DC’s Fastest Growing Achievement Gap

The Washington Teachers’ Union Shared Vision conference last month, provided a banner opportunity not only for the (WTU), but also the significance of teachers’ voice in the debate around how we as a district must move forward to improve teaching and learning for all of our students. What was made clear, at WTU’s third annual Shared Vision Conference, was the commitment teachers truly share for strengthening professional development and community partnerships toward our goal of eradicating the persistent achievement gaps that have plagued the District – stunting the opportunities for too many of our children.

The numbers are indeed sobering as the failures become clear, the plan devised by the district to institute much needed reforms has not worked to improve outcomes for our students most “at-risk.” The gulf between what our city’s poorest and wealthiest families can expect from their school system has increased on average by over 30 scale points.

In the face of years of massive teacher terminations, unprecedented yearly teacher churn, and an aggressive teacher evaluation system predicated on the use of controversial and largely panned value-added measure (VAM) data – all of which assist in ensuring that district teachers have met the standards set out by the administration, our district’s low income students (many of whom have been in this system since the inception of the reforms) fair increasingly worse relative to fellow students who happen to go to schools with families that are wealthier on average.



Looking at the system as a whole, the district has maintained a modest improvement for all students, but when we disaggregate this data, a more compelling story emerges: students and teachers throughout the district are not receiving the needed resources that would aid in mitigating the scourge of multi-generational poverty.

DCPS must face some critical decisions moving forward with regard to the improvement strategies it employs. The teachers of this district have endured for over eight years, the prevailing doctrine that advantages the will of administration with little regard for the experience of those in the classroom. The result has been twofold: the often touted title of “fastest improving urban district in the nation” as measured by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data; and the often overlooked reality that the district has sustained the largest and fastest increasing achievement gap based on socio-economic status in the nation from that same data.


This data can be of little shock to district leadership when their own reporting indicates that in FY2015, DCPS awarded schools with decidedly low “at-risk” populations the lion-share of “at-risk” funds. The 5 best achieving schools in the district received 90% more funding than the 5 lowest performing schools – an untenable imbalance. Attached is the PowerPoint presentation that was shared with members who attended our special legislative session.

As our teachers, families, and students move toward the close of another school year, beleaguered by one more round of the districts random acts of reform (this iteration includes LEAP, ASPEN, and extended year initiatives) one constant remains – almost certain failure given the absence of DCPS’ systemic appetite for authentic collaborative cooperation.

Over a year ago, the WTU negotiations team of classroom teachers offered to the district a collection of research-supported strategies that could be collectively bargained in an effort to ensure the districts sustained commitment for at least the life of the contract. Key among them was the increased investment in community schools and instructional support materials, and an improved at-risk funding formula – it would appear from DCPS’ resistance that the district would prefer the WTU only care about the adults in the system.

As education professionals, the needs of teachers are only a reflection of the needs of our students. A record number of dissatisfied teachers have fled the district under this administration. DCPS’ own data reflects a massive 126% turnover rate over 6 years with only 11% of that due to what might be deemed poor performance. This district is by any reasonable measure a product of what the district endeavored eight years ago, and in so much time why hasn’t there been the results we were promised?

All of this data, and more were made available during the Shared Vision Conference at a special legislative session provided to enlighten and enliven the education leadership of our city. City council members and representatives of council members, State Board of Education members, State Superintendent(OSSE), labor and community organization leaders were in attendance, and pressed to investigate the data on their own. I pray that soon we all, with DCPS, might become allies in finally doing what’s best for students.

It is with urgency and determination that I, along with the rest of DC educators and parents assert that a change must come. And while I may be assailed by some for centering my focus on assuring that equity in education is a reality for all of our teachers and students in this district regardless of zip code, together we will not be moved. Please contact the WTU at dialogue@wtulocal6.net to find out how you can work with the Washington Teachers’ Union in helping to address this pernicious and growing achievement gap. Our teachers deserve better and our students cannot afford to wait another nine years.

Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington Teachers’ Union