Books Cooked at D.C. Schools: Will Star Chancellor Answer?

Read this piece at Manhattan Institute


Books Cooked at D.C. Schools: Will Star Chancellor Answer? by Max Eden

Education reformers never stop talking about “accountability.” But will they actually practice it? Here’s a test: What will happen after the revelation that the recently reported graduation rate increase in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) was mostly fraudulent? If accountability means anything more these days than “improving” the numbers by hook or by crook, then DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson should be out of a job.

After NPR discovered that Ballou High School’s magical improvement, from 57 percent graduation to 100 percent college acceptance in just one year, was the product of systematic fraud, the district commissioned an outside firm to do a thorough audit. Published earlier this month, the report found that absenteeism has risen across the district, as has the number of absentee students who nonetheless received diplomas.

Last year, only 178 out of 2,307 graduates from all DCPS high schools had satisfactory attendance. Almost half of DCPS students who missed more than half of the school year graduated last year. That’s up from about a quarter in 2015 — which is already far too much. Yesterday, the final report was released, providing an even fuller picture of the administrative misconduct: A whopping one third of students last year graduated with the assistance of clear policy violations.

Yesterday, Wilson said, “The investigation found numerous issues that were extremely troubling to me.” But he already had this data. His office had received a grievance from a teacher about what was happening at Ballou. He’d been copied on an e-mail from a teacher telling him that administrators were instructing teachers to mischaracterize absences as medical related (and therefore excused). Wilson admitted he’d been aware of the complaints, but ignored them: “Our team, prioritizing impact, had not gotten to it.”

For reform-minded superintendents like Wilson, it’s all about the “impact.” If you show stellar statistical improvements, you’ll be seen as a star. Problem is, doing things the honest way isn’t likely to yield so-called “transformational” change. Fraud is a much more professionally promising course — unless you get caught. But even then, maybe getting caught doesn’t even matter. This wasn’t the first instance of mass cheating during Wilson’s short tenure in DC.

Last summer, Washington Post reporters discovered that the dramatic decrease in school suspension rates was also fake. Principals just took suspensions off the books. They’d tell the student to go home, circulate a do-not-admit list to teachers to keep the student out, but never tell the school district about it.


Read the entire piece here at RealClearEducation, originally appearing on January 30, 2018. 


Max Eden is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Follow him on Twitter here