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United States of America

Washington DC

An administration focused solely on students and their performance

Five-year plan was introduced, aimed at achieving six interrelated goals: 

  • creating compelling schools (including placing social workers, psychologists, art, music, and physical education teachers in every school);

  • attracting great people (hiring and retaining the best educators and managers in the country); 

  • creating an aligned curriculum (rigorous, and imparting skills and knowledge for productive lives beyond school, either in college or the workforce); 

  • gathering and using comprehensive and accurate data (to enable well-founded decisions based on measurable results); 

  • ensuring an effective central office (streamlined and efficient); and 

  • engaging with the community (partnerships with parents, families, and community members, so that parents know what a good education is and how to demand it for their children). 



Within the first year of the reform programme, DC-CAS (District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System) test results showed promising improvements. In the July 2008 examinations: 

  • Elementary schools increased their reading scores by 8 percentage points, and mathematics scores by 11 points.

  • Secondary schools made nine percentage point gains in both reading and mathematics. 

  • The number of schools with proficiency rates below 20 per cent dropped from 50 to 29

  • Some of these schools doubled or tripled their average reading and mathematics scores: of the 19 schools that did so, 14 are in the city’s neediest neighbourhoods (DCPS 2008).

Challenges for reform 

Reforming an existing education system raises numerous important and difficult issues. The public needs to support and invest in the reform process, and a central part of this is a good communication strategy that directly addresses people’s fears and concerns. Parents affected by change will naturally be concerned. It is important to involve them in decision-making (such as the Local School Restructuring Teams in DC) and empower them with information (such as the soon-to- be-opened parent centres around Washington, DC).


Whole School Improvement (WSI)

Goal: Six essential things that ‘good schools’ do: 

  • organise activities around instruction; 

  • obtain and regularly use detailed data about students’ performance; 

  • offer professional development for teachers that is embedded in their daily work; 

  • build leaders; 

  • manage resources effectively; and 

  • reach out to parents and the community

About the reform project

WSI provided a framework for instructional improvement, school reorganisation, and measures of success. 

The Effective Practice Network (EPN) of schools was established for sharing ideas, and testing and spreading good practice. Twenty-five school leaders talked, shared ideas, and tested innovations in a well-resourced and well-supported context. In the last ten years, Boston Public Schools (BPS) and Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE) together raised $100 million from national foundations to test ideas that were relatively unproven, and document them. Some of these reforms have been extended to a wider group of schools, with district budget support. 

Factors influencing reform 

Reform’s success depends on stability and time – at least five years. 

  • In many districts the constant turnover of superintendents and school boards results in instability, but Boston enjoys a stable environment. 

  • The superintendent had a hypothesis that the most important thing to do was to improve instruction in the classrooms, through the sustained development of teachers and the implementation of structured curricula at a deliberate pace. He structured his budget accordingly, and stuck with this hypothesis for more than 10 years, which enabled him to make an impact. 

  • Payzant viewed the school district as a large and inclusive network which included the mayor, school boards, superintendents, the central office, schools, teachers, universities, reform organisations, local corporate sectors, and churches. He chose to focus on long-term systemic and structural change for Boston rather than small reform projects.

Research by CoLab; Packaged by CoLab; Used for Punjab education reform

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