As a 7th grader, could you have solved these? And how about now?

Do you realize how DIFFICULT the problems are on today’s 7th-grade PARCC-style standardized tests?

Take a look at this handful of questions, and feel free to look at others. If you compare these to the typical 7th-grade standardized test items from 30 or 40 years ago, you will have to conclude that these items asked these days are **much** more difficult than the ones from the past.

I strongly doubt that the folks who wrote these items, and those who are putting these items on the tests that nearly every 7th grader in the USA has to take, could have solved these when they were 7th graders?

And how many of my readers can solve these now, as adults?

Here are just a few:

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]

A new attack on the very idea of Public Education

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has always been very right-wing, pro-billionaire, anti-labor, and so on. It appears to be helping build an attack on the very idea of a common, public education.

Peter Greene of Curmudgucation analyzes a recent article by an ideologue of Koch-type, Ayn Rand-style ideas.

CURMUDGUCATION

What The WSJ Anti-Public Ed Op-Ed Gets Wrong
Posted: 25 Oct 2021 09:08 AM PDT

Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal (Fix News’ upscale sibling) published an op-ed from Philip Hamburger, a Columbia law professor and head of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a Koch-funded pro bono firm that takes cases primarily to defend against the “administrative state.”

It’s a hit job on public education with some pretty bold arguments, some of which are pretty insulting. But he sure says a lot of the quiet part out loud, and that makes this worth a look. Let me walk you through this. (Warning–it’s a little rambly, and you can skip to the last section if you want to get the basic layout)

Hamburger signals where he’s headed with the very first paragraph:

The public school system weighs on parents. It burdens them not simply with poor teaching and discipline, but with political bias, hostility toward religion, and now even sexual and racial indoctrination. Schools often seek openly to shape the very identity of children. What can parents do about it?

Hamburger offers no particular evidence for any of this catalog of arguable points. Various surveys repeatedly show that the majority of parents approve of their child’s public school. The rest is a litany of conservative complaints with no particular evidence, but Hamburger needs the premise to power the rest of his argument.

So here comes Hamburger’s bold assertion:

Education is mostly speech, and parents have a constitutional right to choose the speech with which their children will be educated. They therefore cannot constitutionally be compelled, or even pressured, to make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination

Conservative talking points about public education routinely assert and assume that public education is a service provided to parents, rather than to the students or society at large. It’s case I’ve never seen them successfully make. At the same time, society’s stake in educated members is clear and the entire rationale behind having non-parent taxpayers help pay the cost of public education. In any other instance where the taxpayers subsidize a private individual’s purchase of goods or service (e.g. food stamps, housing), some conservatives say the social safety net is a Bad Thing, so it’s uncharacteristic for them to champion public education as, basically, a welfare program for parents when they want to dramatically reduce all other such programs to bathtub-drowning size (spoiler alert: they’d like to do that with public education, too). 

But Hamburger has taken another step here, arguing that speech to children somehow belongs to their parents. It’s a bold notion–do parents somehow have a First Amendment right to control every sound that enters their children’s ears? Where are the children’s rights in this? Or does Hamburger’s argument (as some angry Twitter respondents claim) reduce children to chattel?
Hamburger follows his assertion with some arguments that don’t help. He argues that public education has always attempted to “homogenize and mold the identity of children,” which is a huge claim and, like much of his argument, assumes that schools somehow have the power to overwrite or erase everything that parents have inculcated at home. But then, for the whole argument currently raging, it’s necessary to paint public schools as huge threat in order to justify taking dramatic major action against them. 

The great Protestant scam

Hamburger also notes that public education has “been valued for corralling most of the poor and middle class into institutions where their religious and ethnic differences could be ironed out” which would be a more powerful point if most of the poor hadn’t generally avoided public education entirely. But he’s going to go further by claiming that “well into the 20th century, much of the political support for public schooling was driven by fear of Catholicism and an ambition to Protestantize Catholic children.” There’s no doubt that some of this was going on, but the primary goal of public education? 

The court case he leans on first is Pierce v Society of Sister, a 1925 Oregon case that established a parental right to substitute private religious school for public schooling. Hamburger argues that the underlying idea of the case is that Freedom of Speech = educational liberty, which gets him back to his central idea:  education is speech and therefor public education impinges on parents’ First Amendment rights.

Further, Hamburger imagines an America in which some sort of pressure is exerted on people (mostly Catholics) to accept public education mind control, thereby violating–well, here’s the shortest form of the argument he offers.
When government makes education compulsory and offers it free of charge, it crowds out parental freedom in educational speech. The poorer the parents, the more profound the pressure—and that is by design. Nativists intended to pressure poor and middle-class parents into substituting government educational speech for their own, and their unconstitutional project largely succeeded.

Most parents can’t afford to turn down public schooling. They therefore can’t adopt speech expressive of their own views in educating their children, whether by paying for a private school or dropping out of work to home school. So they are constrained to adopt government educational speech in place of their own, in violation of the First Amendment.
Hamburger doesn’t offer any kind of smoking gun to underline or expose the “nativists” dire intent. Nor does he explain why the public school system in some locales had to be forced to accept some students (I assume that he does not intend to argue that Southern schools blocked Black students out of deep respect for their parents’ First Amendment rights). 

Public education squashes parents, apparently.

Hamburger returns to a funhouse mirror of public education. Rather than an attempt to improve society as a whole and extend equal opportunity to all children, his view is that public education exists strictly to indoctrinate, to overrule parents, and is so lacking in any desirable virtue that government must conspire to force families to submit.

His language posits a bizarre world. Parents somehow “can’t adopt speech expressive of their own views” and must adopt government “educational speech in place of their own.” All of this as if once parents send their children to school, they must never again express their own values or ideas in their own home. He hits this “in place of their own” idea a lot, as if the beginning of public education is the end of any sort of childrearing at home. 

He next does a neat ju-jitsu trick where he observes that if fears of coercion and indoctrination are enough to keep religious elements out of public school, they should be enough to keep Other Secular Stuff out of school.
Next, he works his way around to the objection I raised earlier–society’s “compelling interest in public education.” He would like to dismantle this claim. I’m unconvinced. 

The U.S. was founded in an era when almost all schooling was private and religious, and that already suggests that any government interest in public education is neither necessary nor compelling.

This elicited my first “Oh, come on.” When the US was founded, some students went to private school. Some did not. Most enslaved children were specifically forbidden to. When the US founded, the body of knowledge one needed to grasp to make one’s way through the world was considerably smaller, and there were fewer citizens in the whole US than there are right now in New York City. So, no.

Also, he argues again that public schools caught on basically as a plot by anti-Catholic nativists. This is a bold argument, made all the bolder because many, many paragraphs in, he has not offered even a cherry-picked out-of-context quote to back this up. But he is going to try to reinterpret a quote with a wild stretch:

In their vision, public schools were essential for inculcating American principles so that children could become independent-minded citizens and thinking voters. The education reformer and politician Horace Mann said that without public schools, American politics would bend toward “those whom ignorance and imbecility have prepared to become slaves.” That sounds wholesome in the abstract. In practice, it meant that Catholics were mentally enslaved to their priests, and public education was necessary to get to the next generation, imbuing them with Protestant-style ideas so that when they reached adulthood, they would vote more like Protestant.

Has any giant conspiracy ever failed so spectacularly? Horace Mann and his ilk were out to wipe out Catholicism and make everyone think Protestanty ideas and get everyone to vote the right way, and yet, none of that actually happened. And again, Hamburger talks about education as if it has no value or purpose beyond indoctrinating children. 

Is this one more plan to replace white folks with Democrat voters?

This goal of shaping future voters gave urgency to the government’s interest in public education. As today, the hope was to liberate children from their parents’ supposedly benighted views and thereby create a different sort of polity. Now as then, this sort of project reeks of prejudice and indoctrination. There is no lawful government interest in displacing the educational speech of parents who don’t hold government-approved views, let alone in altering their children’s identity or creating a government-approved electorate

So, again, Hamburger reduces public education to a vast conspiracy to shout down parents and not, say, a means of creating educated citizens who are empowered to understand themselves and the world well enough to forge a productive and rewarding place in it. 

Hamburger wraps up by again harkening back to those great days of the 18th century:

The shared civic culture of 18th-century America was highly civilized, and it developed entirely in private schools. The schools, like the parents who supported them, were diverse in curriculum and their religious outlook, including every shade of Protestantism, plus Judaism, Catholicism, deism and religious indifference. In their freedom, the 18th-century schools established a common culture. In contrast, public-school coercion has always stimulated division.


I have some serious doubts about the diversity he lists, but I will note that it does not include a diversity of wealth and race. Or, for that matter, gender. Divisions is always less of a problem when Some People know their place and avoid interrupting their betters with complaints. But he needs this to be true because he’s headed back around to the assertion that public schools are “coercive” and “the focal point for all that is tearing the nation apart.” His solution, favored by Libertarians these days, is to get public schools to stop tearing people apart by letting people tear themselves apart and silo with other folks of the same ideological stripe, because that has always worked out well.

So what is actually new here? Or is this the same old anti-public ed stuff? What is he actually saying? Let me boil this down.

Hamburger’s argument breaks down into a few simple parts.


One is that the country (aka “government”) has no legitimate stake in public education. Just let everyone get their own education for their own kids; it worked great back in the 1700s. This is a silly argument. 

Also, the government has no legitimate stake in public education  because it’s all just a nativist plot to grind down Catholics and other dissenters. This part of the argument is important because it sets up the notion that only parents should have a say in education, which is an old favorite assertion of the anti-public ed crowd. If you don’t know why we all benefit from being surrounded by well-educated people, I don’t know how to explain it to you.

Education is speech. This part of the argument is important because it allows him to rope in the First Amendment so that he can declare public education unconstitutional. But it feels like a stretch–does he mean formal education? Is it still speech if it’s not in a classroom? Is reading a book speech if you learn from it? Does this mean teachers have more First Amendment rights than previously rules, or fewer?  If it’s on a computer? Is anything a person learns from speech? 

But “education is speech” is not the really bold part of his argument. That really bold part is where he goes on to say “therefor, parents should have total control over it.” I have so many questions. Should parents have total control over all speech directed at or in the vicinity of their children, including books, and so would I be violating a parent’s First Amendment rights if I gave their child an book for Christmas? And where are the child’s rights in this? Would this mean that a parent is allowed to lock their child in the basement in order to protect that parent’s First Amendment right to control what the child is exposed to? 

Hamburger’s argument has implications that he doesn’t get into in his rush to get to “do away with them and give everyone vouchers.” The biggest perhaps is that he has made an argument that non-parent taxpayers should not have to subsidize an education system. I’m betting he’s not unaware of that. 

‘No Excuses’ Charter Schools

The sacred and the profane: A former D.C. charter school board member calls for change

By Valerie Strauss, Washington Post Reporter

September 23, 2021 at 10:29 a.m. EDT

Steve Bumbaugh is a former member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, having served on the seven-member volunteer panel from 2015 until early this year. During that time, Bumbaugh visited numerous charter schools and attended many board meetings where questions of whether schools should be authorized, sanctioned or closed were discussed.

Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently from the school systems in the areas where they are located. In the nation’s capital, charters enroll nearly as many of the city’s schoolchildren as the system does. Supporters of charters say that they provide families with a necessary alternative to schools in traditional districts. Critics say they do not, on average, provide better student outcomes than traditional districts and steer public money away from districts that educate most schoolchildren.

Bumbaugh is a big supporter of charter schools. In this unusual post, he writes about his experience on the charter board and makes recommendations for change that he said will be bring better representation from the community.

Bumbaugh has worked in the education field for several decades in various roles. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science at Yale University and an MBA at Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

By Steve Bumbaugh

Let’s travel back to September 2017. I was in Southeast Washington, D.C., scheduled to tour a school in an hour. I remember visiting 25 years ago when it was part of the D.C. public school system. That school was closed in 2009 — one of dozens closed in the last 15 years — and now several charter schools occupy the campus.

At the time of this visit, I was a member of board of the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB), having started my tenure in 2015 and serving until early this year. In that capacity, I visited dozens of D.C.-based charter schools. Sometimes, I left those visits saddened, even defeated.

This was one of those times.

Over several decades of work at the intersection of education and poverty, I have learned that much of a school’s character can be divined through its start-of-the-day ritual. So on that day in 2017, I arrived early and sat in my car, far enough away that no one seemed to notice me, but near enough so that I could observe the comings and goings. Several young Black women arrived at school with their children who look to be 5 or 6 years old. They were greeted by staff members, and I observed them having what appeared to be tense conversations with the women. Some of these women left with their children in tow. Others handed their children over to staff members and departed.

When I entered the school for my scheduled visit, I was greeted by one of the founders, a 30-something man with energy and charm. He was joined by the school’s board chair, a distinguished senior partner from one of D.C.’s blue-chip law firms. They took me on a tour of several classrooms. I noticed that the leadership of the school was entirely White as were many of the teachers. All of the students were African American, most from families that struggle financially.

For the most part, the school looked like most other “no excuses” charter schools in the nation’s capital, dotting low-income African American neighborhoods, and in other places across the country.

These schools start with the belief that there is no good reason for the huge academic gaps between privileged and poor minority students — and that strict discipline, obedience, uniform teaching methods and other policies could erase the gaps. A feature of many of these schools, and one evident on this site visit, are lines painted on the hallway floors. Students are expected to walk on these lines as they move from classroom to classroom. Any deviation is likely to result in punishment. The only other places I had seen this before was at correctional facilities.

I entered a preschool classroom where students were gathered in a semi-circle on a rug. Like curious 4-year-olds everywhere, the students turned their heads to scrutinize us. Many smiled widely and some even waved. The teacher snapped at the children, demanding their attention. I was startled by her aggression. They were, after all, 4-year old children engaging in age-appropriate behavior.

That evening I called a staff person from this school who I’ve known for several years. I asked her to translate the scenes I witnessed outside the school. The conversation went something like this:

–“Those scholars probably had uniform violations. The staff persons were probably telling the moms to go home to have the kids change.”

–“I didn’t notice that they were wearing anything different from the other children.”

–“Well, they may have had the wrong color shoes. Or maybe they had the correct color shirt, but it didn’t have the school’s insignia on it.”

–“They have to go back home for that?”

–“Unless they want to spend the day in a behavior support room.”

Incredulous, I pressed my friend for details. I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal?

This sort of interaction between students and staff was not uncommon in no-excuses charter schools I visited over the years.

Occasionally I did visit schools that combine academic rigor and kindness with student bodies that are mostly Black and low-income. But those schools were the exception. I’ve seen schools where children are taught to track the teachers with their eyes, move their mouths in a specific way, and engage in other humiliating rituals that have little educational value.

I visited a school that suspended 40 percent of its 5-year-old children who had been diagnosed with disabilities. At some schools, when children are sick, their parents were forced to produce a doctor’s note because school leaders believed the parents were lying. But some of these parents were uninsured and there weren’t — and still aren’t — many doctors in their neighborhoods. Obtaining a doctor’s note required them to take their children onto packed public buses so they could go to public health clinics or emergency rooms.

Schools that still do this are telling these parents that they are not trusted. And while children in these schools are taught computational math and textual analysis, they also learn that they are congenitally profane.

Charter schools arose a generation ago in Washington, D.C. when the city was poor and in the grips of a decade-long homicide epidemic. I was part of a group of 20-somethings frustrated with the lack of progress in the city’s long-troubled public school system. We had been creating programs for the D.C. Public Schools system that dramatically outpaced the district’s regular academic outcomes, and we wanted to turn these programs into actual schools.

We talked about forging solutions with parents and students, working to retain every single student, exhorting patience about building the infrastructure from which improved academic outcomes would spring.

But little of this vision was attractive to an emerging cadre of funders and policymakers who placed huge bets on charter schools. They submitted to a vision, not based on a shred of evidence, that Black and Brown children would thrive if they were taught “character” and “grit.” The way to do this, apparently, was to create an assembly-line model of instruction with rigid rules. Children who could not abide by these rules were “counseled out” to return to traditional public schools. Now about one-third of D.C. charter schools are in the no-excuses category, enrolling at least half of the charter student population. (Some of these schools say they are changing, but I haven’t seen real evidence of that.)

Some ‘no-excuses’ charter schools say they are changing. Are they? Can they?

Remember, this was a time when Black communities were ravaged by an epidemic of crack cocaine and criminal justice laws that sent Blacks to jail for far longer sentences than Whites arrested for using essentially the same drug. Hillary Clinton, then first lady, warned against “the kinds of kids that are called super predators, no conscience, no empathy” — which many of us took to mean low-income Black children. In this context, powerful people not familiar with low-income communities were easily seduced by plans to tightly control children who might otherwise grow into dangerous adults.

The D.C. Public Charter School Board was created in 1996, at a time when homicide rates in the District were so high the city was dubbed the “murder capital.” It is no wonder the D.C. Public Charter School Board jumped on the “no-excuses” bandwagon.

What have we gained from this system? As of 2018-19 — the latest data available on the website of the charter school board — only 8.5 percent of Black high school students (about 80 percent of the student population) in charter schools were deemed proficient in math and 21 percent in English Language Arts, according to scores on the standardized PARCC exam.

There are some charter schools that are doing amazing work, but the system itself is ineffective. The vast majority of our students are not remotely ready for the rigors of college coursework.

After untold millions of dollars of investment and the creation of scores of schools — there were 128 operating this year — it is time for us to admit that this experiment is not working as it should.

So what must be done?

The District must rethink its charter schools, and more specifically, charter schools must be integrated. “Chocolate City” has been replaced by a city where upper-income White residents and a more diverse spectrum of Black residents exist in equal numbers.

One of the few scalable policies that dramatically improved academic outcomes for Black students was the integration of American public schools in the 1970s and ’80s. The Performance Management Framework that ranks the quality of each charter school should ensure that schools reflect the demographics of the city as it is today, particularly given that charter schools are not constrained by neighborhood boundaries that enforce segregation in traditional public schools.

New York City provides a replicable, legal model to enact a charter school system that prevents the proliferation of a worrying trend in D.C’s charter schools: elite charters that essentially shut out vulnerable, low-income Black children. (Though the city also has some of the most egregious no-excuses charters.)

What we have now, with some notable exceptions, is a system where highly resourced families crowd into a handful of desirable schools that have impossibly long waiting lists, and students from poor families attend no-excuses schools or charters that struggle to remain open. A school that serves a student body where 6-8 percent of the students meet the definition of “at risk” should not be considered top tier when 51 percent of the students (a statistic confirmed by a charter board staff member) in the entire system are at risk.

Similarly, schools should not be penalized or subtly encouraged to move out low-performing students when they serve student bodies that are overwhelmingly at risk.

“Separate and equal” should not stand in one of the most liberal cities in the United States.

Moreover power needs to be distributed more evenly. At first glance, the concentration of institutional power is not evident at the Public Charter School Board.

Most of the board members, including the current executive director, are Black or Latino. A closer look — and I am including myself in this observation — reveals that we are not remotely similar to most of the families with children attending D.C. public charter schools. Fully 80 percent of these families are African Americans who qualify for free and reduced lunch, which is not the same as at risk, but which is generally seen as a proxy for school poverty.

The people who are on the charter school board are highly educated professionals. Since I began serving on the panel — which has seven rotating volunteers, all appointed by the D.C. mayor — there have been 10 sitting members, half of whom attended Yale, Stanford or Harvard universities, or some combination of the three. We are well-versed in the contours of institutional power and know how to operate inside of its rarely articulated but clearly delineated boundaries. We’ve been rewarded for decoding these rules and abiding by them, which is precisely why we are selected for these coveted roles. We provide cover through optical diversity.

But if we really want to embrace equity, it’s time to rethink the make-up of the Public Charter School Board. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will have a unique opportunity to reshape this board over the coming year as five of its seven members will be termed out.

We need a board with members who reflect the communities served by D.C. charter sector. As cities move away from elected school boards to mayoral appointments, it’s critical that the voices that used to represent low-income communities continue to be present.

In the District, 80 percent of families attending charters are eligible for free and reduced lunch, but the charter school board has not in its 25-year history appointed a single board member who lives in poverty. Why not adjust the PCSB’s contours to reflect the communities in which these schools are located instead of incessantly asking poor Black people to acclimate?

Continuing to govern charter schools without input from low-income parents robs them of agency. This one-way flow of power is precisely the mistake this movement has made at the student level. Involving parents in the co-architecture of the sector would signal an evolutionary step forward.

Lastly, “no excuses” schools must be banned outright. The central failure of the education reform movement is the mimicking of carceral institutions, established and often celebrated by highly resourced outsiders. The idea that low-income Black and Latino students need to be tightly controlled in order to do well is a relic of Jim Crow.

My parents were Protestant ministers whose doctrine was best reflected in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. In their theology, elites look askance at the most vulnerable even though it is the most vulnerable — the poor, the outcasts — who can redeem a flawed world. It is the poor who are sacred. Their unearned suffering is both incessant and redemptive. This inversion of what is truly sacred and what is genuinely profane is a persistent theme in religion because the human spirit is so inclined to side with power; the path of least resistance. The education reform world is no different in this regard.

When I was teaching at Eastern High School in the early 1990s, we forbade our students from wearing T-shirts popular with their generation that sported curse words and gun imagery. Teenagers being teenagers, they pushed back against this restriction accusing us of violating their rights.

Over lunch one day, we put the dress code on trial. In my closing argument I asked the defendant if he would wear an offending T-shirt to his grandmother’s house or to church. “No” he responded. Somewhat theatrically I leaped: “Of course you wouldn’t! Your grandma’s house and church are sacred spaces.” I pulled the snare tightly across the throat of his argument, asking him in a whisper: “Why isn’t my classroom a sacred space?”

Then as now, the sacred places don’t exist in their neighborhoods. Where are the bookstores and the movie theaters and the art studios? They are in the wealthier neighborhoods where the people are sacred.

This hoarding of the sacred expresses itself in remarkable fits of paradox. In the education reform world, those of us who can retreat to our own sacred places sometimes expect to be praised for the simple reason that we take notice of the profane at all.

So even though the education reform world is replete with leaders whose own children are too sacred to attend the schools they found or fund or otherwise support, we are expected to ignore the contradiction when we tout these schools to the general public.

This is because there is an understanding at an almost cellular level that some children deserve sacred spaces and others should gratefully accept what the sacred give them.

In an era when Black Lives Matter signs are ubiquitous and a national conversation is underway about how to untangle our historical caste system, the PCSB has a role to play.

We can create a system that sees every child as sacred, regardless of ethnic stripe or socio-economic status.

And because effective social movements are not led by outsiders, we must create a system where families who attend these schools fully participate in the institutions of power. This is the beautiful, messy contract required by democracy.

Part Two: Cheating in DCPS

DC Education Reform Ten Years After, 

Part 2: Test Cheats

Richard P Phelps

Ten years ago, I worked as the Director of Assessments for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). For temporal context, I arrived after the first of the infamous test cheating scandals and left just before the incident that spawned a second. Indeed, I filled a new position created to both manage test security and design an expanded testing program. I departed shortly after Vincent Gray, who opposed an expanded testing program, defeated Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 DC mayoral primary. My tenure coincided with Michelle Rhee’s last nine months as Chancellor. 

The recurring test cheating scandals of the Rhee-Henderson years may seem extraordinary but, in fairness, DCPS was more likely than the average US school district to be caught because it received a much higher degree of scrutiny. Given how tests are typically administered in this country, the incidence of cheating is likely far greater than news accounts suggest, for several reasons: 

·      in most cases, those who administer tests—schoolteachers and administrators—have an interest in their results;

·      test security protocols are numerous and complicated yet, nonetheless, the responsibility of non-expert ordinary school personnel, guaranteeing their inconsistent application across schools and over time; 

·      after-the-fact statistical analyses are not legal proof—the odds of a certain amount of wrong-to-right erasures in a single classroom on a paper-and-pencil test being coincidental may be a thousand to one, but one-in-a-thousand is still legally plausible; and

·      after-the-fact investigations based on interviews are time-consuming, scattershot, and uneven. 

Still, there were measures that the Rhee-Henderson administrations could have adopted to substantially reduce the incidence of cheating, but they chose none that might have been effective. Rather, they dug in their heels, insisted that only a few schools had issues, which they thoroughly resolved, and repeatedly denied any systematic problem.  

Cheating scandals

From 2007 to 2009 rumors percolated of an extraordinary level of wrong-to-right erasures on the test answer sheets at many DCPS schools. “Erasure analysis” is one among several “red flag” indicators that testing contractors calculate to monitor cheating. The testing companies take no responsibility for investigating suspected test cheating, however; that is the customer’s, the local or state education agency. 

In her autobiographical account of her time as DCPS Chancellor, Michelle Johnson (nee Rhee), wrote (p. 197)

“For the first time in the history of DCPS, we brought in an outside expert to examine and audit our system. Caveon Test Security – the leading expert in the field at the time – assessed our tests, results, and security measures. Their investigators interviewed teachers, principals, and administrators.

“Caveon found no evidence of systematic cheating. None.”

Caveon, however, had not looked for “systematic” cheating. All they did was interview a few people at several schools where the statistical anomalies were more extraordinary than at others. As none of those individuals would admit to knowingly cheating, Caveon branded all their excuses as “plausible” explanations. That’s it; that is all that Caveon did. But, Caveon’s statement that they found no evidence of “widespread” cheating—despite not having looked for it—would be frequently invoked by DCPS leaders over the next several years.[1]

Incidentally, prior to the revelation of its infamous decades-long, systematic test cheating, the Atlanta Public Schools had similarly retained Caveon Test Security and was, likewise, granted a clean bill of health. Only later did the Georgia state attorney general swoop in and reveal the truth. 

In its defense, Caveon would note that several cheating prevention measures it had recommended to DCPS were never adopted.[2] None of the cheating prevention measures that I recommended were adopted, either.

The single most effective means for reducing in-classroom cheating would have been to rotate teachers on test days so that no teacher administered a test to his or her own students. It would not have been that difficult to randomly assign teachers to different classrooms on test days.

The single most effective means for reducing school administratorcheating would have been to rotate test administrators on test days so that none managed the test materials for their own schools. The visiting test administrators would have been responsible for keeping test materials away from the school until test day, distributing sealed test booklets to the rotated teachers on test day, and for collecting re-sealed test booklets at the end of testing and immediately removing them from the school. 

Instead of implementing these, or a number of other feasible and effective test security measures, DCPS leaders increased the number of test proctors, assigning each of a few dozen or so central office staff a school to monitor. Those proctors could not reasonably manage the volume of oversight required. A single DC test administration could encompass a hundred schools and a thousand classrooms.

Investigations

So, what effort, if any, did DCPS make to counter test cheating? They hired me, but then rejected all my suggestions for increasing security. Also, they established a telephone tip line. Anyone who suspected cheating could report it, even anonymously, and, allegedly, their tip would be investigated. 

Some forms of cheating are best investigated through interviews. Probably the most frequent forms of cheating at DCPS—teachers helping students during test administrations and school administrators looking at test forms prior to administration—leave no statistical residue. Eyewitness testimony is the only type of legal evidence available in such cases, but it is not just inconsistent, it may be socially destructive. 

I remember two investigations best: one occurred in a relatively well-to-do neighborhood with well-educated parents active in school affairs; the other in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Superficially, the cases were similar—an individual teacher was accused of helping his or her own students with answers during test administrations. Making a case against either elementary school teacher required sworn testimony from eyewitnesses, that is, students—eight-to-ten-year olds. 

My investigations, then, consisted of calling children into the principal’s office one-by-one to be questioned about their teacher’s behavior. We couldn’t hide the reason we were asking the questions. And, even though each student agreed not to tell others what had occurred in their visit to the principal’s office, we knew we had only one shot at an uncorrupted jury pool. 

Though the accusations against the two teachers were similar and the cases against them equally strong, the outcomes could not have been more different. In the high-poverty neighborhood, the students seemed suspicious and said little; none would implicate the teacher, whom they all seemed to like. 

In the more prosperous neighborhood, students were more outgoing, freely divulging what they had witnessed. The students had discussed the alleged coaching with their parents who, in turn, urged them to tell investigators what they knew. During his turn in the principal’s office, the accused teacher denied any wrongdoing. I wrote up each interview, then requested that each student read and sign. 

Thankfully, that accused teacher made a deal and left the school system a few weeks later. Had he not, we would have required the presence in court of the eight-to-ten-year olds to testify under oath against their former teacher, who taught multi-grade classes. Had that prosecution not succeeded, the eyewitness students could have been routinely assigned to his classroom the following school year.

My conclusion? Only in certain schools is the successful prosecution of a cheating teacher through eyewitness testimony even possible. But, even where possible, it consumes inordinate amounts of time and, otherwise, comes at a high price, turning young innocents against authority figures they naturally trusted. 

Cheating blueprints

Arguably the most widespread and persistent testing malfeasance in DCPS received little attention from the press. Moreover, it was directly propagated by District leaders, who published test blueprints on the web. Put simply, test “blueprints” are lists of the curricular standards (e.g., “student shall correctly add two-digit numbers”) and the number of test items included in an upcoming test related to each standard. DC had been advance publishing its blueprints for years.

I argued that the way DC did it was unethical. The head of the Division of Data & Accountability, Erin McGoldrick, however, defended the practice, claimed it was common, and cited its existence in the state of California as precedent. The next time she and I met for a conference call with one of DCPS’s test providers, Discover Education, I asked their sales agent how many of their hundreds of other customers advance-published blueprints. His answer: none.

In the state of California, the location of McGoldrick’s only prior professional experience, blueprints were, indeed, published in advance of test administrations. But their tests were longer than DC’s and all standards were tested. Publication of California’s blueprints served more to remind the populace what the standards were in advance of each test administration. Occasionally, a standard considered to be of unusual importance might be assigned a greater number of test items than the average, and the California blueprints signaled that emphasis. 

In Washington, DC, the tests used in judging teacher performance were shorter, covering only some of each year’s standards. So, DC’s blueprints showed everyone well in advance of the test dates exactly which standards would be tested and which would not. For each teacher, this posed an ethical dilemma: should they “narrow the curriculum” by teaching only that content they knew would be tested? Or, should they do the right thing and teach all the standards, as they were legally and ethically bound to, even though it meant spending less time on the to-be-tested content? It’s quite a conundrum when one risks punishment for behaving ethically.

Monthly meetings convened to discuss issues with the districtwide testing program, the DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS)—administered to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. All public schools, both DCPS and charters, administered those tests. At one of these regular meetings, two representatives from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) announced plans to repair the broken blueprint process.[3]

The State Office employees argued thoughtfully and reasonably that it was professionally unethical to advance publish DC test blueprints. Moreover, they had surveyed other US jurisdictions in an effort to find others that followed DC’s practice and found none. I was the highest-ranking DCPS employee at the meeting and I expressed my support, congratulating them for doing the right thing. I assumed that their decision was final.

I mentioned the decision to McGoldrick, who expressed surprise and speculation that it might have not been made at the highest level in the organizational hierarchy. Wasting no time, she met with other DCPS senior managers and the proposed change was forthwith shelved. In that, and other ways, the DCPS tail wagged the OSSE dog. 

* * *

It may be too easy to finger ethical deficits for the recalcitrant attitude toward test security of the Rhee-Henderson era ed reformers. The columnist Peter Greene insists that knowledge deficits among self-appointed education reformers also matter: 

“… the reformistan bubble … has been built from Day One without any actual educators inside it. Instead, the bubble is populated by rich people, people who want rich people’s money, people who think they have great ideas about education, and even people who sincerely want to make education better. The bubble does not include people who can turn to an Arne Duncan or a Betsy DeVos or a Bill Gates and say, ‘Based on my years of experience in a classroom, I’d have to say that idea is ridiculous bullshit.’”

“There are a tiny handful of people within the bubble who will occasionally act as bullshit detectors, but they are not enough. The ed reform movement has gathered power and money and set up a parallel education system even as it has managed to capture leadership roles within public education, but the ed reform movement still lacks what it has always lacked–actual teachers and experienced educators who know what the hell they’re talking about.”

In my twenties, I worked for several years in the research department of a state education agency. My primary political lesson from that experience, consistently reinforced subsequently, is that most education bureaucrats tell the public that the system they manage works just fine, no matter what the reality. They can get away with this because they control most of the evidence and can suppress it or spin it to their advantage.

In this proclivity, the DCPS central office leaders of the Rhee-Henderson era proved themselves to be no different than the traditional public-school educators they so casually demonized. 

US school systems are structured to be opaque and, it seems, both educators and testing contractors like it that way. For their part, and contrary to their rhetoric, Rhee, Henderson, and McGoldrick passed on many opportunities to make their system more transparent and accountable.

Education policy will not improve until control of the evidence is ceded to genuinely independent third parties, hired neither by the public education establishment nor by the education reform club.

The author gratefully acknowledges the fact-checking assistance of Erich Martel and Mary Levy.

Access this testimonial in .pdf format

Citation:  Phelps, R. P. (2020, September). Looking Back on DC Education Reform 10 Years After, Part 2: Test Cheats. Nonpartisan Education Review / Testimonials. https://nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Testimonials/v16n3.htm


[1] A perusal of Caveon’s website clarifies that their mission is to help their clients–state and local education departments–not get caught. Sometimes this means not cheating in the first place; other times it might mean something else. One might argue that, ironically, Caveon could be helping its clients to cheat in more sophisticated ways and cover their tracks better.

[2] Among them: test booklets should be sealed until the students open them and resealed by the students immediately after; and students should be assigned seats on test day and a seating chart submitted to test coordinators (necessary for verifying cluster patterns in student responses that would suggest answer copying).

[3] Yes, for those new to the area, the District of Columbia has an Office of the “State” Superintendent of Education (OSSE). Its domain of relationships includes not just the regular public schools (i.e., DCPS), but also other public schools (i.e., charters) and private schools. Practically, it primarily serves as a conduit for funneling money from a menagerie of federal education-related grant and aid programs

What did Education Reform in DC Actually Mean?

Short answer: nothing that would actually help students or teachers. But it’s made for well-padded resumes for a handful of insiders.

This is an important review, by the then-director of assessment. His criticisms echo the points that I have been making along with Mary Levy, Erich Martel, Adell Cothorne, and many others.

Nonpartisan Education Review / Testimonials

Access this testimonial in .pdf format

Looking Back on DC Education Reform 10 Years After, 

Part 1: The Grand Tour

Richard P Phelps

Ten years ago, I worked as the Director of Assessments for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). My tenure coincided with Michelle Rhee’s last nine months as Chancellor. I departed shortly after Vincent Gray defeated Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 DC mayoral primary

My primary task was to design an expansion of that testing program that served the IMPACT teacher evaluation system to include all core subjects and all grade levels. Despite its fame (or infamy), the test score aspect of the IMPACT program affected only 13% of teachers, those teaching either reading or math in grades four through eight. Only those subjects and grade levels included the requisite pre- and post-tests required for teacher “value added” measurements (VAM). Not included were most subjects (e.g., science, social studies, art, music, physical education), grades kindergarten to two, and high school.

Chancellor Rhee wanted many more teachers included. So, I designed a system that would cover more than half the DCPS teacher force, from kindergarten through high school. You haven’t heard about it because it never happened. The newly elected Vincent Gray had promised during his mayoral campaign to reduce the amount of testing; the proposed expansion would have increased it fourfold.

VAM affected teachers’ jobs. A low value-added score could lead to termination; a high score, to promotion and a cash bonus. VAM as it was then structured was obviously, glaringly flawed,[1] as anyone with a strong background in educational testing could have seen. Unfortunately, among the many new central office hires from the elite of ed reform circles, none had such a background.

Before posting a request for proposals from commercial test developers for the testing expansion plan, I was instructed to survey two groups of stakeholders—central office managers and school-level teachers and administrators.

Not surprisingly, some of the central office managers consulted requested additions or changes to the proposed testing program where they thought it would benefit their domain of responsibility. The net effect on school-level personnel would have been to add to their administrative burden. Nonetheless, all requests from central office managers would be honored. 

The Grand Tour

At about the same time, over several weeks of the late Spring and early Summer of 2010, along with a bright summer intern, I visited a dozen DCPS schools. The alleged purpose was to collect feedback on the design of the expanded testing program. I enjoyed these meetings. They were informative, animated, and very well attended. School staff appreciated the apparent opportunity to contribute to policy decisions and tried to make the most of it.

Each school greeted us with a full complement of faculty and staff on their days off, numbering a several dozen educators at some venues. They believed what we had told them: that we were in the process of redesigning the DCPS assessment program and were genuinely interested in their suggestions for how best to do it. 

At no venue did we encounter stand-pat knee-jerk rejection of education reform efforts. Some educators were avowed advocates for the Rhee administration’s reform policies, but most were basically dedicated educators determined to do what was best for their community within the current context. 

The Grand Tour was insightful, too. I learned for the first time of certain aspects of DCPS’s assessment system that were essential to consider in its proper design, aspects of which the higher-ups in the DCPS Central Office either were not aware or did not consider relevant. 

The group of visited schools represented DCPS as a whole in appropriate proportions geographically, ethnically, and by education level (i.e., primary, middle, and high). Within those parameters, however, only schools with “friendly” administrations were chosen. That is, we only visited schools with principals and staff openly supportive of the Rhee-Henderson agenda. 

But even they desired changes to the testing program, whether or not it was expanded. Their suggestions covered both the annual districtwide DC-CAS (or “comprehensive” assessment system), on which the teacher evaluation system was based, and the DC-BAS (or “benchmarking” assessment system), a series of four annual “no-stakes” interim tests unique to DCPS, ostensibly offered to help prepare students and teachers for the consequential-for-some-school-staff DC-CAS.[2]

At each staff meeting I asked for a show of hands on several issues of interest that I thought were actionable. Some suggestions for program changes received close to unanimous support. Allow me to describe several.

1. Move DC-CAS test administration later in the school year. Many citizens may have logically assumed that the IMPACT teacher evaluation numbers were calculated from a standard pre-post test schedule, testing a teacher’s students at the beginning of their academic year together and then again at the end. In 2010, however, the DC-CAS was administered in March, three months before school year end. Moreover, that single administration of the test served as both pre- and post-test, posttest for the current school year and pretest for the following school year. Thus, before a teacher even met their new students in late August or early September, almost half of the year for which teachers were judged had already transpired—the three months in the Spring spent with the previous year’s teacher and almost three months of summer vacation. 

School staff recommended pushing DC-CAS administration to later in the school year. Furthermore, they advocated a genuine pre-post-test administration schedule—pre-test the students in late August–early September and post-test them in late-May–early June—to cover a teacher’s actual span of time with the students.

This suggestion was rejected because the test development firm with the DC-CAS contract required three months to score some portions of the test in time for the IMPACT teacher ratings scheduled for early July delivery, before the start of the new school year. Some small number of teachers would be terminated based on their IMPACT scores, so management demanded those scores be available before preparations for the new school year began.[3] The tail wagged the dog.

2. Add some stakes to the DC-CAS in the upper grades. Because DC-CAS test scores portended consequences for teachers but none for students, some students expended little effort on the test. Indeed, extensive research on “no-stakes” (for students) tests reveal that motivation and effort vary by a range of factors including gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, the weather, and age. Generally, the older the student, the lower the test-taking effort. This disadvantaged some teachers in the IMPACT ratings for circumstances beyond their control: unlucky student demographics. 

Central office management rejected this suggestion to add even modest stakes to the upper grades’ DC-CAS; no reason given. 

3. Move one of the DC-BAS tests to year end. If management rejected the suggestion to move DC-CAS test administration to the end of the school year, school staff suggested scheduling one of the no-stakes DC-BAS benchmarking tests for late May–early June. As it was, the schedule squeezed all four benchmarking test administrations between early September and mid-February. Moving just one of them to the end of the year would give the following year’s teachers a more recent reading (by more than three months) of their new students’ academic levels and needs.

Central Office management rejected this suggestion probably because the real purpose of the DC-BAS was not to help teachers understand their students’ academic levels and needs, as the following will explain.

4. Change DC-BAS tests so they cover recently taught content. Many DC citizens probably assumed that, like most tests, the DC-BAS interim tests covered recently taught content, such as that covered since the previous test administration. Not so in 2010. The first annual DC-BAS was administered in early September, just after the year’s courses commenced. Moreover, it covered the same content domain—that for the entirety of the school year—as each of the next three DC-BAS tests. 

School staff proposed changing the full-year “comprehensive” content coverage of each DC-BAS test to partial-year “cumulative” coverage, so students would only be tested on what they had been taught prior to each test administration.

This suggestion, too, was rejected. Testing the same full-year comprehensive content domain produced a predictable, flattering score rise. With each DC-BAS test administration, students recognized more of the content, because they had just been exposed to more of it, so average scores predictably rose. With test scores always rising, it looked like student achievement improved steadily each year. Achieving this contrived score increase required testing students on some material to which they had not yet been exposed, both a violation of professional testing standards and a poor method for instilling student confidence. (Of course, it was also less expensive to administer essentially the same test four times a year than to develop four genuinely different tests.)

5. Synchronize the sequencing of curricular content across the District. DCPS management rhetoric circa 2010 attributed classroom-level benefits to the testing program. Teachers would know more about their students’ levels and needs and could also learn from each other. Yet, the only student test results teachers received at the beginning of each school year was half-a-year old, and most of the information they received over the course of four DC-BAS test administrations was based on not-yet-taught content.

As for cross-district teacher cooperation, unfortunately there was no cross-District coordination of common curricular sequences. Each teacher paced their subject matter however they wished and varied topical emphases according to their own personal preference.

It took DCPS’s Chief Academic Officer, Carey Wright, and her chief of staff, Dan Gordon, less than a minute to reject the suggestion to standardize topical sequencing across schools so that teachers could consult with one another in real time. Tallying up the votes: several hundred school-level District educators favored the proposal, two of Rhee’s trusted lieutenants opposed it. It lost.

6. Offer and require a keyboarding course in the early grades. DCPS was planning to convert all its testing from paper-and-pencil mode to computer delivery within a few years. Yet, keyboarding courses were rare in the early grades. Obviously, without systemwide keyboarding training in computer use some students would be at a disadvantage in computer testing.

Suggestion rejected.

In all, I had polled over 500 DCPS school staff. Not only were all of their suggestions reasonable, some were essential in order to comply with professional assessment standards and ethics. 

Nonetheless, back at DCPS’ Central Office, each suggestion was rejected without, to my observation, any serious consideration. The rejecters included Chancellor Rhee, the head of the office of Data and Accountability—the self-titled “Data Lady,” Erin McGoldrick—and the head of the curriculum and instruction division, Carey Wright, and her chief deputy, Dan Gordon. 

Four central office staff outvoted several-hundred school staff (and my recommendations as assessment director). In each case, the changes recommended would have meant some additional work on their parts, but in return for substantial improvements in the testing program. Their rhetoric was all about helping teachers and students; but the facts were that the testing program wasn’t structured to help them.

What was the purpose of my several weeks of school visits and staff polling? To solicit “buy in” from school level staff, not feedback.

Ultimately, the new testing program proposal would incorporate all the new features requested by senior Central Office staff, no matter how burdensome, and not a single feature requested by several hundred supportive school-level staff, no matter how helpful. Like many others, I had hoped that the education reform intention of the Rhee-Henderson years was genuine. DCPS could certainly have benefitted from some genuine reform. 

Alas, much of the activity labelled “reform” was just for show, and for padding resumes. Numerous central office managers would later work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Numerous others would work for entities supported by the Gates or aligned foundations, or in jurisdictions such as Louisiana, where ed reformers held political power. Most would be well paid. 

Their genuine accomplishments, or lack thereof, while at DCPS seemed to matter little. What mattered was the appearance of accomplishment and, above all, loyalty to the group. That loyalty required going along to get along: complicity in maintaining the façade of success while withholding any public criticism of or disagreement with other in-group members.

Unfortunately, in the United States what is commonly showcased as education reform is neither a civic enterprise nor a popular movement. Neither parents, the public, nor school-level educators have any direct influence. Rather, at the national level, US education reform is an elite, private club—a small group of tightly-connected politicos and academicsa mutual admiration society dedicated to the career advancement, political influence, and financial benefit of its members, supported by a gaggle of wealthy foundations (e.g., Gates, Walton, Broad, Wallace, Hewlett, Smith-Richardson). 

For over a decade, The Ed Reform Club exploited DC for its own benefit. Local elite formed the DC Public Education Fund (DCPEF) to sponsor education projects, such as IMPACT, which they deemed worthy. In the negotiations between the Washington Teachers’ Union and DCPS concluded in 2010, DCPEF arranged a 3 year grant of $64.5M from the Arnold, Broad, Robertson and Walton Foundations to fund a 5-year retroactive teacher pay raise in return for contract language allowing teacher excessing tied to IMPACT, which Rhee promised would lead to annual student test score increases by 2012. Projected goals were not metfoundation support continued nonetheless.

Michelle Johnson (nee Rhee) now chairs the board of a charter school chain in California and occasionally collects $30,000+ in speaker fees but, otherwise, seems to have deliberately withdrawn from the limelight. Despite contributing her own additional scandalsafter she assumed the DCPS Chancellorship, Kaya Henderson ascended to great fame and glory with a “distinguished professorship” at Georgetown; honorary degrees from Georgetown and Catholic Universities; gigs with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Broad Leadership Academy, and Teach for All; and board memberships with The Aspen Institute, The College Board, Robin Hood NYC, and Teach For America. Carey Wright is now state superintendent in Mississippi. Dan Gordon runs a 30-person consulting firm, Education Counsel that strategically partners with major players in US education policy. The manager of the IMPACT teacher evaluation program, Jason Kamras, now works as Superintendent of the Richmond, VA public schools. 

Arguably the person most directly responsible for the recurring assessment system fiascos of the Rhee-Henderson years, then Chief of Data and Accountability Erin McGoldrick, now specializes in “data innovation” as partner and chief operating officer at an education management consulting firm. Her firm, Kitamba, strategically partners with its own panoply of major players in US education policy. Its list of recent clients includes the DC Public Charter School Board and DCPS.

If the ambitious DC central office folk who gaudily declared themselves leading education reformers were not really, who were the genuine education reformers during the Rhee-Henderson decade of massive upheaval and per-student expenditures three times those in the state of Utah? They were the school principals and staff whose practical suggestions were ignored by central office glitterati. They were whistleblowers like history teacher Erich Martel who had documented DCPS’ student records’ manipulation and phony graduation rates years before the Washington Post’s celebrated investigation of Ballou High School, and was demoted and then “excessed” by Henderson. Or, school principal Adell Cothorne, who spilled the beans on test answer sheet “erasure parties” at Noyes Education Campus and lost her job under Rhee. 

Real reformers with “skin in the game” can’t play it safe.

The author appreciates the helpful comments of Mary Levy and Erich Martel in researching this article. 

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Is DC Truly the “Leader of the Pack” of other Cities in NAEP Scores?

Is DC Truly the “Leader of the Pack” of other Cities in NAEP Scores?

Did it leap from the tail of the pack to the head?

No.

Or even to the middle?

No.

True, it’s no longer in last place, but part of that is because a bunch of other cities with worse scores have now joined the ‘race’.

If Detroit had been one of the original NAEP-TUDA* cities, I bet Motor City would have placed last back in 2003, but we’ll never know, because there is no public data for that year, that I know of. It places right after in DC in charter-school penetration.

There is also no public data on New Orleans, in which all of the public schools were closed after the hurricane twelve years ago, and which has the highest proportion of its publicly-funded students in charter schools of anywhere in the nation.** Too bad we can’t see the data on that one. I predict NO-LA’s scores would be near the bottom as well, and so would the other school districts with really high charter school penetration – whose data is also hidden from view.

Don’t forget the growing number of white kids in DCPS (and in certain charter schools) such as at Alice Deal MS.

Oh well, I decided to graph the average NAEP scale scores in math for every single one of the 27 cities in TUDA.

8th grade math all naep tuda cities, all students

Look for yourself. DC is not even the top half, despite what you may have heard.

*Trial Urban District Assessment; National Assessment of Educational Progress

** Top 10 school districts by percentage of market share (source )

  1. New Orleans, LA (57%);
  2. Washington, D.C. (36%);
  3. Detroit, MI (32%);
  4. Kansas City, MO (29%);
  5. Dayton, OH (27%);
  6. Youngstown, OH (26%);
  7. St. Louis, MO (25%);
  8. Flint, MI (24%);
  9. Gary, IN (23%);
  10. Phoenix Union High School District, AZ (22%);
  11. and Minneapolis, MN (22%).

I know that graph is awfully hard to read. I am posting the raw data table here, put in order from high to low scores for 8th grade average NAEP scale scores for 2017. You will notice that out of 27 cities, DC is number 20.

data table, 8th grade all naep tuda reading all cities

Notice that the data for DC in the NAEP TUDA is not exactly comparable at all times from one year to the next. At one point they decided that for DC, this would only be for DCPS itself, not the private or charter schools. Oh, well.

Why is it that we keep on testing?

The only actual impact it’s had has been to distort education in a top-down manner, and that’s not exactly a good thing, as Peter Greene points out at Curmudgucation.

A few excerpts, concerning the reasons we were given for all this testing, and how that excuse turned out:

Address Inequity

We would find where non-wealthy non-white student populations were being ill-served. Anyone who can’t figure that out without the BS Test is a dope. And as with the last point, the problem has been that the data hasn’t so much been used to find schools that need help as it has been used to find schools that are vulnerable and ready to be turned into somebody’s business opportunity. Instead of focusing our will to address educational inequity, test-based accountability has highlighted our lack of will (and wasted the good intentions of some folks).

Informing Instruction

Teachers were going to get their data spreadsheets and figure out, with laser-like precision, who they needed to change their instruction. But right off the bat it became clear that data about students in your class would only arrive long after the students had departed for their next classroom. Then the security issue reared its stupid head– I can see student scores, but I am forbidden to see the test itself. (For that matter, students who are so inclined are unable to see their specific results to ask “What exactly did I get wrong here?”) This means I can tell that Pat only got an okayish score, based on some questions that might have asked about something about reading that Pat apparently answered incorrectly. How can that inform my instruction? It can’t. It doesn’t. The BS Tests “inform instruction” mostly by encouraging teachers to spend more time on test prep. That’s not a good thing.

Letting Parents Know How Their Children Are Doing

Under this theory, parents have no idea how their children are doing in school until the BS Test results appear. Assuming for the moment that the parents are that disconnected, the information provided is minimal, scoring a few categories on a 1-3 or 1-4 scale. A BS Test provides very non-granular data, less nuanced than a report card– and based on just one test. There is nothing for parents to learn here.”

 

The Example of West Virginia Teachers Should Inspire Us All

The recent state-wide strike by the school teachers of West Virginia, and their victory on the behalf of ALL West Virginia state workers, should inspire teachers and other workers all over the country, as Jan Resseger writes so eloquently here.

I read one article elsewhere, written by a right-wing journalist of some sort, criticizing teachers as whining, overpaid crybabies. That person did not, however, criticize any of the billionaires or millionaires for extracting maximum profits for the shoddy profits or apps they sell, nor the unlivably low wages they pay to retail, service, or manufacturing workers all over the country. How on earth can you pay rent and utilities and transportation and health care and everything else even for a single person, working full time at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour or even double that? You can’t, is the short answer.

While a handful of billionaires own more than half the population combined, it is beyond time for the rest of us to organize and demand a better life. This can only be done in large numbers, with workers (and consumers) sticking together. All by yourself, you can’t do much. However, if you can persuade others to stick together, on a massive scale, and not to allow ourselves to be divided by race, gender, national origin, religion, or anything else, then the sky’s the limit! Divided we fall, united we stand!

 

No Signs of Educational Miracle in Washington DC, 10+ Years After Gutting Elected School Board

You may recall that Congress and the DC City Council got rid of local control of the public schools in Washington back in 2007, passing a law whose acronym is PERAA. Michelle Rhee was anointed as the first Chancellor (a brand-new position) in June of that year, only accountable to Mayor Fenty. She told lots of lies and alienated almost the entire non-white population of DC, but she had the full and complete backing of the Washington Post and the rest of the billionaires (Gates, Walton family, Arnold, etc) who think they know exactly how to fix public education.

When Fenty was primaried out of office by a pissed-off electorate before his first term expired, it was clear to most pundits that many of the voters were doing so because they felt Rhee (and by extension Fenty) was so toxic.

It’s now been ten and a half years since that attack on the ‘public’ part of public education in DC. There has been no move to return to an elected school board – an institution which was the first democratically-elected public board in Washington DC in the 20th century. In that time, the charter school enrollment in DC has climbed to nearly equal the enrollment in traditional public schools.

(Not that there is anything miraculous about the charter schools here in general: Over 40 of them have been closed by the PCSB itself either for mismanagement and/or fraud and/or academic failure and/or low enrollment, though 120 remain. That is a huge fraction, and my list of closed schools is about four years out of date! One more charter school just got closed down four days ago, a few months after it was celebrated as a wondrous success by Betsy DeVos, Melania Trump, and the Queen of Jordan. )

But the test scores!

The biggest argument of backers of PERAA and the crazy mix of public and charter schools is basically this: test scores are going up in DC, which shows that what we did worked.

Some of the DC NAEP test scores are in fact going up over time, but:

(1) They were going up, at about the same rate or even higher, BEFORE the gutting of democratic control of schools in 2007 (see graphs below). This means that whatever it is that is slightly raising the average NAEP test scores in DC was in fact going on in DC public schools well before Rhee was appointed;

(2) The gap between scores of white kids and black kids in DC is still the highest anywhere in the nation; and the gap between the top and bottom on the NAEP has gotten much wider since PERAA.

(3) If you look at PERAA’s supposed success in fighting poverty by new educational structures and techniques and all-year-round testing, you will see that there has been no miracle. Among the charter schools AND the public schools, the correlation between poverty markers and test scores is very, very strong, and negative: the higher the percentage of formally denoted ‘at-risk’ students, in general, the lower the school average scores.

Let me show you a few graphs that show point #1.

(I used the NAEP data, since it’s administered nationally, is almost impossible for administrators or teachers to cheat on, and we know that there has been a LOT of cheating on the locally-administered tests like the DC-CAS or PARCC. Not to mention that the local tests keep being changed, drastically. I’m not saying that any of these tests really measure the most important things in a child’s education, but they are the yardstick being wielded by our overlords, so it makes sense to see if their lordships actually measure up. I claim that they don’t.)

My first two graphs show “average scale scores” on the NAEP in reading and math for black eighth-grade DC youngsters over time, starting about 20 years ago and going up to 2015, and compared to all national public school 8th grade black students, and to their AA 8th-grade counterparts in all large US cities. (The 2017 scores should be published this spring).

The DC scores are in green. National Public scores are in blue, and the Large City scores are in orange.

There is a heavy, dotted, vertical, red line separating the period prior to mayoral control and the period afterwards. Look carefully: is there a big difference in trends from, say, 2000-2007 and 2007- 2015?

 

Me, I don’t see one, really, except that in math, for some reason, all three groups saw a small drop in 2015, which makes me suspect some sort of a test glitch. In 8th grade reading, there has been essentially no closing of the gap between 8th grade black students in DC and those elsewhere.

On the other hand, in math at the 8th grade among AA students, that same gap (between DC and elsewhere) has essentially been closed, thanks to steady growth from the year 2000 and 2013. Hmm: PERAA began about half-way through that period, so it didn’t by itself cause that growth!

Now let’s take a look at fourth-grade NAEP scores for the same groups (African-American students in DC, all US Large Cities, and the National Public School sample, over the past couple of decades:

I see two things:

(1) It looks like the gap between black fourth grade students in DC and their national counterparts has essentially closed, thanks to fairly steady progress since the year 2000 (in math) or 2002 (in reading);

(2) On the other hand, you could make the argument that the rate of growth was stronger before PERAA (Mayoral Control of DC Schools) than it was afterwards!

Something to think about on this anniversary of the birth of MLK Jr, and during the 50th anniversary of his murder.

Next I’ll look at the same sort of thing for Hispanic students and white students.

 

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