Stylish educational “Deformers” like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, and Bill Gates have been saying that only their methods will work to narrow the achievement gaps between high-performing and low-performing groups. Rhee, in particular, likes to boast about her supposed successes, and the media generally oblige by publicizing whatever she says.
Listening to her, or reading her press releases, you would think that because of her ‘incredible’ leadership, all of the achievement gaps have been virtually eliminated in DC public schools and that everything has been going up, up, and up since she has been firing, firing, and firing.
But facts are stubborn things. Rhee and her acolytes have been in power in DC for about four years now (and in total control of classrooms for the last two years) and we have an opportunity to measure what all of their schemes and upheavals have produced.
So, what have they produced, on their own terms, namely, as measured by standardized test scores?
In a word: Nothing.
(Or “diddly”, if you prefer the vernacular.)
I spent some tedious hours looking at publicly-available data on DC-CAS standardized test scores that all public school students in grades 3-8 and 10 must take every year, in particular looking at the ‘pass’ rates for various sub-groups like whites, blacks, hispanics, poor and non-poor kids (as measured by whether they are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch), and so on.
In every single case, when I compared the scores of the historically higher-achieving group with the scores of the lower-achieving group, I find that in DCPS, all of the schemes of Rhee, Kamras, Fenty, Henderson, Gray and a few powerful billionaires have been a complete and utter failure. Even on their own terms.
Firing or forcing out half the teachers and most of the principals? No positive result on test scores.
Implementing an extremely rigid and punitive evaluation scheme for staff and teachers? Zip, if you look at the test scores.
Dangling the carrot of large cash bonuses if student scores rise? Nada.
Bribing students to come to school and be good? In vain.
Turning all education in DCPS into a big test-prep class? Zilch.
Forcing teachers to spend all their time in “data-driven” activities, making word walls, and other stupid stuff? Squat.
Spending buckets of money on young consultants who were failed teachers themselves? (Are you kidding?)
Demonizing the teachers and their union? Nil.
Promoting administrators who erased and changed answers on supposedly-secure standardized tests? All for naught, and plus, the administrator in question was quietly forced out after Rhee quit.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Look at the graphs below. Little movements up and down are not significant, and we also know that there is very credible evidence of scores being inflated anyway, by massive amounts of erasing.
Remember what Michelle Rhee supposedly did: She claimed repeatedly that she, personally, over 2 years, took a class that was scoring at the 13th percentile to having 90% of them score at the 90th percentile, simply by working harder and smarter than any of her other Tesseract charter school teachers iin Baltimore… So if she can do it, then anybody who truly BELIEVES in her method and works
80 hours 160 hours per week can do it, too. Right? And poverty and physical or mental handicaps or inability to speak English – they make no difference at all to a Miracle Worker, right?
Wrong. (Plus, there is plenty of evidence, some uncovered by me, that none of that stuff happened in Baltimore, either.)
But don’t take my word for it. Look at these graphs yourself, and make up your own mind.
First, let’s look at the gap between black and white students in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). What I did is I added the percentages of students who scored Proficient or Advanced in reading and math on the DC-CAS, for all white students, and for all black students, and I subtracted the first percentage minus the second one. Here is the result:
The red line is the difference in the pass rates for white kids and the pass rates for black kids in all of DCPS, in MATH. The blue line is the gap in READING.
This is NOT an example of wild successes. If anything, before IMPACT and the new contract that formalizes the bribe-the-teacher modality, there was some slight improvement. Afterwards, the gap has been widening slightly. But in my opinion, almost all of the changes in this set of data could just be statistical noise, because the DC-CAS is not really a scientific measuring device. In any case, we CAN conclude that even on her own terms, Michelle Rhee’s Deforms have NOT had any significant impact on the gap between the pass rates of black and white students in DCPS.
Next we will look at the gap between scores for Hispanic students and non-Hispanic white students here in DC:
Once again, this is not a success story. If we can trust the data at all, it looks like there was some improvement up to 2009 (the year I retired), before IMPACT and other Rhee-forms really took hold. Since then, things are a bit worse.
Next, let’s look at the gaps between poor kids and kids who are not economically deprived. (The dividing line is set by whether the family is eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, nor not eligible. It’s not a very accurate measure of economic status, but it’s all we have.)
See if you can see the thundering successes. I can’t.
Now, let’s look at the gap between those in Special Education and those who are not.
Now let’s look at the gap between students who are fluent in English and those who aren’t (called LEP-NEP in the latest jargon).
(You read those figures correctly. In 2007 and in 2009, students who are listed as being of “Limited English Proficiency” or “Non-English Proficient” actually scored higher in reading in DCPS on the DC-CAS, on the average, than students who were native speakers of English. Don’t ask me how that happened. I am just reporting the facts and figures.)
Next, let’s lump Asians and Pacific islanders along with the white students in one category, and compare them with black students.
Now, let’s put Asians and Pacific islanders along with white kids, and compare them to Hispanic kids.
I think what we are seeing in this graph is mostly statistical noise. The gap between Hispanic kids’ rates of passing the DC-CAS, and the rates for white and Asian kids, has remained in a fairly narrow range for all six years of testing.