Public Hearing Testimony: “Summative Evaluation of Public Schools in the District of Columbia…”

On June 22nd, Kevin Clinton, Chief Operating Officer, delivered the following testimony:

Chairman Grosso and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. My name is Kevin Clinton and I am the Chief Operating Officer for the Federal City Council. Established in 1954, the Federal City Council is a non-profit, non-partisan organization comprised of the area’s top business, professional, education and civic leaders dedicated to the improvement of the District of Columbia.  Our trustees serve as trusted partners for civic improvement by working closely with local and federal stakeholders to address the city’s most pressing challenges.

Over the past two decades, one of our foremost priorities has been the improvement of education outcomes for DC students. As strong proponents of PERAA and mayoral accountability for school performance, we are pleased to comment on the summative evaluation of public schools in the District of Columbia by the National Academy of Sciences.

Gains post-PERAA across the city are real — and are greater than in other cities

  • D.C. has achieved dramatic gains on DC CAS since the passage of PERAA — since school year 2006-7, the city (both DCPS and public charter schools) has increased its composite proficiency score by 19 points.  DCPS in particular has gained 24 points in math and 13 points in reading on the DC-CAS.
    • Gentrification is not responsible:  According to a November 2014 AIR report, “the estimates indicate that less than 10 percent of the year-to-year improvements in test scores [since 2007] can be attributed to the changing student composition in the District”
  • NAEP scores are going in the same direction
    • Between 2011 and 2013 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the city had the highest average scale score growth nationally of any major city in 4th grade and 8th grade, math and reading.
    • Since 2007, DCPS has doubled other large cities’ pace of improvement in fourth grade reading and tripled it in fourth grade math as measured by NAEP.
  • However, large achievement gaps remain when you disaggregate D.C.’s NAEP data by race and income.  This stems partly from the fact that D.C. has the highest performing white students of any city taking NAEP.  But it also stems from the fact that the pace of improvement for the vast majority of our public school students, those who qualify for free or reduced priced meals, has been gradual rather than dramatic.
    • For example, in 4th grade Math, in 2003 only 3% of low-income students achieved proficiency. But by 2013 17% achieved proficiency.  Major progress, but inadequate when one considers that in 2013, 91% of D.C.’s white (almost exclusively non-poor) students achieved proficiency in 4th grade Math.
    • There is good news in reducing racial achievement gaps in DC. Non-poor African-American students have been achieving dramatic gains since 2007.  In 2003, just 11% achieved proficiency in 4th grade math.  Comparing the four year period from 2007 to 2011 with the four year period from 2003 to 2007, the pace of improvement for these students increased by more than 5-fold.  And in 2013 44% of non-poor African-American students achieved proficiency.

In addition, DCPS has reversed a long-term enrollment decline, suggesting that parents may be voting with their feet because they are seeing improvements in quality.

That said, we still have much work to do:

  • Proficiency rates far too low, and PARCC results will show that even fewer kids on track for college and career readiness
  • Graduation rates have barely budged
  • Rate of improvement has slowed

Policy changes inaugurated by PERAA and those made subsequently are likely responsible for these improvements

Teacher quality in DCPS:

  • Teacher quality is the single most important in-school factor for student achievement
  • IMPACT is retaining strongest teachers and encouraging less effective teachers to leave:  Following the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years, DCPS retained 92 percent of its best teachers (those who earned Highly Effective ratings) on average. During the same period however, only 59 percent of Minimally Effective teachers were retained on average.
  • Moreover, incentives do matter for teachers, as Dee and Wyckoff show — teachers on the cusp do generally work to get better
    • IMPACT was a radical innovation when it was implemented. It required full weight of mayor’s office behind it to get it in place

Closing underperforming schools in charter sector:

  • As NAS report notes, PERAA explicitly gave PCSB right to close charter schools for poor academic performance
  • Since PERAA, PCSB used this authority extensively, closing 36 schools since 2007
    • That lower performing schools regularly culled helps explain part of why proficiency rates in charters are higher than those of DCPS.
  • Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes produced a 2013 study showing that students are learning more in DC charters.  Specifically, the 2013 study showed that nationally, as compared to their “virtual twins” in traditional district schools, charter school students learned an equivalent of 8 extra days in reading and 0 extra days in Math.  But in D.C., charter school students learned an equivalent of 72 extra days in reading, and 101 days in Math.
    • Strangely, this study not cited by NAS

Going forward:

  • We agree with NAS’s recommendation to focus on quality control on areas of IMPACT not using value-added analysis. This could help stop what appears to be grade inflation in IMPACT
  • In addition, DCPS needs to pay close attention to distribution of effective and highly effective teachers.  Incentives to work in low-income schools do not appear high enough.

The path ahead:

  • The disarray in data collection and analysis described by NAS must not stand (though it bears noting that OSSE is making progress in this area of late).
  • DCPCSB and individual charters should work cooperatively to provide such data.
  • The city may need equivalent of the Consortium for Chicago School Research — an independent research organization dedicated to analyzing important issues in the DC educational landscape and suggesting policy and practice solutions where necessary.

Roles of city agencies involved in education should be clarified.

  • In particular, efforts to improve OSSE performance should be redoubled.
  • DME should coordinate citywide policy initiatives, engaging city council where necessary

However, the city should not centralize monitoring and oversight, as NAS seems to suggest.

  • The re-creation of some sort of super bureaucracy would sap DC of the energy it needs to continue to improve

Instead, city leaders need to work on creating win-wins for both sectors and kids.

  • Model = MySchoolDC. A common lottery system for most schools that ensured enrollment for charters and helped parents navigate system.