District’s Education Committee Frustrated With Graduation Scandal; Blasts Mayor Bowser

Heather Curtis

WASHINGTON (WMAL) – Anger and frustration were the feelings of the day at a D.C. education committee meeting Thursday where D.C.’s graduation rates were being scrutinized and the results of two investigations reviewed.

D.C. Public Schools celebrated after more students than usual graduated in the 2016-2017 school year. Last year DCPS reported graduating 2,758 students.

“But after we celebrated, we find that 34 percent of those students should not have graduated under our regulations, including a significant number of students from all but two high schools,” said education committee member Robert White at Thursday’s meeting.

White expressed particular concern that the information was only found out through investigative reporting, which started with an NPR investigation into Ballou High School’s graduation rate. The news organization found one in five students who graduated from Ballou in 2017 missed more than 90 days of school.

White said he was frustrated and disappointed that investigative journalism is the only thing holding them accountable.

Council member Mary Cheh asked DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson why the dimensions of the problem weren’t revealed until media outlets started probing.

“Unfortunately when these types of things come up, they’re very hard to go through, but sometimes that is how we learn about things,” Wilson responded.

Wilson said he wishes he had known about the graduation problem sooner but blamed his lack of knowledge on the fact that he didn’t start the school year with DCPS.

The chancellor wasn’t the only one taking heat for the scandal. Cheh and education committee chair David Grosso put some of the blame on Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Grosso noted that the discussion was happening during the mayor’s education week.

“I have to say it has always seemed like more of a PR gimmick than actual education policy being implemented,” Grosso said.

Grosso said part of the city’s problem is that they are quick to talk about all of the great things being done, but they fail to look at shortcomings and how to improve them.

Cheh said contrary to Bowser’s belief that the investigation into the graduation scandal is over, it is just starting.

While Grosso and Cheh criticized the mayor, council chair Phil Mendelson praised her handling of the situation.

“I appreciate the fact that the reports that came out in January, and the comments from both her and the chancellor have not shied away from what the problem is or tried to cover it up,” Mendelson said.

Moving forward, Grosso said he wants real solutions about how they can raise faith in the city’s public education system. He added he will use the full extent of his oversight role to ensure recommendations made in an independent report done by the Office of the State Superintendent for Education are implemented.

Solving the problem needs to start with DCPS leadership according to Cheh.

“Stop trying to exonerate yourself. Stop trying to exonerate the system. That’s where the problem lies,” Cheh said.

Cheh would like to take a comprehensive look at schools and try to figure out why teacher turnover is so high, why the system is such an unsupportive work environment, and why so many students don’t succeed after they leave DCPS.

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