The Rhee Miracle Examined Again – By Cohort

Unless I get some more hard data, this will be my last column on the so-called Rhee miracle in Baltimore.

Here I will attempt to follow four different cohorts of students through Harlem Park Elementary, one of the Baltimore City public schools that was taken over by Tesseract/Edison company for several years in the early-to-mid-1990s and failed. Using publicly available data, I graphed the average percentile ranks of groups of students as they went through Harlem Park in first grade, then second grade, then third grade, and so on. If there’s a blank in my graphs, it’s because the data isn’t there.

I highlighted the classes where Michelle Rhee was teaching. In her last year, the scores did rise some, but nowhere near what she claimed. In her first year, they dropped almost as low as they can go. If Tesseract/Edison had been using the IMPACT evaluation system she foisted on DCPS teachers, she would have probably been fired after the first year!

Look for yourself:

Why does this matter?

Simply because I think it’s important for the public to know that the main spokesperson for the movement for additional dumb standardized testing, for teaching to the test, and for firing teachers based on those dumb tests, would herself have been fired under those criteria.

And she has lied repeatedly about that, and has repeatedly claimed that she performed some sort of miracle when she was teaching in Baltimore: a miracle that no-one else has ever, ever achieved.

Voters in DC, to their credit, saw through her lies and voted Adrian Fenty out of office largely because of her lies (I think) and the horrible effects she had on DC public schools. Yay! But in the rest of the country, people probably only know her because of adoring media coverage that paints her as some sort of saint; she has become an advisor to several right-wing Republican governors who think that the key to educational success is breaking teacher unions.

The public has the right to know about what a liar she is, and to judge accordingly.

PS: my data source is here.

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The Secret to Raising Test Scores? (Part 2)

As I have pointed out, one of the easiest ways to improve test scores in a class or a school is to get rid of the students who generally score low, and to retain the ones who do well. I suspect that may have been the secret behind the fact that Michelle Rhee, after two years of complete and utter failure with her second-grade classes, finally managed to raise the scores to somewhere near the 50th percentile mark.

It appears that the ‘weeding-out’ was pretty drastic.

The cohort that started the first grade at Harlem Park in 1992-1993 had 84 students, probably 3 or 4 distinct classes.

When they arrived in the second grade in 1993-1994 and endured Michelle Rhee’s second failed year of teaching, they still had 83 students – probably 3 or 4 classes again.

But when this cohort arrived in the third grade in 1994-1995, Rhee’s “miracle year”, their numbers dropped by nearly half, to only 44 students. I doubt strongly that so many students dropped dead. I can’t prove it, but I would not be surprised if the school (and Rhee) ‘counseled out’ the ones who were doing poorly, and kept the ones who had high test scores.

You may be wondering if the same thing happened at other Edison schools and at the regular Baltimore public schools that were used for comparison purposes. Look for yourself at the graphs below – and I think you will conclude that while some of the cohorts in some of the schools had small rises in populations, some went down a little bit, and some stayed about the same. NONE OF THEM HAD SUCH HUGE DROPS AS WE SEE IN MICHELLE RHEE’S “WONDER YEAR.”

(By the way, this trick doesn’t always seem to work. The first grade in 1991-2 at Harlem Park had 102 students, and scored at the 63rd percentile in math in the spring. The next year, they were promoted to the second grade, and only had 77 to 84  students, depending on which count you follow, and they had Rhee as one of the second grade teachers. The average percentile rank of this cohort fell from the previous (respectable) 63rd percentile to an abysmal 18th percentile. As someone might say, echoing Michelle Rhee’s recent interview with Harry Jaffe,

these kids were getting screwed because people wanted to blame their low achievement levels on the single-parent households and on the poverty in the community. In that two-year period, none of those things changed. Their parents didn’t change. What changed? What we were doing with them in school.”

Well, if she wants to take credit for a 20-percentile rise in scores from 1994 to 1995, then she needs to take the blame for a 45-percentile-point DROP from 1992 to 1993, even with the weeding out.)

As has been the case for my past several data-driven posts, all of these tables and graphs were made by me from the tables in the appendices to the UMBC Evaluation of the Tesseract Program in Baltimore City, written by Lois C. Williams and Lawrence E. Leak in 1995. You can find it on the web at this URL.

More ‘Tom the Dancing Bug’

A couple of his cartoons that I particularly like:

http://www.gocomics.com/tomthedancingbug/2009/09/26/

http://www.gocomics.com/tomthedancingbug/2009/09/19/

http://www.gocomics.com/tomthedancingbug/2009/09/12/

http://www.gocomics.com/tomthedancingbug/2009/07/25/

http://www.gocomics.com/tomthedancingbug/2010/04/23/

Published in: on January 30, 2011 at 3:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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More on Finnish Schools

Two articles that are worth reading:

http://www.tnr.com/print/article/politics/82329/education-reform-Finland-US

and

http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=no_education_silver_bullet

Published in: on January 30, 2011 at 2:38 am  Comments (1)  
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Answers to the Latest Quiz on the Baltimore-Rhee “Miracle”

Here are the answers:

(1) There is not a single Baltimore Edison/EAI/Tesseract school at which students in math jumped from the 13th percentile to above the 90th percentile, in either CTBS reading or math, at any grade level, during the period 1992 through 1995.

(2) The school where Michelle Rhee taught was school O (with a yellow background).

(3) The ones that were run by Tesseract/EAI/Edison were schools J, L, O, R, and S. The regular Baltimore public schools were schools K, M, N, P, and Q.

If you group the two sets of schools, results appear to be about a wash.

This study is pretty conclusive evidence that Michelle Rhee was flat-out lying in her resume, in her testimony about her resume, and in her interview last month in the Washingtonian magazine.

Here are the graphs again, with the names of the schools written in:

If we were to use the criteria of Jason Kamras, Eric Hanushek, and Michelle Rhee, then Rhee should have been fired after the first year or two.

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Why does this resume flap still matter?

Simply because this person, who is proven to be a repeated liar, continues to nearly dominate the national discussion about “reforming” public education. (read: destroying public education) She has absolutely no shame about lying to the public with an absolutely convincing demeanor. Perhaps she believes her own lies. If that was the only problem, nobody would care. But there is a problem: she is succeeding in demonizing teachers in general and in steering the public away from the real changes that need to happen in the American public educational system, and towards changes sought by the same billionaires who are plundering the entire planet, widening the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us, and who recently threw millions of Americans out of work.

PS: here is my data source.

Now a Quiz on the Baltimore Rhee CTBS Math Miracle

You have another quiz, this time to see if you can deduce what school Michelle Rhee performed her Baltimore CTBS mathematics miracle in. As I have pointed out in previous posts, Rhee claims that she took her students from the 13th percentile (extremely low) to above the 90th percentile (you can’t go higher than 99th percentile) on national standardized tests in “academics” – so that, presumably, includes mathematics.

I randomly chose 5 of the seven Tesseract/EAI/Edison schools, and also five of the eight comparison-group regular public schools. For each school, I converted the NCE scores to percentile ranks for the 2nd grade in years 1992, 1993, and 1994, and for the 3rd grade in 1995. Finally, I again used a random-number generator to scramble up the order of the schools.

So, you have two challenges:

  1. In which of schools J-S did Michelle Rhee work this miracle? (Remember, there were only two third grade sections during her final year teaching, and she was team teaching [perhaps with the other third-grade teacher] so the jump should be extreme!)
  2. Which ones were regular public schools, and which ones were run by the for-profit EAI/Tesseract/Edison corporation? (Five are in one group, and five in the other.)

Here is the data (which I double-checked this time):

Small technical note: you cannot add, subtract, divide, multiply or take averages on percentiles. You can do all of that with NCEs, but NCEs are a lot harder to understand for most people than percentiles are. Rhee gave her results in terms of percentiles, so I am following suit.

Published in: on January 28, 2011 at 7:02 pm  Comments (6)  
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And the winner is ….

I admit, it was a trick question, for several reasons.

(1) I noticed this morning that I had accidentally inverted the NCE and percentile ranks in several places, which made some bars taller or shorter than they should have been. They are now fixed below, and I apologize, because it made the entire guessing game extremely difficult.

(2) If you believe Michelle Rhee’s boasts about how she achieved educational test gains, then, if you look at all of those graphs, there is NOT A SINGLE ONE of those schools that shows CTBS reading scores going from the 13th percentile in the 2nd grade in 1994 to over the 90th percentile in the third grade in 1995. And there is no school in the list that shows students going from the very bottom in 2nd grade from 1993 to the very top in 1994, either.

NOT ONE.

Which is not surprising to me. I would bet a large sum of money that nobody can document that sort of thing ever happening before. (Even though I would love to LOSE the bet!)

(3) Apparently, the only conclusion is that this part of Michelle Rhee’s official resume is purely fictional. At least concerning the CTBS reading scores.

Rhee’s school was school C, where reading scores went steadily down for Rhee’s first two years, and then went up a bit during the third year, but not even to the 50th percentile in reading.

Here are the graphs, again, with the schools named*.

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*”C-GroupA” means an average for seven regular Baltimore public elementary schools that were designated by the makers of the study as sort of an experimental control group. They are Madison, Park Heights, Pimlico, M. Brent, Cecil, Liberty, and Washington.

“C-Group B” was a second control group of regular Baltimore public schools: Templeton, Park Heights, Pimlico, Rosemont, A. Hamilton, Liberty, and Washington.

(I can only guess as to why some schools are in both regular-school comparison groups.)

All of the other named schools were in the Edison Tesseract/EAI program.

I know essentially nothing about Baltimore or its school system. Some of my readers might.

Published in: on January 28, 2011 at 5:32 pm  Comments (7)  

I have a puzzle for you: Can You Spot the Baltimore-Rhee Miracle of 1993-1995?

Is Michelle Rhee a liar, or is she honest? You decide.

You remember that Michelle Rhee said that when she taught for three years in Baltimore, after a bit of a rough spot during her first year, she brought her students from the very bottom to the very top, right? If that’s true, then it should be really easy to spot those scores, especially since there were exactly TWO third-grade classes at her Baltimore school during her final year, and she says that she team-taught with the other second-grade, later third-grade, teacher during those last two years. (Or maybe there were two teachers in her class – I can’t tell from her account.) But no matter. A jump that large should be really, really obvious.

In last month’s Washingtonian Magazine, she told an interviewer:

In my second year of teaching, we took them from the bottom to the top on academics, and what I learned from that experience was these kids were getting screwed because people wanted to blame their low achievement levels on the single-parent households and on the poverty in the community. In that two-year period, none of those things changed. Their parents didn’t change.

“What changed?
“What we were doing with them in school.”

And as I pointed out in my previous post, her official resume says “Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90% of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.” (emphasis added by me)

Here comes the puzzle.

I looked up the CTBS reading scores for nine different schools in Baltimore for the period 1992 through 1995. I converted all of the CTBS NCE reading scores in the second grade for 1992, 1993, and 1994, and for the third grade in 1995 into percentile ranks, because that is the measurement that Rhee refers to. The CTBS is, as far as I can tell, the only nationally-standardized test that was given in Baltimore. The MSPAP, which was also given during at least some of those years, is a Maryland state-wide test, and so far, I haven’t found scores on the MSPAP for 1995.

Here are the graphs showing the CTBS reading scores in nine different schools (or clusters of schools) during the years Michelle Rhee claims to have worked her miracle. I included all of the seven Tesseract/EAI schools, including Harlem Park where Rhee taught, and I also included some of the regular public schools that were officially designated as comparison schools in the study that was supposed to figure out whether Edison was doing a good job or not.

I will NOT tell you which graph is Harlem Park. It’s your job to figure out which one it was.

Hint: Rhee was still in college for SY 1992. She worked at Harlem Park for SY 1993, 1994, and 1995. She taught second grade for the first two years, and then apparently followed the students into the third grade for SY 1995.

Let’s look at the graphs:

OK, boys and girls. Which school was it? A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, or I?

(No more hints today. I’ll give the identities of these schools tomorrow.)

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Error notice: I noticed this morning that I had accidentally inverted the percentile ranks and NCE scores in several places, which made some of these graphs wrong and the question harder to answer. It is now fixed, but I wish I was a better proofreader. I apologize to all.

Published in: on January 28, 2011 at 3:04 am  Comments (5)  
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One Way to Raise Test Scores: Get Rid of the Special Education Students

The easiest way to raise average test scores in a class or a school is to eliminate the ones who present problems: those requiring special education services, recent immigrants with little English ability and little education in their home country, and so on. If you eliminate the students who are often difficult to teach and who tend to have low scores, then you can look like a winner, because your average scores will rise — and those of your “competitors’ will fall. Without doing anything about our national problems.

(Ain’t educational competition grand?)

Judging by what the for-profit Tesseract/EAI company did in Baltimore back in the first half of the 1990’s, when they were awarded a contract to run seven elementary schools, it looks like they may have done just that. (But their scores STILL weren’t anything to brag about!).

Why do I bring this up? Because recently-departed Chancellor of DC Public Schools, Michelle Rhee, supposedly performed various miracles in one of those Tesseract schools, starting in 1992-1993 and going through SY 1994-5. The name of the school? Harlem Park.

See for yourself:

As you can see, the percentage of students eligible for Level 4 special education services in the two official comparison groups of regular public schools, grades 1-5,  stayed pretty constant during the entire 4-year experiment: somewhere between 6% and 8% of their students were identified as Level 4 special education.

Not so in the seven Tesseract schools, though. The percentage for the entire group of EAI schools went from 8% SPED to 2% SPED, which means that the proportion of students in those schools eligible for special education services dropped by three-fourths!!!

At Harlem Park, too, the proportion of students in special education during that time period dropped drastically – by 70%.

Did this weeding-out of Special Education students have anything to do with Chancellor Rhee’s alleged miracle? (remember: she claimed on her official resume that she

“[t]aught in Harlem Park Community School, one of the lowest-performing elementary schools in Baltimore City, effecting significant measurable gains in student achievement. Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90% of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.“) [emphasis added by GFB]

Stay tuned for more results.

A few comments about education in DC & elsewhere

(1) The US tax code gives extremely wealthy people the opportunity (at the expense of other taxpayers) to intervene in public policy in all kinds of ways. It is not an exaggeration to say that many obnoxious, predatory (criminal?) businessmen have been able to purchase the good will of the public by putting their wealth into things that appear to benefit the public. When we think these days of the names Rockefeller, Frick, Morgan, Carnegie, Yerkes, and Ford, we tend to think of the nice foundations, museums, telescopes, and research that their monies funded. Of course, that was OUR money that these robbers stole. No-one remembers today, for example, what an evil anti-semite and racist Henry Ford was, or how Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay suppressed steel workers’ totally legitimate desire for safer and less brutal working conditions, the right to collective bargaining, and much more. When these wealth individuals donate to charities or set up trusts, it is precisely because the tax code gives them huge benefits for doing so. Either they can pay this money to the federal or state treasuries, or they can spend it on anything they want – almost. In the case of Gates and Broad and the rest of the current handful of billionaires, they may think that they know what to do about public education, but the most charitable thing one can say, so far, is that they are consistently wrong. (If you want to accuse me of favoring some sort of socialism, that’s fine – I plead guilty.)

(2) As a 3rd-generation Washingtonian, a 30-year veteran teacher in DCPS, a former DCPS student myself (starting 50 years ago this fall), a child of a former DCPS art teacher, and the parent of two young recently-married adults who went K-12 through DCPS, I have never been impressed by the superintendents and school boards we have had. (Janey and McKenzie weren’t too bad; the rest were appallingly dreadful. Vance reminded me of old, tottering, semi-fossilized Soviet leaders like Brezhnev, who were periodically propped up to give a TV broadcast about how everything was just hunky-dory.) I only had one principal who was any good (in my opinion). But of all of these DCPS leaders, I would have to say that Michelle Rhee takes the cake for being the most dishonest and mean-spirited, as well as the most clueless about what constitutes good teaching and learning. Which is precisely why I started this blog and retired earlier than I might have.

(3) I agree that teachers are not saints, and that our two main unions (AFT and NEA) often make mistakes or just do the wrong thing. Some teachers (like some of those employed in *any* profession or line of work) need to be in a different job altogether. (And, contrary to the lies of Michelle Rhee, it’s never been all that hard for a principal who cares about education to get rid of a really bad teacher.) The interests of teachers in the public schools, those of the children in their care, and those of the parents of those students, should basically be at least on the same page. The (evil) genius of people like Rhee and Gates is that they have done an outstanding job in demonizing public school teachers and making the case that we deserve no due process, no pensions, and no respect. They have been quite successful in driving a wedge between teachers and parents. It’s really too bad.

(4) I’ve been getting more and more disillusioned by Obama, too. But unlike you, one of my reasons is that I think he’s just about 100% wrong on how to improve public education.

 

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