The D.C. Public School Schools have shown “real and substantial” improvements during the past five years, but D.C. has “a long way to go” to be on par with surrounding school districts. That’s according to a new report released today by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
During a press conference today, Ronald Flagg, a Sidley Austin partner who sits on the committee’s board, said the schools have made considerable gains since the committee last assessed the district in 2005, but much of the progress is “fragile.”
“Without vigilance and a continued commitment to providing resources, there is a risk of backsliding,” said Flagg, who is also the current president of the D.C. Bar.
The report released today is the second time the committee has made a comprehensive study of the public school system in Washington. In 2005, the committee released a report on the district’s school system to mark the 50th anniversary of the passage of Brown v. Board of Education and Bolling v. Sharpe, two landmark Supreme Court decisions effecting racial integration in the United States and D.C. respectively.
In 2005, the committee found that when compared to surrounding districts in Maryland and Virginia, D.C. underperformed in “almost every imaginable way,” the report says.
According to the report, teacher and principal salaries were far lower than in surrounding school districts. Funding for school facilities, course offerings, school nurses and special education also lagged behind nearby districts.
Since that time, the D.C. Council has passed legislation that increased funding for school programs and facilities and consolidated authority of the public school system under the mayor and his or her appointed chancellor.
As a result of that legislation and efforts by Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor Michelle Rhee, the report says, the D.C. school district has improved its standing in all of the categories studied by the committee’s report, including funding, school facilities, teacher and principal compensation, testing results, program and course offerings, special education, school health services, and athletics.
The report found that D.C. now spends more money per student than Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, though less than Arlington and Alexandria
Teacher compensation is much higher than in 2005, thanks to a new collective bargaining agreement between the Washington Teachers’ Union and the D.C. school district, the report says. Principals, however are still making less than in some surrounding districts, especially those with higher levels of experience.
Advanced placement courses are offered in more high schools, and the D.C. school system has announced a goal for all senior high schools to offer at least four AP courses by 2011, the report says. But at the elementary and middle school level, improvements to course offerings were less substantial.
There have also been significant improvements to special education in the District, the report says. “In June 2010, the District announced that the backlog of children awaiting the implementation of hearing officer’s agreements or settlement agreements arising from due process complaints was at an all-time low with a dramatic decrease since June 2007,” the report says.
The District is still making relatively slow progress on its test scores, the report says. Despite District-wide improvements to test scores, less than 50% of African-American students are demonstrating proficiency in math and reading, the report says.
A full copy of the report will be available on the committee’s Web site later today, said Roderic Boggs, who serves as its executive director. Lawyers from Ballard Spahr, Beveridge & Diamond, Covington & Burling, Dickstein Shapiro, Reed Smith, Sidley Austin, Steptoe & Johnson, and Sullivan & Cromwell worked together to author this year’s report.