Yet another military cheating scandal

I think this is the money quote from the New York Times article on the latest case of over 70 West Point cadets cheating on a calculus test:

“…cheating is a recurring problem at the academies; decades of surveys suggest most cadets get away with it, and only about 20 percent are caught.”

Think about that when you think about the US military officers who graduated from West Point, Annapolis, or the Coast Guard or Air Force academies.

Part Two: Cheating in DCPS

DC Education Reform Ten Years After, 

Part 2: Test Cheats

Richard P Phelps

Ten years ago, I worked as the Director of Assessments for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). For temporal context, I arrived after the first of the infamous test cheating scandals and left just before the incident that spawned a second. Indeed, I filled a new position created to both manage test security and design an expanded testing program. I departed shortly after Vincent Gray, who opposed an expanded testing program, defeated Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 DC mayoral primary. My tenure coincided with Michelle Rhee’s last nine months as Chancellor. 

The recurring test cheating scandals of the Rhee-Henderson years may seem extraordinary but, in fairness, DCPS was more likely than the average US school district to be caught because it received a much higher degree of scrutiny. Given how tests are typically administered in this country, the incidence of cheating is likely far greater than news accounts suggest, for several reasons: 

·      in most cases, those who administer tests—schoolteachers and administrators—have an interest in their results;

·      test security protocols are numerous and complicated yet, nonetheless, the responsibility of non-expert ordinary school personnel, guaranteeing their inconsistent application across schools and over time; 

·      after-the-fact statistical analyses are not legal proof—the odds of a certain amount of wrong-to-right erasures in a single classroom on a paper-and-pencil test being coincidental may be a thousand to one, but one-in-a-thousand is still legally plausible; and

·      after-the-fact investigations based on interviews are time-consuming, scattershot, and uneven. 

Still, there were measures that the Rhee-Henderson administrations could have adopted to substantially reduce the incidence of cheating, but they chose none that might have been effective. Rather, they dug in their heels, insisted that only a few schools had issues, which they thoroughly resolved, and repeatedly denied any systematic problem.  

Cheating scandals

From 2007 to 2009 rumors percolated of an extraordinary level of wrong-to-right erasures on the test answer sheets at many DCPS schools. “Erasure analysis” is one among several “red flag” indicators that testing contractors calculate to monitor cheating. The testing companies take no responsibility for investigating suspected test cheating, however; that is the customer’s, the local or state education agency. 

In her autobiographical account of her time as DCPS Chancellor, Michelle Johnson (nee Rhee), wrote (p. 197)

“For the first time in the history of DCPS, we brought in an outside expert to examine and audit our system. Caveon Test Security – the leading expert in the field at the time – assessed our tests, results, and security measures. Their investigators interviewed teachers, principals, and administrators.

“Caveon found no evidence of systematic cheating. None.”

Caveon, however, had not looked for “systematic” cheating. All they did was interview a few people at several schools where the statistical anomalies were more extraordinary than at others. As none of those individuals would admit to knowingly cheating, Caveon branded all their excuses as “plausible” explanations. That’s it; that is all that Caveon did. But, Caveon’s statement that they found no evidence of “widespread” cheating—despite not having looked for it—would be frequently invoked by DCPS leaders over the next several years.[1]

Incidentally, prior to the revelation of its infamous decades-long, systematic test cheating, the Atlanta Public Schools had similarly retained Caveon Test Security and was, likewise, granted a clean bill of health. Only later did the Georgia state attorney general swoop in and reveal the truth. 

In its defense, Caveon would note that several cheating prevention measures it had recommended to DCPS were never adopted.[2] None of the cheating prevention measures that I recommended were adopted, either.

The single most effective means for reducing in-classroom cheating would have been to rotate teachers on test days so that no teacher administered a test to his or her own students. It would not have been that difficult to randomly assign teachers to different classrooms on test days.

The single most effective means for reducing school administratorcheating would have been to rotate test administrators on test days so that none managed the test materials for their own schools. The visiting test administrators would have been responsible for keeping test materials away from the school until test day, distributing sealed test booklets to the rotated teachers on test day, and for collecting re-sealed test booklets at the end of testing and immediately removing them from the school. 

Instead of implementing these, or a number of other feasible and effective test security measures, DCPS leaders increased the number of test proctors, assigning each of a few dozen or so central office staff a school to monitor. Those proctors could not reasonably manage the volume of oversight required. A single DC test administration could encompass a hundred schools and a thousand classrooms.

Investigations

So, what effort, if any, did DCPS make to counter test cheating? They hired me, but then rejected all my suggestions for increasing security. Also, they established a telephone tip line. Anyone who suspected cheating could report it, even anonymously, and, allegedly, their tip would be investigated. 

Some forms of cheating are best investigated through interviews. Probably the most frequent forms of cheating at DCPS—teachers helping students during test administrations and school administrators looking at test forms prior to administration—leave no statistical residue. Eyewitness testimony is the only type of legal evidence available in such cases, but it is not just inconsistent, it may be socially destructive. 

I remember two investigations best: one occurred in a relatively well-to-do neighborhood with well-educated parents active in school affairs; the other in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Superficially, the cases were similar—an individual teacher was accused of helping his or her own students with answers during test administrations. Making a case against either elementary school teacher required sworn testimony from eyewitnesses, that is, students—eight-to-ten-year olds. 

My investigations, then, consisted of calling children into the principal’s office one-by-one to be questioned about their teacher’s behavior. We couldn’t hide the reason we were asking the questions. And, even though each student agreed not to tell others what had occurred in their visit to the principal’s office, we knew we had only one shot at an uncorrupted jury pool. 

Though the accusations against the two teachers were similar and the cases against them equally strong, the outcomes could not have been more different. In the high-poverty neighborhood, the students seemed suspicious and said little; none would implicate the teacher, whom they all seemed to like. 

In the more prosperous neighborhood, students were more outgoing, freely divulging what they had witnessed. The students had discussed the alleged coaching with their parents who, in turn, urged them to tell investigators what they knew. During his turn in the principal’s office, the accused teacher denied any wrongdoing. I wrote up each interview, then requested that each student read and sign. 

Thankfully, that accused teacher made a deal and left the school system a few weeks later. Had he not, we would have required the presence in court of the eight-to-ten-year olds to testify under oath against their former teacher, who taught multi-grade classes. Had that prosecution not succeeded, the eyewitness students could have been routinely assigned to his classroom the following school year.

My conclusion? Only in certain schools is the successful prosecution of a cheating teacher through eyewitness testimony even possible. But, even where possible, it consumes inordinate amounts of time and, otherwise, comes at a high price, turning young innocents against authority figures they naturally trusted. 

Cheating blueprints

Arguably the most widespread and persistent testing malfeasance in DCPS received little attention from the press. Moreover, it was directly propagated by District leaders, who published test blueprints on the web. Put simply, test “blueprints” are lists of the curricular standards (e.g., “student shall correctly add two-digit numbers”) and the number of test items included in an upcoming test related to each standard. DC had been advance publishing its blueprints for years.

I argued that the way DC did it was unethical. The head of the Division of Data & Accountability, Erin McGoldrick, however, defended the practice, claimed it was common, and cited its existence in the state of California as precedent. The next time she and I met for a conference call with one of DCPS’s test providers, Discover Education, I asked their sales agent how many of their hundreds of other customers advance-published blueprints. His answer: none.

In the state of California, the location of McGoldrick’s only prior professional experience, blueprints were, indeed, published in advance of test administrations. But their tests were longer than DC’s and all standards were tested. Publication of California’s blueprints served more to remind the populace what the standards were in advance of each test administration. Occasionally, a standard considered to be of unusual importance might be assigned a greater number of test items than the average, and the California blueprints signaled that emphasis. 

In Washington, DC, the tests used in judging teacher performance were shorter, covering only some of each year’s standards. So, DC’s blueprints showed everyone well in advance of the test dates exactly which standards would be tested and which would not. For each teacher, this posed an ethical dilemma: should they “narrow the curriculum” by teaching only that content they knew would be tested? Or, should they do the right thing and teach all the standards, as they were legally and ethically bound to, even though it meant spending less time on the to-be-tested content? It’s quite a conundrum when one risks punishment for behaving ethically.

Monthly meetings convened to discuss issues with the districtwide testing program, the DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS)—administered to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. All public schools, both DCPS and charters, administered those tests. At one of these regular meetings, two representatives from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) announced plans to repair the broken blueprint process.[3]

The State Office employees argued thoughtfully and reasonably that it was professionally unethical to advance publish DC test blueprints. Moreover, they had surveyed other US jurisdictions in an effort to find others that followed DC’s practice and found none. I was the highest-ranking DCPS employee at the meeting and I expressed my support, congratulating them for doing the right thing. I assumed that their decision was final.

I mentioned the decision to McGoldrick, who expressed surprise and speculation that it might have not been made at the highest level in the organizational hierarchy. Wasting no time, she met with other DCPS senior managers and the proposed change was forthwith shelved. In that, and other ways, the DCPS tail wagged the OSSE dog. 

* * *

It may be too easy to finger ethical deficits for the recalcitrant attitude toward test security of the Rhee-Henderson era ed reformers. The columnist Peter Greene insists that knowledge deficits among self-appointed education reformers also matter: 

“… the reformistan bubble … has been built from Day One without any actual educators inside it. Instead, the bubble is populated by rich people, people who want rich people’s money, people who think they have great ideas about education, and even people who sincerely want to make education better. The bubble does not include people who can turn to an Arne Duncan or a Betsy DeVos or a Bill Gates and say, ‘Based on my years of experience in a classroom, I’d have to say that idea is ridiculous bullshit.’”

“There are a tiny handful of people within the bubble who will occasionally act as bullshit detectors, but they are not enough. The ed reform movement has gathered power and money and set up a parallel education system even as it has managed to capture leadership roles within public education, but the ed reform movement still lacks what it has always lacked–actual teachers and experienced educators who know what the hell they’re talking about.”

In my twenties, I worked for several years in the research department of a state education agency. My primary political lesson from that experience, consistently reinforced subsequently, is that most education bureaucrats tell the public that the system they manage works just fine, no matter what the reality. They can get away with this because they control most of the evidence and can suppress it or spin it to their advantage.

In this proclivity, the DCPS central office leaders of the Rhee-Henderson era proved themselves to be no different than the traditional public-school educators they so casually demonized. 

US school systems are structured to be opaque and, it seems, both educators and testing contractors like it that way. For their part, and contrary to their rhetoric, Rhee, Henderson, and McGoldrick passed on many opportunities to make their system more transparent and accountable.

Education policy will not improve until control of the evidence is ceded to genuinely independent third parties, hired neither by the public education establishment nor by the education reform club.

The author gratefully acknowledges the fact-checking assistance of Erich Martel and Mary Levy.

Access this testimonial in .pdf format

Citation:  Phelps, R. P. (2020, September). Looking Back on DC Education Reform 10 Years After, Part 2: Test Cheats. Nonpartisan Education Review / Testimonials. https://nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Testimonials/v16n3.htm


[1] A perusal of Caveon’s website clarifies that their mission is to help their clients–state and local education departments–not get caught. Sometimes this means not cheating in the first place; other times it might mean something else. One might argue that, ironically, Caveon could be helping its clients to cheat in more sophisticated ways and cover their tracks better.

[2] Among them: test booklets should be sealed until the students open them and resealed by the students immediately after; and students should be assigned seats on test day and a seating chart submitted to test coordinators (necessary for verifying cluster patterns in student responses that would suggest answer copying).

[3] Yes, for those new to the area, the District of Columbia has an Office of the “State” Superintendent of Education (OSSE). Its domain of relationships includes not just the regular public schools (i.e., DCPS), but also other public schools (i.e., charters) and private schools. Practically, it primarily serves as a conduit for funneling money from a menagerie of federal education-related grant and aid programs

What did Education Reform in DC Actually Mean?

Short answer: nothing that would actually help students or teachers. But it’s made for well-padded resumes for a handful of insiders.

This is an important review, by the then-director of assessment. His criticisms echo the points that I have been making along with Mary Levy, Erich Martel, Adell Cothorne, and many others.

Nonpartisan Education Review / Testimonials

Access this testimonial in .pdf format

Looking Back on DC Education Reform 10 Years After, 

Part 1: The Grand Tour

Richard P Phelps

Ten years ago, I worked as the Director of Assessments for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). My tenure coincided with Michelle Rhee’s last nine months as Chancellor. I departed shortly after Vincent Gray defeated Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 DC mayoral primary

My primary task was to design an expansion of that testing program that served the IMPACT teacher evaluation system to include all core subjects and all grade levels. Despite its fame (or infamy), the test score aspect of the IMPACT program affected only 13% of teachers, those teaching either reading or math in grades four through eight. Only those subjects and grade levels included the requisite pre- and post-tests required for teacher “value added” measurements (VAM). Not included were most subjects (e.g., science, social studies, art, music, physical education), grades kindergarten to two, and high school.

Chancellor Rhee wanted many more teachers included. So, I designed a system that would cover more than half the DCPS teacher force, from kindergarten through high school. You haven’t heard about it because it never happened. The newly elected Vincent Gray had promised during his mayoral campaign to reduce the amount of testing; the proposed expansion would have increased it fourfold.

VAM affected teachers’ jobs. A low value-added score could lead to termination; a high score, to promotion and a cash bonus. VAM as it was then structured was obviously, glaringly flawed,[1] as anyone with a strong background in educational testing could have seen. Unfortunately, among the many new central office hires from the elite of ed reform circles, none had such a background.

Before posting a request for proposals from commercial test developers for the testing expansion plan, I was instructed to survey two groups of stakeholders—central office managers and school-level teachers and administrators.

Not surprisingly, some of the central office managers consulted requested additions or changes to the proposed testing program where they thought it would benefit their domain of responsibility. The net effect on school-level personnel would have been to add to their administrative burden. Nonetheless, all requests from central office managers would be honored. 

The Grand Tour

At about the same time, over several weeks of the late Spring and early Summer of 2010, along with a bright summer intern, I visited a dozen DCPS schools. The alleged purpose was to collect feedback on the design of the expanded testing program. I enjoyed these meetings. They were informative, animated, and very well attended. School staff appreciated the apparent opportunity to contribute to policy decisions and tried to make the most of it.

Each school greeted us with a full complement of faculty and staff on their days off, numbering a several dozen educators at some venues. They believed what we had told them: that we were in the process of redesigning the DCPS assessment program and were genuinely interested in their suggestions for how best to do it. 

At no venue did we encounter stand-pat knee-jerk rejection of education reform efforts. Some educators were avowed advocates for the Rhee administration’s reform policies, but most were basically dedicated educators determined to do what was best for their community within the current context. 

The Grand Tour was insightful, too. I learned for the first time of certain aspects of DCPS’s assessment system that were essential to consider in its proper design, aspects of which the higher-ups in the DCPS Central Office either were not aware or did not consider relevant. 

The group of visited schools represented DCPS as a whole in appropriate proportions geographically, ethnically, and by education level (i.e., primary, middle, and high). Within those parameters, however, only schools with “friendly” administrations were chosen. That is, we only visited schools with principals and staff openly supportive of the Rhee-Henderson agenda. 

But even they desired changes to the testing program, whether or not it was expanded. Their suggestions covered both the annual districtwide DC-CAS (or “comprehensive” assessment system), on which the teacher evaluation system was based, and the DC-BAS (or “benchmarking” assessment system), a series of four annual “no-stakes” interim tests unique to DCPS, ostensibly offered to help prepare students and teachers for the consequential-for-some-school-staff DC-CAS.[2]

At each staff meeting I asked for a show of hands on several issues of interest that I thought were actionable. Some suggestions for program changes received close to unanimous support. Allow me to describe several.

1. Move DC-CAS test administration later in the school year. Many citizens may have logically assumed that the IMPACT teacher evaluation numbers were calculated from a standard pre-post test schedule, testing a teacher’s students at the beginning of their academic year together and then again at the end. In 2010, however, the DC-CAS was administered in March, three months before school year end. Moreover, that single administration of the test served as both pre- and post-test, posttest for the current school year and pretest for the following school year. Thus, before a teacher even met their new students in late August or early September, almost half of the year for which teachers were judged had already transpired—the three months in the Spring spent with the previous year’s teacher and almost three months of summer vacation. 

School staff recommended pushing DC-CAS administration to later in the school year. Furthermore, they advocated a genuine pre-post-test administration schedule—pre-test the students in late August–early September and post-test them in late-May–early June—to cover a teacher’s actual span of time with the students.

This suggestion was rejected because the test development firm with the DC-CAS contract required three months to score some portions of the test in time for the IMPACT teacher ratings scheduled for early July delivery, before the start of the new school year. Some small number of teachers would be terminated based on their IMPACT scores, so management demanded those scores be available before preparations for the new school year began.[3] The tail wagged the dog.

2. Add some stakes to the DC-CAS in the upper grades. Because DC-CAS test scores portended consequences for teachers but none for students, some students expended little effort on the test. Indeed, extensive research on “no-stakes” (for students) tests reveal that motivation and effort vary by a range of factors including gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, the weather, and age. Generally, the older the student, the lower the test-taking effort. This disadvantaged some teachers in the IMPACT ratings for circumstances beyond their control: unlucky student demographics. 

Central office management rejected this suggestion to add even modest stakes to the upper grades’ DC-CAS; no reason given. 

3. Move one of the DC-BAS tests to year end. If management rejected the suggestion to move DC-CAS test administration to the end of the school year, school staff suggested scheduling one of the no-stakes DC-BAS benchmarking tests for late May–early June. As it was, the schedule squeezed all four benchmarking test administrations between early September and mid-February. Moving just one of them to the end of the year would give the following year’s teachers a more recent reading (by more than three months) of their new students’ academic levels and needs.

Central Office management rejected this suggestion probably because the real purpose of the DC-BAS was not to help teachers understand their students’ academic levels and needs, as the following will explain.

4. Change DC-BAS tests so they cover recently taught content. Many DC citizens probably assumed that, like most tests, the DC-BAS interim tests covered recently taught content, such as that covered since the previous test administration. Not so in 2010. The first annual DC-BAS was administered in early September, just after the year’s courses commenced. Moreover, it covered the same content domain—that for the entirety of the school year—as each of the next three DC-BAS tests. 

School staff proposed changing the full-year “comprehensive” content coverage of each DC-BAS test to partial-year “cumulative” coverage, so students would only be tested on what they had been taught prior to each test administration.

This suggestion, too, was rejected. Testing the same full-year comprehensive content domain produced a predictable, flattering score rise. With each DC-BAS test administration, students recognized more of the content, because they had just been exposed to more of it, so average scores predictably rose. With test scores always rising, it looked like student achievement improved steadily each year. Achieving this contrived score increase required testing students on some material to which they had not yet been exposed, both a violation of professional testing standards and a poor method for instilling student confidence. (Of course, it was also less expensive to administer essentially the same test four times a year than to develop four genuinely different tests.)

5. Synchronize the sequencing of curricular content across the District. DCPS management rhetoric circa 2010 attributed classroom-level benefits to the testing program. Teachers would know more about their students’ levels and needs and could also learn from each other. Yet, the only student test results teachers received at the beginning of each school year was half-a-year old, and most of the information they received over the course of four DC-BAS test administrations was based on not-yet-taught content.

As for cross-district teacher cooperation, unfortunately there was no cross-District coordination of common curricular sequences. Each teacher paced their subject matter however they wished and varied topical emphases according to their own personal preference.

It took DCPS’s Chief Academic Officer, Carey Wright, and her chief of staff, Dan Gordon, less than a minute to reject the suggestion to standardize topical sequencing across schools so that teachers could consult with one another in real time. Tallying up the votes: several hundred school-level District educators favored the proposal, two of Rhee’s trusted lieutenants opposed it. It lost.

6. Offer and require a keyboarding course in the early grades. DCPS was planning to convert all its testing from paper-and-pencil mode to computer delivery within a few years. Yet, keyboarding courses were rare in the early grades. Obviously, without systemwide keyboarding training in computer use some students would be at a disadvantage in computer testing.

Suggestion rejected.

In all, I had polled over 500 DCPS school staff. Not only were all of their suggestions reasonable, some were essential in order to comply with professional assessment standards and ethics. 

Nonetheless, back at DCPS’ Central Office, each suggestion was rejected without, to my observation, any serious consideration. The rejecters included Chancellor Rhee, the head of the office of Data and Accountability—the self-titled “Data Lady,” Erin McGoldrick—and the head of the curriculum and instruction division, Carey Wright, and her chief deputy, Dan Gordon. 

Four central office staff outvoted several-hundred school staff (and my recommendations as assessment director). In each case, the changes recommended would have meant some additional work on their parts, but in return for substantial improvements in the testing program. Their rhetoric was all about helping teachers and students; but the facts were that the testing program wasn’t structured to help them.

What was the purpose of my several weeks of school visits and staff polling? To solicit “buy in” from school level staff, not feedback.

Ultimately, the new testing program proposal would incorporate all the new features requested by senior Central Office staff, no matter how burdensome, and not a single feature requested by several hundred supportive school-level staff, no matter how helpful. Like many others, I had hoped that the education reform intention of the Rhee-Henderson years was genuine. DCPS could certainly have benefitted from some genuine reform. 

Alas, much of the activity labelled “reform” was just for show, and for padding resumes. Numerous central office managers would later work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Numerous others would work for entities supported by the Gates or aligned foundations, or in jurisdictions such as Louisiana, where ed reformers held political power. Most would be well paid. 

Their genuine accomplishments, or lack thereof, while at DCPS seemed to matter little. What mattered was the appearance of accomplishment and, above all, loyalty to the group. That loyalty required going along to get along: complicity in maintaining the façade of success while withholding any public criticism of or disagreement with other in-group members.

Unfortunately, in the United States what is commonly showcased as education reform is neither a civic enterprise nor a popular movement. Neither parents, the public, nor school-level educators have any direct influence. Rather, at the national level, US education reform is an elite, private club—a small group of tightly-connected politicos and academicsa mutual admiration society dedicated to the career advancement, political influence, and financial benefit of its members, supported by a gaggle of wealthy foundations (e.g., Gates, Walton, Broad, Wallace, Hewlett, Smith-Richardson). 

For over a decade, The Ed Reform Club exploited DC for its own benefit. Local elite formed the DC Public Education Fund (DCPEF) to sponsor education projects, such as IMPACT, which they deemed worthy. In the negotiations between the Washington Teachers’ Union and DCPS concluded in 2010, DCPEF arranged a 3 year grant of $64.5M from the Arnold, Broad, Robertson and Walton Foundations to fund a 5-year retroactive teacher pay raise in return for contract language allowing teacher excessing tied to IMPACT, which Rhee promised would lead to annual student test score increases by 2012. Projected goals were not metfoundation support continued nonetheless.

Michelle Johnson (nee Rhee) now chairs the board of a charter school chain in California and occasionally collects $30,000+ in speaker fees but, otherwise, seems to have deliberately withdrawn from the limelight. Despite contributing her own additional scandalsafter she assumed the DCPS Chancellorship, Kaya Henderson ascended to great fame and glory with a “distinguished professorship” at Georgetown; honorary degrees from Georgetown and Catholic Universities; gigs with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Broad Leadership Academy, and Teach for All; and board memberships with The Aspen Institute, The College Board, Robin Hood NYC, and Teach For America. Carey Wright is now state superintendent in Mississippi. Dan Gordon runs a 30-person consulting firm, Education Counsel that strategically partners with major players in US education policy. The manager of the IMPACT teacher evaluation program, Jason Kamras, now works as Superintendent of the Richmond, VA public schools. 

Arguably the person most directly responsible for the recurring assessment system fiascos of the Rhee-Henderson years, then Chief of Data and Accountability Erin McGoldrick, now specializes in “data innovation” as partner and chief operating officer at an education management consulting firm. Her firm, Kitamba, strategically partners with its own panoply of major players in US education policy. Its list of recent clients includes the DC Public Charter School Board and DCPS.

If the ambitious DC central office folk who gaudily declared themselves leading education reformers were not really, who were the genuine education reformers during the Rhee-Henderson decade of massive upheaval and per-student expenditures three times those in the state of Utah? They were the school principals and staff whose practical suggestions were ignored by central office glitterati. They were whistleblowers like history teacher Erich Martel who had documented DCPS’ student records’ manipulation and phony graduation rates years before the Washington Post’s celebrated investigation of Ballou High School, and was demoted and then “excessed” by Henderson. Or, school principal Adell Cothorne, who spilled the beans on test answer sheet “erasure parties” at Noyes Education Campus and lost her job under Rhee. 

Real reformers with “skin in the game” can’t play it safe.

The author appreciates the helpful comments of Mary Levy and Erich Martel in researching this article. 

Access this testimonial in .pdf format

The Proper Way to Bribe Your Child’s Way into an Ivy League College

The very audacity of those cheapskate parents!
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If you want your not-very-talented son or daughter to get a guaranteed admission to an Ivy League school, you have to pony up at least ten million dollars for a wing of a dormitory or administration building. At the minimum.
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These B-list celebs and millionaires (only a few score times over) should expect to get their hands spanked. Imagine: one of these parents only paid $1.5 million to try to get their kid in on an athletic scholarship, and the coach ONLY got $400K. Anybody only willing to pay a bribe of $1.5 million needs to go to jail. Mr Harkness (tower shown) shows the proper way to do it.
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The robber barons of a century ago and those nowadays (eg Trumps & Kushners) know the right way. $10 million minimum, per kid, or else your kid will have to take their own SAT tests, you losers!
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(My comments were sarcasm, if you couldn’t tell, but the news article is real)

 

Where are all the 2016 Campaign Stickers and Signs?

Most 4-year election cycles, there are literally (and also figuratively) tons of presidential campaign stickers for the two main parties and also for others plastered on vehicles, walls, buttons, yard signs, and much more.

Not so far this year.

(Back in my day, when we actually DID sometimes (wellll, twice, both February 1958 iirc) walk to the store pulling a sled through snowdrifts taller than me, I actually recall playing with a spinning top labeled “Ike on Top” from either the 1952 or 1956 election. During the last two cycles that Obama was running, you would see stickers or signs for Obama-Biden; or Romney-Ryan; or McCain-Palin nearly everywhere you looked, walking or driving.

I just drove to South Carolina through NC, VA and DC and back over 4 days and found a grand total of THREE such election notices, only 6 weeks before election day, and all were in NC:

  • One red pickup truck with TRUMP-PENCE signs
  • One small TRUMP-PENCE road side sign
  • One CLINTON-KAINE illuminated bill board

That’s ALL. None others, at all, anywhere we went that I was looking.

Before this trip, here in DC I recall  seeing a grand total THREE bumper stickers. One  Johnston, one Stein, and one Hillary.

So that is a grand total of SIX stickers or signs that I’ve seen posted by actual people, so far, this election. Lots of emails (I still get some from Carson – remember him?)

And that’s after driving many hundreds of miles on interstates and local roads and in various towns in NC, VA, DC and a tiny bit in S, as well as walking a fair distance. Almost no open and visible signs from anybody supporting either candidate!

These must be truly the most unpopular American presidential candidates in my lifetime and perhaps ever.  I suspect that on both sides, a lot of people will be voting while holding their noses, and that will include me, and will mostly voting AGAINST someone. (If you didn’t know already, I’m mostly voting AGAINST Trump but not in favor of either of the 3rd-party candidates. So that means I’m voting for Clinton, because I can’t abide the idea that somebody as foolish and as dishonest as Trump would be the American president.

Clearly there are some Trump supporters who don’t care how many times he’s lied, or whom he has demeaned, or how much money he’s swindled out of the rest of us, or how absolutely unfit he is for any position of trust and leadership. All of those unimipeachable facts make him completely unacceptable to the vast majority of people, but there is a core group of Trump cult members who have been conned. Believe me, he is the very best con-man out there. The very best. A bigly con-man. I’ll tell you, he is a world-class shyster. the very best. So those who have been conned pick and choose whichever side of his self-contradictory programs he sort-of articulates, and ignore all the contradictory evidence.

And of course, he and his Breitbart-Fox Fake news media friends have been promoting the Big Lie that Hillary Clinton is the worst liar in the world and a heartless murderer to boot.

Concerning Secy Clinton, I’m not crazy about how the policies of Obama and the Clintons in foreign policy and on education appear to be almost indistinguishable from those of GWBush, even though GWB justified those interventionist and frankly essentially imperialist policies on much more know-nothing, knee-jerk, right-wing, grounds that simply aggravated tensions abroad, alienated enormous numbers of Moslems and others in the Middle East, and dissipated all the support Americans got when the US was attacked on 9-11-2001. The policies of GWB — which have to a great extent continued under Obama  — supported totally corrupt, ruthless, violent regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan (Al-Maliki and Karzai) and in reaction caused groups like the Taliban and ISIS/ISIL and its predecessors, the Sunni Uprising in Iraq, to seem like legitimate resistance fighters to millions of people there. Destabilizing Libya and Syria hasn’t exactly brought about progress, either, and now the US has its ostensibly strongest allies (Kurds and Turkey) fighting each other. Bringing about an enormous refugee problem that seems to have no solution. So Trump is correct that the policies of the last two presidential administrations in the Middle East have been failures on their own terms — but his would be even worse!

Just think: he advocates stealing ALL THE OIL from Iraq, Libya and elsewhere, and doing torture even worse than the illegal stuff that the CIA and US military did all along, and IIRC has even proposed using nuclear weapons over there! That would make the US into one of the worst perpetrators of brazen war crimes of all time, and would prompt millions or billions of people into rising up against the American presence everywhere in the world.

Starting wars and uprisings can sound like a good idea sometimes if you aren’t the ones in the middle of it as a combatant or civilian. Armed conflict is not fun, but if people feel that they really have no choice, they will do it.

The stuff about Clinton’s emails and Benghazi, to me, seem to be utterly bogus issues — but since they have been repeated over and over again by the rabid anti-Clintonites, they have achieved their goal of making Clinton looking more duplicitous than the average politician. I think she is considerably less so. While far from perfect, her record is WAAAYY cleaner than Trump — who sets world-class records for lying. Like the Meghan Trainor song,  “His lips are moving, so he’s lying, lying, lying” as well as cheating others out of their money and avoiding taxes.

Can anybody think of a good NO TRUMP sticker? I’ve tried, but unfortunately, almost nobody plays Contract Bridge any more, and in fact regular 52-cards-to-the-deck playing cards are virtually unknown to many children, so the phrase “No Trump” won’t mean much to many people. (If you play Spades instead of Bridge, then any Spade *always* trumps any other card, which is a different sort of joke…) In any case, it would be pretty easy to make a phrase about spades, clubs, diamonds, hearts, trumps, no-trumps, dummies, and jokers that many folks would see as merely insulting and offensive, or else would be simply incomprehensible.

I haven’t been able to think of anything clever and funny and carries a good message. If anybody can think of one, I’d love to hear it or see it, publicize it to my dozens of readers, and give you credit! Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

TWO HEARTS BEAT ONE NO TRUMP

one no trump

But they are pretty lame…

 

Are Charter Schools Public Institutions?

I don’t know a whole lot about the charter schools here in Brookland (a region of DC where I live). I’ve visited some charter schools in wards 1, 4, 7 and 8 while attempting to mentor new math teachers about 5 years ago, and found about as much variation in the charter schools that I visited as we have in the regular public schools.

I think it’s a shame that nearly all of the white parents in Brookland appear to have opted out of sending their kids to the neighborhood public schools here in Brookland (ie Noyes, Bunker Hill, Brookland, Burroughs). More diversity there would really help.

One important thing to consider is that the National Labor Relations Board no longer considers charter schools to be public institutions:

http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/266763/in-the-eyes-of-the-nlrb-charter-schools-are-private-not-public/

In the eyes of the NLRB, charter schools are private, not public

And while you can find the salary of every single DCPS employee with a little searching on the DCPS website, I have no idea where to find the corresponding information about any DC charter schools.

In PA, charter schools appear to try to keep such data private, and a report indicates that they spend much more on administration than do regular public schools:

https://www.psba.org/2016/08/psba-report-charter-school-transparency-accountability/

In New York City, the head of a small chain of charter schools – Eva Moskowitz – earns almost half-a-million dollars annually (look it up), and here in DC I have lost count of the number of charter schools have been shut down because of wholesale theft or fraud by their leaders. (eg

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Dorothy-Height-Charter-School-Shutting-Down-292653401.html

Charter for Dorothy Height Charter School Revoked

And here is an article in The Progressive:

Guy on Randolph

Failed Charter Schools in DC

I learned from the indefatigable Peter Greene just now that a group called CMD has done some serious data crunching and has come up with a list of about 2500 charter schools across the nation that have failed and closed. Some took millions of federal and state dollars and never served a single student.

Here is a map of just the ones in Washington, DC. Looking at the map, I count about forty failed charter schools in my fair city; however the spreadsheet has 49. If you are a veteran Washingtonian, how many of them can you name just by looking at the map? If you go to the actual web page you can get names and so on. I see that the state of Arizona alone has over 340 such failed ventures into edupreneurship; Florida 305, and Michigan has 120, and Ohio may be the leader with 425 failed and closed charter scams schools.

failed charter schools in dc

(BTW, the teachers in those failed charter schools were generally very hard-working, passionate people who are not trying to make a million bucks. Charter school operators? That’s a different story.)

Here is the DC list:

Name / Year founded / Year failed / Enrollment during last year / Address

failed charter schools dc list

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:http://fairtest.org/news/other

National End High-Stakes Testing to Help Fix Public Education: Key Civil Rights Leader

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/education/247770-fix-public-education-end-high-stakes-testing-pass-esea
National U.S. Senate Rejects Proposal to Give Federal Government More Say in Identifying “Failing” Schools
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/senate-rejects-effort-to-give-feds-more-say-in-identifying-failing-schools/2015/07/15/f6ad9ba2-2a6b-11e5-a5ea-cf74396e59ec_story.html
National Both House and Senate NCLB Overhaul Bills Allow for Penalty-Free Test Opt Out
https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/both-house-and-senate-esea-bills-allow-for-opt-out-without-penalty/
National “Race to the Top:” Lofty Promises and Top-Down Regulation Brought Few Good Changes to America’s Schools
http://educationnext.org/lofty-promises-little-change-americas-schools/

California
Exit Exam on Way Out
http://www.hidesertstar.com/news/article_ee092084-2cfa-11e5-98d3-fbf7e03679c0.html

Colorado
Two Small Districts Set Opt Out Records
http://co.chalkbeat.org/2015/07/20/two-small-districts-set-the-record-for-opting-out/#.Va1_rZdLUZw

Connecticut
Opposition Coalesces Against Smarter Balanced Tests
http://www.newmilfordspectrum.com/news/article/Opposition-coelesces-regarding-school-testing-6393921.php

Delaware
Governor Vetoes Opt-Out Bill; State PTA Pushed for Override Vote
http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/education/2015/07/16/markell-vetoes-testing-opt-bill/30243869/

Georgia
More than 10,000 Young People Who Did Not Pass Grad. Test Recently Received Diplomas
http://jacksonville.com/news/georgia/2015-07-17/story/georgia-hands-diplomas-more-10000-people-who-couldnt-pass-high-school

Hawaii Teachers Fight Evaluations Based on Student Test Scores
http://www.civilbeat.com/2015/07/she-fought-hawaiis-new-way-of-evaluating-teachers-and-won/

Illinois
Why Common Core Tests Are Harmful to Students
http://dianeravitch.net/2015/07/20/gerri-k-songer-explains-why-common-core-tests-are-actually-harmful-to-students/

Iowa
Third-Grade Promotion Test Pushes Reading Down Into Kindergarten
http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/education/2015/04/20/early-reading-education-reform/26100783/

Louisiana
Fight to Make Charter School Disclose What Test It Uses for Kindergarten Entry
http://hechingerreport.org/when-a-top-nola-charter-wont-reveal-its-admission-test-for-kindergarten/

Minnesota
Test Cuts Came After Thorough Debate
http://www.startribune.com/editorial-counterpoint-school-testing-cuts-were-fully-debated/316368021/

Missouri
Exam Scores Don’t Tell Full Story of Teacher Preparedness
http://www.examiner.net/article/20150715/OPINION/150719341/-1/sports

Ohio
Time Allocated to New State Tests Cut in Half
http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2015/07/ohios_common_core_math_and_english_tests_will_be_cut_to_3_hours_each.html

Nevada After Testing System Breakdown, State to Hire New Assessment Vendor
http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/state_edwatch/2015/07/after_testing_problems_nevada_set_to_hire_new_assessment_vendor.html

New Hampshire Schools Can Replace Smarter Balanced Tests with ACT or SAT
http://nhpr.org/post/nh-schools-can-replace-smarter-balanced-test-sat-and-act

New Jersey
Be Wary of New State Teacher Ratings
http://www.app.com/story/opinion/2015/07/17/teacher-ratings/30307937/

New Mexico
Court Rejects Suit Seeking to Strip Pearson’s Common Core Testing Contract
http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/marketplacek12/2015/07/court_hands_major_victory_to_parcc_pearson_in_challenge_by_vendor.html

New York
High School Models Authentic Assessment
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/07/17/nyc-high-school-strives-for-authentic-assessment.html
New York Opt Out Movement Plans to Ratchet Up Actions Against Standardized Exam Overkill
http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/238624/opt-outers-will-continue-to-protest-tests/
New York Pending NCLB Overhaul Offers Hope to Reduce State’s Testing Obsession
http://www.lohud.com/story/opinion/2015/07/17/hope-reduce-testing-obsession-nclb/30290533/

North Carolina State’s Largest District Cuts Back Local Test Mandates
http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article27865318.html
North Carolina Cautions About Test-Score-Based Teacher Pay
http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/community/chapel-hill-news/chn-opinion/article27512254.html

Oregon
Students Can Meet Graduation Requirement with Work Samples in Their Home Language
http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2015/07/oregon_students_can_qualify_fo.html

Pennsylvania
Questions Mount About Using Volatile Test Results to Evaluate Teachers and Schools
http://thenotebook.org/blog/158810/educators-pennsylvania-pssa-test-score-plunge
Pennsylvania Teachers to School Board: Standardized Testing is Harming Students
http://lancasteronline.com/news/local/cocalico-teachers-to-school-board-standardized-testing-is-harming-students/article_dc32651c-2e4b-11e5-803e-0be9cdf1e4bc.html

Rhode Island
What Tests Like PARCC Do Not Measure
http://www.golocalprov.com/news/guest-mindsetter-joel-hellmann-what-parcc-doesnt-measure

Tennessee
Teachers School Governor on Testing and Evaluations
http://tn.chalkbeat.org/2015/07/16/tennessee-teachers-school-haslam-on-testing-evaluations-during-first-teachers-cabinet-meeting/#.VahPb5dLUZw
Tennessee Local School Board to Take Up Opt Out Resolution
http://springhillhomepage.com/wcs-board-delays-talks-on-over-testing-cms-4594

Texas
New Test Leading Fewer to Get GEDs
https://www.texastribune.org/2015/07/14/education-advocates-say-new-computer-based-ged-too/

Washington State Testing Revolt Pushes State Into Uncharted Waters
http://wutc.org/post/testing-revolt-washington-state-brings-feds-uncharted-waters
Washington Over-Testing is a Flawed Strategy
http://www.dailyrecordnews.com/familyandeducation/is-there-too-much-testing/article_15326290-2cdf-11e5-b9a9-637e48088a15.html

“How Many Tests Can a Child Withstand?” — with apologies to Bob Dylan
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/07/14/with-apologies-to-bob-dylan-a-song-how-many-tests-must-a-child-withstandbefore-we-can-kill-this-scam/

The Beatings in Education Will Continue Until Morale Improves
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-nelson/the-beatings-will-continu_b_7795784.html

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office-   (239) 395-6773   fax-  (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468
web-  http://www.fairtest.org

ASD Reformers Claim They Can Achieve The Impossible

Gary Rubinstein has watched a conclave of uber school reformers in places like New Orleans and Tennessee, so that you don’t have to.

He discovers some amazing things about their amazing claims of success:

1. They don’t have any secret recipes (other than firing lots of teachers and turning the schools over to private entities)

2. These claims of success are not actually backed up by any data

3. For the most part, these outlandish promises (like going from the bottom 5% to the top 25% in 5 years) are simply advertisements designed to get money

Here’s the link:

https://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/the-three-stooges-of-school-turnaround/

Definitely worth reading.

What Exactly Were the Differences Between Cheating in Atlanta Under Beverly Hall and the Cheating in DC Under Michelle Rhee?

We all know that administrators and teachers in DC and in Atlanta cheated in order to keep their jobs and gain large cash bonuses. In one city, scores of teachers were indicted, some plea=bargained, some went to jail, and the chief died of cancer. In the other city, only a couple of whistle-blowers lost their jobs, but the chief went on to fame and fortune while all the other culpable parties kept their bonuses.

But why is it that only in Atlanta were teachers and administrators indicted and convicted, but nowhere else?

What difference was there in their actual behavior?

To me, the answer is simple: in DC, officials at every level, from the Mayor’s office up to the President of the US and the Secretary of Education, were determined to make sure that Michelle Rhee’s lying and suborning of perjury and lies would never be revealed, no matter what.

Read for yourself part of the official documents in Atlanta (I’m quoting from The Answer Sheet) and see if you can find any real differences in behavior between what happened there and what happened in DC.

“A[tlanta] P[ublic] S[schools] principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated. When principals and teachers could not reach their targets, their performance was criticized, their jobs were threatened and some were terminated. Over time, the unnreasonable pressure to meet annual APS targets led some employees to cheat on the CRCT. The refusal of Beverly Hall and her top administrators to accept anything other than satisfying targets created an environment where achieving the desired end result was more important than the students’ education.

“To satisfy annual targets and AYP, test answer sheets were altered, fabricated, and falsely certified. Test scores that were inflated as a result of cheating were purported to be the actual achievement of targets through legitimately obtained improvements in students’ performance when, in fact, the conspirators knew those results had been obtained through cheating and did not reflect students’ actual academic performance.

“As part of the conspiracy, employees of APS who failed to satisfy targets were terminated or threatened with termination, while others who achieved targets through cheating were publicly praised and financially rewarded. For example, teachers who reported other teachers who cheated were terminated, while teachers who were caught cheating were only suspended. The message from Beverly Hall was clear: there were to be no exceptions and no excuses for failure to meet targets.

“Beverly Hall placed unreasonable emphasis on achieving targets; protected and rewarded those who achieved targets through cheating; terminated principals who failed to achieve targets; and ignored suspicions CRCT score gains at schools within APS. As a result, cheating became more and more prevalent within APS, until by the time the 2009 CRCT was administered, cheating was taking place in a majority of APS’s 83 elementary and middle schools. This was substantiated by GOSA’s erasure analysis, which identified 43 APS elementary and middle schools with at least one out of four classrooms within those schools having a statistically improbable number of erasures changing wrong answers to right answers. GOSA’s erasure analysis identified an additional 9 APS elementary and middle schools as having at least one out of five classrooms with a statistically improbable number of erasures changing wrong answers to right answers. Confessions by dozens of APS employees subsequently confirmed what GOSA’s statistical analysis indicated; widespread cheating occurred on the 2009 CRCT.

“It was further a part of the conspiracy and endeavor that targets achieved through cheating were used to obtain financial and other rewards for many of the conspirators.

“It was further part of the conspiracy and endeavor that targets achieved through cheating were used by Beverly Hall to obtain substantial performance bonuses.

“It was further part of the conspiracy and endeavor that Beverly Hall and other conspirators would interfere with, suppress and obstruct investigations into cheating using various methods. Conspirators would refuse to investigate reports of cheating; suppress and deny the existence of reports of cheating; fail to act upon APS investigators’ conclusions that cheating was occurring; suppress and deny the APS investigators’ conclusions that cheating was in fact occurring; fail and refuse to provide complaints of cheating to the Governor’s Special Investigators, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and investigators from the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office; and intimidate witnesses with the intent to hinder, delay, or prevent the communication of criminal offenses to law enforcement officers. When questioned by the Governor’s Special Investigators and law enforcement officers, many of the conspirators made false statements some under oath denying their knowledge of and participation in the cheating.”

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