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Chancellor's Testimony on Evaluation of Public Schools in DC

Monday, June 22, 2015

Chancellor's Testimony on Evaluation of Public Schools in DC

Chancellor's Testimony on Evaluation of Public Schools in DC



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Public Roundtable on Summative Evaluation of Public Schools in the District of Columbia

Testimony of Kaya Henderson Chancellor, DC Public Schools

Before the Committee on Education Council of the District of Columbia

June 22, 2015
Room 500
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004

Good afternoon, Chairman Grosso, members and staff of the Committee on Education. I am pleased to be here today, because this hearing gives me the opportunity to reflect on the work we have done over the past eight years since the Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA) was passed, and to share my thoughts about the work we have yet to do going forward. Because we have many speakers today, I will keep my remarks brief, but I do want to raise a few issues related to the report conducted by the National Academies of Science. 

Before that, however, it is useful to reflect, not on the report itself, but on how the city and our schools have changed in the eight years since PERAA passed. Prior to PERAA, I was working with DCPS through The New Teacher Project. We were working closely with the Human Resource office and I spent a great deal of time with that team and with district leadership. 

The changes that I have seen since that time are stark. Prior to 2007, school opening was an annual mess. Schools often opened with vacant teaching positions. There was an annual story in the Washington Post about teachers not getting paid on time. Buildings were often not ready for students. An outside group, DC Voice, took it upon themselves to track whether schools opened successfully or not because DCPS could not reliably do that job. Today, we open schools fully staffed, teachers are paid on time, buildings are cleaned and ready before schools start and we are doing an unprecedented amount of improvement on our buildings. A few years ago, DC Voice gave up on their school readiness report because it stopped being useful when schools were always ready. 

Prior to 2007, there was no meaningful evaluation system for any employees. Today, all DCPS employees are evaluated annually. Prior to 2007, there was no universally implemented curriculum. Today we not only have one of the strongest Common Core- aligned curricula in the country, but we have received multi-million dollar contributions to build on this work. Prior to 2007, DCPS changed leadership every few years – in some cases almost annually. 

A lot has changed since 2007, but I want to be emphatic in stating that this does not mean that our work is done or that I am satisfied with our results. I believe that we have put in place many of the conditions necessary for success, but that we have a long way to go to reach out goals. I want to address two areas that the PERAA study notes specifically. 

First, I want to discuss the achievement gap. Improving outcomes for our struggling learners has long been a primary goal of mine. This is the impetus behind our goal targeting our lowest performing schools. It is also the driving force behind our Empowering Males of Color work, our 9th grade academies, and our focus on literacy. Similarly, the Response to Intervention approach that we will take with our twenty lowest-performing elementary schools for the upcoming school year will ensure that struggling learners receive the targeted support they need. 

You can report the data any number of ways and the story that emerges is quite clear. First, we have seen unprecedented improvement in every student group. Second, the achievement gap is too large. I am thrilled by the improvement and dismayed by the disparity. This is what drives my work every day.

It is no secret what we need to do to improve outcomes in our lowest performing schools. As with all of our schools, we need great teachers, rigorous content, and engaged parents and motivated students. Because the PERAA report speaks specifically about teachers, I will address that element. 

Our workforce, across the district, is the best it has ever been. We have more highly qualified teachers than ever before and more of those teachers are teaching in our lowest performing schools. We have removed the ineffective staff from our system, developed recruitment pipelines to ensure we have great principals, and have rewarded the best staff, particularly those who work in our struggling schools. In fact, we worked closely with OSSE on a plan to improve the quality of instruction city-wide. 

The largest evaluation of IMPACT, in fact, showed that IMPACT is doing exactly what it was intended to do, improve the quality of our workforce. According to the UVA/Stanford study, IMPACT has helped retain our highest performing teachers, improve teachers who were not initially successful, and exit teachers who were not serving our students well. This is a tremendous accomplishment. 

I am often asked why I don’t just send the best teachers to the struggling schools. There are years of research that show that this just doesn’t work. Teachers are not widgets who can be moved from place to place regardless of their interests. Even financial inducements have a limited effect on moving the best teachers to struggling schools. This doesn’t mean I am satisfied with the distribution of our workforce. It just means that I’m not going to engage in a plan that is proven not to work. 

Instead of shuffling our teachers from school to school, we are working to improve the quality of instruction at all of our schools. The Cornerstone assignments that our teachers will be implementing this coming school year will serve as model lessons, opportunities for professional development, and chances for teachers to share student work across the city. It is tempting to just come up with a quick solution like moving teachers around. Fortunately, a stable governing structure for our schools allows us to implement longer-term, effective strategies to develop our teaching workforce. 

Finally, I want to take a minute to look at the PERAA with a broad view. In short, the study was intended to determine if the PERAA led to improvements in education in DC. The National Academy considered a few topics in researching this question, but by necessity, they were not able to consider all the improvements that PERAA brought. For example, while there is much to be done to improve inter-agency coordination, I can say unequivocally that DCPS’ relationship with the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, DGS (and previously OPEFM), Transportation, and many other offices is more efficient than before the PERAA. Similarly, streamlining the governance structure has removed many of varied and sometimes contradictory political influences that often plagued our schools previously. Finally, the stability that the PERAA has helped establish has contributed to the long-term success of our district. 

Like all of you, I am concerned with the rate of improvement in our schools. There is much left to do. However, I also believe that the PERAA has established conditions that will help create an education landscape for DC that is equitable, prosperous, and strong.