A Slightly Longer Summary of the Harlem Park Data

The data clearly show that no modern-day educational miracle happened there in 1994-5.

First, a table showing the number of students, percent of students at the school for whom there are scores, a likely approximation of the total number in the cohort, reading and math NCE scores, and those scores expressed as percentiles, for the cohorts where Rhee taught at Harlem Park in 1992-1995.

In case you don’t remember, Rhee taught third grade at Harlem Park Elementary (HPE) in 1992-3, and has described that year as a failure. The next year (1993-4), she says she team-taught with another second-grade teacher and then brought that entire double class of students up into the third grade in 1994-5, which is the year that Rhee claimed that the entire group went from the 13th percentile to OVER the 90th percentile.

I certainly don’t know exactly how many students Rhee had in her class, or how many her team-teaching colleague had in hers. It appears that Rhee has conveniently lost all of her records. However, the  Tesseract schools in Baltimore appear to have had class sizes around 25 students (give or take a few).  On the other hand, Rhee has claimed that she and her colleague took a group of seventy (yes, 70) students from the bottom to the top. As usual, that doesn’t sound too likely, either. I got my estimates by dividing the number in the grade cohort by the percentage of students with scores. They are only estimates.

Recall this: the students for whom there is no data fell into four groups (I garbled this earlier):

(1) students who didn’t show up during testing week;

(2) students who enrolled after February 1 of the testing year;

(3) students who had such severe education disabilities that they were excused from testing; and

(4) those who put their heads down during the test and didn’t write anything meaningful at all.

BY DEFINITION those groups of kids are not going to be the ones that Michelle Rhee has been bragging about. Obviously!

But one thing is clear: whether she and her colleague had 50 students or 70 students, there is no way that they brought those classes from the 13th percentile in 1993-4 to above the 90th percentile in 1994-5, either in math or in reading.


Now, let’s look at the scores ONLY for students who remained at the school for two years or more (which is precisely the group with which MR claims that huge success):

Again: no sign of bringing large numbers of students from the 13th to the 90th percentiles.


Published in: on February 13, 2011 at 2:15 pm  Comments (9)  

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  1. I applaud your using evidence to combat Ms. Rhee’s claims. As a former school administrator, if Ms. Rhee did use test scores to improve student performance, she would not have relied on what “her principal told her” she would have reviewed and used her students test information which based on her comments she never examined. If she were an effective teacher, she would have used the information to identify effective teaching strategies, curriculum alignment etc. She would have disaggregated the data to understand what concepts students mastered and how her instruction contributed to their success. She would want to know if boys and girls were succeeding and equal rates. She would want to know if her lowest performing students were achieving and if her highest performing students were succeeding. She would be very knowledgeable about her students test results because that is one source of information (when used appropriately) to understand student learning and teacher instruction.
    Ms. Rhee clearly did not care what her students learned. She did not care enough to make sure that students who were absent had an opportunity to take the test they missed. She did not care enough to discuss the test with her team teachers. That is pretty damning! And, the fact that she would claim that her claims were based on her principal telling her the results is shocking (given her push for tests and her claims).
    She lies!
    Lying on one’s resume is grounds for firing. I would hope that as a former Chancellor she would fire someone who lied on their resume.
    Now for more grounds for firing Rhee as the figurehead of reform.
    She did not report abuse to the police (Kevin Johnson), a crime for teachers in my state. By her own reports she taped students’ mouths shut causing them to cry. Seriously why is the public not outraged. And she ate a bee to get students’ attention (my guess is this is a lie too but regardless, its a crazy story). These are the kind of educators we want for our teachers?


  2. Unless I’m seeing wrong or misunderstanding, your numbers seem to be wrong for “Numbers of students with reported scores” in reading. (Your numbers are right for math.)

    That said, I have a question: Do you understand an apparent puzzle/contradiction in the UMBC data? This concerns the number of third-graders who got tested in 1994-95.

    Among third-graders in 1994-1995: The UMBC data seem to show 53 “two-year” students being tested in math, as you show above. But an earlier UMBC chart (page 146) seems to show only 44 students being tested in all.

    How could those numbers be correct? Is there something I’m misunderstanding?

    Similarly, the UMBC charts seem to show more “two-year” students being tested in reading than were tested in all. (56 “two-year” students got tested, as compared to 43 students in all–see page 143.)

    Maybe there’s something I’m missing here. Do you understand these data?

    Beyond that:

    Speaking as a former Baltimore elementary teacher (1969 through 1978), the low percentage of kids who got tested is absolutely astounding. Based on that decade of experience, I can’t imagine an annual testing program where so many kids don’t get tested. I’m stunned to think that the UMBC researchers made no attempt to explain these data. How could anyone draw school-wide/system-wide conclusions from data like these when so many kids didn’t get tested, with no explanation why?

    The daily attendance rate at Harlem Park was 93 percent in 1994-95. Where did all those kids go during testing week? The word “scam” comes to mind.


    • Bob, I also strongly suspect a scam at Harlem Park, with the principal and some staff doing whatever they felt they could get away with, in terms of getting the low-performing students NOT to take the test. No other school came close.
      Keep in mind there are two reported cohorts: one for ‘all’ kids, and one for ‘two-year’ kids. Why is the second group sometimes larger than the first group? I have no idea, but the word ‘scam’ comes to mind again.
      Again: this sort of scam, if it indeed took place at HPE, generally would require the planning, cooperation, connivance and/or willing blindness of the principal— the very same principal who claimed that Rhee was basically correct.


    • Thanks for the heads-up, Bob: it was the number of 2-year students at HPE in reading in the 3rd grade that I copied from the wrong line: 56, not 41. It’s fixed now.


      • Thanks. Regarding the number of “two year” students who got tested versus the (sometimes larger) number who got tested overall: I’m not sure this UMBC effort was the most meticulous study ever produced.

        One other comment about the number of kids who didn’t get tested:

        The percentage at Harlem Part is astounding. That said, the number of kids who didn’t get tested seems amazingly high at all these schools. Now that NCLB has systematized the annual testing process, non-participation numbers like those who get a school, or a school system, laughed out the door.

        But then too, I administered an annual standardized test to my fifth grade classes in Baltimore from 1969 to 1978. Nothing like that was going on in the two different schools where I taught. The annual testing was considered to be a very big deal. Very few kids didn’t get tested, either on the official testing days or in the subsequent make-up testing.

        The non-tested number at Harlem Park is astounding. But all those schools seemed to be dropping an amazing percentage of students. If Rhee had never set foot in one of these schools, that would be a story in itself.

        Assuming UMBC didn’t screw up its numbers: What did the BCPS of that day tolerate that kind of practice? Why didn’t the state of Maryland step in to challenge this practice?

        Keep up the good work. I hope this will lead to a wider examination of the whole Rhee phenomenon, especially the “sacred story” about how easy it is to succeed in the low-income classroom.


  3. I would like to thank Bob Somersby and the work he has done detailing the free ride Michelle Rhee has received from the press (and DC City Council.)
    Go to his website, http://www.dailyhowler.com and search for Rhee.
    Reading his site is a joy ands he certainly meets that Eleanor Roosevelt quote on how great people discuss ideas.
    I was determined after reading his postings to find that UMBC report. Another weak point in the report is the data on observed class sizes. Eg, at HPES, they reported on just two 3rd grade classrooms. Maybe the Rhee/Jacobs classrooms were off the beaten track at that site.

    Just recently, Bob posted a great quote from Dr. Martin L. King, Jr that we should read and commit ourselves to uphold:

    we’ve been thinking about the best book we read last year—Dr. King’s Stride Toward Freedom (1958), his account of the Montgomery bus boycott. In Montgomery, Dr. King encountered a genuine “climate of hate;” in the end, this climate would take his life. But again, we encourage you to consider the way Dr. King reacted when his own house was bombed, for the first time, by unknown people, in Montgomery, in January 1956.

    In this account, Dr. King described the way he decided, later that night, that he must reject “corroding anger.” Incredibly, Dr. King had just turned 27 when these events occurred:

    KING (page 138): I could not go to sleep. While I lay in that quiet front bedroom, with a distant street lamp throwing a reassuring glow through the curtained window, I began to think of the viciousness of people who would bomb my home. I could feel the anger rising when I realized that my wife and baby could have been killed. I thought about the city commissioners and all the statements that they had made about me and the Negro generally. I was once more on the verge of corroding anger. And once more I caught myself and said: “You must not allow yourself to become bitter.”

    I tried to put myself in the place of the police commissioners. I said to myself these are not bad men. They are misguided. They have fine reputations in the community. In their dealings with white people they are respectful and gentlemanly. They probably think they are right in their methods of dealing with Negroes. They say the things they say about us and treat us as they do because they have been taught these things. From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the Negro is inferior. Their parents probably taught them that; the schools they attended taught them that; the books they read, even their churches and ministers, often taught them that; and above all the very concept of segregation teaches them that. The whole cultural traditional under which they have grown—a tradition blighted with more than 250 years of slavery and more than 90 years of segregation—teaches them that Negroes do not deserve certain things. So these men are merely the children of their culture. When they seek to preserve segregation they are seeking to preserve only what their local folkways have taught them was right.


    • Ed Harris–The Man!

      I appreciate your comments. Minor point:

      Regarding the number of classrooms the UMBC researchers observed, they never claimed they observed all the classrooms, and they plainly didn’t. (They report 17 classroom teachers at HPE, and they seem to have observed 12.)

      That isn’t necessarily a failure in their procedure, but it has created some confusion, due in part to their sometimes murky report.

      Rereading “Stride Toward Freedom” (after several decades) was one of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had. It was stunning to go back and re-discover the fuller Dr. King, at age 27, before he became an icon.


  4. Bob, there is this small question regarding the results of standardized tests.
    When I was in school in the 70s, at a Catholic school, we took standardized tests.
    The results of these test went home, and I seem to recall Prince George’s County public schools doing the same. (If I can find the school memory book my mom kept for me, I still have those scores along with class pictures and report cards).
    Did your students ever receive a 8 x 11 sheet with their scores and percentiles?


  5. […] and he seems to have out done himself again.  Brandenburg was the blogger who broke the ”Baltimore Miracle” story, exposing the lie Rhee used to get her job as Chancellor of DC schools.  […]


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