The Matthew Effect and American Education

What’s all this nonsense about American schools being designed for a “democratic society … united by our education system through common values, comprehensive curriculum … and free K-12 education for every child”? (Per )

There are many who don’t believe a word of that stuff about equal rights or common values. From well before the American Revolution, it was illegal to teach slaves to read or write. Many of our Founding Fathers owned slaves and most states limited the vote to those who owned property. The US invaded Mexico so that white Texan slaveowners could keep their slaves. A large portion of the nation seceded from the union lest they be unable to further expand slavery into those new territories.

It took a bloody civil war to smash the idea and practice that some people were so inferior that all their labor could be stolen from them and they had no rights even to live as a family or go where they wished. Of course, after the Confederacy was smashed, the war criminals and traitors who led that treacherous rebellion were eventually allowed back into power in the South; corporations in the North were given free reign to profit from the merciless exploitation of “free” laborers from all corners of the globe, while Southern plantation and factory owners were permitted to re-enslave black workers through Jim Crow vagrancy laws. (Please see )

Our system is in a constant war between the forces of democracy and the forces of the power elite (or the Ruling Class, or “the 1%”) and those who agree with them.

This is true also in education.

Can anybody doubt that the children of the wealthiest have always received the very best educations, with the best instruction known in the arts, music, foreign languages, sports along with the best in the sciences, writing, math, literature and so on — for the purpose of allowing them to think for themselves? And that the poor and working classes are generally given an education designed to weed them out or to toe the line and be obedient workers, blindly pledging allegiance to a system that basically disenfranchises them?

The “Matthew Effect”, as you can read in Wikipedia, means quite simply, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” It comes from Matthew 25:29, and the KJV says “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.”

The nation’s billionaire education “reformers” are at it again. They claim that the best type of school for the poor and brown or black kids is one with a few temporary teachers and a lot of profitable computers, all in one room. Or a school where there is nothing but relentless force-feeding of math “facts” and “brief constructed responses” and SLANT in English. And kids who can’t handle this stultifying regime get bounced out back to the regular public schools.

While students at Choate, Chicago Lab School, Phillips Exeter, Sidwell Friends, Lakeside school and so on (where the 1% send their own kids) get the royal treatment.

It’s going to take a huge movement to stop this incredibly unequal treatment. Parents, teachers, students and ordinary citizens, please step up and be counted in that struggle!

Published in: on August 17, 2014 at 2:00 pm  Comments (2)  

Marion Brady on How to Fix American Eduction

This is insanely brilliant. Brady explains quite clearly  how people like Bill Gates have really perverted everything about education in America by turning the entire motivation schemata upside down — and he also explains how to fix it in a very humane manner. Here is an excerpt:

Read the whole thing. and don’t let the title convince you it’s just a rant, because it’s not.

A part of this essay that I would like to highlight is how Brady thinks we educators (and other citizens) should be approaching the entire question of school:

There’s a now-familiar ancient Chinese proverb which, loosely translated, says, “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.”

When I made that radical switch, I began a search that continues, a search for experience-creating activities

   (a) so interesting, the teacher can leave the room and nobody notices,

   (b) so useful, the activity’s relevance is self-evident,

   (c) so complex, the smartest kid in the class is intellectually challenged,

    (d) so real-world, perceptions of who’s smartest constantly shift,

   (e) so theoretically sound, the systemically integrated nature of all knowledge is obvious,

    (f) so wide-ranging, the activities cover the core curriculum (and much more),

   (g) so varied, every critical thinking skill is exercised,

   (h) so scalable, concepts developed on a micro level adequately model macro phenomena

  , (j) so effective, when the activities themselves are forgotten, their benefits are fixed permanently in memory.

The raw material for creating a near-infinite number of activities that meet those nine criteria isn’t hard to find. It lies within the property boundaries of every school or randomly chosen slice of real life. Finding it is mostly a matter of looking at the too-familiar and the taken-for-granted until it becomes “strange enough” to see.

Entire URL:

which means this was published in the column of Valerie Strauss, at the Washington Post, who continues to be a great resource for all the rest of teachers and parents (not corporate executives). The only greater publicist for our cause that I know of is Diane Ravitch. I am glad that Valerie continues to be gainfully employed at WaPo even as her editorial writers consistently had a set of policies that were either at cross-purposes or diametrically opposed. I don’t know how she does it.


Unfortunately, Answer Sheet very seldom actually reaches the printed edition. It’s almost strictly online.

Then again, maybe that matters less, given publishing trends.

While obviously nothing is perfect I think that all of us members of the public who are concerned about schools* owe Valerie, whom’s I’ve never met in person, and the Washington Post itself, a debt for VS being able to continue being such a resource for so long!



About Gaza

A colleague of mine posted what was obviously a carefully doctored video of Bibi Netanyahu saying he wanted to cause maximum casualties in the Gaza Strip.

He doesn’t — it would be too embarrassing for Israel’s public stance as a supposedly humanitarian country — but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Gazans live in a concentration camp that they can’t leave by land, by sea, or by air. So they dig tunnels like POWs and concentration camp residents have often done. (One of my uncles spent a year in a german POW camp when his plane was shot down over the Western front in 1918. He tried to escape, but wasn’t successful, he wrote in a letter I found. Why shouldn’t Gazans do likewise?)

But I’m getting off topic. Here’s what I wrote on my colleague’s FB page:
I lived and worked on a kibbutz directly next to the Gaza Strip. I left the area exactly 40 years ago, despairing that there would never be peace. It’s a complicated situation, but the only real solution is one that gets rid of all religious-based governments in that part of the world (be they Muslim, Christan, Jewish, Baha’i, Druze, Hindu, Confucian, Maoist, Buddhist, or what have you).

All residents of whatever-you-want-to-call-that-region should have equal rights, including that of freedom to travel and worship (or not) and marriage and land ownership, and to be compensated for land and belongings stolen or destroyed in all of these repeated wars.

I was at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom in 1974 for about 7 months. I had learned to speak Hebrew fairly well, and could read newspapers, but slowly. At that time, Gazans could cross the border with a pass to work in Israel, and many did. I thought it reminded me of what I had read about in South Africa — an all of our kibbutz members were against such injustices. Practically the entire kibbutz went to a massive demo in Jerusalem against illegal Jewish settlements begun under Ariel Sharon, right before I left. I went too.

However, some of the right wing counter demonstrators said, hey, aren’t you living on land we stole from the Arabs? What we need to do, they said, is kick ALL Arabs out if ALL of Greater Israel. G-d gave it to us after Moses died, we have a deal with G-d, and we mean to take it all back (or words to that effect).

Those folks used to be called “Revisionists” and formed the right wing of the Zionist movement, which had people from all parts of the political spectrum — my kibbutz was formed by Hashomer HaTzair, which was very far left. Many of its members had to decide whether they should stay in Europe and be a part of the Communist movements there, or go to Palestine and set up communistic kibbutzim there. I would dare to say that the members of Hashomer HaTzair in Europe that went to Palestine or America were the ones that survived. The ones that remained in Europe had extremely high odds of being killed, either by Hitler or Stalin.

The Revisionists, just like the Baath, were very stronly right-wing nationalists, like Saddam Hussein, fashioned their ideas and tactics on the Falange and Italy’s Fascisti.

I’m not exaggerating. Go look it all up.

Now, I’m sure that the tape I saw was doctored, but I’m no expert on how to do that sort of thing, so I’ve only got a few guesses on how they did that.


Back to Gaza: In my opinion, the only solution is to get rid of the religious basis of the governments of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, the USA, and Israel-Palestine. Let all people of all religions or of no religion live together on the basis of equal rights and mutual tolerance and respect and justice.

Just don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

When I lived there (1974), our kibbutz had virtually free irrigation water pumped to us from the headwaters of the Jordan River, modern tractors and poultry barns, and so on. On the other side of the fence– a bit too far for me to throw a stone across from the little kibbutz bedroom I shared with my Jewish girlfriend — the Palestinians were plowing with an old automobile bumper tied to a camel. Irrigation, for them, was piling up stones and hoping that a little dew would trickle onto the rocks.

Believe me, not that we were living ‘high on the hog’ or anything, but all that modern agricultural stuff cost a lot of money, and none of the permanent or temporary members of our kibbutz put up any cash to pay for all if our facilities. That was very nice, but that was all given to us by the Sokhnoot– the Jewish Agency. (I understand that the “bill” for all the kibbutz land and so on came due, so to speak,  in the 1980s, and a lot of kibbutzim went broke and/or had to sell off land so that people could put up subdivisions, but I’m getting away from the point. The conditions on the other side of the fence were much, much worse, and it was occupied territory, but today it’s much worse, as far as I can tell from here. Gaza today more like a completely surrounded ghetto in WW2 Poland, where the bad guys only sporadically allow in essential supplies like food, water, electricity, or anything to fix or repair any of its infrastructure.


Did I mention that Gaza is very close to twice the size of the District of Columbia, with about three times the population as well? 61 square miles for WDC and 139 sq.mi for Gaza; 1.8 million people in Gaza and 623,000 in DC. And there are no permanent rivers flowing through Gaza, unlike DC, from which they could draw water!

There were lots of things I liked about communal work and life on the kibbutz, but the disparities with the lives of the Palestinians remained embarrassing. I hoped it would get better, but things in the Middle East have been pretty grim for a long, long time, no matter which messiah or leader or social movement might arise. (Breaking up with my girlfriend also certainly gave me an impetus to leave!)

But in any case, it is hard to be very optimistic about the chances for peace and justice actually breaking out ANYwhere in the Middle East, any time soon.


Published in: on July 31, 2014 at 3:41 pm  Comments (3)  

Cheating in Atlanta and DC — by adults

Brooklanders and other DC residents, have you ever wondered how and why adults at Noyes EC and elsewhere in DC ended up cheating on the high states standardized tests? 


Read this article in the latest New Yorker that gives the exact details of how and why otherwise-admirable and hard-working teachers ended up sneaking into the room that held the tests, so that they could erase and fix enough answers to keep their jobs and make AYP.


Rachel Aviv: A Middle-School Cheating Scandal Raises Questions About No Child Left Behind

Seems to me that when Michelle Rhee demanded that all DC principals commit to particular improvements in test scores, she was in fact demanding that the principals all cheat. Read the article and you will see that what the Atlanta superintendent (Beverly Hall) did was just about the same thing. And Hall is probably headed to prison.

Why not Rhee?

Details on how and why adults cheated in Atlanta Public Schools

A must-read article in the New Yorker on exactly how teachers and administrators cheated on the NCLB tests in Atlanta, Georgia.


The BBA and DCPS also take on predicting what to expect on this year’s DC test scores

It’s nice when people you don’t even know back up what you’ve claimed.

This morning, a group I don’t actually recall hearing of before issued a press release saying about what I recently wrote. They agreed that there was little or no agreement between the test results on the NAEP for the public schools in Washington DC — on the one hand — and what DC’s officials claim the DC-CAS standardized tests show.

This group, Better Bolder Approach to Education (BBA), had way more facts and figures than I did, and their preliminary report is about 15 pages long. Here is the meat of their conclusions:

“Within the next few weeks…DCPS … will release selected data from the 2014 DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS) that they will likely assert demonstrate an increase in student proficiency. They may also likely claim substantial gains for low-income and minority students and, possibly, progress in closing race- and income-based test score gaps, as they did last year based on 2013 DC-CAS results.

[We, BBA, are ] … producing a report explaining why these gains are exaggerated and, in some cases, non-existent, and how lack of data transparency, combined with cherry-picking specific numbers, has enabled DCPS and OSSE to paint a false picture of progress. Moreover, our report will show clearly that low-income and minority DCPS students (and other groups of disadvantaged students) have, in fact, lost ground to their more advantaged peers in the past few years under Chancellors Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson.

“The report will also explain how excessive pressure has contributed to this gaming of scores… [and ]… explain … why these gains are exaggerated and, in some cases, non-existent, and how lack of data transparency, combined with cherry-picking specific numbers, has enabled DCPS and OSSE to paint a false picture of progress. Moreover, our report will show clearly that low-income and minority DCPS , as well as the multiple negative consequences on students, teachers, and the system as a whole.”

They go on to say,

” DCPS claims of “historic” gains in students who are “proficient” and “advanced” should be reflected in large increases in scale scores, which are the basis for the cut scores. They are not. Mean scale scores range from a low of 45.81 (2010 3rd grade reading among African American students) to highs of over 70 among white students in math). As per the data that are illustrated in Figure A, 2009-2013 gains in reading scale scores are minimal (they range from 0=-0.25 in 6th grade to 2.77 points in 4th grade, for an average of 1.6 points). Math gains are slightly larger, with an outsized 6.25-point gain among 6th graders raising the average to 2.99. 

“Given the 99-point scale for tests, these are far too small to support large proficiency gains.

And then they display this graph, which shows that gains in average scale scores have in fact been very, very small:

BBA graph on scale scores


Keep in mind that these scale scores go from 0 to 99! If after 3 or 4 years of hard work, I found that average scores on my students’ final exams had only risen from a 51 to a 54, I don’t think I would be talking about ‘historic gains’!

Naturally, the DCPS spokesperson belittled the BBA report as follows:

Melissa Salmanowitz, a D.C. schools spokeswoman, said the school system is confident in the accuracy of D.C. CAS results that showed widespread gains.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that this group refuses to believe what is clear in the D.C. CAS data, that our students are making historic progress,” she said. “They’re using fuzzy math and distortions to create a narrative that simply is not true. Every indicator, from test scores to attendance to student satisfaction, shows how DCPS is moving in the right direction.”


From my own experience, I believe the BBA way more than I do anybody from DCPS bureaucracy, since they are making it harder and harder to find any information at all.

I will conclude by linking to the three blog posts that I recently wrote urging folks NOT to believe the self-serving rhetoric that is sure to emerge from the spokespeople at DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), DCPS, or the DC mayor’s office.


Part one

Part two

Part three

Why a DC public school teacher resigned

Olivia Chapman resigned as a DC public school teacher. Her letter explaining why was posted on Rachel Levy’s blog.

Here is tghe link:


Even more on the DC-CAS and the NAEP

In this installment, I’ll look at the reading scores for the District of Columbia as reported on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and by DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) by way of the DC-CAS (Comprehensive Assessment Program), written and published by CTB-McGraw Hill.

You may have noticed that I’ve been reporting ‘Average Scale Scores’ on both tests, rather than achievement levels — proficient, advanced, below basic and basic. It was suggested to me that this would allow us to compare the two tests (national and ‘state’) more directly, since the decision of what score falls in which category is so obviously open to negotiation and ‘fudging’ by powers-that-be.

In any case, I will continue giving Average Scale Scores, first for 4th graders in reading:

naep + dccas for 4th grade reading compared

As before, the blue scale is the average scale score for DC’s fourth-graders in reading, divided by five so that it would fit on the same grid as the DC-CAS scores for the same subject, same grade level. As before, the DC-CAS scale scores for the fourth grade go from 400 to 499, which I treat as going from 0 to 100, and the NAEP scores go from 0 to 500. As before, I had to find these scores in a variety of places; I gave the URLs in the previous post. Also, for a couple of years, I found two different scores for the same year, so I plotted and reported both of them.

You will notice that since about 1996, which is almost two decades, the scores on the NAEP for successive cohorts of Washington DC fourth-graders have been more or less slowly increasing, and there does not seem to be much difference between that progress before mayoral control of DC schools (labeled “Pre-Rhee”) and after the imposition of mayoral control of the schools (which I labeled “Post-Rhee”).

That’s the blue line.

However, the red line, representing the locally-funded DC-CAS tests for the same grade level, show much more volatility and overall growth, with the jump from 2007 to 2008 being most suspicious of all, knowing what we now know about the degree to which Michelle Rhee instructed each and every principal in DCPS to magically raise test scores or get fired.

Once again, I would much prefer to rely on the federal National Center for Educational Statistics than I would rely on CTB-McGraw Hill or the very-political appointees to DC’s OSSE.

Lastly, I present an image with the same pair of graphs, but  for 8th grade reading:

naep + dccas for 8th grade reading compared

The same comments apply here as with every one of the other three tests. NAEP scores show a little bit of steady growth since 1998 (16 years ago), whereas the DC-CAS seems to show less even but much more impressive growth since 2006.

As usual, I would very much discount what Mayor Gray, Chancellor Henderson, OSSE or CTB-McGraw-Hill have to say. I would recommend that you put much more trust in the federal civil servants at NCES and NAEP.

What about you?


Links to my other articles on this:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three (all reading) — this one right here

Past Performance (on DC’s NAEP and its own CAS tests) Can Give Insight Into Future Performance

Sometimes, looking at the past gives you lots of clues about the future.

From looking at past evidence about the scores of Washington, DC students on both the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and on its locally-mandated test (currently known as DC-CAS, or Comprehensive Assessment System), we can make some predictions about the importance (or lack of it) of the results for the 2014 CAS, which were administered about three months ago.

My prediction: the CAS results don’t really matter, one way or the other, because they are so volatile and do not correlate very well with much-more-reliable NAEP. Besides the fact that there have been many documented cases of cheating by adults on the DC-CAS for their own personal gain, it almost seems like the DC-CAS is designed to be manipulated for political and ideological gain, for two main reasons:

(1) In some subjects the DC-CAS has displayed enormous year-to-year score increases that are not at all reflected in the cheat-proof NAEP.

(2) This is despite the fact that between 34% and 42% of all questions are non-scored “anchor” questions designed simply to see if the test gives consistent results from year to year, according to testimony of Emily Durso last September before David Catania’s DC-Council subcommittee on education. Those question’s aren’t scored!

Think about that: something like a third to three-sevenths of all the questions a student is forced to answer isn’t even used to grade the students or teachers. It’s used to help out the testing company.

Which produces unreliable results anyway.

(And even though CTB-McGraw Hill has quite a variety of ways of using statistics to detect cheating by kids or adults, DCPS won’t pay for them to use those methods, I was told by CTB’s head econometrician.)

As promised, here is some of the evidence.

First, we have the DC-CAS (red) and NAEP (blue) scores over the past quarter-century in DC, for 8th grade math students:

naep + dccas 8th grade math scores compared

Once again, the NAEP scores (in blue) for DC’s 8th graders since 1990 seem to show more-or-less steady growth, especially since the year 2000.

(Keep in mind that in order to plot the NAEP and DC-CAS scores on the same grid, and since the NAEP scores go from 0 to 500 while the DC-CAS scores go from 0 to 100, I divided the NAEP scores by 5.)

The DC-CAS was first administered in 2006, so there are no records from before that year. Note that there are two scores given for the year 2009 (46.0 and 49.8), which are pretty far apart; I can only guess as to why they contradict each other. The two sources are here and here. For the NAEP, the reason for the slightly different scores is quite straightforward: one version of the test allowed accommodations for disabilities, and the other did not.

In any case, up until 2011, the gains by successive cohorts of 8th graders on the DC-CAS math test — whom I often taught when I was a teacher in DCPS — was fairly spectacular, but not at all mirrored by the slow, steady progress shown on the NAEP. And since then, those scores have been fairly flat, especially when we remember that the CAS is scored from 0 to 100 (or, to be technical, from 800 to 899; the fourth-grade test scores go from 400 to 499, and the 10th grade tests are scored from 900 to 999 (probably because they didn’t want to add a fourth digit).


Here are the links to the other parts of this article:

Part One  (fourth grade math)

Part Two (8th grade math) — this one right here

Part Three (all reading)

My Predictions for the 2014 DC-CAS Scores

Sometime this month, the Mayor of DC and the Chancellor of the DC Public Schools will make some sort of announcement on how DC public and charter school students did on the DC-CAS (Comprehensive Assessment System) – the test required by Federal law to be given to every single kid in grades 3 through 8 and in grade 10.

I don’t have a crystal ball, and I haven’t developed any sources willing to risk their jobs by leaking the results to me in advance, but I can make a few predictions:

1. If the results look bad, they will be released right before a holiday or a weekend (a basic public-relations tactic that all public officials learn).

2. If the scores as a whole look good, or if there is some part of the trends that look good, that will be highlighted heavily.

3. There won’t be much of a correlation between the trends on the DC-CAS scores and the National Assessment of Ednucational Progress, which has been measuring student achievement in grades 4 and 8 in reading and math since the 1970s by giving a carefully-selected sample of students in DC and across the nation a variety of different test items in math, reading, and a number of other areas.

4. Even though the DC-CAS results won’t be released to the public for a couple more weeks, clearly DCPS officials and Mathematica staff already have them; they have been firing teachers and principals and “adjusting” – with the benefit of hindsight – the rest of their evaluations to fit the DC-CAS scores and the magic secret formula called “Value Added Magic Measurement”.

You may ask, how can GFBrandenburg predict not much of a match between the DC-CAS and the NAEP?

By looking at the track record, which I will share with you.

I present the average scores of all DC students on both the DC-CAS and on the NAEP over the past quarter-century. The NAEP scores for the District of Columbia have either been pretty steady or have been rising slightly.

As far as I can tell, the statisticians at the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) who design, administer, and score the NAEP do a fine job of

A. making sure that there is no cheating by either students or adults,

B.  making up good questions that measure important topics, and

C. gathering, collating, and reporting the data in an honest manner.

On the DC -CAS, however, we have had many documented cases of cheating (see point A), I have shown that many of the questions are ridiculous and don’t measure what we teachers were supposed to be teaching (see point B), and I hope to show you that whatever they are doing with the scores does not seem to be trustworthy.

Exhibit number one is a graph where I plot the average scale scores of the students in Washington DC on both the NAEP and on the DC-CAS for fourth grade math:

naep + dccas 4th grade math comparison

Allow me to explain.

The bottom blue curve is what DC’s fourth-graders average scale scores were on the NAEP starting in 1992 and going on through 2013. As you can see, since 1996, there has been what appears like more-or-less steady improvement.

(It is very hard, in fact, to see much of a difference in trends before mayoral control over the DC schools and after that time. I drew a vertical black line to separate the ‘Pre-Rhee” era from the “Post-Rhee” era, since Michelle Rhee was the very first Chancellor installed in the DC schools, after the annual tests were given in 2007.)

(As noted,  the NAEP scale scores go from 0 to 500, but the DC-CAS scores go from 0 to 100. I decided that the easiest way to have them both fit on the same graph would simply be to divide the NAEP scores by 5. The actual reported NAEP scores are in the little table, if you want to examine them for yourself. You can double-check my numbers by looking around at the NAEP and DC OSSE websites — which are unfortunately not easy to navigate, so good luck, and be persistent! You will also find that some years have two different scores reported, which is why I put those double asterisks at a couple of places on those curves.)

But here’s what’s really suspicious: the DC-CAS scores, shown in red, seem to jump around wildly and appear to show tremendous progress overall but also utterly un-heralded drops.

Which is it?

Slow, steady progress since 1996, or an amazing jump as soon as Wonder Woman Rhee comes on the scene?

In my opinion, I’d much rather trust the feds on this. We know that there has been all sorts of hanky-panky with the DC-CAS, as repeatedly documented in many places. I know for a fact that we math teachers have been changing the ways that we teach, to be more in line with the 1989 NCTM standards and the ways that math is tested on the NAEP. It’s also the case that there has been significant gentrification in DC, with the proportion of white kids with highly educated parents rising fairly steadily.

Slow improvement in math scores, going back a quarter of a century, makes sense.

Wild jumps don’t seem reasonable to me at all.

On the contrary, besides the known mass cheating episodes, it almost seems like DC education officials get together with McGraw-Hill CTB, which manufactures the DC-CAS, and decide how they want to get the scores to come out. THEN they decide which questions to count and which ones NOT to count, and what the cut-off scores will be for ‘advanced’, ‘proficient’ and so on.

Next time: 8th grade math; and 4th and 8th grade reading.


Links to my other articles on this:

Part One  (fourth grade math)— this one right here

Part Two (8th grade math)

Part Three (all reading)


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 388 other followers