Just how flat ARE those 12th grade NAEP scores?

Perhaps you read or heard that the 12th grade NAEP reading and math scores, which just got reported, were “flat“.

Did you wonder what that meant?

The short answer is: those scores have essentially not changed since they began giving the tests! Not for the kids at the top of the testing heap, not for those at the bottom, not for blacks, not for whites, not for hispanics.

No change, nada, zip.

Not even after a full dozen years of Bush’s looney No Child Left Behind Act, nor its twisted Obama-style descendant, Race to the Trough. Top.

I took a look at the official reports and I’ve plotted them here you can see how little effect all those billions spent on testing;  firing veteran teachers; writing and publishing new tests and standards; and opening thousands of charter schools has had.

Here are the tables:

naep 12th grade reading by percentiles over time

This first graph shows that other than a slight widening of the gap between the kids at the top (at the 90th percentile) and those at the bottom (at the 10th percentile) back in the early 1990s, there has been essentially no change in the average scores over the past two full decades.

I think we can assume that the test makers, who are professional psychometricians and not political appointees, tried their very best to make the test of equal difficulty every year. So those flat lines mean that there has been no change, despite all the efforts of the education secretaries of Clinton, Bush 2, and Obama. And despite the wholesale replacement of an enormous fraction of the nation’s teachers, and the handing over of public education resources to charter school operators.

naep 12th grade reading by group over time


This next graph shows much the same thing, but the data is broken down into ethnic/racial groups. Again, these lines are about as flat (horizontal) as you will ever see in the social sciences,

However, I think it’s instructive to note that the gap between, say, Hispanic and Black students on the one hand, and White and Asian students on the other, is much smaller than the gap between the 10th and 90th percentiles we saw in the very first graph: about 30 points as opposed to almost 100 points.
naep 12th grade math by percentiles over time


The third graph shows the  NAEP math scores for 12th graders since 2005, since that was the first time that the test was given. The psychometricians atNAEP claim there has been a :statistically significant” change since 2005 in some of those scores, but I don’t really see it. Being “statistically significant’ and being REALLY significant are two different things.

*Note: the 12th grade Math NAEP was given for the first time in 2005, unlike the 12th grade reading test.

naep 12th grade math by group over time


And here we have the same data broken down by ethnic/racial groups. Since 2009 there has been essentially no change, and there was precious little before that, except for Asian students.

Diane Ravitch correctly dismissed all of this as a sign that everything that Rod Paige, Margaret Spellings and Arne Duncan have done, is a complete and utter failure. Her conclusion, which I agree with, is that NCLB and RTTT need to be thrown out.


Charter School Segregation in New Jersey – information courtesy of Jersey Jazzman

Here’s the link: http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2014/04/uncommon-comes-to-camden-let.html

The attrition rates for students in the ‘highly-rated’ Camden charter schools look just like what I found here in Washington, DC.

Effectiveness of SAT?

Important study on the usefulness of the SAT, but first, a little background.

Today’s SAT is the direct descendant of the very first IQ tests such as the Stanford-Binet test and the Army Alpha and Beta tests devised by Binet, Terman and others about a century ago. (The “A” used to stand for “aptitude”, which is essentially a synonym for “intelligence”, which is what the “I” in “IQ” stood for. Eventually they changed the names a bit and the “A” just means “A”, or so they say.)

All of that means that the SAT has a history that is frankly, not very nice.

From the very beginning, the test results were very much aligned with the amount of family wealth of the person taking the test, and were also hailed for allegedly showing that certain races of people were inferior. The Army IQ tests found that poor Jewish and Italian immigrant draftees in World War 1 who spoke very little English did about almost as poorly as poor Mexican-American or Negro inductees. On the basis of that, various forces “preached the doctrine of Nordic supremacy and agitated to curtail the immigration of Jews and southern Europeans to America.” (Mismeasure of Man, p. 144)

(We should remember that in 1917 and 1918, most of those young Black male draftees had parents and/or grandparents who were held as slaves up until Emancipation during the Civil War, and that it was ILLEGALTO TEACH those slaves TO READ OR WRITE. Not surprising that the children of slaves might not be the best readers in the nation! Let us also remember that about 25 years before World War 1, strict new Jim Crow regulations were enacted and enforced, partly by lynching, to ensure that southern Blacks were essentially forced into slavery by another name.

Nonetheless, the results of those early IQ tests were used to justify the forcible sterilization of many poor people, especially if they were black, hispanic, or American Indians, although there were a lot of very poor southern whites who were also sterilized by court order — again, justified by the results of those racist, classist “mental exams”. (see War Against the Weak )

Let me remind you that it took Binet and Terman and others quite a lot of trial and error to get the results of their tests to come out the way they wanted, with the ‘nice’ kids of wealthy families getting good scores and the poor kids that were universally looked down upon, getting low scores. Many tasks and questions had to be thrown out because the poor kids would do as well as, or better than, the more-advantaged kids on the item or task. (Check out Mismeasure of Man by the late Steven Jay Gould for a fairly readable and not too technical account- and it’s 100% freely available, by permission, online!)

Also as a result of those early IQ tests, the US passed racist and anti-semitic immigration laws that restricted  immigration by Jews, blacks, Asians, and even Europeans who didn’t come from non-”Nordic” countries.

[One forgets that racists tend to change their definitions of the favored groups from era to era – a century ago, European and North American racists would write serious articles about how the ratios of the length and width of the average skull of a nation or group would tell you whether they were going to be of a superior race or not. And believe it or not, being more susceptible to malaria was seen as a sign of SUPERiority rather than the reverse — but only because the European colonizers and imperialists going to tropical areas to exploit the natives tended to get very sick and die from malaria whereas the locals were much more likely to have a blood type that gave them resistance to malaria (complicated story, by the way, which you can read about in Epidemic of Absence by Moises Velasquez Manoff. I highly recommend both of these books!]

How many Jews would have survived Hitler’s extermination camps if there hadn’t been those minuscule quotas on Jews immigrating to the US to escape the Nazis? How many MILLIONS of people would NOT have died in the horrors of World War 2 if Adolf Hitler hadn’t been able to build up his Nazi Stormtroopers both with funds and propaganda from Henry Ford and other American racists and anti-semites? (I’m not exaggerating; Nazis acclaimed Ford as a “mainstay…in their efforts to destroy the Jew”. See here for the quote. page 300)

Fast forward to today.

As I said, the SAT and all of these other NCLB and RTTT and PARCC tests are direct descendants of the original IQ tests, with changes and modifications every so often over the past century.

My claim is that they are used to attack the schools of the poor by closing them down and re-segregating them even more than before into single-ethnicity charter schools, and making it so that no unified, common voice of the poor can arise to fight for improved conditions. Because of the t

Everywhere I or anybody else look(s), we see the same very close correlation between the scores on those tests and the wealth of the families whose children take the tests. I posted some graphs from Westchester County, NY last week, and the R-squared value was about 0.88 — in ordinary language, we can say the two variables of average home price and average test scores were 88% connected — about as strong a connection between two variables as you will ever see in the social sciences.

So, what do the powers-that-be do about this? Do they try to ameliorate the gross disparities between the rich and the poor, by, say, providing universal pre-care and other so-called “wrap-around” services to alleviate some of the demoralizing and dispiriting effects of poverty? Or pushing for unionization of service workers and raising the minimum wage? Or putting actual medical and dental and optical clinics into schools so that kids don’t have to miss entire days of school to fill a cavity, get their immunization shoots, or get glasses or contact lenses? Add after-school programs and meals so that kids can play sports or learn skills or play instruments or enact dramas and musicals or whatever…

No, none of that. That would be socialism, you know.

The educational DEformers of today have a MUCH better idea. (not)

Blame the schools! Blame the teachers! Fire the staff at schools that enroll poor kids (white or black or brown or whatever, but starting off in the inner cities), close those schools down, and turn them over to private corporations with no checks and balances and accountable to nobody, least of all the parents of the kids enrolled there. Deprive the teachers of any voice whatsoever in how the school is run by eliminating the presence of either teachers’ union.  Make the claim that only “excellent” and “highly-qualified” teachers can make a difference by innovating, but then make a practice of hiring totally inexperienced teachers with no training at all, micromanaging their every word, and saddling them with scripted lessons and never-ending busywork in gathering and displaying useless data… That the teachers are in fact no longer able to come with a repertory of lessons that are ‘outside the box’ before they burn out and quit or else get fired for falling afoul of the results of the roulette wheel we call Value Added Measurement (VAM). Claim that teachers shouldn’t teach to the test, but make it so that the entire school year becomes test prep. Pretend that the new group of privatizing chancellors have much better results than before.

Then you actually look at the results and you see that the chancellors have no clothes.

The results are the same before all these reforms as after all these “rhee”forms.

I have documented this numerous times in this blog over the past 55 months. Just enter “NAEP” into the search box at the top of this page – you will get lots and lots of articles with graphs showing how they have been doing in DC and elsewhere.

In my latest posts, I looked at Erich Martel’s data on the erosion of the high school classes in Washington DC in the regular public high schools and in the high schools run by boutique or chain charters. Despite what you may have heard in Washington Post headlines and editorials, the attrition rates in both types of schools are just about identical. And high.

In BOTH cases, about 45% of the students somehow disappear between 9th grade and 12th grade.

(Where they go, you and I have only a general idea but there are no detailed statistics to share. It would take years of work to find out where they went, if OSSE were to cooperate on data requests AND if I had nothing else to do with my life AND if could hire a bunch of assistants — none of which is about to happen.)

But in any case, that data puts the lie to the frequent claim that charter schools somehow achieve 100% graduation rates with the same kids.

(And anyway, these are NOT the same kids — parents of charter school children actually have to decide to apply to the school and then follow all of the steps required to enroll (sometimes very difficult steps, sometimes not so hard, but there are some steps) and we know that there are many fewer ESL students and special education students. I’ve shown that the charter schools in DC routinely shed about 6% of their population from September to April, despite their protestations to the contrary, enough to weed out enough various types of trouble-makers and to make an impression on the other students. Public schools are increasingly prohibited from taking virtually any disciplinary measures against students, whereas DC’s charter schools have suspension and expulsion rates roughly ten times as high as do the regular public schools. All documented, not made up.)

So, in essence, after all that turmoil, all that dismantlement of the public schools, all those teachers fired, and education in most schools, charter and private, being turned into boring, scripted test-prep and a confusing Common Core curriculum, with fewer enrichment activities and more time taken for test preparation, has produced bupkis (באָבקעס in Yiddish) and which comes from Slavic words meaning “goat droppings” — very appropriate.

Many parents – including relatively low-income families living in Anacostia and my neighborhood (Brookland) —  get on the lottery to enroll in charter schools if they think that their local public school has too many poor kids who are going to act poorly in class and score poorly on tests, because they see it as impossible to improve the resources at their local school. In wealthier regions families often raise large sums so that the local PTA can supplement the school budget to hire staff or improve facilities and fund after-school activities that are impossible in poor neighborhoods.

(My wife and I made the decision to send our kids to DC public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Going to schools as a minority white kid wasn’t the worst thing that could happen! When he was younger, my son would tell me stories of how the kids he knew who went to the private schools simply knew nothing about life in the inner cities. He now runs a small business as a gym owner in Georgetown called The Body You Want, and his sister works in the film industry behind the scenes and lives with her husband in the SF Bay Area. I even have a wonderful 8-month old grand-daughter courtesy of my daughter-in-law…)

When we look at the NAEP scores in DC and other cities, we see that they pretty much lie on a straight line from the mid-1990s to the present. A line that slants upwards to the right. In other words, the scores were increasing for black and hispanic students in DC starting about 10 years before Michelle Rhee was anointed Chancellor*.

(Thanks to good reporting at USA today, we also know that some of those bonuses were won by out-and-out cheating, most famously at Noyes elementary not too far from my house, but in hundreds of other schools as well.)

We know that the statistics on Advanced Placement scores in DC’s public and charter schools are still dismal.

We have seen charter schools run nearly like private banks for some of their founders — a chance for a well-connected few to raid the public treasury and deprive their students

All of that mean-spirited and hypoocritical activity on the part of the billionaires and their educational foundations does not come in the overt and mean-spirited language of a century ago


Finally: how useful is the SAT in predicting how well a person will do? Well, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you have very high scores, you’ll be more likely to get into a higher-ranked college and to be offered scholarships rather than loans, and you are also more likely to have parents who can pay the rest of your college bill, so you aren’t saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt upon graduation. Your classmates’ parents are more likely to have connections through which you can get hired at a good job that actually pays good money (rather than having to do a few years of unpaid internships to land an entry-level job at low pay and no advancement).

There is a big difference between having very high test scores and having other skills that end up being more important in the real world. (I mean, I like math and calculus, but how many jobs out there really require the constant use of differential or integral calculus? Some, but not very many!) Much more important are personal qualities like steadfastness, determination, ability to get along with other people and to motivate them to do well at a common task, independence, and problem-solving ability.

A study has shown this by looking at life results of students who did, or did not, submit SAT scores to the colleges and universities they were applying to from high school. We can assume that those students who did NOT submit their scores had, in fact, seen their scores and thought that those scores were going to hurt their chances of being admitted. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that they had, or would have had, lower SAT scores than the applicants who DID submit their SAT scores.

Results? Basically, no difference in life results between the high-scorers and the low-scorers. To Quote from the abstract:

Non-submitters are more likely to be first-generation-to-college students, minorities, Pell Grant recipients, women and students with Learning Differences …

Few significant differences between submitters and non-submitters of testing were observed in Cumulative GPAs and graduation rates, despite significant differences in SAT/ACT scores.




* She was anointed by Adrian Fenty on the advice of  Joel Klein, despite her obviously faked resume claims of achieving miracles (that she later admitted were made up, too) and her utter lack of experience running a school. Most of the principals she hired are gone, though she claimed to the press that she was able to divine the inner traits of every interviewee in just a few minutes. She fires hundreds of veteran teachers using a completely phony budget crisis to make an end-run around any contractual provisions, and then suddenly “found” money to hire a bunch of lower-paid, less-experienced teachers just a couple of months later. She even managed to corrupt the head of the teachers’ union into going over to the other side and signing away any contractual protections for teachers from arbitrary firings in exchange for phantom bonuses.


The Mendacity of Charter Schools

This is from “Better Living Through Mathematics” by way of Diane Ravitch’s blog:

What’s my problem with charter schools, you ask? I don’t know where to begin, but here it is in a nutshell: chutzpah. You open a school, take all sorts of private money to fund advertising and publicityexclude students from enrolling through a variety of strategies, and then expel those for whom you cannot or will not provide essential services or are discipline problems, underpay inexperienced teachers and work them to death so there is high turnover, then you instruct your teachers to “teach to the test” AND then have some students who might not measure up stay home on the day of the test, and then give your students copies of the test before they take itshut up your students in computer labs to be “supervised” by $15 per hour aids, then rake off money for your shareholders and hire all sorts of corrupt ex-government officials to promote your cause, scream when you are asked to pay your share for the space you use to displace kids in public schools, AND then pat yourself on the back when your test scores show up marginally better than the local public school, which doesn’t do ANY of these things….

and you have the chutzpah to say you are “outperforming” public schools?

Latest DC Audited Enrollment Figures for all, charters, and regular public schools

The latest audited enrollment numbers have just been released, but not in a very useful format.

They show that regular DCPS enrollment is pretty close to flat, with only a small change over last year, or even over the last seven years. However, overall enrollment in all taxpayer-funded schools in the District of Columbia continues to rise, mostly because of a steady 15-year-long rise in charter school enrollment and a large increase in the overall city population.

The strangest feature I see is that the high school enrollment (grades 9-12) is down at all types of schools, with apparently many of those students moving to ‘alternative’ schools, at least on paper.

As I said, I didn’t think the graphs put out by OSSE were very informative, so I’ve re-plotted them here. For example, they put the charter school and public school enrollments on different graphs with different scales, making them hard to compare.

My first graph is of overall enrollment figures for regular public schools and for the charter schools (which several courts have decided are NOT public entities)  since the start of the millennium:

audited enrollment, dc public and charter schools, 2001-14


The red line is enrollment in the charter schools, and the blue line is that of the regular public schools. You can see that the blue line has been just about level since 2007-8, when Michelle Rhee was appointed chancellor of DCP.

My next graphs explores where the students are. OSSE separates students into various “bands” which are a bit hard to decipher. PreK3, PreK4, and Kindergarten totals are counted separately, and then they lump together grades 1-3 (‘primary’), then grades 4-5 (‘upper elementary’), then grades 6-8 (‘middle’), and grades 9-12 (high school). Students in alternative schools, of unspecified ages, are counted separately, as are students enrolled in Special Education schools and those in adult learning centers.

This first one is for regular DC Public Schools. You can see that preK3 though grade 3 comprises just under half of the entire DCPS population.

overall dcps - only enrollment by bands, 2013-4


The next graph shows the same thing but for ALL taxpayer-funded schools, both public and charter. Notice that the ‘adult’ sector is larger here.

overall dc osse enrollment by grade bands, 2013-4And the next graph shows the same thing for just the charter schools:

overall dc charter enrollment in percentages by grade bands 2013-4We see a much larger fraction of students in the adult sector. Again, Prek3 through grade 3 makes up just under half of the total.

Now let’s look a bit closer at the changes from last year to this, by grade band. My first graph shows overall changes from last year to this year, in all taxpayer-funded schools in Washington DC. Notice the large increase in the ‘alternative’ population and the ‘adult’ population, followed by a somewhat smaller rise in grades 1-3. The high school population – both public AND charter – actually dropped, as did the number of students enrolled in a special education school like Sharpe. It appears that a large fraction of that drop is students being reclassified as “alternative” instead of being in a high school.

increases, decreases by grade level, all DC OSSE schools, 2012-3 ri 2013-4Now let’s look at the corresponding graph for the regular DC public schools:

actual increases or decreases by grade level, DCPS only 2012-3 to 2013-4


Notice that once again, there was a big jump in the ‘alternative’ population, followed by an increase of about 250 at grades 1-3. As in overall DC stats, there was a drop in grades 9-12 and in special education. (the number for grade 6-8 is a typo: it should be 50)

Lastly, here are the changes since last year by grade band for the DC charter schools:

actual changes in enrollment, dc charter schools by grade bands, 2012-3 to 2013-4


I was surprised to see small drops in all of secondary charter schools (that is, grades 6 through 12). We see robust increases at all other levels, especially at the adult and alternative levels. I’m not exactly sure what’s causing this; perhaps readers closer to the trench lines than me (retired 5 years now) can comment.

My understanding  from reading US census figures is that the number of teenagers in Washington, DC – and thus, the number of students eligible to enroll in grades 6-12 continues to fall, while the number of younger kids is increasing. Obviously, those little kids generally grow older, and soon we will see a robust increase in the high school enrollment in the public and charter schools — unless they and their families all move out of town or decide to spend huge amounts for private or parochial schools. Which I doubt will happen.

In any case, claims of huge increases in enrollment in the DC public schools under chancellors Henderson and Rhee are just wishful thinking — like most of the boasts on Michelle Rhee’s famous resume.


Comments are most definitely welcome, even if you need a magnifying glass to see the “comments” button.





Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 3:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Trends for DC & Charters & Nation in 8th grade NAEP reading scores, black students

Here we have yet another surprising graph showing how the scores for black 8th graders on the NAEP reading tests have been bouncing around for students in DC public schools, DC charter schools, DC as a whole, large US cities as a whole, and the nation’s public schools as a whole.

Tell me what you see:

dc, dcps, charters, national, black 8th grade reading, naep to 2013

What I see is that under the ‘leadership’ of Rhee and Henderson, African-american 8th graders enrolled in DC public schools (blue and purple line) are actually doing a bit worse than they did before mayoral control. However, the average scores for the their counterparts in DC’s charter schools (dotted orange line)  are rising quite rapidly and are now higher than the national averages for black 8th graders.

However, on the average, the scores for all 8th-grade black students in publicly-funded DC schools (black dashed line) on the NAEP since 2008 (when Rhee was installed – purple vertical line) seem to be following the trends that were in place before that date.

No wonder Henderson recently admitted that her administration had no real idea on how to make DCPS middle schools attractive to families. One might conclude that the DC African-American families and students who were motivated to do well in school have in many cases migrated to the charter schools, leaving the less-motivated ones behind.

As in my previous three posts, I had to do have my spreadsheet do some computation to calculate the scores for the charter schools. You can find the formula in my first two posts. I used the overall DCPS and charter school and DC total enrollments rather than the specific 8th-grade-level enrollments for each institution because the latter was too difficult to find and I suspected that it wouldn’t make a big difference. If anybody finds any errors, please let me know.

Trends in DC on the NAEP for 4th grade reading, black students only: regular DCPS, charter schools, and pre- and post-Rhee

Here is a graph showing how African-American 4th students have been doing over time in Washington DC public schools and charter schools. I have drawn a clear dividing line at year 2008, because the scores before that were under the influence of DC’s former school board and superintendents. After that time, DC has been under a chancellor answerable only to the mayor.

dc, dcps, dc charter, and national naep trends, 4th grade reading to 2013You may notice that the blue, black and purple lines separate after 2007. That’s because NAEP began reporting separate scores for DC’s regular public schools and for all publicly-supported schools, though not for the charter schools as a bloc. As a result, you have to do a little bit of linear algebra to calculate what the average scales were for the charter schools from 2009 onwards. (I used essentially the same equation that I did in the previous post. Please write me a note if you think I made an error.)

As usual, we can see that since the late 1990s and up until Rhee took over, the overall trend in all large cities, in the nation’s public schools, and in DC’s publicly-supported schools was upwards on this test. (Yes, I know, these are not scores that follow the same kids year after year, but for whatever reason, the group of kids answering these tests are in general getting more answers right every two years.) Before that, i.e. from 1992 to 1998, scores bounced around or went down.

After Rhee took over, those scores seem to have entered another bouncy period. In fact, in DCPS, the scores on this test in 2013 were only back up to the level of 2007. There is a clear demarcation between the scores in the charter schools (blue line) and the regular public schools. The line for the charter schools seems to follow the trend from 1998 to 2007.

If I knew nothing about the politics of EduDeform, I would wonder why the WaPo editorial board is claiming victory.



Trends in DC’s regular public schools and charter schools: 4th grade math NAEP, TUDA

I continue here in showing you the results of my calculations for how the charter school students and regular public school students in Washington, DC have been faring on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, since the 1990s.

Some of my previous columns were quite simple: I just cut and pasted graphs from the NAEP and NAEP TUDA results, or asked the built-in software for how white, black, hispanic, special education, or free/reduced-price-lunch kids did at the 4th and 8th grade in math and reading.

If you look at my previous graphs, you will notice that, on the whole, the trends AFTER 2007, when Michelle Rhee was installed as the very first DC chancellor, looked just about the same as the trends BEFORE that date.

Today, I did a little math to figure out how black fourth-grade charter school students did in math in DC, in comparison with their counterparts in other large cities, in the nation as a whole, and in the regular DC public schools.

The math goes like this: I figure that the DC state weighted average for any given group or grade level (say, 4th grade African-American students taking the math NAEP) equals the weighted average for regular DCPS at that grade level, times the enrollment at that grade level, plus the product of the charter school weighted average score at that grade level and the charter school enrollment at that grade level; all of that divided by the total enrollment.

Or, if Q = DC state average. and R = DC regular public school weighted average, and V = DC regular public school enrollment, and S = DC charter school weighted average, and W = DC charter school enrollment, and X = V + W = total enrollment in publicly-funded schools in DC, both regular and charter, then

Q = (R*V + S * W) / X

And since I could find everything except S in the literature, then I could simply solve for S. My result:

S = (X*Q – R*V)/W.

And here are my results:

dc, dcps, charters, national - black 4th graders, math, naep, 1996-2013


My conclusions?

For black students at the 4th grade in math, the post-Rhee trends in the charter schools are about the same as the trends in DC public schools were BEFORE Rhee was appointed. However, it looks like the trends overall in the regular public schools seem a bit worse.

If past trends had continued, and Michelle Rhee had not become chancellor, the overall educational results might have been very similar to what they are today — inequalities and inequities of course included, because we have lots of that here in Washington, DC.

By the way, if anyone finds a mistake in my work, please let me know by leaving a comment.

Charter Schools Have Failed to Close the ‘Achievement Gap’ their Backers Claim they would Crush.

I am reposting an article that Diane Ravitch brought to my attention, but I’m deleting the crappy and incorrect headline. I am emphasizing a few parts that I think are key, since I think the Levines “buried the Lede” as a reporter would say.

They also could have used a few graphs to illustrate what they meant.

By Adeline Levine and Murray Levine


on October 13, 2013 – 12:01 AM

Charter schools are hailed by the U.S. Department of Education, by major foundations, and by corporate and philanthropic organizations as the prime solution to the alleged failures of traditional public schools to educate children, failures underscored by the poor performance of their minority and disadvantaged students.

Four large-scale studies by two respected research institutes, CREDO and Mathematica, comparing charter schools with traditional public schools were reported in 2013. Major newspapers, apparently relying on the press releases, trumpeted that charter schools had shown astonishing results in closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged and not-disadvantaged students.

Achievement tests are the major yardstick used to assess schools. CREDO conducted three national evaluation studies comparing the achievement test performance of students in charter schools with matched students in traditional public schools. Mathematica studied middle schools in the well-regarded KIPP charter school chain. All four studies compared the amount of “gain” or “growth” in achievement test scores over a school year, not the actual levels of achievement. Even with gains, the achievement level may still be well below norms for the test.

Buried deep in its report, one CREDO study states, “Only when the annual learning gain of these student [minority/poverty] subgroups exceeds that of white or non-poverty students can progress on closing the achievement gap be made.” Charter school minority and economically disadvantaged students made some very small gains in reading and math when compared to matched controls in public schools. However, the difference in achievement growth between white non-poverty students in traditional public schools and minority/poverty students in charter schools is the most relevant comparison.

The average gain, in standard deviation units, for minority or poverty students in charter schools when compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools, was about 0.03. However, the average gain for non-minority, non-poverty traditional public school white students was 0.80. The gain was up to 27 times the gain for poverty or minority students in charter schools. The Mathematica study of KIPP middle schools showed similar large gaps in gains.

The CREDO Institute states: “For many charter school supporters, improving education outcomes for historically disadvantaged is the paramount goal.” While all of the groups in both kinds of schools show gains over the years, the achievement gap remains, as it always has when students from homes in poverty are compared to non-poor ones, in this country and internationally. The “paramount goal” to level the field is not being met by charter schools.

Charter school advocates attribute the educational difficulties of disadvantaged students in traditional public schools to ineffective, uncaring teachers, their unions and bureaucratic restrictions. They insist that having a great teacher in every classroom will overcome every limitation. They claim that low expectations for disadvantaged children are the major problem, not the complex negative effects of poverty.

Charter schools are not hindered in their selection of teachers by bureaucratic restrictions, nor are charter school teachers prevented by union restrictions from pursuing the charter school programs. Allegedly, charter schools have great teachers in every classroom. If there are “no excuses” when disadvantaged students do less well than non-disadvantaged students in traditional public schools, the same rules should apply to charter schools.

What excuse do charters have for the persistent achievement test gap between disadvantaged students in charter schools compared to non-disadvantaged students in the public schools? And why continue down a path where the numbers show that the national policy favoring charter schools will make the majority-minority gap worse?

Charter schools are protected by powerful, wealthy individuals and foundations that profess free-market choice and hold anti-union sentiments and pro-privatization beliefs; some advocates are pursuing profit motives. The advocates seem not to be influenced by data despite their insistence they are data-driven.

The reality is that problems associated with a history of discrimination and the complex negative effects of poverty are not easily solved. The solutions require an enormous, long-term societal commitment. The current reforms, however, threaten the very existence of our public schools, which have long been the envy of the entire world.

Adeline Levine, Ph.D., is professor emeritas (sociology) at the University at Buffalo. A former chairwoman of the department, she is the author of “Love Canal: Science, Politics and People,” and other books and articles on educational subjects. Murray Levine, J.D., Ph.D., is distinguished service professor (psychology) emeritus at UB. He has published extensively on educational subjects.

Published in: on October 19, 2013 at 7:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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More signs of the bankruptcy of the current edu-DEformers

Two news articles show the desperation and moral and spiritual bankruptcy of the current crop of educational deformers.

(No, not their bank accounts: those are doing just fine.)


Arne Duncan says that we who criticize his utterly disastrous educational blunders are armchair pundits who are destroying everything he stands for. I would retort that I have more DECADES in the classroom than he has actual weeks teaching school, and I think he is referring to me and the vast majority of other teachers who vehemently disagree with his take on what good education is like; many of us are highly critical, in writing, of his misguided faith-based goofball ideas.

If an unstandardized, rich, full education with lots of arts, music, sports, and foreign languages, led by teachers who are trusted is good enough for him, his kids, the children of the 1%, and the Obama kids, then it’s good enough for the kids who live in poverty. Test prep is not education. Yet what Duncan is promoting is impoverishing the education that our browner and poorer kids are getting.

I recommend reading Anthony Cody’s transcription of Duncan’s remarks, and what Cody has to say about them.


The leadership of the ‘oldest charter school in Washington DC’ has been indicted for scamming the public and their students out of some three million dollars.

Here are a few paragraphs from the City Paper blog by Loose Lips:

The scheme allegedly centered around two for-profit companies: Exceptional Education Management Corporation (EEMC), which was owned and incorporated by Options CEO Donna D. Montgomery, and Exceptional Education Services at Options Public Charter School (EES), a company that was incorporated by Hayward, the chair of Options’ board of trustees. The companies had other ties to the school, too—Options paid for their office space, which they shared, according to the attorney general.

At one point in April 2012, according to the attorney general’s complaint (embedded below), Hayward signed off on a $159,000 loan to EES. Later that year, she allegedly agreed to a $981,250 transportation agreement between the school and EES—a hefty deal for the latter, considering that another company had been paid only $70,000 for a similar contract a year before.

The largest unusual contract Hayward was allegedly involved in went to EEMC. In February 2013, Hayward agreed to a $2,801,721 payment to EEMC as a “management fee,” according to the attorney general’s complaint, even though the contract had not been open for competitive bidding.

Options was expected to receive around $13.5 million last fiscal year, with most of it coming from the District, according to Nathan. Hayward, like Options’ administration, didn’t respond to LL’s request for comment.

While Hayward is named in the lawsuit, her alleged involvement pales to that of her co-defendants. Jeremy L. Williams, a member of the school’s board of trustees, is accused of sending confidential emails to warn the school’s officials of incoming inspections while he was still employed as the chief financial officer of the Public Charter School Board. Another, Options CEO Montgomery, was allegedly paid $425,000 in one year. By comparison, the CEO of D.C. Prep,  ranked as one of the city’s top charter schools, made $142,162 in 2012. Nathan’s complaint also points out that $425,000 is more than twice Mayor Vince Gray‘s salary.

You can also read about it elsewhere, such as in the Washington Post, whose editorial staff is trying to figure out whom to throw under the bus and how to whitewash the whole thing.

Let me also add that it is utterly typical of many, many charter schools that their executives and boards of directors receive unbelievable salaries, equal to those of 5 to 10 teachers. For doing what? Radiating “excellence” a couple of times a week while they steer sweetheart contracts to their friends and cronies?

And why do ‘hostile takeover’ specialists like Carl Icahn get to run charter schools?

Published in: on October 1, 2013 at 3:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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