Once widely rerided for its abysmal performance, District of Columbia Public Schools has become a shining national example of education reform in recent years, in part due to their rapidly rising graduation rates. In October 2016, President Obama touted the nation's record-high graduation rates as proof that aggressive education reforms were "making progress," specifically highlighting DCPS: "Right here in D.C., in just five years, the graduation rate in [DCPS] went from just 53 percent to 69 percent. ... That's something to be really proud of." January's alarming report, however, found extensive fraud in DCPS graduation rates, raising serious concerns about how we know progress when we see it.
The report found that last year, a third of DCPS graduates received diplomas in violation of district policy. Twenty percent had too many absences, and 10 percent missed half the school year. Fifteen percent took "credit-recovery" courses – abbreviated make-up versions of courses for students who previously failed – without ever taking the original courses. Even within credit-recovery courses, 15 percent of graduates passed with excessive absences. Yet another issue was grade changes, where administrators pressured teachers or took it upon themselves to change grades, with over 4,000 such instances in a single high school. Without these shortcuts, DCPS' record 73-percent graduation rate would have fallen to around 48 percent.