A song about the insanity of education policy today

You may recall Arlo Guthrie’s anti-Vietnam war song “Alice’s Restaurant” from about 45 years ago.

Here in this video a principal sings new words, using the same tune, about the utter insanity of today’s education policy, especially how we are rating public school teachers, students and other staff using mindless and arcane algorithms — while for-profit charter schools are specifically exempt.

Remember to sing along!

Published in: on November 27, 2015 at 2:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thanksgiving thoughts

I am thankful that I live on a planet where the air is breathable and protects us from gamma rays, X-rays and cosmic particles. And water exists as vapor, liquid and ice and a lot is drinkable.

And that while we benefit from the nearly unlimited sources of fossil fuels which give many of us easy and convenient power, transportation and lighting and communication, many people have realized that it is possible to achieve the same results without drastically changing the chemistry of our atmosphere and oceans byusing solar and wind power, among other sources.

And that I live in an era where genocide, ecocide, racism and rigid class distinctions are no longer seen as normal or acceptable, and that there are still organizations devoted to saving our atmosphere, our oceans, and fighting against oppression of some people by others.

I am also thankful that science has advanced to the point that our satellites have visited all of the official planets in our solar system, as well as many of the minor objects, and have also discovered thousands of planets orbiting other stars. Let me point out that so far, every single one of those other planets that astronomers have been able to measure appears to be a different version of hell. If we discover another planet that is in fact habitable in the way that our Earth is, it will be so far away that (as far as I can tell) there is never going to be any way for any humans ever to visit it. So, if we screw up Earth and turn it into a Hell, there is no escape. We must guard it with all we got.

Last but not least, let me add that I am truly thankful that I have a loving family and friends.

Published in: on November 26, 2015 at 4:54 pm  Comments (1)  

An animated cartoon about charter chains

This cartoon is pretty heavy handed but makes valid points.

Published in: on November 16, 2015 at 9:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Revised HS PARCC ‘pass’ rates in English and Math in DC public and charter schools

My original graphs on the ‘pass’ rates for all DC publicly-funded high schools were incomplete, because I was using OSSE data only (Office of the State Superintendent of Education). A reader showed me where the DC charter school board (DC PCSB) posted their PARCC statistics and that gave me the pass rates for a couple of additional schools (Maya Angelou and BASIS IIRC). So here are the revised graphs which you can click on to enlarge:

2015 Math PARCC 'pass' rates, both public and charter schools in DC

2015 Math PARCC ‘pass’ rates, both public and charter schools in DC

2015 'pass' rates, public and charter high school math, PARCC, DC, 2015

2015 ‘pass’ rates, public and charter high school math, PARCC, DC, 2015

Note how many fewer students passed the PARCC math test than the reading test in DC. I haven’t yet seen any of the actual questions on either of the tests. But if these were tests that I had written and was using as a teacher with my students, I would likely conclude that the one with the much-lower scores was simply a much harder test, and I would probably do one of the following:

(A) “scale” the scores so that more students would pass, or else

(B) throw out the test results and try teaching with a different approach altogether, or else

(C) throw out the test and make one that at least a majority of students could pass if they’ve been paying attention.

{At my last school, if f I failed 80 to 90% of my students, I would have gotten an unsatisfactory evaluation and probably have gotten fired.}

Of course, this being the era when multi-billionaires who hate the very idea of public schools are in charge of said public schools, neither A, B or C will happen. In fact, my understanding is that the ‘cut’ scores for each of the categories of grades (meets expectations and so on) were set AFTER the students took the test, not in advance. So it was very much a politico-social decision that the vast majority of students were SUPPOSED to fail the math test.

Let me note strongly that by far the most effective way to have really good test scores for your school is to let in ONLY students who already get strong test scores. That’s how Phillips Exeter or Andover Academies or Riverdale or Sidwell Friends or or the Chicago Lab or Lakeside private schools do it, and that’s how Banneker, School Without Walls, Washington Latin, and BASIS do it. (Partial disclosure: I and some of my immediate family either went to, or worked at, some of those schools.) Teachers who are successful at those elite schools have a MUCH easier time teaching those students than do those who try to teach at school with large numbers of at-risk students, like Washington Metropolitan, Ballou, Cardozo, Maya Angelou, or Options public or charter schools. Idealistic teachers from elite schools who do transfer to tough inner-city public schools generally crash and burn, and I would predict that one of the easiest ways to lose your teaching job these days is to volunteer to teach at any one of the five latter schools.

Where DC is #1 on the NAEP

Of all the states and territories tested on the 2015 NAEP, there is one place where DC is Number ONE!

Unfortunately, it’s not a good #1.

We have, by far, the largest gaps between percentages of white and black students who are deemed ‘proficient’ or better. On every single test (8th grade, 4th grade, reading and math).

DC also the largest gaps between percentages of white and hispanic students – on every single test.

Our DC gaps are at least double the national gaps. And that’s not good. In fact, the gaps are anywhere between double and two-and-a-half times as large as the gaps nationally or the median of all states, as you see here:

gaps b-w and w-h

Kaya Henderson and Michelle Rhee really have some tremendous accomplishments, don’t they?


These scores, by the way, are for a carefully-selected sample of ALL students in Washington, DC – public, charters, private, and parochial. Rhee and Henderson and the various DC mayors have been in total control of all public and charter schools since 2007, with a school board that has exactly zero power and a teachers’ union that has lost almost any power to do anything meaningful to support teachers. And we have a teaching and supervisory force that is either brand-new (hired by Rhee or Henderson or by the heads of the many charter schools) or has passed all of the extremely difficult evaluations not once, but many times.

Trends on the NAEP give a clue as to why Arne Duncan quit

Seeing the rather large drop on the NAEP scores for students across the nation – results released at midnight last night – gives me the idea that Arne Duncan (secretary of education for the past 7 years) quit rather than face the blame for his failed policies. After all, he (and the rest of the billionaire deformer class) have been promising that if you open tons of unregulated charter schools, use numerology to fire many of the remaining veteran teachers, and make education into little more than test prep for all students of color or those who come from poor families, then the test results will improve.

Well, they didn’t improve.

I will let you see for yourself how the percentages of students deemed ‘proficient’ in 4th grade and 8th grade on the NAEP at the national level generally dropped. I include DC (where I come from), and in five other states – two that are high-performing (NH and Massachusetts) and three that are low-performing (CA, AL and NM).

The one bright spot for District residents is that DC is no longer the last in the nation in every category! DC students now have slightly higher percentages proficient in certain categories than two other impoverished states – New Mexico and Alabama, as you can see in the graphs below. (The graph for the District of Columbia is the light blue one at the bottom,)

On the other hand, the increases in percentages of students ‘proficient’ in DC since 2008, the first year after mayoral control was imposed and the elected school board was neutralized, are nothing but a continuation of previous trends.

As usual, if you want to take a closer look, click on the graphs.

% Proficient in 4th Grade Math: DC, Nation, MA, CA, NH, NM, AL through 2015

% Proficient in 4th Grade Math: DC, Nation, MA, CA, NH, NM, AL through 2015

Percentage 'Proficient' or Above on 4th grade NAEP reading through 2015, DC, Nation, AL, CA, MA, NH, NM

Percentage ‘Proficient’ or Above on 4th grade NAEP reading through 2015, DC, Nation, AL, CA, MA, NH, NM

8th grade math NAEP

8th grade math NAEP

8th grade reading

8th grade reading

How the various DC publicly-funded high schools (charter and regular public) did on the PARCC in reading/ELA and Geometry

I present a couple of graphs so that interested DC locals can see how the students at the various public and charter schools did on the PARCC test this past spring in reading/ELA and in Geometry.

Not all schools are listed, because quite a few did not have enough students taking the test. At least 25 student were needed for their scores to be reported. If the school does not have a bar next to the name, that means that nobody at that school got a 4 or a 5. As usual, you can click on the graph to make it larger. I color-coded the bars: blue for regular DCPS and orangey-yellow for the charter schools.

ELA pass rates - all DC public and charter schools

Geometry Pass rates - all DC public and charter high schools

For the sake of completeness, the following schools did not have at least 25 students taking the ELA test, so no score was reported:

  • Ballou STAY
  • Basis DC PCS
  • Incarcerated Youth Program, Correctional Detention Facility
  • Luke Moore Alternative HS
  • Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings (formerly Oak Hill)
  • Options PCS*
  • Roosevelt STAY at MacFarland
  • SEED PCS of Washington DC
  • Washington Metropolitan HS

And the following schools had less than 25 students taking the math test, so no score was reported for the school:

  • Ballou STAY
  • Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy-Chavez Prep
  • Incarcerated Youth Program, Correctional Detention Facility
  • Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings (formerly Oak Hill)
  • Options PCS*
  • Roosevelt STAY at MacFarland
  • Washington Metropolitan HS

Surprising Comparison of Charter and Regular Public School ‘Pass’ Rates on the HS PARCC

I was actually rather surprised to see that significantly larger percentages of regular DC public school students ‘passed’ the PARCC in both math and in reading than did DC charter school students.

If you don’t believe me, look for yourself at the OSSE press release.

What it says is that in the DC charter schools, 23% of the students ‘passed’ (got a 4 or a 5) on the English portion, whereas in the regular DC public schools, 27% ‘passed’.

And in math, they claim that only 7% of the charter school students ‘passed’, but 12% of the regular DC public school students passed.

Are you surprised, too?

A Few PARCC Scores Have Been Released for DC Public Schools

If you would like to see how District of Columbia public high school students did on the PARCC, you can look here at a press release from DCPS administration. This test was on ELA (reading) and Geometry. The scores for grades 3-8 have not yet been released.

The disparities in ‘pass’ rates between the DCPS magnet schools (Banneker and Walls) and every other DC public high school are amazing, particularly in geometry. Notice that several schools had not a single student ‘pass’. This year’s test gives students scores from 1 to 5; only a score of 4 or 5 is considered ‘college and career ready’ — although no studies have actually been done to determine whether that statement is actually true. Banneker and Walls have the lowest rates of students labeled ‘at risk’.

Here are two graphs which I cut-and-pasted from the press release. Click on them to enlarge them.


HS-PARCC geometry

Given what I’ve seen of the convoluted questions asked on released sample PARCC questions, it is no wonder that ‘pass’ rates dropped a lot this year, compared with previous years. The DC-CAS wasn’t a very good test, but PARCC is terrible.

Please keep in mind that public education in the District of Columbia has been under the control of DEformers like Michelle Rhee, Kaya Henderson, and the Gates and Broad foundations, for over 8 years now. The students taking this test last spring have been under their rule since they were rising third graders. Every single teacher in DCPS was either hired by Rhee or by Henderson or else passed numerous strict evaluations with flying colors, year after year, and has been teaching just as they were directed to – or else.

And this is the best that the DEformers can do?

Mental Math, Traditional Math, and Best Methods

James Tanton is one of the most insightful teachers of teachers of math I’ve come across in a long time.

In this video and this essay, he explains how some parents feel mystified by some of the newer style of math problems that children are bringing to their parents for help. Clearly, some of the problems (like the 32-12 one which fills up an entire page in a child’s workbook) are being done in a tortured, time-wasting method. However, if you take a more difficult problem, such as 103 – 87, you can do this completely in your head by adding small increments (MENTALLY) to the 87 until you get to 103.

This is a reasonable thing to do, much like people count out (or used to count out) change into a customer’s hand.

In this case, from 87 to 90 (which is a much ‘nicer’ number than 87) we need to go up by 3.

Then from 90 to 100 (which is getting closer to our goal), we go up by 10. So we’ve gone up by 13 all together.

Then from 100 to 103 is three more, so we’ve gone up by 16, which means that 103 – 87 is 16.

I would be crazy to write all those steps out! – which is unfortunately what the poor child was asked to do.

But doing it quickly in your head makes a lot of sense.

As Tanton says, let’s get rid of laborious, tortured, time-wasting algorithms and examples, but let’s keep the thinking and understanding.

Click on the picture for a larger view; it’s a slightly-modified still from his video.

james tanton on thinking

Published in: on October 25, 2015 at 11:31 am  Comments (1)  
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