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.



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

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

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:


(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:




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!]



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.


Charter, Alternative, and On-Line Schools Have Lowest On-Time Graduation Rates, Study Finds


(This article is normally behind a paywall at Education Week.)

Charter, Alternative, Virtual Schools Account for Most Low-Grad-Rate Schools, Study Finds
By Catherine Gewertz on May 9, 2016 6:00 AM

Charter, virtual, and alternative schools account for a disproportionate share of U.S. high schools with low graduation rates, according to a study released Monday. Even though they enroll only a small slice of students, they account for more than half of the U.S. high schools that graduate 67 percent or less of their students in four years.

“Building a Grad Nation,” the seventh in an annual series of reports on U.S. graduation rates, concluded that regular district high schools make up 41 percent of those that didn’t surpass the 67-percent threshold in 2013-14. Charter, virtual, and alternative schools—a small sector, representing only 14 percent of the country’s high schools and 8 percent of its high school students—account for 52 percent of the schools that fell short of that mark. (The remaining 7 percent are vocational and special-education schools.)

The findings offer a challenge to a country that’s renewing its focus on graduation rates through the newly revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Known now as the Every Student Succeeds Act, the law requires states to report four-year graduation rates for schools that enroll 100 students or more, and districts to provide research-based help for schools that graduate fewer than 67 percent in four years.

With that new law in mind, the organizations that issue the “Grad Nation” reports annually—Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, the Alliance for Excellent Education and the America’s Promise Alliance—shifted their focus for this year’s report, from schools that enroll 300 or more students (about 13,400 schools) to those that enroll 100 or more (about 18,100 schools).

That change nearly tripled the scope of the study of schools with graduation rates of two-thirds or less: from 1,000 schools enrolling 924,000 students to 2,397 schools enrolling 1.23 million students. In a foreshadowing of the work that states face under ESSA, the Grad Nation researchers looked for patterns among the schools with low graduation rates. (Note: This paragraph reflects corrections made to the Grad Nation report.)

The contrast between “regular” district high schools, and alternative, virtual, and charter schools showed the starkest pattern. Here are the shares of U.S. high schools of each type, and their shares of schools with low graduation rates:

Regular high schools:

84 percent of U.S. high schools

7 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less

Alternative schools:

6 percent of U.S. high schools

57 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less

Charter schools:

8 percent of U.S. high schools

30 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less

Virtual schools:

1 percent of U.S. high schools

87 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less

The Grad Nation researchers called attention to the preponderance of low-grad-rate schools among charter, alternative, and virtual schools in part because the numbers of those schools have been rising in the last 15 years. Additionally, they enroll large shares of low-income, black, and Hispanic students.

“In many states, these various high school options have become popular pathways for students that have struggled to stay on track in traditional high schools,” the study says. “Therefore, it is critical that issues surrounding these schools be addressed.”

The report also pinpoints a bigger problem with low-graduation-rate schools in some states than in others. In Alaska, New Mexico, and Florida, 30 percent or more of the high schools have graduation rates of 67 percent or lower.

figure 10

Robert Balfanz, the-co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center, told reporters in a conference call that state variability is a key force in the numbers of low-grad-rate schools. For instance, of all the low-grad-rate schools in Hawaii, 100 percent were charter schools. In Arizona, the number was 73 percent, and in Indiana, 60 percent. Half of the low-grad-rate schools in California were charters. Kentucky, Texas and Washington topped the list of states with particularly high shares of low-grad-rate schools that were alternative schools.

But in some states, the charter sector is “helping solve the dropout crisis” by running many schools with good graduation rates, Balfanz said. He pointed to New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Oklahoma as examples.

Nina Rees, the president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, welcomed the report’s inquiry into graduation rates at different types of schools. But she took issue with its methdology, saying the charter sector’s share of low-grad-rate schools looks worse than it is because researchers didn’t adequately separate alternative schools from mainstream charters. She also pointed out that the study found that more than 4 in 10 charter schools are graduating more than 85 percent of their students.

Many celebrated last December when the nation’s high school graduation rate reached an all-time high of 82 percent for the class of 2014. But the milestone also sparked skepticism about whether states or districts were using shortcuts to boost their diploma numbers, by lowering academic expectations or changing they way they counted transfer students in each class cohort.

The Grad Nation researchers took on those questions, and concluded that there was little or no evidence that such practices were affecting state-level graduation rates. Further analysis would have to be done to make such conclusions at the district level, the report says. It did not examine schools’ increasing reliance on quick credit-recovery programs to improve graduation rates.

The Every Student Succeeds Act gives states much more autonomy than they had under the No Child Left Behind Act over the way they handle low-performing schools. With that in mind, the Grad Nation authors urged states to give graduation rates significant weight in the accountability systems, and to make sure that charter, virtual, and alternative schools, as well as traditional high schools, are monitored and provided solid help with low graduation rates.

They also urged states to report five- and six-year graduation rates, to capture a more accurate picture of diploma-earning. Many alternative schools, in particular, were created to serve students who struggled in traditional schools, and who might take longer to earn their diplomas, the report notes. Adding five-year graduation rates to the national picture would boost the rate by 3 percentage points, it says, and adding six-year rates would increase it by another point.



DCPS Graduation Rates Artificially Inflated Under Rhee & Henderson

According to this article by Bill Turque, it appears that the Rhee and Henderson administrations have been shown to be falsifying data once again. They added an extra 20% margin to the actual, factual DCPS high school graduation rates, and proclaimed victory.

You should really read his article.

If I’m not mistaken, with this massive shrinkage of the fictitious DC graduation rates, the Deforming Duo (Rhee & Henderson) and their funders and out-of-touch acolytes have NOTHING LEFT about which they can actually claim success.

The last myth, that supposedly they increased DCPS graduation rates, is shown to be a chimera. A lie. Sorry, make that “use of an incorrect formula.” Well, there’s an entire book called “How to Lie With Statistics”; it’s by Daryl Huff (good book – look it up). Sounds to me that Rhee and Henderson could write several new chapters with up-to-date examples, using their own joint and several educational record.

Think of all the lies they have been caught up in.

(1) A lot of the DC-CAS score increases at certain schools are almost undoubtedly the result of massive cheating. A lot of that cheating was apparently done by a principal whom Rhee was very fond of promoting as her success story, but who has since been fired/quit since the news of the scandal spread.

(2) Even Rhee admitted to Jay Mathews that she had no idea what she was doing in hiring and firing principals based on her 3-minute gut reaction, and that many of her new hires utterly failed. Some of these principals (old and new) manage to have 300% turnover in teaching staff at their school over a very short period of time — and are yet able to collect millions of dollars in donations and to earn the very highest public educational awards for administrators. Those teachers that were hired, fired, or quit under stress were almost all eager, bright young (or not-so-young) things who were extremely highly motivated to do their best for the young people at their school. But they all failed and were humiliated under this insane regime.

(3) We have way larger numbers of teachers than ever before in DC with very little classroom experience, who either get fired or quit in droves because of the lack of support and insanely contradictory directives; any institutional memory or ties with neighborhood families are constantly being destroyed.

(4) IMPACT and all other VAM-style evaluation or bonus schemes(*) have been shown to be unreliable in practice, and to have negative consequences for motivating students or teachers. The middle-school experiment in bribing kids to do the right thing here in DC was a failure. Almost any psychologist who studies human motivation could have predicted that it wouldn’t work.

(5) There is no discernable difference in overall trends on NAEP scores under Rhee and Henderson on the one hand, and during the decade before them, except for some new declines in some grade levels after 2 full years of IMPACT. No victory to celebrate there, despite Rhee’s best attempt to bait-and-switch by comparing two entirely different categories when trying to brag of her “successes.”

(6) Population gains in DC public schools are mostly because of whole-scale marketing of all day kindergarten and pre-K classes. Meanwhile, the charter school numbers keep growing, which I don’t really see as an improvement. There is very little that most of the charter schools are doing that I can see that is experimental or better or really producing wonderful results.

(7) Charter school students for the most part get scores very similar to those in the regular DC public schools, with these two differences: The DC public schools have more kids at the very highest levels AND more kids at the very lowest levels on income and on test scores. The charter schools have more kids in the middle, fewer Hispanics and whites, and fewer children with disabilities or ESL kids. The situation might be quite different in other cities, or it might be just like ours. I have no idea, not having looked carefully enough even at Atlanta or NYC. However, a serious national study showed that if a student chose a charter school at random, then in 5 cases out of 6, they would do as well as, or worse than, if they were in a regular public school. In only 1 case out of 6 would they do better. 1/3 of the time, they do worse.

(8) There have been no cost savings anywhere. The amount of money that goes to contractors — some of them former TFA members who chose to make money and earn prestige, and to tell teachers what to do, rather than remaining in the classroom — is obscene. Central office is bigger than ever, and at wildly inflated salaries from what they used to be.

(9) And there’s the little matter of the numerous whoppers on Michelle Rhee’s resume – lies and exaggerations about the media coverage while she taught, and flat out making numbers up about a nonexistent educational miracle in her 3rd year of teaching, with what I conclude was the help of her Baltimore principal. (There was no other school anywhere in the UMBC study of the Tesseract schoolls and their regular BPS counterparts that had anything like the number of “1” scores. You probably say, “Who cares about ‘1’ scores? What’s that mean?” Well, it’s important. It means that the student scored SO LOW THAT THEY DON’T COUNT THEIR SCORE. It’s a great way to increase the apparent average of any group of things or scores or people — you just remove the low ones while you do the math, and secretly put them back when the computation is done. And that is apparently how they achieved somewhat of a bump in scores at Harlem Park. I think.

(10) Large numbers of DCPS teachers, to their credit, have refused to take the “poison-pill” bonuses that they earned on the numbers racket that is VAM and IMPACT. Good for them!

(11) Rhee’s foundation, Students First, is a joke of an “astroturf” organization funded by secret billionaires who don’t have to declare who they are or how much they have given. (I am told its a 501c4, not a 501c3 like several groups I belong to, and that they don’t have to disclose squat to the public. So far, I can’t find anything.) But we know that Rhee has a habit of palling around with the most outrageous right-wing extremists who want to repeal pretty much all of the New Deal, decertify labor unions, impose their own brand of religious restrictions on education and much more.

(12) There are probably quite a few more lies that various of us have exposed; I am proud to have contributed to some of this research. But I can’t think of any more without doing some research. Anybody want to add some more examples?

In any case, it seems to me that this should be the last straw.

We need to be indicting people, and they need to be pilloried (figuratively, that is) and removed from all positions of influence on education or anything else. They are complete and utter fakers and have no track record of success at all. I will name three people that need to go, in alphabetical order:

Arne Duncan.

Kaya Henderson.

Michelle Rhee.


*Seems to me that bonuses mostly motivate folks who like money, and folks who really like money don’t go into teaching. There are banks and businesses and stock markets that they can embezzle from instead. Teachers? I mean, a teacher isn’t going to get rich even if he or she does steal all his or her students’ lunch or field trip money AND wins a $5,000 bonus by cheating and erasing answers on his or her class’ answer sheets. No, if a person wants to get really rich, you become a hedge fund manager if you want to do it semi-legally. If you don’t care whether it’s legal or not, there are lots of ways to embezzle money — but you can’t do it from the classroom.

The one study that seems to say that VAM has some success was based on data from the 1990’s, well before NCLB, when there were no high stakes put on scores on achievement tests; and the supposed benefit, using their unknown algorithm, of having an absolute superstar of a teacher (which is defined by … a teacher in whose classroom a significant number of kids had a higher-than-expected gain in test scores from the previous year, on a test with unknown relevance to anything at all) is … get ready for the drum roll … here it is … An extra few hundred dollars in income per year for the student, later on.

Whether any of those minuscule detected impacts would hold up under today’s high-stakes testing environment isn’t known. It might happen that students with suspiciously big jumps in test scores end up getting run over by cars more frequently. Or have better bowling averages. Or have higher scores on WII games. Or have less dandruff. Who knows? I wonder if there might be a correlation between the number of freckles on a teacher’s forearm and his or her students’ rates of having automobile accidents? If we look hard enough, we could probably find some small correlation to something.


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