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

Did Restrictive Racial Housing Covenants in America Begin in Washington, DC?

I knew that my block of Randolph Street in NE DC at one point had legal, racially exclusive covenants built into the deeds of the houses, stating that the houses could never be purchased or rented by blacks, Jews, or Mexicans. I was glad that such restrictions have been swept away.

However, I didn’t realize that DC was sort of an epicenter of such racial redistributing and oppression of disfavored minorities. This article, which I found on the Ward 5 list-serve, takes the case of nearby Bloomingdale and shows how that nasty social cancer was developed and spread, with the government and white businessmen at all levels fostering it.
Kudos to the African-American folks who fought against it. It is sad that so many white folks agreed with this sort of nasty business for so long and failed to protest it alongside black people.
https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/publications/racially-restrictive-covenants-bloomingdale/

A quote from that article:

During the first half of the 20th century, the number of areas in which black people could live in D.C. shrank as new whites-only housing, playgrounds, and schools were developed. The growth of the federal government, and corresponding demand for new buildings and infrastructure, added to the problem.

Washington had not always been so spatially segregated. In fact, African American and white families had often lived in close proximity to one another throughout the 19th century, especially within the city’s urban core and in neighborhoods along the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. However, the city grew increasingly divided along racial lines through a series of city planning efforts.[4] D.C. did not legally assign neighborhoods to one racial group or another—a policy introduced in Baltimore in 1911 and copied by more than a dozen cities across the upper South—but nearly the same thing was accomplished by other means.[5]

 

By the way, my Brookland neighbor Jim Loewen is mentioned in the article: he wrote perhaps the best book in existence showing how “sundown towns” like Greenbelt and Chevy Chase were developed.
From another paper:
In its 1948 decision, Shelley v. Kramer, the U.S. Supreme Court held that racially restrictive covenants could not be enforced, but the practice of inserting such covenants into title documents remained common. Finally, in 1968, the Federal Fair Housing Act made the practice of writing racial covenants into deeds illegal. However, nearly seventy years after Shelley and 60 years after the Fair Housing Act, racially restrictive covenants remain common features of deeds. This may be for several reasons. First, since covenants run with the land, they become part of the land title in perpetuity. Second, the process to remove covenants is expensive and time-consuming. Third, the majority of owners may not be aware that their properties are subject to racially restrictive covenants.
You are probably aware that the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue began his career in real estate by enforcing the racist housing practices of his racist father.

Some debate in Chevy Chase (DC) on significance of latest NAEP scores …

On a local DC list-serve for the region where I last taught (and also went to Junior High School), I posted this:

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Those of us with kids in Chevy Chase – DC, either now, in the future, or in the past, have seen many changes in education here in DC, especially since 2007, when the elected board of education was stripped of all powers under PERAA and Chancellor Rhee was appointed by Mayor Fenty.
[I personally went to Junior High School here at Deal back in the early 1960s, taught math in DCPS from 1978 to 2009, including 15 years at Deal (much to my surprise) and my own kids went K-12 in DCPS, graduating from Walls and Banneker, respectively]
Was mayoral control of schools in DC a success? Is the hype we have all heard about rising test scores for real?
We now have statistics from  NAEP* for about two decades, and we can compare scores for various subgroups before and after that 2007 milestone.
Did Black students make faster improvements after PERAA than beforehand? Nope. To contrary: their scores were inching up faster *before* 2007 than they have been doing since that time.
Did Hispanic students make faster improvements under the reformers? Nope, again.
How about students whose parent(s) didn’t graduate high school, and/or those who finished grade 12 but either never went to college or else didn’t earn a degree – surely they did better after Rhee, Henderson et al. took over? Again, no.
Then what group of students in Washington DC *did* make more progress on the NAEP after the Reformers took over?
You guessed it, I bet:
White students, and students with parents who earned a college degree.
Amazing.
Guy Brandenburg
*National Assessment of Educational Progress
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Another person contested my assessment and wrote the following:
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The NAEP is cross-sectional data, i.e. it does nothing to adjust for changes in composition of test-takers over time, which is why Steve Glazerman refers to comparisons of NAEP scores over time as “misNAEPery” [https://ggwash.org/view/ 31061/bad-advocacy-research- abounds-on-school-reform] and I have referred to the same thing as “jackaNAEPery” [https://www.urban.org/urban- wire/how-good-are-dcs-schools] .
There has been a dramatic, even shocking, compositional change since 2000 in births across the city, entering cohorts of students, and exit rates from DC schools and the city.
Most noticeably in NW, better educated parents are substantially more likely to have kids in DC, enroll them in DC public schools, and stay past 3rd grade.
Any analysis of test score change needs to grapple with that compositional change.
But more importantly, the compositional change itself is a policy outcome of note, which the DC Council and Mayor have an interest in promoting.
The only evidence one should accept must *at minimum* use longitudinal data on students to compute *learning* as opposed to static achievement, e.g. this analysis of 2008 school closures:
A lot of other things happened 1996-2008 of course, including a rapid expansion of charters, a shrinking proportion of DC residents attending private schools, etc.In 2008 alone, a lot of Catholic schools closed, and some converted to public charter schools.
During this time, we also had a voucher program that produced some gains early on, and then began to lower test scores relative to public options:
All of this is not to say DCPS and charter schools shouldn’t serve less advantaged students better than they do–obviously they should! But the evidence is nuanced, and DC has made huge gains across the board since the 1990’s that make attributing any changes to policy rather than shifting population composition problematic at best.
Interestingly, the NAEP data explorer [https://www. nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/ xplore/nde]does not report scores for white 8th graders in 1990, 1992, and 1996, presumably because too few were tested. I.e. the means by race show a lot of  “‡ Reporting standards not met.
[I personally attended DCPS (Hyde, Hardy, and School Without Walls) 1976-1989, have 2 children currently in Deal and SWW.]
Austin Nichols
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I wrote a response to Nichols, but it hasn’t been posted yet, and might never be:
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My previous reply got lost somewhere in cyberspace.
If looking at long-term trends in the NAEP and TUDA is ‘misnaepery’ or ‘jacknaepery’, as Mr Austin would have us believe, then the entire NAEP bureaucracy has been doing just that. (In fact, an entire branch of the National Center for Education Statistics is devoted to, yes, Long Term Trends: https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ltt/ )
It’s a laughable idea that we could just use the tests chosen by DCPS and later by OSSE and administered every year, to tell how good DC public or charter schools are, over time. First of all, the tests administered here have changed dramatically. Back in the 1990s it was the CTBS. Then it was the SAT-9, developed by a different company. Then it was the DC-CAS, again, a different vendor. Now we have the PARCC produced by yet another vendor. We also know that in the past there has been major fraud with these tests, committed by adults, in order to gain bonuses and keep their jobs. We also have no way of comparing DC with any other city or state using those tests, since only a handful of states even use the PARCC and for all I know, their cut scores and questions might be different from what we use here in DC.
The idea of measuring median student improvement from year to year might appear to have some merit, until you talk to students and teachers involved. You discover that many of the older students see no reason to take the tests seriously; they bubble in, or click on, answers as fast as possible, without reading the questions, in order to be free to leave the room and go do something else. Any results from that test are simply unreliable, and it is simply not possible to tell whether DC education policies have improved over time based on the PARCC, DC-CAS, SAT-9, or CTBS, no matter what sort of fancy statistical procedures are employed.
With the NAEP, on the other hand, there has never been any suggestion of impropriety, and the same agency has been devising, administering, and scoring these tests for decades. We have no other nation-wide test that has been systematically given to a random sample of students for any length of time.
Obviously the 4th or 8th graders who took the NAEP in 2017 were not the same ones who took it in 2015. (Duh!) However, we do in fact have a record of NAEP scores in every state and DC since the 1990s, and they are also broken down by lots of subgroups. Obviously DC is gentrifying rapidly, and there are more white students in DCPS than there were 10 or 20 years ago. If we trace the various subgroups (say, African-American students, or Hispanics, or students whose parents didn’t finish high school, or whatever group you like), you can watch the trends over time in each subgroup. However, Mr Austin does inadvertently raise one valid point: since the proportion of black students in DC is decreasing, and the proportion of white students with college-educated parents is rising, then the natural conclusion would be that this gentrification has *inflated* overall scores for 4th and 8th grade students in DC (and DCPS), especially since 2007. Which is more evidence that ‘reform’ is not working. Not evidence that we should throw the scores out and ignore them completely.
Those trends show something quite different from what Mayor Bowser keeps proclaiming. For one thing, if you look at the simple graphs that I made (and you can examine the numbers yourselves) you can see that any improvements overall in DC, or for any subgroups, began a decade before the ‘reformers’ took over DC schools. ( see https://bit.ly/2K3UyZ1 to begin poking around.) Secondly, for most of the subgroups, those improvements over time were greater before Rhee was anointed Chancellor. Only two groups had better rates of change AFTER Rhee: white students, and those with parents with college degrees – the ones that are inflating overall scores for DC and DCPS during the last decade.
I would note also that the previous writer’s salary is paid by one of the Reform organizations supported by billionaires Gates and Arnold. You can look at the funding page yourself ( page 3 at https://urbn.is/2II1YQQ ). I suspect that when ‘reform’ advocates say not to look at our one consistent source of educational data, it’s because they don’t like what the data is saying.
Guy Brandenburg

Were George Washington and Robert E Lee Equivalent?

Here is an exchange on something called Quora. The question below was (IMHO) quite stupid, but the answer was excellent. I’m quoting the whole thing becuase I don’t know how to just put in a link.

=============

Ross Cohen
Ross Cohen, B.A. in History & Political Science

How NOT to save money: operate two (or a hundred) different school systems in the same district

I would like to reprint the entirety of Valerie Jablow’s recent blog post on how the District of Columbia manages to waste enormous amounts of taxpayer money by opening and closing schools at random. (If you haven’t been keeping score, the total number of publicly-funded schools in Washington DC is at an all time high, while the number of students is NOT.)

The DC Education Costs That Shall Not Be Named

by Valerie Jablow

Testifying the other week during the council’s budget oversight hearing for the DC public charter school board, education advocate and DCPS parent Suzanne Wells called for a study by the DC auditor to compare the costs to run DCPS schools versus charter schools. Wells asked that the study look at administrative in addition to facilities costs in each sector.

Right now, city leaders are consumed by the percentage increase in the funding formula for public school students in the FY18 budget. The mayor’s original proposal for FY18 gave a 1.5% increase–an historic low. Last week (perhaps sensing blood in the water), the mayor proposed raising the increase to 2% . Plenty of others—including a group convened by the state superintendent of education (OSSE)—have recommended a 3.5% increase, and a petition to the council advocating a 3.5% increase has now garnered more than 1000 signatures.

But amid this legitimate concern over funding, there is dead silence about costs.

Imagine, for a moment, anyone in DC leadership going on the record with this statement:

“If there are 32 students in a class and two go to charters, you still have to have a teacher for the 30 [remaining] students.”

That’s what Philadelphia’s chief financial officer recently said after a study commissioned by that city determined that Philadelphia pays nearly $5000 per student in stranded costs each time a student leaves a by right school to attend a charter school. Those stranded costs include staffing, utilities and building maintenance for the schools that such students no longer attend, but that need to keep operating nonetheless because those schools are the guarantors of the right–not chance or choice–to an equitable public education.

Judging from the silence and averted eyes when I asked the council (during the DCPS budget hearing) if DC has a black budget for creating new schools, I’d have to say that discussing stranded costs and associated fiscal drains of opening and closing schools is not exactly, um, popular in these parts.

But such costs are a real issue in DC for tens of thousands of kids and their schools—no matter how little political will there is in DC to account for (much less name!) those costs.

For instance, right now as the deputy mayor for education gets down to updating the master facilities plan, the closure rate of DC charter schools ranges from a low of 33% to a high of 40%.

The closure rate at DCPS is even higher: The deputy mayor for education’s February 2017 report on DCPS closures notes that since 1997 (a year after charter schools started here), 76 DCPS schools have closed—a closure rate of 41%.

Now, if you add those closed DCPS schools to the 38 charter schools closed since 1996, you get a total of 114 DC public schools closed, for an eye-popping closure rate of 57 public schools per decade–or 5 public schools closed every year on average in the last 20 years.

And here’s the kicker: we know school closures cost a lot of money.

So, in addition to not acknowledging those costs of school closures, no one in DC leadership readily acknowledges the emotional cost to children, parents, and staff of school closures. Particularly with neighborhood schools, those buildings are often the core of their communities, sources of pride, civic engagement, as well as shelter in distress.

And that’s not even talking about the longer, sometimes dangerous, commutes for children to avail themselves of the right–not chance or choice–to an equitable education in the wake of DCPS closures. Who is accounting for that cost to our kids and our neighborhoods?

And yet, even while closing a breathtaking 5 schools every year for two decades, DC’s creation of choice-only schools and seats outpaces our growth in living, breathing students to fill them.

That is, even as more than 10,000 public school seats are currently unfilled, more seats are created every year by the charter board. The current crop of proposed new charter schools would, if approved next week, add about 3000 new seats. And that is not counting the (thus far) sidelined proposals of DC Prep and KIPP DC to create almost 4000 other new seats. (See here on both from the April charter board meeting.)

Sadly, the costs entailed by such growth go well beyond unfilled seats:

In school year 1999-2000, DC had 185 public schools serving 74,800 students. In school year 2014-15, DC had 223 public schools serving 85,400 students.

Thus, over a decade and a half, with a gain of 10,600 public school students (14% growth), DC had 38 more public schools (20% growth). Each school created requires infrastructure and staffing, raising costs overall. The mismeasure between those numbers adds to those costs–and increases them further when stranded costs are taken into account.

(All data in my analysis here is from the DME’s 2017 report; the 21st Century School Fund; the NRC report on PERAA (also available here); and a report from the Progressive Policy Institute, in addition to the charter school applications.)

Right now, however, such growth is completely uncoupled from any notional idea of coordination and planning—even with the master facilities plan in the balance and the cross sector task force dedicating a working group to school facilities.

Instead, we as a city pretend that there is an unseen budget that covers all new schools such that we do not tie the approval, location, size, or function of those new schools to any budgetary considerations whatsoever—much less to the best fit for both our students’ needs as well as preserving their right to equitable public education in every neighborhood.

(Come to think of it: Maybe I should have asked the council how our city got so rich that it could be uncaring about where its money goes–and how my kids’ schools can get some of that apparently endless cash?)

So, while the city gears up for oral arguments in the lawsuit filed against the city by charter advocates for supposedly unfair charter school payments, our city leaders remain unwilling to even acknowledge the huge cost implications of school closures and openings—all the while making political hay (and more) about the increase (or lack thereof) in the per pupil funding formula.

All I want to know is:

Can we catch up to Philly, DC auditor Kathy Patterson, and do a study of the costs between our public school sectors?

The cash saved might ensure we won’t have to fight over a 2% increase ever again–something that all city leaders can get behind without fear.

Revised HS PARCC ‘pass’ rates in English and Math in DC public and charter schools

My original graphs on the ‘pass’ rates for all DC publicly-funded high schools were incomplete, because I was using OSSE data only (Office of the State Superintendent of Education). A reader showed me where the DC charter school board (DC PCSB) posted their PARCC statistics and that gave me the pass rates for a couple of additional schools (Maya Angelou and BASIS IIRC). So here are the revised graphs which you can click on to enlarge:

2015 Math PARCC 'pass' rates, both public and charter schools in DC

2015 Math PARCC ‘pass’ rates, both public and charter schools in DC

2015 'pass' rates, public and charter high school math, PARCC, DC, 2015

2015 ‘pass’ rates, public and charter high school math, PARCC, DC, 2015

Note how many fewer students passed the PARCC math test than the reading test in DC. I haven’t yet seen any of the actual questions on either of the tests. But if these were tests that I had written and was using as a teacher with my students, I would likely conclude that the one with the much-lower scores was simply a much harder test, and I would probably do one of the following:

(A) “scale” the scores so that more students would pass, or else

(B) throw out the test results and try teaching with a different approach altogether, or else

(C) throw out the test and make one that at least a majority of students could pass if they’ve been paying attention.

{At my last school, if f I failed 80 to 90% of my students, I would have gotten an unsatisfactory evaluation and probably have gotten fired.}

Of course, this being the era when multi-billionaires who hate the very idea of public schools are in charge of said public schools, neither A, B or C will happen. In fact, my understanding is that the ‘cut’ scores for each of the categories of grades (meets expectations and so on) were set AFTER the students took the test, not in advance. So it was very much a politico-social decision that the vast majority of students were SUPPOSED to fail the math test.

Let me note strongly that by far the most effective way to have really good test scores for your school is to let in ONLY students who already get strong test scores. That’s how Phillips Exeter or Andover Academies or Riverdale or Sidwell Friends or or the Chicago Lab or Lakeside private schools do it, and that’s how Banneker, School Without Walls, Washington Latin, and BASIS do it. (Partial disclosure: I and some of my immediate family either went to, or worked at, some of those schools.) Teachers who are successful at those elite schools have a MUCH easier time teaching those students than do those who try to teach at school with large numbers of at-risk students, like Washington Metropolitan, Ballou, Cardozo, Maya Angelou, or Options public or charter schools. Idealistic teachers from elite schools who do transfer to tough inner-city public schools generally crash and burn, and I would predict that one of the easiest ways to lose your teaching job these days is to volunteer to teach at any one of the five latter schools.

Failed Charter Schools in DC

I learned from the indefatigable Peter Greene just now that a group called CMD has done some serious data crunching and has come up with a list of about 2500 charter schools across the nation that have failed and closed. Some took millions of federal and state dollars and never served a single student.

Here is a map of just the ones in Washington, DC. Looking at the map, I count about forty failed charter schools in my fair city; however the spreadsheet has 49. If you are a veteran Washingtonian, how many of them can you name just by looking at the map? If you go to the actual web page you can get names and so on. I see that the state of Arizona alone has over 340 such failed ventures into edupreneurship; Florida 305, and Michigan has 120, and Ohio may be the leader with 425 failed and closed charter scams schools.

failed charter schools in dc

(BTW, the teachers in those failed charter schools were generally very hard-working, passionate people who are not trying to make a million bucks. Charter school operators? That’s a different story.)

Here is the DC list:

Name / Year founded / Year failed / Enrollment during last year / Address

failed charter schools dc list

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

Trends in DC’s regular public schools and charter schools: 4th grade math NAEP, TUDA

I continue here in showing you the results of my calculations for how the charter school students and regular public school students in Washington, DC have been faring on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, since the 1990s.

Some of my previous columns were quite simple: I just cut and pasted graphs from the NAEP and NAEP TUDA results, or asked the built-in software for how white, black, hispanic, special education, or free/reduced-price-lunch kids did at the 4th and 8th grade in math and reading.

If you look at my previous graphs, you will notice that, on the whole, the trends AFTER 2007, when Michelle Rhee was installed as the very first DC chancellor, looked just about the same as the trends BEFORE that date.

Today, I did a little math to figure out how black fourth-grade charter school students did in math in DC, in comparison with their counterparts in other large cities, in the nation as a whole, and in the regular DC public schools.

The math goes like this: I figure that the DC state weighted average for any given group or grade level (say, 4th grade African-American students taking the math NAEP) equals the weighted average for regular DCPS at that grade level, times the enrollment at that grade level, plus the product of the charter school weighted average score at that grade level and the charter school enrollment at that grade level; all of that divided by the total enrollment.

Or, if Q = DC state average. and R = DC regular public school weighted average, and V = DC regular public school enrollment, and S = DC charter school weighted average, and W = DC charter school enrollment, and X = V + W = total enrollment in publicly-funded schools in DC, both regular and charter, then

Q = (R*V + S * W) / X

And since I could find everything except S in the literature, then I could simply solve for S. My result:

S = (X*Q – R*V)/W.

And here are my results:

dc, dcps, charters, national - black 4th graders, math, naep, 1996-2013

 

My conclusions?

For black students at the 4th grade in math, the post-Rhee trends in the charter schools are about the same as the trends in DC public schools were BEFORE Rhee was appointed. However, it looks like the trends overall in the regular public schools seem a bit worse.

If past trends had continued, and Michelle Rhee had not become chancellor, the overall educational results might have been very similar to what they are today — inequalities and inequities of course included, because we have lots of that here in Washington, DC.

By the way, if anyone finds a mistake in my work, please let me know by leaving a comment.

“Erase to the Top”

Remember that TIME magazine cover with Michelle Rhee holding a broom in front of an empty classroom, suggesting she was going to sweep out all of us riff-raff teachers?

Someone has modified the cover. It now has Rhee holding a very large Number Two pencil, with a large pink eraser at her feet; the title is “Erase to the Top”.  The text reads:

“Michelle A. Rhee, America’s most famous school reformer, was fully aware of the extent of the problems when she glossed over what appeared to be widespread cheating during her first year as Schools Chancellor in Washington, DC.”

Rhee Time Cover

 

(improved image is courtesy of the artist)

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Published in: on April 16, 2013 at 8:18 am  Comments (4)  
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