Monday, January 22, 2018

WAMU - NPR Investigation Uncovers Cooked Data In Ballou High Graduation Rates

Ballou teacher Monica Brokenborough
In November 2017 an investigative reporter at the NPR affiliate WAMU, Kate McGee, started listening to teachers. What she discovered (here) was systematic granting of credit to students who didn't show up much, and graduating students who didn't meet the requirements for graduation at Ballou High School. But the reported scandal soon led to the realization that all school across the city had been cooking the books for years. Teachers had been speaking out, but no one had wanted to listen -- not Chancellors Rhee and Henderson, not the Mayors or members of the DC Council, Not the State Superintendent of Schools who runs the data gathering shop at OSSE.

A quick investigation by OSSE confirmed the problems, and a survey conducted by the teacher group, EmpowerEd, and the Washington Teachers Union, to be released on Thursday, January 25, showed that according to teachers, the problems are widespread. Principals are pressuring teachers to change grades and allow students with poor attendance to graduate so that the numbers would look better than they are and problems with student progress will be brushed under the rug. Pressures and deceit are greater in higher poverty schools, but even among those, it is worse in some schools than others.

With this one piece of good investigative reporting and follow-ups by WAMU-NPR, the entire consensus about progress in DC schools resulting from the Rhee/Henderson reforms, was upended. Members of the DC Council started expressing their dismay about what they had been told for years, and local columnists, like Colbert King started questioning the enthusiasm for reforms that had been founded on faulty data. And it has been clear in conversations with teachers in charter schools that the same pressures and lack of transparency and honesty is rampant in charters subject to the same outcome measure evaluations as well. The story is still unfolding, but its clear that for the first time in ten years, that the sheen is off the so-called reform miracle of DC schools. The challenge now is to begin a new era of honesty, transparency, and building a new professional culture in schools that allows teachers to address the real and pressing needs of their students, innovating, collaborating, without the pressure to make their adult supervisors look good at all costs.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Are Charter Schools the Answer?

Furman University in South Carolina professor Paul Thomas nicely summed up the unimpressive track record of over a decade of promoting "choice" in US Education Policy in a post this week,  and Valarie Strauss reprinted it here. Its worth remembering and circulating these stark realities as the uninformed myths about charter schools continue. Thomas reflects national data and his closely examined data in South Carolina. But the data in Washington DC, where charters have more advantages than anywhere else in the nation, fits the same pattern.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Love of Reading and Writing Beats A "Reform" Focus

Valarie Strauss posted an eloquent post by Nancie Atwell, the renowned founder of the Center for Teaching and Learning and an award-winning Middle School educator from Maine, describing her approach to teaching a love of reading and writing as more useful than the current strategies aimed at Common Core. It's worth a read to remind us what is really important. What else is there to say?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Another Charter Scandal -- The Lack of Accountability Is Like the Wild West

Emma Brown revealed in the Washington Post in December that Jeremy Williams, the former DC Public Charter School Board CFO, helped Options Public Charter School and other charters funnel millions to privately owned contracting companies they owned and avoid oversight. Williams received $150,000 from the Options Board for his favors. The Washington Post only obtained the information by filing a FOIA request to obtain private emails. The private emails showed the CFO was in on what was going on and violated even the charter board's rules. This is not the first scandal resulting from the privatizing of public education in Washington DC. No other school system in the country has as lucrative payments to charters from public coffers. Public officials were asleep at the switch when the rules were made and now that 45% of students attend charters it will be hard to change the rules to impose accountability and transparency on the charter sector, but that is what must be done.

We could just keep updating this article with the scandal of the month. This piece appeard February 11, 2015 in the Washington Post.  The Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter Schools may be closed becasue its director seems to have used a private management organization to pay himself over $1 Million per year out of taxpayer dollars meant for the "public" school he ran. Amos insisted he was worth it. The charter Board met last week to consider closing the school but failed to make a decision.

Stepping Back to Consider What's Wrong With Existing Reform Emphasis

The NY Times published an interesting op-ed yesterday by University of California Professor David Kirp. This is just one of many critiques that have started to emerge now that the 8 years of reform in DC have proven not to move the needle for the students who need improvement most. It is time to consider whether the wrong reforms have been chosen in Washington DC and to consider what the research shows works. In that respect, Mayoral Candidate David Catania is exactly wrong when he acknowledges the track record of failure in DC and then concludes that we need to double down on the existing reform agenda. Rather, its time to hold the reformers, and the politicians who have rubber stamped their ill conceived direction, accountable.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Charters Re-segregate Public Schools -- New Study Tells How

GW professor Iris Rotberg penned an article in the Kappan Magazine a version of which was re-printed in Valerie Strauss' column today describing the various ways that charter schools are re-segregating education. The research is clear, Rotberg argues, but policy makers are just ignoring it and are subverting the intention of Brown v Board.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

DC School Reform: "Miraculous" Success or Miserable Failure

Yesterday, in a Post Op-ed, former Post Publisher Donald Graham challenged elected officials and candidates for mayor not to look under the hood of DC school reform but to stay the course with Kaya Henderson, the miracle worker chancellor who has raised student test scores. But candidate for mayor Andy Shallal looked under the hood ten days earlier in a February 14 White Paper on Education where he documents the failure of DC school reform and outlines a different path he would take as mayor. Its the first detailed critique of school reform and articulation of an alternative approach to see the light of day in six years. At issue is how to interpret DC's NAEP score record. Where Graham declares rising average scores a success, Shallal points out that all the improvement is for white and wealthier students and can be credited to changing demographics. The city's poor and African American students, in whose name reform was justified, have seen little to no improvement. The charts and statistics in Shallal's analysis shed new light on the record of "reform." In a follow-up Op-Ed responding to Graham's piece, DC Councilman David Catania took Graham to task on the NAEP score data and the need for Council oversight of DCPS, but Catania curiously reached the opposite conclusion: more of the same reform, faster. He must be running for mayor. But then Valerie Strauss finally got it right when she published on March 12 Mary Levy's 7 charts from the Shallal analysis for the world to see here. Who will hold these politicians and their chancellors accountable?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Roosevelt HS' Struggle Illustrates DCPS' Problem

... and Kaya Henderson refused to comment for this excellent story in the City Paper
and for the charts that the article refers to go here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Too Soon to Celebrate A Rise in DC NAEP Scores

While DCPS, TFA, Arne Duncan, and the Washington Post were quick to declare the recent rise in NAEP scores in DC as validation of the strategies put into place by Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson, more observant analysts say, "not so fast." James Morrow of PBS' Learning Matters blog cogently described here why those conclusions are not warranted. In fact, most of the improvement came before Rhee and Henderson's tenure. The new reforms seem to have actually widened the achievement gap. And the gains, such as they are, might be attributed instead to the gentrification of the student population -- changing demographics. Gary Rubenstein makes the case for scepticism even more strongly, with charts and graphs that put the supposed gains in context on his blog here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pop the Champaign for DC CAS Score Gains? Think Again.

DC Council Education Chair David Catania and others have now blown the whistle on the manipulation of cut scores that led to the recently celebrated student achievement gains last year. Elaine Weiss sums it up as a cautionary tale in this Huffington Post column, that we need to take to heart in DC.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Charter Experiment Is At Best a Mixed Bag: The New Orleans Case

In this look back at the charter record since Katrina, a feature Newsweek magazine story asks whether this new paradigm in which schools can't keep teachers and is not fun for kids is the best model for the nation's urban poor.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Realities of Race To The Top Implementation

In a new report from the Broader Bolder Approch to Education, the impact of Race to the Top funding from the US Department of Education is analyzed. In exchange for funding that represents on average about 1% of their budgets, states have agreed to policies that will have little effect on achievment gaps, and may do harm. Meanwhile, proven programs that would improve education outcomes for the most needy students are not part of the reform mix being promoted by the federal government. The report concludes that state goals for improvement continue to be wildly unrealistic, while strategies are misguided.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How So-called Education Reform Serves to Preserve the Status Quo

Valerie Strauss posted an analysis worth reading by Arthur H. Camins   Camins describes how the reform strategies promoted by the US Department of Education and blindly adopted by school districts like that in the District of Columbia actually preserve the structures that cause failure for disadvantaged students while giving the illusion of change.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

School Professional Climate Trumps Individual Teacher Characteristics

A report from the new director of the Consortium for Chicago Schools Research says that the collaborative climate in a school is more important than the individual characteristics of teachers. What makes this report so interesting is that DCPS reforms since 2007 are premised on the opposite assumption -- rewarding individual teachers and principals when their students score better than the norm, and firing them when scores fall short. If the researchers behind this report are correct, the whole theory of reform in DCPs may be backwards, and the effect on staff morale and collaboration could be making the quality of education worse.

Friday, January 11, 2013

What Are Charter Schools Really For?

The Greater Greater Washington blog's Ken Archer takes Emma Brown's expose of charter school expulsions, and charters' refusal to give students from the neighborhood priority, and follows it to its logical conclusion -- they're not really designed to compete. They're designed to displace neighborhood schools but not serve the same kids.

Students First Ranks States and Ironically Puts Students Last

When Michelle Rhee's "Students First" money raising, privatization advocacy empire released their supposed "ranking of the states" they got a surprising amount of national press, some of it taking the rhetoric of the rankings at face value. However the Opportunity to Learn coalition issued a cogent critique of the Students First report here. The California Superintendent of Schools also cut through the fog of ignorant media coverage by stating that a low score on this ranking is a "badge of honor."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Drifting Toward Two School Systems, Separate and Unequal

Ken Archer of the Greater Greater Washington blog makes the argument that the current proposal by the Chancellor to close 20 schools moves DCPS toward two school systems -- One West of Rock Creek park, with coherent feeder patterns and stable schools; and one for the rest of the city East of the park, with charters that operate by lottery, chaotic openings and closings of schools and poor student results. He suggests that DCPS consider instead an alternative route involving school boundaries and different decisions about the use of schools. Read his post here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

DC's IMPACT contrasted with Montgomery's Proven Approach

The November issue of ASCD's Education Leadership magazine,is devoted entirely to teacher evaluation. An article by Mark Simon compares DC's IMPACT to Montgomery County's collaboratively developed system. The author points out that the philosophical approaches are opposite and the effects on the workforce, teacher turnover, and student achievement are very different.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Growing Movement Against School Closures as a Reform Strategy Emerges in Five Cities

According to an article in Ed Week, a growing movement of parents, public school advocates and education researchers who have seen the costs and benefits of closing neighborhood schools is ringing the alarm bell. In Washington DC, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Newark, parents and others are demanding a moratorium on school closings as a strategy for reform.It's not good for the kids impacted. Its not good for the neighborhoods, and it doesn't even bring savings. So why has it become the strategy of first resort?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wall Street Journal Op-ed by Randi Weingarten and Karen Lewis Monday Offers Insight About What the Chicago Strike Accomplished

Together, Weingarten and Lewis offer one of the most cogent analyses of the meaning of the Chicago strike below. It appeared as an Op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, but in case you don't have a subscription...


After more than a decade of top-down dictates, disruptive school closures, disregard of teachers' and parents' input, testing that squeezes out teaching, and cuts to the arts, physical education and libraries, educators in Chicago said "enough is enough." With strong support from parents and many in the community, teachers challenged a flawed vision of education reform that has not helped schoolchildren in Chicago or around the country. It took a seven-day strike—something no one does without cause—but with it educators in Chicago have changed the conversation about education reform.

These years of dictates imposed upon teachers left children in Chicago without the rich curriculum, facilities and social services they need. On picket lines, with their handmade signs, teachers provided first-person accounts of the challenges confronting students and educators. They made it impossible to turn a blind eye to the unacceptable conditions in many of the city's public schools.

Teachers and parents were united in the frustration that led to the strike. Nearly nine out of 10 students in Chicago Public Schools live in poverty, a shameful fact that so-called reformers too often ignore, yet most schools lack even one full-time nurse or social worker. The district has made cuts where it shouldn't (in art, music, physical education and libraries) but hasn't cut where it should (class sizes and excessive standardized testing and test prep). The tentative agreement reached in Chicago aims to address all these issues.

Chicago's teachers see this as an opportunity to move past the random acts of "reform" that have failed to move the needle and toward actual systemic school improvement. The tentative agreement focuses on improving quality so that every public school in Chicago is a place where parents want to send their children and educators want to teach.

Its key tenets:

First, use time wisely. The proposed contract lengthens the school day and year. A key demand by educators during the strike was that the district focus not just on instituting a longer school day, but on making it a better school day. Additional seat time doesn't constitute a good education. A well-rounded and rich curriculum, regular opportunities for teachers to plan and confer with colleagues, and time to engage students through discussions, group work and project-based learning—all these contribute to a high-quality education, and these should be priorities going forward.

Second, get evaluation right and don't fixate on testing. Effective school systems use data to inform instruction, not as a "scarlet number" that does nothing to improve teaching and learning. One placard seen on Chicago's picket lines captured the sentiment of countless educators: "I want to teach to the student, not to the test." If implemented correctly, evaluations can help Chicago promote the continuous development of teachers' skills and of students' intellectual abilities (and not just their test-taking skills).

Third, fix—don't close—struggling schools. Chicago's teachers echoed the concerns of numerous parents and civil rights groups that the closing of struggling schools creates turmoil and instability but doesn't improve achievement. Low-performing schools improve not only by instituting changes to academics and enrichment, but also by becoming centers of their communities.

Schools that provide wraparound services—medical and mental-health services, mentoring, enrichment programs and social services—create an environment in which kids are better able to learn and teachers can focus more on instruction, knowing their students' needs are being met. Chicago, with an 87% child-poverty rate, should make these effective—and cost-effective—approaches broadly available.

Fourth, morale matters. Teachers who work with students in some of the most difficult environments deserve support and respect. Yet they often pay for their dedication by enduring daily denigration for not single-handedly overcoming society's shortcomings. These indignities and lack of trust risk making a great profession an impossible one.

In a period when many officials have sought to strip workers of any contractual rights or even a collective voice, the Chicago teachers strike showed that collective action is a powerful force for change and that collective bargaining is an effective tool to strengthen public schools. Chicago's public-school teachers—backed by countless educators across the country—changed the conversation from the blaming and shaming of teachers to the promotion of strategies that parents and teachers believe are necessary to help children succeed.

It is a powerful example of solution-driven unionism and a reminder that when people come together to deal with matters affecting education, those who work in the schools need to be heard. When they are, students, parents and communities are better for it.

Ms. Lewis is president of the Chicago Teachers Union. Ms. Weingarten is president of the CTU's national union, the American Federation of Teachers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What Provoked the Chicago Teachers Strike? Bad Managment Philosophy

Greg Anrig writes in the Pacific Standard magazine that the Chicago teachers strike is at bottom a response by teachers to an outmoded Taylorist "carrot and stick" management approach being pursued by the likes of Rahm Emanuel and Michelle Rhee. Most successful businesses actually no longer use this problematic early 20th century approach but have rather adopted the more progressive "Total Quality Management" pioneered by Edward Demming. The US education reform movement seems to have been captured by an outmoded philosophy, particularly inappropriate in education, that is being roundly rejected by the education profession. In that sense, the Chicago teachers are standing up for the entire education profession, says Anrig.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Huffington Post Column Cuts Through to What the Chicago Teachers Strike is Really About

In the Huffington Post today, BBA Coodinator Elaine Weiss and University of Illinois professor Kevin Kumashiro cut through the general media stupidity and unified opposition to the teachers from the nations political class to describe the real issues of the Chicago teachers strike. The real issue is dueling visions of how best to reform the nation's public schools. The issues are serious, and they are not the usual self-serving ones related to money. Rather, the teachers object to the corporate reform strategies being pursued, and they have a different set of ideas about what kids need. This analysis helps to explain both the near unanimity behind the strike on the part of teachers and the overwhelming support they have from parents and the broad public in Chicago.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger Points Out What's At Stake In Chicago Teachers' Strike

From a DC public school parent perspective, what's important about the Chicago teachers strike is that teachers are finally standing up to an education reform agenda that's not good for kids. Washington Post columnist Melinda Henneberger, who writes the "She the People" column, reflects today in her column on what she's heard from her children's teachers here about the effects of the new emphasis on standardized testing and suggests that its really at the heart of the Chicago Teachers' strike. Teachers and parents across the country stand in solidarity with Chicago teachers, because as Henneberger implies, Rahm Emanuel's approach to reform is not in the interest of kids. In Chicago, the Mayor has finally succeeded in uniting educators who have had enough of the disrespect. And if you haven't seen the latest public opinion polling, parents and the broader public in Chicago are squarely on the side of the teachers' union.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

IG "Investigation" Does Not Bring Closure to Testing Scandal

At long last, the DC Inspector General issued his report, the one requested by DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson on whether there was or was not cheating on the 2008-09 DC-CAS standardized tests. His conclusion was that except for the one teacher who admitted to it, there wasn't any. Well...USA Today and the testing company themselves found probable cause that cheating had taken place in 103 schools. And the DC-CAS scores bumped up inexplicably that year, citywide, and then dropped each of the next two years. But the Chancellor only asked the IG to look into one school. He interviewed 32 people, and took their word for what they did or didn't do. End of investigation.

Jay Mathews and Valarie Strauss, both columnists in the Washington Post who have been following this story, blogged that the "investigation" was a travesty. 

Actually, the IG did what he was asked to do. It was Chancellor Kaya Henderson and the Mayor who decided they wanted a whitewash rather than a real investigation. Shame on them. Only under mayoral control could there be such a lack of accountability for educational malpractice and school district mismanagement.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chicago Turnaround Strategy Comes Up Short

A new study of schools that were zero-base staffed by Chicago's main "turnaround" vendor shows that they were outperformed by 33 neighborhood schools with similar demographics. And the neighborhood schools did better without the significant additional funding given the "turnaround" schools in Chicago. The study comes at a time when the school board is trying to decide whether to continue to commit resources to the turnaround strategy begun by now secretary of education Arne Duncan that has become increasingly controversial.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Is Teacher Churn Undermining Real Education Reform in D.C.?

An Op-ed in this Sunday's Washington Post calls attention to the rate of turnover of both teachers and principals as a huge barrior to making our schools better. The column is up on the Web here. Education analyst Mark Simon argues the turnover rates are so high we're losing a lot of our best teachers and creating a hostile culture in too many schools. Turnover in charter schools is even higher.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Time to Re-Think Schools Governance

Deborah Simmons in the Washington Times looks at the unaccountable management of DCPS and says its time for the public to re-institute some measure of accountability that used to exist with a dedicated council committee. We say go further. We need an elected body to oversee the schools. Its called a School Board.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Get Rid of Teachers or Encourage Them To Stay -- What's Best to Improve Schools?

The subject of teacher turnover is receiving new scrutiny with the recent publication of research that demonstrates that teacher turnover itself hurts student achievement, separate from the relative quality of the teachers who replace those who leave. Mark Simon, education policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute authors a Commentary here that takes a fresh look at the strategies driving high rates of turnover in DCPS compared with a more collaborative and successful approach to improving a high poverty, low performing school in Montgomery County.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

New Study Documents the Negative Effects of Teacher Turnover

Researchers Matthew Ronfeldt from the University of Michigan, Susanna Loeb from Stanford, and Jim Wyckoff from the University of Virginia just published a study that by implication calls into question the fire and hire strategy of school improvement. Locally, when Michelle Rhee stated in 2008 that efforts to build a culture focused on improving teaching and learning take to long and cost too much, that she wanted rather to focus on firing and hiring her way to school improvement in DC, she was committing the District to years of churn and instability. Turnover in DC has been sky high since 2009. According to the findings of this new study, the net effect of such a strategy is probably negative. Read the Ed Week Story Here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The New Crisis in DCPS and Elsewhere: Test-Prep Pressures Driving the Best Teachers Out of Teaching

One of the least discussed effects of the current corporate ed reform culture that ignores the knowledge of educators, insisting instead on production quotas, is that the drive to get test scores up by any means is causing the best and most conscientious teachers to re-think their careers. Teacher and principal turnover is at an all-time high. In a preemptive move, parents at one DCPS school have started to interview teachers to uncover and document the corrosive culture behind teacher dissatisfaction. They want to stave off the imminent departure of some of the best this spring. To the parents it seems to be the most thoughtful, skillful, and independent among teachers that have had it with the pressures to do the wrong things. Meanwhile, ED Week blogger Nancy Flanagan invited a public school teacher from Florida to explain why she was thinking of going to teach in a private school. Her story feels very relevant.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

21st Century Schools Fund Warns of Dangers in the IFF Study

Mary Filardo and Michael Siegel, who both sit on the Education Finance Commission for the District of Columbia have authored a critique of the IFF Study that explains what is wrong with the methodology used, but also makes clear what the implications would be of following through on the study's recommendations. This is an important read in light of the fact that the Mayor and his Deputy for Education, the editors of the Washington Post, and groups like DC Reform Now continue to promote the IFF study as the starting point for a useful blueprint for the city.  Its not just bad research. It is promoting assumptions that will eliminate every child's right to a neighborhood school -- the definition of public education. Read the Siegel-Filardo critique here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Robert McCartney Calls for Full-Scale Investigation of DCPS

In today's Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney called for a full-scale investigation of the DCPS cheating scandal along the lines of the investigation that got to the truth in Atlanta. The public seems to finally be demanding the investigatoin DCPS has been avoiding since the scandal came to light in 2010.
In expressing his outrage, McCartney points out that "No details have been provided, and almost nothing has emerged about classes in about 100 other schools with suspect numbers of erasures from 2008 to 2010. Considering that such erasures were first identified as a problem more than three years ago, it’s appalling that the District hasn’t gotten to the bottom of this." We agree.

Monday, January 30, 2012

IFF Study Released to Criticism of Research Methodology

Quality Schools, Every Child, Every Neighborhood Indeed
A response by Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform

The Illinois Facilities Fund report titled: Quality Schools, Every School, Every Child, Every Neighborhood was released last week at a briefing by Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright.  There were no surprises in the report. Back in November, local analyst Mary Levy had accurately predicted the analysis and recommendations that would be forthcoming based on the reports IFF has written in five other cities.

Flawed Methodology Brands Schools for Closing and Staff for Firing

When IFF’s Director of Educational Research Jovita Baber presented the overview, the methodological problems in the report became clear.  The IFF report’s methodological problems can be summarized as follows:
  • The researchers created a zero-sum game in which schools are divided into four “Tiers” based on how much better or worse their DC-CAS scores are from the mean score. Each school is deemed to have “performing seats” or “non-performing seats” depending on whether students’ DC-CAS scores are higher or lower than the mean.  Under this methodology, there will always be winners and losers relative to other schools.
  • When schools are compared, no account is made of the socio-economic background of the students or the number of special education students, or English language learners among them. Differences in DC-CAS scores are compared under an assumption that students are all equally equipped and supported to do well. The differences in achievement and whether the trend is upward, downward or stationary is credited entirely to the school.
  • Within each of 39 neighborhood clusters, when schools get different DC-CAS results, the researchers assume that the students are the same and therefore, the difference is a credit to the school. No attempt is made to look at possible differences in socio-economic background of the students who select one school over another, which might be different than the neighborhood overall.
  • The researchers acknowledged that there was an abnormal bump in DC-CAS scores across the city in 2009 that they couldn’t explain, and that 2009 is alleged to be the high-point of cheating to the standardized test. They said that since it was widespread it probably washed out and that in any case they looked at scores over multiple years. However, the number of abnormal erasures in 103 schools has only decreased by 50% since then, so some schools have probably been cheating every year, affecting the median scores, advantaging the schools that cheat and disadvantaging the others. The fact is that given evidence of widespread cheating on standardized test scores from 2008 to the present without a real investigation by OSSE, DCPS, the US Dept. of Education or the Mayor, this report relies entirely on an unreliable indicator.
  • The researchers acknowledged that standardized test scores are not the best way to measure the quality of a school, and they wished they had other ways describe differences in quality, but used the only measure that they had at their disposal. Notwithstanding their admission, this study is the most extreme example of reducing the quality of a school only to its test score we have ever encountered. No other factors were used. Most reputable research examining school improvement efforts, for example that of the highly esteemed Consortium on Chicago Schools Research, has never taken this reductionist approach. 
  • The IFF researchers failed to consider recent history in DCPS, before making their recommendations.  The track-record of school turnarounds in DCPS since 2008 has been an embarrassment.  Outside management firms have been brought in to run Dunbar, Anacostia, and Coolidge high schools. Two have abandoned their partners. None of them have achieved significantly better results. School consolidations have led to explosive results at Hart MS and elsewhere. The national report card for national charter chains has not been good. In other words, there is no silver bullet contained in changing the management of schools. Nevertheless, the folks at IFF are wedded to this recommendation as their bias. It will be resisted in DC for good reason.
  • The IFF also seems to ignore the national research that shows a mixed track record of school turnarounds and national charter chains, and overwhelming national research that demonstrates that standardized test scores tend to mirror the socio-economic background of the students taking the test. It is one thing to make every effort to counter this reality with programs and strategies that mitigate the effects of poverty. It is quite another to structure a study premised on the assumption that any difference in test scores is the result of good or bad teaching alone, or as they term it – “performing seats.” The simplistic design of this study flat-out ignores the national research and it promotes an unfair and punitive set of assumptions in response to the data.
We Already Know That A Lot of Schools Need Help; What They Need is Real Reform, Not More of What Has Been Tried For The Last 4-5 Years and Has Obviously Failed

In contracting with an outside firm that has no knowledge of the city or its schools, a firm with a pattern of coming to the same recommendations in each city they have done work – to close schools with “non-performing seats” and bring in national charter chains with a track record of success – the deputy mayor has ignored better expertise that was available to him. Indeed, a similar but much more comprehensive report was done by the 21st Century Schools Fund, Urban Institute, and Brookings in 2009. It was roundly ignored by this deputy mayor. He seems to have continued a pattern of being tone-deaf in his dealings with the community:
  • In August he promised he would bring the preliminary IFF findings to “a group of stakeholders” before the report was complete and that the dialogue "will inform the final report.”  Instead, the report was completed in secret and released to the press, complete not just with data but with recommendations for what the city should do.
  • The IFF misdiagnosis of quality in the case of many schools, struggling against the odds to play important roles in their communities, will negatively impact the work in those schools. This report has already done real damage and makes the job of educators more difficult, particularly in Tier 4 schools. Indeed, five of the ten comprehensive high schools in the city are placed in tier 4 in this report.
In spite of the methodological failings described above that qualify this report as simplistic research, and in spite of the failures by this deputy mayor to work with this community, its schools, and local experts, there are three respects in which the report is a step forward.
  • Heretofore, the city has allowed the charter schools to govern themselves, opening and closing schools wherever the charter school board chose, creating duplicative services in some neighborhoods where new charters and good neighborhood schools complete for the same limited pool of students, while other neighborhoods remain grossly under-resourced. This report is premised on the notion that every neighborhood deserves a good school in that neighborhood, and that some of the expansion of charter schools may have been a mistake. 
  • The report does quantify the geographic inequities in the city in stark terms. It identifies 10 neighborhoods in dramatic need of educational investment. We agree with this sentiment, this sense of urgency, and this priority for action in the city. None of this information, however, is new.
  • The data on the DCPS schools suggest that the reforms of the last five years have not been adequately supporting our neighborhood “schools of right.” Far from a call to close or convert schools, the report can be read as a prompt to evaluate the reforms and change course. The successful schools have also been the ones with more stability and the ones least impacted by the roller-coaster of micro-management.
Finally, however, the Illinois Facilities Fund is in no position to be making recommendations about what decision-makers in the District of Columbia should do to improve schools in under-served neighborhoods, particularly in light of the fact that they never set foot into a single school building. They have not observed or considered dramatic differences in the quality of school facilities, or in the level of funding and resources between schools. They are offering no qualitative assessment whatsoever.

We urge the Mayor, the State Board of Education, the DC Council and the DC Public Schools to accept the data in this report for what it is, to understand the methodological errors in the report, and to reject the bias of the researchers woven throughout.

Authors:           Mark Simon, Iris Toyer, Miriam Cutelis, Margot Berkey, Cathy Reilly, Ron Hampton,
Mary Levy, Emily Washington, Suzanne Wells, Sherry Trafford, Barbara Riehle, and Kerry Sylvia 
for Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform

Two other critiques of the methodology used by the IFF in this study of DCPS:
1. Mathew DiCarlo at the Albert Shanker Institute analysis of what make this highly suspect research: HERE.
2. Steve Glasserman's critique HERE.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Facts Not What They Seem on Teacher Evaluation Study -- Strauss Corrects Rhee

Valarie Strauss responds in her Washington Post column to Michelle Rhee's inaccurate reference of a new study on use of value added student test scores in teacher evaluation. Evidently the shorthand sound bites used by Rhee grossly distort the actual study. Its amazing how tiny effects can be described in a way that makes them look big. Strauss teaches us all a lesson in this one about how not to read data. Here.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Test Erasures Continue -- Questionable Investigation Remains Under the Rug

In his DC Insider Column in the Washington Post, Sunday, Bill Turque continues to follow the ongoing pattern of test score erasures and the resulting effects on "student achievement" scores. Scores appeared higher when cheating was widespread under Rhee in 2008 and 2009, and inexplicably dropped when the issue came to light. Turque documents DCPS Leadership and the Office of the State Superintendent of Schools' recent attempts to cover the whole thing up. The biggest story continues to be the lack of a real investigation and continuing coverup. Turque describes the attitude of the schools leadership as wanting to keep the whole issue out of the headlines rather than wanting to clean the mess up or get to the bottom of what went on.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Illinois Facility Fund

What does the Illinois Facility Fund know about education? Not much. What the Illinois Facility Fund knows a lot about though is real estate, specifically real estate for charter schools. The Illinois Facility Fund is a non-profit lender and real estate consultant that offers a full range of financial services for charter schools including below-market rate loans, credit enhancement of bonds and investor pools and a range of real estate consulting services. The fact that the Illinois Facility Fund study was funded by a $100,000 gift from the Walton Family Foundation should trouble anyone who supports public education. The Walton Family Foundation, established by Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, has been one of the strongest forces in the country advancing public charter schools through its gifts. It has given hundreds of millions of dollars to charter schools as it seeks to promote charter schools that compete with government-run public school systems. Just as Walmart disregards locally-owned stores that can’t match its low prices, it disregards long-established neighborhood public schools.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Parents Anticipate Report as Assault on Low-Income Neighborhood Schools

The Deputy Mayor for Education, with a 100,000 dollar grant from the Walton Family Foundation, engaged IFF (Illinois Facility Fund) to study the capacity and performance of DCPS and public charter schools.
Click Map to Enlarge
IFF has authored reports in Denver, Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Louis, using a defined method to determine what they term "performing" or "non-performing" seats. This analysis is being done with an eye to "right sizing" district schools which beyond consolidation could include reconstitution and replacement with school management organizations.
Mary Levy, independent public school analyst, applied IFF methods to DCPS and public charter school data and found that where "performing seats" are located correlates with household wealth and family income of students. So that ALL schools in high wealth neighborhoods are "performing" and those in low wealth neighborhoods and with large numbers of children from low income families are "non-performing" with a very few exceptions, as illustrated in a map and data-tables. The IFF findings are expected to be issued at the end of November. There has been no public input or discussion solicited on the methods, criteria, or purpose of this study.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Illinois Facilities Fund Hired to Study School Closing/Opening Needs in DCPS

Valerie Strauss correctly questions in her column today why DCPS would want to hire a pro-charter school company from Illinois to advise the city on which additional public schools might be closed and where charter schools might be opened. The contract with IFF is for $100,000. Meanwhile, our own local 21st Century Schools Fund has been studying DC's facilities needs and advising DCPS for years. They already have the data being requested, including school utilization figures. Just a year and a half ago they published an excellent study of the not very plan-full way that charter schools had been located and the resulting inequitable access to educational services, by neighborhood in the city. The point person bringing in the new consulting company is Deputy Mayor for Education DeShawn Wright, who formerly helped oversee and promote charter schools in both Newark and NYC.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How High Stakes Testing Led to Cheating Scandals in Atlanta and Washington DC

Dana Goldstein has penned another insightful column on the origin of the testing scandals and hits the nail right on the head. This time the piece appeared today in Slate Magazine.  The only problem is that although what she says must be occuring in DCPS, as of now, there has been no real investigation of cheating in DC, so the article is based on conjecture. Why has there been no real investigation? Where are the grown-ups?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wishing Erasuregate Away DCPS Learns Nothing from Atlanta

In an article in the Post this morning, Bill Turque paints a picture of a stark contrast between the approach taken in Atlanta and DCPS with very similar testing scandals. In Atlanta employees lied initially and it was only when questioned under oath that they told the truth. It took 60 full time investigators with subpoena powers, to uncover the truth. At first the improprieties seemed isolated and small, but further investigation led to 178 participants in 44 schools with a massive coverup by the central administration.

If anything, the culture and conditions in DCPS seem more ripe than Atlanta for cheating. There has been too much emphasis on testing and test-prep over four years. There is a culture of fear in schools. The stakes --huge bonuses and unceremonious firing, the rewards and sanctions for test scores on a single test, are way too high. The level of cynicism from years of constant conflict is also high. Nevertheless, it turns out as revealed in Turque's piece today, DCPS is doing as little as possible to investigate what USA Today revealed are an abnormally high number of erasures in 103 schools.

Kaya Henderson asked the DC Inspector General to do the investigation. One investigator was assigned and a grand total of 10 people have been interviewed. According to the Post article today, no subpoena powers have been used by the DC IG. The US Department of Education has also asked to get involved, but it is unclear whether they will be doing a forensic analysis of test results or using subpoena powers to question people under oath or using a sufficient number of investigators. Do they too have a stake in a cover-up? Will the public stand for continued mystery about whether test scores have been fixed for the past three years? Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, Washington Examiner newspaper local opinion editor Barbara Hollingsworth sums it up this way.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Robbing Schools to Fatten Central Administration

There seems to be a need for greater DC Council scrutiny over the DCPS budget. Either DCPS budget expert Mary Levy is right and the proposed school system budget for next year is growing by $77 Million, none of it targeted for schools, or there is over $50 Million unaccounted-for in the DCPS budget for the current year. Mark Simon and Mary Levy's Op-Ed in the Washington Post today points out that the only publicly available data shows a massive transfer of funds from schools to central administration. Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson says however that such a conclusion is drawn comparing the Budget Books for the two years, but that the "real budget" is in conflict with the "Budget Books" that Mary Levy and the DC Council have used. Spending in the current year, she says is actually $823 MIllion, $50 Million higher, making the increase for next year not so much. But... neither the DC Council nor the general public are allowed to see the "real budget." Is the school system leadership allowed to do this? Does Mayoral Control mean "trust us" and we don't have to account for monies spent anymore? And what did happen to all that extra money in the current year that never made it to the budget books?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Teacher Evaluation that Works -- Designed Together With Teachers

Doug Prouty, MCEA President
The NY Times reported today on the Montgomery County teacher evaluation system, built collaboratively with the union, and working perhaps better than anywhere else in the country. Although it is praised by Secretary Duncan as ..."where the country needs to go," it stands in stark contrast to what school districts are being incentivized to do. Praised by State superintendent Nancy Grasmick as "an excellent system for professional development," Montgomery is nevertheless locked in a major conflict with the state because the district refuses to use student test scores as any percentage of a teacher's evaluation, and Maryland got $250 Million premised on all teachers being evaluated using standardized student test scores for 50% of the judgment.

Meanwhile, in DCPS, the system continues with the IMPACT evaluation, unchanged, even though teachers have voted overwhelmingly that it be ended. The district is planning to greatly increase both the amount of student standardized testing and its use in teacher evaluation, and a scandal of possibly widespread cheating by administrators and teachers over the past two years is waiting for a thorough investigation. What a difference in the approach. What works seems irrelvant to the policy makers. Full-speed ahead.

Read the NY Times piece here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

USA Today Features Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform Petition

With over 3,700 signatures collected on our petition for a federal investigation of "erasuregate," USA Today followed-up on their original expose with a report on our petition. Read their report here.

UPDATE: And this afternoon, May 6th, Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss wrote a great piece about our petition on her blog. It will be in the print edition on Monday.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sign the Petition !!

   DC public schools, under former Chancellor Michelle Rhee, has become obsessed with testing. Teacher pay is tied to test scores. Principal bonuses are tied to test scores. Teacher evaluations are tied to test scores. School funding is tied to test scores. Students are pulled from their regular classrooms for days or weeks each year, to be prepped for the tests. What's this got to do with a quality education? Chancellor Rhee used to ask each principal, individually, to name the percentage point gain they would produce on test scores each year. She’d follow up with an email, reminding them of their commitment. Principal’s jobs were on the line if they didn’t produce.
   In such a system, cheating is nearly inevitable. Sure enough, USA Today recently broke a major investigative story about apparent cheating in DC public schools, on standardized assessments. It wasn’t the kids who were cheating. It was the kids who were cheated.
   Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform DC has initiated a petition campaign for a thorough investigation and a moratorium on the test-crazy practices in DCPS.
   The petition calls on the General Accounting Office (GAO), which has jurisdiction over DC, or the U.S. Department of Education's Inspector General to investigate the DC testing scandal – and to determine how DC’s test-obsessed culture contributed to it. In addition, we’re demanding that DCPS immediately place a moratorium on all high stakes attached to the tests. Read the petition. Sign the petition. Help stop this craziness.

Sign the Petition Here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

USA Today Reveals Possible Widespread Test Irregularities Under Michelle Rhee

USA Today published Monday a lengthy analysis of possible widespread cheating at the majority of schools during the tenure of DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee, leading to test score gains that seemed to reinforce Rhee's draconian strategies. Defending her record, Rhee lashed out at the USA Today piece, but Diane Ravitch, one of the nation's foremost critics of test-based reform and privatization took Rhee on pointing out that her entire record in DC may be a chimera.
Update: And in a follow-up by Jay Mathews, Michelle Rhee retracted on Wednesday her attack Tuesday on the USA Today piece, calling her own comments "stupid." What Rhee failed to acknowledge, however, is that back in 2009, when State Superintendent Deborah Gist wanted a real investigation of testing improprieties, Rhee and Fenty blocked a real investigation, preferring the chimera of rising test scores. Gist resigned as State Superintendent shortly thereafter. So we have a ways to go before the full story has been revealed.
Further Update: With growing interest in the need for a thorough investigation of the cheating scandal under Rhee, and suspicion and rumors that doctoring test answer sheets was taking place at many schools with a cover-up at the central office, Valerie Strauss on Wednesday proposed a real investigation as the only way to get to the bottom of what took place and who knew about it. USA Today also followed up today raising the question of whether Officials in DC really want to get to the truth or are still engaged in covering up the extent of the scandal.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

DCPS Budget and Teacher Data Included in Testimony Presented Friday

Findings from my analysis included in testimony to the DC Council on Friday, March 4 and presented again as testimony to Mayor Vincent Gray on Monday include:
 1.  The number of DCPS central administration employees rose by 112 or 18% from 2007 to 2010 (the tenure of Michelle Rhee), while enrollment went down by 6,600 or 12%. Since FY 2003 central office FTEs are up 38% while enrollment is down by 28%.
2.  As of October 1, 2010, about 100 of the central office staff have salaries of over $100,000 per year.
3.  Per student spending went up 28% during Ms. Rhee’s tenure, compared to inflation of 6%, leading to the possibility that better student/staff ratios, smaller classes and other resources were responsible for the modest test score improvements that did occur. Unfortunately, the level of spending – which is high compared to other school districts -- can’t be sustained.
4.  DCPS is now losing half its teacher workforce within 5 years, and half its new teacher hires within 2 years.
5.  The percentage of inexperienced (first and second year) teachers has risen to almost 20%.
6.  Beginning teachers (first and second year) are 25% of the teachers in three wards with mostly low-income students (1, 5, and 8).
7.  Basic budget and expenditure information is not available to the public – such as financial reports, current budgets for both the system and local schools.
Copies of the testimony and the attached tables are posted here. A more detailed analysis of central office positions is here and more information is on the SHAAPE web site here under High School Policy Areas-Budget Analysis.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Student Achievement Under Rhee No Better than Her Predecessors

According to a new study of DCPS student achievement on NAEP scores, "the nation's report card," Alan Ginsburg, former director of policy and program studies for the US Education Department, finds that improvements under Rhee were no better than the upward trend under Superintendants Vance and Janey. In fact, achievement improved the most under former Superintendent Paul Vance. Ginsburg makes clear that his analysis is not that of the US Department of Education, but his own. The full study can be read here.

In spite of these findings, former Chancellor Rhee, in Florida this week advising Governor Rick Scott and urging the State Legislature to support school vouchers, claimed once again record NAEP score gains under her leadership in DCPS. “Over the three years that I was there, we saw really record gains in academic achievement on the NAEP examination,” she said. “We went from being last in the entire nation to leading the entire nation in gains in both reading and math at both the fourth and eighth grade levels. And we were the only jurisdiction in the entire country in which every single subgroup of children improved their academic standing.”
Well, not exactly. It turns out now that the gains had been greater under Vance and Janey, Rhee's predecessors.