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A Disgrace In DCPS

NPR Reveals D.C. High School Simply Passed Students Along

NPR’s Education Team is out with a new investigation from reporter Kate McGee showing that administrators at Washington D.C.’s Ballou High School handed out diplomas to dozens of students who failed to meet the requirements for graduation last year.

Ballou, which has long been one of the city’s most troubled high schools, garnered national attention this spring when district officials announced that 100% of its graduates had been accepted to college. However, as McGee’s investigation reveals, most of those students never should have even graduated.

Internal documents and communications show that teachers were pressured to change failing grades and overlook excessive absences in order to make students eligible to walk across the stage on Graduation Day. As McGee notes in her report:

“Half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year, unexcused. One in five students was absent more than present — missing more than 90 days of school…An internal email obtained by WAMU and NPR from April shows two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation or community service requirements or failing classes needed to graduate. In June, 164 students received diplomas.”

Administrators also steered failing students into questionable “credit recovery” classes, in which they were supposedly able to make up months of missed work in the span of a few short weeks.

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But perhaps the most outrageous part of the story is the reaction of district officials, who don’t really seem all that concerned about the unethical behavior at Ballou. When McGee asked DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson how Ballou administrators were able to graduate students who either failed or rarely attended classes, he fumbled about for an answer before abruptly ending the interview, claiming a scheduling conflict. Moreover, subsequent statements from DCPS never squarely addressed the fact that Ballou’s leadership used smoke and mirrors (and violated district policies) in order to boost their graduation rate.

As of now, no one has been disciplined at Ballou for these shenanigans. Not only does Ballou’s principal, Yetunde Reeves, still have her job, but she just so happened to launch a new anti-truancy initiative the day before NPR’s piece aired:

What a joke. If Wilson isn’t willing to hold the leadership at Ballou accountable, he’s in the wrong job.

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Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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