Idiotic Math Questions

I was recently helping a student at Wilson SHS in Washington, DC with something called a ‘Paced Interim Assessment’,  written and published by one of our major educational publishing monopolies. It was filled with questions that were pompous, absurd, and filled with errors. Here is one of them.

Given: line p is parallel to line q.

Prove: the measure of angle 1 equals the measure of angle 2. Show all steps of a two-column proof.

goofy parallel line question

The reason I think this problem is goofy is that the “given” information is not needed at all: Angles 1 and 2 are congruent (or have the same measure, or are equal) no matter whether the two lines are parallel or not, by virtue of something we call the Vertical Angles Theorem, and which students by this point have already proved and have been using for a long time. In other words, there is nothing to prove at all.

Is this a simple typographical error, where the author(s) really meant for the student to prove that angle 1 is congruent to angle 3? I don’t know. If so, that would be fairly easy to do – it’s asking the student to prove the alternate exterior angles theorem — but they’ve probably already proved that as well!

Over and over I found the problems in this PIA to be shoddily written and not requiring any thought whatsoever, while at the same time adding lots of extraneous words that will certainly discourage anyone who doesn’t read well. We found about five questions that had no correct answer given, and a few that looked like this:

gppfy angle question

Notice that there is nothing at all given about the relationship between angles ADB and BDC. Is ray DB an angle bisector? We don’t know. Perhaps that was the intention, but it is nowhere stated, so you cannot figure out anything about any of the angles in the diagram whatsoever.

Yeah, I admit to having made up quite a few bad questions in my career as a teacher, but when students pointed out my errors I would graciously thank them for showing me up. Here, I am pretty sure that the student would be penalized for not reading the minds of the low-paid hacks who wrote this trash.

I also tutor students from Sidwell Friends and Saint Alban’s in much the same subjects. What I find is that the students at SF and StA are given problems that require thought — much like the problems I used to assign when I taught at Alice Deal JHS — all of which schools are in Washington, DC.

The idiots in charge of education in Washington, DC Public Schools should be ashamed of how low they have sunk the education of DC’s youngsters. It’s really a travesty.

Enrollment in Teacher Education Courses is Declining

Apparently students are deciding in large numbers that teaching is not such a safe, stable career any more, and as a result, in several large states, the numbers of students enrolled in programs to prepare students for a career in education is going down dramatically. In California, the numbers have dropped by over 40 percent in just a few years (from 44,692 in 2008/9 to 26.321 in 2011/12). In New York State, they went from 79,225 im 2009/10 to 61,821 in 2011/12, a 22% drop.

They don’t seem to give teacher-preparation enrollments for 2013-14 or for the present year. I wouldn’t be surprised if numbers have continued to plummet, since the unending attacks on the teaching profession have only increased over the past two years, as tens or hundreds of thousands of teachers have been summarily fired for no good reason in districts across the nation, particularly in our large cities.

Here is the link to the article, but I’ll warn you that it’s protected by a paywall. I can somehow read it on my smartphone but not on my computer. I can’t even copy and paste individual paragraphs.



Bob Schaeffer’s Roundup of Resistance to Education Deforms

From Bob Schaeffer:

Top national policy-makers finally took notice of the growing testing resistance and reform movement this week.  The Council of Chief State School Officers (aka state superintendents) and the Council of the Great City Schools (urban supers) published a report admitting that standardized exam overkill was rampant across the country.  In response, both U.S. Secretary of Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama issued statements of concern.

But none of these long-time defenders of test misuse and overuse has spelled out how to address what they concede are serious problems. That’s why grassroots activists — parents, students, teachers, administrators, community leaders, school board members, etc. — need to keep ratcheting up the pressure !

School Standardized Testing Is Under Growing Attack: Leaders Pledge Changes
As Over-Testing Outcry Grows, Exam Promoters Pull Back Slightly

Poll Finds Coloradans Concerned About Too Much Testing
Pearson Scoring Error Delays Release of New Test Results

Delaware School Board Will Support Families Who Opt Out of Tests

Florida Teachers Fed Up With Volume of Testing
Revolt Against Testing Spreads Across Florida
Florida Fights With Feds Over Testing English Language Learners

Time for Georgians to Rise Up Against Student Testing Regime

Indiana School Grade Gaming Earns Failing Results

Maryland Educators Seek Delay in Common Core Testing Requirements

Mississippi School Grading Change Leaves Schools Confused, Frustrated

Suspend New Jersey Exit Exam Requirement During Transition to PARCC

New Mexico State Senator Seeks Moratorium on Test Score Consequences
Testing Policy A Contentious Issue in New Mexico Race for Governor

New York Rethinks Rush to Computerized Testing: Plans Multi-Year Phase-In
Opt-Out Movement Builds Across New York State

Ohio School Superintendents Label Added Common Core Testing an “Abomination”
Grades From Spring 2015 Ohio Common Core Tests May Not Be Available Until 2016
Ohio School Board Candidate: Test-Centric Education Cannot Replace for Effective Learning

Oklahoma Plays Test Vendor “Musical Chairs” Firing One Company and Hiring Another

Portland Oregon Schools Refuse to Be Judged By Common Core Tests

Too Much Testing in Texas Schools

Former Utah Teacher of the Year, Now NEA President, Says Don’t Punish Educators With Test Scores

Powerful Video Short: “Refuse the Tests”

Testing Mania and Uncle Sam’s Clumsy (Over)Reach

New Research: Grade Retention, Even in Kindergarten, Is Harmful to Children

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office-   (239) 395-6773   fax-  (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468

What about that High School Dropout Crisis?

Apparently the dropout rates among US high school students are at record LOWS, not highs, according to this article by the Pew research group:

Published in: on October 6, 2014 at 5:18 pm  Comments (1)  

Kaya Henderson Really Doesn’t Know How to Run a School System

DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson told the city two days ago, “I want to be clear. We know what we need to do, and we have what it takes to get it done.”

That is patently untrue.

Even by her own yardsticks, namely test scores, Henderson and her kind of ‘reform’ has so far been a complete failure; Continuing the churn-and-test-prep regime won’t make it any better

As I wrote in a comment on the article in the Washington Post:

All of Henderson’s boasts of continuous progress are completely bogus. 
If you look at the scores on the DC-CAS for every single subgroup, you can see that they have stagnated since 2009, which was the year before Rhee, Kamras and Henderson implemented their trademark reforms (IMPACT, TLF, VAM “merit pay” and eliminating seniority protections for teachers). The gaps between white students and hispanic or black students have NOT narrowed since that time. There were some increases from 2006-2009, but it’s not clear how much of that was due to adults cheating, or simply because students and teachers were adapting to a brand-new test. (You may recall that the DC-CAS was administered for the very first time in 2006, and the percentages of kids deemed ‘proficient’ dropped quite a bit in comparison to what they were under the old test, especially in math.) 
Also: out of the 78 measurable goals set by Rhee and four large foundations, in order to earn that $64.5 million grant in 2009, the DCPS leadership has achieved a mere one and one-half of those goals (and I’m being generous with the one-half). That is a success rate of TWO PERCENT. 
In other words, Rhee and Henderson have an almost perfect record of failure, none of which is publicized by the media (esp. not WaPo editorial staff) but is easy to see if you look at the official OSSE statistics and are willing to dig a little bit.  
I’ve done some digging and have made some pretty easy-to-understand graphs showing how much Rhee and Henderson have failed. Look at my blog, , and in particular at , , and . 
After you read those blog posts, can you explain to me why Kaya Henderson still has a job? It is so clear that mayoral control has been a complete failure!

Russ Walsh on the many failures of economists

Russ Walsh does a good job skewering many of the ways that economists have failed to predict or prevent recessions and do an even worse job in thinking up fancy mathematical schemes that have nothing to do with the real world. He thinks that “value-added” is the worst of the lot.

Published in: on October 1, 2014 at 6:26 am  Comments (1)  

Overall results of mayoral control of DC Public Schools, continued

Continuation from the previous post…

First, math:

percent proficient in math by subgroups, 2005-2014

Here we can see the effect of changing from one test to another quite clearly. 2005 was the last year for the SAT-9. In 2006, DCPS changed to the DC-CAS for its system-wide standardized test, and scores plummeted, as is normal for this sort of thing. We then had three years of steady growth up until 2009, when Rhee, Kamras and Henderson instituted IMPACT and incredible rates of churn among teachers. Since that time, scores in virtually every single subgroup has stayed essentially flat. But you won’t hear that fact ballyhooed in the editorial pages of the Washington Post or Education Week. The only group with any real growth is Hispanic students, and that means that they have finally matched the levels they showed under the previous test, the SAT-9, eight years ago.

The gaps between the proficiency rates of white students and the other groups have not really been reduced much at all. What exactly is there to celebrate?

Last graph will be for math, same subgroups.

percent proficient in reading by subgroups, 2005-14

Here we see that there was not nearly as much of a drop in scores from 2006 to 2007 with the change of exam. English teachers familiar with both tests can perhaps enlighten us. But since 2009, when IMPACT began and every single teacher had to follow the rigid Teaching and Learning Framework, those scores have either stayed flat or have actually decreased a bit.

Can someone please explain why Henderson and Kamras still have jobs, and why we still have IMPACT running our schools, and why we still have majoral control of the schools instead of a democratically-elected school board? Their record is pitiful!



Published in: on September 30, 2014 at 9:35 am  Comments (4)  

What Has The Record Been in DCPS for the Various Subgroups Since Mayoral Control of Schools?

Here is the conventional wisdom:

Everything is getting better in the Washington, DC public school system since the City Council did away with the elected school board and instituted mayoral control over the schools. Chancellors Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson have overseen tremendous improvement ever since, because the teacher evaluation system known as IMPACT and the removal of seniority starting in school-year 2009-10 were game-changers that have ensured continual test score increases.

After looking at the record, I beg to differ.

What the record actually shows is that with all those changes, almost none of the promises Chancellor Rhee made actually came true. Plus, if you look at how the various subgroups (blacks, whites, hispanics, ELLs, SPEDs, and so on) did, you will see almost no progress since 2009.

I will show you the results, and I think you will agree that mayoral control of the schools and the current focus on tests, tests, and more tests has not even come close to accomplishing any of the promises that were made or that citizens should expect.

Let’s first look at the promises made for elementary and secondary math and reading scores on the DC-CAS, and compare those promises with the actual results. First, elementary reading:

predicted and actual elem reading dc-cas 2007-14


Remember, the big changes in the operations of DC Public Schools began in the 2009-2010 school year. Before those big changes were implemented, there had been some modes and steady improvement in the elementary reading scores on the DC-CAS, which Rhee, Kamras, and Henderson promised would continue through 2013 — and that you can see as the dotted blue line in the graph shown above. In 2014, under the law known as “No Child Left Behind Act”, every single student in every single subgroup in every single public school was supposed to be proficient, which is why my dotted line suddenly veers sharply up into dreamland at 100%. So, as you can see, the actual percentage of elementary students at the ‘advanced’ or ‘proficient’ level in DCPS in 2013 is slightly BELOW what it was in 2009, the last year before IMPACT (and the year I retired).

Next, let’s look at secondary reading:

predicted and actual secondary reading dc-cas 2007-14

Once again, the promised goals far outstripped the actual achievements after 2009 in secondary reading, which showed several years of small declines after 2009, and a couple of years of small increases. An astute reader will notice that for 2008 and 2009, the dotted blue line (promises) is below the  solid red line. That’s because when I added up the numbers of students in grades 7, 8, and 10 who were ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ in those years from the official spreadsheets, I got slightly different results from what Rhee & company claimed when they made the agreements with the four large foundations. I don’t quite know what causes the difference, so I’m calling their numbers for those years the “claimed” results, and my results the “actual”. Such hubris on my part, I know…

In any case, nobody could claim that there has been steady growth in secondary reading scores in DCPS since 2009, the last year before IMPACT.  Recall that 2007 was the first year that DC students took a new exam called the DC-CAS, instead of the previous test called the SAT-9. In every school district that I or other researchers have examined, when a new standardized test is instituted, it is very common for students’ scores to plummet the first year. After that, teachers and students learn how to take the test and instruction changes, and scores begin to rise again. We see that pattern here for years 2007, 2008, and 2009. But after that, frankly, the scores are very close to “flat”.

Next — elementary math scores:

predicted and actual elem math dc-cas 2007-14

Once again, we do steady increases from 2007 through 2009, which I attribute to teachers learning how to teach to a new test and students figuring it out as well. After 2009, when Rhee instituted IMPACT and made all those promises to those large foundations and the public, the growth pretty much stopped, and the gap between those promises (the dotted blue line) and the actual results (the red line) got wider. In 2014, the last year we have data for, the elementary math scores actually dropped again, not by much — but this was the year that under No Child Left Behind, 100% of all students were supposed to be proficient.

Next — secondary math:

predicted and actual secondary math dc-cas 2007-14

This fourth graph is almost an exact duplicate of the pattern established with the previous three graphs. Once again, there are different results in different official documents, but the gap between the promised results and the actual results is getting wider, and there has been rather little growth since 2009.

Now let’s look at the various subgroups: African-American students, Hispanics, whites, those learning English as a foreign language for the first time, those in special education, and those eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. First, math:


Professors on Food Stamps? Yup.

One way to see that this country is screwed up is to realize that an adjunct professorship doesn’t even pay minimum wage. In other words, a lot of college professors are on food stamps.

This article is not about the handful of mega-celebrity professors who earn millions from speaking gigs or business ventures.

We are talking about adjunct professors (not ‘assistant’ or ‘full’ professors) who teach a single college course for one to three grand per semester per course, with no benefits at all. It’s not unusual for such a professor to earn less than they would earn at the minimum wage (I calculate $7.50/hr x 40 hrs/wk x 50 wks/ year = $15,000. Obviously people who have adjunct or minimum wage jobs will earn varying number of hours per week, and varying number of weeks, so this is just a single comparison pont)

Don’t forget that the adjunct prof probably has an enormous student debt to pay off, too.

With no benefits – no medical, no dental, no paid vacations, yet expected to work endless hours developing an original course, from scratch, holding office hours and so on, and making up and grading all the assignments. Yes, it’s nice to be on a campus, and many college students are great people to be around (they don’t go around assaulting their teachers, which sometimes happens in high-poverty schools). But it certainly isn’t what was essentially promised to people who worked really hard in school, did every single assignment and aced them all, probably took and passed a whole bunch of Advanced Placement courses in high school, graduated from college, and then most likely went on to earn a Masters or Doctorate in whatever field they chose to specialize in.

No, these are not ne’er-do-wells and layabouts or people who just plain were stupid, or simply committed crimes, didn’t learn anything in school, or never learned to follow the rules. No, these are the young people that the promise was, “Work hard, be nice, and you’ll have a wonderful and comfortable life when you grow up!”

The article is here, and it’s definitely worth reading or at least skimming.

(I’m glad I decided against trying to be a college professor like my dad*  It’s a lot different now than when he taught history at American U and Hood College in the 1950s – 1980s. There are SOOO many young folks today with marvelous educations who can’t find any work that is befitting their advanced education.

Not just in Egypt or Syria or Russia or Philippines or India or sub-Saharan Africa is there a huge surplus of “over”-educated young people doing work that they are amazingly overqualified for, if they can find jobs at all.

It’s in the US, too. I have relatives tending bar who graduated from top colleges; perhaps earning more than an adjunct college professor. I used to coach MathCounts teams here in DC for over 20 years when I taught JHS/MS math, so I got to know some kids who were really, really, really good at math and who also loved it. A few of them are, in fact, in some sort of science-technology-engineering-math field, but I was very surprised at the number who weren’t doing anything of the sort, even though I had been told for years that we had an enormous STEM-grad shortage.

No wonder a lot of students don’t try hard in school and don’t care if they graduate or even attend class. They probably see the pitiful state of many folks who really did try to follow all the rules in school, did all the work, graduated, went to college, and for what? To graduate with a mountain of debt that cannot be discharged, and still to be working for essentially minimum wage.

Really makes you wonder….


*[nor to be a lawyer or engineer like my two grand-dads or an artist like my mom and grand-moms, but that's another story]

Published in: on September 28, 2014 at 11:32 pm  Comments (1)  

Did Rheeformers Rhee and Henderson Actually Close Any of Those Achievement Gaps in DC Public Schools?

Part Sixteen and Final

Today we look at the black-white and hispanic-white achievement gaps in the Washington, DC public school system, which has now been under mayoral control for seven full years.

My four graphs and tables today will show how laughably pitiful their claims of success really are.

You will see that the achievement gap is pretty much unchanged since the year I retired (2009), but the gap between Rhee’s promises and reality has been getting wider and wider.

A lot of their promises had to do with closing the ‘achievement gaps’ between white and more-affluent students on the one hand, and black, white, and impoverished students on the other hand. As you probably are aware, standardized test scores are very strongly linked to family income and educational levels. You may not be aware that the white population of Washington DC is generally very well-educated.and fairly affluent (unlike rural white populations in, say, West Virginia or Kentucky). Washington has the highest-scoring white student body in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and the widest gap between the scores of white students and of hispanic or black students.

However, Michelle Rhee and her minions promised spectacular reductions in those gaps, as measured by the relative percentages of students scoring ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ on the DC-CAS among white students, hispanic students, black students, and students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches (versus those not eligible).

What I found is a complete and utter failure to make any progress whatsoever since 2008 or 2009 — the year that Rhee twisted the arms of every single principal in the school system to come up with miraculous gains, and when many of those principals (and teachers) engaged in cheating to boost the scores.

As usual, don’t just take my word for it. Look at the following four graphs and check my sources if you like.

With these graphs and tables, low numbers are GOOD because that means that the gap between white students on the one hand and black or hispanic students on the other is getting smaller. High numbers are BAD because the gap is getting bigger.

You will notice that each graph has a solid black line — that represents what really happened.

Each graph also has a dotted red line. It represents how much Rhee et al promised that things would improve.

I don’t exactly know what they were smoking when they made those promises, but it seems like they were hallucinating that by WILL alone, and by replacing all the veteran teachers and administrators with untrained, unqualified and inexperienced newbies from TFA or TNTP, they would achieve miracles.

Again, see for yourself.

First we look at the gaps between the scores of black and white students, in math, on the DC-CAS, from 2007-2014.

promised and actual math black-white gaps, 2007-2014

Since 2009, the year that Rhee and many principals were outed as cheaters by a lengthy series of reports in USAToday, you can see that there has in fact been no progress in closing the gap. The prediction is the red, dotted line. The actual performance is the black line, which is essentially horizontal after 2009.

Now let’s look at the black-white achievement gap in reading:

promised and actual reading black-white gaps, 2007-2014

In this case, the gap between the scores of black and white students — as shown by the solid black line — has actually been growing slightly wider since 2008! As in the previous graph, the totally imaginary promises of Rhee and Henderson are the red, dotted line – a line which got farther and farther away from the truth every single year.  Some accomplishment, Rhee and Henderson and Gray!

Thirdly, we look at the gaps between hispanic and white students in math:

promised and actual hispanic-white math gaps, 2007-2014

We see here that the black line has been wiggling up and down since 2009, with the result that the gap for 2014 is almost exactly the same as the gap in 2009, while we were promised miracles. Once again, there is a very important gap that is getting much wider: the gap between the prediction and reality.

My last table and graph for the day concerns the achievement gap for reading, between hispanic and white students.

promised and actual hispanic-white reading gaps, 2007-2014

As you can see, this achievement gap is now actually a bit wider than it was in either 2008 or 2009. And the gap between those promises and reality got steadily wider and wider.

Some people have told me that I’m being unfair, because Rhee and Henderson, under mayoral control, have been making tremendous progress in raising test scores and in closing the achievement gaps. I hope that this post sets the record straight: they have in fact made NO progress in closing the achievement gaps, and their predictions became more and more laughable as time went on.

Can someone explain to me why Kaya Henderson still has a job as chancellor of DC public schools?


This is my last post in this series of articles.

I’ve been examining the promised, miraculous gains that were promised in the troubled Washington, DC public school system to see whether any of those 78 promised goals were reached.

Rhee and Henderson actually accomplished one and a half out of that 78 goals.

It is true that there have been steady improvements on the scores of DCPS students (all groups) in math on the NAEP — but those improvements began in the 1990s, a decade before Mayor Adrian Fenty got the wacky idea of hiring a totally unqualified sociopathic liar (Michelle Rhee) as Chancellor. There were also some fairly large gains in DC-CAS test scores during the first two years it was given, but that’s normal. As far as I have seen, any time any school district adopts a new standardized test, students’ test scores plummet the first year, but then rise after a year or two, as the teachers and students get used to the new format.

The sources I used to compile this data are here and here. My fifteen previous posts on this topic can be found here:

The saga so far:


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