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Analysis: D.C.'s exploding schools scandal — and why it has national significance

by valerie strauss - washington post  |  02/06/2018

On Oct. 28, 2015, the D.C. public school district put out a statement lauding itself, with this headline: "DC Public Schools Continues Momentum as the Fastest Improving Urban School District in the Country."

For years, that has been the national narrative about the long-troubled school district in the nation's capital: After decades of low performance and stagnation, the system was moving forward with a "reform" program that was a model for the nation. The triumphant story included rising standardized test scores and "miracle" schools that saw graduation rates jump over the moon in practically no time at all. Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama's education secretary for seven years, called it "a pretty remarkable story" in 2013.

That tale is looking a lot less remarkable in the wake of revelations that educators and administrators, feeling pressure from their bosses to boost graduation rates and student performance, allowed many students who did not have the requisite qualifications to graduate.

A city study – undertaken after press reports revealed the scandal – found that more than 900 of 2,758 students who graduated from a D.C. public school last year either failed to attend enough classes or improperly took makeup classes. At one campus, Anacostia High in Southeast Washington, nearly 70 percent of the 106 graduates received 2017 diplomas despite violating some aspect of city graduation policy.

It was a shock for many people in the District, including, apparently, Antwan Wilson, the chancellor who has been running the district for about a year and said he didn't know anything about the practices that sparked the scandal.

But the truly shocking thing about D.C.'s exploding schools scandal? That it isn't shocking at all. It isn't, at least, to anybody paying attention to the last decade of school "reform," which has attempted to run America's public education system as a business. It's a model that advocates say is the only way to improve public education but that critics say is unworkable and even immoral when it comes to children and a valued civic institution.

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