The Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees produced its first annual report on its accomplishments and its (huge) remaining tasks--(just a few days before a DC judge decided that the DC Control Board had exceeded its authority by delegating some of its authority to that body!). Apparently, DCPS now knows how many employees it has (9980), and how many students are enrolled (77,111), though how many are from out-of-District (or not paying their $6000 tuition) is not known. Its direct budget for FY97 was $462 million. The ratio of students per employee (7.7) is well below national norms, and the cost per student of $6000 is above national norms, but not so far from other inner city school systems.

It is interesting to note that DC has very high demand for "special education" for its students. Almost 7000 are in the program now, with 2200 more "awaiting assessment" under an unusually stringent assessment decree. Roughly 5800 students are taught within the DCPS system at an average marginal cost of $5500, while the remaining 1200 have been placed in private schools with an average tuition of $30,000 per student. (NARPAC, Inc. notes that special costs such as these seriously skew the overall statistics. For instance, setting this group aside, the average cost per non-special education student drops to $5600.)

This report addresses the four key issues separately:


The report's conclusion includes the following: "In speaking to a reporter following the release of school-by-school tests results showing 14 of 18 DC high schools with more than 90% of students below basic levels of proficiency in math, she said that the outcomes are 'by and large not the responsibility of the students....they are the result of a system's failure to educate its students'. She was frustrated, she said, by the lack of community outrage about the low performance of our schools--and referred to this as ' educational genocide'.

The vital task of academic improvement has been held up somewhat waiting for the appointment of the new Chief Academic Officer, who only arrived in September, 1997, but Mrs. Arlene Ackerman seems to be stepping out smartly. Some teachers and administrators and all principals have already participated in training on new performance standards. New standards are in place for measuring student, teacher, and principal performance. 79 new bilingual teachers have been hired, and 17 DC principals were removed from their posts or put on probationary status.


A major problem for the DCPS is both the age of its buildings and its "vast overcapacity". It was designed to accommodate a peak enrollment of 147,000 (in 1970) and even after 11 school closings it still retains approximately 3 million square feet of excess capacity. (Earlier reports from the Control Board indicate that DCPS utilization rates in Wards 1-4 are 85%, but only 61% in Wards 5-8--where two thirds of the total school capacity resides.) As the report states: WThere is no question that excess capacity will have to be reduced".

DCPS spent almost $50 million on capital improvements in 1997--the largest program in years. Questions exist about the efficiency with which emergency school repairs were made, but the fact remains that an "unprecedented" amount of major facilities work has been accomplished by the COO and his staff. Upwards of $100M is expected to be available in 1998--and the sale of surplus schools (the subject of yet another controversy) could add another $10M to that. But the backlog of work needed to bring DC school facilities up to snuff still hovers near two billion dollars.


The report is remarkably candid about the appalling state of DCPS management:

"Although the Authority's order of November 15, 1996 described numerous chronic problems in the management of finance, personnel, and information systems, Trustees were still taken aback by the magnitude of dysfunction they confronted: a system that could not tell how many employees worked for it, or where they worked; how many students it taught; whether teachers were certified; how much money was being spent by different programs; and whether contracts were properly executed." (emphasis added)

In the first year, sharp reductions have been made in central administration; a credible headcount has been taken; the budget system is beginning to track accurately how much is spent and who is accountable for it; and increased spending authority has been transferred to individual schools.

Community Involvement

The report documents the almost total lack of support from the elected school board, but claims relations are improving with "outside groups; business leaders, philanthropic officials, and other community leaders". Private sector grants to the school system totaled $1.65M. There are some 950 active partnerships between businesses and DC public schools, and more than 23,000 volunteers gave nearly million hours of service in the last school year.

Conclusion re "Organizational Culture"

In NARPAC, Inc.'s view, the most damning statement of this report comes in the second paragraph of the report's conclusion:

"But the biggest problem before this school system is not management competence, computers, or money. It is an organizational culture that accepts failure - a culture that puts jobs for adults ahead of learning for children; a culture that operates according to personal connections instead of rules that apply to all. Disrupting that status quo is bound to produce controversy. Those who have learned to live with failure--or who have made a living out of it--are uncomfortable, and see every new problem as confirmation that the old way was right after all." (emphasis added)

For those who may be skeptical of the basis for these conclusions, please refer to NARPAC, Inc.'s summary of a recent expose' of the Baltimore School System where an almost identical conclusion is reached for one of the few school systems ranked below the DCPS.

This item was archived in September, 2002

previous page

© copyright 2007 NARPAC, Inc. All rights reserved