More on the DC Education Frauds

This article appeared in Education Week, which is behind a paywall, so I’m pasting it here. In case you haven’t been watching, just about all of the supposed improvements in DC’s publicly-funded education sector have either been:

(a) continuations of trends begun before Mayor Fenty took control of DC Public Schools in 2007 and appointed Michelle Rhee Chancellor; or

(b) the result of changing demographics (more white kids, more black kids from relatively-affluent families, and fewer kids from highly-poverty-stricken families; or

(c) simply the result of fraud.

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NEWS

D.C.’s Scandal and the Nationwide Problem of Fudging Graduation Numbers

Edweek.org

The headlines made a big splash, and yet they were strangely familiar: Another school system was reporting a higher graduation rate than it deserved.

The most recent scandal-in the District of Columbia-is just the latest example in a growing case file of school systems where investigators have uncovered bogus graduation-rate practices.

Those revelations have unleashed a wave of questions about the pressures and incentives built into U.S. high schools, and fueled nagging doubts that states’ rising high school graduation rates-and the country’s current all-time-high rate of 84 percent-aren’t what they seem.

The newest round of reflections was triggered by an investigation, ordered by the D.C. mayor’s office, that found that 34 percent of last year’s senior class got diplomas even though they’d missed too much school to earn passing grades, or acquired too many credits through quick, online courses known as credit recovery. Only three months earlier, the school system touted a 20-point rise in its graduation rate over the last six years.

“It’s been devastating,” said Cathy Reilly, the executive director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals, and Educators, a group that focuses on high school issues in the District of Columbia. “It’s made people here feel that our graduation rate gains weren’t real.”

A National Problem

Such revelations are hardly confined to the nation’s capital. In the last few years, a federal audit found that California and Alabama inflated their graduation rates by counting students they shouldn’t have counted. News media investigations showed that educators persuaded low-performing students in Atlanta and Orlando, Fla., to transfer to private or alternative schools to eliminate a drag on their home schools’ graduation rates.

See AlsoThe D.C. Public School Attendance Scandal: Where’s the Outrage? (Commentary)The drumbeat of graduation-rate fudging has opened the door to renewed attacks on the pressures imposed on schools by accountability rules, particularly the high stakes that some systems attach to specific metrics. In the District of Columbia, for instance, high school teachers and principals are evaluated in part on their schools’ graduation rates.

With those kinds of stakes, teachers can feel immense pressure to award passing grades to students who haven’t earned them, a dilemma that intensifies in schools with high rates of chronic absenteeism and academically struggling students.

In a survey of 616 District of Columbia teachers conducted after the scandal broke, 47 percent said they’d felt pressured or coerced into giving grades that didn’t accurately reflect what students had learned. Among high school teachers, that number rose to 60 percent. More than 2 in 10 said that their student grades or attendance data had been changed by someone else after teachers submitted them.

Scott Goldstein oversaw the survey as the founder of EmpowerEd, a year-old coalition of D.C. teachers that works to strengthen teacher leadership. To him, the results cry out for a new conversation about the “moral dilemmas” embedded in accountability systems that rely heavily on just a few metrics, like graduation rates.

“If you pass students [who haven’t completed course requirements], you’re leading them into a world they’re unprepared for. But if you fail them, you’re harming their lives in other ways,” said Goldstein, a social studies teacher at Roosevelt High School. Teachers’ decisions should rest on a professional appraisal of student mastery, not on fear for their own jobs, he said.

Pressure From the Top

Pressure to Graduate: Perspectives From Educators … read moreEven in school systems that don’t reward or penalize educators for their schools’ accountability metrics, teachers can feel immense pressure from administrators on their grading practices.

In postings on social media, Education Week asked high school teachers if they’d ever felt pressure to give passing grades to students who hadn’t done the work.

“Never mind high school. I feel that pressure in 3rd grade,” said Annie, an elementary school teacher in central Virginia. She asked Education Week not to identify her so she could discuss sensitive issues.

She said her principal has cautioned her not to fail any student or recommend that they repeat a grade because she “doesn’t want anyone to feel bad about not succeeding.” When she gave a student a D recently, she was summoned to a meeting with the principal, Annie said.

“She was upset. She said, ‘Why didn’t you work harder to get the student to turn in missing work, or re-do work?’ She sees a D as a teacher’s failure. But I think it’s a disservice to kids to give them grades they haven’t earned.”

John R. Tibbetts, who teaches economics at Worth County High School in rural Sylvester, Ga., and is the state’s 2018 teacher of the year, said his district’s policy doesn’t include course-failure rates in teachers’ evaluations. But his principal recently sent teachers an email conveying word from their superintendent that “failure rates … will be taken into consideration” in their evaluations anyway.

A Change of Approach

Tibbetts said he would like to replace that “threatening” posture with a more collaborative one.

“If the superintendent is concerned with course-failure or graduation rates, what we really need is for him to have a conversation with teachers about what we need to do to improve, what policies we can implement,” he said.

Education advocates who believe accountability can be a force for good worry that graduation-rate scandals could tarnish a tool that’s important for shining a light on inequities and applying pressure for school improvement.

They hope, instead, that uncovering problems can spark a rebalancing of the pressures and supports built into accountability systems, and change school practice to respond better to issues like students’ poor academic skills and chronic absenteeism.

“We shouldn’t stop paying attention to high school grad rates, or not have them in accountability systems,” said Michael Cohen, the president of Achieve, which works with states to raise academic expectations.

“The right response to all of this is to double down on efforts to support students, and to support teachers, early and consistently, so they’re not pressured to game the system and they can give kids what they need.”

Experts who study and track graduation rates acknowledge that in some places, the rates are inflated by cheating or inaccurate reporting. But they contend that those cases account for a tiny share of schools overall. Robert Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University researcher who studies graduation rates, estimates that those cases account for 2 to 4 percentage points in the national graduation rate.

‘Hard-Earned Gains’ Are Real

John Bridgeland, the chief executive officer of Civic Enterprises, a think tank that examines graduation rates for the annual “Grad Nation” reports, said his team has visited dozens of schools to find out what they’re doing to produce significant gains in their graduation rates.

In a few places, he said, he and his colleagues have had to shave 2 to 4 percentage points off the rates districts were reporting because they were improperly counting some types of students who shouldn’t be included, such as those who started home schooling in their junior year of high school.

But with few exceptions, Bridgeland said, his team has found that “the hard work” of better instruction and student support explains higher graduation rates.

“We need to call out the problems when gaming or cheating appears,” he said. “But at the same time, taking isolated examples of gaming the system and saying that high school grad rates are not real diminishes and undermines the many schools, districts, and states that have hard-earned gains and clear progress to showcase,” he said.

Those who study graduation-rate calculations point out that while they’re still imperfect, they’ve been much more reliable since 2008 when federal regulations began requiring all schools to calculate them the same way-the portion of each freshman class that earns regular diplomas four years later.

Balfanz said that more stringent calculation and reporting requirements “without a doubt” have been responsible for a very real rise in states’ graduation rates.

“People don’t remember the bad days before 2008, when schools were allowed to measure graduation rates however they wanted,” he said. “Kids dropped out, schools would code them as ‘whereabouts unknown,’ not as a dropout. No one knew, and no one cared. That wasn’t a good place. Accountability makes schools pay attention to a key outcome, like graduating our kids from high school.”

But even those experts acknowledge that there are still too many hidden variations in the way states report graduation-rate data. To get a more accurate understanding of schools’ graduation rates, they’ve quietly identified about a dozen variations that should be ferreted out and handled in uniform ways.

For example, even though federal rules don’t allow states to count summer graduates, or those who earn high school equivalency certificates, some still do. Some schools include summer graduates, or students in juvenile justice facilities. Others include teenagers who “transfer” into home schooling late in high school.

What’s Behind the Record Rises in U.S. Graduation Rates?

Education Week
New Federal Rule Could Force States to Lower Graduation Rates

Education Week
NCLB Rules Back Common Rate

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

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

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

Simple:

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

From page 19 of Interim Report:

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

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

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

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

anacostia HS graph 1

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

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

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

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

anacostia HS graph 2

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

It’s saying something different:

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

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

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

Now, let’s look at Ballou:

ballou HS graph 1

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

And here is the confusing graph:

ballou HS graph 2

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

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

wilson graph 1

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

wilson graph 2

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

maya angelou graph 1

maya angelou graph 2

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

One could remake the graph in this manner:

maya angelou graph 3

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

 

 

 

No Signs of Educational Miracle in Washington DC, 10+ Years After Gutting Elected School Board

You may recall that Congress and the DC City Council got rid of local control of the public schools in Washington back in 2007, passing a law whose acronym is PERAA. Michelle Rhee was anointed as the first Chancellor (a brand-new position) in June of that year, only accountable to Mayor Fenty. She told lots of lies and alienated almost the entire non-white population of DC, but she had the full and complete backing of the Washington Post and the rest of the billionaires (Gates, Walton family, Arnold, etc) who think they know exactly how to fix public education.

When Fenty was primaried out of office by a pissed-off electorate before his first term expired, it was clear to most pundits that many of the voters were doing so because they felt Rhee (and by extension Fenty) was so toxic.

It’s now been ten and a half years since that attack on the ‘public’ part of public education in DC. There has been no move to return to an elected school board – an institution which was the first democratically-elected public board in Washington DC in the 20th century. In that time, the charter school enrollment in DC has climbed to nearly equal the enrollment in traditional public schools.

(Not that there is anything miraculous about the charter schools here in general: Over 40 of them have been closed by the PCSB itself either for mismanagement and/or fraud and/or academic failure and/or low enrollment, though 120 remain. That is a huge fraction, and my list of closed schools is about four years out of date! One more charter school just got closed down four days ago, a few months after it was celebrated as a wondrous success by Betsy DeVos, Melania Trump, and the Queen of Jordan. )

But the test scores!

The biggest argument of backers of PERAA and the crazy mix of public and charter schools is basically this: test scores are going up in DC, which shows that what we did worked.

Some of the DC NAEP test scores are in fact going up over time, but:

(1) They were going up, at about the same rate or even higher, BEFORE the gutting of democratic control of schools in 2007 (see graphs below). This means that whatever it is that is slightly raising the average NAEP test scores in DC was in fact going on in DC public schools well before Rhee was appointed;

(2) The gap between scores of white kids and black kids in DC is still the highest anywhere in the nation; and the gap between the top and bottom on the NAEP has gotten much wider since PERAA.

(3) If you look at PERAA’s supposed success in fighting poverty by new educational structures and techniques and all-year-round testing, you will see that there has been no miracle. Among the charter schools AND the public schools, the correlation between poverty markers and test scores is very, very strong, and negative: the higher the percentage of formally denoted ‘at-risk’ students, in general, the lower the school average scores.

Let me show you a few graphs that show point #1.

(I used the NAEP data, since it’s administered nationally, is almost impossible for administrators or teachers to cheat on, and we know that there has been a LOT of cheating on the locally-administered tests like the DC-CAS or PARCC. Not to mention that the local tests keep being changed, drastically. I’m not saying that any of these tests really measure the most important things in a child’s education, but they are the yardstick being wielded by our overlords, so it makes sense to see if their lordships actually measure up. I claim that they don’t.)

My first two graphs show “average scale scores” on the NAEP in reading and math for black eighth-grade DC youngsters over time, starting about 20 years ago and going up to 2015, and compared to all national public school 8th grade black students, and to their AA 8th-grade counterparts in all large US cities. (The 2017 scores should be published this spring).

The DC scores are in green. National Public scores are in blue, and the Large City scores are in orange.

There is a heavy, dotted, vertical, red line separating the period prior to mayoral control and the period afterwards. Look carefully: is there a big difference in trends from, say, 2000-2007 and 2007- 2015?

 

Me, I don’t see one, really, except that in math, for some reason, all three groups saw a small drop in 2015, which makes me suspect some sort of a test glitch. In 8th grade reading, there has been essentially no closing of the gap between 8th grade black students in DC and those elsewhere.

On the other hand, in math at the 8th grade among AA students, that same gap (between DC and elsewhere) has essentially been closed, thanks to steady growth from the year 2000 and 2013. Hmm: PERAA began about half-way through that period, so it didn’t by itself cause that growth!

Now let’s take a look at fourth-grade NAEP scores for the same groups (African-American students in DC, all US Large Cities, and the National Public School sample, over the past couple of decades:

I see two things:

(1) It looks like the gap between black fourth grade students in DC and their national counterparts has essentially closed, thanks to fairly steady progress since the year 2000 (in math) or 2002 (in reading);

(2) On the other hand, you could make the argument that the rate of growth was stronger before PERAA (Mayoral Control of DC Schools) than it was afterwards!

Something to think about on this anniversary of the birth of MLK Jr, and during the 50th anniversary of his murder.

Next I’ll look at the same sort of thing for Hispanic students and white students.

 

Open Letter to DC Mayor & Council on Faked Grades

Retired DCPS teacher Erich Martel continues to hammer the issue of massive high school grade and attendance fraud in the District of Columbia. As you can imagine, the fraud is not done to help students; it’s done to make it appear that the leadership of DCPS are doing a bang-up job.

Many of them should be indicted for these frauds., which have been going on for a very long time. In fact, Martel was removed from Wilson SHS about 8 years ago for exposing such frauds. Look near the end of his email here to see where he quotes a DPCS internal investigation that showed very clear evidence of grade tampering at another school, commonly known as CHEC.

Here’s Erich’s most recent open letter:

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Please expand faked grades, attendance, graduation investigation to Columbia Hts EC & to all DCPS & charter high schools

From: Erich Martel <ehmartel@starpower.net>

[1-14-2018] at 3:16 PM

To           mayor@dc.gov  dme@dc.gov

CC           ‘Kang, Hanseul (OSSE)’  antwan.wilson@dc.gov  karl.racine@dc.gov  ‘A Strange (CM Bonds)’  ‘Anita Bonds’  and 47 more…

Dear Mayor Bowser,

(cc: State Supt Kang, DCPS Chancellor Wilson, DC Attorney-General Racine, DC Council Chairman Mendelson, DC Council Education Comm. Chair Grosso, DC State Board of Education Chair Williams, and Members)

Last week WJLA reported faked grades at DC’s Columbia Heights EC (CHEC). That followed the WAMU-NPR report on violations of grading, attendance rules and graduation certification procedures at Ballou HS, which likely occurred at most DCPS and charter high schools and calls for full audits of student records at all DCPS and DC charter high schools.  In 2002-03, after I reported grade and graduation violations at Wilson HS (http://tinyurl.com/y7u5p6oe), DCPS contracted an independent review of student grades at all DCPS high schools (2003 review link & Bell MC HS excerpt, below).

I am, therefore, requesting that you:

  1. Expand the investigation of grades, absences and graduation violations at Ballou HS to include a full investigation of allegations reported to WJLA at CHEC and to conduct a review of statistically valid sample of records of student grades, attendance and graduation certification for the graduating classes of 2017 and 2018 at all DCPS and DC charter high schools. According to the WJLA “Faking the grade” report,

 

“Thousands of individual student transcripts and attendance records obtained by the ABC7 I-Team reveal students passing required courses despite being marked ‘unexcused’ absent two-thirds of the school days in a semester. The records … focus on Columbia Heights Education Campus.”  http://wjla.com/features/faking-the-grade/faking-the-grade-records-show-columbia-heights-education-campus-appears-to-inflate-grades

2. Publicly release and post the final, full, redacted investigation report;

3. Ensure that there will be no retaliation against any teacher/staff at Ballou HS, Col Hts EC or any school whose staff reported violations of laws governing grading, unexcused absence referrals or the high school diploma certification process;

4. Report to the Council and public how DCPS, DME and other education officials in the multi-layer supervisory hierarchy linking your office of the mayor to each high school principal, failed to report these violations to you, including specific responsibility for “managing student attendance” (Oct 2017 DCPS organizational chart: https://dcps.dc.gov/publication/dcps-organizational-chart):

  • The positions linking the Office of Mayor to each high school principal are:
  • – Deputy Mayor for Education
  • – Chancellor of DCPS (plus a 14 member leadership team)
  • – Chief of Staff (plus 4 deputy chiefs)
  • – Chief Operating Officer (plus 5 deputy chiefs)
  • – Chief of School Design and Continuous Improvement (plus 3 deputy chiefs);
  • – Chief of Equity (plus a chief of staff; 2 senior deputy chiefs; 6 deputy chiefs);
  • – Chief of Family & Public Engagement (plus 3 deputy chiefs)
  •  Chief of Secondary Schools (plus 2 Instructional supts for 22 high schools);
  • – Chief of Teaching & Learning (plus 6 deputy chiefs; 2 directors).

Some of their job descriptions: “summarizes and analyzes data to ensure informed decision-making on DCPS’ top priorities;” “manages student attendance compliance;” “oversees student scheduling;” “promotes data-driven processes, planning & decision-making;” “dismantles institutionalized inequities;” “Instructional Superintendents … help principals ensure their schools are well-run, nurturing places of learning.”The 2002-03 review of DCPS h.s. student records

In 2002-03, Gardiner, Kamya & Assoc (GKA) was contracted to conduct an “agreed-upon procedures review” of student grade and graduation records in each DCPS high school. At each h.s., a sample of 59 students’ records was reviewed. The original report, released to the media in December 2003, is here:

http://nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Resources/GardinerKamya.pdf

  1. 1-12: the procedures and types of records reviewed;
  2. 20-22: Ballou H.S.
  3. 23-26: Bell Multicultural HS, the h.s. predecessor of CHEC (The principal of Bell in 2002-03 is the current principal of CHEC).

In each high school, significant numbers of student records were missing and when available, “grades in their student records [in many cases] did not agree with teachers’ scan sheets” (grade reporting bubble sheets).

Excerpt from the 2003 review of Bell MC HS:

 “6. Tampering (Procedure #14, page 11)

“With respect to this procedure, we note the following:

– “Scan sheets were not available for 26 of the students in our sample [of 59], 10 of whom were transfer students;

– “Of the 32 for whom scan sheets were available, 12 had grades recorded in their student records that did not agree with the scan sheets (i.e. the grades were different or a grade was not recorded in the scan sheet at all).  The differences were not supported by any documentation in the student records;

– “In all instances where the grades were recorded on the scan sheets and the student records, the grades in the student records were higher than that recorded on the scan sheets.”

“These findings could be indications of tampering with grading process, particularly since the school did not implement the grade verification process mandated by the DCPS.  In the absence of the grade verification process, tampering may exist and not be detected, and may in fact be undetectable.” (pp.25-26)

 

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

Erich Martel

retired DCPS high school teacher (1969-2011: Cardozo HS, Wilson HS, Phelps HS)

Ward 3 resident

ehmartel@starpower.net

Gutting All DC High School Graduation Requirements

The question of exactly what it takes to earn a high school diploma in the District of Columbia, or anywhere else, is of course one for which one answer won’t satisfy everybody. Which is why whenever such requirements are set, they need to be widely debated so that the very worst ideas can at least be eliminated.

My former colleague Erich Martel has brought to my attention what seems to be a ‘stealth’ attempt to completely gut the DC HS graduation requirements, and perhaps to turn them all over to whoever it is that sells easily-defrauded online courses. I am reprinting his entire letter for your edification. Please read, and take some action. Letters and emails definitely help!

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[To] Ms. Wilson-Phelan and Mr. Batchelor,

cc: GRTF members, SBOE members, teachers; concerned community

 [From: Erich Martel}

I read your draft proposal for changing DC graduation requirements (http://tinyurl.com/ybm63tr5) which you submitted to the Graduation Requirements Task Force (GRTF) and was shocked. I then read the minutes of the meetings posted on the SBOE website, but saw no such recommendation.

Your proposal to remove all specifically named courses from the list of math (except Algebra I), science, social studies and English credit requirements for a DC high school diploma (these courses all have standards that the State Board adopted) would be a radical change that could lead to each LEA picking a random topics from each subject area, most likely taught online and assessed by online tests, approved by OSSE.  Has OSSE conducted any graduation compliance audits? That would give greater control over grades to LEA administrators and replace teachers with bots.

 

Coming right on the heels of your (Ms. Wilson-Phelan’s) vigorous promotion of competency-based education (replacing teachers with online programmed instruction), this new effort to radically rewrite the graduation requirements needs to be supported by facts and evidence:

A)  Clear descriptions (identified by sources or authors) of the obstacles or problems that each of the current requirements pose (e.g. if students are failing U.S. history or Geometry, GRTF members – and the public – need to know why.  You can’t solve a problem, if you don’t know why it’s a problem); and

B) Clear descriptions of how your proposed replacements will address the specific reasons that explain why students are failing each course

 

To that end, I make the following requests, which I hope all GRTF members will consider necessary in order to make informed decisions (the minutes show that several members have asked for evidence):

1. Can you provide evidence that each DCPS and DC charter high school requires every student to pass all 24.0 credits that the current DC graduation requirements specify?

In 2013, Mr. Hense, the founder and CEO of the Friendship charter schools, in testimony before the SBOE, submitted redacted transcripts from 3 Friendship Collegiate 2011 graduates as evidence of their achievement.  Two did not have U.S. History (the third took it at a previous school); three did not have the 2nd year of world history; all three had 9 or 10 courses whose credit values were inflated.     

 

2. How many students in each DCPS and charter high school needed one or more online credit recovery classes to receive the DC high school diploma in 2016 and 2017?

 

3. How many students were failing high school courses needed for graduation, but were certified to graduate in 2016 and 2017, because their teachers were pressured to give passing grades or because administrators changed failing grades to passing grades?

If you cannot get this information, will you ask the members of the SBOE to request an independent audit of all DC and charter high schools, such as the one reported this past week in Prince Georges County, MD?

I encourage you and GRTF and SBOE members to read the following three audits:

a) The newly released (10/31/2017) 211pp auditor’s report of the Prince Georges County PS investigation into allegations of grade changes, ineligible diploma awards, etc. in 20 of the 26 high schools:https://www.scribd.com/document/363400267/Report-finds-problems-with-Prince-George-s-Co-HS-graduation-rates#from_embed

 

b) Links to the two investigation reports that resulted from my discovery of altered grades and ineligible graduates at Wilson HS in 2002 and 2006. The first by contractor, Gardiner, Kamya & Assoc.; the second by the DC Inspector General:

 http://nonpartisaneducation.org/DCdocuments.htm

 

4. What is the source of your draft proposals?

 Please list the names and professional associations of any and all individuals, including registered lobbyists, DC OSSE officials or staff, education policy associations, DCPS officials, DC Public Charter School Board members and staff, DC charter operators, staff or board members, etc., who may have been in contact with you for the purpose of changing the graduation requirements that you are proposing. 

Since your proposal would lead to contracts with vendors of educational technology, online user licenses, etc., all of questionable educational value, it is important that GRTF members and the public know all of the details behind this unusual proposal.

 

I look forward to your reply.

 

Sincerely,

Erich Martel

Retired DCPS high school teacher

(1969-2011: Cardozo HS, Wilson HS, Phelps ACE HS)

ehmartel@starpower.net

 

 

 

https://sboe.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/sboe/publication/attachments/%23DCGradReqs%20Meeting%207%20DRAFT%20Graduation%20Purpose%20and%20Examples.pdf

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Assessment of Rhee/Henderson/Mayoral control in DC public schools

Here is a very long article on the legacy of the mayoral takeover of DC public schools back in 2007, which brought in Chancellors Rhee and Henderson, among other things. Having been a teacher, a mentor, and a volunteer in and visiting DC public schools for that period of time, I’m not particularly impressed with the changes I’ve seen. The article, which I still haven’t finished reading, has criticism of what hasn’t worked, by Mary Levy and  John Merrow, and also features a reply by Thomas Toch (who is very much a cheerleader for the “reforms”).

Here’s the link. Please read the article and comment, and take some action as well.

http://washingtonmonthly.com/people/john-merrow-and-mary-levy-with-a-reply-by-tom-toch/

How NOT to save money: operate two (or a hundred) different school systems in the same district

I would like to reprint the entirety of Valerie Jablow’s recent blog post on how the District of Columbia manages to waste enormous amounts of taxpayer money by opening and closing schools at random. (If you haven’t been keeping score, the total number of publicly-funded schools in Washington DC is at an all time high, while the number of students is NOT.)

The DC Education Costs That Shall Not Be Named

by Valerie Jablow

Testifying the other week during the council’s budget oversight hearing for the DC public charter school board, education advocate and DCPS parent Suzanne Wells called for a study by the DC auditor to compare the costs to run DCPS schools versus charter schools. Wells asked that the study look at administrative in addition to facilities costs in each sector.

Right now, city leaders are consumed by the percentage increase in the funding formula for public school students in the FY18 budget. The mayor’s original proposal for FY18 gave a 1.5% increase–an historic low. Last week (perhaps sensing blood in the water), the mayor proposed raising the increase to 2% . Plenty of others—including a group convened by the state superintendent of education (OSSE)—have recommended a 3.5% increase, and a petition to the council advocating a 3.5% increase has now garnered more than 1000 signatures.

But amid this legitimate concern over funding, there is dead silence about costs.

Imagine, for a moment, anyone in DC leadership going on the record with this statement:

“If there are 32 students in a class and two go to charters, you still have to have a teacher for the 30 [remaining] students.”

That’s what Philadelphia’s chief financial officer recently said after a study commissioned by that city determined that Philadelphia pays nearly $5000 per student in stranded costs each time a student leaves a by right school to attend a charter school. Those stranded costs include staffing, utilities and building maintenance for the schools that such students no longer attend, but that need to keep operating nonetheless because those schools are the guarantors of the right–not chance or choice–to an equitable public education.

Judging from the silence and averted eyes when I asked the council (during the DCPS budget hearing) if DC has a black budget for creating new schools, I’d have to say that discussing stranded costs and associated fiscal drains of opening and closing schools is not exactly, um, popular in these parts.

But such costs are a real issue in DC for tens of thousands of kids and their schools—no matter how little political will there is in DC to account for (much less name!) those costs.

For instance, right now as the deputy mayor for education gets down to updating the master facilities plan, the closure rate of DC charter schools ranges from a low of 33% to a high of 40%.

The closure rate at DCPS is even higher: The deputy mayor for education’s February 2017 report on DCPS closures notes that since 1997 (a year after charter schools started here), 76 DCPS schools have closed—a closure rate of 41%.

Now, if you add those closed DCPS schools to the 38 charter schools closed since 1996, you get a total of 114 DC public schools closed, for an eye-popping closure rate of 57 public schools per decade–or 5 public schools closed every year on average in the last 20 years.

And here’s the kicker: we know school closures cost a lot of money.

So, in addition to not acknowledging those costs of school closures, no one in DC leadership readily acknowledges the emotional cost to children, parents, and staff of school closures. Particularly with neighborhood schools, those buildings are often the core of their communities, sources of pride, civic engagement, as well as shelter in distress.

And that’s not even talking about the longer, sometimes dangerous, commutes for children to avail themselves of the right–not chance or choice–to an equitable education in the wake of DCPS closures. Who is accounting for that cost to our kids and our neighborhoods?

And yet, even while closing a breathtaking 5 schools every year for two decades, DC’s creation of choice-only schools and seats outpaces our growth in living, breathing students to fill them.

That is, even as more than 10,000 public school seats are currently unfilled, more seats are created every year by the charter board. The current crop of proposed new charter schools would, if approved next week, add about 3000 new seats. And that is not counting the (thus far) sidelined proposals of DC Prep and KIPP DC to create almost 4000 other new seats. (See here on both from the April charter board meeting.)

Sadly, the costs entailed by such growth go well beyond unfilled seats:

In school year 1999-2000, DC had 185 public schools serving 74,800 students. In school year 2014-15, DC had 223 public schools serving 85,400 students.

Thus, over a decade and a half, with a gain of 10,600 public school students (14% growth), DC had 38 more public schools (20% growth). Each school created requires infrastructure and staffing, raising costs overall. The mismeasure between those numbers adds to those costs–and increases them further when stranded costs are taken into account.

(All data in my analysis here is from the DME’s 2017 report; the 21st Century School Fund; the NRC report on PERAA (also available here); and a report from the Progressive Policy Institute, in addition to the charter school applications.)

Right now, however, such growth is completely uncoupled from any notional idea of coordination and planning—even with the master facilities plan in the balance and the cross sector task force dedicating a working group to school facilities.

Instead, we as a city pretend that there is an unseen budget that covers all new schools such that we do not tie the approval, location, size, or function of those new schools to any budgetary considerations whatsoever—much less to the best fit for both our students’ needs as well as preserving their right to equitable public education in every neighborhood.

(Come to think of it: Maybe I should have asked the council how our city got so rich that it could be uncaring about where its money goes–and how my kids’ schools can get some of that apparently endless cash?)

So, while the city gears up for oral arguments in the lawsuit filed against the city by charter advocates for supposedly unfair charter school payments, our city leaders remain unwilling to even acknowledge the huge cost implications of school closures and openings—all the while making political hay (and more) about the increase (or lack thereof) in the per pupil funding formula.

All I want to know is:

Can we catch up to Philly, DC auditor Kathy Patterson, and do a study of the costs between our public school sectors?

The cash saved might ensure we won’t have to fight over a 2% increase ever again–something that all city leaders can get behind without fear.

Gleanings from the Alternative Fact-World of Betsy ‘Checkbook’ DeVos

Your first installment from the pearls of wisdom from the perennial purchaser of politicians, Betsy ‘Checkbook’ DeVos:

devos-on-alpha-beta-schools

(source: Washington Post, the Parent-Herald and several of my Facebook friends and former colleagues)

Maybe we should look at the actual graduation rates for DC public and charter schools, courtesy of the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education, or OSSE:

Here are the official 4-year graduation rates for 2016:

hs-graduation-rates

hs-graduation-rates-part-2

 

I highlighted some of the schools. The pink ones are the five DC charter high schools where the graduation rate is decidedly BELOW 70%. The orange ones are the ten (10) regular DCPS high schools where the graduation rate is decidedly ABOVE 70%.

(This is not counting two DC charter schools that closed for extremely low performance or for wide-spread theft by their founders.)

(Full disclosure: my own children graduated from Banneker and School Without Walls some years ago. Notice what the graduation rates are from those two schools.)

Also, notice that the overall graduation rates from the regular public high schools in DC (69.0%) and from the DC charter school sector (72.9%) are not all that different. And that’s even though the charter schools can and do push out students to the regular public schools. This is also despite the fact that to get into a charter school, students have to have parents or guardians who can navigate the application process — and we have a lot of students here in DC where the parents are ‘MIA’.

I will also let you look at the official four-year graduation rates by the various subgroups (by gender, ethnicity, and so on). Once again, you will not see the huge disparities claimed by Billionaire Betsy between graduation rates in the regular DC public schools and in the charter schools. [There is one large disparity: the number of white, Asian, or multi-racial students in the DC charter high schools is tiny; they are almost all in the regular DC public schools!]

grad-rates-dc-pub-and-charters-by-subgroups

 

So, I guess we can expect lots more ‘alternative facts’ from Billionaire Betsy, just like we have gotten used to seeing them coming from Marmalade Mussolini, aka #45.

 

Accountability and Following the Law in DC Education

Valerie Jablow has yet another well-researched column on how the laws on accountability and transparency are NOT enforced in the education sphere in DC, especially for charter schools. I highly recommend reading and digesting it, and then figuring out how to act on her recommendations.

 

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

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