With a Chancellor like this, DCPS doesn’t need enemies

Isn’t it great to have a superintendent who denigrates DC public schools every chance she gets? Here is an example that she just published:

“….under a new principal at one school, student reading proficiency went from 24 percent to 85 percent in just four years, and from 10 percent to 64 percent in math. In another, only 9 percent of the students were on grade level, when just down the street in a successful charter school, over 90 percent of students were. Same kids, same neighborhoods and exposure to violence, same poverty, hunger, and parent education levels. At the successful schools, the primary difference was the team of adults who decided it was possible for lives and outcomes to move in other directions.”

As usual, Rhee operates on innuendo, never actually giving facts that people can check easily.

After doing a bit of research, I figured out that in the first sentence, she was probably referring to Noyes ES in Northeast Washington, where the percentage of students performing at the “Proficient” or “Advanced” level went as follows. Notice that in 2006, in reading, about 24% of the students scored “proficient”, and in 2009, about 85% scored “proficient”.

If you are wondering what happened to make the scores go down so much in 2006, the answer is simple: DCPS contracted with a different testing company that year to make the NCLB AYP tests for the city. Instead of the SAT-9, students took the DC-CAS. Since the change, our “curriculum” has been more and more just “test prep for the DC-CAS”, so it’s not entirely surprising that teachers have been getting better at coaching students to improve their scores.

Here’s the same data in the form of a graph:

Unlike what Rhee wrote, Noyes has had the same principal, Wayne Ryan, since 2002, well before Rhee came onto the scene, so she can’t take credit for hiring him. And with at least 8 years on the job, Ryan is now one of the most veteran principals in DCPS. I wonder if the reason Rhee left out the namer of the school is because she knows that the principal is NOT new. Also: at some point during this 7-year period, the school was also substantially remodeled and rebuilt. It looks very nice now, unlike 8 years ago, when it was one of the DC public schools that was closed for a week or two by court order because of unsafe roof conditions. I bet that made the staff and students and parents feel better about the school. None of that is stuff that Rhee can take credit for – but she’s trying to!

As far as the other two schools are concerned, Eastern SHS is probably our most problematic high school. Staff, students, and parents at Eastern have been complaining loudly about lack of support and guidance from central DCPS administration. What Janey and Rhee have tried doing, without much success, is replacing teachers and administrators almost every year. Has it worked? Take a look at the statistics:

Not so wonderful, to be sure. It’s also evidence that firing all the teachers and administrators isn’t necessarily going to fix things. Here is the graph:

Recall that Rhee said that Eastern and KIPP Key have essentially the same types of students, and she implied that they are right next door. As usual with statements from Michelle Rhee, this is untrue.

The reputation of Eastern as a “bad” school is now quite well-known. Of the in-boundary students, most of them will do anything they can to attend some other high school, if their grades, conduct, and test scores are good enough for them to do so. From official statistics, only 21% (that is, only about one in five) of the students who live inside the Eastern residential boundary actually attend Eastern SHS. Thirty-seven percent of the students within the Eastern SHS boundary go to charter schools, and 42% of them go to other DC public schools. Eastern now has about 64% in-boundary students, which is relatively high.  Partly as a consequence, only 8.1% of the students at KIPP Key are in special education, but 20.9% of the students at Eastern are.

Compare that with KIPP. Only a very small portion of their students come from the immediate neighborhood. Most of them travel considerable distances to get there. (By the way, KIPP Key Academy and Eastern SHS are nearly 3 miles apart, and are on opposite sides of the Anacostia River.) Plus, when parents apply to get into KIPP, they have to agree to three very important conditions, which I will quote from the on-line application: (If the link doesn’t work for you, just google KIPP KEY DC and look for the application form.)

  • “I understand that my child must attend KIPP DC’s extended day
  • “I understand that my child must attend KIPP DC’s mandatory summer program
  • “I understand that my child (and parent, for Early Childhood) must attend KIPP DC’s Saturday School Program”

Do you think that those conditions might just make a little bit of difference? One of the biggest differences is that the parents MUST buy into this, and so must the student. Otherwise, you can’t attend KIPP. By contrast, at many DC public schools, teachers and administrators have very little parental support of any sort, and can’t even get students to come to school or attend classes. At Eastern (and at many other DC public secondary schools), from what I hear, the majority of the parents never even come to any parent-teacher conferences at all.  Naturally, Michelle Rhee blames the teachers and staff for this; but truth is a lot more complicated than her “just-so” fables.

With those two crucial advantages of extra time and real parental commitment, it’s not all that surprising that KIPP Key Academy has had good test results.  Here are the results I found on the DCPS OSSE NCLB website:


Now, here’s the rub. From Rhee’s article, you would think that KIPP Key and Eastern were typical of each group. Literally NOTHING COULD BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH. KIPP Key is, by far, the best charter school in DC as far as test scores go. And Eastern is, by far, the worst regular public school in DCPS as far as test scores go – except for schools specifically serving students who have serious learning, medical, or behavior problems. Neither school is typical of the group it belongs to. And, I might add, Rhee has done nothing to make things better at Eastern, either.

Don’t believe me? I will make two bar graphs which show the percentages of students proficient in 2009 on the DC-CAS in reading, for each group. Take a look for yourself. First, the charter schools, since the press says they are so much better than public schools:

Now, the public schools:

At first glance, the two graphs look very similar. But there are some subtle differences, which favor the regular public schools. If you look very carefully and count the bars , you will see that among  the regular public schools, there are 12 out of 120 schools where 80% or more of the students score “proficient” on the DC-CAS; that’s 10.00% of the schools. However, amon the charter schools, there are only 5 out of 71, or 7.04%,  where 80% of the students scored proficient. And at the lower end of the scale, there are 10 public schools out of 120 where less than 20% of the students scored “proficient” in math, or 8.33%. Among the charter schools, there are 11 such schools, out of 71 schools, for a total of 15.49%, which is nearly double the proportion of low-scoring public schools.

When you compare the best of one group with the worst of another group, and pretend that those are representative of each group, that’s called lying with statistics. (Actually, Rhee could write a “how-to” book on that….)

So, how many falsehoods or half-truths or slantings of reality can you find in those three sentences from Michelle Rhee? I’m not sure I can count that high.

24.24 45.63 60 84.71
Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 3:03 am  Comments (17)  

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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Excellent! Great research and support. Thx for keeping me laser focused on the politics of DCPS from 3k miles away. 🙂 I use your research in debates and discussions about the state of public education!


  2. I wonder if there is a planet anywhere where the mainstream press does research like this — unfortunately, definitely not this one.


  3. Great post

    Hopefully Rhee will soon find herself on the lecture circuit tell folks how it’s done, at least she will be gone


  4. […] Fact-checking a Michelle Rhee op-ed. […]


  5. As a former Eastern SHS parent of a honor roll/AP student, and PTSA Vice President, I can speak to the ills of Eastern SHS. Consistency in leadership is key. You cannot have constant change in leadership (and substandard leadership at best) and think that any substantive learning will take place. Children see constant change as chaos and they will exploit it if need be and the leaders often had the “I could care less attitude” because they did not feel secure in their jobs.
    Eastern SHS has had at least 11 principals in 12 years. The parents objected when the brought in Mr. Shephard from Las Vegas, Mr. Smith from Baltimore County, and all those after. Mr. Smith was the Principal when the first day of school opened with no schedules. It was the “parents” and “staff” who stayed at the school in 8-12 hours shifts to create the schedules and get student into the classrooms, I know because the PTA was one of those groups of parents who created schedules for students.
    We fiercely objected when Mr. Chiselom was brought in from MM Washington, another failed high school and placed at the helm of Eastern SHS. We knew he would be a huge mistake because in his interview process he referred to the student as “undesirables” that, to me, should have been his deathnell for the position, it was not. We begged the Chancellor to put someone from Central at the helm and monitor it closely to ensure that student would receive the services that they so deserved and she gave us NOTHING. These test scores are abysmal and there is no way to sugar coat those facts. We constantly wrote to Ms. Rhee (and Mr. John Davis, who is the worst thing to happen to DCPS since I can remember) and Mr. Davis dismissed us and treated us as if we did not have a right to ask for substantive change in leadership nor a right to request challenging courses for our students.
    It was a struggle daily to even have my son attend Eastern SHS with no course offerings to speak of and terrible leadership and staff. The children, though, were resilient and brought their A-game to succeed and graduate with honors, I applaud them.

    On another note, I don’t think that Eastern SHS is 90% inboundary students there are too many who catch Metro to go home in order for them to be inboudary.


  6. Finally, someone speaks the truth with the one thing Rhee cannot ever produce, DATA! Thanks and great job!


    • One of the many sad things about the mis-rule of Michelle Rhee is while she can’t produce any data about her so-called “Baltimore miracle”, she expects everybody to believe it. And she intends to fire lots of teachers based on the almost-totally-useless data produced the the DC-CAS.


  7. speaking of useless data – Rhee is using IMPACT, which requires teachers to demonstrate use of learning style theory in their lessons, while respected academic research has found the theory baseless.


  8. Guy –

    This is great data. I’d add a couple things. The requirements that KIPP has are illegal, and no DCPS school can do this. At the school my kids go to we have received kids from charters where the parents say they were ejected for a variety of reasons that are not legal. To compare a DCPS school to a school that is allowed to require extended day, summer school and Saturday school is apples and oranges. DCPS schools can sometimes offer these things, but cannot require them, even where desperately needed.

    I wish I had a link, but an excellent article I read of KIPP in Oakland, showed they did outperform the local traditional public schools, but had two big advantages. One the bottom 30%+ of kids who didn’t meet a variety of extra demands dropped out, so they got to get rid of their worst performers, and they got through private funding 2 times as much money per child as the traditional public school they were compared to. I’ve talked to some funding sources for charters whose answer to our school is, “you are not a charter, we will not fund you.”


    • A lot of teachers report similar things about charter schools pushing out underperformers. However, if all of the charter schools were doing this, you would think their scores would be better (and most of them aren’t that wonderful at all). Maybe KIPP has perfected the practice, and the others haven’t caught on yet.

      Seems to me that lots of charter schools seem to mysteriously have vast sums of money either to totally refurbish a building, or to build one from scratch. I don’t have any hard data on that, however. More an impression than anything. I would be real surprised if the information on that were easy to find!

      I’ve also recently looked at a map showing where the KIPP KEY students came from (mostly, all over the city except ward 3) and where Eastern students came from (mostly, right around Eastern). Further reinforces my claim that Rhee is a bold-faced liar. See http://www.21csf.org/csf-home/DocUploads/DataShop/DS_49.pdf for KIPP and see http://www.21csf.org/csf-home/DocUploads/DataShop/DS_59.pdf for Eastern.

      (Thanks to Cathy Reilly and the folks at SHAPPE and the 21st Century School Fund for amassing such wonderful data sourcess.)


  9. “As usual, Rhee operates on innuendo, never actually giving facts that people can check easily.”

    Figures don’t lie but liars do figure!


  10. This is great stuff. Keep it coming. I’m sure there is more data that does not support her virulent chatter.


  11. Guy,
    I’m so glad you shared your blog address! Reading it has been fascinating and I’m so glad you don’t have editors like Bill Turque does. haha


  12. Guy: This is an excellent article. My only wish is that more people would read your blog. You certainly have hit the nail on the head. Rhee uses anecdotes which cannot be substantiated. I fault the main stream media for not challenging her by having Rhee on a panel or on a show that features point- counterpoint. I bet we would find her disappearing into the woodwork.

    I hope you will consider sharing some of your analysis in Gary Imhoff’s bi-weekly magazine publication @ http://www.dcwatch.com.



  13. […] So, we can mount Pessimism and criticize, nitpick, and disbelieve our way through life (like this) OR we can take up the reins of our trusty steed, Optimism, pull out the lance and charge […]


  14. […] the education to understand or the time to research. You can find a perfect example of this in this post over at GFBrandenburg’s […]


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