Remedial College Courses and Real Problems

From a recent discussion on the Concerned4DCPS list about a recent NYT article on the numbers of students taking remedial courses at the college level. I have taken the opportunity to revise and extend my remarks. If you want to read these in chronological order, start at the bottom.


(From me:)

Judge in NY State Throws Out ‘Value-Added Model’ Ratings

I am pleased that in an important, precedent-setting case, a judge in New York State has ruled that using Value-Added measurements to judge the effectiveness of teachers is ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious’.

The case involved teacher Sheri Lederman, and was argued by her husband.

“New York Supreme Court Judge Roger McDonough said in his decision that he could not rule beyond the individual case of fourth-grade teacher Sheri G. Lederman because regulations around the evaluation system have been changed, but he said she had proved that the controversial method that King developed and administered in New York had provided her with an unfair evaluation. It is thought to be the first time a judge has made such a decision in a teacher evaluation case.”

In case you were unaware of it, VAM is a statistical black box used to predict how a hypothetical student is supposed to score on a Big Standardized Test one year based on the scores of every other student that year and in previous years. Any deviation (up or down) of that score is attributed to the teacher.

Gary Rubinstein and I have looked into how stable those VAM scores are in New York City, where we had actual scores to work with (leaked by the NYTimes and other newspapers). We found that they were inconsistent and unstable in the extreme! When you graph one year’s score versus next year’s score, we found that there was essentially no correlation at all, meaning that a teacher who is assigned the exact same grade level, in the same school, with very similar  students, can score high one year, low the next, and middling the third, or any combination of those. Very, very few teachers got scores that were consistent from year to year. Even teachers who taught two or more grade levels of the same subject (say, 7th and 8th grade math) had no consistency from one subject to the next. See my blog  (not all on NY City) herehere, here,  here, herehere, here, here,  herehere, and here. See Gary R’s six part series on his blog here, here, here, here, here, and here. As well as a less technical explanation here.

Mercedes Schneider has done similar research on teachers’ VAM scores in Louisiana and came up with the same sorts of results that Rubinstein and I did.

Which led all three of us to conclude that the entire VAM machinery was invalid.

And which is why the case of Ms. Lederman is so important. Similar cases have been filed in numerous states, but this is apparently the first one where a judgement has been reached.

(Also read this. and this.)

Where DC’s schools rank by family income, test scores, and ethnicity – NYTimes

The New York Times recently ran the results of some pretty fancy number-crunching for all sufficiently-large public school districts in the United States. They graphed family income against ‘years ahead or behind’ in school and also showed the discrepancies in each of those school districts among hispanics, whites, and blacks.

If you haven’t played with the graphs, I urge you to do so. I did a little bit, looking for Washington, DC, my home town, where I and my children attended and where I taught for 30 years. I already knew that DC has one of the largest black-white gaps anywhere in the nation – a gap that 9 years of Edu-Reform under Fenty, Rhee, Gray, Henderson various charter companies have not narrowed at all.

Notice the extremely tight correlation between family income and scores on achievement tests, and where the District of Columbia is situated on the graph.

disparities dcps nyt

This next plot shows where DC’s whites, hispanics, and blacks are situated on the graph (as well as for thousands of other school districts):

Disparities dcps wh blk his nyt

Notice that white students in DC’s public schools are nearly the wealthiest and highest-achieving group anywhere in the nation, while DC’s black students are very far behind in both income and achievement. DC’s hispanic students, to my surprise, are considered to be a bit above the middle of the income levels, but still rather far behind academically. (I actually rather doubt the data on those DC hispanic income levels, based on my own personal experiences with Hispanic families here in DC…)

Having Two Separate School Systems Is Wasteful

Peter Greene keeps making the point that having a charter school system along side a public school system is wasteful. One reason is that each system would need its own set of administrators. In Washington, DC, where nearly half of the students now attend charter schools, we now have MORE school buildings than we did when I was in junior high school just over 50 years ago, but only about HALF as many students — thus, a lot of unused space.

Inventing two separate school systems has done essentially nothing to reduce the score gaps between children from white, affluent families (living mostly in upper Northwest) and children from minority, poor families (living elsewhere). The segregation is not quite as awful as it was in the 1960s, but it’s pretty close.

Here is an excellent article from Valerie Strauss’ blog where a DC parent decries the waste, segregation, and general bass-ackwardness of what passes for ‘reform’ in the nation’s capital.

An excerpt:

“Two years ago, when I moderatedthe mayoral education debate, I gave each candidate a math problem:

“–In 1965, the District had 147,000 students and 196 schools. That’s [an average of] 750 kids per school.

“–In 2014, we had 85,000 students and 213 DCPS [D.C. Public Schools] and charter school buildings. That’s [an average of] 399 kids per school.

“That means we have half the kids that we had in the 1960s, and more buildings, many of them gravely under-enrolled. Yet, we still authorize up to 20 new charters per year, and an unclear number of DCPS new schools. Enrollment is flat. At what point do we match school growth with enrollment needs, geographic balance, and transportation planning in mind? At one point do we focus on using data to invest in and manage the schools that we have?”

She also describes

“…the scene I watch from my house near North Capitol Street. It’s straight-up racial apartheid. If I see white children walking to the parks, I knew they are from Mundo Verde or Inspired Teaching schools. The lack of white faces in a group of children makes me know the kids are from Langley, Harmony, or KIPP.”

My Panel Discussion: Has Ed Rhee-form in DC Been A Success?

Recently I chaired a televised panel discussion on the legacy of eliminating democratic local control over public education in Washington, DC and turning it over to the mayor and his/her chancellor. We looked at the National Academies report on the results of that major change, and found that the results were rather dismaying.

The other panelists were, in alphabetical order,

  • Thomas Byrd, long time education and civil rights activist and host of We Act Radio Town Hall;
  • Adell Cothorne, former DCPS principal and a current adjunct professor  (see here for a bit of background on her bravery);
  • Elizabeth Davis, veteran and award-winning DCPS teacher, currently head of the Washington Teachers’ Union;
  • Denisha Jones, assistant professor at Howard University’s school of education;
  • Mary Levy, an independent analyst of education finance and policy.

The show aired several times on DC Channel 8 is airing on or DCTV (Comcast channels 95 & 96, RCN channels 10 & 11, Verizon FiOS 10, 11, & 28).

You can view it on YouTube at the link I gave you above or else here:

Watching the hour-long discussion will give you an opportunity to hear some people who have been laboring in the trenches to try to improve public education in Washington, DC, and who have been ignored, or opposed, or worse by the powers that have run DC public education for a long, long time.

Many thanks to Willie Brewer for organizing this and helping with the filming and production, and to my guests for tolerating my very first attempt at leading this sort of panel discussion. I think all of the panelists did a great job. Let me point out that two of them (Mary Levy and Thomas Byrd) were specifically thanked by the authors of the report (on page ix) for being among the 13 official reviewers thereof. Thus, they know what they are talking about.

If you actually read the text of the National Academies report on the results of what is often called educational Rhee-form in Washington, DC, you will find over and over again language indicating that the data was simply unavailable to the reviewers, which is sad, considering that Michelle Rhee, our first Chancellor, said that she was always driven by data. Also: after many, many millions of dollars were spent on devising new accountability schemes for teachers, driving many of them to retire early, and turning the education of 45% of the students in DC over to charter schools (dozens of which have failed and closed), there has been no improvement in closing the gap between affluent white students and their less-affluent black and brown peers.

PS: (12-25-15) I gave the wrong channel before, and I thank Willie Brewer for notifying me. Also, I was told that the Youtube link for some reason was ‘private’; I hope it has now been fixed. Please let me know if you can or cannot see it.

Valerie Jablow: Waste and Attrition in DC

Valerie Jablow is a parent on Capitol Hill (DC) and has a blog (EducationDC) where she delves into factual stuff – like the actual statistics concerning numbers of children in DC, in DCPS, and in the DC charter schools; as well as wasteful spending by the Mayor and DC City Council.

Here are some recent posts by her that she brought to my attention. I recommend reading them and taking some action. I also add what she wrote:

[Jablow] “posted a follow-up blog yesterday to Suzanne Wells’s great blog post about 4th to 5th grade attrition at Capitol Hill DCPS schools—and how that attrition is related to the recent PARCC scores. 
[Jablow’s] blog post is available here:
Suzanne’s blog post from September is here:
Also related to Capitol Hill and education issues are two other recent blog posts:

Even the Chancellor Calls the Results ‘Sobering’

The Washington City Paper has an article on the PARCC results with way more graphs and charts than I do, and they quote even Chancellor Kaya Henderson as saying the results were ‘sobering’.

Please remind me why she still has a job?

She and several other speakers said that the PARCC results were more ‘honest’ than the old DC-CAS results, probably because the new ‘passing’ scores are lower than the old ones. I guess that means that it’s more ‘honest’ to say that students are doing worse than we were previously led to believe, under the current regime of all-testing-all-the-time and turn-half-the-students-over-to-unregulated charters?


PARCC Results Released in DC

I just got back from watching the public release of the results of the PARCC test that students in Washington DC took about 7 months ago.

(Let that sink in: it took the testing company, and their consultants, and the city’s consultants, over HALF A YEAR to massage the data into a releasable form. So much for having these tests be able to be used to ‘inform instruction’ or help teachers figure out what kind of help their students need. It’s now the last day of November, and the students have been in school since August. What kind of help is that to teachers or parents? And tho I haven’t looked at the released school scores or samples of what the teachers will see, I’m not optimistic. If the past is any guide, the scores themselves will be essentially useless as well…)

(It won’t take so long next time, we were assured…)

I got to see Mayor Bowser, Councilman Grosso, Chancellor Kaya Henderson, [powerless] Superintendent Hanseul Kang, and Deputy Mayor for Education Jenny Niles, and charter honcho Scott Pearson perform and answer some mostly-lame questions from some members of the media.

What we saw were that advanced students in DC (largely white ones) do exceedingly well on this PARCC battery of tests, and that others (blacks; hispanics; SPEDs; students on free or reduced lunch; ELLs; or Students At Risk) do much worse. Which of course is  the very same result we’ve seen on the NAEP for a couple of decades.

In fact, of all the cities and states measured on the NAEP, Washington DC has the very widest gaps in test scores between the Upper Caucasia Haves and the Have-Nots everywhere else, and those gaps are if anything getting wider.

It was interesting to hear Henderson’s defenses of the results, which still showed very low percentages of most students “passing” the PARCC. She said, among other things, that

(1) since students at the lower grades generally scored higher than those at the upper grades, that show’s we are on the right path [seems to me it shows the exact opposite; the longer that students have been exposed to “Reform”, the worse they do… and

(2) It takes a long time, you can’t just expect to turn a switch and have everything be wonderful overnight, we need lots of wrap-around services and a longer school day and school year and support for teachers.

Regarding the latter excuse: isn’t that exactly what teachers were condemned for saying under Chancellor Rhee, whose understudy was none other than Kaya Henderson? Didn’t Rhee imply that the only reason that poor students did poorly in school was that their greedy, lazy teachers, empowered by their evil union, refused to teach them anything? And that anybody who said that it’s a lot harder to teach impoverished students of color with chaotic families (if any) than it is to teach middle-class children with educated parents – why those people were just making excuses for poverty?


Revised HS PARCC ‘pass’ rates in English and Math in DC public and charter schools

My original graphs on the ‘pass’ rates for all DC publicly-funded high schools were incomplete, because I was using OSSE data only (Office of the State Superintendent of Education). A reader showed me where the DC charter school board (DC PCSB) posted their PARCC statistics and that gave me the pass rates for a couple of additional schools (Maya Angelou and BASIS IIRC). So here are the revised graphs which you can click on to enlarge:

2015 Math PARCC 'pass' rates, both public and charter schools in DC

2015 Math PARCC ‘pass’ rates, both public and charter schools in DC

2015 'pass' rates, public and charter high school math, PARCC, DC, 2015

2015 ‘pass’ rates, public and charter high school math, PARCC, DC, 2015

Note how many fewer students passed the PARCC math test than the reading test in DC. I haven’t yet seen any of the actual questions on either of the tests. But if these were tests that I had written and was using as a teacher with my students, I would likely conclude that the one with the much-lower scores was simply a much harder test, and I would probably do one of the following:

(A) “scale” the scores so that more students would pass, or else

(B) throw out the test results and try teaching with a different approach altogether, or else

(C) throw out the test and make one that at least a majority of students could pass if they’ve been paying attention.

{At my last school, if f I failed 80 to 90% of my students, I would have gotten an unsatisfactory evaluation and probably have gotten fired.}

Of course, this being the era when multi-billionaires who hate the very idea of public schools are in charge of said public schools, neither A, B or C will happen. In fact, my understanding is that the ‘cut’ scores for each of the categories of grades (meets expectations and so on) were set AFTER the students took the test, not in advance. So it was very much a politico-social decision that the vast majority of students were SUPPOSED to fail the math test.

Let me note strongly that by far the most effective way to have really good test scores for your school is to let in ONLY students who already get strong test scores. That’s how Phillips Exeter or Andover Academies or Riverdale or Sidwell Friends or or the Chicago Lab or Lakeside private schools do it, and that’s how Banneker, School Without Walls, Washington Latin, and BASIS do it. (Partial disclosure: I and some of my immediate family either went to, or worked at, some of those schools.) Teachers who are successful at those elite schools have a MUCH easier time teaching those students than do those who try to teach at school with large numbers of at-risk students, like Washington Metropolitan, Ballou, Cardozo, Maya Angelou, or Options public or charter schools. Idealistic teachers from elite schools who do transfer to tough inner-city public schools generally crash and burn, and I would predict that one of the easiest ways to lose your teaching job these days is to volunteer to teach at any one of the five latter schools.

Trends on the NAEP give a clue as to why Arne Duncan quit

Seeing the rather large drop on the NAEP scores for students across the nation – results released at midnight last night – gives me the idea that Arne Duncan (secretary of education for the past 7 years) quit rather than face the blame for his failed policies. After all, he (and the rest of the billionaire deformer class) have been promising that if you open tons of unregulated charter schools, use numerology to fire many of the remaining veteran teachers, and make education into little more than test prep for all students of color or those who come from poor families, then the test results will improve.

Well, they didn’t improve.

I will let you see for yourself how the percentages of students deemed ‘proficient’ in 4th grade and 8th grade on the NAEP at the national level generally dropped. I include DC (where I come from), and in five other states – two that are high-performing (NH and Massachusetts) and three that are low-performing (CA, AL and NM).

The one bright spot for District residents is that DC is no longer the last in the nation in every category! DC students now have slightly higher percentages proficient in certain categories than two other impoverished states – New Mexico and Alabama, as you can see in the graphs below. (The graph for the District of Columbia is the light blue one at the bottom,)

On the other hand, the increases in percentages of students ‘proficient’ in DC since 2008, the first year after mayoral control was imposed and the elected school board was neutralized, are nothing but a continuation of previous trends.

As usual, if you want to take a closer look, click on the graphs.

% Proficient in 4th Grade Math: DC, Nation, MA, CA, NH, NM, AL through 2015

% Proficient in 4th Grade Math: DC, Nation, MA, CA, NH, NM, AL through 2015

Percentage 'Proficient' or Above on 4th grade NAEP reading through 2015, DC, Nation, AL, CA, MA, NH, NM

Percentage ‘Proficient’ or Above on 4th grade NAEP reading through 2015, DC, Nation, AL, CA, MA, NH, NM

8th grade math NAEP

8th grade math NAEP

8th grade reading

8th grade reading


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