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

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

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


What A Joke DC Education Chancellor Kaya Henderson Was – City Paper

Very detailed article in the Washington City Paper showing how our recently-resigned Chancellor, Kaya Henderson, failed to do much of anything to narrow DC’s extremely-high gap between high-achieving and low-achieving students, even though she had oodles of money, complete control over resources, and the ability to fire teachers and administrators almost at will.

As I have shown repeatedly (see here, here, here, here, and here for starters. Or else here) DC has the widest gap of the entire USA between the scores of poor kids vs the non-poor, between white kids and black or hispanic kids, and between those in Special Ed and those who are not. This article shows how the Henderson and Rhee administrations failed to do pretty much anything to improve conditions at schools where there were large concentrations of ‘at risk’ kids, other than saying that by some miracle, they would improve scores by 40 percentage points at all of the schools where 40% of the kids were ‘at risk’.

(A quote from the article: ‘ “No school in the history of time has achieved such goals,” counters a D.C. Council staffer familiar with DCPS school reform. “On its face, the concept of this as a reachable goal was ridiculous.” ‘)

And of course, it never happened. No extra resources, and no miraculous gains.

But according to the article, Kaya has an excuse – just the sort of thing that she and Michelle Rhee used to berate actual, um, educators for saying:

‘ when Payne persisted with a question about Henderson’s “personal goal of closing achievement gaps,” the chancellor explained: “I am not exactly convinced that schools alone can close the achievement gap. I think about the fact that in Washington, D.C., we have the greatest income inequality in the country. That gap is only growing, and the fact that our achievement gap is growing in a similar way shouldn’t be baffling. But I think what we’ve learned is that equity is really more appropriate, giving different people different kinds of support…And for different groups and different kids that means different things.”

My friends and colleagues Elizabeth Davis and Mary Levy are quoted. It’s a long article, but well worth reading.

Where DC’s schools rank by family income, test scores, and ethnicity – NYTimes

The New York Times recently ran the results of some pretty fancy number-crunching for all sufficiently-large public school districts in the United States. They graphed family income against ‘years ahead or behind’ in school and also showed the discrepancies in each of those school districts among hispanics, whites, and blacks.

If you haven’t played with the graphs, I urge you to do so. I did a little bit, looking for Washington, DC, my home town, where I and my children attended and where I taught for 30 years. I already knew that DC has one of the largest black-white gaps anywhere in the nation – a gap that 9 years of Edu-Reform under Fenty, Rhee, Gray, Henderson various charter companies have not narrowed at all.

Notice the extremely tight correlation between family income and scores on achievement tests, and where the District of Columbia is situated on the graph.

disparities dcps nyt

This next plot shows where DC’s whites, hispanics, and blacks are situated on the graph (as well as for thousands of other school districts):

Disparities dcps wh blk his nyt

Notice that white students in DC’s public schools are nearly the wealthiest and highest-achieving group anywhere in the nation, while DC’s black students are very far behind in both income and achievement. DC’s hispanic students, to my surprise, are considered to be a bit above the middle of the income levels, but still rather far behind academically. (I actually rather doubt the data on those DC hispanic income levels, based on my own personal experiences with Hispanic families here in DC…)

Even the Chancellor Calls the Results ‘Sobering’

The Washington City Paper has an article on the PARCC results with way more graphs and charts than I do, and they quote even Chancellor Kaya Henderson as saying the results were ‘sobering’.

Please remind me why she still has a job?

She and several other speakers said that the PARCC results were more ‘honest’ than the old DC-CAS results, probably because the new ‘passing’ scores are lower than the old ones. I guess that means that it’s more ‘honest’ to say that students are doing worse than we were previously led to believe, under the current regime of all-testing-all-the-time and turn-half-the-students-over-to-unregulated charters?


PARCC Results Released in DC

I just got back from watching the public release of the results of the PARCC test that students in Washington DC took about 7 months ago.

(Let that sink in: it took the testing company, and their consultants, and the city’s consultants, over HALF A YEAR to massage the data into a releasable form. So much for having these tests be able to be used to ‘inform instruction’ or help teachers figure out what kind of help their students need. It’s now the last day of November, and the students have been in school since August. What kind of help is that to teachers or parents? And tho I haven’t looked at the released school scores or samples of what the teachers will see, I’m not optimistic. If the past is any guide, the scores themselves will be essentially useless as well…)

(It won’t take so long next time, we were assured…)

I got to see Mayor Bowser, Councilman Grosso, Chancellor Kaya Henderson, [powerless] Superintendent Hanseul Kang, and Deputy Mayor for Education Jenny Niles, and charter honcho Scott Pearson perform and answer some mostly-lame questions from some members of the media.

What we saw were that advanced students in DC (largely white ones) do exceedingly well on this PARCC battery of tests, and that others (blacks; hispanics; SPEDs; students on free or reduced lunch; ELLs; or Students At Risk) do much worse. Which of course is  the very same result we’ve seen on the NAEP for a couple of decades.

In fact, of all the cities and states measured on the NAEP, Washington DC has the very widest gaps in test scores between the Upper Caucasia Haves and the Have-Nots everywhere else, and those gaps are if anything getting wider.

It was interesting to hear Henderson’s defenses of the results, which still showed very low percentages of most students “passing” the PARCC. She said, among other things, that

(1) since students at the lower grades generally scored higher than those at the upper grades, that show’s we are on the right path [seems to me it shows the exact opposite; the longer that students have been exposed to “Reform”, the worse they do… and

(2) It takes a long time, you can’t just expect to turn a switch and have everything be wonderful overnight, we need lots of wrap-around services and a longer school day and school year and support for teachers.

Regarding the latter excuse: isn’t that exactly what teachers were condemned for saying under Chancellor Rhee, whose understudy was none other than Kaya Henderson? Didn’t Rhee imply that the only reason that poor students did poorly in school was that their greedy, lazy teachers, empowered by their evil union, refused to teach them anything? And that anybody who said that it’s a lot harder to teach impoverished students of color with chaotic families (if any) than it is to teach middle-class children with educated parents – why those people were just making excuses for poverty?


An inspiring interview with Diane Ravitch

Read it here.

A quote:

[Interviewer]: My biggest disappointment with Barack Obama is his education policy. He had Linda Darling-Hammond as his consultant during the 2008 election, and we get Arne Duncan.

[Diane Ravitch]: That was bait and switch. The greatest disappointment of this entire situation, which I consider to be a direct assault on the very principle of public education in America, is Barack Obama. In the state of the union, the president said that he didn’t want teaching to the test, but he wants teachers who don’t get the test marks to be ousted. He pretends to be completely detached and almost as though he doesn’t know what Arne Duncan is doing. Arne Duncan is doing what Barack Obama wants him to do, and they are doing what the Wall Street hedge-fund managers want them to do. They are pushing a privatization agenda, there’s no question about it. Obama always said if the unions were under assault, he would put on those walking shoes. Did you see him in Madison, Wisconsin? I didn’t. In fact, I was in Madison, Wisconsin to speak at the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, and I happened to be there right in the middle of that great demonstration. On Twitter I was exchanging tweets with Justin Hamilton, Duncan’s press secretary at the time, and I challenged him to march together around the State House. Arne and the president were in Miami with Jeb Bush celebrating the turn-around of Miami Public High School, which in a month received notice it was going to be closed. I mean, it was all a sham. We are surrounded by so many frauds, hoaxes, and shams. Arne has been a leader in perpetuating the hoaxes, and the president has been right there by his side. Arne Duncan is a guy who’s dedicated to persuading people that Michelle Rhee is right. He’s the worst Secretary of Education in our history.

Two VAMboozlers down, but many more to go

Two of the foremost promoters of the junk science known as VAM (Value-Added Measurements) have just resigned, one in Tennessee and one in Louisiana: Kevin Huffman and John Ayers.

Yay! But there are several dozen more who need to be fired across the country as well.

(Huffman is the ex-husband of the notorious liar and self-promoting former chancellor of DC Public Schools, Michelle Rhee, who is now selling fertilizer. Huffman was once chosen by the pro-EduDeformer Washington Post editorial board as its main educational pundit.)

Audrey Beardsley has the details on her blog, VAMboozled.


What does Rick Hess say that “Common Core” is all about?

(Who’s he? you may ask. He’s one of Michelle Rhee’s friends, or so he writes; he’s also a well-paid shill for the American Enterprise Institute, which you can look up yourself.)

He wrote, regarding the real purpose of the Common Core “State” Standards, revealing exactly why many teachers and others oppose them:

In truth, the idea that the Common Core might be a “game-changer” has little to do with the Common Core standards themselves, and everything to do with stuff attached to them, especially the adoption of common tests that make it possible to readily compare schools, programs, districts, and states (of course, the announcement that one state after another is opting out of the two testing consortia is hollowing out this promise).

But the Common Core will only make a dramatic difference if those test results are used to evaluate schools or hire, pay, or fire teachers; or if the effort serves to alter teacher preparation, revamp instructional materials, or compel teachers to change what students read and do.  And, of course, advocates have made clear that this is exactly what they have in mind. When they refer to the “Common Core,” they don’t just mean the words on paper–what they really have in mind is this whole complex of changes. [Emphasis added by someone else.]

Another commenter wrote:

“Hess even broaches the major topic of federal involvement in CCSS. In this two part series written in June 2013, Hess opens Part One with the statement that he is “not on board” with CCSS:”

Hess again:

I’ve long said that the Common Core strikes me as an intriguing effort that could do much good. So, why am I not on board? Because I think the effort has a good chance of stalling out over the next four or five years. And, because standards and assessments are the backbone of pretty much everything else in K-12 schooling, that could tear down all manner of promising efforts on teacher quality, school improvement, and the rest. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, he wants the top-down, fascistic micro-managing control over teachers and the majority of the population that attends public schools, he just doesn’t think that CCSS will be successful in carrying it off. He wants to do it by other means.

Rick Hess’ classroom experience? A grand total of two years as a social studies teacher in Louisiana, about 21 years ago, according to his official website. It must have been pretty tough, if he quit teaching so soon. I’m sure he’s making much, much more money now as a spokesman for the billionaires who have taken over our educational system, and he doesn’t have to worry about teaching 150 students every single day and grading papers and filling out useless forms and memos until he can’t see straight at night, with no administrative support at all… Life’s pretty cool if you are a 40-something with a million-dollar portfolio schmoozing at conferences all over the place instead of actually teaching in the classroom any more…

All it takes is the ability to show those with deep pockets that you are on their side and are an effective mouthpiece for them. You can be very rich and very powerful, very soon in your career. Just ask Michelle Rhee how it’s done, but don’t expect any truthful answers out of her mouth…

So why do I object so much to this? Because it’s utterly false to say that SOMEBODY knows all the answers to the questions about how to educate our youth, our younger generation. Whenever I have a serious or even frivolous conversation in any forum whatsoever about education, I am struck by the degree to which perfectly serious, reasonable people, of all walks of life, disagree on the ultimate goals of education.

Heck, people can’t even agree on what are the most important questions!!

Of course, I have my own opinions, but as facts and situations change, my own opinions about education and many other aspects of society have been shifting a lot over my lifetime — and I’m willing to bet that this is also true of any of you who read this sentence, however old or young you might be.

So the idea that all lessons conducted in school need to follow a script that was written by somebody else, and that the teacher’s job is simply to follow that script — damn, that’s scary. Especially since the scripted stuff I see most of the time is clever but ultimately utterly dishonest advertising that is trying, for the most part, to get me to do things that are bad for me and my friends and former students but profitable for some small group of  very powerful people.

And guess who owns these companies who plan to sell, at very high prices, these all-encompassing, all-controlling educational UBER-bureaucracies that really would like to dictate — for a very hefty set of fees and costs and so on — every single lesson for every single kid in every single class in the United States of America, at every grade level, in every subject? Why, the same group of billionaires who run the country today – the Gateses, the Murdochs, the Koch brothers, Bloomberg, and a few hundred other people that comprise the 1% of 1% that are attempting to run the entire world.

They actually say it’s a good thing that if you transfer from one state to the next because your family moves, that you will be using the same exact textbook and electronic apps and can turn in the exact same assignment for the previous day to your new teacher. But since you only have one adult for 50 kids supposedly getting “personalized” learning from some form of computer, it really won’t matter where you go to school. No need to learn to get along with your schoolmates in a band, on a team, in a dramatic production or in building a project — those have all been eliminated, since the only important thing is test scores.

Wait – isn’t that what we criticize North Korea for? Or South Korea, for that matter? Rigid uniformity where nobody ever gets out of line, and all the adults and kids are working in fear of results of tests?

Is that REALLY what we want for our teachers and students?

I didn’t think so. Unless you are some sort of fascist or control freak.

Of course, the people organizing the government to require and to tax us to pay to concoct and implement these plans wouldn’t possibly allow their own kids to grow up in schools like that. Billionaire and millionaire kids go to schools like Lakeside in Seattle, or Sidwell or St. Albans in DC, or Chicago Lab School or Andover or Choate or whatever, and each teacher challenges kids to think for themselves, and there are music lessons and glee clubs and handicrafts and outdoor activities and other sports and drama clubs and so on and so on.

I’m of the opinion that that sort of structure, where the working-class kids get a stultifying school regime and the children of the rich get a whole lot of indulgences and individual attention, is just plain wrong, and it’s sick.

All kids need individual attention. They need really small class sizes, and they need breaks. If a kid has serious mental or medical or physical or emotional or learning difficulties, he/she can require a lot of one-on-one time from a caring adult, and assurances that he/she is OK, and help with dealing with those problems so that he/she can go ahead with life.

As we know, some people don’t get that help, and they are indeed scarred for life. But you don’t help kids like that by increasing class sizes and pouring ridiculous workloads on their teachers and withdrawing any sort of support and creating so much of a ‘churn’ of teaching staffs that none of them stay longer than 3-5 years and get to know the community they teach in. You don’t help kids like that by requiring that every single kid in the entire country has to be on the same page, LITERALLY, and not having any sort of link to the community from the school itself – no PTA, but a distant celebrity CEO who is paid half a million dollars a year and who runs a for-profit foundation that does all its business with the school.

But you CAN help kids like that if you have adults in the building who know the family, who live in the area, and who come from all walks of life, who have time to take an interest and help talk to the kid, and if there are activities of all sorts (marching band, orchestra, debate club, science club, football team, basketball team, track team, wrestling team, hot-rod shop, welding classes, wood shop, computer club, and so on…) that kids can relate to each other with as well.

As I mentioned earlier, people do not exactly agree on what education is for. Is it just to prepare you for work (through more classes or direct job preparation)? Some people think so, and give reasons related to national security and income and such.

Or is the purpose of our school system to increase our national ranking in PISA and such?

Or is it to sort and rank people so that the “best” become the hedge fund managers and quants and bankers who gamble with the GNP and sometimes cheat and bring the entire world to the brink of financial disaster, and the rest of us fall into our proper places, be they burger-flippers or cab-drivers?

Or is it to lead us through the paths foretold for us by some religious group or other?

Or is it to let people make up their own minds about what they want to do, and to question why the rules are the way they are, so that they can contribute their own ideas?

Obviously I’m writing those choices in a biased manner because I think that the last choice I gave is the correct one. You may well object to the loaded wording I used in phrasing some of those choices, and you are right to do so. Feel free to write what you think the real purpose of education is. Maybe you’ll piss me off… That’s OK. There is no need for us all to agree. This is America, right?

You’re supposed to be free to disagree here.



In fact, in diversity there is also strength. Not just in unity.

In biology and in life, if a species has too much uniformity in its genes or even in its habits, that can be a recipe for disaster: some unknown plague or virus can wipe out the whole lot of them. Better that a species be very diverse. Like humans are. And boy, are we ever a diverse species, which helps. The worst plagues in the past couple of centuries, namely the 1919 Spanish Flu and smallpox, killed millions of people including at least one aunt of mine whom I never new, according to family tradition, but the rest of my family was resistant for whatever reason. My dad got polio and was in an Iron Lung instead of getting drafted for World War 2, but nobody else in his family or that he knew well got sick; they were resistant, for as-yet-unknown reasons that relate to our considerable genetic diversity as a species.

And that has consequences:

All schools and all teachers and all lessons DO NOT have to be on exactly the same page, saying the same thing, using the same TLF rubric and blueprint, the way they expect teachers to behave here in DC public schools. It’s nuts! Nobody knows for sure how the brain works, exactly! Our best scientists are working on it, but they disagree among themselves as to who of them is a fraud and who of them is actually pursuing the truth. Certainly the sporadic headlines that the public sees or hears on psychology and learning theory are about as united and synoptic as the advice we hear on diet and fitness: experts firmly disagree with each other on the best way to lose weight, or how fit is fit, or even on what foods to eat and how to prepare them.

Why do some people then proclaim that a particular list of books is the only set of books that should be read by young people? That a particular set of ideas in mathematics, or history, or science, or geography need to be learned by every child, at the same rate, at the same ages? That’s an utter crock!

Even in math, which some people think is cut and dried, there are enormous controversies about how to teach it in general and even on what subset of the ever-expanding set of mathematical knowledge needs to be imparted. Or whether ‘imparting’ mathematical knowledge really means, or whether mathematics itself was created or was discovered.

Sounds theological, doesn’t it? I swear I’m not making that up.

In biology: to my surprise, biologists don’t even agree what “life” is. Or what are its requirements. Every day, it seems that current orthodoxy on how life and death and reproduction proceed seems to be at least challenged, if not overturned.

And in physics and cosmology, the most widely-accepted theory right now is that we have no idea what constitutes over 90% of the universe, and we have no real idea how it got the way it is in the first place. Physicists are pretty sure, however, that it does exist, and they have figured out how to predict how some of the stuff in the universe behaves, most of the time. But they disagree on what happens when those predictions will break down, such as in a black hole, and nobody knows what happened before 14 Billion years ago…

So if the greatest experts can’t agree, on either subject matter content or pedagogy, then why on earth would we willingly give a TRILLION DOLLARS to a network of corporations to hire low-paid or high-paid temps to crank out scripts or computerized lessons that every kid is supposed to follow — except the children of the very wealthy?

Haven’t we seen the kind of corruption these sorts of top-down enterprises bring?

Remember those pallet-loads of shrink-wrapped $100 bills air-dropped into Iraq and Afghanistan? Wonderful governments, those. Remember those hundreds of billions in “bonuses” given to all those Wall Street gamblers executives, while millions of industrial workers lost their jobs and others lost their houses and entire cities were forced to close schools and go into bankruptcy? Do you seriously think that people like Joel Klein, Rupert Murdock, Bernie Madoff, and Bill Gates are better than you and need to run society?

I mean, Gates didn’t even write his own beginning operating system; he’s only rich because he was able to create a monopoly — on operating systems that crash all the time and whose good features he “stole” from others.

Let’s not go back to the bad old days.

Published in: on December 28, 2013 at 3:40 am  Comments (10)  
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Trends for DC & Charters & Nation in 8th grade NAEP reading scores, black students

Here we have yet another surprising graph showing how the scores for black 8th graders on the NAEP reading tests have been bouncing around for students in DC public schools, DC charter schools, DC as a whole, large US cities as a whole, and the nation’s public schools as a whole.

Tell me what you see:

dc, dcps, charters, national, black 8th grade reading, naep to 2013

What I see is that under the ‘leadership’ of Rhee and Henderson, African-american 8th graders enrolled in DC public schools (blue and purple line) are actually doing a bit worse than they did before mayoral control. However, the average scores for the their counterparts in DC’s charter schools (dotted orange line)  are rising quite rapidly and are now higher than the national averages for black 8th graders.

However, on the average, the scores for all 8th-grade black students in publicly-funded DC schools (black dashed line) on the NAEP since 2008 (when Rhee was installed – purple vertical line) seem to be following the trends that were in place before that date.

No wonder Henderson recently admitted that her administration had no real idea on how to make DCPS middle schools attractive to families. One might conclude that the DC African-American families and students who were motivated to do well in school have in many cases migrated to the charter schools, leaving the less-motivated ones behind.

As in my previous three posts, I had to do have my spreadsheet do some computation to calculate the scores for the charter schools. You can find the formula in my first two posts. I used the overall DCPS and charter school and DC total enrollments rather than the specific 8th-grade-level enrollments for each institution because the latter was too difficult to find and I suspected that it wouldn’t make a big difference. If anybody finds any errors, please let me know.

Trends on NAEP for 8th grade math, black students in DC, DCPS, DC charters, and nation

Yet another graph, this one showing how this year’s group of African-American 8th grade students did on the NAEP math tests in the regular DC public schools, in all DC publicly-funded schools, in the DC charter schools, in large cities across the nation, and in all US public school systems, going back to the early 1990s.

dc, dcps, charters, national - black 8th graders, math to 2013

As usual, I had to do a bit of algebra to calculate what the average charter school scores were in the post-Rhee era, since those are not explicitly given anywhere. I give the explanation in my previous two posts.

My previous results seem to disagree a bit with those produced by NCES (by a couple of points). Therefore I used their data instead of what I calculated; the graph above is new as of 1/6/2014.

I still make these conclusions:

(1) Since the establishment of mayoral control of the schools, as a whole, the overall average for DC students in publicly-supported schools is following just about the exact same trends that were established from 2000 through 2007.  As a result, math scores for DC’s African-American 8th graders are now equal to those in large cities across the nation, which is a positive development.

(2) The DC charter schools seemed to have siphoned off the more motivated black 8th grade students and their families; as a result, scores for students in the regular DC public schools at that level in math lag significantly behind those of their counterparts in the charter schools, whose scores now surpass those of black 8th graders n the nation’s public schools as a whole and also those in large urban school systems as well.

As usual, if anybody finds any errors in my work, please let me know by leaving a comment.

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