A Bit More on the Fraudulent Grades and Promotions in DC Schools

Anybody interested in reading the official OSSE/Alvarez & Marsal report on grade inflation and phony graduations in many DC high schools, both public and charter, can read it here.

You might be wondering, how did the Ballou administration get teachers to give passing grades to students who were not present and did no work?

Simple:

Any teacher who had a student failing their class for any reason had to fill out numerous, complicated, and time-consuming documents showing that the teacher had given the student all sorts of interventions to save them from failing. This might sound like a good idea, but think about it: A high school teacher typically has 100 students or more; if half or more of them are chronically absent (and hence failing), the teacher (not the student) who intended to give all those students the F grades they deserved would have to actually perform hundreds of hours of labor filling out documents showing how they were going to perform a miracle: get the student to come to class and study. The student would never actually be required to show any real evidence of actually learning anything. The teacher would be punished, instead. So, many teachers simply caved in.

From page 19 of Interim Report:

“Teachers at Ballou described direct and indirect pressures from school-level leadership, particularly the Principal and Assistant Principals to pass, advance, and graduate students regardless of content mastery. Administrators required teachers to demonstrate and document the completion of many interventions for any student receiving a failing grade, often despite the teacher’s communication that students were excessively absent and performing little to no school work. The Administrative burden to fail students in accordance with grading policy is extremely high and generates a significant amount of extra work for teachers who wish to adhere to the DCPS grading policy. In many cases teachers were left with the choice of developing additional documentation of supports and missing strictly enforced grading deadlines, possibly incurring negative personnel/review repercussions, or simply passing students. The Ballou Administration required this process for students who were failing due to excessive unexcused absence, despite the DCMR requirements that students with greater than 30 unexcused absences shall receive a failing mark for the year.

So how bad was it, and was the Friday DC City Paper correct?

Very bad, and yes, the DC City Paper interpreted the graphs in the report correctly, but a number of people misinterpreted things. I will try to rectify this.

Here are two graphs from the Alvarez & Marsal/OSSE report, for Anacostia HS (which did not make the news the way Ballou did, but had similar attendance issues). I think I see what the DC CP did wrong.

anacostia HS graph 1

The legend is a bit small, but the gist is this: only students with the light aqua blue color have satisfactory attendance, which is seen as missing less than about 9 days of school (5% of the school year). All the other colors indicate that the student was absent a LOT more than that. For example, the bright red bars indicate students who have missed over HALF the school year — over 90 days!!!

Note that the two bars on the left represent school year 2014-15, the middle bars are for 2015-16, and the right two bars are for the school year that ended in June of 2017. In each case, the left hand bar is for the students who graduated, and the right-hand bar is for students who did not graduate. I notice that roughly 24% of the non-graduates in 2014-2015 had satisfactory attendance, as opposed to perhaps 2% of the graduates. Why that is the case, I have no idea, and I wonder if the two bars got switched.

I think this graphic really should have been in the form of a circle graph with proportionally-sized circles, so we could see easily that there were almost as many non-graduating seniors back in 2014-5 but many fewer non-graduating seniors last year.

The next graph is the one that I think confused the writers at DC CP:

anacostia HS graph 2

What this graph does NOT say is that 91.1% of the seniors at Anacostia in 2017 missed 30 to 50 percent of their classes AND that another 40% of them missed half or more of their classes — that is logically impossible.

It’s saying something different:

Of the Anacostia students with profound chronic absences in 2017, 91% of them still managed to graduate, in violation of DC Municipal Regulations.

Plus, of those who missed over half of the school year (‘extreme chronic absence’), 40% of them still managed to graduate.

And, as you can see, the problem indeed did worsen over time.

Now, let’s look at Ballou:

ballou HS graph 1

If I am reading those numbers correctly, about 97% of Ballou’s graduating seniors last year missed 18 or more days of school, and about two-thirds of them missed over fifty days of school!! What’s more, it looks like 23% (47 students out of 159 + 47) didn’t graduate at all, which contradicts the propaganda that all of the seniors there both graduated and were accepted into college.

And here is the confusing graph:

ballou HS graph 2

What this says, first of all, the Ballou administration allowed the truancy situation to get worse over the last three years. For instance, in 2017, of the 50 students with Profound Chronic Absences, about 88% of them still graduated – that’s the ones who missed between 54 days and 90 days of school. And of the ones who had Extreme Chronic Absence (i.e. missed more than half of the school year), about 63% of them still graduated. Amazing.

Here is Wilson, and then we’ll look at a charter school that (like many of the non-selective neighborhood DC public schools) serves a challenging population.

wilson graph 1

The graph indicates that at Wilson, which is by far the largest high school in DC, public or charter, it is again possible to graduate while having missed literally months of school, and the situation is getting worse over time, which is shown most clearly by the graphic below, which rise as you go from left to right. According to this graph, last year, of the 49 students with Profound Chronic Absence (missing between 30% and 50% of the school year), 96.1% of them still managed to graduate. And of the 17 students who missed more than half the school year, a full 81% of them still managed to be awarded a high school diploma.

wilson graph 2

Now let’s look at Maya Angelou Charter HS, which clearly has major attendance issues as well. The second graph reads ‘DS’ because there were fewer than 10 students; it should not be read as meaning that there weren’t any students who graduated despite excessive absences.

maya angelou graph 1

maya angelou graph 2

In fact, by my calculations (and since I’m not bound by OSSE’s data rules), in 2017, two-thirds (67%) of the thirty students in the Profound Chronic Absence category received a diploma. In 2016, the corresponding figure is 33%, and 17% of the students in the Extreme Chronic Absence category received a diploma. In 2015, 63% of the Maya Angelou 12th grade students in the “Profound” category received diplomas, and 11% of the students in the “Extreme” category that year did, as well.

One could remake the graph in this manner:

maya angelou graph 3

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Note: after looking at the DC City Paper graphs and the ones in the report, I realized that the DC CP graphs were correct.

 

 

 

School choice? Or is it, “schools get to choose”?

A commenter on my blog wrote:

“School policies elevate some students and discourage others. It would most beneficial to our children if we could select a school based on what’s best for each child. When children, who love reading, writing and math, dread going to school because it’s dull an filled with policies that discourage higher-level thinking, it’s time to offer parents school choice with the ability for students to direct the $26,000 being paid for an average education and put it towards payment for and independant school. For middle income students, the independant schools will pick up the balance with financial aid. Just saying.”

I replied, and am now ‘revising and extending’ my remarks:

The average payment per pupil is nowhere near $26,000, it’s about half or less of that. Don’t forget that private schools (including parochial ones) only enroll a small fraction of the entire K-12 cohort in the US. There is absolutely no way they could absorb all of the ‘middle income students’ in America, and definitely could under no circumstances be able to ‘pick up the balance with financial aid’. If you are gonna be ‘saying’, then try saying something plausible.

Private schools, don’t forget, have the ability to pick and choose their students. Public schools do not have that privilege, unless they are a magnet-type school like Banneker SHS and School Without Walls HS in DC where my own kids went. Most charter school boosters will deny it, but charter schools can and do pick their student bodies. (but they have to be subtle about it)

Here’s any easy way to make sure your student body does NOT have the students from the most dysfunctional families:

Anybody who has had real contact with the poorest and most-down-and-out students in public schools can tell you of families where getting a parent or guardian to sign ANYTHING and also SHOW UP for an interview, is a completely impoossible goal to reach. Which means that the kids from the most-dysfunctional families won’t be applying to the highly-regarded charter schools here in DC like ELHaynes or Washington Latin or Yu Ying.

However, if a student from such a family DOES manage to pull him/herself together, write the application herself, coerce a guardian into both signing AND showing up, or arrange to change guardianship to an actually competent family member or friend, why, then that school has just managed to garner a real striver – somebody who is willing to work very hard to improver herself.

The ones who have already succumbed to despair, cynicism, or the allure of deeply criminal life and whose parents are missing in action?

Nope, no, practically never You won’t have those students even completing the application process. To the magnet schools or application charter schools. Problem neatly solved for the magnet schools and many charter schools.

The way we run education in this country seems to be a profoundly undemocratic way of running schools – and dare I say, a very umcharitable and un-Christian way as well if you define Christianity as being the precepts put forth in the Sermon on the Mount…

{Yeah, I don’t believe in any gods at all, but I was raised an Episcopalian Christian, and I certainly have read a lot of the Old and New Testaments, including a little bit in Hebrew. I know there are many, many highly incompatible versions of Christianity, including the ones who claim that Christ urges us to become rich and to cast stones against the unfortunate. (Seems to me those Christians pretty much ignore everything that is attributed to Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, but one could easily define Christianity ]

And it all goes back to the utter hypocrisy of the stirring words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – all written while he himself  held hundreds of captive men, women, and children enslaved and completely deprived of their Lives, their Liberty and any means of pursuing Happiness, unless they managed to escape somehow.

And where only a small minority of even the free white males could vote – those who were sufficiently wealthy. And where even teaching ANY African-American to read and write was a major criminal offense in many states!

It’s taken a lot of struggle over the past 240 years to get the right for all adults to vote, and the right for all children to go to school and get a good education, to be extended to ALL citizens. We still have forces finding new and interesting ways of denying darker-skinned and poorer citizens both of those rights. And when we see what conditions are like at Sidwell Friends School (where the Obama and Clinton kids attend(ed)) and at Hart Middle School (where only poor and working-class black families send their kids), the contrast in what we provide to kids for their Pursuit of Happiness is extremely stark.

Compare Charles Hart MS in far southeast Washington (over the Anacostia River on Mississippi Avenue in  Ward 8, the city’s poorest and most isolated region) which I tried to present here but ran into a snag with my computer. It’s a large building, about 150 meters long, but its entire ‘playground’ is a seldom-used asphalt basketball court. Nothing else.

Sidwell Friends’ upper Northwest middle-school campus covers almost three full city blocks, has tennis courts, a manicured football field, a soccer field atop a covered garage, and award-winning environmentally-conscious classroom buildings. And a very large chapel. And several other buildings. It lies between Cleveland Park and Tenleytown, two of the highest-priced, and nearly all-white, neighborhoods, of DC.

Children can watch the news on TV or whatever. They know the differences in how kids are treated. They aren’t stupid. They get the message that we, as a society, are sending.

(Disclosure: My brother went to Sidwell Friends over 50 years ago. I taught at a school like Hart in Anacostia called Moten MS, about 33 years ago. Night and day in terms of funding, classroom conditions, and wealth of families.)

 

 

 

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