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.