- The District of Columbia Public Schools is facing investigations from the FBI, U.S. Education Department and D.C. Office of the Inspector General after more than 900 students were found to have graduated despite problems including truancy, The Washington Post reports.
- Investigation into the scandal is centered around Ballou High School, but it is also calling into question the value of various reform efforts hailed by local and federal officials for the district's success and adopted by other districts nationwide.
- In particular, high graduation rates as a success metric are being questioned, with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten telling The Washington Post, "When these metrics and targets become more important than learning, they create a fertile climate, an environment, for scandal and for abuse."
The DCPS scandal comes after years of the district being heralded for significant improvement. And while this isn't the first time that the pressure to produce results in the face of success metrics such as graduation rates has been tied to a district scandal, it is significant because DCPS' success influenced the adoption of similar ed reform efforts nationwide.
After all, when former U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan is referring to it as a product of schools embracing "innovative reforms" and doing "the hard work necessary to ensure that all students graduate ready for college and careers," and when philanthropists are throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into the district, it's hard not to want to emulate the same approaches — especially if there is potential grant funding tied to them.
This has been one of the chief criticisms of education reform efforts that focus on metrics like test scores or graduation rates. That sort of pressure to perform inevitably leads to attempts to game the system for fear of losing your job or having your school close. It previously played out on a large scale in the Atlanta test cheating scandal.
Of course, there are still improvements that DCPS made that are worth continuing to laud, with The Washington Post calling attention to a near-universal pre-K program and a transformation to a "working, functional bureaucracy." But this scandal could likely to be egg in the face of not just the city, but of the reform metrics utilized, for some time to come.