What Do the Latest NAEP Results Tell Us About Education “Reform” in Washington, DC?

The usual gang of supporters of bipartisan education “reform” never tire of telling the world how wonderful education ‘reform’ has been in Washington, DC, what with the proliferation of charter schools, Congressional support for vouchers, a seriously handicapped teachers’ union, tremendous churn of teaching and administrative staff, tons of consultants, and direct mayoral control.

I’ve been among those saying that the results are NOT so wonderful. I have documented how virtually none of the promises came true that Chancellors Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson made about 8 years ago. They promised that the improvements in test scores, graduation rates and much more would go through the roof, but in fact, almost none of that came to pass. The recent scandals about truancy, absenteeism, phoney grades and illegitimate graduation rates have shown that much of their supposed successes have been purely fraudulent.

In addition, I showed recently that in fact, progress for a number of DC’s subgroups (blacks, whites, and Hispanics) on the NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading and math tests are further evidence of failure, since improvement rates per year BEFORE mayoral control cemented the rule of our ‘reformista’ Chancellors wee BETTER THAN they were AFTERWARDS.

I was asked by one of the members of DC’s now-powerless board of education to analyze changes over time for ALL of DC’s students as a group (not subdivided in any way) to compare pre- and post-‘reform’.

I made my own graphs using the data on the NAEP Data Explorer page, being careful to use the same vertical scale in each case, and starting at the lowest point, or nadir, of DC’s NAEP scores back in the 1990s. I asked Excel to calculate and draw the line of best fit for the data points. In each case, that ‘trend-line’ of linear correlation fit the data extraordinarily well. In fact, the R-values of linear correlation went from a low of 94% to a high of 99%. I didn’t use the graphs that the NAEP Data Explorer page provided, because they changed the vertical scale from situation to situation – so a rise of, say, 10 points over 20 years would look just about the same as a rise of, say, 60 points over 20 years. And they aren’t! So my vertical (y-axis scale) is 200 points in each case.

I also marked on the graphs where the dividing line was between the time when we had an elected school board (abolished in 2007) and the present, when we have direct mayoral control with essentially no checks or balances on his or her power.

So here are the graphs:

4th grade math, ANSS, all dc, 1996-20174th grade reading, ANSS, all DC, 1998-20178th grade math, ANSS, all DC, 1996-20178th grade reading, ANSS, all DC, 1998-2017

So do you see any miracles?

Me neither.

So what does all of this that mean?

  1. You need a good magnifying glass to see any significant differences in progress on the NAEP test scores for ‘all students’ in Washington, DC when comparing the two eras. The slopes of the dashed lines of best fit are essentially identical on the two sides of the purple line.
  2. Since the proportion of white inhabitants of DC and of students in DC’s publicly-funded schools have both increased markedly in the past 10 years, and the proportion of black residents and black students have decreased markedly, and this has skewed the graph in a positive direction after 2007.* That means that this data, and these graphs, are actually making the overall situation look more favorable to the reformistas.
  3. Anybody pretending that there are huge increases in national test scores after the reformistas took over education in DC, is blowing smoke in your eyes.


*Why? When you remove low-scorers and add high-scorers (on anything) to a group, the overall average score will go up.

Here is a sports example: A football coach has been given a roster consisting of these players:

  • twenty big, strong, and bulky linesmen and backs and so on. Let’s pretend their average weight is 280 pounds.
  • twenty relatively small, but very fit, place-kickers (actually, they are soccer players looking for a fall sport) who weigh an average of 180 pounds each.

The team’s average weight is exactly 230 pounds (That’s (20*280 + 20*180) / 40) .

At noon,  the coach realizes there is no need for so many place-kickers, and she cuts 15 of the placekickers, leaving five of them. Their papers say that each one in fact weighs 180 pounds.

NOTHING ELSE CHANGES. In particular, none of the players gain or lose any weight during these fifteen minutes that the coach is making these changes.

At a quarter past noon, the average weight of the team has now increased markedly. It is now (20*280 + 5*180) / 25, or 260 pounds – it has gone up by 30 pounds simply by cutting 17 of its least-heavy players.

Is that coach a genius, or what, at bulking up her team?

Actually, although it’s not the direct result of what any Chancellor has done, this situation is somewhat similar to what’s happening in DC. Remember that white students in DC are the highest-scoring group of white students anywhere in the nation, because their parents overwhelmingly have graduate or professional degrees; DC’s white working class left town decades ago. So when relatively low-scoring African-American students (from working-class families) move to PG County, and white students and their relatively-highly-educated families move into DC from wherever, the averages will increase much as they did in my example with the imaginary football team.


How DC’s Black, White, and Hispanic Students Compare With Each Other on the NAEP Over the Past 20 Years

I will present here four graphs and tables showing how DC’s three main ethnic/racial groups performed on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in math and reading at the 4th and 8th grade levels, as far back as I could find data on the NAEP Data Explorer web page. This time, I will compare the average scale scores for each group with each other.

4th grade naep reading, DC's W, B, H

The vertical, dashed, purple line in the middle of the graph shows the division between the era when we DC citizens could elect our own school board (to the left) and the era when the mayor had unilateral control over education, which he or she implemented by appointing a Chancellor and a Deputy Mayor for Education. That change occurred right after the end of school in 2007.

If direct mayoral control of education in DC were such a wonderful reform, then you would see those lines for black and hispanic students start going sharply up and to the right after they passed that purple line.

I see no such dramatic change. Do you? In fact, do you see any change in trends at all?

In fact, for both white and Hispanic fourth-graders, the average scale score in 2017 is slightly LOWER than it was in 2007.

For black 4th graders, there has been an increase in scores since 2007, but those scores were also increasing before 2007. In fact, if we start at 1998 and go to 2007, the average scale score in reading for black students went from 174 to 192, which is an increase of 18 points in 9 years, or about 2.0 points per year. If we follow the same group  from 2007 to 2017, their scores went from 192 to 207, which is an increase of 15 points in 10 years. Divide those two numbers and you get a rate of increase of 1.5 points per year.

That’s worse.

Not better.

(Anybody familiar with Washington, DC knows that there is essentially no working-class white population inside the city limits — they all moved away during the 1950s, 60s and 70s rather than live in integrated or expensive neighborhoods. A very large fraction of the white families still living in DC have either graduate or professional degrees (lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc.). I  don’t know of any other city in the US which has shed its entire white working class. We know from all educational research that parental education and income are extremely strong influences on how their children perform on standardized tests (because that’s how the tests are constructed). White children in DC, as a result, whether they attend regular public schools, charter schools, or private schools, are the highest-performing group of white students of any state or city for which we have statistics.)


The One Area Where Some DC Students Improved Under Mayoral Control of Education

You have all heard the propaganda saying that test scores in DC have improved tremendously ever since the citizens lost the right to vote for their school board, and after foundations like the Broad, Arnold, Walton and Gates family fortunes took over. The editorial staff of the Washington Post never tires of repeating this line.

If you’ve been following this series of blogs on the latest (2017) NAEP scores for DC and elsewhere, you have found no evidence of that.

In this last installment on this topic, I finally found a group of students who DID see their scores rise under mayoral control.

White fourth-grade students in math.

Ain’t it ironical?

The highest-scoring group of white students in the entire nation (that I can find scores for) actually improved their scores when the citizens of DC lost democratic control of the school board. But no other group did.

See for yourself.

First, black fourth graders in DC and elsewhere in math:

4th gr math black naep dc + nation

Here is what I mean: the dotted lines are for African-American fourth graders in math. From 2000 through 2007 (just 7 years) their scores went up from 188 to 209, which is an increase of 21 points (or 3 points per year). However, from 2007 through 2017, their scores went from 209 to 224, which is 15 points (or 1.5 points per year). Or, if you only count students enrolled in DC public schools (and not the charter or private schools) fom 2003 through 2007, their scores went from 202 to 209, which is 7 points in 4 years, or 1.75 points per year. From 2007 through 2017, their scores went from 209 to 218, which is a rise of 9 points in 10 years, which means 0.9 points per year.

Clearly, mayoral control did NOT mean improved increases for black fourth grade math students in DC – using the standard national yardstick.

Now let’s look at Hispanic fourth graders in math:

4th grade math, naep, hispanic, dc + elsewhere, 1996-2017

Once again, we see that Hispanic students at the fourth grade level in DC were making bigger improvements in math BEFORE mayoral control than they were after Mayor Fenty got that power.

However, the reverse is true for white students in DC:

4th grade math naep white students DXC + elsewhere, 1996-2017

Yup: to those who have much already, even more has been given.

I’m pretty sure that Perry Stein of the Washington Post will not reprint these graphs. How about Valerie Strauss?

Was There Any Progress in 8th Grade Math on the NAEP in DC or Elsewhere?

The answer is, basically, no.

You can see for yourself. This time I am posting a graph and table for average math NAEP scale scores for 8th graders who were black, Hispanic, or white. Honestly, they show that billions of dollars spent in dubious schemes such as having students spend an enormous fraction of the school year doing test prep, firing teachers based on students’ test scores (either their own students or those whom they’ve never met) and turning over much of our public educational system over to billionaires and profiteers — it’s all been a failure. Based on their own yardstick — test scores.

Here are the graphs. Read them and either weep or get determined to do something better about this ‘reformster’ charade.

8th grade math naep black students 1996-2017

8th grade math naep hispanic students 1996-2917

8th grade math Naep scores, white students, 1996-2017

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.

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.

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