Mayor Adrian Fenty is taking over the school system in Washington, D.C. today. Mayoral control is the latest in a series of reforms that have left D.C. schools shot through with “silver bullets,” reports the Washington Post.
The revolving door of school superintendents — six in the past 10 years alone — has meant that few reforms had time to filter down to the classrooms. Isolated gains achieved under one reform theory were tossed aside, lost or forgotten in the next. Some reforms that did have an impact went awry, accelerating inequality, distrust and decline.
How bad are D.C. schools?
Tests show that in reading and math, the District’s public school students score at the bottom among 11 major city school systems, even when poor children are compared only with other poor children. Thirty-three percent of poor fourth-graders across the nation lacked basic skills in math, but in the District, the figure was 62 percent. It was 74 percent for D.C. eighth-graders, compared with 49 percent nationally.
The District spends $12,979 per pupil each year, ranking it third-highest among the 100 largest districts in the nation. But most of that money does not get to the classroom. D.C. schools rank first in the share of the budget spent on administration, last in spending on teachers and instruction.
On average, it takes more than a year for repairs to be made, even if the problem is reported as “dangerous.”
The school system doesn’t have an accurate list of employees or students. Records are kept on paper in cardboard boxes. The story tells of a principal who was told she’d overspent her budget. She checked and discovered she was being charged payroll costs for two teachers who’d never taught at her school. She’d never heard of them.
One quarter of D.C. students now attend charters. Charter test scores were behind district-run schools in 2003 but passed them in 2005.
Here’s a link to the Post series, which is ongoing.