top of page

Analyzing "Management Principles and the Washington, DC Public Schools (A): Choosing a Chancellor" 

Updated: May 21, 2020

In the case study Management Principles and the Washington, DC Public Schools (A): Choosing a Chancellor, Hafrey and Reavis (2011) examine the exploits of Victor Reinoso as he faced the challenge of improving the Washington, DC Public Schools (DCPS). The school system was comprised of 150 schools which 55,00 students attended. The authors stated that half the schools were failing federal standards but ranked third out of 100 of the nation’s largest districts in spending at $13,000 per student. In addition, it was ranked first in its share of the budget spent on administration, and last on teachers and instruction (Hafrey and Reavis, 2011).

One of the first things to note is the power dynamic between the school board and the mayor. After campaigning for a seat on the school board, and focusing on the business background he could use to address the issues they faced, Reinosos briefly served but realized that the “decision-by-committee-culture did not offer a viable path to reform” (Hafrey and Reavis, 2011. p.4). When Adrian Fenty was elected mayor of Washington, DC in 2006, Reinosos resigned his school board position and accepted the position of deputy mayor for education. Pulling from his vast consulting experience, Reinoso built an internal team that would be responsible for managing external consultants (Hafrey and Reavis, 2011). This important step ensured that day to day operational activities would not burden members and they would be able to focus on solving specific problems.

Ethical Considerations

Reinoso encountered a bureaucratic minefield in the district. With articles in the local papers describing the situation with quotes from employee who stated, “We used to joke that we do organizational charts by family” and a former superintendent describing how one must stop and find out what the relationships were before any decisions could be made (Toch &Mead, 2006; Hafrey & Reavis, 2011).

The poor performance of the school system on its own does not indicate unethical behavior by those governing it. However, while barely scratching the surface, understanding that the system was well funded and where the money was going, it was not difficult to determine that more ethical practices needed to be implemented. Basing decisions on relationships and not on the betterment of the district, the education of the students, or the responsible dispersion of considerable funds were all grave ethical errors.

Renown philosopher Albert Schweitzer said, “A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist and shrinks from injuring anything that lives" (Rank, 2017). Rank (2017) described ethics as standards that provides insights for individuals and groups toward fairness, continual improvement, and holding team-members to the same high ethical standard (p. 4). He goes onto describe approaches to ethics which include: utilitarian, right, fairness/justice, common good, and virtue (para 22). Using these approaches to assess the DCPS, there was considerable room for improvement when Reinsos arrived on the scene.

Gathering Data

Obtaining quantifiable data was vital to providing awareness on precisely how poorly the schools were performing. A consulting firm, Parthenon Group, was hired to conduct a best-practice review urban schools under mayoral control (Hafrey and Reavis, 2011). By assessing precisel, the status of the school system Reinosos was able to spread awareness, and without this critical step determining improvement would have been extremely difficult.

The data that Reinosos gathered painted a grim picture of the status of DCPS. Of the 11 school systems that were assessed, DCPS performed the worst for student performance in math and reading for 4th and 8th grade students. Enrollment dropped 13 percent between 2000 and 2005 and the superintendent turnover rate was 2.4 years compared to 4.6 years for other large cities in the US (Hafrey and Reavis, 2011).

Implementing Change

The Parthenon Group, as part of their research, provided “pain points” or issues of particular concern requiring attention (Hafrey and Reavis, 2011). These points where upheld with quotes from DCPS constituents and consisted of accountability issues, lack of emphasis on teaching, operations and managerial inefficiencies, lack of support to special needs students, facilities and safety concerns, and lack of community engagement (Hafrey and Reavis, 2011). The first step to change is identifying what needs to be changed, discussing change, and selecting a group to start implementing the new practices (Jung, 2017, p. 28).

DC Council members and administrators were not part of the planning process as Reinosos and Mayor Fenty determined how the transition of power was going to shift to mayoral control. The DC Public Education Reform Act of 2007 established that the $1 billion budget would be handled by the mayor (and council confirmed) chancellor (Hafrey and Reavis, 2011). The DCPS school board who once controlled the budget began focus on directed policies, standardized testing, and certification for educators (Hafrey and Reavis, 2011). The DC Public Education Reform Act of 2007 also shifted the focus of the school system to educating students instead of non–core responsibilities such as facilities management which was now to be handled by the independent Facilities Management and Construction Authority (Hafrey and Reavis, 2011). This division in accountability is important to note as the DCPS was formerly responsible for all the duties listed above. The school system was independent from the rest of the government before but the Interagency Collaboration and Services Integration Commission was tasked with generating an interconnected delivery system for vulnerable children in order to coordinate services and reform and this legislation required that results be verifiable within the range of five years (Hafrey and Reavis, 2011).

The ethical issue that was ultimately addressed by this division in accountability was that the school board held too much power over the budget and was not using their considerable funding appropriately. Also, they seemed to lack any motivation to change since the internal bureaucracy appeared to be more concerned with internal relationships than improving the education of students, relationships with educators, and creating a fruitful environment where all could find some level satiety.


Reinosos essentially created a team of experienced consultants to make decisions for the betterment of the school system and divided responsibilities and power to specific teams and individuals. A consultant must possess relevant experience (Dmytrenko, 1996). Independent advisers, who do not directly benefit from their consultations, are very important in maintaining ethical practices since the risk of conflicts of interest is significantly lower. Through a combination of business acumen and a personal motivation to see improvement in the school system, due to the soon enrollment of his own children, Reinosos proceeded delicately toward the significant change needed improve the system. That change required him to direct power away from the school board and put in mayoral control. The mayor then appointed him to a position of authority to delegate the changes that he felt were required for improvement.

Ethical Components to Consider