions in the curriculum for students with social and emotional needs. The high school uses a mix of in-class activities, online learning, and project-based learning.

Youth Services Center

The center provides educational services for students in grades 7-12 who have been detained by the juvenile justice system and are classified as wards of the state. Through creative scheduling, the center redirects learning for students and engages them in instructional activities and services needed for a smooth transition back to the community without lost instructional time. To meet the academic needs of at-risk students, it creates an environment that is conducive to learning, fosters academic excellence, builds character and caters instruction to each student’s learning style.

Adoption of the Common Core State Standards

The city adopted new state learning standards in 2005 and also moved from using the SAT-9 assessment to the DC CAS in that year (Education Consortium for Research and Evaluation, 2013b). In 2010, as part of its application for federal Race to the Top grant funding, the city replaced its standards with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which will ap-

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

TABLE 5-9 Data on DCPS Alternative Schools

Alternative School Ward Total Enrolled Grades Served Graduation Rate (%) Students Passing All Courses (%)
CHOICE Academy at Emery 5 9 6-12
Incarcerated Youth Program, 7 26 9-12
Correctional Detention Facility          
Luke C. Moore HS 5 364 9-12 37 78
Washington Metropolitan HS 1 280 9-12 38 59
(formerly YEA)          
Youth Services Center 5 89 6-12
Ballou STAY 8 578 Adult 58
Roosevelt STAY @ MacFarland 4 850 Adult 75

aSpecial education students enrolled.

SOURCE: Data from Office of the State Superintendent of Education (2013b), DCPS website (http://profiles.dcps.dc.gov/ [May 2015]), and data supplied by DCPS.

ply to both DCPS and charter schools.44 These changes are recent so we could obtain only a limited amount of information about how they are progressing.

DCPS has worked in phases to develop a curriculum aligned with the CCSS and complete the transition from the DC CAS to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), an assessment designed to align with the CCSS, with the aim of completing the implementation by the 2014-2015 school year (see Chapter 3).45 For science, which is not addressed in the CCSS, DCPS plans to align its science curriculum with the Next Generation Science Standards (Education Consortium for Re-

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44The CCSS are K-12 standards in English-language arts and mathematics developed by states with the aim of providing rigorous and consistent standards. Forty-three states, D.C., four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the standards. For information about the CCSS, see http://www.corestandards.org/ [March 2015]. For information about political controversy with respect to the standards, see http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/07/09/36commoncore_ep.h33.html?r=150710036&preview=1 [March 2015].

45An overview of DCPS’s implementation plans, and the standards, can be found at http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/In+the+Classroom/What+Students+Are+Learning/DCPS+Common+Core+ State+Standards#7 [October 2014].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×
Students with 90% Attendance (%) SPED Counta (%) Reduced-Price Lunch (%) Below Proficient Math (%) Proficient Math (%) Below Proficient Reading (%) Proficient Reading (%)
0 99
46
58 8 99 87 13 81 19
34 14 99 92 8 84 16
30
59 5 39
9 3 57

search and Evaluation, 2013b).46 The DCPS website provides information about its implementation of the CCSS, including links developed by OSSE that compare the previous D.C. standards with the CCSS.47

A city official familiar with special education told us that the goals for individualized education plans (IEPs), required for special education students, have now also been mapped to the CCSS, and that DCPS expected to have all elementary and middle teachers trained accordingly,48 although we were not able to learn the timetable for this training. The IEP crosswalk, the official explained, will allow teachers to take a CCSS goal for a particular grade, link it to relevant IEP goals, and differentiate as appropriate. The Office of Specialized Instruction is currently working with a contractor to develop tools for measuring special education students’ progress with respect to the CCSS.

The U.S. Department of Education has monitored the implementation of the CCSS in all states that applied for funding in the Race to the Top initiative. In looking at the department’s information, the Education Con-

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46The Next Generation Science Standards were developed by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve, Inc. They are based on research on science and science learning.

47See http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/In+the+Classroom/What+Students+Are+Learning/DCPS+ Common+Core+State+Standards [October 2014]. The OSSE CCSS webpage and crosswalks are at http://osse.dc.gov/service/common-core-state-standards [October 2014].

48For more information, see https://goalbookapp.com [October 2014].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

sortium for Research and Evaluation (2013b) noted some struggles in D.C. in its first year, including difficulty coordinating across the charter schools and staff turnover at OSSE that delayed rollout of resources to support CCSS implementation. By the second year, however, some of these issues had been corrected, and the department noted that professional development and other supports provided by OSSE were in place. (See Chapter 3 for a discussion of a collaboration between DCPS and the charter schools to align instruction with the CCSS.)

A report by the newspaper Education Week (Education First and Editorial Projects in Education, 2013) on the adoption and implementation of the CCSS across the states rated D.C. as having completed its implementation plans for teacher professional development, preparation of curriculum guides/instructional materials, and teacher evaluation systems by 2012, and categorized its plans in all three areas as “fully developed” (pp. 8, 10, 12). A four-part series in Education Week (Gewertz, 2013) that examined the implementation of the CCSS in one DCPS school suggested that the transition was perceived as sudden in that school, and that not all teachers and principals felt prepared, particularly those working with the most disadvantaged students. The series described the sorts of challenges teachers and others have faced, as well as some signs of progress, particularly the improved capacity to identify and address weaknesses in student learning. We note that two reports on CCSS implementation across the country both suggest that the process is challenging and that states are moving gradually through it (Council of Great City Schools, 2014a; Rentner and Kober, 2014).

Topics to monitor with respect to implementation of the new standards include

  • the implementation of CCCS in all schools, both DCPS and charters; and
  • ongoing professional development for DCPS and charter educators related to the implementation of the CCSS.

Promoting On-Time Graduation and College Success

D.C.’s public schools have had among the worst on-time graduation rates in the country.49 For the class of 2014, the overall rate was 61 percent, compared with the national average of 81 percent (Chandler, 2014d). For DCPS schools, the graduation rate was 58 percent—up 2 percentage points from the previous year; for the charter schools, it was 69 percent—down almost 7 points.

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49See http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014391.pdf [May 2015].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

We could find only limited data on postsecondary enrollment and college completion. The nonprofit college counseling organization, DC College Access, reports that in 2013, 58 percent of graduates of DCPS and charter schools had enrolled in college in the year after they graduated from high school (District of Columbia College Access Program, 2013). This publication also reports that the percentage of public school students who had enrolled in college had increased from 33 percent in 1999.50

Graduation rates vary across student groups. A U.S. Department of Education study reported in 2012 that graduation rates for black and Hispanic males in D.C. were 38 and 46 percent, respectively: the numbers represent a 50 percent gap between black and white males and a 42 percent gap between Hispanic and white males (Holzman, 2012).51 We discuss trends in graduation rates in Chapter 6; here we focus on steps the city has taken to promote graduation and postsecondary attainment, though again, we could obtain relatively little information to assess.

In 2012, SBOE proposed new graduation requirements that were intended to increase rigor (Education Consortium for Research and Evaluation, 2013b). The total credits required would increase from 24 to 26, and students would have to complete a thesis or culminating project. Students would have to complete at least two credits designated as college or career preparatory. Other changes included reducing social studies requirements by one credit and elective requirements by one-half credit, increasing the requirement for visual and performing arts by one credit, and increasing the requirement for physical education by one-half credit. SBOE is currently soliciting public feedback on a revised version of the requirements.52 We did not review the proposed changes in detail but note that increasing the requirements will likely make it more difficult for students who are already struggling to meet the existing ones to graduate on time. The city has also focused attention on the progress of students through the earlier grades to better prepare them to meet high school and graduation expectations.

A report prepared by DME (Tembo, 2014) analyzed D.C. students’ high school outcomes to identify when and why they tend to get off track for graduation. It identifies programs and schools that have been effective in helping students get back on track and suggests citywide strategies for coordinating efforts and investments, highlighting the importance of developing an early warning system for the jurisdiction.

In response to our requests for information, DCPS officials provided

____________________

50The report does not indicate the source of these data.

51The Holzman report indicates that “graduation rates are calculated as the percentage of the students enrolled in 9th grade receiving a diploma four years later, estimated from state data and National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data, or estimated from historical trends (2012, p. 7).”

52See http://sboe.dc.gov/GraduationRequirementsandDiplomaOptions [February 2015].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

us with a summary of several actions the agency has taken to improve college readiness. One is to encourage students to take the SAT and ACT college entrance examinations by providing access to free test preparation resources and covering the cost of taking the PSAT (preliminary SAT) for students in grades 9 through 11. They also told us that DCPS offers 27 career and technical education programs in 17 schools, which cover 11 career clusters. They reported that the programs served 5,352 students in grades 9-12 in 2012-2013.

OSSE’s Division of Postsecondary and Career Education has several programs to support students, including a tuition assistance grant program, an application program that provides enrichment for high-achieving students who have financial need, and a dual enrollment program (through which high school students may take college-level courses). We did not have information to determine whether there is coordination across agencies to collect information about students’ needs and trajectories, or about the availability of resources to support them in preparing for postsecondary endeavors. We discuss in Chapter 6 the data needed to better understand postsecondary attainment and outcomes. The city would benefit from having data about several indicators:

  • postsecondary attainment (see Chapter 6);
  • access to higher education (including not only colleges and universities, as well as community colleges and training programs and apprenticeships; and
  • college readiness, such as the need for remediation after college enrollment.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

Our evaluation of conditions for learning concentrated on a few key issues. The limited evidence we could examine suggests that there are differences across student groups and wards in access to educational opportunity and in supports that address specific needs. External assessments of the equity of educational opportunity in D.C. reinforce our impression that the city has work to do. For example, a 2009 ranking placed D.C. 51st among the states on basic indicators of opportunity to learn.53 Also, a 2015 state-by-state ranking conducted by Education Week—which gives grades for the chance for success, school finance, and K-12 achievement—gave D.C. an overall grade of C– in comparison with a national average grade of C (Education Week Research Center, 2015).

There is also evidence of numerous efforts to address these problems,

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53See http://www.otlcampaign.org/state-updates/district-columbia [September 2014].

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

but the apparent variation across the city’s wards is particularly concerning. We requested that the city provide any available data by ward, but we received such data in only a very few cases, and most of the ward-level information we were able to find was from sources other than the city. The evidence we did obtain indicated striking disparities. We were not able to probe more deeply and understand how the countless decisions that resulted in these disparities—such as that between Wilson High School, with 29 AP courses, and Anacostia, with 3—have been made or to examine the implementation of the efforts that agencies report they are making to address them. Although there are signs of significant efforts to improve, there is still considerable work to be done to ensure that all students receive equitable opportunities to learn.

CONCLUSION 5-1 There is evidence of efforts to improve learning conditions in the city’s public schools, but there is also evidence of notable disparities in students’ educational experiences across student groups and wards.

Our survey of these topics made clear that D.C.’s education agencies collect a great deal of information about students and schools (mostly for DCPS) but that (1) information about many important topics is incomplete, (2) much of the available information is not systematically reviewed or analyzed, and (3) much of the available information is not made publicly available.

We did find evidence of instances in which an agency, sometimes in collaboration with other agencies, has collected and analyzed data in a particular area and developed an approach based on that analysis to bring about improvement. Attention to early childhood education is an example of the results of sustained efforts to understand and address a need; recent attention to truancy is an area that shows promise. In other cases, agency staff may be working to address an issue but lack adequate resources or the opportunity to link their efforts to citywide resources and approaches: one such example is approaches to the education of English-language learners. There may well be other promising efforts under way among the agencies that did not come to our attention.

The committee recognizes that this sort of coordination is a challenge in any public school system, and that D.C. faces added complications, because it functions as both a school district and a state and because its charter sector is large. Nevertheless, the issues we have discussed here are linked to one another, and they are especially important because the city’s public school students move across schools and wards and back and forth between DCPS and charter schools. We believe that a coordinated approach to monitoring learning conditions would be a critical support for the city’s

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
×

ongoing efforts to improve opportunities for all students, attend effectively to students with extra needs, and reduce achievement gaps.

Monitoring a concept as broad as “learning conditions” would certainly be a challenging task. There are hundreds of indicators a school system might track, and identifying the most useful ones would require judgments about priorities and technical decisions about data collection. Making use of such indicators would require significant capacity for analysis and thoughtful planning and decision making. One existing structure for monitoring indicators that could be a helpful start for D.C. is available from the Council of Great City Schools (2014b), which has developed a set of performance indicators—mostly concerned with management and operations—that are tracked in schools districts all over the country so that districts can compare themselves and identify best practices.54

Because the city has 62 districts, we suggest that monitoring of critical aspects of learning opportunity might logically be a state responsibility in D.C. Although state education agencies vary in their responsibilities and approaches, it is clear that every state has a responsibility to look across all public school students and schools to make sure that certain basic conditions are met. In D.C., there is no single entity that is looking analytically at the way all the public school students are being educated. We do not suggest that a state-level entity should interfere with the way any of the DCPS or charter schools make most of their decisions. Rather, we suggest that the city would benefit if there were state-level objectives in a few areas for which specific plans of action were required. The entity responsible for this strategic thinking would collect data about progress in these areas and make those data readily available so that others could test the effectiveness of the approaches.

The model described in the Phase I report (National Research Council, 2011) includes monitoring key indicators on a regular basis to track trends over time and then conducting focused analysis on areas that emerge as problems. That report noted that it is for the city to determine the areas of greatest importance for monitoring.

CONCLUSION 5-2 The governance structure with respect to learning opportunities in the city’s schools is diffuse. No one body has both the responsibility and the authority for monitoring the provision of education and supports for students, particularly those at risk for school failure, across DCPS and the charter schools. Oversight of the ways all public schools are addressing the needs of these students is variable and in some cases minimal.

__________________

54The public reports list districts by code so that districts cannot be publicly identified. We were told by city officials that D.C. does not participate in this data collection effort.

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
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CONCLUSION 5-3 To effectively pursue the goal of ensuring that all students have an equitable opportunity to learn, the city will need to maintain, and make publicly accessible, systematic data for three topics:

  1. Students with particular needs, including those with disabilities, English-language learners, and students in poverty. Topics to monitor include compliance with federal requirements, provision of appropriate education and supports, identification of students in need of support, and the availability of educators with needed credentials and expertise.
  2. School climate, including discipline, attendance, safety, and facilities. Topics to monitor include trends over time; the nature and magnitude of problems; distribution of problems across schools, wards, and LEAs; availability of relevant professional development; outcomes for students affected by problems in these areas; and indicators of equity in facilities and resources, such as technological supports, classroom capacity, and other essential building components.
  3. Academic supports for learning. Topics to monitor include equity of access to rigorous coursework at all grade levels; access to supports for struggling students; and access to resources designed to promote on-time graduation, college success, and successful career entry.

For each of these topics, information that is useful and accessible to researchers, educators, parents, and the public should be readily available. It should be presented in a way that allows comparisons over time and analysis of patterns for aggregated and disaggregated student groups, including students in DCPS and charter schools and students and schools across wards.

A good deal of this information is already collected—likely much more than we were able to identify—but we did not see evidence that these basic aspects of the opportunity to learn are systematically monitored for all students and schools. Furthermore, PERAA called for the creation of an interagency coordination body so that all of the city agencies concerned with the well-being of children, young people, and families could share data and coordinate their efforts both to help individuals and families and also to develop and implement policies designed to address problems. That body does not exist, as we discuss in Chapter 3. A part of the PERAA requirement was that the city develop a comprehensive warehouse for data that allows users to examine trends over time, aggregate and disaggregate data about students and student groups, and coordinate data across time and across agencies, and that re uirement also has not been met (see Conclusion 3-1 in Cha ter 3)

Suggested Citation:"5 Learning Conditions." National Research Council. 2015. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21743.
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An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia is a comprehensive five-year summative evaluation report for Phase Two of an initiative to evaluate the District of Columbia's public schools. Consistent with the recommendations in the 2011 report A Plan for Evaluating the District of Columbia's Public Schools, this new report describes changes in the public schools during the period from 2009 to 2013. An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia examines business practices, human resources operations and human capital strategies, academic plans, and student achievement. This report identifies what is working well seven years after legislation was enacted to give control of public schools to the mayor of the District of Columbia and which areas need additional attention.

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