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Moving Toward an Exemplary System:
A Report on the First Year's Efforts to Reform D.C.'s Public Schools
The District of Columbia Public Schools
November 1997




Dorothy Brizill
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Academic Achievement
Safety and Security
Graduation and Dropout Rates
Management and Leadership
Personnel Management
Facilities Management
Budget and Finance
Strategic Planning and Implementation
Information and Documentation

Children in Crisis, the full report of the DC Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority, was released one year ago, on November 15, 1996. This report detailed the major failures of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and highlighted the unacceptable conditions that children faced every day. The report clearly concluded that "DCPS had failed in its mission to educate the children of the District of Columbia. . . . In virtually every area, and for every grade level, the system was unable to provide our children with a quality education and safe environment in which to learn."

One Year Toward an Exemplary System: A Report on the First Year 's Efforts to Reform D. C. 's Public Schools, responds to the major issues raised in the Children in Crisis report and details actions taken by the Becton Administration to end the crisis.


In response to the findings of Children in Crisis, a nine-member District of Columbia Public Schools Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees (the "Board of Trustees") was established until June 30, 2000. The Board of Trustees were granted all the powers and responsibilities of the District of Columbia Board of Education under Title 31 of the District of Columbia Code and any other provision of District of Columbia and federal law, except those which remain to be exercised by the Board of Education.

Under this act, Julius W. Becton, Jr., as Chief Executive Of ficer, was granted the powers and responsibilities of the Superintendent of Schools and such other powers and responsibilities as the Board of Trustees, in its discretion, delegates to the CEO. The CEO was vested with the responsibility to carry out all functions of DCPS consistent with the overall objectives and goals established by the Board of Trustees. Additionally, the CEO was designated to serve as the State Educational Officer.

Recognizing that the reform administration have been given only three years to bring about significant reform, the members of the Authority and the Trustees made the following commitment:

  • We commit ourselves to continuous improvement, starting today.
  • We commit ourselves to ensure excellence, not just adequacy, in the District's schools.
  • We commit ourselves to direct the resources of the schools to the classroom.
  • We commit ourselves to giving children a better chance to succeed today and tomorrow than they had yesterday.

This report is intended to inform the public of the reform initiatives undertaken by the Becton administration during the past year to fulfill the commitments made one year ago today to the District's residents, taxpayers, parents, students, teachers, and administrators:.

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Academic Achievement

"Education Outcomes are Inequitable and Weak1"

Academic improvement is a gradual process that cannot be improved quickly and easily. DCPS is combating low achievement by adopting high standards, providing professional development to improve instruction and adopting tough accountability standards for both students and staff.

Schoolchildren's test scores, the indicators of improvement, are unacceptably low. The Becton Administration has taken steps to begin monitoring student performance and so use this information to develop strategies to improve academic achievement. The Stanford-9, a nationally recognized achievement test, will serve as DCPS testing instrument. The Stanford-9 was first administered to approximately 43,000 DCPS students in Spring, 1997. The Spring preliminary test scores are shown below:

Percent of Students at Each Performance Level in Reading

Grade Below Basic(1) Basic(2) Proficient(3) Advanced(4)
1 15 47 28 11
2 41 40 16 4
3 41 33 20 6
4 45 36 14 5
5 35 46 15 3
6 31 46 19 4
8 34 46 18 3
10 53 32 13 2
11 53 34 11 2

Percent of Students at Each Performance Level in Math

Grade Below Basic Bassic Proficient Advanced
3 37 39 19 5
6 55 30 12 3
8 72 19 7 2
10 89 8 2 1

(1) Below basic performance indicates or no mastery of fundamental knowledge and skills for this grade level.
(2) Basic performance denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for satisfactory work at this grade level.
(3) Proficient (performance represents solid academic performance indicating that students are prepared for this grade level.
(4) Advanced performance signifies superior performance beyond grade level mastery.

Results of the Spring 1997 tests indicate the following:

  • Sixth grade reading performance shows improvement but declines in grades 8 and 10.

  • Low math performance in each grade tested.

  • While the number of students scoring at basic level is near the national average, the number of students scoring below basic is higher and the number at proficient and advanced levels is lower.

ps971101.gif (11092 bytes)

In 1997-98, DCPS began a twice yearly administration of the Stanford-9 all grade levels. All students took the test in Fall, 1997 to provide a performance baseline for accountability purposes.

In addition to the performance comparisons allowed by the Stanford-9, the test measures specific components of student progress as they advance both in reading and mathematics. For examples, teachers will have a diagnostic tool to gauge progress regarding phonetic analysis, reading comprehension, and critical analysis. Student-by-student, class-by-class and school-by-school, DCPS will be able to analyze progress and develop strategies for instructional improvement. In the Spring of 1998, exams will show the degree of student growth in subject area achievement and will be reported for accountability purposes.

To ensure that DCPS allocates resources equitably across the system, the Of fice of the Chief Financial Of ficer is now developing budgets based on a school-based staffing model. Formulas and staffing models are also being used to identify school custodian and maintenance personnel. DCPS can also now identify how funds are being used through a new budget structure.

The District of Columbia population is becoming more diverse each day. Therefore, the Office of Multicultural Education Affairs was created to analyze, improve and coordinate much needed services to multicultural and multilingual communities. Additionally, the Becton Administration created a Diversity Task Force with community and DCPS representatives to coordinate the delivery of services to the diverse DCPS community. Based on recommendations from the Diversity Task Force, DCPS recently appointed 79 new bilingual teachers to provide expanded services to specific language minority students.

DCPS is also working to address variances in educational outcomes across the city. The Year-One Academic Plan calls for a review of the process and procedures for out-of-boundary placements. The recommendations from this review will provide options whereby DCPS can ensure school choice equality among parents.

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Safety and Security

  • "Violent behavior persists"
  • "Both students and teachers are subjected to levels of violence that are twice the national average."

We must ensure students attend safe schools. Ensuring the physical safety of all DCPS students is an objective we must achieve. Children cannot concentrate on learning when they feel they are in jeopardy on school property. Therefore, DCPS is committed to improving security and safety at DCPS and the Becton Administration is undertaking efforts to deter drugs, crime, and violence on school property.

As a first step, DCPS conducted a complete security survey to assess weaknesses in the existing system. This survey has allowed security staff to prioritize actions and address the most severe deficiencies first. As a result, DCPS has:

  • Identified technology as a critical component of security plan and installed new metal detectors and surveillance cameras throughout DCPS,
  • Provided one or more walk-through metal detectors to every junior high school, middle school and senior high school,
  • Recently received 120 additional hand-held scanners to provide additional capacity; and
  • Purchased 250 walkie-talkies to improve communication among security personnel.

Increased and improved staffing is another priority in security. In this area, DCPS has:

  • Increased security staff from 233 personnel in 1997 to 264 personnel in 1998,
  • Trained security guards to improve their skills,
  • Expanded collaboration with the Metropolitan Police Department, to increase the total resources available to combat violence in our schools, and
  • Trained DCPS staff to report security incidents, using the Automated Incident Reporting System to ensure prompt response.

DCPS has undertaken significant efforts to improve the effectiveness of its security systems in response to the needs of schools. In a customer satisfaction survey administered to principals by DCPS administration, principals indicated that they are increasingly satisfied with the quality of security services.

ps971102.gif (25298 bytes)

Source: DCPS Customer Survey

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Graduation and Dropout Rates

"Graduation Rates Remain Poor"

As with student achievement, improving graduation and dropout rates takes time. This year the graduation rate was reported as 90.0%, a small decline from the previous year. While that figure may seem acceptable, it is not. It measures only the percentage of seniors in high school in June who go on to graduate the following June or August. DCPS must improve the holding power of DC schools.

DCPS' dropout rate -- 8.14% in school year 95-96 (the last year for which statistics are available) -- is too high, to be sure, and DCPS committed to bringing that rate down. However, the sad reality is that urban school districts across the nation suffer from similarly high, or even higher, dropout rates. In fact, during almost the same time period, the dropout rate in Atlanta was 14%, in Baltimore City it was 14.23%, and in Newark it was 8.4%. We acknowledge that we must do more to stem the flow of students dropping out of our schools, and we intend to do so.

While the annual dropout rate of 8.14% compares favorably with some other urban jurisdictions, DCPS loses more than 40% of its students between entering into high school and their expected graduation date.

The first step toward identifying and rectifying this issue is to thoroughly analyze trends and target solutions to the identified problems. The new Of fice of Educational Accountability was established to perform this analysis and is working to clean the student information system so that all information is reported accurately.

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Management: and Leadership

  • A System of Mismanagement
  • "District's average cost per student clearly exceeds the national average, and it is also substantially higher than many comparable urban school districts and neighboring districts."

DCPS' average cost per student has dropped from a high of $7,816 in 1994. DCPS' current cost per student in FY98 of $7,271 per student, including both local and federal funds. In FY97, DCPS spent slightly less -- $7,230 per student. This expenditure level was below or on par with other jurisdictions around the region (see the chart below) . For FY97, approved spending in Montgomery County was $7,650 per student; in Alexandria City it was $8,999, and in Arlington County it was $9,305 per student (source: Metropolitan Area Boards of Education).

Per Public Spending

ps971103.gif (29067 bytes)

Source: Metropolitan Area Borad of Education, Produced by Fairfax Public Schools

ps971104.gif (2718 bytes)Not only does DCPS currently budget an amount per student comparable to neighboring districts, but it also has significantly reduced its expenditures. At the same time, DCPS has increased its funding from non-local sources federal government grants, foundations and the District government -- so that DCPS relies less on District appropriations.

Source: DCPS Chief Financial Officer

Note that using averages masks the significant differences among types of DCPS students. DCPS currently averages about $6,000 per student for general education students, but more than $19,000 per student for special education students.

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Personnel Management

  • "DCPS Lacks Controls Over Personnel"
  • "Personnel mismanagement results in a large numbers of teacher and educational staff employed by DCPS who have no direct interaction with students"

DCPS has taken steps to reduce the size of its central of fice administration. The graph below indicates the reduction in the percentage of central of fice employees from the Children in Crisis report to present.

ps971105.gif (2992 bytes)

Additionally, the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer has re-established a Position Management and Classification Division. Qualified Classification Specialists are to conduct a 100% audit of all positions and incumbents. Positions will be reviewed for pay accuracy. This effort was started in the latter part of September.

  • "Hundreds of personnel do not directly serve the students in schools."

During the Becton Administration, the balance of DCPS staffing has shifted away from central administration to the school house. In 1997, 84.2% of DCPS employees were school based, while 15.8% were in the central office. In 1998, 89.2% will be school based with only 10.8% in the central office.

ps971106.gif (3492 bytes)

Comparison to local school districts shows that DCPS is in line with, or better than, neighboring school districts in its balance between school and non-school based personnel. One indication of DCPS determination to redirect resources to school is that the Chief Academic Officer recently redeployed 75 administrators with teaching credentials back to schools.

Percentage School v. Non-School Based Staff

ps971107.gif (2595 bytes)

Source: Metropolitan Area Boards of Education, Produced by Fairfax Public Schools

  • "Because of poor data, it is impossible to determine the location and number of personnel on a timely basis."

The Human Resources Office is reviewing several automated software systems that will provide up-to-date, accurate personnel accounting along with other functional processes. These will provide data on numbers, types, locations, salaries, and other reliable data on which management decisions can be made.

  • "DCPS officials claim that they reduced the number of personnel over the past several years but information does not support this assertion."

DCPS has taken steps to reduce the number of staff end continues to downsize its organization. The following graph illustrates the reductions made over the past several years.

ps971108.gif (3405 bytes)

  • "DCPS does not have reliable data on the number of employees that work in the school system"

DCPS has conducted and completed an of ficial head count of employees. Additionally, a review and clean up of all official personnel files was started in early September and continues. This review will result in the filing of all required documents in folders, the return to employees of official documents, and new official jackets for all files. DCPS Human Resources will soon undertake an initiative to convert hard copies to CD-ROM for easy storage and quick access and convert inactive files to microfiche.

  • "DCPS' Certification Office and Personnel Office have poorly coordinated functions with respect to teacher certification."

A school-by-school review is currently being conducted to ensure all teachers have one of the four certification types. The Chief Executive Of ficer has established a deadline for teacher certification compliance of January 30, 1998. Teachers not in compliance will be terminated. All new teachers hired in 1997 have one of the four certifications.

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Facilities Management

  • "Buildings are in Disrepair and Underutilized and a Lack of an overall facilities plan results in ineffectively targeted facilities funding"

On February 28, 1997, DCPS submitted a Long Range Facilities Master Plan to Congress. This plan, which has been revised and updated as conditions have changed, was the basis for the major capital initiative the Summer of 1997. The Plan will serve as the basis for all future capital improvement initiatives and provides a vehicle for all interested parties to participate the formulation of subsequent DCPS long term plans.

  • "Fire code violations are abundant"

When the Becton Administration arrived in November, the new team inherited over 5,000 fire code violations. By May of 1997, this number had been reduced to 0. Monitoring and abating fire code violations is a high-priority, ongoing activity to ensure that DC school children can benefit from a safe and hazard free school environment.

  • "Aging buildings seriously hamper the District's learning environment"

The statement exposes a reality that DCPS continues to confront: the average age of a DCPS facility is 65 years (some are over 100 years old) and most of these buildings had not been properly maintained for many years.. Obviously, the initial focus of the administration was the stabilization the existing facilities inventory. The Long Range Facilities Plan lays out a three-phase process stabilization (to make existing buildings safe and free of hazards), functionality (to upgrade existing facilities) and modernization (to provide a state-of-the-art learning environment). At present DCPS has undertaken the following to address the crisis in facilities:

Repair Type Number of Repair/ Replacements Needed Number to be Repaired/ Replaced in 1998 Estimated Cost (in millions) Completion Date
Roofs 114 47 $19 August '98
Boilers 72 40 $26 December '98
Chillers 38 38 $20 March '99
Windows 112 schools 22 schools $18 August '98
  • "Capital funds have historically been poorly managed."

The chart below illustrates the poor planning and the sporadic expenditure of capital funds by DCPS' past administrations. The chart illustrates that DCPS will spend more money in 1997 and 1998 ($129.8 million) in capital improvements than it did in the previous 7 years combined ($129.7 million).

ps971109.gif (4039 bytes)

In order to address the problems caused by mismanagement in the past, as well as to prevent similar situations from arising in the future, the Becton Administration prepared the Capital Improvement Projects Budget with a detailed, school-by-school list of capital improvement dollars for the next three years.

A sound plan and reliable team have encouraged Congress, the DC Financial Authority and other funders to provide record amounts of resources to DCPS. DCPS will continue to seek additional funds to address our capital needs from all available sources.

  • "The District may have too many schools."

The Becton Administration recognizes that there is a direct link between DCPS' problems of dilapidated facilities and its problem of excess capacity. By closing the most dilapidated properties, DCPS could effectively concentrate capital and operating dollars on a smaller number of schools.

However, closing schools is a sensitive matter involving many variables. During the development of the Long Range Facilities Master Plan, DCPS conducted an evaluation of the instructional space on hand, the current number of students using space and other criteria. Based on this assessment and data on file, 18 schools were identified for potential closure. After careful consideration of all factors surrounding the closing of schools, the Emergency Educational Board of Trustees voted to close 11 of those schools on April 28, 1997.

DCPS has acted to liquidate excess property, generating funds that can be re-invested in capital improvements to aging facilities. To date, DCPS has gathered or will gather the following amounts:

  • Sales Closed
  • Sales Pending Sellout
  • Sales Approved Pending Control Board Approval
  • Sales Approved Pending Legal Review and Control Board Approval
  • Sales Awaiting Processing

These are the first successful dispositions of excess DCPS buildings in many years and the firs; action on an inventory of more than 60 excess properties, many of which have stood empty and become eyesores in their communities.

  • "DCPS has never developed a strategic facilities plan that prioritizes the use of its limited resources. Such a plan must consider educational needs, demographic characteristics, real estate factors, and building needs."

The Long Range Facilities Master Plan was issued with 5 volumes of backup documentation data" including demographic data, a Real Estate Disposition Strategy and both internal and external assessments of building needs.

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Budget and Finance

  • "Systems are Flawed and Error-Prone"
  • "Poor overall budget and financial processes make it difficult to develop adequate budgets and effectively monitor expenditures"

The CFO has taken numerous steps to improve financial management. A complete new management structure has been developed, all key managers in the finance and budget offices were replaced and higher skill managers have been installed. Key budget and financial processes have been reformed.

In the budget area, DCPS' previous budget structures did not match the organizational structures; budgets could not be provided to program mangers, and program managers could not be held accountable.

  • The Office of the Chief Financial Officer has restructured the budget for FY1998. The goal of this restructuring is to create a budget structure that mirrors the organizational structure, provide monthly budget to expenditure reports to program managers and establish financial accountability at the program manger level. Responsibility Center (RC) Managers have been identified and will be held accountable for setting priorities in their areas.

  • Another key improvement in the DCPS budgeting process is the establishment of a school staffing model to ensure that appropriate levels of staff are allocated to all schools within the system. This model was used to develop the FY98 budget and is being further refined to aid in developing a school-by-school budget. This will be a key ingredient in the FY99 budget.

Other financial functions have been reformed. Greater flexibility has been given to principals to purchase and pay for critical items needed at the school level. Principals now have direct control of up to 85% of their school's non-personnel funds through increased authority over school-based Direct Activity Purchasing System (DAPS) accounts. All schools have been provided with Quickenx software to manage these accounts and are required to submit monthly reports and bank reconciliations. Not only does the increased use of DAPS accounts give principals the ability to obtain supplies and other critical school items quickly, but it reduces the number of small purchases processed through the regular procurement and accounts payable processes. (District CFO officials have estimated that the cost to produce a check in the District's antiquated FMS system is $250 per transaction). Thus the greater use of DAPS reduces District and DCPS costs.

In the accounts payable area, a new manager and staff have restructured the accounts payable process and are moving to timely payment of vouchers while ensuring greater financial integrity.

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  • "Questionable and Costly Practices"

Several actions have been taken to address the identified weaknesses in the procurement operation. Several procurement officials have been removed, new procedures have been established, and greater efforts to improve planning have been made. In particular, DCPS coordinated procurements of textbooks in April to ensure all students had textbooks for school opening this fall. Although some problems were incurred because of summer school building closings and vendors who refused to fill orders because they had not been paid by previous administrations, 97% of all textbooks ordered were received by school opening. Additional steps will be taken in the future to further improve procurement operations.

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Strategic Planning and Implementation

  • "In the educational area there may be overall plans; however, no one is held accountable for their implementation."

  • "Few strategic plans exist in the management area"

Arlene Ackerman, DCPS new Chief Academic Of ficer and Deputy Superintendent has clearly articulated her vision and mission to all employees of the District of Columbia Public Schools:

Vision: To make Washington, DC school system exemplary by the year 2000

Mission: To make dramatic improvement in the achievement of all students today in preparation for their world tomorrow.

To achieve this vision and mission, the Chief Academic Officer has prepared an Academic Plan. This plan defines the key goals of DCPS as follows:

  • Improve Student Achievement

  • Ensure Quality School Staff

  • Increase Accountability Throughout the School System

  • Promote School Restructuring, Decentralization and School Choice

Three themes have been laid out by the Chief Academic Officer supporting the effort to achieve these goals: Standards, Accountability and Professional Development. Unique components related to each goal can be found in the Year One Academic Plan. In addition to the Year One Academic Plan serving as the guiding plan for DCPS, strategic plans have been developed by the Chief Operating Of ficer, Chief Financial Of ficer and Chief Human Resources Officer to layout specific departmental goals and objectives consistent with the plan.

In order to ensure that goals are met and that all departments perform to high standards, DCPS has developed performance measures which will establish direct, quantifiable indicators to ensure accountability, help better define organizational outcomes and serve as the basis for continuous improvement. The primary objective of this initiative is to provide the senior management, DCPS personnel and the Board of Trustees with a critical management tool for monitoring and improving organizational performance.

Additionally, quarterly surveys are distributed to principals to rate the performance of central office the following major areas:

  • Academic support services

  • Special Education services

  • Central administration and finance

  • Warehouse, facilities management and clerical services

  • Human Resources

  • Operations and Facilities

  • Management Information Systems and Purchasing

The survey results are shared with top management to ensure that support is effectively focused on the schoolhouse.

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Information and Documentation

  • "One of the most serious data problems is the lack of credible information on the number of students. DCPS does not have an accurate count of its students. Estimates vary between 72,000 and 81,000."

The official count will reflect enrollment on October 30, 1997, which DCPS expects will be below last year's count of 78,648. DCPS staff are currently auditing the information provided by schools and shown in the automated database. The result will be a number "cleaned" of duplicates and inactive students and show the number of students for which no residency verification form was obtained. In addition, DCPS has prepared a proposed rule that will require proof of residency as a condition for admission and permit exclusion of currently enrolled students for failure to provide requested enrollment information.

The new procedures used by DCPS will produce an accurate count that can be audited. The new procedures feature:

  • Use of automated database for official count

  • Weekly counts during October to update and clean automated database

  • Principal and teachers sign homeroom lists and principals sign schoolwide count

  • Inclusion of new field in database to record school's receipt of residency verification form

  • Automated and manual checks on accuracy of school reports to eliminate duplicates and students not actively enrolled

1. Children in Crisis: A Report on the Failure of D.C.'s Public Schools, November 1996

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