Part Two: Cheating in DCPS

DC Education Reform Ten Years After, 

Part 2: Test Cheats

Richard P Phelps

Ten years ago, I worked as the Director of Assessments for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). For temporal context, I arrived after the first of the infamous test cheating scandals and left just before the incident that spawned a second. Indeed, I filled a new position created to both manage test security and design an expanded testing program. I departed shortly after Vincent Gray, who opposed an expanded testing program, defeated Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 DC mayoral primary. My tenure coincided with Michelle Rhee’s last nine months as Chancellor. 

The recurring test cheating scandals of the Rhee-Henderson years may seem extraordinary but, in fairness, DCPS was more likely than the average US school district to be caught because it received a much higher degree of scrutiny. Given how tests are typically administered in this country, the incidence of cheating is likely far greater than news accounts suggest, for several reasons: 

·      in most cases, those who administer tests—schoolteachers and administrators—have an interest in their results;

·      test security protocols are numerous and complicated yet, nonetheless, the responsibility of non-expert ordinary school personnel, guaranteeing their inconsistent application across schools and over time; 

·      after-the-fact statistical analyses are not legal proof—the odds of a certain amount of wrong-to-right erasures in a single classroom on a paper-and-pencil test being coincidental may be a thousand to one, but one-in-a-thousand is still legally plausible; and

·      after-the-fact investigations based on interviews are time-consuming, scattershot, and uneven. 

Still, there were measures that the Rhee-Henderson administrations could have adopted to substantially reduce the incidence of cheating, but they chose none that might have been effective. Rather, they dug in their heels, insisted that only a few schools had issues, which they thoroughly resolved, and repeatedly denied any systematic problem.  

Cheating scandals

From 2007 to 2009 rumors percolated of an extraordinary level of wrong-to-right erasures on the test answer sheets at many DCPS schools. “Erasure analysis” is one among several “red flag” indicators that testing contractors calculate to monitor cheating. The testing companies take no responsibility for investigating suspected test cheating, however; that is the customer’s, the local or state education agency. 

In her autobiographical account of her time as DCPS Chancellor, Michelle Johnson (nee Rhee), wrote (p. 197)

“For the first time in the history of DCPS, we brought in an outside expert to examine and audit our system. Caveon Test Security – the leading expert in the field at the time – assessed our tests, results, and security measures. Their investigators interviewed teachers, principals, and administrators.

“Caveon found no evidence of systematic cheating. None.”

Caveon, however, had not looked for “systematic” cheating. All they did was interview a few people at several schools where the statistical anomalies were more extraordinary than at others. As none of those individuals would admit to knowingly cheating, Caveon branded all their excuses as “plausible” explanations. That’s it; that is all that Caveon did. But, Caveon’s statement that they found no evidence of “widespread” cheating—despite not having looked for it—would be frequently invoked by DCPS leaders over the next several years.[1]

Incidentally, prior to the revelation of its infamous decades-long, systematic test cheating, the Atlanta Public Schools had similarly retained Caveon Test Security and was, likewise, granted a clean bill of health. Only later did the Georgia state attorney general swoop in and reveal the truth. 

In its defense, Caveon would note that several cheating prevention measures it had recommended to DCPS were never adopted.[2] None of the cheating prevention measures that I recommended were adopted, either.

The single most effective means for reducing in-classroom cheating would have been to rotate teachers on test days so that no teacher administered a test to his or her own students. It would not have been that difficult to randomly assign teachers to different classrooms on test days.

The single most effective means for reducing school administratorcheating would have been to rotate test administrators on test days so that none managed the test materials for their own schools. The visiting test administrators would have been responsible for keeping test materials away from the school until test day, distributing sealed test booklets to the rotated teachers on test day, and for collecting re-sealed test booklets at the end of testing and immediately removing them from the school. 

Instead of implementing these, or a number of other feasible and effective test security measures, DCPS leaders increased the number of test proctors, assigning each of a few dozen or so central office staff a school to monitor. Those proctors could not reasonably manage the volume of oversight required. A single DC test administration could encompass a hundred schools and a thousand classrooms.

Investigations

So, what effort, if any, did DCPS make to counter test cheating? They hired me, but then rejected all my suggestions for increasing security. Also, they established a telephone tip line. Anyone who suspected cheating could report it, even anonymously, and, allegedly, their tip would be investigated. 

Some forms of cheating are best investigated through interviews. Probably the most frequent forms of cheating at DCPS—teachers helping students during test administrations and school administrators looking at test forms prior to administration—leave no statistical residue. Eyewitness testimony is the only type of legal evidence available in such cases, but it is not just inconsistent, it may be socially destructive. 

I remember two investigations best: one occurred in a relatively well-to-do neighborhood with well-educated parents active in school affairs; the other in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Superficially, the cases were similar—an individual teacher was accused of helping his or her own students with answers during test administrations. Making a case against either elementary school teacher required sworn testimony from eyewitnesses, that is, students—eight-to-ten-year olds. 

My investigations, then, consisted of calling children into the principal’s office one-by-one to be questioned about their teacher’s behavior. We couldn’t hide the reason we were asking the questions. And, even though each student agreed not to tell others what had occurred in their visit to the principal’s office, we knew we had only one shot at an uncorrupted jury pool. 

Though the accusations against the two teachers were similar and the cases against them equally strong, the outcomes could not have been more different. In the high-poverty neighborhood, the students seemed suspicious and said little; none would implicate the teacher, whom they all seemed to like. 

In the more prosperous neighborhood, students were more outgoing, freely divulging what they had witnessed. The students had discussed the alleged coaching with their parents who, in turn, urged them to tell investigators what they knew. During his turn in the principal’s office, the accused teacher denied any wrongdoing. I wrote up each interview, then requested that each student read and sign. 

Thankfully, that accused teacher made a deal and left the school system a few weeks later. Had he not, we would have required the presence in court of the eight-to-ten-year olds to testify under oath against their former teacher, who taught multi-grade classes. Had that prosecution not succeeded, the eyewitness students could have been routinely assigned to his classroom the following school year.

My conclusion? Only in certain schools is the successful prosecution of a cheating teacher through eyewitness testimony even possible. But, even where possible, it consumes inordinate amounts of time and, otherwise, comes at a high price, turning young innocents against authority figures they naturally trusted. 

Cheating blueprints

Arguably the most widespread and persistent testing malfeasance in DCPS received little attention from the press. Moreover, it was directly propagated by District leaders, who published test blueprints on the web. Put simply, test “blueprints” are lists of the curricular standards (e.g., “student shall correctly add two-digit numbers”) and the number of test items included in an upcoming test related to each standard. DC had been advance publishing its blueprints for years.

I argued that the way DC did it was unethical. The head of the Division of Data & Accountability, Erin McGoldrick, however, defended the practice, claimed it was common, and cited its existence in the state of California as precedent. The next time she and I met for a conference call with one of DCPS’s test providers, Discover Education, I asked their sales agent how many of their hundreds of other customers advance-published blueprints. His answer: none.

In the state of California, the location of McGoldrick’s only prior professional experience, blueprints were, indeed, published in advance of test administrations. But their tests were longer than DC’s and all standards were tested. Publication of California’s blueprints served more to remind the populace what the standards were in advance of each test administration. Occasionally, a standard considered to be of unusual importance might be assigned a greater number of test items than the average, and the California blueprints signaled that emphasis. 

In Washington, DC, the tests used in judging teacher performance were shorter, covering only some of each year’s standards. So, DC’s blueprints showed everyone well in advance of the test dates exactly which standards would be tested and which would not. For each teacher, this posed an ethical dilemma: should they “narrow the curriculum” by teaching only that content they knew would be tested? Or, should they do the right thing and teach all the standards, as they were legally and ethically bound to, even though it meant spending less time on the to-be-tested content? It’s quite a conundrum when one risks punishment for behaving ethically.

Monthly meetings convened to discuss issues with the districtwide testing program, the DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS)—administered to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. All public schools, both DCPS and charters, administered those tests. At one of these regular meetings, two representatives from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) announced plans to repair the broken blueprint process.[3]

The State Office employees argued thoughtfully and reasonably that it was professionally unethical to advance publish DC test blueprints. Moreover, they had surveyed other US jurisdictions in an effort to find others that followed DC’s practice and found none. I was the highest-ranking DCPS employee at the meeting and I expressed my support, congratulating them for doing the right thing. I assumed that their decision was final.

I mentioned the decision to McGoldrick, who expressed surprise and speculation that it might have not been made at the highest level in the organizational hierarchy. Wasting no time, she met with other DCPS senior managers and the proposed change was forthwith shelved. In that, and other ways, the DCPS tail wagged the OSSE dog. 

* * *

It may be too easy to finger ethical deficits for the recalcitrant attitude toward test security of the Rhee-Henderson era ed reformers. The columnist Peter Greene insists that knowledge deficits among self-appointed education reformers also matter: 

“… the reformistan bubble … has been built from Day One without any actual educators inside it. Instead, the bubble is populated by rich people, people who want rich people’s money, people who think they have great ideas about education, and even people who sincerely want to make education better. The bubble does not include people who can turn to an Arne Duncan or a Betsy DeVos or a Bill Gates and say, ‘Based on my years of experience in a classroom, I’d have to say that idea is ridiculous bullshit.’”

“There are a tiny handful of people within the bubble who will occasionally act as bullshit detectors, but they are not enough. The ed reform movement has gathered power and money and set up a parallel education system even as it has managed to capture leadership roles within public education, but the ed reform movement still lacks what it has always lacked–actual teachers and experienced educators who know what the hell they’re talking about.”

In my twenties, I worked for several years in the research department of a state education agency. My primary political lesson from that experience, consistently reinforced subsequently, is that most education bureaucrats tell the public that the system they manage works just fine, no matter what the reality. They can get away with this because they control most of the evidence and can suppress it or spin it to their advantage.

In this proclivity, the DCPS central office leaders of the Rhee-Henderson era proved themselves to be no different than the traditional public-school educators they so casually demonized. 

US school systems are structured to be opaque and, it seems, both educators and testing contractors like it that way. For their part, and contrary to their rhetoric, Rhee, Henderson, and McGoldrick passed on many opportunities to make their system more transparent and accountable.

Education policy will not improve until control of the evidence is ceded to genuinely independent third parties, hired neither by the public education establishment nor by the education reform club.

The author gratefully acknowledges the fact-checking assistance of Erich Martel and Mary Levy.

Access this testimonial in .pdf format

Citation:  Phelps, R. P. (2020, September). Looking Back on DC Education Reform 10 Years After, Part 2: Test Cheats. Nonpartisan Education Review / Testimonials. https://nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Testimonials/v16n3.htm


[1] A perusal of Caveon’s website clarifies that their mission is to help their clients–state and local education departments–not get caught. Sometimes this means not cheating in the first place; other times it might mean something else. One might argue that, ironically, Caveon could be helping its clients to cheat in more sophisticated ways and cover their tracks better.

[2] Among them: test booklets should be sealed until the students open them and resealed by the students immediately after; and students should be assigned seats on test day and a seating chart submitted to test coordinators (necessary for verifying cluster patterns in student responses that would suggest answer copying).

[3] Yes, for those new to the area, the District of Columbia has an Office of the “State” Superintendent of Education (OSSE). Its domain of relationships includes not just the regular public schools (i.e., DCPS), but also other public schools (i.e., charters) and private schools. Practically, it primarily serves as a conduit for funneling money from a menagerie of federal education-related grant and aid programs

DC Charter Schools that took PPP money

As you know, Congress set up a Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses to use during the COVID shutdown, so that they could continue to pay their workers. Public and Charter schools are still paying their employees, and their funding has not (yet) been cut.

However, the national charter school lobbying group recommended that charter schools should take out these loans anyway, because, uh, they want more good government dollars. And many, many did just that.

How many charter schools in DC took the money, we don’t know, because only those who “borrowed” over $150,000 are listed, plus, the list doesn’t say exactly how much they got, but just a range (eg from $1 million to $2 million).

Will they have to pay it back? That depends on the citizens.

However, here are the charter schools that ‘borrowed’ a large amount of $$ here in Washington, DC.

Thanks to Mercedes Schneider and the Network for Public Education for making this data easily findable.

DC Public Charter Schools that took over $150,000 in PPP ‘loans’minmax
ACADEMY OF HOPE ADULT PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $350,000$1,000,000
ACHIEVEMENT PREPARATORY ACADEMY$1,000,000$2,000,000
APPLETREE EARLY LEARNING PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL$1,000,000$2,000,000
BREAKTHROUGH MONTESSORI PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $150,000$350,000
BRIDGES PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $350,000$1,000,000
CENTER CITY PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOLS $2,000,000$5,000,000
CREATIVE MINDS INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC CHAR $1,000,000$2,000,000
D.C. HEBREW LANGUAGE CHARTER SCHOOL $350,000$1,000,000
DC SCHOLARS PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL INC $1,000,000$2,000,000
 DIGITAL PIONEERS ACADEMY PUBLIC CHARTER $350,000$1,000,000
EAGLE ACADEMY PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $2,000,000$5,000,000
EARLY CHILDHOOD ACADEMY $350,000$1,000,000
ELSIE WHITLOW STOKES COMMUNITY FREEDOM PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $1,000,000$2,000,000
HARMONY DC PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOLS $150,000$350,000
 HOWARD UNIVERSITY PUBLIC CHARTER MIDDLE SCHOOL OF MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE $350,000$1,000,000
INTEGRATED DESIGN AND ELECTRONICS ACADEMY PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $350,000$1,000,000
KINGSMAN ACADEMY PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $350,000$1,000,000
LATIN AMERICAN MONTESSORI BILINGUAL PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $1,000,000$2,000,000
LAYC CAREER ACADEMY $150,000$350,000
 LEE MONTESSORI PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL$350,000$1,000,000
MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE DAY ACADEMY PCS$1,000,000$2,000,000
MAYA ANGELOU PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $1,000,000$2,000,000
MONUMENT ACADEMY PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $350,000$1,000,000
MUNDO VERDE PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $1,000,000$2,000,000
NATIONAL COLLEGIATE PREPARATORY PUBLIC CHARTER HIGH SCHOOL $350,000$1,000,000
 PAUL PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL INC $2,000,000$5,000,000
PERRY STREET PREPARATORY PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $150,000$350,000
RICHARD WRIGHT PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $350,000$1,000,000
ROOTS PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, INC $150,000$350,000
SEE FOREVER FOUNDATION $350,000$1,000,000
SEED PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL OF WASHINGTON DC $1,000,000$2,000,000
STATEMENS COLLEGE PREPATORY ACADEMY FOR BOYS PCS $150,000$350,000
THE MERIDIAN PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $1,000,000$2,000,000
THE SEED FOUNDATION INC $350,000$1,000,000
THURGOOD MARSHALL ACADEMY $1,000,000$2,000,000
WASHINGTON GLOBAL PUBIC CHARTER SCHOOL $350,000$1,000,000
WASHINGTON LEADERSHIP ACADEMY PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL $350,000$1,000,000
RANGE TOTALS $24,500,000$57,100,000

How to decide if anybody should listen to your ideas on how and whether to re-open schools, or maybe you should just hush.

Peter Greene has provided a nice flow chart to let you decide whether you should open your mouth with your ideas on how and whether to re-open the public schools, or whether you should just be quiet and listen.

So, should you just hush, or do you have something valuable to contribute to this subject?

My wife and I each taught for 30 years or so, and so we would be in the ‘speak right up’ category, but I don’t really know how the USA can get public education to work next year, especially since the danger is not going away, but apparently once more growing at an exponential clip.

Nobody should be listening to billionaires or their bought-and-paid-for policy wonks who once spent a whole two years in a classroom.

A few quotes from Greene’s column. (He is a much better writer than me, and much more original as well.)

==================================

To everyone who was never a classroom teacher but who has some ideas about how school should be reopened in the fall:

Hush.

Just hush.

There are some special categories of life experiences. Divorce. Parenthood. Deafness. Living as a Black person in the US. Classroom teacher. They are very different experiences, but they all have on thing in common.

You can read about these things. But if you haven’t lived it, you don’t know. You can study up, read up, talk to people. And in some rare cases that brings you close enough to knowing that your insights might actually be useful.

But mostly, you are a Dunning-Krueger case study just waiting to be written up.

The last thirty-seven-ish years of education have been marked by one major feature– a whole lot of people who just don’t know, throwing their weight around and trying to set the conditions under which the people who actually do the work will have to try to actually do the work. Policy wonks, privateers, Teach for America pass-throughs, guys who wanted to run for President, folks walking by on the street who happen to be filthy rich, amateurs who believe their ignorance is a qualification– everyone has stuck their oar in to try to reshape US education. And in ordinary times, as much as I argue against these folks, I would not wave my magic wand to silence them, because 1) educators are just as susceptible as anyone to becoming too insular and entrenched and convinced of their own eternal rightness and 2) it is a teacher’s job to serve all those amateurs, so it behooves the education world to listen, even if what they hear is 98% bosh.

But that’s in ordinary times, and these are not ordinary times.

There’s a whole lot of discussion about the issues involved in starting up school this fall. The discussion is made difficult by the fact that all options stink. It is further complicated by the loud voices of people who literally do not know what they are talking about.

“Slaying Goliath” by Diane Ravitch

I wish I could write half as well as, or as much as, Diane Ravitch manages to do, every single day. I also admire her dedication to fighting the billionaires who have been dictating education policy in the USA for quite some time.

If you are reading this post, you are no doubt aware that only ten years ago, Ravitch did a 180-degree turn on major education issues, admitted she had been wrong on a number of points, and became one of the major forces fighting against the disruptive education-privatization agenda of the billionaires.

Since that time, she has been documenting on her blog, several times a day, nearly every day, the utter failures of the extremely wealthy amateurs who have been claiming to ‘reform’ education, but who have instead merely been disrupting it and failing to achieve any of the goals that they confidently predicted would be won, even using their own yard-sticks.

IMG_6217

I found DR’s most recent book (pictured above) to be an excellent history of the past 37 years wherein certain billionaires, and their well-paid acolytes, have claimed that the American public school system is a total failure and needed to be torn down and rebuilt through these steps:

  1. Pretending that American students were at one point the highest-scoring ones on the planet (which has NEVER been true) and that the fact that they currently score at middling levels on international tests like PISA is a cause for national alarm;
  2. Claiming that student family poverty does not cause lower student achievement (however measured), but the reverse: that the schools that have students from poor and non-white populations are the CAUSE of that poverty and low achievement;
  3. Fraudulently assuming that huge fractions of teachers are not only incompetent but actively oppress their students (particularly the poor, the brown, and the black) and need to be fired en masse (as they were in New Orleans, Rhode Island, and Washington, DC);
  4. Micromanaging teachers in various ways, including by forcing all states to adopt a never-tested and largely incomprehensible ‘Common Core’ curriculum and demanding that all teachers follow scripted lessons in lockstep;
  5. ‘Measuring’ the productivity of teachers through arcane and impenetrable ‘Value-Added’ schemes that were devised for dairy cows;
  6. Mass firings of certified teachers, particularly African-American ones (see #2) and replacing them either with untrained, mostly-white newbies from Teach for America or with computers;
  7. Requiring public and charter schools (but not vouchers) to spend ever-larger fractions of their classroom time on test prep instead of real learning;
  8. Turning billions of public funds over to wealthy amateurs (and con artists) with no educational experience to set up charter schools and voucher schools with no real accountability — the very worst ones being the online charter schools.

One great aspect of this book is that Ravitch points out how

  1. All of those claims and ‘solutions’ have failed (for example, a study in Texas showed charter schools had no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings (p. 82);
  2. Teachers, parents, students, and ordinary community members have had a good deal of success in fighting back.

I will conclude with a number of quotes from the book in random colors.

“How many more billions will be required to lift charter school enrollment to 10 percent? [It’s now about 5 percent] And why is it worth the investment, given that charter schools, unless they cherry-pick their students, are no more successful than public schools are and often far worse? Why should the federal government spend nearly half a billion dollars on charter schools that may never open when there are so many desperately underfunded public schools?” (p. 276-277)

“Any movement controlled by billionaires is guaranteed […] to preserve the status quo while offering nothing more than the illusion of change.” (p. 281)

“There is no “Reform movement.” The Disrupters never tried to reform public schools. They wanted to disrupt and privatize the public schools that Americans have relied on for generations. They wanted to put public school funding in private hands. They wanted to short-circuit democracy. They wanted to cripple, not improve, the public schools. They wanted to replace a public service with a free market.” (p. 277)

“Our current education policy is madness. It is madness to destroy public education in pursuit of zany libertarian goals. It is madness to use public funds to put young children into religious schools where they will learn religious doctrine instead of science. It is madness to hand public money over to unaccountable entrepreneurs who want to open a school but refuse to be held to high ethical standards or to be held accountable for its finances and its performance. It is madness to ignore nepotism, self-dealing, and conflicts of interest. We sacrifice our future as a nation if we continue on this path of de-professionalizing our schools and turning them over to businessmen, corporate chains, grifters, and well-meaning amateurs. We sacrifice our children and our grandchildren if we continue to allow them to be guinea pigs in experiments whose negative results are clear.” (p. 281)

Ravitch proposes a number of things that billionaires could do that would be more helpful than what they are currently doing. She suggests [I’m quoting but shortening her list, found on page 280] that the billionaires could …

  • pay their share of taxes to support well-resourced public schools.
  • open health clinics to serve needy communities and make sure that all families and children have regular medical checkups.
  • underwrite programs to ensure that all pregnant women have medical care and that all children have nutritious meals each day.
  • subsidize after-school programs where children get exercise, play, dramatics, and tutoring.
  • rebuild the dramatics programs and performance spaces in every school.
  • lobby their state legislatures to fund schools fairly, to reduce class sizes, and to enable every school to have the teachers, teaching assistants, social services, librarians, nurses, counselors, books, and supplies it needs.
  • create mental health clinics and treatment centers for those addicted to drugs.
  • underwrite programs based on “the Kalamazoo Promise.”
  • They could emulate the innovative public school that basketball star leBron James subsidized in Akron, Ohio.

She also quotes Paymon Rouhanifard, who was a “prominent member of the Disruption establishment [who] denounced standardized testing when he stepped down as superintendent of the Camden, New Jersey, public schools […]. He had served as a high-level official on Joel Klein’s team in New York City […] Upon his arrival of the impoverished Camden district [….] he developed school report cards to rank every school mainly by test scores. But before he left, he abolished the school report cards.” She quotes him directly: “[…] most everybody in this room wouldn’t tolerate what I described for their own children’s school. Mostly affluent, mostly white schools shy away from heavy testing, and as a result, they are literally receiving an extra month of instruction […] The basic rule, what we would want for our own children, should apply to all kids.” (p.271)

“Disrupters have used standardized testing to identify and take over or close schools with low scores, but they disregard standardized testing when it reveals the failure of charters and vouchers. Disrupters no longer claim that charter schools and inexperienced recruits from Teach for America will miraculously raise test scores. After three decades of trying, they have not been successful.

“Nothing that the Disrupters have championed has succeeded unless one counts as ‘success’ closing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of community public schools in low-income neighborhoods. Ths Disrupters have succeeded in demoralizing teachers and reducing the number of people entering the teaching profession. They have enriched entrepreneurs who have opened charter schools or developed shoddy new products and services to sell to schools. They have enhanced the bottom line of large testing corporations. Their fling with the Common Core cost states billions of dollars to implement but had no effect on national or international test scores and outraged many parents, child advocates, lovers of literature, and teachers. “

Fortunately, the resistance to this has been having a fair amount of success, including the massive teacher strikes in state after state. As Ravitch writes (p. 266):

“The teachers taught the nation a lesson.

“But more than that, they taught themselves a lesson. They united, they demanded to be heard, and they got respect. That was something that the Disrupters had denied them for almost twenty years. Teachers learned that in unity there is strength.”

 

 

On the malign influence of Eli Broad in education

This is a good summary by Wendy Lecker on the results of billionaire Eli Broad’s strenuous efforts to reshape American education. Even though Broad’s rhetoric is a lot more progressive than that of the Koch brothers, Broad’s results have not been good at all – not only in human terms, but even on his own terms and using his own benchmarks. I might add that in terms of Broad’s failures, Lecker could have included the Broad-financed reform effort under Michelle Rhee here in Washington DC had a 98% failure rate in reaching its own goals. (See here for a link to my analysis thereof.)

==========================================

Putting a price tag on public schools

By Wendy Lecker|January 5, 2020

When it comes to using one’s fortune to influence American policy, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch stand out.

The Kochs have spent a fortune pushing American politics and policy to the right. Their secretive organization, Americans for Prosperity, is a major player in anti-labor activities, such as Wisconsin’s slashing of union rights, and fighting minimum wage increases nationwide. The Kochs poured money into the American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”) a stealth lobby organization that writes bills that advance Koch industries’ interests specifically and the Koch’s extreme free market ideology in general, and then gets legislators all over the country to introduce them.

They have also donated millions of dollars to establish research centers at universities to push their brand of unregulated capitalism. They impose conditions and performance obligations on the donations, interfere in hiring decisions, and make curriculum and programming decisions. The Kochs often demand pre-approval of any public statements and include anti-transparency provisions in donor agreements. This research is then cited as the scholarly basis for Congressional decisions favoring the Kochs’ interests. The Kochs are proud of their integrated strategy to build a pipeline of influence. The president of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation boasted that “(n)o one else has this infrastructure.”

Eli Broad, a billionaire who made his fortune through real estate and insurance, seeks to build a Koch-style infrastructure to push his education reform ideology. Broad recently announced that, with a $100 million donation, he is bringing his Broad Center to Yale’s School of Management (“SOM”).

The Broad Center trains school district leaders and those who seek to influence education policy. The center emphasizes applying business principles to running school districts and de-emphasizes education. In seeking candidates, the Broad Center prioritizes “a strong and direct alignment with specific (Broad Center) reform priorities” — which include school privatization and weakening labor protections. The Center openly aims to reshape American public education according to Broad’s ideology.

Eli Broad is a major player in some of the most aggressive — and controversial- education reform policies in America. Like the Kochs, Broad employs an integrated strategy of influence. For example, he bankrolled the education reform slate in the Los Angeles 2018 school board election. His star beneficiary, charter operator Ref Rodriguez, later resigned from the board and pled guilty to felony election fraud conspiracy. Broad also poured millions into Broad alumnus and charter operator Marshall Tuck’s 2018 unsuccessful campaign for California State Superintendent.

Broad used his money and influence to push the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) to run Detroit’s public schools. He provided significant funding and even summoned Broad alumnus and then Kansas City superintendent, John Covington, to be its first chancellor. Covington had wreaked havoc on Kansas City, firing hundreds of teachers and replacing them with inexperienced Teach for America members, and imposing other disruptive reforms. After his chaotic departure, Kansas City’s school district lost its accreditation. It then abandoned Covington’s reforms to regain its footing.

Covington left the EAA abruptly after charges of questionable spending, and the Broad Center hired him. The EAA was a devastating failure, plagued by financial mismanagement and abysmal academic failures.

A succession of Broad alumni ran Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District, which was also plagued by financial mismanagement and poor student achievement — worse than in schools under local district control.

Broad alumni were forced out of Seattle and Los Angeles amid financial impropriety, and Barbara Byrd Bennett, a Broad executive coach, is in federal prison after pleading guilty to a bribery scandal in which she engaged while head of Chicago Public Schools.

These scandals reflect poorly on Broad’s emphasis on applying business practices to school districts.

Much like the Koch’s foray into higher education, Broad’s move to SOM seems like an effort to profit from Yale’s name and perhaps sanitize the questionable track record of Broad alumni. Since Yale has no school of education — unlike other universities in New Haven — Broad’s interest is not to bolster any knowledge of how children can learn successfully.

In an effort to discern how much of the Koch playbook Broad is employing at Yale, I asked SOM about Broad’s involvement in the governance, curriculum, programming and hiring at SOM’s new center. After first indicating they would run these questions by SOM’s dean, SOM now fails to respond, despite my request for follow-up. Apparently, SOM’s Broad Center is adopting the Koch’s lack of transparency.

It is disturbing that a major university is helping enlarge the Broad pipeline, which has funneled scandal and upheaval across American public schools.

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Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center

PISA shows great US education progress under Common Core, charter proliferation, reforms. (JUST KIDDING!)

If there is anything that the recent PISA results show, it’s that the promises by David Coleman, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Betsy Devos, Arne Duncan, Barack Obama, and others of tremendous achievement increases and closing socioeconomic gaps with their ‘reforms’ were completely unfilled. I am copying and pasting here how American students have done on the PISA, a test given in many, many countries, since 2006. There have been tiny changes over the past dozen years in the scores of American students in reading, math, and science, but virtually none have been statistically significant, according to the statisticians who compiled and published the data.

Then again, nearly any classroom teacher you talked to over the past decade or two of educational ‘reforms’ in American classrooms could have told you why and how it was bound to fail.

Look for yourself:

PISA results through 2018

 

Source: https://www.oecd.org/pisa/publications/PISA2018_CN_USA.pdf

 

EDIT: I meant David Coleman the educational reform huckster, not Gary Coleman the actor!

 

The Right Moment …

(A guest blog by Peter MacPherson on the need to revert to democratic local control of schools in Washington, DC.)

By Peter MacPherson

The right moment.

A crucial sense of timing has long been viewed as the key to successful human endeavors. Advertising keeps reminding us that it’s crucial to have the erectile-dysfunction drug Cialis on hand when the right moment strikes, otherwise the opportunity for a joyful session of lovemaking will be lost. Sometimes the right moment, at least in retrospect and in real circumstances, can be of almost incalculable importance, where the very course of history is recognized to have been altered by timing. In early June of 1944 American General Dwight Eisenhower, with the help of his fellow centurions, was desperately trying to determine when they could unleash the largest invasion force in history on the shores of France to begin the final chapter of the Second World War in Europe. Before the invasion, Eisenhower and his colleagues had been bedeviled by bad weather, and 156,000 allied troops were onboard ships in ports along the British coast waiting to be dispatched to a battle that many participants on both sides viewed as an impending struggle of almost biblical proportions.

Group Captain James Stagg, a British RAF officer who led a team that monitored the weather for Eisenhower, determined that a brief window would open for a few hours on June 6, 1944 that would allow the allied invasion force to leave port and put ashore on the beaches of Normandy in France. Upon receiving this vital information Eisenhower recognized that the quintessential right moment had arrived.

The outcome of acting in that moment could not be clearer.

The voters of the District of Columbia are entering a period that seems very much like the right moment, the zone of opportunity, to produce a badly needed change for which the city will benefit enormously over the long term. With the announcement by At-Large Councilman David Grosso that he does not intend to seek re-election and that charter school board executive director Scott Pearson is leaving his post in May, the right moment to drop the curtain on mayoral control of the schools has presented itself. For it to be the right moment, though, it has to be recognized as such.

Here, in my view, is why the way in which the stars have aligned has produced this crucial moment for the city.

Grosso is now a deeply unpopular District politician. He’s been chairman of the council’s education committee for four years and because of a prickly, dismissive personality and a seeming view that the role of the panel he oversees should be a limited one, oversight of public education has been wanting. Over the past four years the District of Columbia Public Schools has been beset by scandal. Among them are heavily inflated graduation rates, the untimely departure of and reasons for former chancellor Antwan Wilson leaving DCPS and thin to non-existent oversight of critical aspects of DCPS’ operations.

Scott Pearson has been a deeply problematic actor in the ongoing drama of public education in the city. Though nominally a public employee, Pearson advocates for public charter schools as if he were heading a trade group. He’s pushed back vigorously against even modest efforts to open the charter sector to additional scrutiny by both the council and outside groups. In recent testimony before the council on member Charles Allen’s proposed legislation that would have opened charter schools to the provisions of the District’s Freedom of Information law, Pearson expressed his adamant opposition to the bill.

And the future and health of DCPS has never seemed to be in his portfolio of concerns. Pearson has actively sought to allow the untrammeled growth in the number of charter schools in the city. During his seven-year tenure as the charter board’s executive director, the number of charter schools in the city has grown from 98 to 123. They now enroll 43,000 students. He has pressed the city to transfer closed DCPS buildings for use by charters, thus inhibiting their use as swing space during modernizations or to reopened as DCPS campuses. Essentially, on Pearson’s watch, a parallel school system has been established in the city. And until his planned departure of the charter school board in May, he will continue to press for the unabated expansion of the sector in the city.

In 2007, at the beginning of the mayoral-control era, DCPS had an enrollment of around 50,000 students, with the charters educating around 22,000. During this 12-year period DCPS has bled away a staggering level of enrollment to charters. If mayoral control was supposed to secure the future of DCPS, which was broadly represented to mean high-quality education for all District children, then the great education reform experiment has failed. DCPS has good schools, as it always has. But their location is as disparate as ever. Between stagnant enrollment and virtually non-existent test score growth, then the experiment has failed. The city not only has a failed governance model, it has also wasted an immense amount of municipal treasure pursing this model. In the surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia that have comparable numbers of students to the District, they spend around half of what the city does [per student] and have higher performing systems. With over 22,000 vacant seats, the District is maintaining a staggering amount of excess capacity.

With the impending departures of Grosso and Pearson, the question that District stakeholders need to ask themselves is whether meaningful change will happen once they’re off the stage. If mayoral control remains in place the answer is easy to discern. For those not wearing their glasses and cannot see the writing in the sky, the answer is no.

Part of the reason that one should have no expectations of changes that will lead to school improvement is implicit in the design of mayoral control. Though the mayor has statutory responsibility for DCPS, the executive is also responsible for generating a budget that funds the charters. The mayor appoints the members of the charter school board. The mayor ultimately decides the fate of excess District school buildings. And, through the deputy mayor for education, has a strong planning role as well.

Then there’s the realpolitik aspect of the way the city government run. The mayor is beneficiary of significant campaign contributions from outside charter supporters and operators. It’s inevitable that the mayor would play both sides and that is certainly what Muriel Bowser has done.

The city council, during 12 years of mayoral control, has mostly shown great squeamishness about exercising its oversight role of the schools. Having watched and given testimony before the council, I have yet to see a major sea change in DCPS policy that resulted from that testimony. The impact of public testimony has chiefly been felt in area of school modernizations, which have often required aggressive advocacy on the part of school communities to bring equity what has been a brutally unequal process.

Going forward what we’re likely to see is a real struggle to find a council member willing to enthusiastically take on the role of education committee chairman. One frequently hears from council and their representatives that the council is not the school board, that by design oversight is supposed to be more modest. But when the council voted to eliminate the elected school board, they became de facto the school board. The public has demanded a court of last resort in education matters when they don’t like the way things are going. Virtually any education committee hearing that will accept public testimony finds itself hearing from a large number of witnesses. The public clearly wants to participate in school governance and wants its voice heard.

The obvious ambivalence of current council members to take on the education committee chairman role, and the track record the council has relative to education oversight, mean that the city is in the midst of a right moment moment.

In a city short on representative democratic institutions, the city council and mayor made a grave error in eliminating the school [board] in 2007. The experiment upon which they allowed the city to embark has proven to be one of poor quality. And the council is not telegraphing a willing desire to improve its performance relative to education oversight. District children need oversight of their school from adults who are committed to their success, who want DCPS and existing charter schools to thrive. The mayor keeps DCPS on life-support. It’s never permitted to be strong or aggressive enough to really compete in an education marketplace.

And charter students are poorly served in the existing governance structures. The city provides a significant facilities fee per student to charters. Yet that money is not required to be used for that purpose, and frequently is not. If students and parents have an issue with a charter, their route of appeal ends at the front door of the school. And once the search begins for a new charter school board executive director, the selection process will not involve the public in any meaningful way. Remember that the charter school board is appointed by the mayor, which then functions autonomously. The charter board will decide on its next executive director.

Ideally the council would vote to reestablish the elected school board. It would also vote to make the State Superintendent of Education a creature of the State Board of Education, the District’s only body related to education that is directly elected by voters. And they would also construct a more robust regulatory structure for charter schools so that parents, students and teachers have a real voice. But if the council will not act than the voters must. If a ballot initiative is required, then concerned citizens must pursue it vigorously.

This is the right moment.

 

Can You See The Educational Miracles in DC, Florida, Michigan, and Mississippi?

No?

Even though the Common Core curriculum is now essentially the law of the land (though well disguised), and nearly every school system devotes an enormous amount of its time to testing, and many states and cities (such as DC, Florida, and Michigan) are hammering away at public schools and opening often-unregulated charter schools and subsidizing voucher schemes?

You don’t see the miracles that MUST have flowed from those ‘reforms’?

naep reading 8th grade, black, nation, fl, dc, mi, ms, large cities

Neither can I.

I present to you average scale scores for black students on the 8th grade NAEP reading tests, copied and pasted by from the NAEP website for the past 27 years, and graphed by me using Excel. You will notice that any changes have been small — after all, these scores can go up to 500 if a student gets everything right, and unlike on the SAT, the lowest possible score is zero.

DC’s black 8th graders are scoring slightly lower than in 2013 or 2015, even though a speaker assured us that DC was an outstanding performer. Black Florida students are scoring lower than they did 2, 4, 6, or 10 years ago, even though Betsy DeVos assured us that they were setting a wonderful example for the nation. Michigan is the state where DeVos and her family has had the most influence, and it consistently scores lower than the national average. Mississippi was held up for us as a wonderful example of growth, but their score is exactly one point higher than it was in 2003.

Some miracles.

 

EDIT: Here are the corresponding charts and graphs for hispanic and white students:

naep, 8th grade reading, hispanic, various places

 

naep 8th grade reading, white students, various places

Curmudgucation on the NAEP rollout

If you’ve noticed, I’m a great admirer of blogger and retired teacher Peter Greene and his column, Curmudgucation. He has a great column today (as he does nearly every day) on the foolishness of Betsy Devos’ statements about the NAEP results. I urge you to read it. He points out that if anything, the current year’s results, which aren’t good, are in great part the responsibility of DeVos herself and her policies!

A couple of excerpts:

“I wasn’t going to write about NAEP for any number of reasons, but then I happened to look at Betsy DeVos’s comments on this year’s results and, well, this whole blood pressure thing happened. So to get my numbers back down, I’m going to talk through the nonsense she issued forth, notable for its disconnection from reality, its devotion to public education bashing, and, most of all, its bizarre display of an amnesia-fueled dismissal of responsibility for any hand in the results of the Nation’s Report Card. …

“[then a quote from DeVos:]… For more than three decades, I—and many others—have said that America’s antiquated approach to education fails too many kids.

“No. For three decades you and many others have used aggressive chicken littling as leverage to remake education in your preferred image. You said, “Let us have our way and NAEP scores will shoot up like daisies in springtime.” Do not even pretend to suggest that you have somehow been hammering fruitlessly on the doors of education, wailing your warnings and being ignored. The current status quo in education is yours. You built it and you own it and you don’t get to pretend that’s not true as a way to avoid accountability for the results.

Not So Fast, Betsy DeVos!

I attended the official roll-out of the results of the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) a couple of days ago at the National Press Club here in DC on 14th Street NW, and listened to the current education secretary, Betsy Devos, slam public schools and their administrators as having accomplished nothing while spending tons of money. She and other speakers held up DC, Mississippi, and Florida as examples to follow. Devos basically advocated abandoning public schools altogether, in favor of giving each parent a “backpack full of cash” to do whatever they want with.

Some other education activists I know here in DC shared their thoughts with me, and I decided to look at the results for DC’s white, black, and Hispanic students over time as reported on the NAEP’s official site. (You can find them here, but be prepared to do quite a bit of work to get them and make sense out of them!)

I found that it is true that DC’s recent increases in scores on the NAEP for all students, and for black and Hispanic students, are higher than in other jurisdictions.

However, I also found that those increases were happening at a HIGHER rate BEFORE DC’s mayor was given total control of DC’s public schools; BEFORE the appointment of Michelle Rhee; and BEFORE the massive DC expansion of charter schools.

Here are two graphs (which I think show a lot more than a table does) which give ‘average scale scores’ for black students in math at grades 4 and 8 in DC, in all large US cities, and in the nation as a whole. I have drawn a vertical red line at the year 2008, separating the era before mayoral control of schools (when we had an elected school board) and the era afterwards (starting with appointed chancellor Michelle Rhee and including a massive expansion of the charter school sector). These results include both regular DC Public School students and the charter school sector, but not the private schools.

I asked Excel to produce linear correlations of the average scale scores for black students in DC starting in 1996 through 2007, and also for 2009 through 2019. It wasn’t obvious to my naked eye, but the improvement rates, or slopes of those lines, were TWICE AS HIGH before mayoral control. At the 4th grade level, the improvement rate was 2.69 points per year BEFORE mayoral control, but only 1.34 points per year afterwards.

Yes, that is a two-to-one ratio AGAINST mayoral control & massive charter expansion.

At the 8th grade level, same time span, the slope was 1.53 points per year before mayoral control, but 0.77 points per year afterwards.

Again, just about exactly a two-to-one ratio AGAINST the status quo that we have today.

pre and post Rhee, 4th grade NAEP, black students in DC, nation, large cities

pre and post Rhee, 8th grade NAEP, black students in DC, large cities, and nation

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