Jun 7, 2015

Independent Evaluation of DC Public Schools Too Little Too Late to Impact Plight of Teachers

Written By Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

Somebody dropped the ball. Who’s to blame for the eight years we waited for an independent evaluation of mayoral control of DC Public Schools ? Well accountability is reserved only for us peons (teachers, school personnel, principals, vice principals and; central office staff). Right? Not for mayors and other elected officials.

Under a 2007 law, known as PERAA (Public Education Reform Amendment Act) gave control of DC Public Schools to the Mayor (Former Mayor Adrian Fenty) as well as other changes in school governance. The purpose of the law was to give leaders more flexibility in making changes in light of the school systems history of failed fix it plans and floundering student achievement.

The reform law required the mayor to submit an independent evaluation of our public schools annually on academic achievement,personnel policies and business practices. The law also included an option to skip annual assessments and deliver a five year independent assessment by September 15, 2012. Obviously that deadline was not met.

There was much ado on the road to selecting independent evaluators. In 2009, Fenty eliminated funding for an independent evaluation. Then there were two evaluator names that initially surfaced including Frederick Hess, of American Enterprise Institute and Kenneth Wong, of Brown University who were proponents of mayoral control and made many uncomfortable about their objectivity including former Chairman Vincent Gray, who raised concerns, to his credit.

Eventually funding was restored for the independent evaluation in 2009. A total of $325,000 was included in the DC government budget to hire the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct the evaluation. NRC is one of four non-profit organizations that operate under the National Academies. It was estimated that DC government would provide 20 percent of the funding, with NRC raising the remaining cost from private donations.

The road to this independent assessment has been a rocky one. Let's count the three mayors who presided while we waited for a glimpse of this assessment. Let's see first there was Adrian Fenty, then Vincent Gray and now Muriel Bowser.

At long last, members of the evaluation committee reported their findings and recommendations on June 3, 2015 at a public round table at the Committee on Education held at the Council of the District of Columbia. Tweets were rampant on June 3rd from inside DC City Council chambers as the committee unveiled its report.

The report findings are in excess of 300 pages and for purposes here, I will try to dissect this information in smaller chunks.

Significant amongst the findings, the report indicated "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."

On a positive note, both DCPS and the Public Charter School Board were noted to be operating more effectively than before PERAA and pursued improvements that show promise.

A top priority for the mayor and chancellor after PERAA was to improve teacher effectiveness and introduce an evaluation system to assess teacher performance. The report revealed what we already know that the Impact teacher evaluation was introduced in 2009 under former Chancellor Michelle Rhee and rated teacher's on classroom observations,
on their commitment to school community (CSC), core professionalism (CP), and linked students' test scores to teacher effectiveness.

It was recommended that procedures be developed by the district to ensure that scoring on commitment to school community and core professionalism is consistently applied. The committee expressed concerns that even though the district had articulated goals for IMPACT, a plan for evaluating their own progress has not been developed, to date.

The report clearly captured the district's premise that a more effective teacher workforce would result in improved learning conditions and achievement for all students. The key phrase here is ALL. However, it was noted that teachers with the highest performance are not equitably distributed across the city and students' in the poorest wards have the least access to these high performing teachers.

More than 80% of teachers who were rated as effective or higher in 2013-14 chose to remain in the school system the following school year. Teachers with minimally effective ratings were more likely to leave the school system or be dismissed. There was no mention of the developing category of teachers which was added as rating category in 2012, despite the DC Municipal Regulations which states that you can only have four( 4) categories of performance ratings.

The committee found that indicators for proficiency in student achievement still remains low. Gains are larger in reading than math. Not surprising, that black and Hispanic students, students with disabilities, English language learners and those eligible for free and reduced lunch are more likely to be the lowest performing students. Although it was noted that there was some improvement since 2009, more than half of students in these above groups still score below proficient.

After all the mumbo jumbo, excuse me if I get to the bottom line here. According to this report, DC Public Schools student gains still remain unacceptably low and students of color and English language learners and students with disabilities still half of them remain less than proficient. And students in the poorest wards still have the least access to a high performing educator. Wow!

 No wonder it took eight years for our government to release this report. Wouldn't it have made sense to conduct an independent evaluation annually rather than wait every five or eight years in this case ?

This time we can't blame it on the teachers or principals, assistant principals or school personnel because many of them have been fired over the years. Remember Rhee's plan to dismantle the education workforce?

So you tell me whose to blame for little gains in student achievement when 80% of our teachers are effective or higher and the other half were fired? Hmmm- Thank God for independent evaluations! Too bad, it's too little too late.

© Candi Peterson 2015

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