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

Is it venal treason for Trump’s personal profit? Or sheer stupidity? You decide

Short version of the story:

Putin goon squad promises and delivers bonus payments to Afghan Taliban to kill American, Allied, and government soldiers, according to American intelligence. The latter informs the US National Security Council, which includes, by law, Cheeto45, VP Pence, heads of Cabinet, some important Congressmen and Senators, big brass from the Pentagon, and others. They know about all this. They are on record as discussing this. Trump decides to not only do nothing, but to continue to encourage Putin.

Some of the frustrated members of the NSC leak the information, finally, to WaPo and NYT. We know that Trump has personal financial interests with Russian oligarchs and mobsters.

This example of either complete cluelessness and idiocy by #45, or else out-and-out treason for his own personal benefit, comes on top of all the hundreds of misdeeds committed by those tiny, fat hands and the thousands of lies that have spewed out of his fat, heavily made-up mouth. And on his deadly mishandling of coronavirus, police brutality, racism, and health care.

This maneuver was obviously clever on Putin’s part. However: for Trump and his gang to have full knowledge of this apparently successful scheme to promote the death of American service members and their allies, and then to decide not only to do nothing about it but to then improve ties with Putin, either sounds like treason for the personal profit of Cheeto45, or else they are ALL completely stupid at realpolitik. Not sure which. But to his now-shrinking base, MangoMussolini and his entire corrupt coven of billionaire swamp spawn can do no wrong.

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June 26, 2020 (Friday)Today the United States registered 44,702 new coronavirus cases, a single-day record. Six states– Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Idaho, and Utah– also set new single-day highs. In an attempt to stop the spread of the virus, officials in Florida and Texas, where governors have been aggressive about reopening, have both reversed course, announcing that bars must close immediately.Incredibly, that’s not the day’s biggest story. This evening, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both broke extraordinary news. Months ago, American intelligence officials concluded that during peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, a Russian military intelligence group offered to Taliban-linked fighters bounties for killing American troops. They paid up, too, although it is unclear which of the twenty U.S. deaths happened under the deal. The military intelligence unit officials judge to be behind this program, the G.R.U., is the same one that is engaged in a so-called “hybrid war” against America and other western countries, destabilizing them through disinformation, cyberattacks, and covert military operations and assassinations. Urging deadly attacks on American and other NATO troops is a significant escalation of that hostility. New York Times reporter Michael Schwirtz tweeted “it’s hard to overstate what a major escalation this is from Russia. Election meddling and the occasional poisoning are one thing. Paying the Taliban to kill American troops, that’s something entirely new.”

According to the New York Times, the National Security Council discussed the intelligence finding in late March and came up with a range of responses, none of which has been deployed. The NSC can include a number of different officials, but by law it includes the president, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. It usually also includes Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, and Director of National Intelligence, who in March was acting DNI Richard Grenell (it is now John Ratcliffe).

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) took to Twitter to note that Congress had not been informed of the information. “Congress should have been told,” he said. “And not just leadership or the Intel Committee.”

Instead of addressing this extraordinary intelligence, Trump strengthened U.S. ties to Russia, which have been rocky since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. In response to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on the country. After Russia attacked the 2016 U.S. election, the U.S. government expanded those sanctions. The eagerness of Russian leaders, especially President Vladimir Putin, to have the sanctions lifted was key to Russian support for Trump in the 2016 election.Just after the NSC discussed the intelligence findings, on April 1, a Russian plane brought ventilators and other medical supplies to the United States. The shipment was such a propaganda coup for Russia that the state television channel RT carried the plane’s arrival in New York live. Not only was it a show of strength for Russia to provide aid to the U.S., but also the equipment Russia sent was produced by a state-run company that is under U.S. sanctions. This was evidently intended to be a demonstration that sanctions did not mix well with a global pandemic. Just days before, Putin had publicly called for ending sanctions to enable the world to combat the coronavirus more effectively. On April 25, 2020, Trump raised eyebrows by issuing a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin commemorating the 75th anniversary of the historic meeting between American and Soviet troops on the bridge of the Elbe River in Germany that signaled the final defeat of the Nazis. Their statement said “The “Spirit of the Elbe” is an example of how our countries can put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause.” On May 3, Trump called Putin and talked for an hour and a half, a discussion Trump called “very positive.” He tweeted: “Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin of Russia. As I have always said, long before the Witch Hunt started, getting along with Russia, China, and everyone else is a good thing, not a bad thing.”On May 21, the U.S. sent a humanitarian aid package worth $5.6 million to Moscow to help fight coronavirus there. The shipment included 50 ventilators, with another 150 promised for the next week. On June 1, Trump called Putin and talked about including Russia in the G7, the international organization of seven major countries with the largest advanced economies in the world. Russia had become part of the organization in 1998 despite its smaller economy– making the group the G8– but was expelled in 2014 after it invaded Ukraine. Trump told reporters Russia should be in the group “because a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia,” and the old organization was “outdated” and doesn’t represent “what’s going on in the world.” On June 15, news broke that Trump has ordered the removal of 9,500 troops from Germany, where they support NATO against Russian aggression. The removal leaves 25,000 troops there. All of these friendly overtures to Russia were alarming enough when all we knew was that Russia attacked the 2016 U.S. election and is doing so again in 2020. But it is far worse that those overtures took place when the administration knew that Russia had actively targeted American soldiers. This news is bad, bad enough that it apparently prompted worried intelligence officials to give up their hope that the administration would respond to the crisis, and instead to leak the story to two major newspapers.

A Quick Look at the National Academy of Science report on Mayoral Control of Schools in Washington DC

Last week, the National Academy of Science released a very long report assessing the progress (or lack of it) of the education of young people in Washington DC under mayoral control in both the regular public schools and in the charter schools.

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The picture isn’t pretty, as Candi Peterson has pointed out.

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Here are my major conclusions:

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1. Mayoral control of schools has been a spectacular failure if you care anything about reducing the gaps between achievement levels of white students and those of color, the poor, special ed students, and English language learners (i.e. immigrants). The gaps between the pass rates on the DC-CAS standardized tests of those groups under mayoral control or the PERAA (Public Education Reform Amendment Act) are enormous and have essentially remained unchanged since 2007, when the law was implemented, according to the data in this report. Note that the report combines the data for both the DC public schools and charter schools, combined, at all grade levels, in both reading and math. Here are two graphs, made by me from data in the report, which show the lack of change. I estimated the percentage of students ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ in each of the groups (whites, blacks, hispanics, students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, English language learners, and special education students) from graphs provided by the report, and then subtracted the pass rates from each other. HIGH NUMBERS ARE BAD because they show large gaps in proficiency rates. Low numbers are good. Notice that there has been almost no change since mayoral control; some lines go up a tiny bit, some go down a bit, others waver back and forth a bit. Not a success story.
gap[s under mayoral control, math, dc-cas, acc to NAP report on PERAAgaps under mayoral control, reading, acc to national academies press
2. Ratings for teachers remain very much dependent on what students they teach. Many millions of dollars and enormous effort has been spent to devise supposedly scientific ways of measuring teacher effectiveness — i.e. VAM and IMPACT. Every single teacher remaining in DCPS has either been hired under Their Chancellorships or has been repeatedly measured as efffective or better. Yet the ratings for teachers at schools with high poverty rates, and in wards 7 and 8, remain much lower than those at schools with low poverty rates and in ward 3. Repeat: these low-ranked teachers are not holdovers from the ‘bad old days’ – they are either brand-new hires or have been repeatedly measured as good or excellent under IMPACT. (One bit of data: at my last school, from which I retired 5 years ago and which has over 100 faculty and administrators, only about 5 or 6 teachers remain from my time there.) I copied these two tables directly from the report:
teac her ratings under IMPACT, by ward teacher ratings under impact by ses
3. Now that we have 60-odd publicly-funded local school districts in Washington DC, most of which [the charter schools] are not required to provide much of anything in the way of data, we no longer have any effective way of saying what are good practices and which are poor practices, because we have no city-wide way of describing what is going on.
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4. The report generally omits any data from before 2007, and in some cases before 2009, which makes it hard to compare pre-mayoral control and post-MC. The exceptions are with some NAEP data, in which it is clear that any progress post-PERAA is indistinguishable from progress before PERAA. See these four graphs, which could have been taken from my blog but are again from the National Academy of Science report (I added the stuff in red for emphasis):
pre-post mayoral control naep scores 4th grade math pre-post mayoral control naep scores 4th grade reading pre-post mayoral control naep scores 8th grade math pre-post mayoral control naep scores 8th grade reading
5. The report totally omits the contractual obligations entered into by Rhee and Henderson with the Broad, Arnold and other foundations back in 2007 when they laid out 60-some goals they said they would meet by 2014. As you may recall from looking at my blog or what Erich Martel wrote on the topic, their success rate in meeting those goals (regarding things like NAEP and CAS scores for the most part) was approximately TWO PERCENT. Not 20%. But 2%. And I was being generous.
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6. Finally, despite all the really damning data in the report, I predict that the Washington Post and others of their mindset will proclaim that it shows that mayoral control has been a wonderful success.
PS, here is the link so that you can download your own copy of the 341-page report:
http://www.nap.edu/download.php?record_id=21743

WaPo Editorial Board Denounces Democracy in WTU Election, Again

As could be expected, the Washington Post’s editorial writers have denounced Elizabeth Davis, the newly elected leader of the Washington Teachers Union, because they believe she won’t sell out like George Parker or Nathan Saunders did.

The writer of the editorial was probably Jo-Ann Armao, semi-official DC representative of the Billionaires Boys Club who run public education these days with help from ALEC, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, various educational entrepreneurs, millionaire hedge fund managers, Wendy Kopp, Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and so on.

I will reprint the editorial in its entirety and follow it by the comment I wrote. You may want to add your own comments.

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D.C. teachers cast a vote against teamwork

By Editorial Board, Published: July 16

RECENT DEBATE about the future of school reform in the District has focused on a series of legislative proposals being championed by the chairman of the D.C. Council’s education committee. Getting less attention, but having perhaps as much potential to impact education, is the change in leadership of the union that represents D.C. school teachers. It’s not a good sign that the new leadership won on a platform that painted the incumbent as too compliant with reform initiatives being pushed by Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

 

Washington Teachers Union President Nathan Saunders was defeated in a July 1 runoff election by a veteran teacher and union activist who promised to push more effectively against school system management. Elizabeth Davis, who received 459 votes to the 380 cast for Mr. Saunders, takes over Aug. 1 as head of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate, which represents about 4,000 public school teachers.

 

There’s some irony in Mr. Saunders’s defeat. He won election in 2010 by fiercely criticizing then-incumbent president George Parker for too easily going along with reforms — notably changes in how teachers are assigned and evaluated — instituted by former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. Once in office, though, Mr. Saunders forged a cooperative working relationship with Ms. Henderson, and the two were reportedly close to finalizing a new contract proposal that Mr. Saunders called “groundbreaking,” with provisions for a longer school day and school year. What helped influence his thinking, Mr. Saunders said, was the 43 percent of public school students in charter schools and the growing numbers clamoring to get in. “No kids in [traditional] public schools means no teachers,” he told us. Mr. Saunders’s cooperation became a liability in his bid for another term, calling to mind Mr. Parker’s verdict about his own defeat in 2010: “I think any union president that is pushing and getting in front of reform, you take a risk.”

 

Ms. Davis rejected that notion. “I am not playing to the stereotype of what unions are supposed to be about. . . . I won’t have us boxed in as anti-reform,” she told us, stressing that reform needs to be done right and teacher input is important. She wouldn’t comment about contract talks, saying she needs to read the pending contract language. She expressed some skepticism about the effectiveness of a longer school day in boosting student achievement and opposition to Ms. Henderson’s push to get chartering authority for system schools; she also supports a cap on charter schools. Most troubling is her belief that teachers at charter schools should be unionized, a move that would threaten the flexibility that has allowed these independent schools to create new ways of getting disadvantaged students to achieve.

 

This was an election decided by a small percentage of those eligible to vote and an even smaller proportion of those who are purported to be represented. The question that now confronts Ms. Davis and the new leadership team is whether to stick with what makes for an effective campaign — what Mr. Saunders called the “fire and brimstone stuff that looks good, sounds good” — but fails to bring about improvements in the city’s schools.

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My comment (one of many, most of the comments more or less agreed with me, but there are a few writers who feel the need to demonize teachers at every turn).

TexasIke59
9:43 AM EDT
 
 
That’s garbage. Teachers in DC have been doing their best to teach in difficult circumstances for many decades. They continue to be demonized by the wealthy few who profit from the de-facto segregation of our school system. I worked at the same school as Liz Davis for one year and have followed her advocacy work in the classroom, getting students to do outstanding writing and agitation for better schools and other reforms as part of the curriculum. 
 
We need leaders like that, not active sellouts and thieves like George Parker or Barbara Bullock, or leaders who simply ‘went along to get along’ like Saunders ended up as. 
 
Hopefully, she’ll be able to enlist more teachers to take an active part in union affairs and to get parent organizations to resist the idiotic mandates loved by WaPo management, the Walton family, Rhee/Henderson, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates, the Koch Brothers, ALEC and all the rest of the destroyers of public education. 
 
Charter school teachers could certainly use a voice in setting policy at their schools — where the vast majority of teachers are gone after three years, not five, because they are burned out by impossible, conflicting demands, even worse than in the regular public schools. (And let’s remember that the main reason the DC charter schools have slightly higher scores than the regular public schools is because of the enormous attrition – pushouts and dropouts of low-achieving and hard-to-discipline students, who are sent back to their neighborhood schools!) 
 
I certainly hope the Davis administration actually follows through on organizing the charter schools. It’s a measure that has been repeatedly approved by votes of the union membership, year after year, but neither the Bullock, Parker, or Saunders administrations ever took up that mandate.

What the ‘Parent Trigger’ Law Meant in Practice

Investigative reporter Yasha Levine went to the depressed desert town of Adelanto, CA to see what the ‘Parent Trigger’ law meant in practice. He found that parents were physically intimidated, bribed, lied to, and coerced into signing the petition. In some cases, parents who had originally come from Mexico without proper documentation were told that if they wanted to remain in the US, they needed to sign. Many parents later officially rescinded their signatures, only to be told by a court that they could not do so. It’s a very sad story, well-written indeed. Here are a few excerpts:

Pulling the Trigger

By Yasha Levine

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Parent Revolution is a direct outgrowth of the charter school industry. Ben Austin, the outfit’s leader, previously headed a large charter-school firm called Green Dot Schools, whose backers overlap nicely with Parent Revolution’s backers — Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Eli Broad, Phillip Anschutz, and others. Austin’s replacement at Green Dot Schools is a former partner at Bain, Mitt Romney’s old firm.

Parent Revolution’s Ben Austin has described the law as “a groundbreaking and historic new policy” that will “transform public education,” and has dressed it up in the language of parents’ rights. ALEC, which adopted a version of the Parent Empowerment Act as a model for “parent trigger” legislation, described it in similar terms, saying that it “places democratic control into the hands of parents at school level.”

And yet, for all this empowerment, parents have never tried to pull the trigger on their own, not without Parent Revolution coming into town and applying pressure, intimidation and bait-and-switch techniques on unsuspecting parents.

On October 18, Desert Trails parents met in a park adjacent to the school to vote and pick the specific charter company that would take control of the school. California’s Parent Empowerment Act allows only the parents who signed a trigger petition to cast a ballot in this vote, which meant that hundreds of parents should have shown up to make the decision, and to exercise their newfound empowerment. But in the end, only 53 ballots were cast — with 50 of them voting to give the contract to LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, a small charter operator that runs one other school in a nearby town.

A decision made by 53 people in a town of 32,000? That’s less than 0.2% of the population. Parent empowerment indeed.

Some Legacy. Some Editorial.

The Washington Post has essentially reprinted a press release from Kaya Henderson and published it as an editorial. A reader asked me how I respond to it.

First, I would point people to the responses of John Merrow and other Frontline correspondents and editors, which you can read here or here and here.

I would also add this:

That editorial is despicable in its pretense of honesty and objectivity. The DC Inspector General and Henderson and Rhee and the WaPo editorial board and WaPo owners (a large educational profiteer, Kaplan) are determined not to see any cheating.

Therefore they refuse to have any serious statistical analysis of the erased scores. They refuse to do any investigation of SY 2007-8 scores, which were the most suspicious of all. They interview one person every 10 days, putting nobody under oath. They refuse to answer questions. They promote and praise one of the most egregious offenders, Wayne Ryan; but shortly after the USAToday reports are printed, Ryan suddenly disappears from sight.
I myself have many times demonstrated on this blog the fact that DC scores on the NAEP have shown no real change in patterns since the 1990s (the math scores continue a steady rise, but reading scores have been flat for a long time. Not sure why.) — LONG before Michelle Rhee came to rule DCPS.
There was no miracle jump in those NAEP scores when Michelle Rhee was anointed our chancellor. There was, however, a marked increase in the width of the gap between scores of affluent kids and poor ones; and between white kids and black kids. What we have in DC is by far, the worst such gap of any US state or of any city for which we have data.
Some legacy.
Published in: on January 13, 2013 at 9:51 pm  Comments (2)  
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Scooped Again – By the Washington Times in 2007!

Scooped again.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her biographical information on the mayor’s office Web site (http://dc.gov/mayor/news/) and on the Web site of her former nonprofit — the New Teacher Project (www.tntp.org) — both say such “outstanding success” in the classroom earned Mrs. Rhee national media acclaim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Me again:

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

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

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

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

 

Jay Mathews’ Fawning Column

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a lot of money to be made (or lost) in education

Do I need to write a comment on this?   -gfb

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Strayer Education, Washington Post shares tumble on Apollo warning

WASHINGTON BUSINESS JOURNAL – BY Tucker Echols

Shares of Arlington-based Strayer Education Inc. tumbled 15 percent and Washington Post Co. stock fell 8 percent Thursday after rival for-profit education firm Apollo Group Inc. warned of a drop in enrollment due to greater regulatory scrutiny. The Post’s Kaplan education division is its strongest source of revenue.

Apollo Group (NASDAQ: APOL) stock fell $12.47, or 25 percent, to $37 as investors reacted to the company’s statement that it was withdrawing its business outlook for fiscal year 2011. The company cited, “on-going regulatory scrutiny which has led to heightened media attention much of which has been negative.” Apollo, which operates The University of Phoenix, said that, “various external factors could result in a decline in new degree enrollments in excess of 40 percent year-over-year.”

Stock in Strayer (NASDAQ: STRA) declined as much as $24.95 to $132.10 in Thursday trading. Washington Post shares (NYSE: WPO) fell as much as $33.81 to $394.80.

The warning from Apollo indicates investors’ worst fears of the summer may be realized. Enrollment gains have been the backbone of Strayer Education’s soaring revenue and expanding Strayer University campuses. But that growth path was called into question in August when federal officials said they were considering new rules to ensure that students of post-secondary educational institutions are able to find jobs and are not overburdened with debt.

Read more: Strayer Education, Washington Post shares tumble on Apollo warning – Washington Business Journal


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