Even Big Edu-‘Reformers’ Can See That Their Plan Has Failed

I’m cutting and pasting one of Peter Greene’s latest columns:

AEI: Voiding the Choice Warrantee

Posted: 20 Mar 2018 11:38 AM PDT

The American Enterprise Institute has a new report  that calls into question one of the foundational fallacies of the entire reform movement. Think of it as the latest entry in the Reformster Apostasy movement.

Do Impacts on Test Scores Even Matter? Lessons from Long-Run Outcomes in School Choice Research asks some important questions. We know they are important questions because some of us have been asking and answering them for twenty years.

Here are the key points as AEI lists them:

For the past 20 years, almost every major education reform has rested on a common assumption: Standardized test scores are an accurate and appropriate measure of success and failure.

This study is a meta-analysis on the effect that school choice has on educational attainment and shows that, at least for school choice programs, there is a weak relationship between impacts on test scores and later attainment outcomes.

Policymakers need to be much more humble in what they believe that test scores tell them about the performance of schools of choice: Test scores should not automatically occupy a privileged place over parental demand and satisfaction as short-term measures of school choice success or failure.

Yup. That’s just about it. The entire reformster movement is based on the premise that Big Standardized Test results are a reliable proxy for educational achievement. They are not. They never have been, and some of us have been saying so all along. Read Daniel Koretz’s book The Testing Charade: Pretending To Make Schools Better for a detailed look at how this has all gone wrong, but the short answer is that when you use narrow unvalidated badly designed tests to measure things they were never meant to measure, you end up with junk.

AEI is not the first reform outfit to question the BS Tests’ value. Jay Greene was beating this drum a year and a half ago:

But what if changing test scores does not regularly correspond with changing life outcomes?  What if schools can do things to change scores without actually changing lives?  What evidence do we actually have to support the assumption that changing test scores is a reliable indicator of changing later life outcomes?

Greene concluded that tests had no real connection to student later-in-life outcomes and were therefor not a useful tool for policy direction. Again, he was saying what teachers and other education professionals had been saying since the invention of dirt, but to no avail.

In fact, if you are of a Certain Age, you may well remember the authentic assessment movement, which declared that the only way to measure any student knowledge and skill was by having the student demonstrate something as close to the actual skill in question. IOW, if you want to see if the student can write an essay, have her write an essay. Authentic assessment frowned on multiple choice testing, because it involves a task that is not anything like any real skill we’re trying to teach. But ed reform and the cult of testing swept the authentic assessment movement away.

Really, AEI’s third paragraph of findings is weak sauce. “Policymakers should be much more humble” about test scores? No, they should be apologetic and remorseful that they ever foisted this tool on education and demanded it be attached to stern consequences, because in doing so the wrought a great deal of damage on US education. “Test scores should not automatically occupy a privileged place…”? No, test scores should automatically occupy a highly unprivileged place. They should be treated as junk unless and until someone can convincingly argue otherwise.

But I am reading into this report a wholesale rejection of the BS Test as a measure of student, teacher, or school success, and that’s not really what AEI is here to do. This paper is focused on school choice programs, and it sets out to void the warrantee on school choice as a policy.

Choice fans, up to and including education secretary Betsy DeVos, have pitched choice in terms of its positive effects on educational achievement. As DeVos claimed, the presence of choice will not even create choice schools that outperform public schools, but the public schools themselves will have their performance elevated. The reality, of course, is that it simply doesn’t happen.The research continues to mount that vouchers, choice, charters– none of them significantly move the needle on school achievement. And “educational achievement” and “school achievement” all really only mean one thing– test scores.

Choice was going to guarantee higher test scores. They have had years and years to raise test scores. They have failed. If charters and choice were going to usher in an era of test score awesomeness, we’d be there by now. We aren’t.

So what’s a reformster to do?

Simple. Announce that test scores don’t really matter. That’s this report.

There are several ways to read this report, depending on your level of cynicism. Take your pick.

Hardly cynical at all. Reformsters have finally realized what education professionals have known all along– that the BS Tests are a lousy measure of educational achievement. They, like others before them,  may be late to enlightenment, but at least they got there, so let’s welcome them and their newly-illuminated light epiphanic light bulbs.

Kind of Cynical. Reformsters are realizing that the BS Tests are hurting the efforts to market choice, and so they are trying to shed the test as a measure of choice success because it clearly isn’t working and they need reduce the damage to the choice brand being done.

Supremely Cynical. Reformsters always knew that the BS Test was a sham and a fraud, but it was useful for a while, just as Common Core was in its day. But just as Common Core was jettisoned as a strategic argument when it was no longer useful, the BS Test will now be tossed aside like a used-up Handi Wipe. The goal of free market corporate reformsters has always been to crack open the vast funding egg of public education and make it accessible to free marketeers with their education-flavored business models. Reformsters would have said that choice clears up your complexion and gives you a free pony if they thought it would sell the market based business model of schooling, and they’ll continue to say– or stop saying– anything as long as it helps break up public ed and makes the pieces available for corporate use.

Bottom line. Having failed to raise BS Test scores, some reformsters would now like to promote the entirely correct idea that BS Tests are terrible measures of school success, and so, hey, let’s judge choice programs some other way. I would add, hey, let’s judge ALL schools some other way, because BS Testing is the single most toxic legacy of modern ed reform.


Ten Years of Educational Reform in DC – Results: Total MathCounts Collapse for the Public AND Charter Schools

Just having finished helping to judge the first three rounds of the DC State-Level MathCounts competition, I have some sad news. NOT A SINGLE TEAM FROM ANY DC PUBLIC OR CHARTER SCHOOL PARTICIPATED. Two kids from Hardy MS were the only ones from any DC public or charter school.

I was in the judging room where all the answer sheets were handed in, and I and some engineers and mathematicians had volunteered to come in and score the answers.*

In past years, for example, when I was a math teacher and MathCounts coach at Alice Deal JHS/MS, the public schools often dominated the competitions. It wasn’t just my own teams, though — many students from other public schools, and later on, from DC’s charter schools, participated. (Many years, my team beat all of the others. Sometimes we didn’t, but we were always quite competitive, and I have a lot of trophies.)

While a few public or charter schools did field full or partial teams on the previous “chapter” level of competition last month, this time, at the “state” level I am sad to report that there were none at all. (Including Deal. =-{ )

That’s what ten years of Education ‘Reform’ has brought to DC public and charter schools.

Such excellence! a bunch of rot.

In addition to the facts that

  • one-third of last year’s DCPS senior class had so many unexcused class absences that they shouldn’t have graduated at all;
  • officials simply lied about massive attendance and truancy problems;
  • officials are finally beginning to investigate massive enrollment frauds at desirable DC public schools
  • DCPS hid enormous amounts of cheating by ADULTS on the SAT-9 NCLB test after Rhee twisted each principal’s arm to produce higher scores or else.
  • the punishment of pretty much any student misbehavior in class has been forbidden;
  • large number of actual suspensions were in fact hidden;
  • there is a massive turnover of teachers and school administrators – a revolving door as enormous percentages of teachers break down and quit mid-year (in both public and charter schools);
  • there isfraudulent manipulation of waiting lists;
  • these frauds are probably also true at some or all of charter schools, but nobody is investigating them at all because they don’t have to share data and the ‘state’ agency hides what they do get;
  • DC still has the largest black-white standardized test-score gap in the nation;
  • DC is still attempting to implement a developmentally-inappropriate “common core” curriculum funded by Bill Gates and written by a handful of know-it-alls who had never taught;
  • Rhee and Henderson fired or forced out massive numbers of African-American teachers, often lying about the reasons;
  • they implemented a now-many-times-discredited“value-added method” of determining the supposed worth of teachers and administrators, and used that to terminate many of them;
  • they also closed  dozens of public schools in poor, black neighborhoods.

Yes, fourth-grade NAEP national math and reading scores have continued to rise – but they were rising at just about that exact same rate from 2000 through 2007, that is to say, BEFORE mayoral control of schools and the appointment of that mistress of lies, fraud, and false accusations: Michelle Rhee.

So what I saw today at the DC ‘state’-wide competition is just one example of how to destroy public education.

When we will we go back to having an elected school board, and begin having a rational, integrated, high-quality public educational system in DC?


* Fortunately, we didn’t have to produce the answers ourselves! Those questions are really HARD! We adults, all mathematically quite proficient, had fun trying to solve a few of them when we had some down time — and marveled at the idea of sixth, seventh, or eighth graders solving them at all! (If you are curious, you can see previous year’s MathCounts questions here.)

DC’s Education ‘Reformers’ Have No More Morals or Ethics Than Trump and his Mafia Cronies

I’m not going to list all the ways that the Trump organization caters to foreign dictators, launders money for corrupt kleptocrats, lies about how they are ‘for the American worker’ while giving enormous tax breaks to American billionaires, and so on.

But let’s list some of the ways that DC’s education ‘Reformers’ (starting with Michelle Rhee) have lied and defrauded the citizens, students, teachers and other staff in Washington, DC.

Latest: Brand-new Chancellor Antwan Wilson pulls strings with the Deputy Mayor of Education for DC (Jenny Niles) so that he can transfer his kid from Duke Ellington School of the Arts to Woodrow Wilson SHS. Niles is caught red-handed and is forced to resign. (One difference: Donald Trump never resigns, never admits fault under any circumstances, no matter how obviously guilty he is)

[edit: Of course, this is not the first time that DC has seen such string-pulling to bypass the supposedly fair lottery system: there were similar scandals just last year. I guess the difference was that this time, someone resigned (or was forced to), and it was the Chancellor who was the personal beneficiary of the change. Last year, nobody resigned, and it was the Chancellor who was pulling those strings for other high-ranking DC officials.]

Before that: All of the DC education brass, including previous Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Michelle Rhee, as well as current mayor Bowser keep patting themselves on the back for supposedly having the fastest-improving school system in the nation, with dramatic reductions in suspensions and increases in graduation rates.

Later the facts came out: many of the students who misbehaved were put out of school and told not to return until their parents came in for a conferencer, but were not officially listed as suspended. So, the numbers of official suspensions went down, but the actual suspensions didn’t.

(From my own position as a retired teacher, I do think that there are times that a student must, in fact, be removed from a classroom until he/she calms down, makes restitution, has a conference with administrators and parents, or some such event. Schools that basically forbid a teacher ever to send a child out of the classroom for misbehavior are schools where chaos will reign. And I have seen such schools, both charters and regular public schools, here in DC. I have heard from teachers at schools that were pressured to reduce suspensions (e.g. one or more of the KIPP schools) that you then have kids roaming the halls.)

Also: news recently came out that enormous numbers of graduating seniors in DCPS had so many unexcused absences that they could not have passed even a single one of their courses. Massive fraud was imposed on the schools because teachers were forced to give nearly every single student a passing grade, even though on any given day, perhaps only 20% of the students enrolled in any given course were actually present. The truancy rate is mind-boggling, and actually has been getting worse since Rhee took power.

Let’s also recall that Michelle Rhee’s resume was full of lies, most a complete fabrication, from her completely fabricated 90-13-90-90 statistics from Baltimore in the mid-1990s, to her nonexistent glowing writeups in the Wall Street Journal.  She also illegally fired hundreds of DC teachers and lied about the reasons. She lied when she claimed that the teachers’ union prevented her from giving grants to teachers for supervised after-school study sessions. She essentialy forced all of her principals to promise to reach nearly-impossible-to-reach goals on test scores, without providing them with extra resources like counsellors, social workers, bilingual teachers, or anything else. Principals took the strong hint and held ‘eraser parties’ where they erased wrong answers on answer sheets, and bubbled in the correct answers with #2 pencils. Quite a few ended up winning large bonuses. Former Noyes principal Wayne Ryan, who was apparently the most prolific organizer of this sort of cheating, got promoted to deputy chancellor for instruction.

[Edit: after USA printed a series of hard-hitting articles outlining the fraud, an outside commercial firm (A&M) with no expertise in cheating on tests was brought in and whitewashed whatever they could. Controls were tightened up to prevent cheating, and guess what: the schools where evidence showed that staff had erased and fixed the largest number of answers — saw the largest drops back to test levels more in line with what they were obtaining before the cheat-fest.]

Of course, when the news came out of how he had won those awards, instead of being publically repudiated and terminated, Ryan was quietly allowed to resign. And so did Rhee.

Of course, Rhee wasn’t so quiet. She claimed she was going to raise billions of dollars from millions of citizens and set up a “reform” organization to fight against teacher unions and so on. Her organization raised a few million from a few billionaires, but quietly went out of business.

[edit: Also recall that Rhee and Henderson signed an agreement committing themselves to truly astonishing numerical growth goals in education in DC. The other partners to this set of promises were foundations set up by a handful of billionaires such as the Broad Walton, and Arnold foundations (I see that my link to the original document has died, and I am not sure to find it any more). Inspired by information compiled by my former colleague Erich Martel, I wrote a long series of articles examining how well R&H did. They didn’t score a zero, as you might expect. I found that their score was 2.8%. Yes, they failed to reach 97.2% of their goals. But they didn’t quit in shame over that; nor did the press even mention it. ] 


More on the DC Education Frauds

This article appeared in Education Week, which is behind a paywall, so I’m pasting it here. In case you haven’t been watching, just about all of the supposed improvements in DC’s publicly-funded education sector have either been:

(a) continuations of trends begun before Mayor Fenty took control of DC Public Schools in 2007 and appointed Michelle Rhee Chancellor; or

(b) the result of changing demographics (more white kids, more black kids from relatively-affluent families, and fewer kids from highly-poverty-stricken families; or

(c) simply the result of fraud.



D.C.’s Scandal and the Nationwide Problem of Fudging Graduation Numbers


The headlines made a big splash, and yet they were strangely familiar: Another school system was reporting a higher graduation rate than it deserved.

The most recent scandal-in the District of Columbia-is just the latest example in a growing case file of school systems where investigators have uncovered bogus graduation-rate practices.

Those revelations have unleashed a wave of questions about the pressures and incentives built into U.S. high schools, and fueled nagging doubts that states’ rising high school graduation rates-and the country’s current all-time-high rate of 84 percent-aren’t what they seem.

The newest round of reflections was triggered by an investigation, ordered by the D.C. mayor’s office, that found that 34 percent of last year’s senior class got diplomas even though they’d missed too much school to earn passing grades, or acquired too many credits through quick, online courses known as credit recovery. Only three months earlier, the school system touted a 20-point rise in its graduation rate over the last six years.

“It’s been devastating,” said Cathy Reilly, the executive director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals, and Educators, a group that focuses on high school issues in the District of Columbia. “It’s made people here feel that our graduation rate gains weren’t real.”

A National Problem

Such revelations are hardly confined to the nation’s capital. In the last few years, a federal audit found that California and Alabama inflated their graduation rates by counting students they shouldn’t have counted. News media investigations showed that educators persuaded low-performing students in Atlanta and Orlando, Fla., to transfer to private or alternative schools to eliminate a drag on their home schools’ graduation rates.

See AlsoThe D.C. Public School Attendance Scandal: Where’s the Outrage? (Commentary)The drumbeat of graduation-rate fudging has opened the door to renewed attacks on the pressures imposed on schools by accountability rules, particularly the high stakes that some systems attach to specific metrics. In the District of Columbia, for instance, high school teachers and principals are evaluated in part on their schools’ graduation rates.

With those kinds of stakes, teachers can feel immense pressure to award passing grades to students who haven’t earned them, a dilemma that intensifies in schools with high rates of chronic absenteeism and academically struggling students.

In a survey of 616 District of Columbia teachers conducted after the scandal broke, 47 percent said they’d felt pressured or coerced into giving grades that didn’t accurately reflect what students had learned. Among high school teachers, that number rose to 60 percent. More than 2 in 10 said that their student grades or attendance data had been changed by someone else after teachers submitted them.

Scott Goldstein oversaw the survey as the founder of EmpowerEd, a year-old coalition of D.C. teachers that works to strengthen teacher leadership. To him, the results cry out for a new conversation about the “moral dilemmas” embedded in accountability systems that rely heavily on just a few metrics, like graduation rates.

“If you pass students [who haven’t completed course requirements], you’re leading them into a world they’re unprepared for. But if you fail them, you’re harming their lives in other ways,” said Goldstein, a social studies teacher at Roosevelt High School. Teachers’ decisions should rest on a professional appraisal of student mastery, not on fear for their own jobs, he said.

Pressure From the Top

Pressure to Graduate: Perspectives From Educators … read moreEven in school systems that don’t reward or penalize educators for their schools’ accountability metrics, teachers can feel immense pressure from administrators on their grading practices.

In postings on social media, Education Week asked high school teachers if they’d ever felt pressure to give passing grades to students who hadn’t done the work.

“Never mind high school. I feel that pressure in 3rd grade,” said Annie, an elementary school teacher in central Virginia. She asked Education Week not to identify her so she could discuss sensitive issues.

She said her principal has cautioned her not to fail any student or recommend that they repeat a grade because she “doesn’t want anyone to feel bad about not succeeding.” When she gave a student a D recently, she was summoned to a meeting with the principal, Annie said.

“She was upset. She said, ‘Why didn’t you work harder to get the student to turn in missing work, or re-do work?’ She sees a D as a teacher’s failure. But I think it’s a disservice to kids to give them grades they haven’t earned.”

John R. Tibbetts, who teaches economics at Worth County High School in rural Sylvester, Ga., and is the state’s 2018 teacher of the year, said his district’s policy doesn’t include course-failure rates in teachers’ evaluations. But his principal recently sent teachers an email conveying word from their superintendent that “failure rates … will be taken into consideration” in their evaluations anyway.

A Change of Approach

Tibbetts said he would like to replace that “threatening” posture with a more collaborative one.

“If the superintendent is concerned with course-failure or graduation rates, what we really need is for him to have a conversation with teachers about what we need to do to improve, what policies we can implement,” he said.

Education advocates who believe accountability can be a force for good worry that graduation-rate scandals could tarnish a tool that’s important for shining a light on inequities and applying pressure for school improvement.

They hope, instead, that uncovering problems can spark a rebalancing of the pressures and supports built into accountability systems, and change school practice to respond better to issues like students’ poor academic skills and chronic absenteeism.

“We shouldn’t stop paying attention to high school grad rates, or not have them in accountability systems,” said Michael Cohen, the president of Achieve, which works with states to raise academic expectations.

“The right response to all of this is to double down on efforts to support students, and to support teachers, early and consistently, so they’re not pressured to game the system and they can give kids what they need.”

Experts who study and track graduation rates acknowledge that in some places, the rates are inflated by cheating or inaccurate reporting. But they contend that those cases account for a tiny share of schools overall. Robert Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University researcher who studies graduation rates, estimates that those cases account for 2 to 4 percentage points in the national graduation rate.

‘Hard-Earned Gains’ Are Real

John Bridgeland, the chief executive officer of Civic Enterprises, a think tank that examines graduation rates for the annual “Grad Nation” reports, said his team has visited dozens of schools to find out what they’re doing to produce significant gains in their graduation rates.

In a few places, he said, he and his colleagues have had to shave 2 to 4 percentage points off the rates districts were reporting because they were improperly counting some types of students who shouldn’t be included, such as those who started home schooling in their junior year of high school.

But with few exceptions, Bridgeland said, his team has found that “the hard work” of better instruction and student support explains higher graduation rates.

“We need to call out the problems when gaming or cheating appears,” he said. “But at the same time, taking isolated examples of gaming the system and saying that high school grad rates are not real diminishes and undermines the many schools, districts, and states that have hard-earned gains and clear progress to showcase,” he said.

Those who study graduation-rate calculations point out that while they’re still imperfect, they’ve been much more reliable since 2008 when federal regulations began requiring all schools to calculate them the same way-the portion of each freshman class that earns regular diplomas four years later.

Balfanz said that more stringent calculation and reporting requirements “without a doubt” have been responsible for a very real rise in states’ graduation rates.

“People don’t remember the bad days before 2008, when schools were allowed to measure graduation rates however they wanted,” he said. “Kids dropped out, schools would code them as ‘whereabouts unknown,’ not as a dropout. No one knew, and no one cared. That wasn’t a good place. Accountability makes schools pay attention to a key outcome, like graduating our kids from high school.”

But even those experts acknowledge that there are still too many hidden variations in the way states report graduation-rate data. To get a more accurate understanding of schools’ graduation rates, they’ve quietly identified about a dozen variations that should be ferreted out and handled in uniform ways.

For example, even though federal rules don’t allow states to count summer graduates, or those who earn high school equivalency certificates, some still do. Some schools include summer graduates, or students in juvenile justice facilities. Others include teenagers who “transfer” into home schooling late in high school.

What’s Behind the Record Rises in U.S. Graduation Rates?

Education Week
New Federal Rule Could Force States to Lower Graduation Rates

Education Week
NCLB Rules Back Common Rate

Poverty vs Proficiency In DC Public and Charter Schools

You’ve all heard the slogan:

“A child’s course in life should be determined not by the zip code she’s born in.” Source

Reformers like Bush2, Barack Obama, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, Adrian Fenty, Bill Gates, the Bradleys and the Waltons, all said they were going to bust the educational effects of poverty in DC and other places around the country. Their chosen methods were gutting the teachers’ unions, establishing lots of charter schools, firing or forcing into retirement thousands of teachers, establishing a revolving door of inexperienced teachers who almost all crash and burn out after a few years, and transforming schooling into all testing and test prep, all the time, especially on-line, so as to collect lots of data.

Have they been successful at solving the zip-code-and-destiny problem?

If we look at the only publicly-available data that we have for Washington, DC, namely PARCC scores and percentages of students who are designated as ‘At Risk’, the answer is:


Look at these two graphs, which I’ve prepared by matching the percentages of students scoring ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ in Washington, DC, at every single DC public school and charter school, versus OSSE’s official list of the percentages and numbers of students officially designated as being ‘At Risk’.

Unfortunately, the correlation is extremely strong, and negative. In other words, the fewer the kids who are officially ‘At Risk’ at any given school, the higher the percentage of kids scoring ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ on the PARCC – the Big Standardized test given in April of 2017. And obversely the greater the percentage of students at risk at any school, the lower the percentage of students ‘passing’ the PARCC.

The effect is particularly strong in the English and Reading part of the test.

(Note: I didn’t make up the ‘At Risk’ category. It’s relatively new, but combines statistics regarding homelessness, receiving food, living in poverty, divorces, family members being incarcerated, and so on.)

Here is the graph I made for the English Language Arts test. That R-squared correlation, 0.7016, is one of the strongest correlations you will find anywhere in the social sciences.

2017 ELA Parcc, proficient vs at risk, public and charter

Now here is the graph for the Math section of the PARCC:

2017 math PARCC proficiency vs at risk, public and charter

This is certainly not an indication that education ‘reform’ in DC has been a success. After more than a decade.

Next time I’ll break this down into charters and public schools. I think you will find that many of the charter schools have populations near the middle of these charts, while the regular DC public schools have populations near the extremes.

Many thanks to Ruth Wattenberg, Mary Levy and Matthew Frumin for showing me where these data files were kept – here and here. Any errors are my own.



Who’s Graduating from DC Public and Charter High Schools Without, uh, Going to School or Doing Any Work?

You’ve heard about the scandal.

But it’s not just Ballou.

It’s extremely widespread at all of the regular, ‘comprehensive’, ‘neighborhood’ DC public high schools, but it’s not just there.

Let’s look at the data.

I did just that for each graduating class, at each publicly-financed high school in DC (i.e. the regular public schools as well as the charter schools), for June of 2015, 2016, and 2017. I figured out what fraction of the students at each and every school managed to receive a diploma despite missing 30 percent or more of the school year (i.e. missing 54 days of school) according to the report published by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education for DC and conducted by Alvarez and Marsal.

(I’m not making this data up, though I would not be surprised to discover that I have copied a few numbers incorrectly. If you find any such errors, please let me know! And please examine the report yourself!)

We know that many of the charter schools, and the selective public high schools like Ellington, Banneker and Walls, can and do find ways to get rid of (or not admit) students with very poor attendance and work habits. To be fair, a few DC charter schools (e.g. Kingsman and Maya Angelou) do make an effort to work with this sort of hard-to-educate student.

The OSSE/A&M report makes it clear that at the non-selective regular public high schools like Anacostia, Ballou, Cardozo, Dunbar, Eastern, and so on, the pressure on teachers to pass and promote students is enormous, even if the students don’t attend class, do almost no work, pass no tests, write no papers, and complete no projects. See my excerpt here.

Here is the graph for SY 2016-2017:

all high schools -2017 percent of graduating class with enormous numbers of absences

Note that I did not have accurate data for Walls or Banneker. The orange bars are the charter schools, and the blue ones are for the regular public schools. Eight charter high schools reported no such students.

Notice that at Woodson SHS, about 75% (that’s three quarters) of the graduating class missed 30% of the school year! (That is, 54 days — well over an entire marking period of school!) At Ballou and Luke Moore, about 66% of the class that was absent that much!

Let me emphasize: this does not mean that those students failed and had to repeat the 12th grade. No: they were given diplomas. Despite very clear DC municipal regulations (DCMR) stating that anybody missing that much school must fail.

In many cases, teachers were forced by the administration to give the students passing grades. In other cases, administrators unilaterally changed failing grades to passing ones. In others, students were allowed to do some trivial exercises for an hour or two on a computer, and were then rewarded with a passing grade for the year. That’s called ‘credit recovery.’ In other instances, despite the student not having received passing grades or fulfilling other requirements spelled out in DCMR, they got diplomas anyway.

Increases in ‘graduation’ rates may make administrators look good, but doesn’t educate the students at all — except to learn that the entire public school system in DC has been turned into a joke, and that rules mean nothing. It also teaches teachers that they are wasting their time actually assigning projects, papers, tests or quizzes since they know that for the most part, a student who is absent much or most of the time will pass their class and be given a diploma anyway.


Let’s compare this to the previous school year, SY 2015-16:

all high schools grad absences 2016

and here is the corresponding graph for SY 2014-15:

all high schools absences 2015

And lastly, let us look at the percentage of formally ‘At Risk’ students at each of these schools. This is not a category I am making up: it’s official, composed of a composite of things like the percentage of homeless students, those on TANF or food stamps, and so on.

At Risk students 2017

Once again, blue columns are for the regular DC public high schools, and orange represents charter schools. (I couldn’t find the data for National Collegiate.) It is clear that there is not a 1:1 correlation between the number of students ‘At Risk’ and levels of absenteeism. It is also clear that at many regular DC public schools, the actual policy is to NOT hold students accountable for much of anything.

In my opinion, simply warehousing students until they turn 18, and not ensuring that they have learned a lot of important stuff, is not exactly doing those kids any favor. If anything, that is precisely the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ that the education reformers who run the educational system in DC and elsewhere around the country, warned against.

This enormous attendance and grade fraud that OSSE, NPR, WAMU, this writer, and many others have been documenting here in Washington DC, provides yet more evidence that the bipartisan educational ‘reforms’ of Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Adrian Fenty, Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, the Walton family, and a bunch of other billionaires and their servants, has been a colossal and expensive failure.

Vision of a Dystopian Education Future, Coming to Kids Near You

Not sure who wrote this, but if this is where education is going, it’s not a future I want anybody to grow up in. Not my kids, not my grand-kids, nobody.

Computerized education can really suck.

{Update: “Wrench in the Gears” is Alison McDowell; the section I referenced is the third of a series}

Automated Education: Building Sanctuary Part 5

Progress (or not) in DC public schools after democracy was discarded

I continue looking at the (lack of) miraculous progress in education in the District of Columbia, my home town, ever since PERAA was passed and the democratically-elected school board was stripped of all of its power.

Today I am comparing the progress of successive cohorts of white, Hispanic, and black students about 11 years afterwards as shown on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which is given nation-wide to carefully-selected samples of students. In a few months we will have the 2017 NAEP scores available, which I will add on to these graphs. So far, however, I do not see any evidence that the gap between the reading and math scores for 4th or 7th grade students in DC — which is the largest gap of any city or state measured – has been eliminated.

Look for yourself.

As in my previous posts, I drew a vertical red line in the year 2008 (not a NAEP testing year) because that separates the scores obtained under the ancien regime and the scores under PERAA. The NAEP is not given every single year, and in some years, scores were not published for some groups because of statistical reliability issues. I drew in dotted lines in those cases. All my data is taken from the NCES DATA explorer, and you are free to check it yourself.

Here are my graphs for 4th and 8th grade math. Click on them to see an enlarged version. Do you see any evidence of the educational miracle that is often advertised as happening AFTER mayoral control of schools? Me neither.


And here are my graphs for 4th and 8th grade reading:

Again: Do you see any miracle happening after that vertical red line?

You can see my previous posts on this here and here.

Has Mayoral Control In DC Caused A Miracle Regarding Hispanic Students?

I will now post graphs showing how Hispanic students in fourth and eighth grade in DC have scored in math and reading in comparison to other US large cities and the nation’s public schools. As with the previous post, I drew a thick, vertical, red, dotted line showing where the previous, democratically-elected school board was replaced by mayoral control under a law called PERAA.

Here are the ‘average scale scores’ for eighth-grade Hispanic students in math and reading in DC (green), the NAEP sample of Hispanic 8th graders in US large cities (orange), and the NAEP sample of all Hispanic 8th grade students in public schools:

Do you see a miracle that happened to the right of that dotted red line?

I don’t.

What I do see is that in math, the rate of improvement for DC’s Hispanic 8th graders from 2000 to 2007 (under democratic local control of schools) seems considerably faster than the corresponding rate afterwards (under mayoral control).

In reading, it seems like Hispanic 8th grade students in DC were scoring generally higher than their national peers, but after PERAA, they scored lower than their peers. Some miracle.

Let’s look at 4th grade:

Once again, from 2000 through 2007 (under local democratic control of schools), the rate of increase in DC Hispanic students’ scores in both math and reading was considerably higher than after the mayor took over.

Some miracle.

No Signs of Educational Miracle in Washington DC, 10+ Years After Gutting Elected School Board

You may recall that Congress and the DC City Council got rid of local control of the public schools in Washington back in 2007, passing a law whose acronym is PERAA. Michelle Rhee was anointed as the first Chancellor (a brand-new position) in June of that year, only accountable to Mayor Fenty. She told lots of lies and alienated almost the entire non-white population of DC, but she had the full and complete backing of the Washington Post and the rest of the billionaires (Gates, Walton family, Arnold, etc) who think they know exactly how to fix public education.

When Fenty was primaried out of office by a pissed-off electorate before his first term expired, it was clear to most pundits that many of the voters were doing so because they felt Rhee (and by extension Fenty) was so toxic.

It’s now been ten and a half years since that attack on the ‘public’ part of public education in DC. There has been no move to return to an elected school board – an institution which was the first democratically-elected public board in Washington DC in the 20th century. In that time, the charter school enrollment in DC has climbed to nearly equal the enrollment in traditional public schools.

(Not that there is anything miraculous about the charter schools here in general: Over 40 of them have been closed by the PCSB itself either for mismanagement and/or fraud and/or academic failure and/or low enrollment, though 120 remain. That is a huge fraction, and my list of closed schools is about four years out of date! One more charter school just got closed down four days ago, a few months after it was celebrated as a wondrous success by Betsy DeVos, Melania Trump, and the Queen of Jordan. )

But the test scores!

The biggest argument of backers of PERAA and the crazy mix of public and charter schools is basically this: test scores are going up in DC, which shows that what we did worked.

Some of the DC NAEP test scores are in fact going up over time, but:

(1) They were going up, at about the same rate or even higher, BEFORE the gutting of democratic control of schools in 2007 (see graphs below). This means that whatever it is that is slightly raising the average NAEP test scores in DC was in fact going on in DC public schools well before Rhee was appointed;

(2) The gap between scores of white kids and black kids in DC is still the highest anywhere in the nation; and the gap between the top and bottom on the NAEP has gotten much wider since PERAA.

(3) If you look at PERAA’s supposed success in fighting poverty by new educational structures and techniques and all-year-round testing, you will see that there has been no miracle. Among the charter schools AND the public schools, the correlation between poverty markers and test scores is very, very strong, and negative: the higher the percentage of formally denoted ‘at-risk’ students, in general, the lower the school average scores.

Let me show you a few graphs that show point #1.

(I used the NAEP data, since it’s administered nationally, is almost impossible for administrators or teachers to cheat on, and we know that there has been a LOT of cheating on the locally-administered tests like the DC-CAS or PARCC. Not to mention that the local tests keep being changed, drastically. I’m not saying that any of these tests really measure the most important things in a child’s education, but they are the yardstick being wielded by our overlords, so it makes sense to see if their lordships actually measure up. I claim that they don’t.)

My first two graphs show “average scale scores” on the NAEP in reading and math for black eighth-grade DC youngsters over time, starting about 20 years ago and going up to 2015, and compared to all national public school 8th grade black students, and to their AA 8th-grade counterparts in all large US cities. (The 2017 scores should be published this spring).

The DC scores are in green. National Public scores are in blue, and the Large City scores are in orange.

There is a heavy, dotted, vertical, red line separating the period prior to mayoral control and the period afterwards. Look carefully: is there a big difference in trends from, say, 2000-2007 and 2007- 2015?


Me, I don’t see one, really, except that in math, for some reason, all three groups saw a small drop in 2015, which makes me suspect some sort of a test glitch. In 8th grade reading, there has been essentially no closing of the gap between 8th grade black students in DC and those elsewhere.

On the other hand, in math at the 8th grade among AA students, that same gap (between DC and elsewhere) has essentially been closed, thanks to steady growth from the year 2000 and 2013. Hmm: PERAA began about half-way through that period, so it didn’t by itself cause that growth!

Now let’s take a look at fourth-grade NAEP scores for the same groups (African-American students in DC, all US Large Cities, and the National Public School sample, over the past couple of decades:

I see two things:

(1) It looks like the gap between black fourth grade students in DC and their national counterparts has essentially closed, thanks to fairly steady progress since the year 2000 (in math) or 2002 (in reading);

(2) On the other hand, you could make the argument that the rate of growth was stronger before PERAA (Mayoral Control of DC Schools) than it was afterwards!

Something to think about on this anniversary of the birth of MLK Jr, and during the 50th anniversary of his murder.

Next I’ll look at the same sort of thing for Hispanic students and white students.


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