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See Ya, Kaya: The Achievement Gap

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Kaya Henderson
Kaya Henderson
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This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on Kaya Henderson's leadership of DCPS. [Part 1]

After six years as head of D.C. Public Schools, Kaya Henderson steps down Friday, claiming she's turned around a troubled school system.

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"DCPS has become the fastest--improving urban school district in the country," Henderson's DCPS bio states.

But the facts tell a different story. It's one of slight overall improvement (largely due to gentrification and changing demographics), masking a disturbing reality: under Henderson the achievement gap has grown and D.C.'s most at-risk students have fallen even farther behind.

"A frequent criticism of Henderson," writesCity Paper's Jeffrey Anderson, "is that she promotes progress by highlighting aggregate student test scores that either do not account for or obscure one of the widest achievement gaps in the country."

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"Looking at the system as a whole the district has maintained a modest improvement for all students," Washington Teachers' Union president Elizabeth Davis wrote in response to Part 1 of this series.

But when we disaggregate this data, a more compelling story emerges: students and teachers throughout the district are not receiving the needed resources that would aid in mitigating the scourge of multi-generational poverty.

Mayoral Control

Henderson arrived at DCPS in 2007 when her close friend Michelle Rhee took the reins of the school system.

Their arrival coincided with D.C. switching to mayoral control of schools, which disempowered the elected school board, and gave Rhee and Henderson unprecedented authority.

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This power grab was justified as necessary to address D.C.'s wide achievement gaps: between black/Latino and white, and lower and higher-income students. But after Rhee and Henderson's combined near-decade atop DCPS, the achievement gaps haven't narrowed. In fact they've widened.

The gaps "are huge -- and years of corporate reform didn't stop them from widening," writes Valerie Strauss, a rare voice willing to challenge Henderson at the Washington Post.

The Associated Press similarly found that under Henderson the achievement gap "remained persistently high and has increased by some measures."

"The gaps between wealthy and poor remain huge--and have actually increased--under Rhee and Henderson," wrote former PBS reporter John Merrow, citing DCPS scores on the test known as "the nation's report card."

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Pete Tucker is an independent DC reporter.

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