Henderson committed the city to a series of educational goals by 2017. They include raising citywide math and reading proficiency on standardized tests from the current 43 percent to 70 percent and lifting proficiency rates at the 40 lowest-performing schools by 40 percentage points. She also wants to expand enrollment and boost four-year graduation rates from 53 percent to 75 percent.
Perhaps most noteworthy in the plan is Henderson’s interest in extending the District’s school day, which generally runs from 8:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. She said a new $10 million grant program would enable some schools to try a longer day on a pilot basis, emulating the practices of some of the most successful charter schools. She said the 2010 collective bargaining agreement with the Washington Teachers’ Union provides “flexibilities” that will allow experimentation with an extended day.
But Henderson also warned that any long-term improvement will be possible only though a dramatic shrinkage of the system’s footprint. About 47,000 students attend 123 schools, 45 of them with enrollment of less than 300. By contrast, Fairfax County operates 194 schools for 177,600 students, officials said.
Five-year plans are a staple of government agencies, and the D.C. school system has a year remaining on the last one, rolled out in 2008. Henderson said that much of the previous plan, developed under Rhee, focused on basic operations such as textbook delivery and timely payment of employees.
Speaking at a news conference with Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), Henderson said the objective now is to “really move aggressively and urgently around making the revolution happen in the classroom.”
Henderson said the school system had achieved about 90 to 95 percent of the 2008 plan. But a reading of the 79-page document reveals a more mixed picture.
While Rhee’s blueprint avoided specific numerical goals, the system has, as promised, expanded access to preschool and pre-kindergarten. It has also transformed its approach to evaluating and developing teachers, upgraded food service and renovated or rebuilt numerous decrepit buildings. Use of student data as a tool for crafting teaching strategies has also improved.
But much of the plan remains a set of aspirations rather than accomplishments. It promised that, by 2013, D.C. students would be “fully prepared for college and work” — a distant objective, considering current high school completion rates. The plan also vowed that persistently underperforming schools would be closed. More than two dozen schools were
shuttered on Rhee’s watch, but officials attributed those closures to low enrollment.