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Highlights

This testimony presents information on the District of Columbia's (D.C. or the District) progress in reforming its public school system. The District's school system has had long-standing problems with student academic performance, the condition of school facilities, and its overall management. The District's public schools have fallen well behind the District's own targets for demonstrating adequate yearly progress toward meeting the congressionally mandated goal of having 100 percent of students proficient in math, reading, and science by 2014, as outlined in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA). In addition, the U. S. Department of Education (Education) designated the District as a high-risk grantee in April 2006 because of its poor management of federal grants. Of the nearly $762 million the District spends on D. C. public schools (DCPS), 16 percent comes from federal sources. In an effort to address the school system's long-standing problems, the Council of the District of Columbia (D.C. Council) approved the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 (Reform Act), which made major changes to the operations and governance of the school district. The Reform Act gave the Mayor broad authority over the District's public school system, including curricula, operations, budget, personnel, and school facilities. In doing so, the District joined a growing number of cities to adopt mayoral governance of public school systems in an effort to expedite major reforms. 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. It also moved the state functions into a new state superintendent's office, established a separate facilities office, and created the D.C. Department of Education headed by the Deputy Mayor for Education. Because of the broad changes in governance, Congress asked GAO to evaluate the District's reform efforts. In our report, we addressed the following questions: (1) What steps has the District taken to address student academic achievement? (2) What actions has the District taken to strengthen the quality of teachers and principals? (3) To what extent have the District's education offices developed and implemented long-term plans and how has DCPS used stakeholder input in key initiatives? (4) What steps have DCPS and the state superintendent's office taken to improve their accountability and performance?

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