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Testimony: 

Before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the 
Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, Committee on Homeland 
Security and Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

GAO: 

For Release on Delivery Expected at 10:00 a.m. EST: 

Friday, March 14, 2008: 

District Of Columbia Public Schools: 

While Early Reform Efforts Tackle Critical Management Issues, a 
District-Wide Strategic Education Plan Would Help Guide Long-Term 
Efforts: 

Statement of Cornelia M. Ashby, Director: 

Education, Workforce, and Income Security: 

GAO-08-549T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-08-549T, testimony before the Subcommittee on 
Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the 
District of Columbia, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental 
Affairs, U.S. Senate. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

In response to long-standing problems with student academic 
performance, the condition of school facilities, and the overall 
management of the D.C. public school system, the D.C. Council approved 
the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 (Reform Act). The 
Reform Act made major changes to the operations and governance of the 
D.C. public school system, giving the Mayor authority over public 
schools, including curricula, personnel, and school facilities. While 
other large urban districts have transferred governance of schools to 
their mayors, D.C. is unique because it functions as both local and 
state offices for many education responsibilities. 

GAOís testimony focuses on (1) the status of the Districtís efforts to 
reform its public school system, and (2) what the District has done to 
establish accountability for these efforts. To address these issues GAO 
reviewed documents, interviewed District education officials and 
interviewed principals from nine D.C. public schools. 

What GAO Found: 

The early efforts to improve D.C. public schools have focused largely 
on broad management reforms and other activities that lay the 
foundation for long-term improvements to the D.C. public school system. 
The broad management reforms included the transfer of many functions 
from D.C. public schools (DCPS) into the new office of the state 
superintendent, which could allow for more effective oversight of the 
Districtís education programs. Prior to the Reform Act, there was no 
clear separation of funding, reporting, and staffing between local and 
state functions. A new facilities office was also created to improve 
the conditions of DCPS school facilities. Moving state-level education 
and facilities functions out of DCPS is intended to give the head of 
DCPS, called the Chancellor, more time to focus on issues that directly 
affect student achievement. The management reforms also included 
specific human capital initiatives such as new DCPS central office 
personnel rules and new systems for evaluating central office and state-
level employee performance. In addition, both the State Superintendent 
and the Chancellor are working to improve their data systems to better 
track and monitor the performance of students, teachers, and schools. 
DCPS also completed its school consolidation plan that identified over 
20 schools for closure over the next several years. In addition, the 
school facilities office is working to address the backlog of repairs. 
The director of the facilities office told us that he found that school 
heating and plumbing systems were inoperable, roofs leaked, and floors 
needed replacing. In addition, he said many schools were in violation 
of District fire codes. To address the backlog and ongoing facilities 
needs, the new office undertook several repair programs this summer and 
early fall. 

The D.C. Mayor and education officials have introduced a performance-
based process designed to establish accountability for their school 
reform efforts. This process includes weekly meetings to track progress 
and accomplishments across education offices. In addition, the Mayorís 
office required agencies to develop annual performance plans. D.C. 
Department of Education officials told us they review the individual 
performance plans of District education offices, such as DCPS and the 
state superintendentís office, to ensure they are aligned. Officials 
told us they have not yet developed a documented districtwide education 
strategic plan. According to department officials, they do not intend 
to develop a written plan at this time, in part, because they are 
addressing immediate issues. They questioned the need for a written 
document as opposed to a formalized process that would help ensure that 
individual plans are coordinated. While developing a strategic plan 
takes time, it is useful for entities undergoing a major 
transformation, such as the D.C. public school system. A strategic plan 
helps organizations look across the goals of multiple offices and 
identify if they are aligned or working at cross-purposes. Without a 
plan that sets priorities, implementation goals, and timelines, it may 
be difficult to measure progress over time and determine if the 
District is truly achieving success. In addition, given that leadership 
changes, a strategic plan would provide a road map for future District 
leaders by explaining the steps taken, or not taken, and why. 

What GAO Recommends: 

To sustain D.C.ís efforts to transform its public school system, GAO 
recommends that the D.C. Department of Education develop a long-term 
districtwide education strategic plan. In response, the District 
supported the need for a strategy, but preferred a formal process 
rather than a written document to coordinate and sustain its efforts. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
[hyperlink, http://www.GAO-08-549T]. For more information, contact 
Cornelia Ashby at (202) 512-7215 or ashbyc@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to be here today to present information on the District of 
Columbia's (D.C. or District) progress in reforming its public school 
system. The system serves about 50,000 students and operates 144 
schools.[Footnote 1] In fiscal year 2007, its operating budget exceeded 
$1 billion and the federal government provided funds for about 13 
percent of that amount. Long-standing problems with student academic 
performance, the condition of school facilities, and the overall 
management of the D.C. school system have been well documented over the 
last several decades. In particular, the academic challenges facing the 
District are enormous. In 2007, D.C. public schools ranked last in math 
scores and second-to-last in reading scores for all tested urban public 
school systems on the National Assessment of Educational Progress 
(NAEP). Also called "The Nation's Report Card," the NAEP has been 
conducted regularly since 1969 and tracks student achievement 
throughout the United States over time. 

In response to these critical problems, the Council of the District of 
Columbia (D.C. Council) approved the Public Education Reform Amendment 
Act of 2007[Footnote 2] (Reform Act), which made major changes to the 
operations and governance of the D.C. school system. The act gave the 
Mayor authority over public schools, including curricula, operations, 
budget, personnel, and school facilities. While other large urban 
school districts have transferred governance of their troubled public 
schools to their mayors, D.C. is unique because it functions as both a 
local and state agency for many education responsibilities. 

In addition to granting the Mayor authority over the schools, the 
Reform Act also made the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) a cabinet-level 
agency under the Mayor's office and moved functions from building 
repairs to administration of federal education programs out of DCPS and 
into two separate, new offices. (In this statement, we frequently refer 
to DCPS and these two new offices as education offices.) Given the 
magnitude of the school system's challenges and the changes made by the 
Reform Act, you asked us to assess the progress to date of the reform 
efforts. My testimony today will focus on (1) the status of the 
District's efforts to reform its public school system and (2) what the 
District has done to establish accountability for these efforts. 

In summary, the early initiatives to improve the D.C. public school 
system have focused largely on broad management reforms and other 
activities that lay the foundation for long-term improvements. The 
broad management reforms included the transfer of many functions from 
DCPS to the new offices of the state superintendent and facilities. One 
purpose of the transfer was to give the head of DCPS, called the 
Chancellor, more time to focus on issues that directly affect student 
achievement. The management reforms also included specific human 
capital initiatives such as new DCPS central office personnel rules and 
new systems for evaluating central office employee performance to 
establish more efficient, functional offices. District education 
offices have also begun to lay a foundation for long-term improvements 
to schools by enhancing student and personnel data systems, developing 
a plan for school consolidation, setting academic priorities, and 
improving management of school facilities. The Mayor and education 
officials have also introduced a performance-based process designed to 
establish accountability for their school reform efforts. This process 
includes holding weekly meetings to track progress and accomplishments 
across education offices and requiring these offices to develop and 
follow annual performance plans. However, the Mayor's team has not yet 
developed a districtwide strategic education plan. Without such a plan, 
it may be difficult to coordinate the work of multiple offices and 
evaluate short-term and long-term progress. In order to assess the 
District's progress in improving its public school system and provide a 
road map for future District leadership and concerned community groups, 
we recommend the development of a districtwide education strategic 
plan. 

To assess the progress of the Mayor's reform efforts and actions taken 
to establish accountability for these efforts, we interviewed the 
Deputy Mayor for Education, who heads the D.C. Department of Education, 
the Chancellor of DCPS, the State Superintendent of Education, and the 
Director of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization 
(the facilities office). We also interviewed key staff in these 
offices. We analyzed planning documents that established the goals, 
time frames, and performance measures for individual offices, and 
relevant laws related to D.C. reform efforts. We interviewed officials 
with the D.C. Office of the Inspector General and officials at the U.S. 
Department of Education who monitor how the District administers its 
federal education grants. We also interviewed principals from nine D.C. 
public schools to discuss matters such as the status of repairs to 
their buildings.[Footnote 3] We analyzed recent evaluations of DCPS and 
interviewed staff who conducted these evaluations.[Footnote 4] We 
conducted our work from September 2007 to March 2008 in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards. 

Background: 

The problems in the D.C. public school system have persisted for years 
despite numerous efforts at reform. In 1989, a report by the D.C. 
Committee on Public Education noted declining achievement levels as 
students move through grades, the poor condition of the school system's 
physical facilities, and the lack of accountability among D.C. agencies 
for the schools.[Footnote 5] Recent reports have continued to cite 
these problems. In 2004, the Council of the Great City Schools reviewed 
the D.C. school system and cited the continued failure to improve 
students' academic performance.[Footnote 6] In 2006, an analysis of 
DCPS reform efforts by a consulting firm found no progress and 
recommended a change in governance to improve student achievement and 
systemwide accountability.[Footnote 7] 

In response to these problems, the D.C. Council (the legislative branch 
of the D.C. government) approved the 2007 Reform Act, which 
significantly altered the governance of the D.C. public 
schools.[Footnote 8] The Reform Act transferred the day-to-day 
management of the public schools from the Board of Education to the 
Mayor and placed DCPS under the Mayor's office as a cabinet-level 
agency. Prior to the Reform Act, the head of DCPS reported to the Board 
of Education. The Reform Act also moved the state functions into a new 
state superintendent's office, moved the facilities office out of DCPS, 
and created a D.C. Department of Education headed by the Deputy Mayor 
for Education. (See fig. 1.) 

Figure 1: D.C. Public Schools Governance Structure, prior to the 2007 
Reform Act and after the Reform Act: 

This figure is a flowchart showing D.C. public schools governance 
structure, prior to the 2007 Reform Act and after the Reform Act. 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis based on The Parthenon Group, December 2006 and 
D.C. government documents. 

[A] The State Education Agency had responsibility for administering 
federal grant money, and setting state academic standards, achievement 
goals, and graduation requirements. The Local Education Agency, 
typically referred to as the school district, had responsibility for 
the management and operations of D.C. public schools. 

[B] The State Education Office administered food nutrition programs and 
state scholarship grants. 

[C] The State Board of Education was the Board of Education prior to 
the Reform Act. 

[D] The Office of the City Administrator prepares the District's annual 
operating budget and provides direction to all District agencies, 
including DCPS. Prior to the Reform Act, the City Administrator did not 
have this role because the Mayor did not have direct oversight of DCPS. 

[End of figure] 

DCPS: DCPS functions as a traditional local educational agency, or 
school district. The head of DCPS, the Chancellor, is appointed by the 
Mayor, confirmed by the D.C. Council, and serves at the Mayor's 
discretion. The Chancellor sets the academic priorities and the 
curriculum for public schools, and works with schools in need of 
improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA).[Footnote 9] 
School districts have the primary responsibility for ensuring that 
underperforming schools receive technical assistance, as required by 
NCLBA. 

Department of Education: The new D.C. Department of Education is headed 
by the Deputy Major for Education and oversees the state 
superintendent's office, facilities office, and the ombudsman's 
office.[Footnote 10] The department is responsible for planning, 
coordinating, and supervising all public education and education- 
related activities that are under the purview of these three offices. 
It also acts as chief advisor to the Mayor for broad, high-level 
education strategies that involve more than one District education 
office and has responsibility for bringing together key players to 
determine who should take the lead on specific initiatives. In 
addition, the Deputy Mayor coordinates the work, direction, and agenda 
of the Interagency Collaboration and Services Integration Commission 
(Interagency Commission), which serves as a high-level policy making 
body that coordinates meetings with directors from children and youth- 
serving agencies. According to the Deputy Mayor, the purpose of the 
Interagency Commission is to build consensus and set priorities for how 
to best address the needs of District children and youth. 

Office of the State Superintendent of Education: The state 
superintendent's office is responsible for functions traditionally 
handled by a state educational agency. It develops academic standards, 
helps develop teacher licensing requirements, and administers funds for 
federal and District education programs. The State Superintendent is 
also responsible for developing comprehensive assessments, or tests, 
and ensuring that DCPS meets federal requirements for elementary and 
secondary education under NCLBA.[Footnote 11] The office also oversees, 
among other functions, those related to early childhood education 
programs and adult education and literacy. 

State Board of Education: While the Board of Education--renamed the 
State Board of Education--no longer has responsibility for day-to-day 
operations of the public schools, it is responsible for approving the 
District's academic standards, high-school graduation requirements, and 
other educational standards. It is required to advise the State 
Superintendent on policies related to the governing of vocational and 
charter schools and proposed education regulations. Five of the nine 
State Board of Education members are elected and four are appointed by 
the Mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council. 

Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization (facilities 
office): The Reform Act not only moved the facilities office out of 
DCPS but gave the new office independent procurement and personnel 
authority. These functions were formerly performed by separate 
divisions within DCPS not directly accountable to or managed by the 
DCPS facilities office. The new facilities office is responsible for 
modernization and maintenance of D.C. public schools.[Footnote 12] DCPS 
retains oversight of the janitorial services of individual schools. 

The Reform Act also gave the D.C. Council an expanded role in 
overseeing some aspects of D.C. public school management. For example, 
the Mayor is required to submit proposed DCPS rules and regulations to 
the Council for review. In addition, the Council has gained new powers 
over the DCPS budget. The Mayor submits the budget for Council review 
and the Council may modify the funding allocated to individual schools. 
Previously, the Council only had authority to approve or disapprove the 
budget. 

Early Initiatives Are Focused on Broad Management Reforms and 
Establishing a Foundation for Long-Term Improvements: 

The early efforts to improve D.C. public schools have focused largely 
on broad management reforms and other activities that lay the 
foundation for long-term improvements, such as developing new data 
systems, a school consolidation plan, academic priorities, and 
improving school facilities. Management reforms included the transfer 
of many functions from DCPS to the new offices of state superintendent 
and facilities. According to District officials, moving state-level 
education and facility functions out of DCPS should give the Chancellor 
more time to focus on issues that directly affect student achievement. 
Furthermore, moving state functions out of DCPS is intended to allow 
more effective oversight of the District's education programs. The 
management reforms also included specific human capital initiatives, 
such as new central office personnel rules and new systems for 
evaluating central office and state employee performance that are 
designed to improve office efficiency. District education offices also 
have begun to lay a foundation for long-term improvements to student 
and personnel data systems and management of building maintenance. 

Broad Management Reforms Include Office Restructuring and Human Capital 
Initiatives: 

As required by the Reform Act, state-level education functions 
previously performed by DCPS were transferred to the new office of the 
state superintendent.[Footnote 13] This office developed a transition 
plan, as required by the Reform Act, which detailed the transfer of 
authority and restructuring of key staff functions and budgets. On 
October 1, 2007, over 100 staff, functions, and associated funds were 
transferred to the office of the state superintendent. Staff who spent 
at least half their time working on state-level functions, such as 
administering funds for federal and state education programs, became 
employees of the state superintendent's office. The Reform Act moved 
state functions out of DCPS, in large part, to provide for independent 
oversight. Prior to the Reform Act, there was no clear separation of 
funding, reporting, and staffing between local and state functions 
within DCPS. For example, staff who monitored federal grant programs 
reported to the same person as staff who implemented those programs. As 
a result of the Reform Act, staff who perform state-related functions, 
such as monitoring federal programs, report to the State Superintendent 
whereas staff who implement the programs report to the DCPS Chancellor. 

The transition plan also laid out immediate and long-term priorities, 
such as federal grants management reform and improved teacher quality. 
To improve federal grants management, the State Superintendent has 
established priorities and begun to address long-term deficiencies 
identified by the U.S. Department of Education (Education) related to 
federal program administration, including compliance with 
NCLBA.[Footnote 14] Specifically, the State Superintendent has 
established a direct line of accountability by having the director of 
federal grants report directly to her and serve on her leadership team. 
In addition, to meet NCLBA requirements, the State Superintendent is in 
the process of establishing a statewide system of support that will 
provide technical assistance to underperforming schools. The State 
Superintendent has stated that establishing this process is 
challenging, given that 75 percent of D. C. schools have been 
identified as needing improvement under NCLBA. The district also ranks 
as one of the lowest school districts for having qualified teachers, 
with only 55 percent of core classes taught by teachers that meet NCLBA 
requirements for highly qualified.[Footnote 15] The transition plan 
identified teacher quality as a priority area, but does not outline 
measurable goals for increasing the number of highly qualified 
teachers. According to the State Superintendent, the office has started 
to develop a strategic plan that will provide more specifics on its 
goals and objectives. Specifically, this plan would include measurable 
goals such as increasing the number of highly qualified teachers. 
According to the state superintendent's office, this strategic planning 
effort will be completed in mid-summer 2008.The state superintendent's 
office also plans to revise the District's "highly qualified teacher" 
definition under NCLBA and is also considering revisions to how the 
District certifies teachers to align to the revised definition. 

The Reform Act also created a new facilities office to improve the 
conditions of DCPS school facilities. Unlike state-level functions, 
DCPS facilities staff and functions have not yet formally transferred 
to the new facilities office. Although the new office took over 
responsibility for modernization of school facilities (i.e., major 
renovations or new construction) and facility maintenance in the summer 
of 2007, functions and staff will not be formally transferred until the 
facility budget is "reprogrammed" and moved.[Footnote 16] In addition, 
the office will oversee general contractors who are hired for major 
construction projects such as the building of new schools. The director 
of the facilities office told us about 400 staff (building engineers, 
painters, and general maintenance workers) will transfer to his office. 

The District's broad management reforms also included an emphasis on 
human capital initiatives, particularly efforts to hold employees 
accountable for their work. Both the State Superintendent and the DCPS 
Chancellor include new individual performance evaluations as part of 
their efforts to develop high-performing organizations. Previously, 
performance evaluations were not conducted for most DCPS staff, 
including those who moved to the state superintendent's office. DCPS 
officials told us that all staff had received performance evaluations 
as of January 2008. These evaluation forms were based on District 
government-wide competencies, such as maintaining and demonstrating 
high-quality and timely customer service and using resources 
effectively. DCPS officials told us that these evaluations do not yet 
link to their offices' performance goals because they had limited time 
to implement the new performance system. However, they stated that they 
plan to develop the linkages over the next year. Officials at the state 
superintendent's office told us that performance measurement plans have 
been developed for all staff and performance evaluations based on those 
plans will begin in late March 2008. The State Superintendent has 
required each staff member to develop an individual plan that includes 
specific goals that are linked to the office's overall goals as 
outlined in the office performance plan. 

The facilities office intends to create and sustain a culture of high 
performance and accountability by implementing a performance management 
system that will hold employees accountable for their work and 
establish a performance feedback process that ensures "a dialogue 
between supervisors, managers, and employees throughout the 
year."[Footnote 17] Linking individual performance evaluations to 
organizational goals is an important step in building a high-performing 
organization. As we noted in a previous report, organizations use their 
performance management systems to support their strategic goals by 
helping individuals see the connection between their daily activities 
and organizational goals.[Footnote 18] 

Other human capital initiatives included the Chancellor's effort to 
improve the capacity of the central office by terminating central 
office employees who were assessed as not meeting expectations on their 
performance evaluations and replacing them with staff who have the 
requisite skills. Specifically, the Chancellor told us she needs staff 
who are capable of providing critical central office services, so that, 
for example, teachers are paid and textbooks delivered on time. Several 
principals we spoke with told us that school staff have spent 
considerable time on repeatedly calling the central office for support 
or supplies, time that could otherwise be spent on instruction. In 
January 2008, the D.C. Council passed the Public Education Personnel 
Reform Amendment Act of 2008,[Footnote 19] submitted by the Chancellor 
and the Mayor, which gave the Mayor greater authority to terminate 
certain staff within DCPS' central office, including non-union staff 
and staff hired after 1980. [Footnote 20] According to the Chancellor, 
this legislation ultimately will allow her to begin building a 
workforce that has the qualifications needed for a high-functioning 
central office.[Footnote 21] 

Other Activities, Such as Developing New Data Systems, a School 
Consolidation Plan, and Academic Priorities, Have Begun to Lay the 
Foundation for Long-Term Improvements: 

Both the state superintendent's office and DCPS are working to improve 
their data systems to better track and monitor the performance of 
students, teachers, and schools. The superintendent's office is in the 
process of selecting a contractor to build a longitudinal database that 
will store current and historical data on students, teachers, and 
schools. Currently, there is no one system that tracks the movement of 
students among District schools. The new database is being designed to 
standardize how data are collected from DCPS and charter schools and to 
track student data, such as attendance and test scores across multiple 
years. According to the state superintendent's office, this database 
will help stakeholders identify which schools and teachers are 
improving student achievement and determine what instructional 
approaches work best for which types of students. Education awarded the 
state superintendent's office a 3-year grant totaling nearly $6 million 
to help fund this effort. The database is expected to be fully 
operational by 2012. 

DCPS is also focused on improving the quality of student data, some of 
which will be inputted into the state longitudinal database. Currently, 
DCPS student data are not consistently reported throughout the numerous 
data systems. In addition, the multiple systems often have 
contradictory information. For example, the Chancellor told us that one 
system showed there were 5,000 special education students in the 
District while another showed 10,000. To address these problems, DCPS 
told us that they are consolidating its data systems, eliminating 
duplicate information, and verifying data accuracy. DCPS officials told 
us they expect the new student data management system to be operational 
by February 2009. 

In addition to student data systems, DCPS has also taken steps to 
change and improve its personnel data systems by moving from a paper- 
based to an electronic system. DCPS scanned millions of personnel files 
into an electronic data system. According to agency officials, this was 
necessary because the files that existed were in unorganized stacks in 
office closets and not securely maintained. DCPS officials told us that 
they had scanned nearly 5 million documents. The scanning revealed 
missing personnel records for some staff members and, in other cases, 
job descriptions that did not match the jobs staff were actually 
performing. In addition, the D.C. Office of the Inspector General is 
currently conducting an audit of the DCPS payroll system, to be 
released in the summer of 2008, to verify that every individual who 
receives a paycheck from DCPS is currently employed with the school 
system. 

In February 2008, DCPS completed its preliminary school consolidation 
(closing) plan that identified over 20 schools for closure over the 
next several years in an effort to provide more resources to the 
remaining schools. Plans to consolidate D.C. public schools have been 
underway in recent years and Congress has raised concerns about the 
inefficiency of maintaining millions of square feet of underutilized or 
unused space in DCPS facilities. (DCPS is currently operating at 
approximately 330 square feet per student, while the national average 
is 150 square feet.) According to DCPS officials, the cost of 
administration, staff, and facilities in underutilized schools diverts 
resources from academic programs for all students. However, it is 
unclear how much long-term savings, if any, will result from these 
closings. DCPS officials told us that they are currently working with 
the facilities office and the District Office of the Chief Financial 
Officer (OCFO) to develop long-term cost estimates. In addition, some 
parents, community groups, and the D.C. Council disagreed with the 
process the Chancellor and Mayor used to develop the plan. The D.C. 
Council expressed concern that the Mayor and Chancellor did not present 
the proposal to the Council before it was made public,[Footnote 22] and 
some community members met to express their opposition to the closings. 
The Chancellor provided a detailed report of the criteria[Footnote 23] 
used to select schools for closure and held community meetings. Based 
on input from parents and the community, the Chancellor revised the 
list of schools to be closed. The consolidation plan was finalized in 
March 2008. 

In the area of academic achievement, DCPS has set academic priorities 
for the 2007-2008 school year and is in the process of establishing 
longer-term priorities. The Chancellor told us that the academic 
priorities will build on DCPS' 2006 Master Education Plan, which 
established key strategies and goals to direct instruction within DCPS. 
The Chancellor noted, however, that the 2006 plan cited copious goals 
and objectives without prioritizing and establishing explicit time 
frames or clear strategies for how DCPS would meet the goals. In 
November 2007, DCPS laid out its 2007-2008 academic priorities, which 
included key objectives and strategies that focus on improving student 
achievement, school facilities, parental and community involvement, and 
central office operations. For example, under its objective to improve 
student achievement, DCPS identified, as a major initiative, efforts to 
recruit and hire high-quality principals for roughly one-third of its 
schools. According to the Chancellor, getting high-quality principals 
to serve as instructional leaders is a key step to improving the 
quality of teachers and classroom instruction. DCPS has launched a 
national recruitment strategy and plans to select candidates by the end 
of the 2007-2008 school year. The Chancellor is also focusing on longer-
term priorities, such as developing a districtwide curriculum aligned 
to academic standards and assessments, and providing teachers with 
professional development on instructional strategies for the 
curriculum. DCPS is currently working on a five year academic plan that 
is to be completed by March 2008. (See table 1 for key initiative and 
completion dates.) 

Table 1: Status of DCPS and State Superintendent Office Key Initiatives 
and Scheduled Completion Date or Completed Date: 

Office: DCPS; 
Key initiatives: Fill teacher vacancies and deliver textbooks by 
opening day of 2007-08 school year; 
Set academic priorities for 2007-08 school year; 
Announce school consolidation plan; 
Implement new employee evaluation system for central office personnel; 
Launch Campaign to Recruit Candidates for Principal Positions; 
Hold community hearings on preliminary school consolidation plan; 
Finalize school consolidation plan; 
Establish longer term priorities for 2008-09 school year through 2011-
12 school year; 
Select candidates for principal positions; 
Consolidate many of the 25 data systems; 
Scheduled completion Date: 
August 2007: Completed: Check; 
November 2007: Completed: Check; 
November 2007: Completed: Check; 
December 2007: Completed: Check; 
December 2007: Completed: Check; 
January-February 2008: Completed: Check; 
March 2008: Completed: Check; 
April 2008: Completed: [Empty]; 
May 2008: Completed: [Empty]; 
February 2009: Completed: [Empty]. 

Office: State Superintendents Office; 
Key initiatives: Finalize transition plan; 
Transfer most state related functions from DCPS; 
Refine unique student identification numbers; 
Implement a new employee evaluation system; 
Award contract to build the statewide longitudinal database; 
Complete development of statewide longitudinal data system; 
Scheduled completion Date: September 2007; 
October 2007: Completed: Check; 
October 2007: Completed: Check; 
January 2008: Completed: Check; 
May 2008: Completed: Check; 
January 2012: Completed: [Empty]; 
Completed: Completed: [Empty]. 

Source: GAO analysis of information provided by D.C. officials: 

[End of table] 

Facilities Has Begun to Address Back Log of Work Orders and Is 
Developing a New Process to Respond to Needed Repairs: 

The facilities office has worked since the summer of 2007 to address 
the backlog of repairs the office inherited from DCPS. The director of 
the office told us that he found that school heating and plumbing 
systems were inoperable, roofs leaked, and floors needed replacing. In 
addition, he told us that many schools were in violation of District 
fire codes with exit doors locked from the inside for security. The 
director of the facilities office also told us that when his office 
took responsibility for school maintenance, he found thousands of work 
orders that had been submitted to address these building deficiencies 
that had not been closed. In some cases the repairs were completed but 
the work order was not closed; however, in many cases, the work orders 
were several years old and the repairs had not been completed. In 
addition, the facilities director found that most of the work orders 
did not adequately reflect the scope of the work needed, and the cost 
of the repairs was underestimated. For example, he told us that a work 
order may request repairs related to the symptom rather than the cause 
of the problem, such as painting over a water stain in the ceiling 
rather than fixing the more expensive plumbing problem. 

To address the backlog and ongoing facilities needs, the new office 
undertook several programs this summer and early fall. Repairs were 
made to over 70 schools that were not slated to undergo modernization 
for years. According to facilities officials, needed painting, 
plumbing, electrical, and other work were done at each of the schools. 
In addition, systems were assessed at all District schools for heat and 
air conditioning repairs. According to the facilities director, all 
schools with central air conditioning received upgrades and about 670 
new air conditioning units were installed. The office found, however, 
that about 1,000 to 1,500 classrooms did not have air conditioning. To 
ensure classrooms have air conditioning by spring 2008, the facilities 
office is planning to upgrade electrical systems to allow installation 
of new cooling units. According to the director, the office has also 
made repairs to school heating systems and all schools had heat by 
October 15, 2007. He noted that many of the heating repairs could have 
been avoided if the heating systems had received adequate maintenance. 
The office found many schools where boilers installed only three to 
four years ago were inoperable due to poor maintenance. The office also 
started a "stabilization" program in the fall of 2007, to make 
improvements to the remaining 70 or so schools. About $120 million is 
budgeted to correct possible fire code violations and make plumbing, 
roofing, and other repairs. According to the facilities director, the 
work order backlog should be largely eliminated by these maintenance 
and modernization efforts. 

Furthermore, a facility official told us that they are prioritizing 
work order requests by the urgency of the request, that is, whether it 
is a hazard to students or a routine repair. According to this 
official, emergency repairs are addressed the day, or the day after, 
the work order is submitted. Routine repairs and maintenance, such as 
plumbing and painting, are addressed by the in-house trades (painters, 
plumbers) while more complicated repairs are addressed by contractors 
that have been "pre-qualified" by the facility office. Contracts for 
major repairs, such as replacing an entire roof, are put out for 
competitive bid. 

Finally, District officials told us that the facilities office is in 
the process of revising the DCPS 2006 Master Facilities Plan, which 
outlined how DCPS planned to use and improve school buildings, offices 
and other facilities over a 15 year period. According to District 
officials, the revised plan will align with the Chancellor's academic 
priorities and school consolidation efforts. The Master Facilities Plan 
was due on October 1, 2007, but the facilities director was granted an 
extension until May 31, 2008. 

D.C. Mayor Has Begun to Develop a Framework for Accountability: 

The Mayor and education officials have introduced a performance-based 
process designed to establish accountability for their school reform 
efforts. This process includes weekly meetings to track progress and 
accomplishments across education offices and annual performance plans 
for these offices, including the D.C. Department of Education's plan. 
According to recent studies of the D.C. school system, little was done 
in the past to hold offices and education leaders accountable for 
progress. [Footnote 24] 

Weekly meetings are a key component of the District's performance-based 
process and, according to the Deputy Mayor for Education, integral to 
how the Mayor and D.C. education offices monitor the progress of reform 
efforts. The Mayor's meetings, known as CapStat meetings,[Footnote 25] 
are used to track progress and accomplishments across all D.C. 
government offices. Every 3 months, the City Administrator's office 
develops a list of topics for possible discussion at CapStat meetings 
based, in part, on a review of each office's performance plan. 
According to city officials, issues for CapStat meetings typically 
concern agencies having difficulty meeting their specific performance 
targets. These issues are given to the Mayor who then selects which 
ones will be discussed. The Mayor may also identify other issues that 
have emerged as immediate concerns, for example, those related to the 
safety and health of D.C. residents.[Footnote 26] 

At the CapStat meeting, cognizant managers provide status updates using 
performance data. The Mayor then assigns follow-up tasks to particular 
managers with agreed-upon timeframes. The Mayor reviews whether follow- 
up tasks have been completed. This tracking provides the basis for the 
Mayor's office to monitor progress, and, if inadequate, determine what 
further action is needed. For example, during the summer of 2007, a 
CapStat meeting focused on school facilities. The data indicated that 
many of the schools' heating systems were not functioning. The Mayor's 
office asked the director of the facilities office to develop a plan 
within 2 weeks to ensure that all schools had functional heating 
systems by mid-October. Officials told us the Mayor's office tracked 
the submission of the plan and the heating system work. As previously 
mentioned, District officials reported that all schools had heat by 
October 15. 

The Chancellor and the State Superintendent adopted processes similar 
to CapStat--SchoolStat and EdStat, respectively--to hold managers 
accountable for their offices' performance (see table 2 for information 
on the three "Stat" meetings). The Chancellor uses weekly SchoolStat 
meetings to discuss high-priority issues and what actions DCPS 
department managers need to take to improve performance. Similarly, the 
state superintendent's office uses weekly EdStat meetings to monitor 
progress in administration of federal grants and special education 
services. At EdStat meetings, managers analyze performance data, 
collaborate with program managers on remediation strategies, and 
monitor subsequent performance data to validate the effectiveness of 
actions taken. The State Superintendent plans to use EdStat meetings to 
monitor whether the office is meeting time frames for providing 
assistance to schools identified as in need of improvement under NCLBA. 

Table 2: Performance-Based Education Meetings: Focus and Attendees: 

Meeting title: (office responsible): CapStat: (Mayor's Office); 
Meeting focus: CapStat meetings may pertain to the activities of any 
D.C. government office; 
CapStat meetings on education issues have included such topics as 
school security, facilities, special education transportation, and 
financial management issues; 
Who attends the meetings: D.C. Mayor; 
City Administrator; 
D.C. Chief Financial Officer; 
Head of General Counsel; 
Other D.C. agency heads, as appropriate (e.g., Chief of Police Dept. or 
Director of Transportation Dept.); 
Deputy Mayor for Education; 
State Superintendent; 
DCPS Chancellor; 
Director of facilities office; 
CapStat director; 
Other CapStat support staff. 

Meeting title: (office responsible): SchoolStat: (DCPS); 
Meeting focus: SchoolStat meetings focus on key outcome and input data 
of D.C. public schools, including truancy, school security, facility 
work orders, responsiveness to constituents, and procurement; 
Who attends the meetings: DCPS Chancellor; 
Chiefs of DCPS departments, including Schools, Teaching and Learning, 
and Data and Accountability; 
SchoolStat manager. 

Meeting title: (office responsible): EdStat: (State Superintendent's 
Office); 
Meeting focus: EdStat meetings are currently focused on special 
education and federal grants management, with a future focus on schools 
that are in improvement status under NCLBA; 
Who attends the meetings: State Superintendent; 
Deputy superintendents; 
Chief of staff; 
EdStat director; 
EdStat data analyst. 

Source: GAO analysis of information provided by D.C. officials: 

[End of table] 

In addition to weekly meetings, the Mayor's office requires education 
offices to develop and follow annual performance plans as another 
component of the accountability process. These performance plans 
include broad objectives, such as increasing student achievement, 
assessing the effectiveness of educational programs, and coordinating 
services with city agencies. In addition, the plans detail specific 
actions to achieve these objectives, and key performance indicators 
designed to measure progress. For example, regarding DCPS' 2007-2008 
performance plan objective to increase student achievement, DCPS plans 
to provide training for teachers to help them make better use of 
student performance data. Similarly, regarding the State 
Superintendent's objective to provide educators with information needed 
to improve schools and to assess the effectiveness of educational 
programs, the office plans to provide data from its longitudinal 
database to educators to help them determine where specialized programs 
are needed. The first performance plan for the facilities office is 
scheduled to be in place in November 2008. 

The D.C. Department of Education has taken some steps to coordinate and 
integrate the various efforts of the District's education offices. The 
Deputy Mayor for Education told us that the department reviews the 
individual annual performance plans of education offices to ensure they 
are aligned and not working at cross-purposes. The department also uses 
CapStat meetings to monitor the progress of the education offices. In 
addition, according to the Deputy Mayor for Education, the department 
tracks the goals and activities of city youth agencies, such as the 
Child and Family Services Agency, to ensure they are consistent with 
the goals of the education offices.[Footnote 27] D.C. Department of 
Education officials also told us they will take additional steps in the 
future. The Deputy Mayor will review each education office's long-term 
plan, such as the Chancellor's five year academic plan and the revised 
Master Facilities Plan, to ensure they are coordinated and implemented. 
The Deputy Mayor also told us that the department will rely on findings 
from annual evaluations of DCPS to assess the progress of the reform 
efforts.[Footnote 28] 

Officials with the D.C. Department of Education told us they have not 
yet developed a documented districtwide education strategic plan. 
According to department officials, they do not intend to develop a 
written plan at this time, in part, because they are addressing 
immediate and urgent issues. They questioned the need for a written 
document as opposed to a formalized process that would help ensure that 
the individual District education offices' long-term plans are 
coordinated and executed. 

While developing a long-term strategic plan takes time, it is useful 
for entities undergoing a major transformation, such as the D.C. public 
school system. The District has a new public school governance 
structure and newly created education offices. A strategic plan, and 
the process of developing one, helps organizations look across the 
goals of multiple offices and determine whether they are aligned and 
connected or working at cross-purposes. By articulating an overall 
mission or vision, a strategic plan helps organizations set priorities, 
implementation strategies, and timelines to measure progress of 
multiple offices. A long-term strategic plan is also an important 
communication tool, articulating a consistent set of goals and marking 
progress for employees and key stakeholders, from legislative bodies to 
community organizations. 

Conclusions: 

The problems in the D.C. public school system are long-standing. Past 
efforts to reform the system and ultimately raise student achievement 
have been unsuccessful. The Reform Act made many changes: new divisions 
of responsibility, improved oversight, and greater opportunity for the 
Chancellor to focus on academic progress. The Mayor and his education 
team recognized that before they could take full advantage of these 
changes, they would have to revamp the school system's basic 
infrastructure. Their initial efforts, including those to create a 
highly functional central office and repair school buildings to make 
them safe for students, provide some of the basics for successful 
learning environments. However, the Mayor and his team will need to 
sustain the momentum created over the last 6 months and focus as 
quickly as possible on the challenges that lie ahead--improving the 
reading and math skills of students and the instructional skills of 
teachers. 

In addition, the Mayor and his team have taken steps to hold managers 
and staff accountable for improving the school system, such as holding 
weekly performance meetings, developing annual performance plans, and 
coordinating education activities. These changes form the cornerstone 
of the Mayor's effort to transform the organizational culture of the 
District's public education system. However, the Mayor's team has not 
yet developed a long-term districtwide strategic education plan. Given 
the significant transformation underway, a strategic plan could provide 
a framework for coordinating the work of the education offices and 
assessing short-term and long-term progress. Without a plan that sets 
priorities, implementation goals, and timelines, it may be difficult to 
measure progress over time and determine if the District is truly 
achieving success. Additionally, a districtwide strategic education 
plan would increase the likelihood that the District's education 
offices work in unison toward common goals and that resources are 
focused on key priorities, not non-critical activities. A strategic 
plan could also help determine when mid-course corrections are needed. 
Given that leadership changes, a strategic education plan would provide 
a road map for future district leaders by explaining the steps taken, 
or not taken, and why. 

Recommendation to the Mayor of the District of Columbia: 

To help ensure the long-term success of the District's transformation 
of its public school system, we recommend that the Mayor direct the 
D.C. Department of Education to develop a long-term districtwide 
education strategic plan. The strategic plan should include certain key 
elements including a mission or vision statement, long-term goals and 
priorities, and approaches and time frames for assessing progress and 
achieving goals. It may also include a description of the relationship 
between the long-term strategic and annual performance goals. In 
addition, the strategic plan should describe how coordination is to 
occur among the District's education offices. 

As you know Mr. Chairman, you have requested that we conduct a second, 
longer-term study of changes in D.C. schools' management and 
operations, and results of these changes. We will begin that study this 
month. 

Comments from the D.C. Mayor's Office and District Education Offices: 

We provided a draft of this report to the offices of the Mayor and 
District education officials for review and comment, and on March 11, 
2008, officials from the Mayor's office discussed their comments with 
us. They told us they support the need for an overarching strategy that 
integrates the efforts and plans of DCPS, the state superintendent's 
office, and the facilities office. They said that these offices are in 
the process of developing long-term strategic plans to serve as the 
foundation for an overall education strategy, and that the Deputy Mayor 
for Education is committed to coordinating and sustaining these 
efforts. Further, they noted that a districtwide strategy can take many 
forms, and that the Deputy Mayor's preferred approach is to develop a 
formal process, rather than a written document, to ensure efforts are 
coordinated and executed as efficiently as possible. They noted that in 
the past, plans were written, "put on a shelf," and never used. 

We agree that the Deputy Mayor is taking steps to coordinate the 
individual plans of these offices, and that the Mayor's education team 
recognizes the importance of taking a strategic approach to address the 
educational needs of District students. However, as we have said in 
this statement, we see value in developing a documented strategy that 
could help the District's education leaders coordinate their efforts 
and goals, and provide future leaders the benefit of understanding what 
worked, what didn't, and why. While past administrations may have 
developed strategic plans and not used them, what is unknown is whether 
these plans could have been of value if they had been used. The current 
administration's development and implementation of an articulated 
documented strategy could provide a foundation that would help 
coordinate future efforts. 

Mr. Chairman, this completes my prepared statement. I would be happy to 
respond to any questions you or other Members of the Subcommittee may 
have. 

GAO Contacts: 

For further information regarding this testimony, please contact me at 
(202) 512-7215. Individuals making key contributions to this testimony 
include Harriet Ganson, Elizabeth Morrison, Sheranda Campbell, Jeff 
Miller, Bryon Gordon, Susan Aschoff, Sheila McCoy, Sandy Silzer, Sarah 
Veale, Janice Latimer, and Terry Dorn. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] This number does not include about 81 charter schools. Charter 
schools are public schools that are exempt from certain regulations in 
exchange for increased accountability for improving student 
achievement. This testimony statement does not include a discussion of 
charter schools. 

[2] The Council of the District of Columbia approved the Public 
Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 on April 19. District of 
Columbia Laws, Act 17-38 (2007). The bill was then passed by Congress 
and signed into law by President Bush on June 1. Pub. L. No. 110-33. 

[3] We chose these schools to obtain variation in the type of school 
(elementary, middle, or high school); location (ward); whether repair 
work had been during the summer of 2007; and whether there was an 
interim principal. 

[4] These evaluations included several studies by the Council of the 
Great City Schools, a national organization representing the needs of 
urban public schools, and D.C. Voice, a citywide community organization 
that reports on conditions in the D.C. public schools. 

[5] Our Children, Our Future: Revitalizing The District of Columbia 
Public Schools, The D.C. Committee on Public Education, Washington, 
D.C. (June 1989). 

[6] Restoring Excellence to the District of Columbia Public Schools, 
Council of the Great City Schools, Washington, D.C (January 2004). 

[7] Fact-Base for DCPS Reform, The Parthenon Group, Boston, London, San 
Francisco (December 2006). 

[8] Subsequent to the Council's approval, Congress passed the Reform 
Act. The District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental 
Reorganization Act, also known as the Home Rule Act, generally provides 
a framework and processes for Congress to enact, amend, or repeal any 
act with respect to the District of Columbia. 

[9] Under NCLBA, states are required to establish performance goals and 
hold schools that receive federal funds under Title I of the act 
accountable for student performance by determining whether or not they 
have made adequate yearly progress. Schools that have not made adequate 
yearly progress for 2 or more consecutive years are identified as in 
need of improvement and must implement certain activities meant to 
improve student academic achievement. 

[10] The Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education is tasked with 
providing outreach to residents, including parents, and encouraging 
communication between residents and the Mayor. In short, it serves as a 
vehicle for citizens to communicate their complaints and concerns 
regarding public education and for providing responses to these 
concerns in a timely fashion. 

[11] The state also plays a role in providing technical assistance to 
schools in improvement and overseeing the improvement activities of 
districts. State educational agencies are responsible for making 
several forms of technical assistance available to schools in 
improvement and overseeing the improvement activities of districts. For 
more information on the role of state educational agencies under NCLBA, 
see No Child Left Behind Act: Education Should Clarify Guidance and 
Address Potential Compliance Issues for Schools in Corrective Action 
and Restructuring Status, GAO-07-1035. (Washington, D.C.: September 
2007) 

[12] The School Modernization Use of Funds Requirements Emergency 
Amendment Act of 2007 gave the facilities office the authority to 
conduct maintenance activities at D.C schools. District of Columbia 
Laws, Act 17-216 (2007). 

[13] The Reform Act consolidated state-level education functions that 
were previously performed by DCPS and the State Education Agency, and 
several other offices into one office, the Office of the State 
Superintendent of Education. 

[14] The U.S. Department of Education designated the District as a 
high- risk grantee in April 2006 because of its poor management of 
federal grants. If the District continues to be designated as a high-
risk grantee, Education could respond by taking several actions, such 
as discontinuing one or more federal grants made to the District or 
having a third party take control over the administration of federal 
grants. 

[15] NCLBA generally requires all teachers of core academic subjects, 
such as reading, math, and science, to have a bachelor's degree, state 
certification, and demonstrable subject matter competency for each core 
subject taught. According to an official at the state superintendent 
office, the District plans to revise its definition for highly 
qualified teachers to align with the NCLBA definition. Currently 
according to agency officials, the District's definition for is more 
stringent. 

[16] In the summer of 2007, the Director of the new facilities office 
and the DCPS Chancellor signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that 
allowed the director to manage all construction projects for D.C. 
school facilities. Modernization funds will be moved to the new office 
when the budget reprogramming occurs. The D.C. Council must approve the 
reprogramming. 

[17] See Transition Plan: Office of Public Education Facilities 
Modernization (Washington D.C. Dec. 3, 2007). 

[18] GAO Results-Oriented Cultures: Creating a Clear Linkage between 
Individual Performance and Organizational Success, GAO-03-488 
(Washington, D.C.: March 2003). 

[19] District of Columbia Laws, Act 17-271 (2008). 

[20] Under prior law, employees may only be terminated for cause and 
have greater procedural protections when decisions to terminate are 
made. In the first year after enactment, the new law would authorize 
the termination of certain employees without notice or performance 
evaluations. Future terminations would require a 15-day separation 
notice and performance evaluations within 6 months of separation. The 
new personnel law also applies to certain staff within the state 
superintendent's office and facilities office. 

[21] In March 7, 2008, 98 staff members in the DCPS central office were 
terminated pursuant to the authority granted by the new law. 

[22] The Chancellor's school consolidation plan was reported in the 
Washington Post on November 28, 2007, before the Chancellor provided 
the plan to the D.C. Council. 

[23] The primary criterion for school closings was the decline in 
student enrollment in schools from 2002-2006. 

[24] Restoring Excellence to the District of Columbia Public Schools, 
Council of the Great City Schools, Washington, D.C. (Jan. 2004); Fact- 
Base for DCPS Reform, The Parthenon Group, Boston, London, San 
Francisco, (Dec. 2006). 

[25] CapStat is modeled after Baltimore's CitiStat accountability 
program. Baltimore uses CitiStat to develop and employ citywide 
strategies, measure results, and hold city managers accountable. 
CitiStat, which began in 2000, is similar to the New York City Police 
Department's CompStat crime tracking program, which debuted in 1994. 
While there has been some analysis on the effectiveness of CompStat and 
CitiStat, it is difficult to determine whether they were the cause of 
any improvement in government performance. 

[26] Over the past 8 months, CapStat meetings have focused on a 
multitude of issues, including education, economic development, public 
safety, health and human services, and government operations. 

[27] The Interagency Commission's goals include ensuring that children 
are ready for school, succeed in school, and make a successful 
transition into adulthood. 

[28] The Reform Act requires the Mayor to submit to the D.C. Council an 
annual and independent evaluation of the progress of DCPS' business 
practices, human resources operations, and academic plans, as well as a 
detailed description of student achievements.

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