D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson stands by as Mayor Muriel Bowser addresses the schools system's recent attendance scandal. (Courtesy of WTOP)
D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson stands by as Mayor Muriel Bowser addresses the schools system's recent attendance scandal. (Courtesy of WTOP)

The D.C. region ranked as the second-most educated among metropolitan areas in America, according to a new survey released by D.C.-based WalletHub personal finance website.

The rankings grouped D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland together, but it may not have considered the recent scandal that’s gripped D.C. public schools.

The scandal involved a report from the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent which revealed that more than 900 unqualified students in D.C. public high schools graduated last year.

Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered the report in December after NPR published a story that revealed many students at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast were able to graduate despite missing months of school.

“We are tremendously disappointed,” Bowser said of the finding by investigators who analyzed citywide attendance and graduation records.

Policy violations were found in 937 of 2,758 graduating students’ records. The findings included credit recovery — or accelerated coursework — was used inappropriately at most high schools and schools rarely followed attendance policies.

The investigation discovered that the schools system’s Central Office did not support schools or provide sufficient oversight on most policy violations, and that most District high schools exhibited a culture of passing and graduating students.

DCPS officials announced the permanent removal of Ballou Principal Yetunde Reeves. They also placed the vice principal in charge of seniors on leave.

Additionally, the principal at Dunbar High School in Northwest was placed on administrative leave after investigators discovered 4,000 changes were made to 118 attendance records after they were filed by teachers.

Perhaps the violator was Luke C. Moore Alternative High School in Northeast, where 87 percent of students should not have received a high school diploma.

The investigators said they found that a lack of support from Central Office contributed to many of the system-wide policy violations. Training, communication and system monitoring were all inadequate, according to NPR.

In a statement, Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said he was deeply upset by the findings of the DCPS attendance report, particularly the revelation of widespread attendance fraud at Dunbar.

“I learned about this [last week] from Chancellor [Antwan] Wilson, just hours before the mayor’s press conference, which I also attended,” McDuffie said. “While some details are still emerging, it is clear that the adults who are responsible for the alleged attendance fraud failed our students, their parents, and our entire education community. At the same time, the report suggests this situation is not just a few bad apples, but a systemic failure at DCPS.

“I will be monitoring this situation closely and will be working with the community and stakeholders to rebuild trust with the DCPS community,” McDuffie said. “We must ensure that administrators follow the law and DC students receive the quality education to which they are entitled.”

On the job for less than a year, Wilson has pledged to revamp DCPS policy and grading system and meet with graduating seniors to talk about expectations. He said he will also establish a community task force and ombudsman to make sure there’s accountability.

At-Large Council member David Grosso, the chairperson of the Committee on Education, was equally upset about the findings of the report.

“[The report] further demonstrates that this is a system wide failure on the part of our schools and administration to adhere to the policies and practices put in place to prepare our students for the world beyond 12th grade,” Grosso said. “With that information in hand, I believe we as a city can move forward to identify solutions that move us away from the unethical practices documented in the audit. We must also ensure the necessary supports are provided to staff and communities that enable students in the District of Columbia to show up to school every day ready to learn.”

Grosso said he intends to thoroughly review the findings in the coming weeks, along with a forthcoming internal review by D.C. Public Schools.

“On February 8, 2018, I will reconvene the public roundtable that began on December 15, 2017 to publicly review the findings of the Chancellor’s internal report on DCPS high schools and OSSE’s independent investigation,” Grosso said.

“I will be looking to government leadership to present their findings as well as offer immediate and long-term solutions that address the systemic issues we are facing in our neighborhood high schools.

“I continue to encourage the public to build on the testimony we received over the course of the last month by submitting testimony to the Committee on Education. Testimony will be compiled as part of a formal Committee Report and anonymity or redaction will be granted upon request,” he said.

Bowser said she fully supports Chancellor Wilson and expects better going forward.

“With mayoral accountability and council oversight, I think we have significantly advanced achievement in our public education,” Bowser said.

Pressed by a reporter at WUSA-TV (Channel 9) on why city officials only learned of the scandal after media reports, the mayor acknowledged that such lapses in communication need to be eliminated.

“Well, I think you heard if there are anomalies in our system, if there are violations of our policy, we have to improve how that information gets right to the top so we can appropriately deal with it,” she said.

To view the full report, go to https://osse.dc.gov/graduation.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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