One year later, how has "A Capital Commitment" worked?

Last April, Mayor Gray and DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced "A Capital Commitment," a 5-year strategic plan "to provide every [DCPS] student with a safe, academically challenging and inspiring learning experience." One year later, how has DCPS progressed toward these goals?

A Capital Commitment cover. Image from DCPS.

In the plan and a video DCPS produced to launch the campaign, Handerson predicts that 2012-2017 will be "a time of dramatic progress for DCPS." Let's look back at each of the goals and what has changed in the first year of the plan.

Goal 1: Increase District-wide math and reading proficiency to 70 percent while doubling the number of students who score at advanced levels of proficiency.

In the 2010-2011 school year, only 43% of DCPS students were proficient in both reading and math as measured by the DC CAS, meaning that by 2016-17, DCPS expects to see a 27-point increase. That mean that by 2016-17, 3,814 students would be advanced in reading and that 4,764 students would be advanced in math.

The 2012 DC CAS results, released last July by Mayor Gray and other city officials, showed that 44.7% of students were rated "proficient" in both reading and math, a level that actually shows growth over the past five years. 46% of DCPS students were rated proficient in math, up 2.7 points from 2011, and 43.5% were proficient in reading, reversing a 2-year trend of declining scores with a 0.5-point increase.

The 2012 DC CAS was administered in the same month as A Capital Commitment was released, meaning that last year's results would serve better as a benchmark for the effort, rather than as an indicator of progress under A Capital Commitment. The upcoming 2013 DC CAS testing, with its results expected to be released over the summer, will provide greater insight into whether DCPS has been able to achieve any significant growth in test scores in the first year of its 5-year effort.

Goal 2: Improve the proficiency rates for our 40 lowest-performing schools by 40 percentage points.

DCPS offered two concrete strategies to meet this goal. First, they created the Proving What's Possible (PWP) grants to offer low-performing schools to improve instruction, extend learning time, and make targeted technology investments.

During the current school year, 59 schools received a total of $10 million, in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $490,000, to launch new initiatives that range from technology enhancements and extended school day programs to data systems for truancy. (A partial list of awards is available here.) According to DCPS' press release announcing the first Proving What's Possible awards, approximately 85% of the $10 million went to DCPS' 40 lowest-performing schools.

In the FY2013-14 budget guidelines, DCPS says that it will continue the Proving What's Possible Grants, though only at $6.5 million. The budget guidelines say that 9 schools will receive funds to implement extended day programs, including at least 3 programs (Dunbar HS, Kelly-Miller MS and Noyes EC) that received PWP Funds for extended day programs in the current year.

FY2014 budget guidelines also show that 11 of the 40 lowest performing schools will receive PWP funds for additional literacy-focused personnel, including a school literacy assistant principal to improve teacher practice and a reading specialist to work directly with struggling readers.

Second, DCPS indicated that they would improve performance in their lowest-performing schools by investing "in the teachers, principals, and staff who interact with students every day" and by placing highly effective educators in those schools. DCPS has launched a new recruitment effort, but information on the percentage of highly rated principals and teachers in the 40 targeted schools as well as their retention rates are not currently publicly available.

Goal 3: Increase our high school graduation rate from 52 percent to 75 percent.

DCPS should be commended for its fidelity in implementing the national common core standards for high school graduation. The ensures that graduates with a diploma from a District high school are prepared for success in the workforce or in their continuing studies.

In addition to their focus on improving the proficiency of students, which will in itself impact graduation rates, DCPS has also committed in its FY2013-14 budget to expand non-traditional solutions to the graduation crisis facing the city.

DCPS has increased funding to schools to support credit recovery programs in its FY14 budget. Through these programs, District students can recover academic credits during the school day, over the summer and after school. In FY14, 15 District schools will receive funding in their school budgets for Evening Credit Recovery. Yet, until we see the effectiveness of these programs, DCPS's progress is difficult to assess.

Goal 4: Ensure that 90 percent of DCPS students like the school they attend.

DCPS officials offered several indicators for this measure: the level of dedicated staff who make meaningful connections with students; a rich and varied educational experience that includes art, music, and physical education; offering safe and modern facilities, quality meals, and current technology; and welcoming families and encouraging them to participate in their children's education. There was no baseline comparison for this goal and there is currently no information available to measure DCPS' progress towards the 90% goal.

Goal 5: Increase overall DCPS enrollment.

On this front, DCPS faces considerable challenges. Even as the number of school-age children across the city increases, DCPS saw a slight decline in enrollment this year. DCPS will also continue to face a growing challenge from the public charter school system, which now educates nearly ½ of all District public school students. Recent decisions to approve new public charter schools will add to challenges facing DCPS.

DCPS also faces a considerable challenge in keeping its own students. A year after the 2008 round of closures, a joint study by the 21st Century Schools Fund, Brookings and the Urban Institute came to the conclusion that thousands of students had left the DCPS system as a direct result of the closures. Despite a pledge to retail 80 percent of students displaced by DCPS' recent decision to close 15 schools over the next two years, there is little evidence that they will be able to reverse the flow to the public charter system.

After one year, A Capital Commitment continues to hold promise. However, DCPS can still be more transparent in how its budgetary and programmatic priorities align with the goals. Residents and policymakers need to see the data year after year to ensure that we're moving forward.

Joe Weedon is the Ward 6 representative to the DC State Board of Education. He lives in Ward 6 with his wife and two children. 


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The ramp up of Charter Schools supported from the limited budget available for public education in DC is a total game changer. As others already noted, this is a segregated system that continues to re-enforce race, ethnicity, geographic, and class divides. By in large, the Charter Schools are not providing better educations or improved outcomes for their students, families, and communities. And i suspect within the next 5-10 years, the growth in voting/political influence by both the young, childless professionals, the people with children opted out of public charters and/or DCPS, and the older no-longer-have-children set will significantly erode support for continuously increasing public spending/taxes for k-12 ed in DC. The same arguments you see in these comments about social services and workforce/employment programs -- tons of money is spent but the "problems" remain without a significant dent -- will be extended to k-12 too.

by Tom M on Apr 9, 2013 11:33 am • linkreport

Fine goals, but as usual DCPS adrift when it comes to implementation.

First instance, we can't look to this year as a DC CAS benchmark. I'm fairly certain that DC CAS due to be replaced by PARRC assessment in the near term (14/15), further obscuring DCPS progress and any accountability for years to come.

by Ward2 parent on Apr 9, 2013 12:06 pm • linkreport

On this front, DCPS faces considerable challenges. Even as the number of school-age children across the city increases, DCPS saw a slight decline in enrollment this year.

While DPCS has a per-pupil funding formula, my guess is that it's going to become increasingly difficult to adhere to this formula as DCPS enrollment continues to dwindle east of the river, and rise dramatically in wealthier areas.

We already see the first hint of this in the lawsuit to stop DCPS from closing underenrolled schools. The closures and reduced funding is going to disproportionately affect Wards 7 & 8, and I'm afraid that's a political nonstarter.

by oboe on Apr 9, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

You left out important information, including the fact that DCPS has continued to cut the funding at almost all, if not ALL, of its schools.

It continues to increase the cost of teachers and other staff members so even if the budget stayed the same from one year to another, school have less money because each and every teacher costs them more. This has been happening for the last 5 or 6 years.

And the icing on the cake is that DCPS is cutting librarian positions as if it were an optional position. Info from Mary Levy, DCPS fiscal watchdog:

These are the schools that would have a full-time librarian by current-year criteria, but only half-time for next year. I.e., they are projected to have between 300 and 399 students next year. Two of them – Takoma and Thomas are projected to have 399 students. If one more were projected they would have a full-time librarian.

ES = Elementary School EC = Education Center (PreS-grade 8) MS = Middle School HS = High School

Amidon-Bowen ES
Beers ES
Brent ES
Browne EC
Burrville ES
C.W. Harris ES
Capitol Hill Montessori
Cleveland ES
Hyde-Addison ES
Jefferson Academy Middle
Key ES
Kimball ES
Kramer MS
Leckie ES
Luke Moore HS
Mann ES
Marie Reed ES
Maury ES
Moten ES
Nalle ES
Orr ES
Patterson ES
Randle Highlands ES
Shepherd ES
Smothers ES
Stuart-Hobson MS
Takoma EC
Thomas ES
Turner ES
Whittier EC

by DC Resdent on Apr 11, 2013 3:13 pm • linkreport

Thanks, DC Resident.

We've discussed the DCPS budget proposal and the change from 300 to 400 students elsewhere in the blog. And, I didn't want to go into those issues again. Though, I do agree completely that these changes will also impact student achievement negatively and will likely result in fewer families choosing DCPS schools.

by Joe Weedon on Apr 11, 2013 3:32 pm • linkreport


Even though you have brought up the budget cuts before in this blog, I think it is important to at leaset refer to them when examining the success of the "Capital Commitment".

DCPS gave the Proving What's Possible grants after gutting many schools' budgets. As your post states, some schools used the grant to pay for after school programming. But the proposed budget that had just been given to each of the schools for the following year took out the DCPS-funded position for an after school coordinator. Many schools that were applying for the grant included this position in their proposal just so they could have what they had in the previous year's budget.

Also, how serious is DCPS about its commitment to schools when it is constantly slashing local school budgets?

by DC Resdent on Apr 11, 2013 8:20 pm • linkreport

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