Syllogisms have gone out of style in education, but the conclusion to this one ought to keep parents across the country up at night: (1) Washington, D.C.’s “expert driven” education reforms were hailed as a national model and emulated in districts nationwide; and (2) Most of the alleged progress in D.C. public schools turns out to have been fraudulent.
Education reformers used to celebrate D.C.’s dramatic decline in school suspensions. Then a Washington Post investigation revealed that it was fake; administrators had merely taken suspensions off the books. The same reformers used to celebrate D.C.’s sharp increase in high-school graduations. Then an NPR investigation revealed that it, too, was fake; almost half of students who missed more than half the year graduated.
When former D.C. Public Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee assumed leadership, she had a searing critique, and a clear argument: Urban schools were paralyzed by collective-bargaining agreements and inertia, so the best path forward was to have expert-designed systems for a new generation of leaders to implement. The unions, in turn, warned that administrators would weaponize these new systems to force teachers to go along with dishonest schemes that would harm true education reform in the service of posting meaningless numerical improvements.
It turns out both sides had a point.