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Higher Scores Test How D.C. Schools Define Success

Two years into a bold effort to reform the city's school system, Washington, D.C., has seen gains in reading and writing proficiency among students. But while scores are up, critics are asking whether reforms have actually made district schools better off.

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    After years of dismal performance, test scores are starting to climb.


    This year, we had the greatest gains we've ever had. Thirty percent of our students are proficient at reading and math, basically, at this point.


    Thirty percent may not sound like much, but in 2006, when Darrin Slade became principal, only 9 percent of students here were on grade level in math.


    My goal is to be at least 80 percent proficient, but you still have to celebrate gains.

    Let's give these students a round of applause.


    Ron Brown Middle School isn't alone. Students across Washington, long considered one of the worst school systems in the nation, are scoring higher on standardized tests. It's the result of an aggressive campaign now two years old by Mayor Adrian Fenty and his surprise pick to run the school system, former teacher and nonprofit leader Michelle Rhee.

    MICHELLE RHEE, chancellor, Washington, D.C., Public School System: I am not a career superintendent. This is going to be my one and only superintendency. So in that way, I'm lucky, because I don't have to worry about, you know, well, what's going to happen to my reputation or something like that?


    From day one, Rhee seemed an unlikely leader for D.C.'s public schools. She'd never even been a school principal, let alone a school superintendent. But here in Washington, D.C., which has seen seven superintendents in a decade, two years in office makes Michelle Rhee a veteran.

    She's accomplished a lot. She's closed 23 schools, slashed her central office staff, pumped $200 million into school modernization, quadrupled spending on teacher training, and replaced about half of her school principals.

    But is education improving? That's a difficult question.