District of Columbia Public Schools: Important Steps Taken to Continue Reform Efforts, But Enhanced Planning Could Improve Implementation and Sustainability

Shelley Cheung

Government Accountability Office
June 2009

Never known for sugar-coating, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) made no exception in this review of education in Washington, D.C. This report was commissioned by Congress, which wanted to review the progress made since passage of the 2007 Public Education Reform Amendment Act. That act gave Mayor Adrian Fenty control over schools and heralded the arrival of his hard-hitting schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee. The GAO review used both quantitative measures (e.g., test scores) and qualitative data (e.g., lots of interviews). Analysts also looked at four other cities with mayoral control (Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and New York City) for comparison purposes. The authors acknowledge that D.C.'s battle is steeply uphill and its myriad problems deeply ingrained. Yet they also conclude that the steps taken by the mayor and his chancellor have had mixed results. By launching so many different initiatives so quickly, Rhee may have overwhelmed the schools. And some of her reforms (especially regarding the financing and staffing of schools) have worked out to the detriment of at least a few schools. The good news is that DCPS has recognized these shortcomings and is moving to fix them. Of course it still has a long way still to go. One assumes that DCPS leaders will read it carefully. You can read it here.

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