DC Graduation Problems Extend to Wilson High School, Councilmember Says

The day after a report showed 113 students at a Southeast D.C. high school graduated despite not meeting the necessary requirements, a D.C. councilmember says the same report shows similar problems at a high school in a predominantly affluent neighborhood.

Councilmember Mary Cheh said Wednesday that the study done by an independent auditing firm indicates that 34 percent of graduates at Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest did not meet attendance requirements.

"If it can be happening at Wilson, it must be entirely throughout the system," Cheh said.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Public Schools chancellor Antwan Wilson released the initial results of the report on Tuesday.

The study was sparked by a WAMU and NPR investigation that said only 57 of the 164 students at Ballou High School who received diplomas were on track to graduate. Half of the 2017 graduates were counted as absent for more than three months of the school year but were allowed to graduate anyway, the investigation showed.

The principal of Ballou High School, Dr. Yetunde Reeves, and at least one assistant principal pressured teachers into giving students passing grades, regardless of whether they did the work, according to the report.

In light of the report, Bowser said they were moving to fire Reeves. The former principal at Ballou was assigned to another function in the district in early December, and Willie Jackson was named to serve as acting principal.

The report also found flaws in how student attendance was tracked and enforced at the high school.

We take children when they’re little. We put them through a system and at the end of that system, 
we graduate them and they don’t have the skills to survive.

"We take children when they’re little. We put them through a system and at the end of that system, we graduate them and they don’t have the skills to survive," Cheh said.

Cheh blamed the problem on the school system, saying there is systemic pressure to push students through the system.

"By protecting DCPS officials, we are cheating our students, and that is appalling," Cheh said. "It will be very difficult for me to trust future claims of growing graduation rates when we have evidence today that DCPS has been cooking the books or not following their own policies."

In a broader look, the report said DCPS neighborhood schools have very high levels of absenteeism, and an increasing number of extremely absent students have graduated in recent years. The report showed charter schools and DCPS selective high schools have lower levels of absenteeism and lower levels of graduates with high absenteeism.

D.C. councilmember David Grosso, who chairs the education committee, said he expected more principals at other schools to be fired as well.

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