Where DC’s schools rank by family income, test scores, and ethnicity – NYTimes

The New York Times recently ran the results of some pretty fancy number-crunching for all sufficiently-large public school districts in the United States. They graphed family income against ‘years ahead or behind’ in school and also showed the discrepancies in each of those school districts among hispanics, whites, and blacks.

If you haven’t played with the graphs, I urge you to do so. I did a little bit, looking for Washington, DC, my home town, where I and my children attended and where I taught for 30 years. I already knew that DC has one of the largest black-white gaps anywhere in the nation – a gap that 9 years of Edu-Reform under Fenty, Rhee, Gray, Henderson various charter companies have not narrowed at all.

Notice the extremely tight correlation between family income and scores on achievement tests, and where the District of Columbia is situated on the graph.

disparities dcps nyt

This next plot shows where DC’s whites, hispanics, and blacks are situated on the graph (as well as for thousands of other school districts):

Disparities dcps wh blk his nyt

Notice that white students in DC’s public schools are nearly the wealthiest and highest-achieving group anywhere in the nation, while DC’s black students are very far behind in both income and achievement. DC’s hispanic students, to my surprise, are considered to be a bit above the middle of the income levels, but still rather far behind academically. (I actually rather doubt the data on those DC hispanic income levels, based on my own personal experiences with Hispanic families here in DC…)

Advanced Math Among American Students

An article in the Atlantic discusses the growing phenomenon of American students studying and succeeding in a wide variety of advanced mathematics courses and competitions. This includes organizations like MathCounts (which I coached at the JHS level for many years) as well as special summer math programs like MathPath, as well as math circles and AP calculus and statistics courses.

However, as the author notes:

National achievement data reflect this access gap in math instruction [between US poor kids and US rich kids – gfb]  all too clearly. The ratio of rich math whizzes to poor ones is 3 to 1 in South Korea and 3.7 to 1 in Canada, to take two representative developed countries. In the U.S., it is 8 to 1. And while the proportion of American students scoring at advanced levels in math is rising, those gains are almost entirely limited to the children of the highly educated, and largely exclude the children of the poor. By the end of high school, the percentage of low-income advanced-math learners rounds to zero.

Published in: on February 10, 2016 at 4:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Concise Primer on Privatization from Marion Brady

This is a concise primer, written by Marion Brady, on how the 1/100 of 1% have been privatizing our schools and getting away with it. -GFB

Advice column for pundits and politicians


Privatizing public schools: A primer for pundits and politicians


When, about thirty years ago, corporate interests began their highly organized, well-funded effort to privatize public education, you wouldn’t have read or heard about it. They didn’t want to trigger the debate that such a radical change in an important institution warranted.

If, like most pundits and politicians, you’ve supported that campaign, it’s likely you’ve been snookered. Here’s a quick overview of the snookering process.


The pitch


Talking Points: (a) Standardized testing proves America’s schools are poor. (b) Other countries are eating our lunch. (c) Teachers deserve most of the blame. (d) The lazy ones need to be forced out by performance evaluations. (e) The dumb ones need scripts to read or “canned standards” telling them exactly what to teach. (f) The experienced ones are too set in their ways to change and should be replaced by fresh Five-Week-Wonders from Teach for America. (Bonus: Replacing experienced teachers saves a ton of money.) (g) Public (“government”) schools are a step down the slippery slope to socialism.




Education establishment resistance to privatization is inevitable, so (a) avoid it as long as possible by blurring the lines between “public” and “private.” (b) Push school choice, vouchers, tax write-offs, tax credits, school-business partnerships, profit-driven charter chains. (c) When resistance comes, crank up fear with the, “They’re eating our lunch!” message. (d) Contribute generously to all potential resisters—academic publications, professional organizations, unions, and school support groups such as PTA. (e) Create fake “think tanks,” give them impressive names, and have them do “research” supporting privatization. (f) Encourage investment in teacher-replacer technology—internet access, I-pads, virtual schooling, MOOCS, etc. (e) Pressure state legislators to make life easier for profit-seeking charter chains by taking approval decisions away from local boards and giving them to easier-to-lobby state-level bureaucrats. (g) Elect the “right” people at all levels of government. (When they’re campaigning, have them keep their privatizing agenda quiet.)




If you’ll read the fine-print disclaimers on high-stakes standardized tests, you’ll see how grossly they’re being misused, but they’re the key to privatization. The general public, easily impressed by numbers and mathematical razzle-dazzle, believes competition is the key to quality, so want quality quantified even though it can’t be done. Machine-scored tests don’t measure quality. They rank.

It’s hard to rank unlike things so it’s necessary to standardize. That’s what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) do. To get the job done quickly, Bill Gates picked up the tab, got the CCSS “legitimized” by getting important politicians to sign off on them, then handed them to teachers as a done deal.

The Standards make testing and ranking a cinch. They also make making billions a cinch. Manufacturers can use the same questions for every state that has adopted the Standards or facsimiles thereof.

If challenged, test fans often quote the late Dr. W. Edward Deming, the world-famous quality guru who showed Japanese companies how to build better stuff than anybody else. In his book, The New Economics, Deming wrote, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Here’s the whole sentence as he wrote it: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it—a costly myth.”


Operating the weapon


What’s turned standardized testing into a privatizing juggernaut are pass-fail “cut scores” set by politicians. Saying kids need to be challenged, they set the cut score high enough to fail many (sometimes most) kids. When the scores are published, they point to the high failure rate to “prove” public schools can’t do the job and should be closed or privatized. Clever, huh?

The privatizing machinery is in place. Left alone, it’ll gradually privatize most, but not all, public schools. Those that serve the poorest, the sickest, the handicapped, the most troubled, the most expensive to educate—those will stay in what’s left of the public schools.


Weapon malfunction


Look at standardized tests from kids’ perspective. Test items (a) measure recall of secondhand, standardized, delivered information, or (b) require a skill to be demonstrated, or (c) reward an ability to second-guess whoever wrote the test item. Because kids didn’t ask for the information, because the skill they’re being asked to demonstrate rarely has immediate practical use, and because they don’t give a tinker’s dam what the test-item writer thinks, they have zero emotional investment in what’s being tested.

As every real teacher knows, no emotional involvement means no real learning. Period. What makes standardized testslook like they work is learner emotion, but it’s emotion that doesn’t have anything to do with learning. The ovals get penciled in to avoid trouble, to please somebody, to get a grade, or to jump through a bureaucratic hoop to be eligible to jump through another bureaucratic hoop. When the pencil is laid down, what’s tested, having no perceived value, automatically erases from memory.


Before you write…


If you want to avoid cranking out the usual amateurish drivel about standardized testing that appears in the op-eds, editorials, and syndicated columns of the mainstream media, ask yourself a few questions about the testing craze: (a) Should life-altering decisions hinge on the scores of commercially produced tests not open to public inspection? (b) How wise is it to only teach what machines can measure? (c) How fair is it to base any part of teacher pay on scores from tests that can’t evaluate complex thought? (d) Are tests that have no “success in life” predictive power worth the damage they’re doing?

Here’s a longer list of problems you should think about before you write.



America’s schools have always struggled—an inevitable consequence, first, of a decision in 1893 to narrow and standardize the high school curriculum and emphasize college prep; second, from a powerful strain of individualism in our national character that eats away support for public institutions; third, from a really sorry system of institutional organization. Politicians, not educators, make education policy, basing it on the simplistic conventional wisdom that educating means “delivering information.”

In fact, educating is the most complex and difficult of all professions. Done right, teaching is an attempt to help the young align their beliefs, values, and assumptions more closely with what’s true and real, escape the bonds of ethnocentrism, explore the wonders and potential of humanness, and become skilled at using thought processes that make it possible to realize those aims.

Historically, out of the institution’s dysfunctional organizational design came schools with lots of problems, but with one redeeming virtue. They were “loose.” Teachers had enough autonomy to do their thing. So they did, and the kids that some of them coached brought America far more than its share of patents, scholarly papers, scientific advances, international awards, and honors.

Notwithstanding their serious problems, America’s public schools were once the envy of the world. Now, educators around that world shake their heads in disbelief (or maybe cheer?) as we spend billions of dollars to standardize what once made America great—un-standardized thought.

A salvage operation is still (barely) possible, but not if politicians, prodded by pundits, continue to do what they’ve thus far steadfastly refused to do—listen to people who’ve actually worked with real students in real classrooms, and did so long enough and thoughtfully enough to know something about teaching.


Note: I invite response, especially from those in positions of influence or authority who disagree with me.

Marion Brady mbrady2222@gmail.com

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Valerie Jablow: Waste and Attrition in DC

Valerie Jablow is a parent on Capitol Hill (DC) and has a blog (EducationDC) where she delves into factual stuff – like the actual statistics concerning numbers of children in DC, in DCPS, and in the DC charter schools; as well as wasteful spending by the Mayor and DC City Council.

Here are some recent posts by her that she brought to my attention. I recommend reading them and taking some action. I also add what she wrote:

[Jablow] “posted a follow-up blog yesterday to Suzanne Wells’s great blog post about 4th to 5th grade attrition at Capitol Hill DCPS schools—and how that attrition is related to the recent PARCC scores. 
[Jablow’s] blog post is available here:
Suzanne’s blog post from September is here:
Also related to Capitol Hill and education issues are two other recent blog posts:

Revised HS PARCC ‘pass’ rates in English and Math in DC public and charter schools

My original graphs on the ‘pass’ rates for all DC publicly-funded high schools were incomplete, because I was using OSSE data only (Office of the State Superintendent of Education). A reader showed me where the DC charter school board (DC PCSB) posted their PARCC statistics and that gave me the pass rates for a couple of additional schools (Maya Angelou and BASIS IIRC). So here are the revised graphs which you can click on to enlarge:

2015 Math PARCC 'pass' rates, both public and charter schools in DC

2015 Math PARCC ‘pass’ rates, both public and charter schools in DC

2015 'pass' rates, public and charter high school math, PARCC, DC, 2015

2015 ‘pass’ rates, public and charter high school math, PARCC, DC, 2015

Note how many fewer students passed the PARCC math test than the reading test in DC. I haven’t yet seen any of the actual questions on either of the tests. But if these were tests that I had written and was using as a teacher with my students, I would likely conclude that the one with the much-lower scores was simply a much harder test, and I would probably do one of the following:

(A) “scale” the scores so that more students would pass, or else

(B) throw out the test results and try teaching with a different approach altogether, or else

(C) throw out the test and make one that at least a majority of students could pass if they’ve been paying attention.

{At my last school, if f I failed 80 to 90% of my students, I would have gotten an unsatisfactory evaluation and probably have gotten fired.}

Of course, this being the era when multi-billionaires who hate the very idea of public schools are in charge of said public schools, neither A, B or C will happen. In fact, my understanding is that the ‘cut’ scores for each of the categories of grades (meets expectations and so on) were set AFTER the students took the test, not in advance. So it was very much a politico-social decision that the vast majority of students were SUPPOSED to fail the math test.

Let me note strongly that by far the most effective way to have really good test scores for your school is to let in ONLY students who already get strong test scores. That’s how Phillips Exeter or Andover Academies or Riverdale or Sidwell Friends or or the Chicago Lab or Lakeside private schools do it, and that’s how Banneker, School Without Walls, Washington Latin, and BASIS do it. (Partial disclosure: I and some of my immediate family either went to, or worked at, some of those schools.) Teachers who are successful at those elite schools have a MUCH easier time teaching those students than do those who try to teach at school with large numbers of at-risk students, like Washington Metropolitan, Ballou, Cardozo, Maya Angelou, or Options public or charter schools. Idealistic teachers from elite schools who do transfer to tough inner-city public schools generally crash and burn, and I would predict that one of the easiest ways to lose your teaching job these days is to volunteer to teach at any one of the five latter schools.

Where DC is #1 on the NAEP

Of all the states and territories tested on the 2015 NAEP, there is one place where DC is Number ONE!

Unfortunately, it’s not a good #1.

We have, by far, the largest gaps between percentages of white and black students who are deemed ‘proficient’ or better. On every single test (8th grade, 4th grade, reading and math).

DC also the largest gaps between percentages of white and hispanic students – on every single test.

Our DC gaps are at least double the national gaps. And that’s not good. In fact, the gaps are anywhere between double and two-and-a-half times as large as the gaps nationally or the median of all states, as you see here:

gaps b-w and w-h

Kaya Henderson and Michelle Rhee really have some tremendous accomplishments, don’t they?


These scores, by the way, are for a carefully-selected sample of ALL students in Washington, DC – public, charters, private, and parochial. Rhee and Henderson and the various DC mayors have been in total control of all public and charter schools since 2007, with a school board that has exactly zero power and a teachers’ union that has lost almost any power to do anything meaningful to support teachers. And we have a teaching and supervisory force that is either brand-new (hired by Rhee or Henderson or by the heads of the many charter schools) or has passed all of the extremely difficult evaluations not once, but many times.

Trends on the NAEP give a clue as to why Arne Duncan quit

Seeing the rather large drop on the NAEP scores for students across the nation – results released at midnight last night – gives me the idea that Arne Duncan (secretary of education for the past 7 years) quit rather than face the blame for his failed policies. After all, he (and the rest of the billionaire deformer class) have been promising that if you open tons of unregulated charter schools, use numerology to fire many of the remaining veteran teachers, and make education into little more than test prep for all students of color or those who come from poor families, then the test results will improve.

Well, they didn’t improve.

I will let you see for yourself how the percentages of students deemed ‘proficient’ in 4th grade and 8th grade on the NAEP at the national level generally dropped. I include DC (where I come from), and in five other states – two that are high-performing (NH and Massachusetts) and three that are low-performing (CA, AL and NM).

The one bright spot for District residents is that DC is no longer the last in the nation in every category! DC students now have slightly higher percentages proficient in certain categories than two other impoverished states – New Mexico and Alabama, as you can see in the graphs below. (The graph for the District of Columbia is the light blue one at the bottom,)

On the other hand, the increases in percentages of students ‘proficient’ in DC since 2008, the first year after mayoral control was imposed and the elected school board was neutralized, are nothing but a continuation of previous trends.

As usual, if you want to take a closer look, click on the graphs.

% Proficient in 4th Grade Math: DC, Nation, MA, CA, NH, NM, AL through 2015

% Proficient in 4th Grade Math: DC, Nation, MA, CA, NH, NM, AL through 2015

Percentage 'Proficient' or Above on 4th grade NAEP reading through 2015, DC, Nation, AL, CA, MA, NH, NM

Percentage ‘Proficient’ or Above on 4th grade NAEP reading through 2015, DC, Nation, AL, CA, MA, NH, NM

8th grade math NAEP

8th grade math NAEP

8th grade reading

8th grade reading

How the various DC publicly-funded high schools (charter and regular public) did on the PARCC in reading/ELA and Geometry

I present a couple of graphs so that interested DC locals can see how the students at the various public and charter schools did on the PARCC test this past spring in reading/ELA and in Geometry.

Not all schools are listed, because quite a few did not have enough students taking the test. At least 25 student were needed for their scores to be reported. If the school does not have a bar next to the name, that means that nobody at that school got a 4 or a 5. As usual, you can click on the graph to make it larger. I color-coded the bars: blue for regular DCPS and orangey-yellow for the charter schools.

ELA pass rates - all DC public and charter schools

Geometry Pass rates - all DC public and charter high schools

For the sake of completeness, the following schools did not have at least 25 students taking the ELA test, so no score was reported:

  • Ballou STAY
  • Basis DC PCS
  • Incarcerated Youth Program, Correctional Detention Facility
  • Luke Moore Alternative HS
  • Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings (formerly Oak Hill)
  • Options PCS*
  • Roosevelt STAY at MacFarland
  • SEED PCS of Washington DC
  • Washington Metropolitan HS

And the following schools had less than 25 students taking the math test, so no score was reported for the school:

  • Ballou STAY
  • Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy-Chavez Prep
  • Incarcerated Youth Program, Correctional Detention Facility
  • Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings (formerly Oak Hill)
  • Options PCS*
  • Roosevelt STAY at MacFarland
  • Washington Metropolitan HS

Surprising Comparison of Charter and Regular Public School ‘Pass’ Rates on the HS PARCC

I was actually rather surprised to see that significantly larger percentages of regular DC public school students ‘passed’ the PARCC in both math and in reading than did DC charter school students.

If you don’t believe me, look for yourself at the OSSE press release.

What it says is that in the DC charter schools, 23% of the students ‘passed’ (got a 4 or a 5) on the English portion, whereas in the regular DC public schools, 27% ‘passed’.

And in math, they claim that only 7% of the charter school students ‘passed’, but 12% of the regular DC public school students passed.

Are you surprised, too?

A Few PARCC Scores Have Been Released for DC Public Schools

If you would like to see how District of Columbia public high school students did on the PARCC, you can look here at a press release from DCPS administration. This test was on ELA (reading) and Geometry. The scores for grades 3-8 have not yet been released.

The disparities in ‘pass’ rates between the DCPS magnet schools (Banneker and Walls) and every other DC public high school are amazing, particularly in geometry. Notice that several schools had not a single student ‘pass’. This year’s test gives students scores from 1 to 5; only a score of 4 or 5 is considered ‘college and career ready’ — although no studies have actually been done to determine whether that statement is actually true. Banneker and Walls have the lowest rates of students labeled ‘at risk’.

Here are two graphs which I cut-and-pasted from the press release. Click on them to enlarge them.


HS-PARCC geometry

Given what I’ve seen of the convoluted questions asked on released sample PARCC questions, it is no wonder that ‘pass’ rates dropped a lot this year, compared with previous years. The DC-CAS wasn’t a very good test, but PARCC is terrible.

Please keep in mind that public education in the District of Columbia has been under the control of DEformers like Michelle Rhee, Kaya Henderson, and the Gates and Broad foundations, for over 8 years now. The students taking this test last spring have been under their rule since they were rising third graders. Every single teacher in DCPS was either hired by Rhee or by Henderson or else passed numerous strict evaluations with flying colors, year after year, and has been teaching just as they were directed to – or else.

And this is the best that the DEformers can do?


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