The Right Moment …

(A guest blog by Peter MacPherson on the need to revert to democratic local control of schools in Washington, DC.)

By Peter MacPherson

The right moment.

A crucial sense of timing has long been viewed as the key to successful human endeavors. Advertising keeps reminding us that it’s crucial to have the erectile-dysfunction drug Cialis on hand when the right moment strikes, otherwise the opportunity for a joyful session of lovemaking will be lost. Sometimes the right moment, at least in retrospect and in real circumstances, can be of almost incalculable importance, where the very course of history is recognized to have been altered by timing. In early June of 1944 American General Dwight Eisenhower, with the help of his fellow centurions, was desperately trying to determine when they could unleash the largest invasion force in history on the shores of France to begin the final chapter of the Second World War in Europe. Before the invasion, Eisenhower and his colleagues had been bedeviled by bad weather, and 156,000 allied troops were onboard ships in ports along the British coast waiting to be dispatched to a battle that many participants on both sides viewed as an impending struggle of almost biblical proportions.

Group Captain James Stagg, a British RAF officer who led a team that monitored the weather for Eisenhower, determined that a brief window would open for a few hours on June 6, 1944 that would allow the allied invasion force to leave port and put ashore on the beaches of Normandy in France. Upon receiving this vital information Eisenhower recognized that the quintessential right moment had arrived.

The outcome of acting in that moment could not be clearer.

The voters of the District of Columbia are entering a period that seems very much like the right moment, the zone of opportunity, to produce a badly needed change for which the city will benefit enormously over the long term. With the announcement by At-Large Councilman David Grosso that he does not intend to seek re-election and that charter school board executive director Scott Pearson is leaving his post in May, the right moment to drop the curtain on mayoral control of the schools has presented itself. For it to be the right moment, though, it has to be recognized as such.

Here, in my view, is why the way in which the stars have aligned has produced this crucial moment for the city.

Grosso is now a deeply unpopular District politician. He’s been chairman of the council’s education committee for four years and because of a prickly, dismissive personality and a seeming view that the role of the panel he oversees should be a limited one, oversight of public education has been wanting. Over the past four years the District of Columbia Public Schools has been beset by scandal. Among them are heavily inflated graduation rates, the untimely departure of and reasons for former chancellor Antwan Wilson leaving DCPS and thin to non-existent oversight of critical aspects of DCPS’ operations.

Scott Pearson has been a deeply problematic actor in the ongoing drama of public education in the city. Though nominally a public employee, Pearson advocates for public charter schools as if he were heading a trade group. He’s pushed back vigorously against even modest efforts to open the charter sector to additional scrutiny by both the council and outside groups. In recent testimony before the council on member Charles Allen’s proposed legislation that would have opened charter schools to the provisions of the District’s Freedom of Information law, Pearson expressed his adamant opposition to the bill.

And the future and health of DCPS has never seemed to be in his portfolio of concerns. Pearson has actively sought to allow the untrammeled growth in the number of charter schools in the city. During his seven-year tenure as the charter board’s executive director, the number of charter schools in the city has grown from 98 to 123. They now enroll 43,000 students. He has pressed the city to transfer closed DCPS buildings for use by charters, thus inhibiting their use as swing space during modernizations or to reopened as DCPS campuses. Essentially, on Pearson’s watch, a parallel school system has been established in the city. And until his planned departure of the charter school board in May, he will continue to press for the unabated expansion of the sector in the city.

In 2007, at the beginning of the mayoral-control era, DCPS had an enrollment of around 50,000 students, with the charters educating around 22,000. During this 12-year period DCPS has bled away a staggering level of enrollment to charters. If mayoral control was supposed to secure the future of DCPS, which was broadly represented to mean high-quality education for all District children, then the great education reform experiment has failed. DCPS has good schools, as it always has. But their location is as disparate as ever. Between stagnant enrollment and virtually non-existent test score growth, then the experiment has failed. The city not only has a failed governance model, it has also wasted an immense amount of municipal treasure pursing this model. In the surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia that have comparable numbers of students to the District, they spend around half of what the city does [per student] and have higher performing systems. With over 22,000 vacant seats, the District is maintaining a staggering amount of excess capacity.

With the impending departures of Grosso and Pearson, the question that District stakeholders need to ask themselves is whether meaningful change will happen once they’re off the stage. If mayoral control remains in place the answer is easy to discern. For those not wearing their glasses and cannot see the writing in the sky, the answer is no.

Part of the reason that one should have no expectations of changes that will lead to school improvement is implicit in the design of mayoral control. Though the mayor has statutory responsibility for DCPS, the executive is also responsible for generating a budget that funds the charters. The mayor appoints the members of the charter school board. The mayor ultimately decides the fate of excess District school buildings. And, through the deputy mayor for education, has a strong planning role as well.

Then there’s the realpolitik aspect of the way the city government run. The mayor is beneficiary of significant campaign contributions from outside charter supporters and operators. It’s inevitable that the mayor would play both sides and that is certainly what Muriel Bowser has done.

The city council, during 12 years of mayoral control, has mostly shown great squeamishness about exercising its oversight role of the schools. Having watched and given testimony before the council, I have yet to see a major sea change in DCPS policy that resulted from that testimony. The impact of public testimony has chiefly been felt in area of school modernizations, which have often required aggressive advocacy on the part of school communities to bring equity what has been a brutally unequal process.

Going forward what we’re likely to see is a real struggle to find a council member willing to enthusiastically take on the role of education committee chairman. One frequently hears from council and their representatives that the council is not the school board, that by design oversight is supposed to be more modest. But when the council voted to eliminate the elected school board, they became de facto the school board. The public has demanded a court of last resort in education matters when they don’t like the way things are going. Virtually any education committee hearing that will accept public testimony finds itself hearing from a large number of witnesses. The public clearly wants to participate in school governance and wants its voice heard.

The obvious ambivalence of current council members to take on the education committee chairman role, and the track record the council has relative to education oversight, mean that the city is in the midst of a right moment moment.

In a city short on representative democratic institutions, the city council and mayor made a grave error in eliminating the school [board] in 2007. The experiment upon which they allowed the city to embark has proven to be one of poor quality. And the council is not telegraphing a willing desire to improve its performance relative to education oversight. District children need oversight of their school from adults who are committed to their success, who want DCPS and existing charter schools to thrive. The mayor keeps DCPS on life-support. It’s never permitted to be strong or aggressive enough to really compete in an education marketplace.

And charter students are poorly served in the existing governance structures. The city provides a significant facilities fee per student to charters. Yet that money is not required to be used for that purpose, and frequently is not. If students and parents have an issue with a charter, their route of appeal ends at the front door of the school. And once the search begins for a new charter school board executive director, the selection process will not involve the public in any meaningful way. Remember that the charter school board is appointed by the mayor, which then functions autonomously. The charter board will decide on its next executive director.

Ideally the council would vote to reestablish the elected school board. It would also vote to make the State Superintendent of Education a creature of the State Board of Education, the District’s only body related to education that is directly elected by voters. And they would also construct a more robust regulatory structure for charter schools so that parents, students and teachers have a real voice. But if the council will not act than the voters must. If a ballot initiative is required, then concerned citizens must pursue it vigorously.

This is the right moment.


Not So Fast, Betsy DeVos!

I attended the official roll-out of the results of the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) a couple of days ago at the National Press Club here in DC on 14th Street NW, and listened to the current education secretary, Betsy Devos, slam public schools and their administrators as having accomplished nothing while spending tons of money. She and other speakers held up DC, Mississippi, and Florida as examples to follow. Devos basically advocated abandoning public schools altogether, in favor of giving each parent a “backpack full of cash” to do whatever they want with.

Some other education activists I know here in DC shared their thoughts with me, and I decided to look at the results for DC’s white, black, and Hispanic students over time as reported on the NAEP’s official site. (You can find them here, but be prepared to do quite a bit of work to get them and make sense out of them!)

I found that it is true that DC’s recent increases in scores on the NAEP for all students, and for black and Hispanic students, are higher than in other jurisdictions.

However, I also found that those increases were happening at a HIGHER rate BEFORE DC’s mayor was given total control of DC’s public schools; BEFORE the appointment of Michelle Rhee; and BEFORE the massive DC expansion of charter schools.

Here are two graphs (which I think show a lot more than a table does) which give ‘average scale scores’ for black students in math at grades 4 and 8 in DC, in all large US cities, and in the nation as a whole. I have drawn a vertical red line at the year 2008, separating the era before mayoral control of schools (when we had an elected school board) and the era afterwards (starting with appointed chancellor Michelle Rhee and including a massive expansion of the charter school sector). These results include both regular DC Public School students and the charter school sector, but not the private schools.

I asked Excel to produce linear correlations of the average scale scores for black students in DC starting in 1996 through 2007, and also for 2009 through 2019. It wasn’t obvious to my naked eye, but the improvement rates, or slopes of those lines, were TWICE AS HIGH before mayoral control. At the 4th grade level, the improvement rate was 2.69 points per year BEFORE mayoral control, but only 1.34 points per year afterwards.

Yes, that is a two-to-one ratio AGAINST mayoral control & massive charter expansion.

At the 8th grade level, same time span, the slope was 1.53 points per year before mayoral control, but 0.77 points per year afterwards.

Again, just about exactly a two-to-one ratio AGAINST the status quo that we have today.

pre and post Rhee, 4th grade NAEP, black students in DC, nation, large cities

pre and post Rhee, 8th grade NAEP, black students in DC, large cities, and nation



Add one more to the long list of recent DC public education scandals* in the era of education ‘reform’:

DC’s NAEP** test scores are increasing at a lower rate now (after the elected school board was abolished in 2007) than they were in the decade before that.

This is true in every single subgroup I looked at: Blacks, Hispanics, Whites, 4th graders, 8th graders, in reading, and in math.

Forget what you’ve heard about DC being the fastest-growing school district. Our NAEP scores were going up faster before our first Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, was appointed than they have been doing since that date.

Last week, the 2017 NAEP results were announced at the National Press Club building here on 14th Street NW, and I went in person to see and compare the results of 10 years of education ‘reform’ after 2007 with the previous decade. When I and others used the NAEP database and separated out average scale scores for black, Hispanic, and white students in DC, at the 4th and 8th grade levels, in both reading and math, even I was shocked:

In every single one of these twelve sub-groups, the rate of change in scores was WORSE (i.e., lower) after 2007 (when the chancellors took over) than it was before that date (when we still had an elected school board).

I published the raw data, taken from the NAEP database, as well as graphs and short analyses, on my blog, ( which you can inspect if you like. I will give you two examples:

  • Black 4th grade students in DC in math (see ):
    • In the year 2000, the first year for which I had comparable data, that group got an average scale score of 188 (on a scale of 0 – 500). In the year 2007, the last year under the elected school board, their average scale score was 209, which is an increase of 21 points in 7 years, for an average increase of 3.0 points per year, pre-‘reform’.
    • After a decade of ‘reform’ DC’s black fourth grade students ended up earning an average scale score of 224, which is an increase of 15 points over 10 years. That works out to an average growth of 1.5 points per year, under direct mayoral control.
    • So, in other words, Hispanic fourth graders in DC made twice the rate of progress on the math NAEP under the elected school board than they did under Chancellors Rhee, Henderson, and Wilson.


  • Hispanic 8th grade students in DC in reading (see: )
    • In 1998, the first year for which I had data, Hispanic 8th graders in DC got an average scale score of 246 (again on a scale of 0-500). In 2007, which is the last year under the elected board of education, they earned an average scale score of 249, which is an increase of only 3 points.
    • However, in 2017, their counterparts received an average scale score of 242. Yes, the score went DOWN by 7 points.
    • So, under the elected board of education, the scores for 8th grade Latinx students went up a little bit. But under direct mayoral control and education ‘reform’, their scores actually dropped.


That’s only two examples. There are actually twelve such subgroups (3 ethnicities, times 2 grade levels, times 2 subjects), and in every single case progress was worse after 2007 than it was beforehand.


Not a single exception.


You can see my last blog post on this, with links to other ones, here: or .




Why isn’t there more outrage?


*For many years, DC officials and the editorial board of the Washington Post have been bragging that the educational ‘reforms’ enacted under Chancellor Michelle Rhee and her successors have made DCPS the fastest-improving school district in the entire nation. (See or for just two examples.)

It didn’t matter how many lies Chancellor Rhee told about her own mythical successes in a privately run school in Baltimore (see ).  She also got away with falsehoods about the necessity of firing hundreds of teachers mid-year for allegedly being sexual predators or abusers of children (see ); there were always acolytes like Richard Whitmire willing to cheer her on publicly (see ), even though the charges were false.

A lot of stories about widespread fraud in the District of Columbia public school system have hit the front pages recently. Examples:

  • Teachers and administrators were pressured to give passing grades and diplomas to students who missed so much school (and did so little work) that they were ineligible to pass – roughly one-third of last year’s graduating class. (see ) You may recall that the rising official (but fake) high school graduation rate in Washington was a used as a sign that the reforms under direct mayoral control of education had led to dramatic improvements in education here.
  • Schools pretended that their out-of-school suspension rates had been dropping, when in actual fact, they simply were suspending students without recording those actions in the system. (see )
  • Less than half of the 2018 senior class is on track to graduate because of truancy, failed classes, and the like. ( see )
  • High-ranking city officials, up to and including the Chancellor himself, cheated the system by having their own children bypass long waiting lists and get admitted to favored schools. (see )
  • A major scandal in 2011 about adults erasing and changing student answer sheets on the DC-CAS test at many schools in DC in order to earn bonuses and promotions was unfortunately swept under the rug. (see )
  • About those “public” charter schools that were going to do such a miraculous job in educating low-income black or brown children that DCPS teachers supposedly refused to teach? Well, at least forty-six of those charter schools (yes, 46!) have been closed down so far, either for theft, poor performance on tests, low enrollment, or other problems. (see ).



**Data notes:

  1. NAEP, or the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is given about every two years to a carefully chosen representative sample of students all over the USA. It has a searchable database that anybody with a little bit of persistence can learn to use: .
  2. I did not do any comparable measurements for Asian-Americans or Native Americans or other such ethnic/racial groups because their populations in DC are so small that in most years, NAEP doesn’t report any data at all for them.
  3. In the past, I did not find big differences between the scores of boys and girls, so I didn’t bother looking this time.
  4. Other categories I could have looked at, but didn’t, include: special education students; students whose first language isn’t English; economically disadvantaged students; the various percentiles; and those just in DCPS versus all students in DC versus charter school students. Feel free to do so, and report what you find!
  5. My reason for not including figures separated out for only DCPS, and only DC Charter Schools, is that NAEP didn’t provide that data before about 2011. I also figured that the charter schools and the regular public schools, together, are in fact the de-facto public education system that has grown under both the formerly elected school board and the current mayoral system, so it was best to combine the two together.
  6. I would like to thank Mary Levy for compiling lots of data about education in DC, and Matthew Frumin for pointing out these trends. I would also like to thank many DC students, parents, and teachers (current or otherwise) who have told me their stories.


Comparing DC’s 4th Grade White, Black, and Hispanic Students in the Math NAEP

4th grade math naep, DC, w + B + H

Here we have the average scale scores for DC’s white, black, and Hispanic fourth graders in math on the National Assessment for Educational Progress, prompted by the data rollout earlier this week of the 2017 results.

The vertical, blue, dashed line at the year 2007 shows where DC changed from having an elected school board with real power, to having a mayor who sets educational policy on his/her own, appointing a Chancellor (starting with the serial fabulist, Michelle Rhee).

If mayoral control of the schools, along with the firing or forcing out of hundreds or thousands of teachers, and all the other ‘reforms’ that have been instituted since 2007, were such a great success, then you would see the purple, orange, and green lines going sharply upwards to the right after the year 2007.

But you don’t.

In fact, let’s do a little math here, and look at rates of change pre- and post-mayoral control

For black 4th graders in math in DC, under the elected school board, the average scale scores went from 188 in the year 2000 to 209 in the year 2007. That is an increase of 21 points in 7 years, or about 3.0 points per year. After mayoral control, those scores went from 209 in year 2007 to 224 in year 2017. That is a rise of 15 points in 10 years, or a rate of change of 1.5 points per year.

That’s worse, not better.

For Hispanic students, during period under the school board, the scores went from 190 to 220 in 7 years, which is a growth of about 4.3 points per year. After mayoral control, their scores went from 220 to 230, which is an increase of 1.0 points per year.

Once again, that’s worse under mayoral control, not better.

For white students in DC, pre-Rhee, the scores went from 254 to 262 in 7 years, or a growth of  roughly 1.1 points per year. After mayoral control (and under Rhee and her successors), their scores went from 262 to 273 in 10 years, which is exactly 1.1 points per year.

No change.

So, to sum things up: for black and Hispanic students, who are obviously the two main groups of economically-deprived students in DC, if we look at scores on the NAEP over the past 20 years, there has been LESS improvement under mayoral control (and under IMPACT, VAM, PARCC and everything else) than there was before.

Is anybody paying any attention to this?

Or will the beatings continue and intensify until morale somehow, miraculously, improves?


You can see my previous posts on this topic at these links:




The One Area Where Some DC Students Improved Under Mayoral Control of Education

You have all heard the propaganda saying that test scores in DC have improved tremendously ever since the citizens lost the right to vote for their school board, and after foundations like the Broad, Arnold, Walton and Gates family fortunes took over. The editorial staff of the Washington Post never tires of repeating this line.

If you’ve been following this series of blogs on the latest (2017) NAEP scores for DC and elsewhere, you have found no evidence of that.

In this last installment on this topic, I finally found a group of students who DID see their scores rise under mayoral control.

White fourth-grade students in math.

Ain’t it ironical?

The highest-scoring group of white students in the entire nation (that I can find scores for) actually improved their scores when the citizens of DC lost democratic control of the school board. But no other group did.

See for yourself.

First, black fourth graders in DC and elsewhere in math:

4th gr math black naep dc + nation

Here is what I mean: the dotted lines are for African-American fourth graders in math. From 2000 through 2007 (just 7 years) their scores went up from 188 to 209, which is an increase of 21 points (or 3 points per year). However, from 2007 through 2017, their scores went from 209 to 224, which is 15 points (or 1.5 points per year). Or, if you only count students enrolled in DC public schools (and not the charter or private schools) fom 2003 through 2007, their scores went from 202 to 209, which is 7 points in 4 years, or 1.75 points per year. From 2007 through 2017, their scores went from 209 to 218, which is a rise of 9 points in 10 years, which means 0.9 points per year.

Clearly, mayoral control did NOT mean improved increases for black fourth grade math students in DC – using the standard national yardstick.

Now let’s look at Hispanic fourth graders in math:

4th grade math, naep, hispanic, dc + elsewhere, 1996-2017

Once again, we see that Hispanic students at the fourth grade level in DC were making bigger improvements in math BEFORE mayoral control than they were after Mayor Fenty got that power.

However, the reverse is true for white students in DC:

4th grade math naep white students DXC + elsewhere, 1996-2017

Yup: to those who have much already, even more has been given.

I’m pretty sure that Perry Stein of the Washington Post will not reprint these graphs. How about Valerie Strauss?

Progress Perhaps With 8th Grade White Students in DC on NAEP After Mayoral Control?

I continue working my way through the various subgroups in DC and elsewhere, trying to see if the imposition of mayoral control back in 2007 has been a success or a failure. This post has to do with white (Caucasian) students in DC and elsewhere in the US.

What do you see:

8th grade reading, white students, naep, 1998-2017, dc and elsewhere

Here you will notice that the scores for European-American (white) students in DC are quite a bit higher than those of similar origins elsewhere in the US. For that, the explanation is relatively simple. Washington, DC is rather unique among large American cities in that virtually all of its white working class citizens moved out to the suburbs and later to the exurbs several decades ago. Even if white students in DC don’t live in luxury and wealth, a very large fraction of them have parents with graduate or professional degrees and more books around the house than the average American household — and so my own kids, who went through DCPS from K through 12, are and were quite different from the children of carpenters or mechanics that I grew up with in far Montgomery County, MD, sixty years ago. The reason that there are so many blanks in the table is that the number of white students in DC used to be so small that the statisticians at NCES could not draw valid conclusions. (My own kids graduated before 2000).

Again, this chart does not show any real signs of success for Mayoral control in DC, or for the entire ‘reform’ agenda which was supposed to revolutionize American education.

Maybe there was progress with Hispanic students in DC and elsewhere?

Continuing to look at 8th grade NAEP reading scores, I now concentrate on those for Hispanic students in DC and elsewhere in the nation. Here is the graph and the raw data, which I and other cobbled together by using the NCES website and the NAEP data explorer, and also from what I gleaned at the presentation at the National Press Club building on 14th St NW last week.


8th grade hispanic reading scores, 1998-2017, DC and US

Here, it is possible to see slight changes: NAEP reading scores for Hispanic 8th graders in DC are actually a bit LOWER than they were before mayoral control. Not better.

Has Mayoral Control In DC Caused A Miracle Regarding Hispanic Students?

I will now post graphs showing how Hispanic students in fourth and eighth grade in DC have scored in math and reading in comparison to other US large cities and the nation’s public schools. As with the previous post, I drew a thick, vertical, red, dotted line showing where the previous, democratically-elected school board was replaced by mayoral control under a law called PERAA.

Here are the ‘average scale scores’ for eighth-grade Hispanic students in math and reading in DC (green), the NAEP sample of Hispanic 8th graders in US large cities (orange), and the NAEP sample of all Hispanic 8th grade students in public schools:

Do you see a miracle that happened to the right of that dotted red line?

I don’t.

What I do see is that in math, the rate of improvement for DC’s Hispanic 8th graders from 2000 to 2007 (under democratic local control of schools) seems considerably faster than the corresponding rate afterwards (under mayoral control).

In reading, it seems like Hispanic 8th grade students in DC were scoring generally higher than their national peers, but after PERAA, they scored lower than their peers. Some miracle.

Let’s look at 4th grade:

Once again, from 2000 through 2007 (under local democratic control of schools), the rate of increase in DC Hispanic students’ scores in both math and reading was considerably higher than after the mayor took over.

Some miracle.

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

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

The other panelists were, in alphabetical order,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has Mayoral Control of Schools in DC Succeeded or Failed? A 10-year Record of Data

In the past few posts, (#1, #2, #3) I’ve merely cut-and-pasted graphs or text that the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCESpublished two days ago on their website as part of what has become a very widespread, longitudinal survey of statistics illustrating educational progress or problems in the large urban school systems of the USA; this one was called the NAEP TUDA.

The only modifications I did to the graphs were cutting out the ‘fine print’ that few of my readers would look at anyway, and adding some notations and color for clarity.

(BTW, if you want to look at the fine print, go right ahead! It’s all findable at that same website.)

This time, I actually lifted a few digital fingers and asked the NCES web site to produce some simple tables of longitudinal and cross-sectional data for DCPS and a few other cities. Nothing complicated: I just wanted to see how black, white, and Hispanic  students have been faring, along with those in special education and immigrant kids learning English for the first time, compared with ‘regular’ kids, and compared with tbejr counterparts among alloother large public urban school systems. Then I had Excel plot the data. Here are my first two such graphs, exploring whether mayoral control of schools (and all that went along with that, such as eliminating tenure and turning education over to private corporations) helped or hurt.

I think the results are obvious.

Here goes:

4TH GRADE math naep tuda scale scores for black, white, hisp - nation + DCPS


Lots of information in this first graph, but you have to pay a little attention.

(1)    Notice how high white students in DCPS score on this graph (solid red line, at the top). Those students, some of whose siblings I’ve taught at Alice Deal JHS/MS, are the highest-scoring subgroup that I know of in the entire NAEP/NCES/TUDA database. Overall, they continue to do well, and in the fourth grade, for math, the only departure from a straight-line trend was 2007. Their rate of growth in test scores exceeds that of white kids in all urban public school systems, probably because white kids in DC overwhelmingly come from professional, educated families. We don’t have any trailer parks or other sizable population of white working-class kids in DC, ever since the massive “white flight” of the 1960s. (You have to go elsewhere to find characters like those on “Honey Boo Boo”!)  In any case, overall, no real change pre-Rhee to post-Rhee, other than the fact (not apparent in this graph) that the proportion of white students at most grades has vastly increased in DCPS: in a word, because of gentrification. In any case, white kids in DC continue to score a lot higher in 4th grade NAEP math than white kids in other public urban school systems (dotted green line near the top).

(2)    Among Hispanic students, it appears that the trends after 2008 in DCPS for fourth-grade math students aren’t so favorable to the pro-mayoral-control side of the argument: from 2003 through 2009, their scores were increasing at a pretty amazing rate (solid purple line) until they matched the scores of Hispanic students in all US urban school systems (dotted purple line). After that year, those scores went down or leveled off. Again, no miracle.

(3)    Among black students at this grade level, if the trends for 2003-2007 had continued, the bottom orange line for black 4th-graders in math would be a bit higher than it is now, largely because there was in fact no growth from 2009 to 2011.

(4) It’s a bit harder to see, but the hispanic-white and black-white achievement gaps at this grade level continues to be a lot larger in DC than it is in the nation’s urban school systems. Twice as wide, in fact. So, again, no sign of success.

Overall: no evidence here whatsoever of any of the promised miracles. In fact, if anything, growth was a little worse, overall, after Rhee, than it was before Rhee.

Now let’s look at achievement levels for 4th grade math students with disabilities (ie special education), ELLs (English Language Learners) and those in regular education, both here in DC and in all US urban public school systems. Here, I chose to plot the percentages of students who are “Basic” or above, rather than the average scale score. You could plot scale scores yourself, if you like.

pct students basic or above DCPS and nation by disability - 4th grade math NAEP TUDA

(A score of “Basic” on the NAEP corresponds to “Proficient” on the DC-CAS and other state-administered NCLB and RttT tests.)

Notice that most of these lines show an overall upward trend for this period. The top line (dotted, green) is the percent of all public-school, regular-education students in urban public school systems who score “Basic” or above on the fourth-grade math NAEP. The  solid, maroon/brown line represents the same measurement for regular 4th-grade math students here in DC. Notice that both the dotted green and solid brown lines are going up pretty steadily, with no particular change in trend on either side of the vertical orange line. Which means that mayoral control seems not to have changed  to past trends one way or the other.

The olive-colored, dotted line represents percentages of fourth-grade students of English as a second language in all of our urban public schools. As you can see, the trend is a slow but steady increase. However, in DC public schools, since 2009, the corresponding line (solid, sky blue) is trending downwards. Why? I have no idea, but it’s not a favorable argument for continued mayoral control, since before Fenty and Rhee took over DCPS, the trend was certainly upwards.

With special education students, I used a dotted purple line for all national urban public school students, and a solid orange lines for those in DC public schools. I have no idea why the percentage of 4th-grade math students scoring “Basic” or above went down across the nation’s cities after 2008, while it had been going up modestly but steadily before that date. Clearly, the trends in special-education scores in DCPS are even more mysterious: a continuation of past trends in 2009, a fairly large drop in 2011, and a fairly large increase in 2013. In any case, if you were to extrapolate the orange pre-Rhee line past the central line, I suspect you’d come to about  the same place we are in right now (2013).

Again, this is evidence that all the churn, upheaval, anguish, money, and curriculum impoverishment of the past 6 years in the District of Columbia has all been for naught. We would have gotten the same results with the system we had in place beforehand.


My conclusion: any progress in DCPS appears to be a continuation of trends that show up very clearly as going back ten years, well before the DC city council, with the blessing of Congress, abolished the school board and handed control of the public schools over to a chancellor appointed and responsible to a mayor.

Published in: on December 20, 2013 at 2:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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