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Public education in the District of Columbia

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K-12 Education in Washington, D.C.
State Superintendent: Jesus Aguirre
Number of students: 73,911[1]
Number of teachers: 6,278
Teacher/pupil ratio: 1:11.8
Number of school districts: 56
Number of schools: 228
Graduation rate: 59%[2]
Per-pupil spending: $18,475[3]
See also
Public education in Washington, D.C.
District of Columbia Public Schools, D.C.
Washington, D.C. school districts
List of school districts in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
The District of Columbia school system (prekindergarten-grade 12) operates within districts governed by locally elected school boards members and superintendents. Washington, D.C. has only one public school district. It serves 45,000 students and employs 4,000 teachers at 125 schools.[4]

Role of unions

The Washington Teachers' Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, represents the district's teachers.[5] In November 2009, the D.C. Superior Court denied the union's request for a preliminary injunction.[6] The union sought compel DCPS to reinstate 266 teachers pending arbitration of a grievance the union has filed under its contract with DCPS.[7]

The union has opposed Chancellor Rhee's efforts to enact a merit pay system that would like salary to effectiveness, as judges by a combination of test scores and classroom observation.[8]

List of local District of Columbia school unions:[9]

Role of school boards

The District of Columbia Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 disbanded the D.C. Board of Education and placed the D.C.P.S. (District of Columbia Public Schools) under the jurisdiction of Mayor Adrian Fenty.[10][11][12] Chancellor Michelle Rhee has stated that taking having one clear point of accountability and not having to go through a political bureaucracy is crucial to gains in education reform.[13]

The D. C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) was created in 1996 by an amendment to the D. C. School Reform Act of 1995 as a second, independent authorizer of public charter schools. In 2006, the D.C. Board of Education (BOE), which had served as the charter authorizer since 1996, voted to relinquish its authorizing responsibilities.[14]


Michelle Rhee was appointed by Mayor Adrian Fenty as Chancellor of Education in June 2007[15] and has made significant changes within the district.[16][17] [18]

Upon becoming chancellor, Rhee moved to shut down 23 schools and fired staff.[19][12] One of Rhee's proposals that has garnered the most attention at the national level is her proposal to link teacher pay with student performance.[20] Under such a system, teachers are evaluated based on a combination of their students' test scores, aca­demic gains, and classroom observations from third-party evaluators. Teachers with greater success would receive higher salaries, and ineffective teachers would not be rewarded.

Rhee's original proposal for the district involved a two-track system of pay.[21] Under one track, teachers would relinquish tenure and, following a trial period of a year, they could make up to $130,000 in merit pay based on their effec­tiveness. All teachers new to the district would enter employment on this track. The second track would allow teachers to keep tenure, which is a job-security benefit based on years of service, and ac­cept a smaller raise.[20][21] The Washington Teacher's Union opposes the plan, with Teacher union President George Parker saying on PBS that, after 17 months of negotiations with Rhee and no agreement, teacher morale was at the lowest it had been in his 25 years.[19]

In October 2009, Rhee fired nearly 400 staff members, including 266 educators, to help close a budget shortfall of nearly $44 million.[20][22] Her decision was controversial and D.C. City Council held an 18-hour hearing on her decision.[23] She later commented to Fast Company magazine that she "got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school."[24] Her comments prompted outrage and a strong union response.[25][26]

The district's results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a continuing and nationally representative measure of achievement in various subjects over time, as released in the Nation's Report Card by the U.S. Department of Education in December 2009 showed that the district's math test scores have improved, leading observers to conclude that Rhee's efforts at the building level have been effective.[27][28] Further, the achievement gap between white and African-American stu­dents has closed from 70 percentage points to 50 percentage points.[20]


See also: Washington, D.C. transparency headlines
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Transparency grading process

Website evaluation

Main article: Evaluation of District of Columbia school district websites

The good

  • Administrative officials and their contact information are posted on the district's website.[29]
  • Information on the district's academic performance is available on the website.[30]
  • Budget documents for 2007-08 and 2008-09 is found on the website.[31]
  • Individual school budgets for 2010 are posted for general enrollment schools[32] and charter schools[33] as is information about the 2011 Budget process.[34]
  • Information on how to make a public records request is posted on the district's website.[35]

The bad

  • The website includes a list of contracts awarded each month for August, September and October of 2009, but no other information on contracts is posted.[36]
  • No information on taxes and audits is found on the website.
  • Background checks are not addressed online.

Academic performance

In the NAEP's Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), which compares the performance of students in urban districts, the district improved its scores, although they still remained below the national average.[27] The District was ranked D.C. now ranks 11th out of 18 urban school systems at the fourth-grade level, and 13th out of 18 at the eighth-grade level.[27]

The district's graduation rate increased nearly three percent in 2009 to 72% of students completing high school.[37]

Percentage of Students Proficient on the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS)[38]

Category 2006 2007 2008 2009
Elementary Reading 37 38 46 49
Elementary Math 26 29 40 49
Secondary Reading 29 30 39 41
Secondary Math 23 27 36 40

School choice

School choice options include:

  • Charter schools: A charter school law was passed in 1996 and later expanded in 2005. According to reports the District of Columbia has a total of 96 charter schools and approximately 23,690 students.[39]
  • Public school open enrollment: Students may apply to attend a school other than the one to which they are assigned in the district's Out of Boundary Enrollment Process.[40] A lottery of those applying to attend out of boundary is held at the district's central office.[41] Once a school fails to make Adequate Yearly Progress for two consecutive years, that school must offer the Title I School Choice transfer process to students who attend that school.[42] The district has nine alternative high schools for students struggling in a traditional high school environment.[43] The district also has six selective citywide high schools.[44]
  • Online learning: According to reports the Community Academy Public Charter School (CAPCS) provides online learning for K-8 students in the District of Columbia. It was founded in 1998.[45][39]

External links

Additional reading


  1. National Center for Education Statistics, "Table 2. Number of operating public schools and districts, state enrollment, teacher and pupil/teacher ratio by state: School year 2011–12," accessed March 18, 2014
  2. ED Data Express, "State Tables Report," accessed March 17, 2014 The site includes this disclaimer: "States converted to an adjusted cohort graduation rate [starting in the 2010-2011 school year], which may or may not be the same as the calculation they used in prior years. Due to the potential differences, caution should be used when comparing graduation rates across states."
  3. United States Census Bureau, "Public Education Finances: 2011," accessed March 18, 2014
  4. District of Columbia Public Schools,"Who We Are," accessed May 30, 2010
  5. Washington Teacher's Union,"Main page," accessed May 30, 2010
  6. Washington Post,"Court defends Rhee's layoffs," November 24, 2009
  7. District of Columbia Public Schools,"Reduction in Force," November 24, 2009
  8. U.S. News & World Report,"DC Schools Chief Michelle Rhee Fights Union Over Teacher Pay," December 21, 2009
  9. Center for Union Facts,"District of Columbia teachers unions," accessed May 30, 2010
  10. D.C. Council,"D.C. Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007," accessed May 30, 2010
  11. Washington Post,"Education Reform Long Troubled in District," October 31, 2009
  12. 12.0 12.1 National Review,"Rhee Reform," September 9, 2008
  13. National Journal,"Rhee, Duncan Aligned on Education Reform," April 13, 2009
  14. D.C. Public Charter School Board,"About the board," accessed May 30, 2010
  15. District of Columbia Public Schools,"Rhee Bio," accessed May 30, 2010
  16. Time Magazine,"Rhee Tackles Classroom Challenge," November 26, 2008
  17. Christian Science Monitor,"Is Michelle Rhee the new face of education reform?," January 27, 2009
  18. Wikipedia,"Michelle Rhee," accessed May 30, 2010
  19. 19.0 19.1 PBS Newshour,"Media Attention Hinders Rhee's Efforts to Reach Out to D.C. Teachers," May 5, 2009
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 U.S. News & World Report,"DC Schools Chief Michelle Rhee Fights Union Over Teacher Pay," December 21, 2009
  21. 21.0 21.1 New York Times,"A School Chief Takes on Tenure, Stirring a Fight," November 13, 2008
  22. Washington Post,"Education reform long troubled in District," October 31, 2009
  23. Washington Post,"Anger Over Layoffs Vented in 18-Hour Hearing," October 17, 2009
  24. Fast Company,"Update D.C. Report Card," February 1, 2010
  25. WJLA-TV,"Uproar continues over Rhee Comment," January 26, 2010
  26. D.C. Teachers E-Portal,"Letters from WTU President George Parker to Rhee, Fenty," January 26, 2010
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 National Center for Education Statistics,"2009 Nation's Report Card," accessed May 30, 2010
  28. Washington Post,"Doing the math in D.C.," December 10, 2009
  29. District of Columbia Public Schools,"Office Directory," accessed May 30, 2010
  30. District of Columbia Public Schools,"CAS Results," accessed May 30, 2010
  31. District of Columbia Public Schools,"School Budget Archives," accessed May 30, 2010
  32. District of Columbia Public Schools,"FY2010 School Budgets," accessed May 30, 2010
  33. District of Columbia Public Schools,"2010 Charter School Budgets," accessed May 30, 2010
  34. District of Columbia Public Schools,"FY2011 Budget Process," accessed May 30, 2010
  35. District of Columbia Public Schools,"FOIA Officer," accessed May 30, 2010
  36. District of Columbia Public Schools,"Awarded Contracts," accessed May 30, 2010
  37. District of Columbia Public Schools,"DCPS Graduation Rate," January 8, 2010
  38. District of Columbia Public Schools,"Fenty, Rhee and Reinoso Announce DCPS 2009 DC CAS Scores," July 13, 2009
  39. 39.0 39.1 The Heritage Foundation,"District of Columbia School Choice," accessed May 30, 2010
  40. District of Columbia Public Schools,"Out of Boundary Process," accessed May 30, 2010
  41. District of Columbia Public Schools,"Out-of-Boundary Lottery," accessed May 30, 2010
  42. District of Columbia Public Schools,"School Performance Restructuring," accessed May 30, 2010
  43. District of Columbia Public Schools,"Alternative High Schools," accessed May 30, 2010
  44. District of Columbia Public Schools,"Selective Citywide High Schools," accessed May 30, 2010
  45. Community Academy Public Charter School,"Main Page," accessed May 30, 2010