Members of the study committee will present the report's findings and recommendations and answer questions during a public roundtable of the Committee on Education of the Council of the District of Columbia beginning at 10:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday, June 3 in Room 123 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C.  Those who cannot attend may view a live video webcast of the roundtable here.

June 3, 2015

New Report Finds Some Improvements From D.C. School Reform Efforts, But Gaps in Learning Opportunities, Academic Outcomes, and Oversight Persist


WASHINGTON – While there have been some improvements in the public schools of the District of Columbia since a 2007 reform law, significant disparities remain in learning opportunities and academic progress across student groups and the city’s wards, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The governance structure does not clearly address monitoring of learning conditions and outcomes for all public school students, nearly half of whom attend charter schools, and the city should create a comprehensive “data warehouse” to better track this information.


The 2007 Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA) gave control of the District of Columbia’s public schools to the mayor and made other changes in school governance. The law’s purpose was to allow leaders flexibility so they could make bold changes to improve a school system that had been performing poorly for decades. The law also called for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an independent evaluation of how well the public schools have fared under the changes.  This report follows the first phase of the evaluation, A Plan for Evaluating the District of Columbia’s Public Schools.


The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and the Public Charter School Board appear to be operating more effectively than they were before PERAA, the study committee found, and both have pursued improvements that show promise.  However, the missions and lines of authority for three new agencies created under PERAA – the Deputy Mayor for Education, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, and the State Board of Education – are not clearly defined, and as a result, these agencies do not coordinate effectively.  No agency has primary responsibility for monitoring and overseeing the quality of public education for all students in DCPS and public charter schools, but a single entity should be responsible for this essential function, the committee said.


Under PERAA, the mayor and the DCPS chancellor set improving teacher quality as a top priority and implemented a new system to determine teachers’ effectiveness.  That system, IMPACT, is based on classroom observations of teaching, the level of improvement of students’ test scores, commitment to the school community, and professionalism. The committee found that IMPACT generally reflects research findings about such systems, but procedures are needed to ensure that scoring criteria are consistently applied when rating teachers’ core professionalism and commitment to school community. 


More than 80 percent of DCPS teachers classified as effective or higher in 2013-2014 chose to remain in the system for the 2014-2015 school year, and teachers rated as minimally effective were more likely than others to leave the system or be dismissed.  However, teachers with high effectiveness ratings are distributed unequally across DCPS schools, the report says, and the students in the lowest income areas have the least access to these teachers.  The availability of Advanced Placement courses also varies significantly by school and ward.  In addition to addressing these disparities, the city would benefit from maintaining additional data – for example, on years of experience, education level, and attendance rates – about teachers in DCPS and the charter schools.


“The varied academic resources and opportunities available across wards indicates the profound way in which the concentration of poverty in particular sections of the city isolates some students from the full benefits of a rigorous education,” said committee co-chair Lorraine McDonnell, professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara. 


Some objectives of PERAA have not been fully met.  In accordance with the law, officials initially set up a body for coordination among city agencies concerned with the well-being of youth and families, such as justice and human services agencies, but it no longer exists. Currently no entity provides the information-sharing, collaboration, and support that are critical for the many D.C. students living in poverty and who have needs beyond what schools can provide on their own.


Graduation rates have fluctuated from year to year, with no discernable pattern, but they remain notably low at a time when national graduation rates are rising. In 2014, slightly more than 60 percent of DCPS and charter school students graduated.  While the graduation rate for white students was 79 percent, it was 62 percent for Hispanics and 60 percent for black students. Graduation rates for students with disabilities and for those eligible for reduced-price lunches were even lower – 40 percent and 53 percent, respectively. 


Overall, test scores for both DCPS and charter school students have shown some improvement. The percentage of all students scoring proficient or above in reading and math on the local standardized tests increased between 2007 and 2014, with larger gains in math than in reading.  However, more than half of black and Hispanic students, those with disabilities, those eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, and English language learners score below proficient, and there is little evidence that these gaps are narrowing significantly. 


The District was making progress in collecting education data and making it publicly available during the time of this evaluation, but the city does not have a fully operational, comprehensive infrastructure for data that meets PERAA’s goals or its own needs as a state for purposes of education. To meet these needs, the report says D.C. should have a single online “data warehouse” accessible to educators, researchers, and the public that provides data about learning conditions and academic outcomes in both DCPS and charter schools.  Such a warehouse would allow users to examine trends over time, aggregate data about students and student groups, and coordinate data collection and analysis across agencies (education, justice, and human services).


To confront the serious and persistent disparities in learning opportunities and academic progress across student groups and wards, the city should address needs for centralized, systemwide monitoring and oversight of all public schools and students, fair distribution of educational resources across wards, ongoing assessment of strategies for improving teacher quality, and more effective collaboration among public agencies and the private sector.  In addition, the committee recommended that D.C. support ongoing, independent evaluation of its educational system, including the collection and analysis of primary data at the school level.


“Meeting the objectives that the committee has identified will require commitment and a concerted effort on the part of D.C.’s leaders to clarify their goals as they build on the accomplishments made under PERAA,” said committee co-chair Carl Cohn, director of the Urban Leadership Program and clinical professor of urban school leadership at Claremont Graduate University in California. “This is the path toward lasting benefits for the city’s public school students.”


The study was sponsored by the Government of the District of Columbia.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863.  The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.


Dana Korsen, Media Officer

Christina Anderson, Media Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail

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Pre-publication copies of An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).



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Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

Board on Testing and Assessment


Committee for the Five-Year (2009-2013) Summative Evaluation of the

District of Columbia’s Public Schools


Carl Cohn (co-chair)

Professor and Co-Director

Urban Leadership Program

School of Educational Studies

Claremont Graduate University

Palm Springs, Calif.


Lorraine M. McDonnell (co-chair)

Professor of Political Science

Department of Political Science

University of California

Santa Barbara


Mark Dynarski

Founder and Researcher

Pemberton Research LLC.

East Windsor, N.J.


David N. Figlio

Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy,

Professor of Human Development, Social Policy, and Economics, and

Director and Faculty Fellow

Institute for Policy Research

Northwestern University

Evanston, Ill.


Sharon J. Lewis

Director of Research (retired)

Council of Great City Schools

Washington, D.C.


Susanna Loeb

Barnett Family Professor of Education,

Faculty Director, Center for Education Policy Analysis,

Co-director, Policy Analysis for California Education, and

Senior Fellow, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research

Stanford University

Stanford, Calif.


C. Kent McGuire

President and CEO
Southern Education Foundation


Jenny Nagaoka

Deputy Director

Consortium on Chicago School Research

University of Chicago



Marion Orr


A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, and

Fred Lippitt Professor of Public Policy, Political Science, and Urban Studies

Department of Political Science

Brown University

Providence, R.I.        


Diana C. Pullin

Professor of Educational Leadership and Higher Education, and

Coordinator for the Joint Degree Program in Law and Education

Lynch School of Education

Boston College

Chestnut Hill, Mass.




Alexandra Beatty

Study Director