A Tale of 2 States: Lessons to Be Learned

US NewsThe new Every Student Succeeds Act returns to the states much of the authority for directing school improvement that the federal government had assumed in the past 15 years. Some states are ready to roll, but plenty are searching for potential role models. Fortunately, at least two such candidates are easy to find.

Earlier this fall, the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” provided a snapshot of student achievement across the land. Amidst generally disappointing results, there were a few bright spots. Washington, D.C., and Hawaii led the nation in aggregate national assessment improvement over the past decade. From dismal depths in 2005, the two have climbed their way to respectability. In a new report for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, entitled, “Laggards to Leaders in K-12,” authors take a deeper look at what has transpired in these locales that can help account for their out-sized gains.

Washington D.C: Revamping System and Increased Improvement in Charter Schools

What D.C. was able to do was to restructure a broken tenure system and increase oversight and management of Charter Schools. A quick summary of what occurred:

In 2007, the city council voted to give control of the schools to the new mayor, Adrian Fenty. Fenty appointed the dynamic Michelle Rhee as chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools. Under Fenty and Rhee, the District negotiated a radical new contract with the Washington Teachers Union that allowed teachers to earn more than $100,000 a year with just nine years of experience – in return for an end to traditional tenure protections. D.C. Public Schools also streamlined the central administration, adopted a pioneering new teacher evaluation system, revamped a broken special education system and shuttered excess schools. In addition, the D.C. Public Charter School Board provided oversight of all local charter schools, and helped poor-performing charters either improve or close.

Hawaii: Small Size Leadership

As a small island state with only 180,000 students and a single school district, Hawaii makes it possible for state leaders to have a direct connection to the schools – and direct control over what happens – in ways that are not feasible in larger states. That personal touch was augmented by leadership stability; Hawaii has had just two state superintendents in the past 14 years.

Hawaii’s strategy focused on granting more power to local schools and encouraging instructional alignment across grade levels (extending up to the university system). The small size leadership features a lot of conversation and shared commitment, frequently spearheaded by the Hawaii P-20 Partnership for Education, which connects leaders in K–12, higher education, business, philanthropy and government. That trust and familiarity played a key role in Hawaii making notions like “data-driven decisions” and “local control” much more than empty slogans.


To read more about these two distinct, yet effective models, see http://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/articles/2015-12-14/washington-dc-and-hawaii-are-role-models-for-improving-k-12-education.

For the Leaders & Laggards report (which also includes a segment on the state of Maryland), see http://www.leadersandlaggards.org/sites/default/files/022592_LaggardsLeaders_2015_FIN.pdf