How to Succeed with “Success Academy”

Here is the secret behind having stellar state test scores at Moskowitz’ chain of ‘Success Academy’ schools: discourage families from coming by telling them how much is expected from them (NEVER be tardy, ENORMOUS amounts of homework, etc) and also hold back any student who doesn’t meet very hazy but difficult benchmarks.

Gary Rubinstein provides details, and taped quotes from Success Academy principals:


Revealing Podcast About Success Academy — Part V

by garyrubinstein

Star Wars fans know that Episode 5 — The Empire Strikes Back, was the best of the Star Wars saga.  And of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, the most famous is surely his fifth.  Likewise, of the seven episodes of Startup’s podcast about Success Academy, the fifth (found here) is the most powerful and the most important.

To say that this episode has the ‘smoking gun’ would be an understatement.  This episode has not just the smoking gun, but a video of the culprit firing that gun.  I’m not sure why this episode hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.  Maybe because it is so many hours into the podcast and most people don’t listen to all the parts.  Or maybe there are so many Success Academy excuses and talking points weaved into all the other episodes that this episode just seems like a small blemish on a generally favorable portrait of the controversial charter network.  Whatever the reason, I’m hoping that people will take the time to listen to the whole podcast and to share it, along with my summary, widely.

This episode is entitled ‘Expectations’ and it explores whether or not the expectations Success Academy has for it’s students and for the parents of those students are something that the students and parents rise to meet or if they scare away potential families and families who struggle to keep up with those expectations.

They play a tape of Eva Moskowitz speaking to families who have been accepted into Success Academy:

EVA: Hi everyone, I’m Eva Moskowitz the founder and CEO of Success Academies. It’s very nice to meet you in this large auditorium.

LISA: Eva paces across the stage in stilettos, a fitted blue dress and leather bomber jacket, her standard attire. She’s speaking to a couple hundred parents, near Success Academy Union Square. That’s one of 30 Success elementary schools offering spots to new students.

EVA: First of all, congratulations for those of you who have won the lottery.

LISA: This year Success Academy had a little over 3000 spots for about 17000 applicants. That means through a random lottery, only about one out of every six kids got a spot.

Eva tells the audience that she designed Success Academy with the hope that kids would fall in love with school. They have science labs in kindergarten, kids learning chess early on. She touts the school’s high academic standards. But she is also clear about some of the things that parents might not like.

EVA: We believe in homework. A lot of it. So if you feel really strongly that that is not something you like, you probably shouldn’t come to Success. Cause we’re going to be arguing for 12 years about homework and we’re gonna win.

LISA: Want small class sizes? We don’t have that. And, of course…

EVA: Tests. Anyone against tests? Anyone want to be part of the opt-out movement? Great, thank you for your honesty. Success is not the place for you.

LISA: Success is not the place for you. Parents start hearing that line early on. Eva makes it clear at this meeting that they’ll expect a lot of parents.

EVA: We’re very very strict on kids getting to school on time. School starts August 20th and you must be here the first day of school, no exceptions. We expect at a minimum for you to return our phone calls. I had a parent who was refusing to meet with the principal. God forbid. No no no no no.

About half of the families that get into Success Academy after winning ‘the lottery’ choose to not go there, maybe because of messages like this.

The devastating part in this episode follows a 5th grader at Success Academy named Nia.  Nia had been at Success Academy since kindergarten and had passed both sections of the 3rd and 4th grade state tests.  But she was getting about a 70 average in 5th grade so the school said that she was at risk of repeating 5th grade.  According to the podcast, this is something that is said to hundreds of families each year.

Getting ‘left back’ is a big deal.  It has major consequences that can affect the rest of a student’s life.  From then on, that student will be a year older than her classmates, always having to explain why she is a year older, that she was ‘left back.’  The school said she would have to get her grades up, which she did, to about an 80.  But the school said that it wasn’t enough.  It didn’t matter that she was now comfortably passing.  It also didn’t matter that she had passed the state tests the previous years and that she was likely to pass the state test again this year.  They said that when they took it all into consideration they decided not to promote her.  However, they would promote her if she would transfer out of Success Academy.

The amazing hypocrisy here is that Success Academy is saying that the fact that this girl passed the state tests was not enough.  They are actually admitting that passing the state tests — the thing that the entire reputation of Success Academy is based on — is not an accurate measure of achievement.

The parent tried to appeal this decision and she even secretly taped the meeting she had with the administrator:

JO-LAINE: So I guess my question is, so this is a final decision? This is a final decision?


JO-LAINE: And I cannot appeal this process at all?


JO-LAINE: I cannot talk to anybody else about this process?

PRINCIPAL: If you would like to talk to someone you can reach out to the network.

JO-LAINE: Who, who in the network?

PRINCIPAL: You can just call the general number.

JO-LAINE: I don’t get anyone when I call that general number. Why are you doing this to my daughter? You know that she is a bright kid, you know she has potential. You know she does.

PRINCIPAL: Of course.

LISA: Of course she has potential, the principal says. And she notes the improvement Nia had made by the second trimester.

PRINCIPAL: She was at a 77 and we said if she continued going in that direction, she continued doing her homework, she continued really applying herself in class, then we could possibly promote her to the sixth grade.

LISA: Nia’s GPA had jumped from 69 to 80, and her grades for participation had trended up too. Jo-Laine asks where Nia would have needed to get.

JO-LAINE: So what is the passing GPA to be promoted?

PRINCIPAL: There is no passing GPA.

JO-LAINE: There isn’t a passing GPA, it’s so much ambiguity. How do I know how my kid is succeeding?

LISA: The principal points out that these decisions are not just about GPA — they consider a lot of factors. She says Nia doesn’t have the work habits to succeed in the sixth grade.

PRINCIPAL: So ultimately the issue is that she does not have independent work habits that she needs to be successful next year in a tougher grade with a more rigorous curriculum. Good habits of working, so like asking questions, trying hard, going back revising your work.

LISA: At some point during the back-and-forth, Jo-Laine gets more frustrated.

JO-LAINE: I have it in text message, ok, and in emails.

PRINCIPAL: Please don’t talk to me like that.

LISA: The principal says the conversation is no longer productive and asks her to leave.

JO-LAINE: I’m not leaving until we finish talking about… I do not agree with your decision.

LISA: Jo-Laine starts to say something to an assistant principal who’s also in the room.

PRINCIPAL: You’re not speaking to my assistant principal, this is my school to be clear.

JO-LAINE: Who are you talking to?

PRINCIPAL: I’m talking to you.

JO-LAINE: I am not speaking to you. You just told me I may not speak, I’m not, no.
PRINCIPAL: I’m done.

JO-LAINE: You cannot tell me I cannot speak to this woman here and that you’re going to call security on me.

PRINCIPAL: I will call security on you.

LISA: The principal calls security, and Jo-Laine is escorted out of the building.
JO-LAINE: and I left and i cried like a baby. I let out this howl when I left the building.

LISA: Jo-Laine said she felt defeated. All the opportunities she thought Nia would have because she won the lottery and got into Success were now disappearing. That’s because, if Nia was going to be held back, Jo-Laine wanted to take her out of Success when the year ended, even though the school had been Nia’s world since she was 5 years old.

what was the conversation with Nia that night?

JO-LAINE: You know Nia, things are going to be different. Same thing, same routine conversation, you got to go to school every day and do your best. Mommy has to be very honest with you. We need to try a new school.  I don’t think Success Academy is healthy for you. And she cried. Silent silent tears. And she’s like, ‘I’m going to miss my friends. This is all I know. I’m a little afraid of public school. But it’s okay Mommy.’ And that changed everything for me. I remember sitting on her bed and she’s like ‘Mommy it’s OK. You know I just want to be happy.’

LISA: While Jo-Laine was fighting to get Success to promote Nia to the next grade, she had also applied to several middle schools, as backups. And Nia had been accepted into a public school. It’s a selective one. Students have to have good marks and test scores from fourth grade to get in.

JO-LAINE: So I have the acceptance letter. And the first paragraph says, congratulations Nia, we want you to know that you were specifically chosen for this school for your academic achievement, thousands of kids applied to star academy and you were one of the 60. She was like ‘me? Oh my god, me mommy?’ and I am like ‘you’, and I could honestly say with all confidence, it wasn’t a lottery, it was like we chose you, we want you.

LISA: In Nia’s final report card, which she got in June, after the decision to hold her back had already been made, her GPA had gone up another few points to an 83. A few months later, she got her state test scores for fifth grade. Top scores again, fours on both.

The principal who defended this decision was, of course, a Teach For America alum.  So if Success Academy is leaving back students who are passing the state tests and getting an 83 average, but not meeting some nebulous metric that relies not on data, but on their gut feelings, what about the kids who are not passing the state tests?  Are we to believe that this same nebulous metric is somehow generous to those students?

Another Success Administrator is interviewed about the schools expectations

LISA: Do you think there’s such a thing as a bar that’s too high?

JAVERIA: For whom?

LISA: For kids at Success.

JAVERIA: Well see I think when people ask that question and I’m not saying you are. So please. I think when people say we’re too hard and we’re too rigorous I always ask is that because we run schools in poor neighborhoods? Do you mean is it too hard for poor neighborhoods? Because rich white kids are doing this all day and they’re paying for it.

LISA: It is a question you have to ask. Where is the bar? It seems like a very legitimate appropriate question to really think through.

JAVERIA: I do often think when that questions comes up… And by the way I wish we can control the bar but the bar often is determined by really elite colleges who get their kids great jobs.

LISA: Javeria tells me that Success Academy is trying to set its academic standards so that all students are on track to complete college in four years. Success says about 10 percent of its students get held back every year.  And half of those students end up leaving Success. When their alternative, their zoned traditional public school, is willing to take them at the next grade, that can seem like the more attractive option for families.

LISA: Do you worry about like the kids who are leaving because they were held over.

JAVERIA: I guess worry about that meaning… I guess that’s a thing, like do we think we’re doing something wrong and that’s why they’re leaving? like do we are we too rigid and too difficult and too painful of a schools so we’re pissing people off and they’re leaving? No I don’t. I mean I think I think…

LISA: Or just even studying like why kids leave? Like you know I’ve spoken to other charter school networks that are studying the kids who leave and really trying to understand that.

JAVERIA: I mean we can’t, we’re not a prison we can not make anyone sign up to do things they don’t want to do. And so that’s why I asked like is the issue should we ease our design in any way to keep more people is like I think where you’re headed in that question, which is no, we don’t want kids to come any later to school. We are going to continue to ask for them to wear a uniform. We are going to be rigorous. We are not going to willy nilly promote kids because it feels good.

LISA: Success doesn’t buy into the practice of social promotion — moving kids up through grades to keep them with their age group. The charter school network believes that promotion should be based on achievement. And in many ways, their position makes sense. You don’t want someone to graduate from high school, not being able to read an elementary school text. And yet by sticking to extremely high standards for kids, Success is, in effect, sending a lot of families to the same schools it says it’s saving them from.

So according to the podcast, with a statistic that surely came from Success Academy themselves, they leave back 5% of students each year and another 5% leave so they can escape being left back.  I think these numbers are way below the actual numbers.  I think this is one of the major reasons that students leave the school and based on their first cohort where 73 1st graders were whittled down to 16 eventual graduates, it is clear that a lot of students leave Success Academy.

Even the parent from the first episode had pulled her son from Success Academy when they threatened to have him repeat second grade.

On the podcast they say

A lot of families who leave Success, whether it’s because they were asked to repeat a grade, or were getting suspended, or just had had enough of Success’ inflexibility … a lot of those families go back into the traditional public school system, a system that Eva Moskowitz says is failing.

Then they compare Success Academy to a ‘failing’ traditional school, as measured by its test scores.  They show that the principal is much warmer in the way he deals with parents than the Success Academy administrators we have heard from in this episode.

Then a surprising thing happens where this principal Jesse Yarbrough goes off on a rant about how one of his biggest problems is that it is too hard to fire tenured teachers because of the teacher’s union contract.  I was disappointed to hear this.  I’ve taught at several ‘failing’ schools in my career and I’ve found mostly very hard working teachers at them.  And the few teachers who were not trying their hardest, well, I don’t think that our test scores would have changed that dramatically if we were to replace those teachers — there just weren’t enough of them to make a tremendous difference.  Somehow, though, on this podcast they found a traditional school where the principal did believe that the students at his school had only 20% passing the state tests because of the teacher’s union.  That is unfortunate since I’m sure that many principals would defend their staff and say that the test scores don’t reflect the commitment and quality of the teachers.

The rest of the part about the traditional school was good and showed how they were more humane to their students.  They also have this principal talk about how they get kids who were booted out of charter schools:

LISA: Jesse says his school regularly gets kids from charter schools, and what he sees are a lot of the feelings that our two families earlier in the episode expressed: feelings of shame and guilt.

JESSE: They tend to come feeling like they were pushed out. Parents have told us that the principal kept calling them in to say that the student wasn’t behaving or the student wasn’t doing their work and that kids are always coming home with infractions, whether it’s for uniform, for attendance, for lateness for homework, and if you’re constantly getting negative feedback about your child, you’re going to think that the school doesn’t want the child there. And a lot of parents come in and they say my son had so and so issues, my son was kicked out, they said that we couldn’t be there anymore. And that’s terrible too because then they have that same perception of the child.

This is where episode 5 ends.  I think any reasonable person listening to the part where they leave back the girl despite her average in the 80s and her passing the state tests, and their treatment of her mother where they call security on them, would have to conclude that there is something seriously wrong with Success Academy.

There are still two more podcasts.  Episode 6 features the ‘rip and redo’ hidden video and episode 7 is about the chaos at their first high school.  I’ll likely write those up as one post.  This one, episode 5, is really the main reason I wanted to write up these summaries, I recommend you listen to the whole thing since there are some things that are conveyed by the vocal intonations of the Success Academy administrators that a transcript can’t fully capture.

The Myth of the Super TFA Teacher is Crushed by TFA’s Own Research

A study conducted in Texas with the cooperation of Teach for America claims to pretend that TFA teachers are more effective than their peers. We’ve all heard this claim before, including from frauds like Michelle Rhee, who made up fables about her mythical and fantastic successes during her three years as a TFA newbie in Baltimore.

However, the facts and tables in the report itself shows exactly the opposite, at least for TFA members who are in their first two years (and for many of them, their only two years) in the classroom.

For example, look at the following tables, which I cut and pasted from the report:

how TFA teachers compare with their peers

Notice what the data is saying in the first four bar graphs above. Dark blue means that the students of that group of TFA teachers were significantly more likely to pass the STAAR test than the students of other, matched, non-TFA teachers. Black means that the students of that group of TFA teachers were NOT more likely to pass, and that this is statistically significant.

Also notice that they do NOT ask the question of whether students of TFA teachers do significantly worse on that test than do students of other teachers. We can only guess.

(1) During the first year that a TFA ‘corps member’ is in the classroom, in 44% to 46% of the cases, their students do NOT do significantly better than their peers on a state-wide standardized test than do the students of non-TFA teachers. We don’t know for a fact that the students actually did WORSE than those taught by non-TFA teachers, but it is certainly a strong possibility. Only in 1/6 to 1/4 of the cases (16% to 26%), do the students of the TFA first-year teachers do significantly better than the students of other, comparable teachers.

(2) Apparently students of second-year TFA teachers in Texas do even worse than those of first-year TFA teachers, especially in reading, because the dark blue sections of the third and fourth bar graphs are significantly smaller than those for the first and second bar graphs, and the black section of bar graph 3 (reading) is much larger than it was in bar graph 1.

Bar graphs 3 and 4 include both first year and second year TFA teachers; since the combined figures for both years 1 and 2 are much worse than for just year 1, that must mean that TFA teachers get worse at preparing their students for the STAAR test during their second year.

(3) However, the relatively few TFA corps members who successfully exit TFA and go on to remain as classroom teachers apparently do much better than the peers that were selected by this study (that’s bar graphs 5 and 6; note the dark blue sections are much larger).

However, let me quote the conclusions written by the authors of this report concerning this graph:

“Students of TFA alumni were significantly more likely to pass STAAR Reading and Math in 77% and 82% of all Reading & Math analyses, respectively. TFA corps members are more effective in Math than Reading. ”

I will let you, the reader, make your own decision as to whether preparing students to pass tests like the PARCC or the STAAR is a worthy goal. But it’s almost all the data that we have.

Thanks to Gary Rubinstein for his blog post, pointing me towards this study.

Why Does Jeff Bezos Get to ‘Earn’ in One Year Twice as Much as All of His 560,000 Employees, Combined?

I’ve done blue-collar and white-collar labor of all sorts in factories, farms, offices, and roads before, but honestly, no job I ever had in my 60+ years compares with the exhausting pace of work that I hear about going on at Amazon “fulfillment centers” today.

According to this review, there is an entire YouTube genre of videos where people describe what their first, exhausting and dehumanizing day of work was like at an Amazon warehouse, often followed up by a later video describing why they quit. (The workers are not permitted to bring their cell phones to work, so we can’t see actual pix or videos of the work being carried out.)

The scientific precision of Amazon’s success at speeding up the process, and the constant surveillance reminds me* of how American slaveowners were able to use scales, math, and ledgers to manage to squeeze three times more cotton-picking labor out of every single enslaved worker in 1860 than they had been able to do in 1820. Former slaves described how incredibly dehumanizing the pace of work was, and how each of them was forced to reduce themselves to a pair of hands and fingers picking cotton boll after boll, filling the bag over their shoulder with today’s and this week’s quota, lest they be physically tortured by savage whippings with rawhide …. knowing that next week’s quota would be a bit higher still… This process is described by Edward Baptist inThe Half Has Never Been Told (using the slaveowners’ own documents) and is also featured in 12 Years a Slave (both the movie and the original book from the 1850’s).

One positive thing I took from this article is that Amazon warehouse workers do seem to be organizing themselves. But it’s a tough fight!! Bezos being by far the richest human in the history of the entire planet.

To give you some idea of his wealth: in the past year, despite the massive drops in the stock market last month (Dec 2018), I calculate that Bezos’ wealth increased by an amount greater than DOUBLE THE EARNINGS OF ALL HIS WORKERS, PUT TOGETHER.

Can anybody with a straight face claim that Jeff Bezos’ contribution to getting your packaged orders, last year, was equal to twice the contribution of ALL AMAZON WORKERS COMBINED?

Perhaps Bezos’ contribution is really amazing, and is equivalent to the work output of twenty, or 200 workers. (Not sure how you’d measure that, but still, dollars are the usual criterion). And he should definitely be rewarded for having bet correctly on the Amazon delivery system and model. But his contribution to the system is NOTHING LIKE THE contribution of all of those other folks all put together!!!!

Here are the computations:

An article in Time magazine says that Amazon reports having about 560,000 workers world-wide and that their median total compensation (including overtime, stock options, etc) is about $28,000 per worker per year. Multiplying those two numbers gives us $15,680,000,000 in total worker earnings at Amazon per year, according to the company’s figures (that is, 15.7 billion dollars)

Bloomberg has data on rich folks’ estimated wealth, and they say Bezos is worth about $140 billion as of last Friday, January the 17th, 2018, mostly thanks to his ownership of his company’s stock, which is $31 billion more than it was one year earlier ($109B on 1/21/2018).

Notice that $15.7 Billion, the amount earned by ALL of the employees at Amazon combined, is almost exactly HALF of the wealth gained (you can’t say “earned” with a straight face here) by their boss, Jeff Bezos.

Or in other words:

If he were to be truly magnanimous and donate to his workers his entire gain in wealth for the year, THEN EACH ONE WOULD SEE HIS/HER EARNINGS 💥💥💥TRIPLE💥💥💥.

(He could afford it, I think. Do you think that such an act of capitalist generosity have any chance at all of happening? Personally, I doubt it. But anything that the workers could do to reduce Bezos’ share should be applauded!)

Or, you could say that one individual, Jeff Bezos, earned two-thirds of all the income generated by his company. The half-million or so other Amazon employees split up the rest.

Meanwhile the workers, who earn basically a pittance, are instead sped up and dehumanized for the benefit of one Jeffrey Bezos.

Has Such a level of extreme wealth disparity ever occurred in history? Did kings or emperors or 1890’s Robber Barons have, individually, more wealth and income than all their subjects or employees, combined?

Is this new?

It’s certainly shocking.

I wonder if maybe the Amazon workers could wage a sit-down strike where they occupy the warehouses to improve their wages and working conditions, as did the brave GM workers led by left-wingers in the United Auto Workers union in 1937 in Flint, Michigan? There are real advantages in waging an effective sit-down strike, taking over the warehouse etc, as opposed to picketing peacefully (and often vainly) outside while scabs are escorted past the picket lines by police.



* it is MLK’s birthday, after all …

Why A New Generation of Teachers is Angry at Self-Styled Education ‘Reformers’

This is an excellent essay at Medium that I learned about from Peter Greene of Curmudgucation. I copy and paste it in its entirety in case you don’t like signing into Medium.

Why New Educators Resent “Reformers”

Let’s consider why so many young educators today are in open rebellion.

How did we lose patience with politicians and policymakers who dominated nearly every education reform debate for more than a generation?

Recall first that both political parties called us “a nation at risk,” fretted endlessly that we “leave no child behind,” and required us to compete in their “race to the top.”

They told us our problems could be solved if we “teach for America,” introduce “disruptive technology,” and ditch the textbook to become “real world,” 21st century, “college and career ready.”

They condemned community public schools for not letting parents “choose,” but promptly mandated a top-down “common core” curriculum. They flooded us with standardized tests guaranteeing “accountability.” They fetishized choice, chopped up high schools, and re-stigmatized racial integration.

They blamed students who lacked “grit,” teachers who sought tenure, and parents who knew too much. They declared school funding isn’t the problem, an elected school board is an obstacle, and philanthropists know best.

They told us the same public schools that once inspired great poetry, art, and music, put us on the moon, and initiated several civil rights movements needed to be split, gutted, or shuttered.

They invented new school names like “Green Renaissance College-Prep Academy for Character, the Arts, and Scientific Careers” and “Hope-Horizon Enterprise Charter Preparatory School for New STEM Futures.” They replaced the district superintendent with the “Chief Educational Officer.”

They published self-fulfilling prophecies connecting zip-coded school ratings, teacher performance scores, and real estate values. They viewed Brown v. Board as skin-deep and sentimental, instead of an essential mandate for democracy.

They implied “critical thinking” was possible without the Humanities, that STEM alone makes us vocationally relevant, and that “coding” should replace recess time. They cut teacher pay, lowered employment qualifications, and peddled the myth anyone can teach.

They celebrated school recycling programs that left consumption unquestioned, gave lip-service to “student-centered civic engagement” while stifling protest, and talked up “multiple intelligences” while defunding the arts.

They instructed critics to look past poverty, inequality, residential segregation, mass incarceration, homelessness, and college debt to focus on a few heartwarming (and yes, legitimate) stories of student resilience and pluck.

They expected us to believe that a lazy public-school teacher whose students fail to make “adequate yearly progress” was endemic but that an administrator bilking an online academy or for-profit charter school was “one bad apple.”

They designed education conferences on “data-driven instruction,” “rigorous assessment,” and “differentiated learning” but showed little patience for studies that correlate student performance with poverty, trauma, a school-to-prison pipeline, and the decimation of community schools.

They promised new classroom technology to bridge the “digital divide” between rich, poor, urban, and rural, while consolidating corporate headquarters in a few elite cities. They advertised now-debunked “value-added” standardized testing for stockholder gain as teacher salaries stagnated.

They preached “cooperative learning” while sending their own kids to private schools. They saw alma mater endowments balloon while donating little to the places most Americans earn degrees. They published op-eds to end affirmative action but still checked the legacy box on college applications.

They were legitimately surprised when thousands of teachers in the reddest, least unionized states walked out of class last year.


The No Child Left Behind generation continues to bear the fullest weight of this malpractice, paying a steep price for today’s parallel rise in ignorance and intolerance.

We are the children of the education reformer’s empty promises. We watched the few decide for the many how schools should operate. We saw celebrated new technologies outpace civic capacity and moral imagination. We have reason to doubt.

We are are the inheritors of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” We have watched democratic institutions crumble, conspiracies normalized, and authoritarianism mainstreamed. We have seen climate change denied at the highest levels of government.

We still see too many of our black brothers and sisters targeted by law enforcement. We watched as our neighbor’s promised DACA protections were rescinded and saw the deporters break down their doors. We see basic human rights for our LGBTQ peers refused in the name of “science.”

We have seen the “Southern strategy” deprive rural red state voters of educational opportunity before dividing, exploiting, and dog whistling. We hear climate science mocked and watch women’s freedom erode. We hear mental health discussed only after school shootings.

We’ve seen two endless wars and watched deployed family members and friends miss out on college. Even the battles we don’t see remind us that that bombs inevitably fall on schools. And we know war imposes a deadly opportunity tax on the youngest of civilians and female teachers.

Against this backdrop we recall how reformers caricatured our teachers as overpaid, summer-loving, and entitled. We resent how our hard-working mentors were demoralized and forced into resignation or early retirement.

Our collective experience is precisely why we aren’t ideologues. We know the issues are complex. And unlike the reformers, we don’t claim to have the answers. We simply believe that education can and must be more humane than this. We plan to make it so.

We learned most from the warrior educators who saw through the reform facade. Our heroes breathed life into institutions, energized our classrooms, reminded us what we are worth, and pointed us in new directions. We plan to become these educators too.

PISA International Test Results Are Rigged

If you read the article, you see how the international student tests known as PISA are rigged. It’s rather simple: the high-scoring countries choose their wealthiest cities; in those cities, they choose the highest-performing schools; and at those schools they don’t let the low-performing students take the test.

In this way, Washington, DC could be the highest scoring “state” in the USA if it only allowed the highest-scoring kids from, say, Janney, Murch, Deal, Walls, BASIS, St Albans and Sidwell participate. Easy-peasy!

The Chinese government could give lessons to Cheeto45 on how to obfuscate and lie.

“And forgive our debts, as we forgive those who owe us!”

The title of this post might remind you of part of the so-called Lord’s Prayer, which in English is usually rendered “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

This sounds like forgiving sins, but in Latin, which I studied for about six years, the prayer is really about forgiving debts:

“et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris”

I don’t know enough Greek to be able to comment on the original meaning of the words as apparently written down in the New Testament in that language, but it is generally accepted that Jesus (if he really existed) spoke Aramaic – but only a few of his (alleged) words were recorded in that language, since the entire NT was written in Greek, not in Hebrew or Latin, and definitely not in English!

The following book makes the argument that forgiving debts, wholesale, was essential if you wanted to avoid stratification of society into a class of oligarchs and a class of everybody else, who were essentially little better than slaves. They make the point that compounded interest grows exponentially and without limit, but economic growth does NOT: it follows a logistic curve at best, which means that there are certain limits.

For example, while bacteria growing in a petri dish appear to grow exponentially for some hours, perhaps for a few days, eventually, there is no more uncontaminated agar for the bacteria to eat, and they start drowning in their own waste products. So despite what one learns in most Algebra classes (including my own), bacterial growth is in actually logistic, not exponential. However, unless debt is periodically forgiven – which seldom if ever happens these days – the debtors end up drowning in debt, as you might be able to discern from this little graph I made:

logistic versus exponential growth

I haven’t read the book, but the review is most interesting. Here is a quote:

Nowhere, Hudson shows, is it more evident that we are blinded by a deracinated, by a decontextualizedunderstanding of our history than in our ignorance of the career of Jesus. Hence the title of the book: And Forgive Them Their Debts and the cover illustration of Jesus flogging the moneylenders — the creditors who do not forgive debts — in the Temple. For centuries English-speakers have recited the Lord’s Prayer with the assumption that they were merely asking for the forgiveness of their trespasses, their theological sins: “… and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us….” is the translation presented in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. What is lost in translation is the fact that Jesus came “to preach the gospel to the poor … to preach the acceptable Year of the Lord”: He came, that is, to proclaim a Jubilee Year, a restoration of deror for debtors: He came to institute a Clean Slate Amnesty (which is what Hebrew דְּרוֹר connotes in this context).

So consider the passage from the Lord’s Prayer literally: … καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν: “… and send away (ἄφες) for us our debts (ὀφειλήματα).” The Latin translation is not only grammatically identical to the Greek, but also shows the Greek word ὀφειλήματα revealingly translated as debita: … et dimitte nobis debita nostra: “… and discharge (dimitte) for us our debts (debita).” There was consequently, on the part of the creditor class, a most pressing and practical reason to have Jesus put to death: He was demanding that they restore the property they had rapaciously taken from their debtors. And after His death there was likewise a most pressing and practical reason to have His Jubilee proclamation of a Clean Slate Amnesty made toothless, that is to say, made merely theological: So the rich could continue to oppress the poor, forever and ever. Amen.

A Thorough Analysis of DC’s PARCC Scores

Valerie Jablow of EducationDC has a lengthy and thorough column, guest-written by one Betsy Wolf, with way more analysis of the recently-released PARCC scores for DC’s charter schools and regular public schools than I could ever accomplish.

The conclusions that I draw are that:

(1) There is a huge amount of variation in PARCC test scores and proportions of ‘at risk’ students from school to school, both in the regular public schools and the charters;

(2) The public schools have slightly higher scores than the charter schools;

(3) There is a very strong and negative correlation between the proportion of ‘at risk’ students and the proportion of students scoring at the highest levels on this test;

(4) There is a much greater concentration of ‘at risk’ students in the regular public schools than in the charter schools;

(5) No, we have not overcome socio-economic segregation, and

(6) No, the charter schools do not have a secret method for achieving success for every kid, no matter what.

Here is the link:

I reproduce here a couple of Ms Wolf’s graphs, showing that close correlation between income and PARCC scores in both the charter and regular public sectors. The horizontal axis is the percentage of the student population at the school that is ‘at risk’ (a composite measure including the fraction of families being on food stamps, welfare, incarcerated, free and/or reduced lunch, etc), and the vertical axis is the percentage of students scoring either a 4 or a 5 on the PARCC (that is, the highest levels). Both are for mathematics; the first one is for regular DC public schools, and the second is for the charter sector.

atrisk-dcps - Rebecca Wolf


atrisk-charters - Betsy Wolf

(Both of these graphs are copyright 2018 by Betsy Wolf, and if you click on them you can see enlarged versions.)

The first one shows that Janney, Ross, SWS, Key, and Mann elementary schools all have zero percent of their students classified as ‘at risk’, and have some the highest percentages (about 80%) in the entire city of their students scoring 4 or 5 on the math portion of the PARCC in all of DC.

Conversely, Luke Moore, Washington Metropolitan, and Roosevelt STAY — all alternative high schools — have nearly 100% of their students ‘at risk’ and have zero percent of their students scoring 4s or 5s on the PARCC. There are roughly 30 regular DC public schools that have over 75% of their students ‘at risk’. That’s a lot of kids. So the segregation by socio-economic status in the regular public schools is rather extreme. (Luke Moore happens to be about 6 blocks from my house; I’m not sure how often the students there actually attend class on a regular basis, based on how often, and when, I see students come and go.)

By comparison, there are only about six charter schools with over 75% of their students ‘at risk’. The negative correlation between the fraction of ‘at risk’ students and the fraction that ‘passes’ the PARCC with a 4 or a 5 is very strong in both the charter schools and the regular public schools, but more so in the latter (the first graph).

In the charter sector, there are many fewer schools with greater than 60% of their students scoring 4s or 5s (that is, above the fourth gray horizontal line, counting from the bottom). Also, there are fewer charter than public schools with less than 25% of their students at risk (that is, to the left of the second gray vertical line, counting from the left).

Interestingly, there are a number of somewhat anomalous charter schools that don’t seem to fit the stereotypes: Lee Montessori, Shining Stars and Roots have NO students ‘at risk’, but fairly low fractions of their students scoring high on the math PARCC, and we have four of the KIPP Schools (Spring, Lead, Promise, and Heights) which have middling concentrations of ‘at risk’ students but relatively high scores on the PARCC. (Shining Stars happens to be less than a block from my house, and I see apparently prosperous, professional families, many European-American, dropping off and picking up their kids every morning and every afternoon.)

Why these anomalies? That bears some further investigation, but my colleagues who have taught at various KIPP schools have told me me that the KIPP system is quite effective at weeding out non-compliant students.


Answer: NO.


The Math Teacher’s Job is Neither to Teach the Lesson, Nor to Help Individual Students Who are Struggling!

….but rather, to prepare a lesson from which ALL the students can learn!

… according to the way that Japanese math teachers are taught their craft, as described below. You will find that these methods, which include Lesson Study, are pretty much the exact opposite of American “Direct Instruction” or “Teaching Like A Champion.”  Given that nobody claims that Japanese students lag behind American ones in math or science, perhaps we in the US could profit from examining how other nations’ teachers do it. Note also that this description is of mathematics lessons in elementary school, not middle or high school.

Please read the following description and leave comments on what you think.

From Tom McDougal. Lesson Study Alliance, Chicago [and brought to my attention by Jerry Becker. – GFB]
It’s not the teacher’s job to teach the students!

By Tom McDougal

What?? You might be thinking. What else could the teacher’s job be but to teach?

The teacher’s job is to ensure that students learn, all of them, we hope, though we know we will usually fall short.

In Japan, most (elementary) math lessons are designed as  “teaching through problem solving” lessons (TtP). A teaching through problem solving lesson typically includes the following parts:

1.  introduce the problem
2.  explicitly pose the task for students
3.  students work on the task (5-10 minutes)
4.  share student ideas
5.  compare and discuss the ideas for the purpose of learning new mathematics
6.  summarize major points from the lesson
7.  student reflections

(There is sometimes overlap, and a back-and-forth between some of these, e.g. #4 & #5 may be combined.)

While students are working on the task (#3), the teacher walks around the room, monitoring their progress. Japanese educators have a term for this, kikkan shido, or  “providing] guidance between the desks.” They recognize that there are different ways to do kikkan shido, and it is often a subject of discussion in Lesson Study. During planning, for example, a team will usually discuss how – or whether  – the teacher should respond to a student who exhibits a particular misconception; during the post-lesson discussion, there may be argument about whether the kikkan shido was effective. And, it is considered a skill that new teachers need to develop.

Teachers who are inexperienced with TtP lessons often make an unfortunate error while doing kikkan shido: they see a student who is struggling, or who has done something wrong, and they stop and help that student. After several minutes the teacher moves on, encounters another student who is having trouble, helps that student, and so on. Then, suddenly, time is up, and the lesson ends.

There are at least four important drawbacks to this type of kikkan shido. First, as my description suggests, it uses up a lot of time. The teacher may never get around to all of the students, and other students who need help may never get it. Second, by addressing misconceptions privately rather than publicly, the teacher deprives other students of the opportunity to analyze those misconceptions and learn why they are incorrect. Any experienced teacher knows that certain misconceptions are very common, so when one student makes an error that stems from a common misconception, that offers an opportunity to “inoculate” other students against making the same error sometime later.

The third problem with tutoring students individually is that it conflicts with the whole premise of teaching through problem solving. You expect that some, or even all, of the students will have difficulty with the task; that’s why it’s called “problem solving” and not “practice.” Teaching through problem solving involves an expectation that students will have difficulty, but that the comparison and discussion phase will address their difficulties and that, by the end of the lesson, all (or almost all) of the students will have learned what they need to know.

And fourth, we want to help students learn to give viable arguments and to critique the reasoning of others, the third Standard for Mathematical Practice in the Common Core State Standards. To accomplish this, we need for students to share and discuss different, perhaps conflicting solutions. Students need to do the critiquing, not the teacher.

Of course, some errors are simply the result of sloppiness, or otherwise unrelated to the main learning goals of the lesson. So when the teacher sees an error while conducting kikkan shido, he or she has to decide: should this be addressed privately or publicly? What should I say to this student? Do I expect that, by the end of the lesson, this student will understand what he or she has done wrong? This is a tricky decision, and an important part of lesson planning is anticipating different student responses, correct and incorrect, and deciding ahead of time how to handle them.

Caring teachers naturally feel drawn to help struggling students: they feel like it is their duty to help those students right now. To counteract that impulse, I say, bluntly:

It is not the teacher’s job to teach the students. It’s the teacher’s job to create a lesson that teaches the students.


Some debate in Chevy Chase (DC) on significance of latest NAEP scores …

On a local DC list-serve for the region where I last taught (and also went to Junior High School), I posted this:


Those of us with kids in Chevy Chase – DC, either now, in the future, or in the past, have seen many changes in education here in DC, especially since 2007, when the elected board of education was stripped of all powers under PERAA and Chancellor Rhee was appointed by Mayor Fenty.
[I personally went to Junior High School here at Deal back in the early 1960s, taught math in DCPS from 1978 to 2009, including 15 years at Deal (much to my surprise) and my own kids went K-12 in DCPS, graduating from Walls and Banneker, respectively]
Was mayoral control of schools in DC a success? Is the hype we have all heard about rising test scores for real?
We now have statistics from  NAEP* for about two decades, and we can compare scores for various subgroups before and after that 2007 milestone.
Did Black students make faster improvements after PERAA than beforehand? Nope. To contrary: their scores were inching up faster *before* 2007 than they have been doing since that time.
Did Hispanic students make faster improvements under the reformers? Nope, again.
How about students whose parent(s) didn’t graduate high school, and/or those who finished grade 12 but either never went to college or else didn’t earn a degree – surely they did better after Rhee, Henderson et al. took over? Again, no.
Then what group of students in Washington DC *did* make more progress on the NAEP after the Reformers took over?
You guessed it, I bet:
White students, and students with parents who earned a college degree.
Guy Brandenburg
*National Assessment of Educational Progress
Another person contested my assessment and wrote the following:
The NAEP is cross-sectional data, i.e. it does nothing to adjust for changes in composition of test-takers over time, which is why Steve Glazerman refers to comparisons of NAEP scores over time as “misNAEPery” [ 31061/bad-advocacy-research- abounds-on-school-reform] and I have referred to the same thing as “jackaNAEPery” [ wire/how-good-are-dcs-schools] .
There has been a dramatic, even shocking, compositional change since 2000 in births across the city, entering cohorts of students, and exit rates from DC schools and the city.
Most noticeably in NW, better educated parents are substantially more likely to have kids in DC, enroll them in DC public schools, and stay past 3rd grade.
Any analysis of test score change needs to grapple with that compositional change.
But more importantly, the compositional change itself is a policy outcome of note, which the DC Council and Mayor have an interest in promoting.
The only evidence one should accept must *at minimum* use longitudinal data on students to compute *learning* as opposed to static achievement, e.g. this analysis of 2008 school closures:
A lot of other things happened 1996-2008 of course, including a rapid expansion of charters, a shrinking proportion of DC residents attending private schools, etc.In 2008 alone, a lot of Catholic schools closed, and some converted to public charter schools.
During this time, we also had a voucher program that produced some gains early on, and then began to lower test scores relative to public options:
All of this is not to say DCPS and charter schools shouldn’t serve less advantaged students better than they do–obviously they should! But the evidence is nuanced, and DC has made huge gains across the board since the 1990’s that make attributing any changes to policy rather than shifting population composition problematic at best.
Interestingly, the NAEP data explorer [https://www. xplore/nde]does not report scores for white 8th graders in 1990, 1992, and 1996, presumably because too few were tested. I.e. the means by race show a lot of  “‡ Reporting standards not met.
[I personally attended DCPS (Hyde, Hardy, and School Without Walls) 1976-1989, have 2 children currently in Deal and SWW.]
Austin Nichols
I wrote a response to Nichols, but it hasn’t been posted yet, and might never be:
My previous reply got lost somewhere in cyberspace.
If looking at long-term trends in the NAEP and TUDA is ‘misnaepery’ or ‘jacknaepery’, as Mr Austin would have us believe, then the entire NAEP bureaucracy has been doing just that. (In fact, an entire branch of the National Center for Education Statistics is devoted to, yes, Long Term Trends: )
It’s a laughable idea that we could just use the tests chosen by DCPS and later by OSSE and administered every year, to tell how good DC public or charter schools are, over time. First of all, the tests administered here have changed dramatically. Back in the 1990s it was the CTBS. Then it was the SAT-9, developed by a different company. Then it was the DC-CAS, again, a different vendor. Now we have the PARCC produced by yet another vendor. We also know that in the past there has been major fraud with these tests, committed by adults, in order to gain bonuses and keep their jobs. We also have no way of comparing DC with any other city or state using those tests, since only a handful of states even use the PARCC and for all I know, their cut scores and questions might be different from what we use here in DC.
The idea of measuring median student improvement from year to year might appear to have some merit, until you talk to students and teachers involved. You discover that many of the older students see no reason to take the tests seriously; they bubble in, or click on, answers as fast as possible, without reading the questions, in order to be free to leave the room and go do something else. Any results from that test are simply unreliable, and it is simply not possible to tell whether DC education policies have improved over time based on the PARCC, DC-CAS, SAT-9, or CTBS, no matter what sort of fancy statistical procedures are employed.
With the NAEP, on the other hand, there has never been any suggestion of impropriety, and the same agency has been devising, administering, and scoring these tests for decades. We have no other nation-wide test that has been systematically given to a random sample of students for any length of time.
Obviously the 4th or 8th graders who took the NAEP in 2017 were not the same ones who took it in 2015. (Duh!) However, we do in fact have a record of NAEP scores in every state and DC since the 1990s, and they are also broken down by lots of subgroups. Obviously DC is gentrifying rapidly, and there are more white students in DCPS than there were 10 or 20 years ago. If we trace the various subgroups (say, African-American students, or Hispanics, or students whose parents didn’t finish high school, or whatever group you like), you can watch the trends over time in each subgroup. However, Mr Austin does inadvertently raise one valid point: since the proportion of black students in DC is decreasing, and the proportion of white students with college-educated parents is rising, then the natural conclusion would be that this gentrification has *inflated* overall scores for 4th and 8th grade students in DC (and DCPS), especially since 2007. Which is more evidence that ‘reform’ is not working. Not evidence that we should throw the scores out and ignore them completely.
Those trends show something quite different from what Mayor Bowser keeps proclaiming. For one thing, if you look at the simple graphs that I made (and you can examine the numbers yourselves) you can see that any improvements overall in DC, or for any subgroups, began a decade before the ‘reformers’ took over DC schools. ( see to begin poking around.) Secondly, for most of the subgroups, those improvements over time were greater before Rhee was anointed Chancellor. Only two groups had better rates of change AFTER Rhee: white students, and those with parents with college degrees – the ones that are inflating overall scores for DC and DCPS during the last decade.
I would note also that the previous writer’s salary is paid by one of the Reform organizations supported by billionaires Gates and Arnold. You can look at the funding page yourself ( page 3 at ). I suspect that when ‘reform’ advocates say not to look at our one consistent source of educational data, it’s because they don’t like what the data is saying.
Guy Brandenburg

Mayoral Control of Schools in Washington DC Appears to have Benefitted Children of College Grads, But Nobody Else

The reason given for having the office of the Mayor (originally Adrian Fenty) take over the school system in Washington DC, and abolishing all the powers of the elected school board, was to help the poorest kids.

But that’s not how it worked out, according to official test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Using those stats, harvested for me by the parent of a former student of mine from the NAEP database, we see that children in DC whose parents did NOT finish college made lower gains after 2007 (the date of the changeover) than they did before that date. However, children of college graduates in DC made higher gains after 2007.


And yet another sign that the education ‘reform’ movement is a complete failure.

Here are my graphs and raw data. (Right-click to see them enlarged, if you have a PC – not sure what to do if you have an Apple product.)

annualized gains pre and post mayoral control, DC, 8th grade math, by parental education

The vertical orange line shows the date (June of 2007) when Michelle Rhee was appointed as the first Chancellor of DC Public Schools. The black, dashed line represents average scale scores on the 8th grade math NAEP for students who reported that their parent(s) graduated from college, and the other lines shows scores for kids whose parent(s) did or did not graduate high school, had some college courses. The thin, double blue line represents those students who were unsure of their parental education.

I asked Excel to calculate the annual rate of change pre- and post-mayoral control, and you can see the results in the last two columns. The boxes filled in with yellow are the ‘winners’, so to speak. Note that for the period 2000-2007, the annualized change in NAEP scale scores on the 8th grade NAEP math test in DC is 2.63, which means that on the average, that group of students (yeah, it’s a different group of students for each testing event) saw their scores rise by 2.63 points per year, or 5.26 points every two years. However, for the period 2007-2017, after mayoral control, that same group of students saw their gains cut nearly in half – it tumbled to 1.41 points per year. Kids whose parents did graduate from high school (but went no further) and those whose parents had some education after high school, also saw their rates of increase tumble drastically. Kids who were unsure of their parental education levels or who didn’t report it also saw a drop, but not so large: dropping from 2.08 down to 1.88 points per year.

The only group which saw their annualized scores increase after mayoral control were the children of college graduates: their rate went from 1.16 points/year to 2.60 points per year, which to me looks rather significant.

Ironic, huh?

And here are the results for reading:

annualized gains pre and post mayoral control, dc, 8th grade reading, by parental education

Once again, the results for students whose parents did NOT graduate from college (the first three lines of the table) tumbled dramatically after mayoral control. However, students whose parents did graduate from college (the fourth line) saw a dramatic increase. The last line, representing kids who didn’t know or didn’t report their parental education, saw a little uptick after mayoral control.

Remind me again why  we got rid of the elected school board and put the mayor in charge? Was it really to make sure that the ‘haves’ would get more and that the ‘have-nots’ would have less?

Let me point out the obvious: white parents in DC are overwhelmingly college-educated. Those in DC who did not graduate from high school, or who graduated from 12th grade and went no further, are overwhelmingly African-American or Hispanic. So our ‘reforms’ have had a disproportionately negative impact on black and hispanic students, and a positive one on white kids.

Was that really the intent all along?

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