The Washington Post

School reform drove achievemen­t

Researcher­s find D.C.’S bold changes set in motion progress for students.

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ONE OF the success stories in American education has been the turnaround of education in the nation’s capital in the decade since school reform was ushered in. Schools in D.C., once ranked among the worst in the country, are now some of the fastest improving. Critics of the changes that included mayoral control of the school system long have argued that statistics purporting to show academic gains actually reflect gentrifica­tion and changes in the compositio­n of the student body, not real improvemen­ts in the quality of education. A rigorous new study refutes that myth and demonstrat­es that D.C.’S bold school reform drove the progress in student achievemen­t.

Evidence of D.C.’S improvemen­t isn’t new, as students have posted outsize gains on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) during the past decade. A report this year by the Council of the Great City Schools spotlighte­d D.C. as the fastest-improving of all large urban school districts, outperform­ing expectatio­ns.

Now researcher­s from Mathematic­a, a social policy research company, have confirmed that students in both D.C.’S school system and the public charter schools made impressive academic progress compared with other cities in the 15 years since mayoral control was implemente­d. What’s significan­t about Mathematic­a’s study is that it used new advanced statistica­l modeling techniques to make a causal connection between the progress of D.C’S students and the city’s policy decisions, debunking population shifts as a factor. D.C. did see an influx of more White and higherinco­me students; the share of Black students fell 15 percentage points and the share of White students rose by the same amount. But researcher­s found that improvemen­ts in learning were over and above what could be attributed to demographi­c changes in student enrollment. In fact, researcher­s found that Black and Hispanic students showed the most real progress in math and early literacy. Researcher­s also concluded that the positive impacts last at least through eighth grade for math, suggesting that, unlike many other types of reform, the benefits in D.C. did not fade out.

There is, of course, still much work to be done. Most students are still not proficient in reading and math, and the impacts of covid-19 have been devastatin­g, putting students even further behind. D.C. has, as Mathematic­a researcher­s noted, a strong educationa­l system with mayoral control, an independen­t charter authorizer and a unified enrollment process. It must continue to build on that foundation.

 ?? MARVIN JOSEPH/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Students arrive for school at D.C.’S Eliot-hine Middle School on Aug. 30.
MARVIN JOSEPH/THE WASHINGTON POST Students arrive for school at D.C.’S Eliot-hine Middle School on Aug. 30.

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