Why, and how, has Michelle Rhee enlarged the Achievement Gap in DC?

Bill Turque’s recent article in the Washington Post (12-13-09) points out that under Michelle Rhee (but not previously), the gaps between white and black; between poor and non-poor; and between high-achievers and low-achievers among DCPS students have gotten noticeably larger. Please permit me to show how striking Rhee’s enlarged gap is, and to compare it to the rest of the country.

In fact, I conclude that the enlargement of this gap is Michelle Rhee’s singular achievement so far as Chancellor of the DC public school system, since she has so far not succeeded in breaking the Washington Teachers’ Union, which was probably her main goal, and since scores on the NAEP and DC-CAS were going up pretty steadily before she arrived.

First of all, let’s compare 4th grade students’ scores in DCPS in math on the NAEP, or National Assessment of Educational Progress, over the time period 2003 – 2009, for various percentile ranks. (Students at the 90th percentile do better than 90% of their fellow students, or cohort, so they are probably very good at math, compared to their DCPS peers. If you are at the 75th percentile, you do better than 75% of your cohort. And so on. Naturally, the students in the 25th percentile  in 2003 are not the same students who were at the 25th percentile in 2009; however, both students were right in the middle of the bottom half of their class. The scores are whatever the scaled score was that they got on the NAEP. And no, I don’t quite know what that means either. But a higher score on the NAEP is most likely better than a lower score. It appears that NAEP scores can range from 0 to 500. All my data comes from the lengfthy PDF file on the NAEP TUDA report, which is at http://nationsreportcard.gov/math_2009/math_2009_tudareport/ .

Notice that although all of the groups’ scores are generally increasing, the scores for the students at the 75th and 90th percentiles are going up a lot faster during the last 2 years. So the gap between the top and bottom students is widening in the 4th grade in DC, under Michelle Rhee’s watch.

Rhee’s defenders will probably object that this is happening everywhere in the country. But that is not true. Here is a table and graph of the exact same percentile ranks for the nation as a whole:

To make this a bit clearer, I also have made a table showing the gaps between the 90th and 10th percentiles in the nation as a whole, in all large cities, and in DCPS. Take a look at how much it has grown in DC in the past few years:

Next, let’s look at the 8th grade. The story is very similar, but there are differences. In 2009, the students in DCPS at the 25th and 10th percentiles actually did worse than their counterparts in 2007. And the gap widened.

What about the nation as a whole? Much like in 4th grade:

Now let’s compare gaps for 8th grade math in all big cities, the nation, and DC Public Schools:

Quite a disturbing pattern. Tomorrow: even more graphs and data, including the white-black gap and the poor-nonpoor gap!

Bill Turque’s article can be found at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/12/AR2009121201276.html?nav=emailpage or http://tinyurl.com/turque12-13 .

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 6:18 pm  Comments (8)  
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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Brilliant! Thanks so much for your hard work on this. And to think all of it can be verified simply by going to the NAEP site. How different from Chancellor Rhee’s assertions about data.

    She gave PBS false data inflating Shaw Middle School’s AYP scores that was aired before the actual data became available to the public.* Then she repeated the same false information later in the Washington Post.*

    http://learningmatters.tv/blog/on-the-newshour/michelle-rhee-in-dc-episode-10-testing-michelle-rhee/2476/comment-page-1/#comment-322 http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2009/10/one_of_the_struggles_most.html


  2. On my second reading, I was looking for, but didn’t find, answers to the questions about how and why Rhee enlarged the DC achievement gap.

    Of course, you couldn’t know, any more than fawning journalists “know” she performing miracles in DCPS. But you’re right, in my opinion, to credit her with it. If it happened on her watch, she must own it, just as she owns whatever good news is in the study.

    Somehow, though, I think she’ll find a way to credit/blame teachers for this finding.


    • efavorite,
      I think Mrs. Rhee will try and ignore the findings. I doubt she would be asked about it by the hosts of the conferences where she speaks.

      However, I’d like to thank gfbrandenburg for his/her work.
      I’d like to think that your initial reports (and my posting them in the Post comments section) lead Bill Turque to file his report.


    • I am not at all sure why the gap has widened under Rhee, but I have a couple of guesses.
      (1) Perhaps all of the weeks and weeks of test prep that teachers have had to do have turned off the lowest-achieving kids, because it’s really boring, not hands-on, and so forth. So they put forth less effort than usual. At the same time, it may have made the higher-achieving students a little more savvy about the types of problems that might appear on the NAEP.
      (2) Perhaps middle-of-the road black students (by income and achievement) have been leaving regular DC public schools in large numbers and going to charter schools. This may have made it so that the bottom percentiles, and African-american students, and poor students, did worse thn usual because the group/cohort has changed composition. This is, I think, Harry T’s hypothesis. It might be true, because in 2009, for the first time, charter school students are not included in large city NAEP TUDA analysis.
      I hope to do some analysis soon and to figure out which of these guesses, if any, is actually correct.


  3. […] the rising NAEP scores.  You don’t mention that the achievement gap you think is so important has actually widened on your watch and you simply lied outright to the Washington Post and PBS about DC-CAS scores at Shaw Middle […]


  4. […] Schools. When touting her record as chancellor, she fails to mention that the achievement gap widened on her watch, or that the DC public schools are under federal investigation for a cheating scandal that resulted […]


  5. […] (2) The gap between scores of white kids and black kids in DC is still the highest anywhere in the nation; and the gap between the top and bottom on the NAEP has gotten much wider since PERAA. […]


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