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.


Hechinger Report on Finland’s Schools

Here are some of the recommendations made after a visit to Finland to visit their schools:


8) Shorten the school day. Deliver lessons through more efficient teaching and scheduling, as Finland does. Simplify curriculum standards to a framework that can fit into a single book, and leave detailed implementation to local districts.

9) Institute universal after-school programs. Include play clubs, homework help, decompression and relaxation time, as well as academic and non-academic enrichment activities. Make them free or low-cost. This will significantly boost parent and family well-being by allowing parents to harmonize their schedules with their children’s.

10) Improve, expand and destigmatize vocational and technical education.   Encourage more students to attend schools in which they can acquire valuable career/trade skills.

11) Launch preventive special-education interventions early and aggressively. Destigmatize and integrate special-education students as much as possible, as is done in Finnish schools.

12) Revamp teacher training toward a medical and military model. Shift to treating the teaching profession as a critical national security function requiring government-funded, graduate-level training in research and collaborative clinical practice, as Finland does.

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.

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: https://educationdc.net/2018/08/27/how-did-dcs-parcc-scores-grow/

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.


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” [https://ggwash.org/view/ 31061/bad-advocacy-research- abounds-on-school-reform] and I have referred to the same thing as “jackaNAEPery” [https://www.urban.org/urban- 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. nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/ 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: https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ltt/ )
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 https://bit.ly/2K3UyZ1 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 https://urbn.is/2II1YQQ ). 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?

Why Did NAEP Scores Fall in 2017 in DC and Elsewhere?

Live by the sword, die in the same manner.

‘Reform’ leaders (bankrolled by billionaires like Bill Gates, the Koch Brothers, and the Walton family and a handful of hedge-fund managers) have justified their mission to destroy public education because of ‘low test scores’ under elected leadership; teachers must not be given the right to have an official, collective voice in working and teaching conditions; and any school with low test scores (i.e. those with poor, black, immigrant, and/or brown students and families) needs to be turned over to the tender mercies of the free market — charter schools and vouchers, making it easier for corporations and well-connected individuals to vacuum up billions of taxpayer funds.

Pretty much all of the school systems in the country have now succumbed to the rule of the education ‘reformers’. So let’s see how well that’s working out in test scores, namely, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. If the scores go up at all under the hegemony of the ‘reformers’, then the billionaires and privatizers tend to shout it from the rooftops and to get editorial boards of friendly newspapers (like the Washington Post) to cheer about it.

When the dismal results were announced at the National Press Club last week, I didn’t hear or read so much crowing. Let’s see why by looking at this graph of Average NAEP Scale Scores for all 4th grade students in a number of locations. If you look at the right-hand end of the graph, or at the last few columns of the table, these trends are now not looking so good. They are either flat or trending slowly downward.

4th grade math, all students, dc + national + city, 1990-2017

Not such great news if you are a supporter of the billionaires and privatizers: even by their own yardstick, their scheme isn’t really working. At the national level (which includes public and private schools of all types), the scores in 2017 were exactly the same as they were TEN YEARS EARLIER (2007). Same thing happened in the public schools, too!

Imagine! Ten years of zero progress under the privatizers!

In Washington, DC, the leveling-out has happened a bit more recently, but we must note that in the entire city (public, charter, private, and parochial), scores lm 2017 were the same as they were two years earlier, and in the regular DC public schools, the scores are LOWER than they were two years ago.

Maybe this is why these reformsters can’t keep a job and keep bouncing from city to city.


Is DC Truly the “Leader of the Pack” of other Cities in NAEP Scores?

Is DC Truly the “Leader of the Pack” of other Cities in NAEP Scores?

Did it leap from the tail of the pack to the head?


Or even to the middle?


True, it’s no longer in last place, but part of that is because a bunch of other cities with worse scores have now joined the ‘race’.

If Detroit had been one of the original NAEP-TUDA* cities, I bet Motor City would have placed last back in 2003, but we’ll never know, because there is no public data for that year, that I know of. It places right after in DC in charter-school penetration.

There is also no public data on New Orleans, in which all of the public schools were closed after the hurricane twelve years ago, and which has the highest proportion of its publicly-funded students in charter schools of anywhere in the nation.** Too bad we can’t see the data on that one. I predict NO-LA’s scores would be near the bottom as well, and so would the other school districts with really high charter school penetration – whose data is also hidden from view.

Don’t forget the growing number of white kids in DCPS (and in certain charter schools) such as at Alice Deal MS.

Oh well, I decided to graph the average NAEP scale scores in math for every single one of the 27 cities in TUDA.

8th grade math all naep tuda cities, all students

Look for yourself. DC is not even the top half, despite what you may have heard.

*Trial Urban District Assessment; National Assessment of Educational Progress

** Top 10 school districts by percentage of market share (source )

  1. New Orleans, LA (57%);
  2. Washington, D.C. (36%);
  3. Detroit, MI (32%);
  4. Kansas City, MO (29%);
  5. Dayton, OH (27%);
  6. Youngstown, OH (26%);
  7. St. Louis, MO (25%);
  8. Flint, MI (24%);
  9. Gary, IN (23%);
  10. Phoenix Union High School District, AZ (22%);
  11. and Minneapolis, MN (22%).

I know that graph is awfully hard to read. I am posting the raw data table here, put in order from high to low scores for 8th grade average NAEP scale scores for 2017. You will notice that out of 27 cities, DC is number 20.

data table, 8th grade all naep tuda reading all cities

Notice that the data for DC in the NAEP TUDA is not exactly comparable at all times from one year to the next. At one point they decided that for DC, this would only be for DCPS itself, not the private or charter schools. Oh, well.

What Do the Latest NAEP Results Tell Us About Education “Reform” in Washington, DC?

The usual gang of supporters of bipartisan education “reform” never tire of telling the world how wonderful education ‘reform’ has been in Washington, DC, what with the proliferation of charter schools, Congressional support for vouchers, a seriously handicapped teachers’ union, tremendous churn of teaching and administrative staff, tons of consultants, and direct mayoral control.

I’ve been among those saying that the results are NOT so wonderful. I have documented how virtually none of the promises came true that Chancellors Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson made about 8 years ago. They promised that the improvements in test scores, graduation rates and much more would go through the roof, but in fact, almost none of that came to pass. The recent scandals about truancy, absenteeism, phoney grades and illegitimate graduation rates have shown that much of their supposed successes have been purely fraudulent.

In addition, I showed recently that in fact, progress for a number of DC’s subgroups (blacks, whites, and Hispanics) on the NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading and math tests are further evidence of failure, since improvement rates per year BEFORE mayoral control cemented the rule of our ‘reformista’ Chancellors wee BETTER THAN they were AFTERWARDS.

I was asked by one of the members of DC’s now-powerless board of education to analyze changes over time for ALL of DC’s students as a group (not subdivided in any way) to compare pre- and post-‘reform’.

I made my own graphs using the data on the NAEP Data Explorer page, being careful to use the same vertical scale in each case, and starting at the lowest point, or nadir, of DC’s NAEP scores back in the 1990s. I asked Excel to calculate and draw the line of best fit for the data points. In each case, that ‘trend-line’ of linear correlation fit the data extraordinarily well. In fact, the R-values of linear correlation went from a low of 94% to a high of 99%. I didn’t use the graphs that the NAEP Data Explorer page provided, because they changed the vertical scale from situation to situation – so a rise of, say, 10 points over 20 years would look just about the same as a rise of, say, 60 points over 20 years. And they aren’t! So my vertical (y-axis scale) is 200 points in each case.

I also marked on the graphs where the dividing line was between the time when we had an elected school board (abolished in 2007) and the present, when we have direct mayoral control with essentially no checks or balances on his or her power.

So here are the graphs:

4th grade math, ANSS, all dc, 1996-20174th grade reading, ANSS, all DC, 1998-20178th grade math, ANSS, all DC, 1996-20178th grade reading, ANSS, all DC, 1998-2017

So do you see any miracles?

Me neither.

So what does all of this that mean?

  1. You need a good magnifying glass to see any significant differences in progress on the NAEP test scores for ‘all students’ in Washington, DC when comparing the two eras. The slopes of the dashed lines of best fit are essentially identical on the two sides of the purple line.
  2. Since the proportion of white inhabitants of DC and of students in DC’s publicly-funded schools have both increased markedly in the past 10 years, and the proportion of black residents and black students have decreased markedly, and this has skewed the graph in a positive direction after 2007.* That means that this data, and these graphs, are actually making the overall situation look more favorable to the reformistas.
  3. Anybody pretending that there are huge increases in national test scores after the reformistas took over education in DC, is blowing smoke in your eyes.


*Why? When you remove low-scorers and add high-scorers (on anything) to a group, the overall average score will go up.

Here is a sports example: A football coach has been given a roster consisting of these players:

  • twenty big, strong, and bulky linesmen and backs and so on. Let’s pretend their average weight is 280 pounds.
  • twenty relatively small, but very fit, place-kickers (actually, they are soccer players looking for a fall sport) who weigh an average of 180 pounds each.

The team’s average weight is exactly 230 pounds (That’s (20*280 + 20*180) / 40) .

At noon,  the coach realizes there is no need for so many place-kickers, and she cuts 15 of the placekickers, leaving five of them. Their papers say that each one in fact weighs 180 pounds.

NOTHING ELSE CHANGES. In particular, none of the players gain or lose any weight during these fifteen minutes that the coach is making these changes.

At a quarter past noon, the average weight of the team has now increased markedly. It is now (20*280 + 5*180) / 25, or 260 pounds – it has gone up by 30 pounds simply by cutting 17 of its least-heavy players.

Is that coach a genius, or what, at bulking up her team?

Actually, although it’s not the direct result of what any Chancellor has done, this situation is somewhat similar to what’s happening in DC. Remember that white students in DC are the highest-scoring group of white students anywhere in the nation, because their parents overwhelmingly have graduate or professional degrees; DC’s white working class left town decades ago. So when relatively low-scoring African-American students (from working-class families) move to PG County, and white students and their relatively-highly-educated families move into DC from wherever, the averages will increase much as they did in my example with the imaginary football team.



Add one more to the long list of recent DC public education scandals* in the era of education ‘reform’:

DC’s NAEP** test scores are increasing at a lower rate now (after the elected school board was abolished in 2007) than they were in the decade before that.

This is true in every single subgroup I looked at: Blacks, Hispanics, Whites, 4th graders, 8th graders, in reading, and in math.

Forget what you’ve heard about DC being the fastest-growing school district. Our NAEP scores were going up faster before our first Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, was appointed than they have been doing since that date.

Last week, the 2017 NAEP results were announced at the National Press Club building here on 14th Street NW, and I went in person to see and compare the results of 10 years of education ‘reform’ after 2007 with the previous decade. When I and others used the NAEP database and separated out average scale scores for black, Hispanic, and white students in DC, at the 4th and 8th grade levels, in both reading and math, even I was shocked:

In every single one of these twelve sub-groups, the rate of change in scores was WORSE (i.e., lower) after 2007 (when the chancellors took over) than it was before that date (when we still had an elected school board).

I published the raw data, taken from the NAEP database, as well as graphs and short analyses, on my blog, (gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com) which you can inspect if you like. I will give you two examples:

  • Black 4th grade students in DC in math (see https://bit.ly/2JbORad ):
    • In the year 2000, the first year for which I had comparable data, that group got an average scale score of 188 (on a scale of 0 – 500). In the year 2007, the last year under the elected school board, their average scale score was 209, which is an increase of 21 points in 7 years, for an average increase of 3.0 points per year, pre-‘reform’.
    • After a decade of ‘reform’ DC’s black fourth grade students ended up earning an average scale score of 224, which is an increase of 15 points over 10 years. That works out to an average growth of 1.5 points per year, under direct mayoral control.
    • So, in other words, Hispanic fourth graders in DC made twice the rate of progress on the math NAEP under the elected school board than they did under Chancellors Rhee, Henderson, and Wilson.


  • Hispanic 8th grade students in DC in reading (see: https://bit.ly/2HhSP0z )
    • In 1998, the first year for which I had data, Hispanic 8th graders in DC got an average scale score of 246 (again on a scale of 0-500). In 2007, which is the last year under the elected board of education, they earned an average scale score of 249, which is an increase of only 3 points.
    • However, in 2017, their counterparts received an average scale score of 242. Yes, the score went DOWN by 7 points.
    • So, under the elected board of education, the scores for 8th grade Latinx students went up a little bit. But under direct mayoral control and education ‘reform’, their scores actually dropped.


That’s only two examples. There are actually twelve such subgroups (3 ethnicities, times 2 grade levels, times 2 subjects), and in every single case progress was worse after 2007 than it was beforehand.


Not a single exception.


You can see my last blog post on this, with links to other ones, here: https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/20/progress-or-not-for-dcs-8th-graders-on-the-math-naep/ or https://bit.ly/2K3UyZ1 .




Why isn’t there more outrage?


*For many years, DC officials and the editorial board of the Washington Post have been bragging that the educational ‘reforms’ enacted under Chancellor Michelle Rhee and her successors have made DCPS the fastest-improving school district in the entire nation. (See https://wapo.st/2qPRSGw or https://wapo.st/2qJn7Dh for just two examples.)

It didn’t matter how many lies Chancellor Rhee told about her own mythical successes in a privately run school in Baltimore (see https://wapo.st/2K28Vgy ).  She also got away with falsehoods about the necessity of firing hundreds of teachers mid-year for allegedly being sexual predators or abusers of children (see https://wapo.st/2qNGxqB ); there were always acolytes like Richard Whitmire willing to cheer her on publicly (see https://wapo.st/2HC0zOj ), even though the charges were false.

A lot of stories about widespread fraud in the District of Columbia public school system have hit the front pages recently. Examples:

  • Teachers and administrators were pressured to give passing grades and diplomas to students who missed so much school (and did so little work) that they were ineligible to pass – roughly one-third of last year’s graduating class. (see https://bit.ly/2ngmemi ) You may recall that the rising official (but fake) high school graduation rate in Washington was a used as a sign that the reforms under direct mayoral control of education had led to dramatic improvements in education here.
  • Schools pretended that their out-of-school suspension rates had been dropping, when in actual fact, they simply were suspending students without recording those actions in the system. (see https://wapo.st/2HhbARS )
  • Less than half of the 2018 senior class is on track to graduate because of truancy, failed classes, and the like. ( see https://bit.ly/2K5DFx9 )
  • High-ranking city officials, up to and including the Chancellor himself, cheated the system by having their own children bypass long waiting lists and get admitted to favored schools. (see https://wapo.st/2Hk3HLi )
  • A major scandal in 2011 about adults erasing and changing student answer sheets on the DC-CAS test at many schools in DC in order to earn bonuses and promotions was unfortunately swept under the rug. (see https://bit.ly/2HR4c0q )
  • About those “public” charter schools that were going to do such a miraculous job in educating low-income black or brown children that DCPS teachers supposedly refused to teach? Well, at least forty-six of those charter schools (yes, 46!) have been closed down so far, either for theft, poor performance on tests, low enrollment, or other problems. (see https://bit.ly/2JcxIx9 ).



**Data notes:

  1. NAEP, or the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is given about every two years to a carefully chosen representative sample of students all over the USA. It has a searchable database that anybody with a little bit of persistence can learn to use: https://bit.ly/2F5LHlS .
  2. I did not do any comparable measurements for Asian-Americans or Native Americans or other such ethnic/racial groups because their populations in DC are so small that in most years, NAEP doesn’t report any data at all for them.
  3. In the past, I did not find big differences between the scores of boys and girls, so I didn’t bother looking this time.
  4. Other categories I could have looked at, but didn’t, include: special education students; students whose first language isn’t English; economically disadvantaged students; the various percentiles; and those just in DCPS versus all students in DC versus charter school students. Feel free to do so, and report what you find!
  5. My reason for not including figures separated out for only DCPS, and only DC Charter Schools, is that NAEP didn’t provide that data before about 2011. I also figured that the charter schools and the regular public schools, together, are in fact the de-facto public education system that has grown under both the formerly elected school board and the current mayoral system, so it was best to combine the two together.
  6. I would like to thank Mary Levy for compiling lots of data about education in DC, and Matthew Frumin for pointing out these trends. I would also like to thank many DC students, parents, and teachers (current or otherwise) who have told me their stories.


%d bloggers like this: