After making national headlines for her union reforms and spending millions of dollars on teacher incentives, former DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee left a disappointing legacy. Less than half of students in the city's 123 traditional public schools are proficient in reading and math, according to the 2012 DC Comprehensive Assessment System tests. Nearly half still drop out without graduating.
D.C. was one of the initial members of the U.S. Department of Education's Trial Urban District Assessment, or TUDA, program for inner-city school districts. But except for a few education backwaters like Detroit, DCPS fourth-graders still scored lower in math and reading on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress than most of their urban counterparts, posting the largest "minority achievement gap" of any TUDA city tested.
These fourth-graders spent their entire academic careers under the reforms begun by Rhee in 2007, and largely continued by her top lieutenant, current Chancellor Kaya Henderson -- who has quietly begun watering down one of her former boss' few real accomplishments: Impact -- one of the first teacher evaluation systems in the nation to link teacher job security and higher pay to improved classroom performance.Instead of test scores making up 50 percent of a teacher's professional evaluation, they now account for just 35 percent.
Ironically, just as classroom teachers are being held less accountable, Henderson's new five-year plan amps up expectations for student performance. But there doesn't seem to be any mechanism Henderson has left to force the city's 40 lowest-scoring schools to make the historically unprecedented leap of raising test scores 40 percent in five years -- while expanding enrollment and increasing DCPS' dismal 53 percent high school graduation rate.
Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, who notes that Henderson has not yet explained how she intends to accomplish such feats simultaneously, dismissed the plan as "test-score fantasyland." And even if black and Hispanic students somehow managed to improve their test scores five times faster than their white counterparts by 2017, new proficiency goals set by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education will still leave them well-below grade level in core subject areas.
This may be a central education planner's idea of progress, but as Judicial Watch points out, setting academic standards lower for students based on their race and income does not fix the problem. And D.C. schoolchildren cannot afford to wait another five years.