Progress (or not) in DC public schools after democracy was discarded

I continue looking at the (lack of) miraculous progress in education in the District of Columbia, my home town, ever since PERAA was passed and the democratically-elected school board was stripped of all of its power.

Today I am comparing the progress of successive cohorts of white, Hispanic, and black students about 11 years afterwards as shown on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which is given nation-wide to carefully-selected samples of students. In a few months we will have the 2017 NAEP scores available, which I will add on to these graphs. So far, however, I do not see any evidence that the gap between the reading and math scores for 4th or 7th grade students in DC — which is the largest gap of any city or state measured – has been eliminated.

Look for yourself.

As in my previous posts, I drew a vertical red line in the year 2008 (not a NAEP testing year) because that separates the scores obtained under the ancien regime and the scores under PERAA. The NAEP is not given every single year, and in some years, scores were not published for some groups because of statistical reliability issues. I drew in dotted lines in those cases. All my data is taken from the NCES DATA explorer, and you are free to check it yourself.

Here are my graphs for 4th and 8th grade math. Click on them to see an enlarged version. Do you see any evidence of the educational miracle that is often advertised as happening AFTER mayoral control of schools? Me neither.


And here are my graphs for 4th and 8th grade reading:

Again: Do you see any miracle happening after that vertical red line?

You can see my previous posts on this here and here.


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

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

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

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

I don’t.

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

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

Let’s look at 4th grade:

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

Some miracle.

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.


Compare ‘Education Reform’ to Ineffective but Profitable Quick-Weight-Loss Schemes

John Viall compares the past 15 years of education ‘reform’ to the past 30 or 40 years of completely counterproductive weight-loss schemes — in both cases, the results are exactly contrary to what they were promised to be. In one case, we can see that America’s obesity rates are some of the worst in the world. In the other, we have certainly not ‘raced to the top’ on TIMMS, PISA, or any other international test, despite all of promises by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

He concludes (I added some color):

“For a sixth time the PISA test was administered in 2015.

Now, 15-year-olds from seventy countries and educational systems took the test. How did U. S. students fare?
The envelope please.
In reading U. S. students scored 497. In other words, after fifteen years of school reform and tens of billions wasted, reading scores were still down seven points.
Fifteen years of listening to blowhard politicians—and U. S. students averaged 470 in math, a depressing 23-point skid.
Surely, all that meddling must have done some good? No. Science scores averaged 496, still down three points.
Fifteen years of diet plans that couldn’t possibly fail and, metaphorically, we were all just a little more fat.
PISA scores had been the foundation on which all school reform was built; and after all these years, America’s 15-year-olds were scoring 33 points worse.

Remedial College Courses and Real Problems

From a recent discussion on the Concerned4DCPS list about a recent NYT article on the numbers of students taking remedial courses at the college level. I have taken the opportunity to revise and extend my remarks. If you want to read these in chronological order, start at the bottom.


(From me:)

How the various DC publicly-funded high schools (charter and regular public) did on the PARCC in reading/ELA and Geometry

I present a couple of graphs so that interested DC locals can see how the students at the various public and charter schools did on the PARCC test this past spring in reading/ELA and in Geometry.

Not all schools are listed, because quite a few did not have enough students taking the test. At least 25 student were needed for their scores to be reported. If the school does not have a bar next to the name, that means that nobody at that school got a 4 or a 5. As usual, you can click on the graph to make it larger. I color-coded the bars: blue for regular DCPS and orangey-yellow for the charter schools.

ELA pass rates - all DC public and charter schools

Geometry Pass rates - all DC public and charter high schools

For the sake of completeness, the following schools did not have at least 25 students taking the ELA test, so no score was reported:

  • Ballou STAY
  • Basis DC PCS
  • Incarcerated Youth Program, Correctional Detention Facility
  • Luke Moore Alternative HS
  • Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings (formerly Oak Hill)
  • Options PCS*
  • Roosevelt STAY at MacFarland
  • SEED PCS of Washington DC
  • Washington Metropolitan HS

And the following schools had less than 25 students taking the math test, so no score was reported for the school:

  • Ballou STAY
  • Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy-Chavez Prep
  • Incarcerated Youth Program, Correctional Detention Facility
  • Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings (formerly Oak Hill)
  • Options PCS*
  • Roosevelt STAY at MacFarland
  • Washington Metropolitan HS

Just how flat ARE those 12th grade NAEP scores?

Perhaps you read or heard that the 12th grade NAEP reading and math scores, which just got reported, were “flat“.

Did you wonder what that meant?

The short answer is: those scores have essentially not changed since they began giving the tests! Not for the kids at the top of the testing heap, not for those at the bottom, not for blacks, not for whites, not for hispanics.

No change, nada, zip.

Not even after a full dozen years of Bush’s looney No Child Left Behind Act, nor its twisted Obama-style descendant, Race to the Trough. Top.

I took a look at the official reports and I’ve plotted them here you can see how little effect all those billions spent on testing;  firing veteran teachers; writing and publishing new tests and standards; and opening thousands of charter schools has had.

Here are the tables:

naep 12th grade reading by percentiles over time

This first graph shows that other than a slight widening of the gap between the kids at the top (at the 90th percentile) and those at the bottom (at the 10th percentile) back in the early 1990s, there has been essentially no change in the average scores over the past two full decades.

I think we can assume that the test makers, who are professional psychometricians and not political appointees, tried their very best to make the test of equal difficulty every year. So those flat lines mean that there has been no change, despite all the efforts of the education secretaries of Clinton, Bush 2, and Obama. And despite the wholesale replacement of an enormous fraction of the nation’s teachers, and the handing over of public education resources to charter school operators.

naep 12th grade reading by group over time


This next graph shows much the same thing, but the data is broken down into ethnic/racial groups. Again, these lines are about as flat (horizontal) as you will ever see in the social sciences,

However, I think it’s instructive to note that the gap between, say, Hispanic and Black students on the one hand, and White and Asian students on the other, is much smaller than the gap between the 10th and 90th percentiles we saw in the very first graph: about 30 points as opposed to almost 100 points.
naep 12th grade math by percentiles over time


The third graph shows the  NAEP math scores for 12th graders since 2005, since that was the first time that the test was given. The psychometricians atNAEP claim there has been a :statistically significant” change since 2005 in some of those scores, but I don’t really see it. Being “statistically significant’ and being REALLY significant are two different things.

*Note: the 12th grade Math NAEP was given for the first time in 2005, unlike the 12th grade reading test.

naep 12th grade math by group over time


And here we have the same data broken down by ethnic/racial groups. Since 2009 there has been essentially no change, and there was precious little before that, except for Asian students.

Diane Ravitch correctly dismissed all of this as a sign that everything that Rod Paige, Margaret Spellings and Arne Duncan have done, is a complete and utter failure. Her conclusion, which I agree with, is that NCLB and RTTT need to be thrown out.


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.

Trends in DC on the NAEP for 4th grade reading, black students only: regular DCPS, charter schools, and pre- and post-Rhee

Here is a graph showing how African-American 4th students have been doing over time in Washington DC public schools and charter schools. I have drawn a clear dividing line at year 2008, because the scores before that were under the influence of DC’s former school board and superintendents. After that time, DC has been under a chancellor answerable only to the mayor.

dc, dcps, dc charter, and national naep trends, 4th grade reading to 2013You may notice that the blue, black and purple lines separate after 2007. That’s because NAEP began reporting separate scores for DC’s regular public schools and for all publicly-supported schools, though not for the charter schools as a bloc. As a result, you have to do a little bit of linear algebra to calculate what the average scales were for the charter schools from 2009 onwards. (I used essentially the same equation that I did in the previous post. Please write me a note if you think I made an error.)

As usual, we can see that since the late 1990s and up until Rhee took over, the overall trend in all large cities, in the nation’s public schools, and in DC’s publicly-supported schools was upwards on this test. (Yes, I know, these are not scores that follow the same kids year after year, but for whatever reason, the group of kids answering these tests are in general getting more answers right every two years.) Before that, i.e. from 1992 to 1998, scores bounced around or went down.

After Rhee took over, those scores seem to have entered another bouncy period. In fact, in DCPS, the scores on this test in 2013 were only back up to the level of 2007. There is a clear demarcation between the scores in the charter schools (blue line) and the regular public schools. The line for the charter schools seems to follow the trend from 1998 to 2007.

If I knew nothing about the politics of EduDeform, I would wonder why the WaPo editorial board is claiming victory.



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