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?

DCPS consultant writes that there is little correlation between principal evaluation scores and VAM (or IVA) scores

I quote from an official DCPS report written by a consultant named Rachel Curtis in the employ of the Aspen Institute:

“DCPS analyzed the relationship between TLF rubric scores and individual teacher value-added scores based on the DC-CAS.

“At this early stage in the use of value-added analysis nationally, the hope is that there is a strong correlation between a teachers’ score on an instructional rubric and his or her value-added score. This would validate the instructional rubric by showing that doing well in instruction produces better student outcomes. DCPS analysis at the end of the first year
of IMPACT suggests that there is a modest correlation between the two ratings (0.34). 

DCPS’s correlations are similar to those of other districts that are using both an instructional
rubric and value-added data. A moderate correlation suggests that while there is a correlation between the assessment of instruction and student learning as measured by standardized tests (for the most part), it is not strong. At this early stage of using value-added data this is an issue that needs to be further analyzed.”

Ya know, if if the educational Deformers running the schools today were honest, they would admit that they’re still working the bugs and kinks out of this weird evaluation system. They would run a few pilot studies here or there, no stakes on anyone, so nobody cheats, and see how it goes. Then either revise it or get rid of it entirely.

Instead, starting in Washington, DC just a few years ago, with Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty leading the way locally and obscenely rich financiers funding the entire campaign, they rushed through an elaborate system of secret formulas and rigid rubrics, known as IMPACT. It appears that their goal of demoralizing teachers and convincing the public that public schools need to be closed and be turned over to the same hedge fund managers that brought us the current Great Depression, high unemployment rates, foreclosures. While the gap between the very wealthiest and the rest of the population, especially the bottom 50%, has become truly phenomenal.

Here’s a little table from the report, same page:

(Just so you know, I’ve been giving r^2 in my previous columns, not r. I believe they are using r; to compare that to my previous analyses, if you take 0.34 and square it, you get about 0.1156. That means that the IVA “explains” about 12% of the TLF, and vice versa. Pretty weak stuff.

Would I be alone in suggesting that the “hope” of a strong correlation has not been fulfilled? In fact, I think that’s a pretty measley correlation, and it suggests to me the possibility that neither the formal TLF evaluation rubrics done by administrators, nor the Individual Value-Added magic secret formulas, do an adequate or even competent job of measuring the output of teachers.

A Way for the Most Affluent Folks to Really Help Improve Public Education

There is one very straightforward way that well-educated, upper-income families could help improve the public schools.

Send your kids to the local public schools, and get involved.

Your kids WILL survive.

In fact, since they probably carry half of your genes, and since you nurture them every day, they will most likely still do well in school, well enough to get into a good college and have a good life. Your kids aren’t the fragile little flowers you may think. The sturm and drang of adolescence will happen no matter where they go to school, but all the evidence I’ve heard (including from my own two kids, who went K-12 through DC public schools, thank you very much) indicates that there is a lot LESS use of illicit drugs in the public schools.

Plus, you and your children will actually get to know kids and parents from all kinds of backgrounds: African-American and Hispanic and European-American kids whose parents do important work that keeps our society running — many of them in blue-collar or pink-collar jobs. Your kids would grow up with deeper connections, understanding, and sympathy for the kids and families who are not as well off as you are. If they grow up to be managers, they will know much better how to relate to the rank-and-file workers…

Evidence for that comes from a study of upper-Northwest DC students who attended Murch and Lafayette elementary schools. Some of them went on and continued in DC public schools, and others transferred at various grade levels to private schools. The study showed no statistically significant difference in whether those kids were accepted at selective colleges and universities or not.

What’s really alarming about this study is how self-defeating many of these affluent parents really are. Why spend a quarter of a million dollars on seven years of private school, when your kids could end up taking and passing AP classes at the local public high schools, for free, (as did my own kids) and still get into decent or excellent colleges? (see page 38 of the report) More evidence: when I taught at Alice Deal JHS/MS in the same area of town, my MathCounts teams were very competitive with the local private schools. Sometimes we were #1, sometimes the private schools beat us. My old school and I still have lots of “Mathletic” trophies to prove this. And my own kids did quite well on their AP exams, too.

Take a look at this table of data from the report (page 8):

If you look at the table, you can see that zip codes 2008, 20015 and 20016 in Washington DC are  overwhelmingly composed of relatively affluent, well-educated, professional/manageral, white families. Who overwhelmingly send their kids to private schools.

What’s really sad is that many of those families claim to know exactly what’s wrong with the DC public school system and how to fix it: they were the core of the support for Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee and their totally wrong-headed approach to public education.

Seems to me that if these families were on the inside of DCPS, they would have a much better idea of what’s wrong and how it could be improved, rather than the facile answers provided by the billionaires who are simultaneously wrecking the world economy and telling the rest of us how to run our educational system.

And their kids do just fine.


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