How to Cheerlead for Charter Schools by Leaving out Important Data

Copied from the rather uneven blog “Schools Matter”.

The Sunny Side of Corruption by Jay Mathews

Posted: 10 Jan 2022 07:55 AM PST

American print media’s most prominent charter school cheerleader is at it again.  In his most recent Washington Post column, Jay Mathews is preaching the virtues of IDEA Charter Schools, Inc., which recently lost its CEO founder and other senior leaders due to corruption charges involving private jets, NBA sky boxes, and routine use of public funds for “personal benefit:”

A financial investigation “uncovered substantial evidence that … a small number of IDEA senior leaders directed the use of IDEA financial and staff resources for their personal benefit on multiple occasions,” Board Chair Al Lopez wrote in a letter Tuesday. “Furthermore, their actions appeared to be done in a manner to avoid detection by the standard external audit and internal control processes that the Board had in place at the time.”

None of this corruption or efforts to conceal the crimes could ever dampen Jay’s enthusiasm, however.  Nor has Mathews departed from his unique brand of dissembling propaganda. Just one example from this latest column:

“Charters are independently run public schools that use tax dollars. Most are no better academically than regular public schools. But a 2013 Stanford University report showed that 25 percent of charters were significantly better in reading achievement and 29 percent were significantly better in math achievement than neighboring regular public schools serving the same kinds of students.”

When we go to the actual research report that includes Jay’s numbers, we find the details that put a whole new light on Jay’s sunny summary.  From the Credo Study, 2013, p. 22 Executive Summary:

Figure 8 shows the performance of charter schools relative to the TPS in their market. Based on our analyses, we found 25 percent of schools had significantly stronger growth than their TPS market counterparts in reading, 56 percent were not significantly different and 19 percent of schools had weaker growth. In math, the results show that 29 percent of charter schools had stronger growth than their TPS market counterparts, 40 percent had growth that was not significantly different, and 31 percent had weaker growth. These results were an improvement over those in the 2009 report.

LEFT: reading Right: Math

[In other words, the results for charter schools and regular public schools are essentially identical. – GFB]

Where are these “Dozens and Dozens’ of DC public schools with continued, steady growth thanks to Rhee & Henderson?

Michelle Rhee said on the recent Frontline PBS special that there were ‘dozens and dozens’ of DC public schools that supposedly made steady progress on the DC-CAS over the past four or five years.

Jay Mathews only found 13 schools which did what Rhee claimed:  Brent, Eaton, Murch, Oyster-Adams, Payne, Plummer, Prospect, Ross, Thomson, Tubman, Hart, McKinley Tech, Sousa.

A commentator by the name of ‘LetsBeReal’ pointed out that a large fraction of those schools in fact were populated mainly by relatively affluent white students or were schools with selective admissions: Brent, Murch, Eaton, Oyster-Adams, Ross, and McKinley Tech.

I looked at the grade-by-grade proficiency ratings at the remaining schools and found a LOT of very suspicious rises and falls in proficiency rates for same-cohort groups from year to year, in all but one of those schools: Hart.

Here is what I found:

At Payne, the cohort that was in the 4th grade in 2012 went from 38% proficient in reading in 2011 to 55% proficient the next year, a 17-percentage-point rise, which means (to me) that it should be flagged. Either the teacher last year was doing something so wonderful that entire books should be written on how to replicate those feats, or there was cheating. Same group went from 14% proficient in math in 2011 to 60% proficient last year. Unbelievable, frankly.

The cohort that was in the 5th grade at Payne in 2012 had DC-CAS reading proficiency rates since 3rd grade of, respectively, 17%, 23%, and 46%. In math, the scores for that same cohort, by year were 23%, 35%, and 50%. Either amazingly good or brazen cheating, one or the other: in any case, it needs to be checked out.

The Payne cohort that was in the 5th grade in 2011 had DC-CAS reading proficiency rates of starting in the 3rd grade of 52%, 31% and 50%. In math, 58%, 34%,, and 31%: very suspicious as well.

Still at Payne, the cohort that was in the 5th grade in 2010 had DC-CAS proficiency rates in reading of 41%, 32%, and 63%, which is again unbelievable. The math scores were a lot steadier: 24%, 32%, and 33%.

At Plummer, I also found a lot of suspicious rises and falls. Cohort in 4th grade in 2012 in reading went from 31% in the 3rd grade to 68% proficient the next year. In math, the same group went from 38% to 81%. The cohort that was in the 5th grade in 2012 went from 40% to 18% to 46% proficient in reading over three years, which is unbelievable. In math their scores were much more believable: 36%, 32%, and 40%.

Still at Plummer, the cohort that was in the fifth grade in 2011 had reading scores that went like this over their three years there: 44%, 33%, and 36%. In math, their scores were 60%, 18%, and 29%. The cohort that was in the fifth grade in 2010 had reading scores of 47%, 22%, and 30%. In math, they were 37%, 13%, and 33%.

Prospect LC is a special education school, where teachers are apparently able to rewrite the DC-C AS to fit their students’ needs and abilities. (At Sharpe Health school, where students are often unable to walk, feed themselves or clean themselves,  between 95% and 100% of the students are supposedly “proficient” or “advanced”, but that doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in other schools.) In any case, at Prospect, I found one cohort (the group that was in 7th grade last year) whose proficiency ratings went from 25% to 0%, then 0% again, followed by two years of 5% — in reading. In math, that same cohort went from 13% to 31% to 0% to 24%, hardly reassuring. The cohort one year older had reading pass rates of 0%, 0%, 0%, 6%, and 0%. In math, their pass rates were 0%, 0%, 11%, 29%, and 25%. (I’m not making this up, as Dave Barry used to say.) And the cohort that reached the 8th grade in 2011 had pass rates in reading of 0%, 0%, 0%, and 17%.. In math, the same group had pass rates of 0%, 0%, 17%, and 42%.

At Tubman, to summarize, I found nine cases where proficiency rates jumped or fell by more than ten percentage points from one year to the next from 2008 through 2012.

At Sousa, I “only” found seven such cases.

At Thompson, I found eight suspicious rises and falls.

At Hart, I only found one suspicious rise, but if Rhee thinks that going from about 12% proficient overall to about 25% proficient is wonderful progress, then I don’t know quite what to say, given that Rhee herself bragged — falsely — on her resume that she brought an entire class or two of students in Baltimore from below the 13th percentile to above the 90th percentile, using methods that she has never shared publicly.

Both Erich Martel and I feel that a ten-percentage-point rise or fall raises a red flag. Just possibly, such a rise would demonstrate tremendous teaching. However, from our own experience, it’s much more likely the result of cheating. In any case, it needs to be checked out – but not by “See No Evil” Inspector General Charles Willoughby.

In any case, if these are the only schools which Jay Mathews found that had sustained gains, and if these schools fall into two groups: schools with mostly non-poor students and relatively large fractions of white students on the one hand; and schools with many very many suspicious rises and falls in cohort proficiency rates – with the single exception of Hart, then I think we can say pretty clearly that Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson have a pretty clear legacy:




Abetted by fraud and deception.


You can find the school-by-school, grade-by-grade proficiency ratings at for 2008 through 2011. Unfortunately, OSSE still has not released the grade-by-grade scores for 2012, but I was leaked a spreadsheet containing that data. If you would like to see it for yourself, I have posted it on Google Drive, here:


I will shortly post tables containing the exact numbers so you can see what I’m talking about.

One more myth (about Rhee) bites the dust

There have been so many myths promulgated by and about Michelle Rhee that it’s interesting to watch even her supporters folks gradually come to the realization that yet another one is false.

An example is in today’s WaPo where Jay Mathews writes, among other things: (*)

“Former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee […] failed miserably — as she conceded — in recruiting and training great principals, the key to turning a school around. She relied on a slapdash recruitment process and her instincts about which of the administrators she interviewed would be good and which wouldn’t.”

Me again: I think that Rhee should be famous for saying on public TV, on camera that she (Rhee) had never done anything in her entire life that she ever had any regrets for. Granted, it was during her first year as Chancellor, but the idea of anybody claiming to be perfect and infallible should make the rest of us very, very suspicious. We should just back away and look for the men with the strait jackets and padded ambulances. I mean, really, not one thing in her entire life? I’ve got to track down that video, so everybody can see it. Anybody know the link?

Interesting that Rhee’s fawning friend and acolyte, Richard Whitmire quoted Rhee in “The Bee Eater,”(**) a book published in 2011, just after she quit being DC chancellor, as saying that she was really fabulous at picking new principals.

This comes on page 122 of his book about Rhee, and it’s Rhee speaking about how GOOD she was at picking new principals:

“Within three minutes I can tell if that person would make it,” she said. “It drives me nuts. … “

So, I’m a little curious, because Mathews writes today that even RHEE herself admits that she was a failure at recruiting principals.

Two or three years ago she claimed that she was infallible and that one of her excellent qualities was her ability to  recruiting excellent new principals through a “slapdash recruitment process” (either JM’s or MR’s words, not sure which, but not mine). Remember who put that process together? RHEE and her acolytes. Remember why? The explanation these ed DEformers went something like this: the old way that had horrible results and hired terrible people. Tha’t because of bureaucratic restrictions and un-needed things like due-process clauses, labor-management contract language worked out over the years, and requirements for little things like diplomas and teaching certificates and searching for real experience in the field.

So, quick as a wink, that’s what happened in DC. Now, state after state is breaking contracts with public workers. The Ed Deformers have pushed through all sorts of dubious reforms that have absolutely no track record. They stiff-arm almost all requests for real information. They pretend that there are huge improvements in the test scores that they used to point at all the time; when it’s shown that there has, in fact, been no such improvement, then they say it doesn’t matter.

In DCPS, they put together an exceedingly complicated mathematically-based piece of voodoo called VAM; it has a huge impact on a teacher’s IMPACT score. Yet, half way through the third year of its implementation (not piloting, but full-bore head-on, highly punitive implemetation with no allowance for appeals), its workings have never been explained to the public which is footing the bill. There have been no actual practical examples of how VAM actually works, with actual [anonymized or made up] student rosters and such that people can follow.

What’s more, Rhee cleverly dangled small bonuses in front of teachers; and as soon as they accept one of the bonuses, they find out that it has a poison pill inside, namely, the teacher has to give up some of his/her officially-bargained due-process rights that used to be guaranteed to any teacher in case of layoffs or school closings or other things like that. If they take the bait.

To their credit, a lot of teachers have refused to take the bait. Old teachers, young teachers, black and white. We should be proud of these folks. They cared more about fairness, their students, and being able to serve their students in the future, than they did about a few thousand dollar bonus.

(I’m sure that Rhee and FOX commentators can find a way to twist that one around!)

And those protections are quite important. As Rhee admits, a lot of her principal appointees weren’t so hot. Giving them extra power over teachers in case of sudden changes in student numbers (which is extremely common these days), means that you are putting so much pressure on teachers that they just keep quitting. Under IMPACT and VAM, there are very serious consequences for being an honest teacher if your school has ones who cheat by changing students’ answers: you can easily get fired. Certainly, we have lost an enormous number of veteran teachers such as myself; the 2-year teaching fellowships have very high washout rates and low retention rates after 2 or 3 years. I read somewhere that in some subset of American schools, the modal (most common) number of years of teaching experience is 1. That’s right – if you take all the teachers at every school in whatever subgroup of American schools this referred to, and ask them to line up in the gym based on how many years of teaching they had completed, and they lined up in order by whole numbers from 0 to 40 or whatever, then the longest line of teachers will be standing behind the big number 1. Not the 11, nor the 15, as used to be the case quite frequently a decade or so ago. Perhaps the new staffing model for schools will be McDonald’s, where even the managers only last a year or two at most? Boy, that’ll be wonderful for your kids.

Oh, wait, I’m sorry. They don’t do this at private schools. Nor, yet, in the affluent suburbs or at the magnet high schools. This is only happening in the schools where you have large numbers of poor, black and brown public school systems like here in DC, Atlanta, and New Orleans.

I’m old enough to remember a US military officer in Viet Nam explaining that he had his troops destroy a village in order to save it. You don’t have to be very old to remember hearing Arne Duncan proclaim that Hurricane Katrina’s flood waters, by destroying New Orleans’s public schools and public housing, accomplished a praiseworthy miracle.

You should definitely read the entire page I quoted from Bee Eater – it’s priceless how much of a self-promoting, ignorantly arrogant leader she was. You may be thinking I am comparing her to a certain Alaska beauty queen and politician, but they are both crazy in quite different ways and with distincly different public speaking styles. On the other hand, the book itself is such a piece of junk, and the author is such a lazy, toadying suck-up to the Billionaire Educational Deformer elite, that I would hate for anybody to go out and actually pay money for the book in any format whatsoever.


How many ways can YOU think of which demonstrate that the educational DEformers’ myths in general are simply lies at worst, wrong at best? What about our former and current educational leaders here in DC? I know the “comments” button is really hard to see in this weblog application program that I chose. I’ll try to figure out how to fix that one day. But, meanwhile, you can leave comments if you like.


(*) I’m not saying that JM always supported everything Rhee did.

(**) The audience at this event was highly critical of Rhee, so Whitmire had to spend the entire time at P&P defending her from one attack after another. He really seemed to me to be an unctuous preppy sleazeball that sold out to the billionaire education cabal a long time ago. But he had a great haircut.

Published in: on February 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , ,

Scooped Again – By the Washington Times in 2007!

Scooped again.

I see now that my own analysis (and dismissal) of Rhee’s claims of stupendous success in the classroom, based on the UMBC study written by Lois Williams and Lawrence Leak in 1995, came about three years later than a fairly objective analysis in the Washington Times, dated June 28, 2007. Here is most of the article, with the parts highlighted that I think are important.



D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s choice to reform public schools has been unable to provide proof of the remarkable student improvement she achieved during her brief teaching stint in Baltimore.

“We were told that these kids came in on this level and they were leaving on average at this level,” said D.C. schools chancellor-nominee Michelle A. Rhee, who has noted a dramatic improvement in student test scores in her resume.

“I didn’t think to ask back then for solid documentation or proof or any of those things,” she said. “As a new teacher, I didn’t think those things were particularly relevant.”

Mrs. Rhee, 37, began her three-year teaching career at Harlem Park Community School in the 1992-93 school year through the Teach for America program.

In the 1993-94 school year, when she taught second-graders at the inner-city school, those students had scored at the 13th percentile on standardized tests.

By the end of the 1994-95 year, after Mrs. Rhee had taught the same students as third-graders, 90 percent of them scored at the 90th percentile, according to her resume.

Mrs. Rhee said the test results were achieved on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS).

Her biographical information on the mayor’s office Web site ( and on the Web site of her former nonprofit — the New Teacher Project ( — both say such “outstanding success” in the classroom earned Mrs. Rhee national media acclaim.

But education experts note that most low-income schools have a high student-turnover rate and Mrs. Rhee taught her students as part of a team. Tying the percentile jump specifically to her is extremely hard to do, they said.

“Although there were some significant gains for third-grade Title 1 students in reading [during Mrs. Rhee’s tenure], there is nothing that would establish a sufficient evaluation link between that particular population of students and any particular individual staff member,” said Ben Feldman, who is in charge of testing for Baltimore schools. “You couldn’t go there.”

In addition, establishing a precise link between student achievement and Mrs. Rhee’s performance in the Baltimore school system is difficult in part because of dated information systems and antiquated storage.

Mr. Feldman said retrieving data from a decade ago is hard because his office changed its information storage systems for the year 2000.

Still, the normal curve equivalent score (which is similar to a percentile) on the CTBS for Harlem Park second-graders was 27 in reading and 43 in math in the 1993-94 school year, according to a 1995 report published by the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

The report also shows that third-graders at the school for two years achieved a score of 45 in reading and 51 in math in 1994-95. The report does not break down scores by specific class and excludes some students from the totals, including those who received special-education services.

Those scores show significant gains at Harlem Park, but the question remains whether they support the remarkable gains highlighted by Mrs. Rhee and her backers.

“It’s nothing to sneeze at at all,” said Mary Levy, director of the public education reform project for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “The only question is where does this 90 come from. Ninety [percent] is amazing. You get that kind of score at schools attended by advantaged children.”

Figures contained in the university study also show that Harlem Park’s elementary enrollment fell from 523 in 1992-93 to 440 in 1994-95.

Mrs. Rhee, who was in her early 20s while at the school, said she did not remember the size of her class.

Her time at Harlem Park coincided with an experiment by the Baltimore school system to let a private company — Education Alternatives Inc. (EAI) — manage nine out of 180 city schools, including Harlem Park.

The Maryland study, which focused on the EAI experiment, and a follow-up report showed that the project elicited little progress in CTBS scores among its students.


Me again:

The whole thing is so bizarre – and typical of Rhee and her star-struck, reality-defying acolytes.

Rhee claimed very specific (and incredible) gains among her students. Admits that she had no actual data whatsoever – she didn’t even remember how many students she had – which means that she made the whole thing up – but pointedly refuses to admit that. She claims that there was national press coverage of her amazing success, and cites various publications (without, however, providing any dates). When I and other investigators look into those publications (such as the Wall Street Journal), we find no such acclaim at all. When I and other investigators look into the actual CTBS data for the time period, we find no evidence whatsoever of any such unprecedented, extraordinary gains.

Then, well-paid, right-wing ideologues like Rick Hess attack me (!!) for supposedly playing loose with the statistics – but exonerate Rhee for making up a pleasing fairy tale, and claim that perhaps her claims are true, but that none of her students were tested (!!!!!). One rather obsessed Rhee-lover, Chris Smyr of Eduwonk (I think), goes on to make the outrageous claim that the principal author of the UMBC study has no right to comment on my conclusions that Rhee made all of her claims for success up!!

Meanwhile, Rhee continues to make claim after claim in the national press — claims that go against all evidence, but which are accepted at face value by almost the entire establishment press, with the exception of Valerie Strauss, a paid blogger/reporter for the Washington Post. Jay Mathews, the most-printed WaPo education writer, appears to realize that Rhee made up nearly all of the claims that got her the job as DCPS chancellor, but he doesn’t quite come to the correct conclusion — which is that she is a fraud from beginning to end.


Jay Mathews’ Fawning Column

I had no idea that was coming; in fact, it looked as though the lame-stream media had decided to ignore the entire matter.

Mathews makes entirely too much of my researching abilities. It was Ed Harris (thanks!) who alerted me to that report. My understanding of statistics is of an entirely elementary nature.

Unlike some folks (eg MR or leaders of certain religious groups) I make no claim to making miracles happen, to omniscience, or to inerrancy. I like to think I had some successes in the classroom, and I know for sure that I had some failures. Some kids and their parents liked my approach, and some hated my guts. I tried (with some success, occasionally) to show how math was useful in real life. Like most teachers, I worked hard, but always found that the amount of work required was at least double the amount of time I had available and could possibly provide.

Whenever I tried to do any statistical stuff with my own students’ accomplishments on final exams, on standardized tests, or even letter grades, after a year with me,  I was consistently mystified: nothing ever seemed to correlate with anything, or if they did, the correlation coefficients were extremely low. My personal experience in this regard leads me to suspect that there is so much unexplained, seemingly random, variation in human performance, desires, and so on that any sort of ‘value-added’ measurement is going to be bogus.
For the record, since Rhee and her colleague team-taught the entire 3rd grade class at Harlem Park during her last year, then, if you believe the rhetoric of Hanushek, Rhee, and others, then she and her co-teacher were responsible for the growth (or not) of the entire cohort. (BTW: who was that other ‘miracle’-worker? Evidently someone a lot less arrogant and prone to self-promotion than Rhee!)
To quote one of my posts:

“The cohort that started the first grade at Harlem Park in 1992-1993 had 84 students, probably 3 or 4 distinct classes.

“When they arrived in the second grade in 1993-1994 and endured Michelle Rhee’s second failed year of teaching, they still had 83 students – probably 3 or 4 classes again.

“But when this cohort arrived in the third grade in 1994-1995, Rhee’s “miracle year”, their numbers dropped by nearly half, to only 44 students. I doubt strongly that so many students dropped dead. I can’t prove it, but I would not be surprised if the school (and Rhee) ‘counseled out’ the ones who were doing poorly, and kept the ones who had high test scores.”

So, even though half of the students ‘disappeared’, the most that miracle-worker Rhee could do is to get the rest up to somewhere near the 50th percentile.

The Cluelessness of Rhee, Kopp and Mathews

Here is an article by Jay Mathews in which he shows how much he tends to worship at the feet of Michelle Rhee (ex-chancellor of DCPS) and Wendy Kopp (founder of Teach for America, who has never taught K-12 at all). He points out many facts which show how their approach is fundamentally bankrupt, but keeps promoting them anyway. For example, most of the supposedly “wonderful” principals appointed by Rhee were anything but — many quit, many were fired, and many of the rest need to be relieved of their duties ASAP.

It’s telling that even Wendy Kopp’s own son sees that TFA is a waste of time and resources:

<<She quotes her son Benjamin, then 8, after he had interviewed her about her life’s work for a school project. His final question was: “If this is such a big problem — you know, kids not having the chance to have a good education — why would you ask people with no experience right out of college to solve it?”>>

I strongly recommend reading the comments by various readers at the end of the article.

If you are unable to read them on your own, let me know.

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