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 That is a huge fraction, and my list of closed schools is about four years out of date!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.



A list of HELP senators’ fax numbers

This is so you can bug them with faxes, telling them not to vote in favor of Bigoted, Billionaire Betsy.

Al Franken                          MN        (202) 224-0044

Bill Cassidy                          LA            (225) 929-7688

Christopher S. Murphy  CT           (202) 224-9750

Elizabeth Warren             MA         no faxes

Johnny Isakson                 GA          202-228-0724

Lamar Alexander              TN          (202) 228-3398

Lisa Murkowski                 AK          202-224-5302

Maggie  Hassan                 NH          no faxes

Michael F. Bennet            CO          303-455-3358

Pat Roberts                         KS           202-224-3514

Rand Paul                            KY           (202) 228-6917

Richard Burr                       NC          (202) 228-2981

Robert P. Casey, Jr           PA          (202) 228-0604

Sheldon Whitehouse       RI            (401) 453-5085

Susan Collins                      ME         (202) 224-2693

Tim Scott                             SC           (855) 802-9355

Todd Young                        IN           no faxes

Patty Murray                     WA          (202) 224-0238

And here is my letter to them (I’ve visited, or lived in, 46 of the states so far):

Dear Senator:

I have visited your great state in the past, but since I was born and raised in the District of Columbia and still live there, I have no senator. So I’m calling on you.

I would like to put myself on the record as vigorously opposing the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. Not only does she have ZERO personal experience with public education in any form, she in fact is on record as favoring turning ALL education over to private businessmen and religious groups, including the weird form of messianic Christian fundamentalism her billionaire family favors. Her billions of dollars of personal wealth, mostly gained by a pyramid scheme that should have put her family in jail long ago, have been used to purchase politicians to promote her useless ideas, because she was never able to get voters to approve them.

During her confirmation hearings, she demonstrated that she has NO understanding of ANY of the most important issues concerning students and their parents today.

As a result of her machinations, local control has been removed from Black and Brown communities all over Michigan, and educational funds are flowing to all sorts of unethical, unregulated, for-profit charter school operators and religious fundamentalists running unregulated, storefront voucher schools. As a result, the scores of Michigan students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have, over the past 20 years, tumbled from being significantly above the national averages to being significantly below the national averages, both in reading and in math. And Detroit now has the very worst scores of any city in the nation. Thanks to Betsy Devos. And let us not forget that her policies also brought us the national shame of polluted water in the entire city of Flint.

You must vote AGAINST DeVos for Secretary of Education.

Thank you.


Guy Brandenburg

DC Resident, DC Native, Parent of two DC public school grads


Spirited Demonstration In Favor of Public Schools, Against Vouchers

About 100 to 150 folks from the DC area, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and elsewhere demonstrated at the Marriott Hotel at 22nd and M Street NW today, because of a convention of the pro-voucher, anti-union, anti-public-education group “American Federation for Children” paid for and sponsored by the billionaire DeVos family. (also Govrnors Walker and Corbett were there – neither of them nice guys, as well as Michelle Rhee — not a nice woman.)

Our crowd included parents, teachers, and others. There were way more folks than I expected, since this demonstration was only announced last week!

However, we need to do an even better job at organizing and getting folks out on the street, so that we can begin to turn around the political momentum in this country. Right now, there is a dangerous right-wing trend of abolishing public schools, worker pensions, and basic civil rights. These Educational Deformers also are the folks who are currently well on their way towards making all public schools, especially those that educate the poor and our minorities, into nothing but test prep factories. If they are successful, school will be nothing but a mindless, rote-infested, data-drivel place where kids hate to go because it’s so mindless and stupid and all of the interesting and fun things about education have been left out. (The words “rote” and “drivel” in the last sentence were NOT typos.) What’s more, under our defacto right-wing regime, while workers are losing their pensions and their life savings and their jobs and their health care plans, and have to pay more and more money for pretty much EVERYTHING they buy, at the same time, the billionaires who run this country are making MORE money than they ever have; the incompetent, greedy plutocrats who empty out American factories and send the work to be done overseas by workers who have no choice but to work for much lower wages, and under much worse conditions – why, these corporate thieves are making out like bandits. If they are caught red-handed looting the entire company or the nation, they get not a golden parachute, but a platinum one, plus many tens of millions in severance pay, plus perhaps billions in stock options, and then get invited back into the government as a regulator.

So, while this was a good step, it should only redouble our resolve to act further.

I watched Rachel Maddow on TV for the first time a few weeks ago at my daughter’s place, and RM was claiming (and it appeared, proving) in that show that the anti-Tea-Party, pro-democracy, pro-public-school, pro-union, progressive demonstrators all over the US **right now** – just like us -are actually more numerous than the Tea Party crowds were AT THEIR PEAK — but get no press coverage. I seem to remember RM showing clips of a tiny gathering of half a dozen Tea Party types that was attended by so many media folks that the TPers were outnumbered, while nearly simultaneous, large demonstrations against folks like Rhee, Fenty, and so on get ignored.

I think I counted six to ten pro-voucher folks demonstrating against us pro-public school types. At first I was a bit upset that we had any opposition at all. After all, aren’t we the good guys?

But then again, this was THEIR anti-voucher meeting at the Marriott that we were opposing. We were sort of going into THEIR lair. Kinda sad (for them) that they could only muster six to ten voucher supporters from this ‘enormous’ convention. I think you will have a hard time finding these pro-voucher types in my photos, except for the fact that they were all white and fat and had identical red signs.

I didn’t think to go in to ask some of the employees at the hotel how many of these DeVossers showed up. Since I don’t watch TV news at all, some of you will need to tell me what you see — if anything.

I didn’t make any actual attempt at a crowd size estimate, because I had my hands full with a sign around my neck, a bag at my side, taking a few photos, giving out leaflets, and attempting to talk to passersby and explain briefly what we were doing and see what they thought. Responses were mostly favorable, but not all. Our crowd was strung out so far along the  sidewalk, and on both sides of the street, and across alleys, that no single photo that I took could get them all. I need to figure out what I did wrong with the focus on some of these.

Published in: on May 9, 2011 at 9:05 pm  Comments (5)  
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