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, gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com , and in particular at http://bit.ly/10mna8c , http://bit.ly/10mneEY , and http://bit.ly/1ptal1K . 
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!

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.


The Real Lesson of Singapore Math!

By now you’ve probably heard that Singapore and Shanghai are the two places on earth with the smartest kids in the entire world. We can see their PISA scores (go to page 5) are right at the top.

Case closed, right? Whatever they are doing in education, we in the US need to emulate that in order to catch up! Common Core! StudentsFirst! Teach for America! Race to the Top! PARCC! Bust those teacher unions! No more recess! All test prep all the time! Charter Schools! Turn the schools over to the billionaires (Gates, Bloomberg, Koch family, Walton family, and their hirelings and shills)!

But wait a second.

Have you noticed that an ENORMOUS fraction of the low-skilled, low-paid people living in Singapore are temporary foreign workers from various parts of Asia and Africa and are not allowed to bring their kids with them? Those kids are raised back in the workers’ homelands by various relatives, far away, and only get to see their parents at long intervals (somebody has to fly somewhere); back home, jobs are even scarcer and worse-paid, so the parents go elsewhere to try support their families.

Now, everywhere in the world, family income is very, very closely linked to children’s test scores in school. It’s one of the tightest correlations there are in the social sciences, as you can see in the simple scatter-plots I have repeatedly shown in this blog over the past 4 or 5 years. (Try using terms like “poverty” “income” and “scores” together in the search box on this page and be prepared to look through a lot of posts with such graphs, from all over!)

If one-quarter to one-third of the population of a country was legally not permitted to have children in the schools, and it was the low-paying 1/4 to 1/3 of the population, then the scores of the remainder of the kids would, quite naturally, be pretty darned good, since the bottom 1/4 to 1/3 of the distribution just got cut off.

If we systematically excluded the poorest quarter or third of our American student population from taking PISA, we know that our scores would be pretty darned high as well.*

Hmm, maybe the leaning tower of PISA hype is falling.



*Let’s remember that this WAS official policy in many states of the USA up until 1865: a large fraction of the population (guess which one!) was forbidden to send their kids to schools at all and it was explicitly forbidden even to teach them to read privately. When Jim Crow was established from the 1870s to the early 1960s, school facilities for Blacks and Hispanics, BY DESIGN of the racist authorities, so inferior to those for whites that they were a national disgrace. Which is why the calls for going back to the good old days should be so infuriating. There WERE NO GOOD OLD DAYS.

How Money Talks in Westchester County, New York

If you think it’s only in your school district that wealthy kids do better in school, think again. It’s all over the nation — and it starts when children are quite young and poor ones are often not spoken to or read to nearly as much by their parents, so that kids from poor families actually start preschool with a vocabulary disadvantage.

A recent article by Dave Greene, a teacher, author and activist in Westchester County, NY, puts that into focus by examining a local magazine centerfold that gives average family household income and a bunch of other data about schools so that home-buyers can figure out how “good” the schools are.

The old real-estate saying is that the three most important things about a house are its location, its location, and its location. That’s not quite true: it really should be, the average income of the other folks in the neighborhood (or AIOFN), AIOFN, and AIOFN.

It’s also true with the schools, as the data make clear — and it’s even clearer still if you put the data into a graph, which the original author did not do.

So I did.

Here are two such graphs:

sat and family income westchester co ny

I hadn’t realized that there were poor as well as rich areas in Westchester County, but apparently there are. The line of best fit that Excel calculated shows a very, very strong correlation: r-squared is 0.8819, which means that R itself is about 93.9% — about the strongest correlation you’ll ever see in the social sciences. The two variables here are average household income and average SAT score (these go from 600 to 2400).

The next graph shows average family income versus a composite score of college readiness as measured by the New York State Regents.

family income and college readiness westchester co ny

Once again, an extremely tight correlation between average family income and college readiness score.

Read the original article for the original data and its source. Here is my spreadsheet:

westchester raw data

Daily Howler on how the editors and reporters at the NYTimes get education right – or wrong

Two articles this past week by Bob Somerby on how at least one reporter (Motoko Rich) does a good job reporting on what is right and what isn’t right with education in America, and how the NYT editorial staff doesn’t get it right at all. But then again, the editors all went to cushy private schools and elite colleges and have mansions in the Hamptons, so they don’t have a clue as to how the other half lives.

First daily howler article here.

Second daily howler article here.

Published in: on March 29, 2014 at 3:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Audio Recordings from Ras Baraka’s Fund-Raiser in DC this weekend

I was able to record parts of the remarks of Ras Baraka (a progressive candidate for mayor of Newark, New Jersey)’s remarks at Busboys & Poets this past weekend, and I was going to attempt to share them with you here, but ran into some sort of snag, so I’ll have to give you the links on Google Drive instead.

My recordings are in four unequal parts, and are in iPhone’s ‘voice memo’ format.

The first one is quite short, less than a minute.

The second one is rather long, and is quite a rouser. Among other things, he points out that a victory against racism and oppression in one location encourages others to fight back harder and win.

In the third one, I asked him what his experiences were like as a teacher, building rep, and then principal.

In the fourth one, ‘Teacher Ken” asked him how he managed to bring medical and dental services to the schools under his care.

Let’s see how this works, and please let me know (via ‘comments’) what your experiences are.

nora ras baraka 004

Published in: on March 10, 2014 at 2:42 pm  Comments (1)  
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A Reader Comments on the South Korean Model of Education

A Korean-American reader shares his/her thoughts on the supposedly wonderful Korean educational system, as a comment on Diane Ravitch’s blog. The comments echo what I gleaned from the book “The Smartest Kids in the World.”

A Reader Comments on the South Korean Model of Education.

Published in: on February 21, 2014 at 3:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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James Meredith on the current civil rights struggle in our schools

Who’s he? Simply one of the heroes of the 1960′s civil rights movement. Here is his take on where we are going now in education:

Our schools are being destroyed by politics, profit, greed and lies. Instead of evidence-based practices, money has become the engine of education policy, and our schools are being hijacked by politicians, non-educators and for-profit operators. Parents, teachers, citizens and community elders must arm ourselves with the best evidence and take back control of our children’s public education before it is too late. We all must work together to improve our public schools, not on the basis of profit or politics, but on the basis of evidence, and on the basis of love for America’s children.


Read more at Anthony Cody’s blog.

Published in: on February 6, 2014 at 10:55 pm  Comments (3)  
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Bob Schaeffer’s Weekly Roundup of Resistance to the Billionaires’ Educational League of Charlatans & Hucksters

I’ve been remiss on not posting Bob Schaeffer’s lists. We public school teachers, parents and students should remember that not all is lost. When enough folks fight back, we will win.

Here’s this week’s list from FairTest:

With Common Core pilot-tests looming on the horizon, calls for a moratorium on the new assessments and a reduction in test volume, not another round of increases, are intensifying.

Common Core Assessments: The Next Phase of High-Stakes Testing


Advocates Press Gov. Cuomo for Common Core Testing Moratorium


Fact Sheet: Why a Common Core Moratorium is Necessary


Massive Field-Testing Makes Thousands of Children Unpaid Common Core Guinea Pigs


Maryland Schools Need $100 Million Computer Upgrades to Administer New Common Core Exams

Bill Seeks Suspension of 2014 Maryland State Tests

Montgomery Super: Common Core Test Scores Should Not be Used to Judge Teachers


Virginia Republican State Legislators Join Democratic Governor and Public Majority to Support Testing Rollback

Suburban Richmond School Board Considers Assessment Reform Resolution

Virginia Poll Finds Growing Voter Concern About Impact of Standardized Exam Overkill

Florida Facing Challenge Over Student Testing

Super Allows Idaho Schools to Opt Out of Some Common Core Field Tests

Louisiana Schools Need Millions More for Common Core Testing Computer Upgrades

Philadelphia Test-Cheating Scandal May Be Nation’s Largest

Minnesota Kindergarten: Too Many Tests; No Time to Play

Coloradans Say “No” to High-Stakes Testing with Highway Billboard

More Parents Resist Standardized Tests

New York Could Lead National Away From School Testing Fixation

Former Charter School Teacher Reveals Program’s Test-Prep Fixation

Take This Test (Please)

Diane Ravitch Faults Culture of Tests

The Beginning of an End to Sanction-Driven Education?

NCLB 12th Anniversary: Lake Wobegon is Finally Here

Education Bills Languish in Congress

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office-   (239) 395-6773   fax  (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468
web- http://www.fairtest.org


Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 7:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Korean vs American Schools as seen by Amanda Ripley

A surprising look at the supposedly wonderful schools in South Korea in Amanda Ripley’s fairly recent book “The Smartest Kids in the World” makes you appreciate American public AND private schools.*

Why? According to Ripley, the American exchange student who began attending a Korean high school in Busan (Pusan) SK  was surprised to find that about a third of his classmates openly, “flat-out slept” through classes and that many paid no attention in class, chatting quietly.*** It was easy to see why: they were in class with only a few short breaks from 7 in the morning to 11 at night!

Why did they spend so much time in school? Because Korea has a single end-of-HS exam that would make or break a student’s entire future. No possibility of a do-over or a re-take. If you were in the top 2% (or what we might call the 98th or 99th percentile, in other words, well over two standard deviations above the national mean) or roughly over 720 on the SAT, you were set FOR LIFE – admission to the best universities for free, guaranteed top jobs at top corporations, guaranteed brilliant career and wealth for life. Everybody else in Korea? Not sure – haven’t read that far yet, but it seems that every secondary student in the entire country spends the last two years of high school doing NOTHING except studying for this final exam. Perhaps they rank every single student by their exam score, just as every kid’s scores were publicly displayed and ranked on the single blackboard in every classroom after every single important graded effort in their classes? (Yeah, sure, they used ID numbers instead of names, but the kids all knew each other’s ID#s, according to Ripley.)

By the way, according to Ripley, just about all Koreans HATE and DESPISE their supposedly wonderful educational system. They would much rather have a system that valued and promoted creativity and teamwork.

Is that the sort of education we want for most of our kids? It certainly seems like some folks do want that. I’m referring to the  hedge-fund or high-tech billionaires or just plain con artists (remember Michael Millken? He’s one of the biggest edupreneurs today, fresh out of prison for multibilliondollar fraud…) or former sports stars; all of whom who went to progressive and elite private schools and who are running the policies of American education today – do want that, but not for their own privileged children. Only for the children of poor, black or hispanic kids attending public or charter schools. No, if you go to Lakeside or Sidwell or Georgetown Day or Chicago Lab school, you get to be on interscholastic sports teams, go kayaking, volunteer on farms or stables, and learn foreign languages and art and music and so on and so forth.

But these pious fraudsters sure do seem to be on way towards instituting that. Using the language of the civil rights movement, they somehow, and in a very Owellian way, institute a very oppressive and stultifying regime in many of their schools. For example, I visited a supposedly highly-ranked, large, charter school here in DC (not a KIPP) 100% black and latino IIRC, where the kids were in the very same classroom from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM, all day, and were only let out to go to the bathroom and to pick up their breakfast and lunch bags from a cart in the hallway. Unless there was a fire drill. I am not exaggerating in the least. Teachers moved, not students. No wonder the kids were off the hook much of the time, giving their very young and mostly inexperienced teachers a hard time with no possibility of administrative support. For the kids, the only way to get some excitement was to be bad and act out, which they did. (They were not even allowed to make any noise or talk to each other while one teacher left and the other entered!)**

I thought and said at the time that one way to improve things would be to take kids on walks up and down the stairs or go outside and and make it into a math activity somehow so you could slip it past the administration. The teacher could get real buy-in from the students by convincing them that if they were “good” on these expeditions, they could continue, but if kids acted up, they’d be back int he classroom again… because the admin would cancel the walks – remember, the only times the kids would get out of the classroom until 4:30 pm… And no art, no music, no PE most days. I think they had one period of one of these once a week, but I could be wrong.

But in any case, this is not how I was raised, nor my parents or other older relatives I know anything about, nor my own kids, and I hope not my grandkids will be raised. Kids need time to go outside, run around, climb, build things, knock them down, chase each other in various games, socialize, scream, play-act, and so on. You go nuts if you don’t. We do not belong inside all the time cramming for an exam!

Chinese students of mine and a Chinese colleagues have described to me told me that American teachers worked so much harder than Chinese teachers, more hours a day and more students and many more onerous tasks and responsibilities for the entirety of their students’ lives: supervising in hallways and cafeterias and playgrounds, meetings with parents, endless meetings with other administrators, filling out myriads of highly complex yet meaningless forms both in hard-copy and on-line in various media and platforms… exactly none of which is required of Chinese teachers. They teach their three or so classes per day, and that’s it. They even have graduate assistants to do all the grading! No parents demanding that little Wang or Miao-Miao deserves a 95% on a test and a good recommendation or an apology from the teacher for not braiding the child’s hair correctly… If there is a meeting with parents, the teacher is more likely to be given deep reverence and large presents… No interactive, engaging lessons there. Just lectures.

Why is it that American teachers are held in such ill-repute? They try harder and work harder than teachers in any country that I’m aware of, and I’ve lived and gone to school overseas for nearly four years, learning the local languages fairly well.


I would appreciate any comments from other folks who have visited schools in the US and abroad — what comparisons would you like to make?


*I’m reading several books simultaneously, all of them interesting. I won’t finish this one for a while, but I ran across something interesting and I thought I’d share this. I had previously thought Ripley was much too worshipful of Michelle Rhee, but so far, this looks pretty factual.

** Even though I think 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM such as at that DC charter school is a long day, it’s “only” nine hours. Pity the poor South Korean kids who are in school for EIGHTEEN hours a day, minus a few recesses and meal breaks, and who are also expected to do all of the janitorial duties at their schools!! New Gingrich would approve, as long as they are poor people’s children, and not his own…

*** A few paragraphs from Ripley’s book:

“A few minutes later, he glanced backwards at the rows of students behind him. Then he looked again, eyes wide. A third of the class was asleep. Not nodding off, but flat-out, no-apology sleeping, with their heads down on their desks. One girl actually had her head on a special pillow that slipped over her forearm. This was pre-meditated napping.

“How could this be? Eric had all about the hard-working Koreans who trounced the Americans in math, reading and science. He hadn’t read anything about shamelessly sleeping through class. As if to compensate for his classmates, he sat up even straighter and waited to see what happened next.

” The teacher lectured on, unfazed.

“At the end of class, the kids woke up. They had a ten-minute break and made every second count. Girls sat on top of their desks… chatting with each other and texting on their phones. A few of the boys started drumming on ther desks with their pencils…

“Next was science class. Once again, at least a third of the class went to sleep. It was almost farcical. How did Korean kids get those record-setting test scores if they spent so much of their time asleep in class?” (pp 52-53)


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