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.


Weekly Roundup of Educational Resistance by Bob Schaeffer

{As usual, this list is collected and distributed by Bob Schaeffer, not by me.}

The U.S. Senate has joined the House of Representatives in responding to growing, grassroots pressure by voting to overhaul “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB). The bills passed by both the Senate and House reflect widespread rejection of failed top-down, test-and-punish strategies as well as the “NCLB on steroids” waiver regime dictated by Arne Duncan. While neither version is close to perfect from an assessment reform perspective, each makes significant progress by rolling back federally mandated high-stakes, eliminating requirements to evaluate educators based on student test scores, and recognizing opt-out rights. FairTest and its allies will closely monitor the conference committee working on compromise language to make sure the gains remain in the final bill sent to President Obama — the alternative is to keep the yoke of NCLB-and-waivers in place for at least two more years, if not much longer. Meanwhile, organizers in many states are keeping the spotlight on the problems of test overuse and misuse, modeling better practices and winning additional policy victories.

Remember that back issues of these weekly updates are archived at:

National End High-Stakes Testing to Help Fix Public Education: Key Civil Rights Leader
National U.S. Senate Rejects Proposal to Give Federal Government More Say in Identifying “Failing” Schools
National Both House and Senate NCLB Overhaul Bills Allow for Penalty-Free Test Opt Out
National “Race to the Top:” Lofty Promises and Top-Down Regulation Brought Few Good Changes to America’s Schools

Exit Exam on Way Out

Two Small Districts Set Opt Out Records

Opposition Coalesces Against Smarter Balanced Tests

Governor Vetoes Opt-Out Bill; State PTA Pushed for Override Vote

More than 10,000 Young People Who Did Not Pass Grad. Test Recently Received Diplomas

Hawaii Teachers Fight Evaluations Based on Student Test Scores

Why Common Core Tests Are Harmful to Students

Third-Grade Promotion Test Pushes Reading Down Into Kindergarten

Fight to Make Charter School Disclose What Test It Uses for Kindergarten Entry

Test Cuts Came After Thorough Debate

Exam Scores Don’t Tell Full Story of Teacher Preparedness

Time Allocated to New State Tests Cut in Half

Nevada After Testing System Breakdown, State to Hire New Assessment Vendor

New Hampshire Schools Can Replace Smarter Balanced Tests with ACT or SAT

New Jersey
Be Wary of New State Teacher Ratings

New Mexico
Court Rejects Suit Seeking to Strip Pearson’s Common Core Testing Contract

New York
High School Models Authentic Assessment
New York Opt Out Movement Plans to Ratchet Up Actions Against Standardized Exam Overkill
New York Pending NCLB Overhaul Offers Hope to Reduce State’s Testing Obsession

North Carolina State’s Largest District Cuts Back Local Test Mandates
North Carolina Cautions About Test-Score-Based Teacher Pay

Students Can Meet Graduation Requirement with Work Samples in Their Home Language

Questions Mount About Using Volatile Test Results to Evaluate Teachers and Schools
Pennsylvania Teachers to School Board: Standardized Testing is Harming Students

Rhode Island
What Tests Like PARCC Do Not Measure

Teachers School Governor on Testing and Evaluations
Tennessee Local School Board to Take Up Opt Out Resolution

New Test Leading Fewer to Get GEDs

Washington State Testing Revolt Pushes State Into Uncharted Waters
Washington Over-Testing is a Flawed Strategy

“How Many Tests Can a Child Withstand?” — with apologies to Bob Dylan

The Beatings in Education Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office-   (239) 395-6773   fax-  (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468

The Lies by Which Saint Michelle Built Her Brand

Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler and ‘Jersey Jazzman’ have some analyses of the lies peddled by my former chancellor, Michelle Rhee. I recommend reading (or re-reading) them. Disclosure: I was one of the ones who looked at the original UMBC study and found that Rhee absolutely did NOT bring a class of up to 70 students from below the 13th percentile to over the 90th percentile.

Somerby on Rhee’s fraudulent claims of success in Baltimore:

  1. part one  (at the bottom)
  2. part two (at the bottom)
  3. part three (at the bottom)
  4. part four (at the bottom)
  5. part five (as usual, at the bottom)

Jersey Jazzman on the same:

The fact that the Washington Post and other media and various billionaires continue promoting this serial liar (Rhee), and that interviewers like Jon Stewart don’t call her on those lies, is truly sad.

I’d like to quote the conclusion of Somerby’s part four:

In that telling of Rhee’s tale, you see the germ of the current idea of “educational reform” which has been pimped by our billionaire and “journalist” classes.

Note what Rhee said about the reason for her vast success. She didn’t engineer that miracle because she was super-smart. More specifically, she didn’t engineer that miracle because she was “a great teacher.” She didn’t succeed because “she found unconventional but effective ways to teach reading and math,” the explanation Jay Mathews offered when he told Rhee’s miracle tale one month later. Sorry! In the tale that was told to Thomas, Rhee had produced her astounding results because she was willing to work hard. The key to Rhee’s success was “sweat,” Thomas quoted her saying.

The inexperienced teacher had simply worked hard! She had stood in front of those children “every single day;” while there, she’d been willing to “teach them!” This of course implies the claim—the ugly, simple-minded, remarkable claim—which lies at the heart of Rhee’s “reform” ideas:

Why do lovely, deserving, low-income kids lag behind national norms in the classroom? It happens because their teachers are lazy—too lazy to stand up and teach them! Because their teachers—who are “shitty,” as Rhee told Mathews—refuse to do their jobs! (my emphasis – GFB)

Truly, that’s a remarkable claim, but the claim has a long provenance. For whatever reason, elites have always been drawn to this claim; this dates at least to the 1960s, when the nation’s movers and shakers began to wonder what could be done to improve inner-city schools. On Monday, we’ll offer a quick review of this history. For today, let’s reflect on the way this remarkable claim has affected ideas of “reform.”

Why don’t poverty children meet national norms? It’s because their teachers are lazy! This idea is remarkably simple-minded—but it makes life remarkably easy for a big public figure like Rhee. How sweet it is! As educational reformers, she and her colleagues don’t have to come up with “effective ways to teach reading and math;” they simply have to threaten the teachers! After all, those teachers would produce huge success if they’d simply get off their asses and teach, the way Rhee did, back in the day.

If public school teachers would just get to work, they’d produce miracles too!

What a life! Michelle Rhee’s simple-minded idea makes life easy for “educational experts” and for “education reformers.” The teachers already know what to do! All the “reformers” have to do is threaten them, fire and bribe them! This approach has lay at the heart of Rhee’s ministry, in which she has produced almost no ideas about how to succeed in the classroom.

America’s teachers just won’t do their jobs! Has a major movement ever been built on such a simple-minded idea? But Michelle Rhee’s simple-minded idea of reform has always been built on her miracle tale—a miracle tale in which she worked amazingly hard, a tale which never happened.

No, she didn’t produce those results. Why then have so many elites worked so hard to believe her?

Scooped Again – By the Washington Times in 2007!

Scooped again.

I see now that my own analysis (and dismissal) of Rhee’s claims of stupendous success in the classroom, based on the UMBC study written by Lois Williams and Lawrence Leak in 1995, came about three years later than a fairly objective analysis in the Washington Times, dated June 28, 2007. Here is most of the article, with the parts highlighted that I think are important.



D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s choice to reform public schools has been unable to provide proof of the remarkable student improvement she achieved during her brief teaching stint in Baltimore.

“We were told that these kids came in on this level and they were leaving on average at this level,” said D.C. schools chancellor-nominee Michelle A. Rhee, who has noted a dramatic improvement in student test scores in her resume.

“I didn’t think to ask back then for solid documentation or proof or any of those things,” she said. “As a new teacher, I didn’t think those things were particularly relevant.”

Mrs. Rhee, 37, began her three-year teaching career at Harlem Park Community School in the 1992-93 school year through the Teach for America program.

In the 1993-94 school year, when she taught second-graders at the inner-city school, those students had scored at the 13th percentile on standardized tests.

By the end of the 1994-95 year, after Mrs. Rhee had taught the same students as third-graders, 90 percent of them scored at the 90th percentile, according to her resume.

Mrs. Rhee said the test results were achieved on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS).

Her biographical information on the mayor’s office Web site ( and on the Web site of her former nonprofit — the New Teacher Project ( — both say such “outstanding success” in the classroom earned Mrs. Rhee national media acclaim.

But education experts note that most low-income schools have a high student-turnover rate and Mrs. Rhee taught her students as part of a team. Tying the percentile jump specifically to her is extremely hard to do, they said.

“Although there were some significant gains for third-grade Title 1 students in reading [during Mrs. Rhee’s tenure], there is nothing that would establish a sufficient evaluation link between that particular population of students and any particular individual staff member,” said Ben Feldman, who is in charge of testing for Baltimore schools. “You couldn’t go there.”

In addition, establishing a precise link between student achievement and Mrs. Rhee’s performance in the Baltimore school system is difficult in part because of dated information systems and antiquated storage.

Mr. Feldman said retrieving data from a decade ago is hard because his office changed its information storage systems for the year 2000.

Still, the normal curve equivalent score (which is similar to a percentile) on the CTBS for Harlem Park second-graders was 27 in reading and 43 in math in the 1993-94 school year, according to a 1995 report published by the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

The report also shows that third-graders at the school for two years achieved a score of 45 in reading and 51 in math in 1994-95. The report does not break down scores by specific class and excludes some students from the totals, including those who received special-education services.

Those scores show significant gains at Harlem Park, but the question remains whether they support the remarkable gains highlighted by Mrs. Rhee and her backers.

“It’s nothing to sneeze at at all,” said Mary Levy, director of the public education reform project for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “The only question is where does this 90 come from. Ninety [percent] is amazing. You get that kind of score at schools attended by advantaged children.”

Figures contained in the university study also show that Harlem Park’s elementary enrollment fell from 523 in 1992-93 to 440 in 1994-95.

Mrs. Rhee, who was in her early 20s while at the school, said she did not remember the size of her class.

Her time at Harlem Park coincided with an experiment by the Baltimore school system to let a private company — Education Alternatives Inc. (EAI) — manage nine out of 180 city schools, including Harlem Park.

The Maryland study, which focused on the EAI experiment, and a follow-up report showed that the project elicited little progress in CTBS scores among its students.


Me again:

The whole thing is so bizarre – and typical of Rhee and her star-struck, reality-defying acolytes.

Rhee claimed very specific (and incredible) gains among her students. Admits that she had no actual data whatsoever – she didn’t even remember how many students she had – which means that she made the whole thing up – but pointedly refuses to admit that. She claims that there was national press coverage of her amazing success, and cites various publications (without, however, providing any dates). When I and other investigators look into those publications (such as the Wall Street Journal), we find no such acclaim at all. When I and other investigators look into the actual CTBS data for the time period, we find no evidence whatsoever of any such unprecedented, extraordinary gains.

Then, well-paid, right-wing ideologues like Rick Hess attack me (!!) for supposedly playing loose with the statistics – but exonerate Rhee for making up a pleasing fairy tale, and claim that perhaps her claims are true, but that none of her students were tested (!!!!!). One rather obsessed Rhee-lover, Chris Smyr of Eduwonk (I think), goes on to make the outrageous claim that the principal author of the UMBC study has no right to comment on my conclusions that Rhee made all of her claims for success up!!

Meanwhile, Rhee continues to make claim after claim in the national press — claims that go against all evidence, but which are accepted at face value by almost the entire establishment press, with the exception of Valerie Strauss, a paid blogger/reporter for the Washington Post. Jay Mathews, the most-printed WaPo education writer, appears to realize that Rhee made up nearly all of the claims that got her the job as DCPS chancellor, but he doesn’t quite come to the correct conclusion — which is that she is a fraud from beginning to end.


Is She A Liar, or is She Merely Stupid?

I have been asked about the “argument” made by Rick Hess that perhaps none of Rhee’s students were actually tested in Harlem Park, and therefore we can’t tell anything about whether Rhee achieved the miracle that she claimed, so therefore the vitriolic blogger Brandenburg is full of it.

His argument is laughable.

The kids who had no test scores reported, according to the study itself, were those who were

(a) absent during the testing time period,

(b) enrolled at the school after February 1, or

(c) were in severe special education categories and thus were exempt, or

(d) students who put their heads down and didn’t answer anything at all, or scribbled all over the test, or some such thing, and thus were given a score of “1”. (I left this reasons b and d originally)

As far as I understand, there were no other reasons to exempt students. Anybody find any such reasons? In any case, NONE of those groups of students are the ones that Michelle Rhee could possibly be boasting about.

I agree that it is awfully suspicious that only sixty-four percent of the students at Harlem Park had reported test scores in 1994-5. No other school in the entire study had such low numbers (the next-lowest percentage is in the mid-70s; most are in the 80s to 90s). Of course, back then, it was rather common for principals and unethical teachers to subtly encourage their low-performing students to take testing week off, or to allow them to put their heads down or doodle during the test, or else to send them to a special room to watch films during testing period, and so on. That raises the scores for the remainder.

I can’t think of any good, legitimate reasons for the low test-reporting rate, and I have also publicly worried, in print, why the number of students tested AND the entire cohort that Rhee and her colleague taught at shrank so drastically from grade 2 to grade 3 at HPE. Such a high percentage of missing scores only occurred at that school, and at none of the other ones, either Tesseract or regular Baltimore Public schools. It makes me think that the principal at Harlem Park at that time was not doing her job.

Keep in mind that Rhee has said and written many times that she AND her team-teaching colleague raised the scores of the entire group of 70 students from the bottom to the top, i.e, from the 13th percentile to 90% of them above the 90th percentile. She uses the word “we” a lot in this regard, and of course, later, claimed that she learned about the scores from her principal, but, of course, conveniently has no records.

Let’s do a little math. There are reading scores reported for 43 third-graders at Harlem Park in 1994-5. The overall fraction of students at the school with scores reported is 64%. That would mean that there were probably about 67 third-graders overall. There is no evidence whatsoever in the report of reporting or testing irregularities at Harlem Park, except for that 64% figure. But 67 kids is more like three classes, not four classes, it seems to me.

But then again, it might just be, if you believe Rhee’s boasts, that she and her colleague taught every single one of them. (After all, 67 is less than 70.)

If you believe it is likely or possible that only 10 of Rhee & Colleague’s students got tested and that 9 out of those ten got scores at the 90th percentile — while all of the other students in that other, non-cooperating teacher got tested and they scored really low, then I would say this:

(1) I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn that I’d like to sell you.

(2) You have no understanding whatsoever about statistics or probability.

(3) Even, if by some miracle, this actually happened, then:

The only HONEST thing Rhee could have said was, “I lost all of my class data for all of my students, lost all of my roll books, and somehow almost every single one of my students was absent on the entire week that the CTBS was administered, and I forgot to call any of their parents to please, please bring their children to school that week. But, of the ten students in my and my colleague’s class that DID get tested, well, 9 of them did really, really great!”

Or else, perhaps Rhee simply found that at some unit of study, she and her colleague taught some unit of study, and over 90% of the students got scores of 90% or better on this teacher -made test (or perhaps it was one that was purchased from some commercial venture — and the company claimed that the test was ‘nationally normed’ or some such foolishness).

My response would be, “That’s nice. Good for you.”

But I would continue: “Michelle, don’t you know the difference between a teacher unit test and an actual, nationally-normed, standardized, comprehensive, end-of-the-year test like the CTBS? Didn’t you take any educational statistics courses at all? And how come you don’t have any records whatsoever to prove this, and yet you have boasted over and over and over again about this miracle that didn’t happen? Are you just full of chutzpah, or are you just stupid?”

So, I am going to revise my conclusions a little bit. It is now a tossup

(a) She’s a bald-faced liar

b) She’s stupid and clueless and can’t keep records, and doesn’t understand the first thing about educational statistics.

Either way, she has no business running any of the following:

(a) a business recruiting long-term subs (NTP)

(b) any school as a principal

(c) any school district as a superintendent or chancellor

(d) advising any governor or educational body whatsoever about anything. Unless that ‘something’ be how to lie and get away with it.


Aside: It’s no surprise that Rick Hess, who gets paid big bucks to prostitute his intellect for the right-wing millionaires and billionaires who fund the American Enterprise Institute, leapt to the defense of his personal friend, Michelle Rhee, since she is basically in the same boat. Me, I do this entire body of research and advocacy for precisely no financial remuneration whatsoever, and I am not going to go around asking billionaires or ordinary people for any funds for it. This, however, won’t prevent folks who are rabidly anti-public-employee-union for saying that I am receiving millions of dollars from a dastardly union plot to take over the nation, and that teachers are selfish and only in it for the money. If it weren’t such a serious situation, it would be laughable.

Here’s What I Posted on Michelle Rhee’s Blog at ‘StudentsFirst’

Someone else brought the 1995 study to my attention, and I went through it and tried to pick out the parts that compare the cohorts at Harlem Park when Rhee taught there, to those in other, similar schools. The original 1995 data is here:…

What I discovered is that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of Michelle Rhee accomplishing the miracle that she has over and over claimed: raising students from well below the 20th percentile to having over 90 percent of them scoring above the 90th percentile.

As far as I can tell, it looks like there were only about two classes of third graders at Harlem Park during the year 1994-1995, the year that Rhee said that she and her team-mate brought two classes from the very bottom to the very top. And the scores for that third grade cohort at Harlem Park in both reading and math for 1994-1995 appear to be somewhere between the 40th and 55th percentile. At best.

You can also look at my blog,


where I point out the exact pages in that long study where you can look for that information.

Only about 20% to 25% of the students were excluded from having their test scores processed for the study at Tesseract schools, so that doesn’t increase the number of students in the actual classes by very much.

What’s more, I find it extremely interesting and significant that the cohort of students that were in the 2nd grade at Harlem Park appears to have shrunk by nearly 50% by the time they got to the third grade, when Rhee made her so-far-still-unsubstantiated claims of this educational miracle. Exactly how that winnowing out, I can only guess.And my guesses are fueled by my suspicion of Rhee’s notoriously long track record of distorting data.

Care to respond to that, either Michelle Rhee or Mafara Hobson?

Guy Brandenburg

Were large numbers of students not tested in Baltimore?

Here is Mafara Hobson’s response to my criticism of Rhee’s claims of achieving a miracle in 1994-1995:


Our public schools are in crisis. Instead of talking about how to fix them, we’re getting unfounded attacks on Michelle. To get back to the debate about public schools, we want to address this misinformation head-on.

A blogger has posted some error-laden numbers, based on a 1995 study, claiming that Michelle was not an effective teacher. A couple of mainstream journalists have picked up and re-broadcast this storyline without reviewing the underlying analysis.

Here are the underlying facts about the 1995 study:

  • This was not a study of Michelle’s students. It was a study of the school’s entire grade level, which had four teachers.
  • There is no way to know if any of Michelle’s students were even included in this study. The study included only certain students at the school, and excluded large numbers from their sample.

Some have expressed surprise that credible journalists would swallow a blogger’s analysis without looking at the facts for themselves. We were quite frankly surprised ourselves. To our members, this episode is further proof of what we’re up against and why we need your support to get the message out.


A few points:

I’m not the one making up stories about “Michelle Rhee’s miracles”. Unlike Hobson, I try to point to actual data so you, the reader, can check it for yourself.

The study states that basically all of the elementary students were administered the CTBS, but that the scores of  somewhere between 20 to 25% of the students were excluded because they enrolled after February 1, were absent on testing days, or were in certain levels of special education (see pages 25 and 109).  The average exclusion rate at the Tesseract schools in 1994-1995, the study claims, was 20%, up from 16% in 1991-2 (see pages 109 and 33), although the percentage of special education students had declined from about 8.6% to about 3%.

According to the tables later on (page 143), there were reading scores reported at Harlem Park in the 3rd grade in SY 1994-5 for 43 students. If this only represents 75 to 80% of the grade-level cohort for that year, then there were between 54 and 57 students in the third grade. That is not nearly enough students for four classes (14 students per class?!?!).

Also, on page 127, they report the number of students that they observed in the various classes at the various schools at various years. For grade 3 at Harlem Park in 1994-5, they report these numbers: 19 and 21, which I interpret to mean that in one classroom they saw 19 kids that day, and in the other class, they saw 21 kids. I presume some of the children were absent on that day. Which of the two classes was Rhee’s? I have no idea, nor does it matter.

Let us now look only at scores for “Two-Year” students who remained at Harlem Park from second grade in 1993-4 through the third grade in 1994-5, which you can find on pages 152 for math and 149 for reading. These are precisely the students on which Rhee has repeatedly claimed that she brought to the 90th percentile, because she had them for two years. In math, the 53 students (out of a total of 66 to 71, total) achieved an NCE [Normal Curve Equivalent] score average of 51, which is equivalent to either the 51st or 52nd percentile. Hmm. In reading, the 56 students for whom scores are reported (out of somewhere between 70 to 75 students, if we assume the same exclusion rates) reached an NCE score of 45, which is equivalent to the 40th percentile. Hmm again.

Not a miracle in sight.

It is deceptive for Hobson to claim that there is even a remote possibility that not a single one of Rhee’s students was tested. What — every single one of them was absent, or came in after February 1 of 1995, or was in a severe special education status? That defies belief.

Michelle Rhee’s own repeated interview statements speak of 70 students that were team-taught by her and her team-mate; she speaks of team-teaching with this other teacher and taking the same cohort of students from the second grade in 1993-4 through the 3rd grade in 1994-5. Well, it is certainly possible that there really were 70 students in the cohort in their two combined classes in the second grade, given the table on page 143, when the scores for 79 students were reported. With the exclusions added back in, that would be somewhere between 99 and 105 students, which is certainly enough for four classes. Perhaps that is what Hobson is referring to, in a statistical bait-and-switch?

Rhee never claimed, anywhere, that she did a super-fantastic job  while her team teacher’s students all scored in the cellar.  That’s the only way that Michelle Rhee or her spokesperson, Mafara Hobson, can have it that Rhee performed a miracle, given the aggregate scores for the whole cohort.

Are you ready to throw your fellow team-teacher-and-miracle-worker under the bus, Ms. Rhee?

Or is it more likely that you and she were responsible for the entire 3rd grade class, and that by winnowing out the lowest-scoring students, you were able to bring the test scores of the remaining ones up to about the 50th percentile in reading and math on a highly suspect standardized test of so-called basic skills?


Oh, and who exactly is going around attacking public schools?

A lot of people think that it’s YOU, Michelle Rhee, who are leading the charge.

Jay Mathews’ Fawning Column

I had no idea that was coming; in fact, it looked as though the lame-stream media had decided to ignore the entire matter.

Mathews makes entirely too much of my researching abilities. It was Ed Harris (thanks!) who alerted me to that report. My understanding of statistics is of an entirely elementary nature.

Unlike some folks (eg MR or leaders of certain religious groups) I make no claim to making miracles happen, to omniscience, or to inerrancy. I like to think I had some successes in the classroom, and I know for sure that I had some failures. Some kids and their parents liked my approach, and some hated my guts. I tried (with some success, occasionally) to show how math was useful in real life. Like most teachers, I worked hard, but always found that the amount of work required was at least double the amount of time I had available and could possibly provide.

Whenever I tried to do any statistical stuff with my own students’ accomplishments on final exams, on standardized tests, or even letter grades, after a year with me,  I was consistently mystified: nothing ever seemed to correlate with anything, or if they did, the correlation coefficients were extremely low. My personal experience in this regard leads me to suspect that there is so much unexplained, seemingly random, variation in human performance, desires, and so on that any sort of ‘value-added’ measurement is going to be bogus.
For the record, since Rhee and her colleague team-taught the entire 3rd grade class at Harlem Park during her last year, then, if you believe the rhetoric of Hanushek, Rhee, and others, then she and her co-teacher were responsible for the growth (or not) of the entire cohort. (BTW: who was that other ‘miracle’-worker? Evidently someone a lot less arrogant and prone to self-promotion than Rhee!)
To quote one of my posts:

“The cohort that started the first grade at Harlem Park in 1992-1993 had 84 students, probably 3 or 4 distinct classes.

“When they arrived in the second grade in 1993-1994 and endured Michelle Rhee’s second failed year of teaching, they still had 83 students – probably 3 or 4 classes again.

“But when this cohort arrived in the third grade in 1994-1995, Rhee’s “miracle year”, their numbers dropped by nearly half, to only 44 students. I doubt strongly that so many students dropped dead. I can’t prove it, but I would not be surprised if the school (and Rhee) ‘counseled out’ the ones who were doing poorly, and kept the ones who had high test scores.”

So, even though half of the students ‘disappeared’, the most that miracle-worker Rhee could do is to get the rest up to somewhere near the 50th percentile.

The Rhee Miracle Examined Again – By Cohort

Unless I get some more hard data, this will be my last column on the so-called Rhee miracle in Baltimore.

Here I will attempt to follow four different cohorts of students through Harlem Park Elementary, one of the Baltimore City public schools that was taken over by Tesseract/Edison company for several years in the early-to-mid-1990s and failed. Using publicly available data, I graphed the average percentile ranks of groups of students as they went through Harlem Park in first grade, then second grade, then third grade, and so on. If there’s a blank in my graphs, it’s because the data isn’t there.

I highlighted the classes where Michelle Rhee was teaching. In her last year, the scores did rise some, but nowhere near what she claimed. In her first year, they dropped almost as low as they can go. If Tesseract/Edison had been using the IMPACT evaluation system she foisted on DCPS teachers, she would have probably been fired after the first year!

Look for yourself:

Why does this matter?

Simply because I think it’s important for the public to know that the main spokesperson for the movement for additional dumb standardized testing, for teaching to the test, and for firing teachers based on those dumb tests, would herself have been fired under those criteria.

And she has lied repeatedly about that, and has repeatedly claimed that she performed some sort of miracle when she was teaching in Baltimore: a miracle that no-one else has ever, ever achieved.

Voters in DC, to their credit, saw through her lies and voted Adrian Fenty out of office largely because of her lies (I think) and the horrible effects she had on DC public schools. Yay! But in the rest of the country, people probably only know her because of adoring media coverage that paints her as some sort of saint; she has become an advisor to several right-wing Republican governors who think that the key to educational success is breaking teacher unions.

The public has the right to know about what a liar she is, and to judge accordingly.

PS: my data source is here.

The Secret to Raising Test Scores? (Part 2)

As I have pointed out, one of the easiest ways to improve test scores in a class or a school is to get rid of the students who generally score low, and to retain the ones who do well. I suspect that may have been the secret behind the fact that Michelle Rhee, after two years of complete and utter failure with her second-grade classes, finally managed to raise the scores to somewhere near the 50th percentile mark.

It appears that the ‘weeding-out’ was pretty drastic.

The cohort that started the first grade at Harlem Park in 1992-1993 had 84 students, probably 3 or 4 distinct classes.

When they arrived in the second grade in 1993-1994 and endured Michelle Rhee’s second failed year of teaching, they still had 83 students – probably 3 or 4 classes again.

But when this cohort arrived in the third grade in 1994-1995, Rhee’s “miracle year”, their numbers dropped by nearly half, to only 44 students. I doubt strongly that so many students dropped dead. I can’t prove it, but I would not be surprised if the school (and Rhee) ‘counseled out’ the ones who were doing poorly, and kept the ones who had high test scores.

You may be wondering if the same thing happened at other Edison schools and at the regular Baltimore public schools that were used for comparison purposes. Look for yourself at the graphs below – and I think you will conclude that while some of the cohorts in some of the schools had small rises in populations, some went down a little bit, and some stayed about the same. NONE OF THEM HAD SUCH HUGE DROPS AS WE SEE IN MICHELLE RHEE’S “WONDER YEAR.”

(By the way, this trick doesn’t always seem to work. The first grade in 1991-2 at Harlem Park had 102 students, and scored at the 63rd percentile in math in the spring. The next year, they were promoted to the second grade, and only had 77 to 84  students, depending on which count you follow, and they had Rhee as one of the second grade teachers. The average percentile rank of this cohort fell from the previous (respectable) 63rd percentile to an abysmal 18th percentile. As someone might say, echoing Michelle Rhee’s recent interview with Harry Jaffe,

these kids were getting screwed because people wanted to blame their low achievement levels on the single-parent households and on the poverty in the community. In that two-year period, none of those things changed. Their parents didn’t change. What changed? What we were doing with them in school.”

Well, if she wants to take credit for a 20-percentile rise in scores from 1994 to 1995, then she needs to take the blame for a 45-percentile-point DROP from 1992 to 1993, even with the weeding out.)

As has been the case for my past several data-driven posts, all of these tables and graphs were made by me from the tables in the appendices to the UMBC Evaluation of the Tesseract Program in Baltimore City, written by Lois C. Williams and Lawrence E. Leak in 1995. You can find it on the web at this URL.

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