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Highlights

In response to long-standing problems with student achievement and the management of the District of Columbia (D.C. or the District) public school system, the D.C. Council approved the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007. This act made major changes to the governance of the D.C. public school system, giving the Mayor authority over public schools. This report follows a GAO testimony in March 2008 and focuses on the primary reform approaches the District has taken. This report examines the steps the District took to: (1) address student academic achievement; (2) strengthen the quality of teachers and principals; (3) develop long-term plans and involve stakeholders; and (4) improve accountability and performance of the D.C. public schools (DCPS) and the state superintendent's central offices. GAO reviewed documentation on District initiatives, and interviewed District education officials as well as representatives from the teachers' union, community organizations, and research institutions. GAO also conducted visits to four urban school districts with mayoral governance.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Executive Office of the Mayor 1. To help ensure the transparency, success, and sustainability of the District's transformation of its public school system, the Mayor should direct DCPS to establish planning processes that include mechanisms to evaluate its internal capacity and communicate information to stakeholders and, when appropriate, incorporate their views.
Closed - Implemented
When this report was issued in 2009, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) generally agreed with the substance of this recommendation, noting that the Mayor had made constant evaluation and stakeholder input central components of ensuring accountability under the governance structure. From June 2009 to September 2012, regarding stakeholder involvement, DCPS solicited input from multiple stakeholders, including students, parents, employees, community members, and business owners regarding their hopes and dreams for DCPS. The purpose of this effort was to inform the development of DCPS' updated 5-year strategic plan, which was published in April 2012. In addition, DCPS published its first-ever Budget Guide, which shared with the public how DCPS allocates resources to schools and the central office, and continues to submit annual performance plans to the D.C. City Administrator, outlining key initiatives and performance indicators. None of these documents showed that the planning processes included mechanisms to evaluate DCPS' internal capacity for undertaking the initiatives laid out in its various plans. However, in June 2013, DCPS informed GAO that their planning processes do include mechanisms to evaluate the agency's internal capacity for undertaking the initiatives laid out in its various plans. According to DCPS: "Each [DCPS] division develops an annual operating plan that describes their strategies and initiatives that will enable them to reach their internal goals. This document is developed in concert with the annual division spend plans whereby we ensure that the division budgets the resources necessary to implement their operating plans with fidelity." DCPS' updated Budget Guide for 2014 includes outlines of each DCPS division's work, as well as a high level view of their spend plans, and is publicly available on its web site.
Executive Office of the Mayor 2. To strengthen the new individual performance management system and ensure greater accountability of central office employees in their role supporting schools, the Mayor should direct DCPS to link individual performance evaluations to the agency's overall goals.
Closed - Not Implemented
When this report was issued in 2009, DCPS generally agreed with the substance of this recommendation, noting that the Mayor had made constant evaluation and alignment of evaluations with objectives central components of ensuring accountability under the governance structure. Since that time, DCPS established the Central Office Effectiveness Division (COE) in 2012 to better align individual performance evaluations to the agency's overall goals. COE is responsible for developing and implementing a new central office evaluation system. As of June 2013, however, DCPS reported that COE has not developed or implemented a new performance evaluation system. They have conducted a lot of planning to determine individual offices' accountability for the Chancellor's five-year strategy to bolster student achievement based on feedback from a variety of stakeholders in the community. A lengthened timeline was developed to revamp the individual performance evaluation system in the DCPS Central Office, which is tied to the strategic planning process. DCPS expects to phase in this work over the next year. They also noted that other accountability methods, such as School Stat and individual office stats, provide additional avenues to evaluate the effectiveness of individual team members in pursuing educational reform and supporting schools.

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