Many of the reforms instituted under former DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and continued under Chancellor Kaya Henderson have done more harm than good for the school system, according to a new report.
Under Rhee's leadership, achievement gaps grew, test scores showed little improvement, school closings accomplished little and new teacher evaluations led to high staff turnover, according to the report by Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, a campaign started five years ago by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.
DCPS declined to comment. A representative of StudentsFirst, Rhee's new advocacy group, did not return requests for comment.
Though the report looks at public schools in Chicago, New York and the District, the data from the District are "unabashedly the worst," said campaign National Coordinator Elaine Weiss, who wrote the report.
While Chicago and New York had worsening standardized test scores or widening race and income gaps under their respective leaders at the time, only the District saw both stagnant or declining test scores and widening gaps.
Reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test known as the "nation's report card," rose for white, Hispanic and black fourth graders in the four years before Rhee came to Washington, but have since stagnated or declined, the report says. In the eighth grade, reading scores dropped across all three groups both before and during Rhee's tenure, and the achievement gap between white and Hispanic students widened.
Though math scores increased among fourth and eighth graders between 2007 and 2011, achievement gaps between low-income and middle- and high-income students and between white and black students widened.
Closing schools didn't help. When Rhee closed 23 underenrolled schools in 2008, students moved from low-performing schools to lower-performing schools, the report argues.
"When they closed the schools in 2008, they did give the receiving schools extra resources, and the idea was that they would make it more attractive to those kids that were coming from the closed schools," said Mary Levy, a school budget expert whose data Weiss used. "It didn't work out that way."
Instead, the school closings cost more money than anticipated -- $39.5 million, rather than $9.7 million -- and prompted more students to leave DCPS for charters, the report says.
The school closings combined with Rhee's flagship reform, teacher evaluations that rely on students' performance on standardized tests, created large staff turnover, the report argues.
The portion of teachers leaving DCPS after two years increased from 27.8 percent to 33.2 percent, and the share leaving after three years increased from 37.5 percent to 42.7 percent. More than half of the teachers hired under Rhee left within two years, and 80 percent left before the end of their sixth year. As a result, Weiss argued, DCPS is left with fewer experienced teachers to work with the low-income students who need the most help.
Rather than continue Rhee's reforms, the District should address health and other problems that lead to truancy, and it should make sure the teachers in Anacostia are as good as those in Chevy Chase, Weiss said. "Then it has to fundamentally rethink what are the gaps and how do we fill those in."