National Academies Press: OpenBook

An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape (2015)

Chapter: 7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations

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Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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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7

Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations

The Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA) called for this study because its drafters recognized that D.C. residents would want to know how well the public schools are doing after a significant change in education governance. Giving the mayor control of the public schools is a dramatic change in any city, but by itself it will not determine the path of change. Its effects will be different in each place, reflecting each city’s particular history and circumstances, the decisions the mayor and his or her chosen leaders make, and the style of leadership they provide. The D.C. Council recognized that the governance changes would not in themselves improve learning conditions and outcomes and therefore asked us to assess

  • whether the law’s expectations have been met and whether the changes have led to improved coordination, efficiency, and accountability;
  • the extent to which the actions school leaders took were consistent with research and best practices; and
  • changes in the conditions for learning in the schools and outcomes for students 7 years after the governance change.

In this chapter we present our answers to these questions, including our conclusions about the results to date of PERAA, and we offer recommendations to the city for improvements in public school education.

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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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WERE PERAA’S EXPECTATIONS MET, AND DID ITS CHANGES BRING ABOUT IMPROVED COORDINATION, EFFICIENCY, AND ACCOUNTABILITY?

We studied the provisions of PERAA and other documents to understand the goals for the law and then reviewed the institutional arrangements as they have evolved in response to circumstances. Most of PERAA’s provisions concern five agencies that, together, govern the public schools. D.C.’s leaders have attended to most of the law’s requirements, but PERAA’s designers did not explicitly address every aspect of the structure for education governance. The result is a structure that has some ad hoc elements and leaves room for improvement in public accountability.

Overall Governance

Two agencies, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and the Public Charter School Board (PCSB), already existed and PERAA gave them authority to continue pursuing their missions and the flexibility to make changes. Both agencies appear from our review to have implemented changes that show promise, such as a new teacher evaluation system (DCPS) and a new performance assessment system for the charter schools (PCSB), and to be operating more effectively than they were before PERAA.

The other three agencies, the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME), the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), and the State Board of Education (SBOE), are new. (The SBOE replaced the former Board of Education.) Together, these three bodies are responsible for overseeing the quality of public education in D.C. At present, none of these agencies is clearly recognized as the lead agency for overseeing the quality of education provided to all students enrolled in public schools. The DME and SBOE are small and their reach is limited. OSSE, which was created to perform the state functions associated with federal compliance and contracting, is large, and its mission is diffuse. It was clearly designed to perform the functions of a state agency, such as meeting federal requirements, but it has also taken on some additional responsibilities. OSSE has not yet earned the full confidence of officials in other agencies and we suggest that an in-depth assessment of its role and operations is warranted.

We found three other significant areas where the results so far do not match PERAA’s expectations:

  • Interagency Coordination: PERAA called for the creation of a body to coordinate across the agencies concerned with the well-being of children and adolescents because many D.C. students are living in poverty or have other needs that require attention or services
Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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.
×
  • beyond what the schools can provide. City officials initially set up this entity, but it was subsequently defunded. There are other efforts to coordinate among city agencies, but they do not meet the objectives of PERAA. As a result, there currently is no entity that can provide the information sharing, collaboration, and support that are critical for many D.C. students.

  • Data Infrastructure: PERAA called for the development of a data infrastructure to support interagency coordination. Despite significant progress in collecting data of many types, that infrastructure does not exist. The lack of such an infrastructure means that the city does not have accurate and complete information that is essential for inter- and intra-agency coordination, monitoring, and accountability or for ongoing internal and external evaluation and continuous improvement.
  • Coordination among Education Agencies: PERAA was intended to facilitate coordination and efficiency among the new and old agencies that govern public education. The law was not explicit about the lines of authority among the three education agencies that have responsibility across all public schools and students (OSSE, SBOE, DME). These agencies do coordinate some of their work with one another but the mechanisms compelling them to do so are limited. Consequently, coordination among them depends heavily on the collegiality of city leaders and other officials, and there are inefficiencies and gaps in oversight.

Transparency and Accountability

PERAA also addressed the issue of accountability to the public, in part by calling for an ombudsman. The ombudsman was intended to fill a role formerly played by the old Board of Education, a venue for D.C. residents and parents to voice their concerns. The Office of the Ombudsman was established and housed under in DME in 2007, defunded in 2010, and reestablished in 2014 under SBOE. The work of the new Office of the Ombudsman, with its very small staff, is supplemented by public engagement efforts in other agencies, but the office faces a significant challenge in addressing the needs in D.C. for both a venue to express concerns and an agency that can assist in problem resolution.

The committee saw little indication of progress toward transparency and public accountability in one significant area, the process for education budgeting. The city’s response to PERAA brought about numerous changes to the process, but the resulting arrangements have not eliminated concerns about parity in the allocation of resources and about the visibility of budgetary decision making.

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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.
×

Growth of the Charter Sector

Some factors that were not addressed in the original version of PERAA have come to be important. In particular, because the public charter sector has grown considerably since the law was adopted, the governance structure it described was based on a different balance between traditional and charter schools. Public charter schools generally are not subject to guidance about how they educate their students and manage their schools, and indeed PERAA reiterates that D.C.’s public charter schools have this independence. Under this logic, each charter school (or its governing entity) is accountable for outcomes rather than for its approaches to instruction: each school or entity is considered a separate local education agency (LEA). However, the law does not address the responsibility of D.C. to monitor basic conditions for learning or other aspects of the education provided in these schools. This omission, combined with concerns about coordination among the other agencies, leaves D.C. with important questions to consider about the oversight of the education of all of its students.

Conclusions

CONCLUSION 3-1 The city has executed most of what was called for in PERAA, and it has adapted some of its requirements in response to circumstances through legislative amendments and other administrative actions. The education agencies are mostly in place and carrying out their functions, but we note three problems:

  1. The interagency coordination body called for by PERAA is not in place. The goals specified for that body are partly being addressed by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, but the range of these efforts is limited.
  2. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education is not functioning effectively. The extent of OSSE’s responsibility and authority are not clear and the agency has not yet established a strong reputation as an effective state education authority. We were not able to conduct a systematic evaluation of OSSE’s current structure, operations, and priorities, but one is needed.
  3. The District of Columbia made notable progress in collecting education data, making it publicly available during the time of this evaluation. However, the city does not have a fully operational, comprehensive infrastructure for data that meet PERAA’s goals, its own needs in its capacity as a state government, or the needs of residents, researchers, and other users. To meet these needs, D.C. should have a single online data warehouse that would allow users
Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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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to examine trends over time, and aggregate and disaggregate data about students and student groups, and to coordinate data collection and analysis across agencies concerned with education, justice, and human services.

CONCLUSION 3-2 PERAA’s objective of improving coordination among the Deputy Mayor for Education, the State Board of Education, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education has not been completely met, despite efforts by these agencies. PERAA does not clearly spell out the ways in which the agencies ought to coordinate, and this lack of specificity has led to confusion and duplication of effort. Coordination among DCPS and the charter schools is also limited.

CONCLUSION 3-3 Accountability to the public requires that information about administrative operations be transparent and easily accessible and that mechanisms be available for D.C. residents to express their preferences and concerns. Reestablishing the Office of the Ombudsman after a long hiatus was a positive step, but the budgeting process for education expenditures is neither simpler nor more transparent than it was before PERAA.

CONCLUSION 3-4 PERAA’s objective of establishing clear lines of authority has not been completely met. Because the Office of the State Superintendent of Education is situated at the same level as DCPS and the Public Charter School Board, the respective responsibilities of these agencies are not clearly distinguished. On paper, the Deputy Mayor for Education is responsible for oversight of all three, but we did not see evidence of how this oversight is carried out. No one agency has ultimate responsibility for the quality of education for all the city’s public school students.

CONCLUSION 3-5 The current governance structure for D.C.’s public schools represents a reasonable response to the requirements of PERAA. The goals that have not yet been met—regarding coordination and oversight—point to two questions for the city to consider (1) whether the current oversight structure provides sufficient monitoring of the educational opportunities provided to students attending DCPS and charter schools throughout the city and (2) how best to oversee the education of all students attending any publicly funded school.

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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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WERE THE ACTIONS SCHOOL LEADERS TOOK CONSISTENT WITH RESEARCH AND BEST PRACTICES?

Teacher Evaluation

We examined one major policy decision made by the leaders of DCPS under PERAA: to use a teacher evaluation system, IMPACT, as a means to improve the quality of the teacher workforce and, hence, student learning. It was not possible to examine similar strategies for the charter sector because no programmatic strategies apply across all of them. Nor could we examine teacher quality for the charter sector because no agency has the responsibility of collecting systematic information about the educators in charter schools.

We examined the system’s design and implementation plan and reviewed data on changes in the teacher workforce. We compared the various features of IMPACT with findings from research on best practices and with procedures used in other states. Those features include multiple measures of teacher performance, feedback and supports provided to teachers, and opportunities for professional development. Based on the information available to us, we found that IMPACT generally reflects the guidance available from research for teacher evaluation systems of its type. However, some aspects of IMPACT’s effectiveness rating procedures require attention: these include a lack of adequate quality control for the observational measures and a lack of documentation of the rationales for significant changes that have been made in the evaluation system. We also note that other information, besides ratings on IMPACT, is important for monitoring teacher quality.

Like assessment systems, teacher evaluation systems should be validated to determine the extent to which they provide accurate evidence to answer questions about teacher effectiveness. DCPS articulated a number of goals for IMPACT but has not yet developed a plan for evaluating progress toward meeting them.

DCPS placed a high priority on improving the quality of the teacher workforce but the highest-scoring teachers are not distributed equitably across DCPS schools. Inequities in conditions for learning and performance differences among student groups have not lessened since IMPACT was implemented. The committee recognizes that systematic evaluation of a teacher evaluation system is difficult and somewhat uncommon, but given the novel nature and potential unintended consequences of IMPACT, a structured plan for gathering validity evidence is needed so that DCPS can evaluate how well IMPACT is reaching its intended goals and where changes are needed. Meeting the city’s goal of ensuring that there are high-quality teachers in every school will require further efforts.

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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.
×

Conclusions

CONCLUSION 4-1 DCPS officials defined a three-pronged approach to improving teacher quality: clarify performance expectations, provide quality feedback and support to teachers, and retain the most effective teachers. The design of the IMPACT teacher evaluation system and the associated implementation plan are generally consistent with current research on teacher evaluation systems. Four aspects of IMPACT’s rating procedures need attention:

  1. Quality control procedures are needed for the judgment-based ratings of teachers’ commitment to school community and core professionalism, to ensure that scoring criteria are consistently applied.
  2. More stringent quality control procedures are needed for developing, administering, and scoring the teacher-assessed student achievement component.
  3. The city’s approach for calculating individual value-added scores is reasonable, given the current state of research. The city’s decision to use a single year of data in calculating the value added by a teacher should be reconsidered regularly in light of new research, and in light of the inherent tradeoffs of using single or multiple years.
  4. Changes have been made to the ways the components of IMPACT are weighted, and a new effectiveness category was added, but the reasons for these changes are not documented. The justification for these changes needs to be made available.

CONCLUSION 4-2 Changes that have been made to the relative weighting of the components of an IMPACT score mean that overall effectiveness scores are not comparable across years. The addition of a fifth effectiveness category in 2012 further complicates comparisons. Reports of trends in measured teacher effectiveness should clearly acknowledge these changes so that readers do not misinterpret the numbers.

CONCLUSION 4-3 DCPS has procedures in place to use information from IMPACT to provide feedback and support to teachers and to encourage those who perform well to stay. The available data suggest that some of the desired changes in the workforce are evident: more than 80 percent of teachers classified as effective or higher remained in the system, while less than half of teachers classified as minimally effective remained with the system. However, these trend data do not

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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.
×

provide conclusive evidence on whether IMPACT has been successful in meeting all of its goals, nor do they isolate its effects on students or educators from those of other policy changes that have occurred since PERAA.

CONCLUSION 4-4 Teachers with high IMPACT scores are not evenly distributed across DCPS schools. The data show an association between high concentrations of poverty and low IMPACT scores: average IMPACT scores for teachers in low- and medium-SES schools are consistently 24 to 30 points lower than for those teachers in the highest-SES schools. The reasons for this uneven distribution are not clear.

CONCLUSION 4-5 The city needs a plan for gathering evidence to evaluate the extent to which the intended inferences from IMPACT are supported, particularly the improvement of teaching in schools serving lower-achieving students.*

CONCLUSION 4-6 Trends in teacher performance as measured by IMPACT are a tool for tracking teacher quality, but they have important drawbacks. The relative weighting of the components has changed over time. Moreover, these measures provide information only about DCPS teachers, not about teachers in charter schools. The city would benefit from maintaining data about teachers in both DCPS and the charter schools, including:

  • years of experience,
  • years with the school system,
  • time in a specific school,
  • teaching assignments,
  • teacher attendance rates,
  • education level and highest degree earned,
  • area of certification, and
  • an indicator of out-of-field teaching assignment(s).

Such information should be maintained for all teachers (those in charter schools as well as DCPS) in a manner that supports comparison across time and by ward. These data should be accessible to researchers, educators, parents, and the public.

________________

*The committee’s final version of wording for this conclusion was inadvertently not made prior to the release of the report.

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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.
×

HAVE CONDITIONS FOR LEARNING IN THE SCHOOLS IMPROVED, PARTICULARLY FOR THE STUDENTS WITH THE GREATEST NEEDS?

The conditions that should be in place to promote learning encompass many factors, including: curriculum, standards, and academic resources; school climate, disciplinary policies, teachers’ expectations; social and cognitive development beginning at the prenatal stage; physical and mental health; family and neighborhood circumstances, cultural traditions, and language; and socioeconomic status. We examined a set of topics chosen to reflect the broad scope of issues that should be monitored to ensure that all students have an equitable opportunity to learn.

The committee could find very little information about learning conditions in charter schools because many types of information are not collected systematically for this sector. We found slightly more information about DCPS schools but still saw many gaps in the information needed.

The limited information available to us shows evidence of efforts to improve learning conditions, but it also suggests that there are differences across student groups and wards in access to educational opportunity and the quality of the educational experience. Of significant concern is that fact that no one entity 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. There is a need for a single entity to be responsible for this essential function for all public schools and students, DCPS and charter. To meet this responsibility, the entity in charge will need to maintain and make publicly accessible data about students with particular needs, including those with disabilities, English-language learners, students in poverty, and other groups of concern; school climate, including discipline, attendance, safety, and facilities; and academic supports for learning.

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.

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.

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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.
×

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.

WHAT DOES THE EVIDENCE SHOW ABOUT OUTCOMES FOR STUDENTS?

In order to understand outcomes for students it is important to look not only at the most readily available information—test data and graduation rates—but also at other indicators of outcomes and attainment, including indicators of school behavior and postsecondary attainment. The committee did not have the data needed to examine most of this information.

Data from the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS) show that the percentage of all students scoring proficient or above in reading and math increased between 2007 and 2014. The increase

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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.
×

is larger for math than it is for reading. The positive trends are also apparent in data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). However, black and Hispanic students, those with disabilities, those eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and English-language learners are much more likely to be in the lowest performance categories than other students. Some improvement is evident since 2009, but more than half of these students still score below proficient. There is little indication that these performance disparities are lessening.

Graduation rates have fluctuated from year to year, with no discernable pattern, but they remain disturbingly low: in 2014, slightly more than 60 percent of the city’s DCPS and charter school students graduated. Graduation rates for students with disabilities and those eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were even lower, 40 and 53 percent, respectively.

Although we can document some of the changes that occurred over the past 7 years, we cannot determine the independent effects of PERAA on achievement and attainment. Changes in the demographic composition of D.C.’s public school students, the growth of the charter sector, differences in the programmatic choices made in DCPS and the individual charter schools, and many other changes that have occurred are intertwined with the changes brought by PERAA. Disentangling causes and effects among these developments is not possible. The signs of improvement are positive, but a more complete picture of student outcomes is needed. To better understand outcomes for D.C. students, the city needs to make data available that will cover a range of outcomes and allow detailed analyses of trends across time and among student groups.

CONCLUSION 6-1 The percentage of all students scoring proficient or above in reading and math on the DC CAS increased between 2007 and 2014. The increase is larger for math than it is for reading. The positive trends are also apparent on NAEP.

CONCLUSION 6-2 There is a stark difference in the overall performance and score distributions among different groups of students. Black and Hispanic students, those with disabilities, those eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and English-language learners are much more likely to be in the lowest performance categories than other students. Some improvement is evident since 2009, but more than half of these students still score below proficient. There is little indication that these gaps are narrowing significantly.

CONCLUSION 6-3 Publicly available reports of DC CAS results often highlight only the overall proficiency rate—the percentage of students who score proficient or above. The proficiency rate provides only a

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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.
×

quick overview of results. It does not reveal information about other changes in student performance, such as the percentage of students who score in each performance level or the percentage of students who score just below the proficient level. Proficiency rates can mask important changes in the performance of the lowest-scoring students and disparities in achievement among student groups, which are both important for decision making. Additional measures—such as the percentages of students who score at each performance level and scale scores—are also needed for decision making.

CONCLUSION 6-4 Graduation rates have fluctuated in the years since PERAA, with no clear discernible trend; this has occurred at a time when national rates have been increasing. The D.C. rates remain disturbingly low for black and Hispanic students, those with disabilities, those eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and English-language learners.

CONCLUSION 6-5 The committee’s evaluation was limited to a few blunt measures—proficiency rates on standardized tests and high school graduation rates—because of lack of data. To better understand outcomes for D.C. students, the city needs to collect and make data available on the following topics:

  • the percentage of students who score at each performance level and information on the scale scores, including the percentage of students who score at each scale score, means, standard deviations, percentiles, and quartiles;
  • attendance and truancy;
  • course-taking and completion;
  • college entrance exam performance;
  • college enrollment and progression such as that available through the National Student Clearinghouse; and
  • career outcomes such as employment and earnings/salary.

These data should be provided in a format that makes them useful and accessible to researchers, educators, parents, and the public. The format should allow them to be analyzed by year, school, grade, racial and ethnic group, poverty status, and English-language learner and special education status, as well as by sector (charter and DCPS public schools).

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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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RECOMMENDATIONS

The committee saw reasons for optimism about the future for D.C.’s public schools. DCPS and the PCSB have made choices that show promise, and the city has sustained its focus on its improvement over several leadership changes. Nevertheless, we saw clear evidence that significant disparities in the conditions for learning and in progress for students persist, and this is the primary challenge for D.C.’s public education system.

Our evaluation highlights several areas of concern:

  • Monitoring and oversight of the needs of students with particular needs, including students with disabilities, English-language learners, low-income students, and others is not adequate.
  • DCPS schools in the lowest income sections of the city have less access to teachers with high IMPACT ratings and advanced coursework than other DCPS schools; there were no data available on this issue for the charter schools.
  • There are stark gaps in academic achievement and graduation rates across student groups.

We offer three recommendations and some observations that we hope will help the city build on the work it has already done to address these fundamental challenges.

A persistent theme in our conclusions is the need for improvement in the way the city collects and uses information about public education. We have noted throughout the report that a significant array of data, documentation, and reports concerning the city’s schools is available, but these materials are widely scattered and not structured to support districtwide evaluation. The city seems to be continually strengthening its data collection, yet many types of information are either apparently not collected or not accessible. More important, however, is that no one entity is currently responsible for coordinating information from across the education agencies and across all the public schools.

Whatever governance structure in place, a reliable source of comprehensive information about the functioning of the public schools will be crucial to improving monitoring and accountability. With ready access to complete and up-to-date information, parents and others could much more easily identify the most pressing issues in the schools and use that information to work with city officials to pursue improvements. More accessible data would also reveal progress the city is making in education, and greater accessibility would likely build public trust and patience during the time it takes to pursue lasting change.

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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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RECOMMENDATION 1 The District of Columbia should have a comprehensive data warehouse that makes basic information about the school system available in one place. That information should be readily accessible online to parents, the community, and researchers. That information should include data on the school system as a whole and at more detailed levels. Building such a warehouse will take time, but it can begin with the data collection efforts already in place. An optimal data warehouse would have the following characteristics:

  • It would integrate and track data that are relevant to schooling and students across DCPS and the charter schools and eventually across the education, justice, and human service agencies.
  • It would provide data about learning conditions in all public schools, DCPS and the charters, and their students, covering students with particular needs, including those with disabilities, English language learners, and students in poverty; school climate, including discipline, attendance, safety, and facilities; and academic supports for learning.
  • It would provide data about outcomes for all public school students, in DCPS and the charters, covering graduation rates, performance on tests including college entrance exams, attendance and truancy, course-taking and completion, college enrollment and progression, and career outcomes.
  • It would be usable and accessible to researchers, educators, parents, and the public. The format would be structured to allow ready access to data and analysis in ways that can be customized to the needs of different users, including parents and other nonspecialists.

PERAA called for an interagency coordinating body to develop a data warehouse of this type. Our recommendation for a centralized data warehouse is more comprehensive than PERAA’s specifications, and we believe that it should serve a broader purpose: it should not be used only for coordinating data across city agencies, but also for allowing the city to more effectively monitor all of its public schools and students. It will take time to build such a warehouse, but the city has made progress on which to build, and a good next step would be to develop a single source for more complete basic data, aggregated and disaggregated, for DCPS and charter schools and students.

At present no single entity in D.C. is looking analytically at the way all the public school students are being educated. In carrying out its state functions, D.C. has the responsibility to look across all public school students and schools to make sure that certain basic conditions are provided. It is important to distinguish between a responsibility to ensure that basic condi-

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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.
×

tions are met and interference with the way DCPS or the chartering bodies make most of their decisions about how to fulfill their educational missions.

We recommend that the city monitor information about key elements of public schooling. D.C. functions as a state in which there are 62 school districts, but the city has a responsibility to collect and maintain systemwide data and use it to test progress toward a specified set of objectives necessary to ensuring an equitable education for all public school students. If the city does decide to have a single entity with responsibility across DCPS and the charter schools, it would be reasonable to consider transforming the Office of the State Superintendent of Education—although it currently has a number of problems—into that entity.

At the same time, the city would benefit from having access to ongoing, independent evaluations of its progress. A comprehensive data warehouse could be the foundation for such evaluation, as was recommended in the report on the first phase of this evaluation (National Research Council, 2011). That report recommended that D.C. consider developing a program of ongoing evaluation that includes long-term monitoring and public reporting of key indicators, as well as a portfolio of in-depth studies of high-priority issues, acknowledging that such a program would take time to develop.

This committee did not have the resources to collect school-level data, and this evaluation is an overview of the system for which we had to rely heavily on the data and other information provided by the education agencies. Based on the experience of carrying out this evaluation, we believe that the city would derive great benefit from having a program of ongoing evaluation. Such a program would benefit researchers and school leaders who could rely on the information and analysis it could provide on an ongoing basis. Other cities, including Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York, have programs that provide independent data collection analysis. Each is structured differently, and their examples may be useful to D.C.

RECOMMENDATION 2 The District of Columbia should establish institutional arrangements that will support ongoing independent evaluation of its education system. Whatever structure is developed, three conditions should be met:

  • The evaluation entity should have sufficient resources to collect and analyze primary data, including at the school level, rather than being entirely dependent on city-generated test and administrative data.
  • Evaluations should be conducted by experts with the qualifications needed for specific tasks. Ideally, the structure will allow the city to benefit from the expertise of external researchers and practitioners
Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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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  • who specialize in teaching and learning, curriculum, testing and measurement, and finance and policy.
  • All products produced by the entity should undergo rigorous peer review.

The committee was not asked to make recommendations to the city about its governance structure, but we close with a set of points the city may wish to consider as it approaches the 10-year anniversary of PERAA. The 2015-2016 school year would be an excellent time to reflect on what has been accomplished under the new structure and what lessons have been learned that can accelerate the improvement begun with PERAA. PERAA provided the city with a structure it could use to make bold changes for rapid improvement, but a governance change by itself cannot be expected to bring about the desired improvement. The city has used PERAA’s provisions, and its leaders have made many decisions that have shaped the path of the public schools in a positive way. The next step is to address the major long-standing challenges in education in D.C., which have been highlighted once again in our study.

RECOMMENDATION 3 The primary objective of the District of Columbia for its public schools should be to address the serious and persistent disparities in learning opportunities and academic progress across student groups and wards by attending to

  • centralized, systemwide monitoring and oversight of all public schools and their students, with particular attention to high-need student groups;
  • the fair distribution of educational resources across schools and wards;
  • ongoing assessment of how well strategies for improving teacher quality are meeting their goals;
  • more effective collaboration among public agencies and with the private sector to encourage cross-sector problem solving for the city’s schools;
  • accessible, useful, and transparent data about D.C. public schools, including charters, that are tailored to the diverse groups with a stake in the system; and
  • measures to strengthen public trust in education in a diverse, highly mobile city.

These issues are not new but they are at the heart of the findings from the committee’s evaluation because they remain unchanged in spite of significant progress made in many areas in the years since PERAA. Meeting

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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 objectives we have identified will require commitment and a concerted effort on the part of D.C.’s leaders and residents to clarify their goals as they build on the accomplishments made under PERAA. This is the path for lasting benefits to the city’s public school students.

Suggested Citation:"7 Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations." 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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