June 29, 2010

A Solid Foundation Built, A Pledge to Finish the Job 

Fenty Administration Marks Three Years of Progress in DC Schools and Commits to Greater Improvement Fueled by Unified Vision of Reform

Contact: Jennifer Calloway, DCPS | 202-535-1096 | Contact Email

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WASHINGTON, DC –Three years after the Fenty Administration declared an unwavering commitment to ensuring that every child has access to a great education, the signs of progress in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) are undeniable. The building blocks for success evident throughout the school system are a direct reflection of this Administration’s priorities. Students are achieving, teachers are finally being treated as true professionals, special education has made incredible strides, and for the first time in decades, parents are demonstrating increased confidence.

“There is a citywide consensus behind the commitment to do everything humanly possible to give our kids the best, and this is just the beginning,” said Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. “We saw it with the groundbreaking teachers’ contract and we see it every day at schools like Payne ES where students are growing academically and parents are united behind the results and the approach.”

“By every measure –positive enrollment trends, increased graduation rates, the ability to recruit and retain the best teachers, safer, cleaner school buildings and improved special education -- it is crystal clear that teachers, administrators, parents and the students themselves have made significant progress in a short amount of time,” said DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee. “Though our work is far from done, all education stakeholders are now firmly united in a commitment to provide DCPS children a first-class education. Approval of the teachers’ contract presents a kind of new beginning and allows us to move forward together on behalf of the District’s children.”

DCPS has turned the tide on enrollment loss. After decades of steep decline, enrollment has stabilized. With their actions, DC parents are demonstrating increased confidence in the school system. With academic upgrades inside the classroom –ranging from Catalyst Schools to dual-language and Reggio Emilia, combined with modernized facilities –the school system has much more to offer in 2010 than it did three years ago.

This year every eligible DC public school attracted applicants for the annual K-12 Out-of-Boundary, preschool and pre-Kindergarten (pre-K) lotteries. The overall number of applicants increased by 50 percent from 2009, with a record high of 5,219 families expressing interest in DCPS programs located in all eight wards. Fourteen schools had waitlists for the first time.


Image - Total Applications Received

One of DCPS’ core beliefs is that every student can achieve at the highest levels, regardless of backgrounds or circumstances. To that end, according to the U.S. Department of Education, from 2007 to 2009 DCPS students were the only group among their urban peers to make significant gains in reading and math at both the fourth- and eighth-grade levels. Measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), this unprecedented growth is a clear indication of academic progress.

Image - Rank of scale score gains for fourth graders within all TUDA districts

Other encouraging trends include: the steady incline of the graduation rate, double-digit growth spanning two years on the DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS), and more than a 20 percent increase in the number of high school students passing Advanced Placement Examinations.

Image - Graduation Rates 2005-06 to 2008-09

Another key Fenty Administration priority has been to increase access to high quality early childhood experiences. Comprehensive and rigorous early education creates an invaluable academic foundation for 3- and 4-year-olds, ensuring that they are kindergarten ready.

Since 2007, DCPS has added more than 700 preschool, pre-K and Head Start seats across all eight wards. For 2010-2011, this will mean 25 new classrooms in 18 schools, representing an increase of 225 preschool seats and 200 pre-K seats over 2009-2010.

Next school year, all Head Start and non-Head Start designated classrooms will merge. This new structure will enable DCPS to better serve students most in need; all preschool and pre-K classes at Title I schools will now receive the extra supports that federal Head Start funding provides. This means 127 additional classrooms in 16 schools will have wrap-around services, and for the first time all children who qualify for Head Start -- an estimated 1,500 more children than are currently being served -- will now benefit from mental health, family support, health and other services for students with special needs.

Today, The Council of the District of Columbia voted to approve the collective bargaining agreement that has solidified a citywide united front behind the DCPS school reform effort.
DCPS can reward teachers for a job well done, better support teachers who need assistance, and easily separate teachers who are not effective in the classroom despite these added supports. Some highlights include:

  • Individual pay for individual performance. DCPS has ended “lock-step” pay. The school system can now recognize and reward the most highly effective teachers for boosting student achievement. To enable DCPS to offer these unprecedented rewards, $64.5 million in private funded was secured from four foundations: Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation, the Robertson Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.
  • Mutual Consent. Principals now have the authority to staff their schools like never before. Schools work best when the principal can choose his or her staff, and a teacher has chosen to work at a particular school. Moreover, if there are teachers who cannot find a “mutual consent placement,” they are moved out of the system.
  • Quality, not seniority, will drive staffing decisions. This contract makes clear that performance should drive everything, from staffing to excessing policies to rewards and budget reductions. With principals held accountable for school performance, this authority is one of the most important steps DCPS can take to increase achievement. The school system will continue to consult with the union, as is the current practice, but the final decisions on staffing belong to the school and system leaders.
  • The end of tenure as a “job for life.” If teacher are rated as “ineffective,” they are immediately separated from the system. If they are rated “minimally effective,” they have a step hold on their pay and after two years are removed from the system. Further, teachers cannot grieve their ratings; they can only grieve procedural errors.
  • More ways to collaborate with the WTU. The new contract provides many opportunities for the WTU and DCPS to collaborate: to improve low-performing schools, provide meaningful professional development for teachers and other educators, and improve school discipline as well as safety policies and procedures.

Coupled with the recently ratified Washington Teachers’ Union contract, IMPACT has positioned DCPS—for the first-time in recent history—to provide teachers with an unprecedented level of recognition, supports and compensation, while enabling the school system to set high standards and institute better accountability. Through IMPACT, DCPS seeks to create an environment in which all school-based personnel have a clear understanding of what defines excellence in their work are provided with constructive and data-based feedback about their performance, and receive support to increase their effectiveness.

IMPACT is the culmination of research on evaluation best practices, and it is informed by extensive guidance from more than 500 teachers and other school-based staff. Principals and master educators, who are subject and grade-level experts, observe and assess teacher practice, and offer targeted and relevant feedback. IMPACT also acknowledges the correlation between teacher performance and student achievement. Where appropriate, it measures Value-Added, the academic growth students achieve in the time spent with a teacher.

Teachers are the backbone of this reform effort and their success is critical to sustainable and lasting progress. In response to the teaching corps’ desire for clear expectations, this past school year DCPS also rolled out a Teaching and Learning Framework. The framework, developed through direct input from hundreds of teachers, plainly outlines what the school system believes solid instruction looks like, along with the supports and professional development needed to achieve that vision.

The DCPS Office of Special Education (OSE) has made strong progress over the past year in five key areas: dispute resolution, early identification of disabilities for ages 3-5, provision of related services, implementation of Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and Medicaid recoupment.

DCPS has taken an aggressive approach to resolve disputes related to special education services by engaging parents earlier. The backlog of children awaiting relief under the Blackman/Jones consent decree is at an all-time low, and DCPS has increased the rate of timely implementation from less than 60 percent to nearly 90 percent in the last year.

Our progress on resolving the Blackman/Jones consent decree in the last year is a continuation of our dramatic three-year progress. In summer of 2007, 979 court-ordered hearing officer determinations (HODs) were unimplemented; many of them had been backlogged for an entire school year, some dating back to 2003. We immediately prioritized implementing these backlogged cases. Each case reflected an unmet need to a child. The investment in resolving Blackman/Jones has thus far yielded the following results:

  • Only 6 untimely backlog cases as of Feb. 28, 2010, compared with over 600 untimely backlog cases in June 2007;
  • 90 percent of cases have been implemented timely this school year, compared with a 19.5 percent timeliness rate in June 2007;
  • More than 300 cases resolved prior to a due-process hearing this school year, creating more expedient solutions for children and families;
  • DCPS currently has fewer due-process complaints than at any time during the last three years. In February 2008, 236 complaints were filed. In February 2009, 160 complaints were filed, while in February 2010 only 108 complaints were filed;
  • DCPS now proactively engages in providing relief to students before a court official has to do so. A reduction in the overall number of due-process complaints filed –only five of those 108 cases above—resulted in a hearing officer decision. DCPS used settlement agreements to negotiate directly with parents in at least 54 of the other cases and in 50 percent of the cases, parents and DCPS came to mutually agreeable decisions outside of the court system.

In January, DCPS opened a new, modern Early Stages Center, a free, comprehensive diagnostic testing facility that evaluates children ages 3 to 5 for developmental delays and identifies the services that will help them succeed as they enter school. Early Stages already has increased the number of young children screened and evaluated by almost 90 percent (from 2 percentage points to 3.8 percentage points), which will dramatically increase the likelihood that these children start kindergarten with skills and abilities on par with their nondisabled peers.

OSE has dramatically improved its ability to manage and deliver related services necessary to help students succeed in school. OSE completed 93 percent of all necessary student evaluations to date for this year, including a backlog of more than 600 assessments. In all, more than 3900 assessments were completed; meaning thousands of students will receive more appropriate services and supports because these assessments were used in developing their IEPs. Also, OSE evaluated 100 percent of related service providers through the DCPS IMPACT system, improving OSE’s ability to target professional development and training.

Recent improvements in the DCPS Medicaid unit resulted in more Medicaid dollars being allocated to provide services to students with disabilities and reductions to unreimbursed Medicaid claims. For the fiscal year 2007 audit of Medicaid claims, DCPS was able to reduce the number of services that cannot be reimbursed due to poor tracking or paperwork (“disallowances”) by more than 80 percent (from $13M to approximately $2.2M), bringing overall disallowances to their lowest level in at least five years. Fewer dollars in disallowances results in more dollars for special education programs which directly benefit students.

OSE has increased the timely development of IEPs to 93 percent. A new central office team has been developed to help ensure that DCPS students receive educational services alongside their nondisabled peers as often as possible. DCPS also has increased our infrastructure for a world-class set of services and supports for all DCPS students with autism spectrum disorders, including the build-out of a best-in-class life-skills apartment at Cardozo High School, where students can learn the life skills necessary to live more independently after high school.

To demonstrate DCPS’ commitment to expand the options and opportunities for students with the greatest needs in the district, DCPS will launch a feasibility study to consider a range of options to expand our capacity to serve students in need of full-time special education services.

In tandem with the feasibility study, DCPS plans to solicit feedback from parents of students in need of full-time special education services and other stakeholders. Public meetings will be held to engage stakeholders in the planning process and discuss preliminary options. These options may include building new, high-caliber schools for students with full-time special education needs through public/private partnerships that will rival any similar facilities in the area.

The Fenty Administration pledges to move forward with urgency on behalf of kids. The dramatic progress all stakeholders have made together is encouraging and the foundation to sustain the trajectory is set for the parents, teachers, school staff and leadership who have built it.


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