The latest edition of the Nation’s Report Card — the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress — got a lot of ink last week. While results nationally were a yawn, the scores from Washington, D.C., hold powerful lessons for other cities. Together, D.C. charter and district public schools have improved faster than those of any state over the past decade, by far, while district schools have improved faster than those of any other urban district that takes the exam.
NAEP is widely considered a more reliable measure than state tests because there are no stakes attached, so schools have no incentive to cheat or spend time preparing their students. But because the random sample of students who take the test changes every two years, short-term results tend to bounce around. Looking at a decade or more smooths things out and provides a more trustworthy gauge.
In D.C., that takes us back to the pivotal year of 2007, when the city council did away with the elected school board and gave power over D.C. Public Schools to the mayor, who appointed Michelle Rhee as chancellor. Since then, DCPS has embraced some of the most profound reforms of any traditional district.
Meanwhile, D.C.’s charter sector, which has grown to educate 47 percent of public school students in the city, has won plaudits as the “healthiest charter sector” in the country from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
So D.C. provides a fascinating laboratory. We can compare a rapidly improving traditional district to a vibrant charter sector.
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