Sunday, April 14, 2013

98% Good/91% Bad

Onward! 4LAKids
4LAKids: Sunday 14•April•2012
In This Issue:
 •  THE BASICS OF BETTER SCHOOLS: It's not about the school board, just consistent, careful, cooperative educational strategies + smf’s 2¢
 •  HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest (but not necessarily the best) of the Stories from Other Sources
 •  What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
 •  Follow 4 LAKids on Twitter - or get instant updates via text message by texting
 •  4LAKids Anthology: All the Past Issues, solved, resolved and unsolved!
 •  4LAKidsNews: a compendium of recent items of interest - news stories, scurrilous rumors, links, academic papers, rants and amusing anecdotes, etc.
The wackiness that is LAUSD never ends. And at the end of the day Thursday two things were abundantly clear:

98% OF SUPERINTENDENT DEASY’S SUPPORTERS LIKE HIM… the bought-and-paid-for-self-styled-®eformers released a survey of themselves saying so! | (There is some doubt as to who paid for whom…but none that one gets what one pays for.)
AND 91% OF HIS DETRACTORS DON’T - UTLA/Teacher’s Union released a poll [] dealing with their respective/disrespective opinions of Superintendent Deasy’s superintendency.

Both are essentially hogwash, damp dry from the spin cycle; as unscientific as an alchemist at a necromancers convention – and with a margin of error hovering somewhat above 100%.

Dr. John Deasy, re: the UTLA poll, emailed The Times: “I am far too busy working to serve all students and assure their right to graduate college- and workforce-ready to pay attention to this nonsense.”

Dr. D. apparently wasn’t too busy working to serve all students and assure their right to graduate college- and workforce-ready to happily tweet the wonderful-if-not-unanticipated results of the complementary survey. |

But hogwash or nonsense (or something more odoriferous),  both evidence the problem: A huge number of the most critical members of the LAUSD enterprise – classroom teachers – are unhappy with the District’s leadership and direction. Teachers voted no confidence in greater numbers than they vote in UTLA elections. And members of other professions represented by other bargaining units complained to me that they couldn’t join in the no confidence vote.

And the strategy to address this situation is a canned report and a flock o’ tweets and a claim to be far too busy to care.

, DISTRICT LEADERSHIP’S ENGINEERED OUTCOME OF THE PARENT TRIGGER AT 24TH SCHOOL CAME OUT OF THE 3D PRINTER AS DESIGNED and the Parent Trigger became another tool for reconstitution in the superintendent’s toolbox. The school remains a district school, the charter operator on campus continues in that role – but everyone in the district school gets to reapply for their job. It must be remembered, before the Parent ®evolutionaries arrived on campus, that all the parents wanted was another principal.

IF TEST SCORES REALLY MATTER THE RESULTS ARE IMPROVING – especially in urban districts in communities of color. That means the Achievement Gap in LAUSD is narrowing and the Grad Rate is improving and that is more important than data; it’s welcome Information. Applying the information to take it to the next step of Knowledge would be good. But the other information is that THE A THRU G GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS ARE INEVITABLY GOING TO DRIVE THE NUMBERS INTO THE CELLAR. See State Schools Chief Announces Continued Improvement In High School Grad Rates & LAUSD College Prep Plan Faces Uphill Struggle.

EVEN THOUGH PROP 30 PASSED THE CUTS CONTINUE as Summer School is cut further. See LAUSD Summer Enrichment Programs Cut Again.

THE NEW SECURITY AIDES ARE ARRIVING ON CAMPUSES – though from the radio story it sounds like they are being put on playground supervision duty |

THE LAUSD INSPECTOR GENERAL is going to inspect schools for cleanliness – or as the board informative says: he’s going to audit “staffing levels and custodial effectiveness.”| (4LAKids, which regularly leans on rock n’ roll lyrics for inspiration, now has an entire 1949 Movie Comedy/Hollywood rework of a Gogol play to work from - as Georgi (Danny Kaye) an illiterate member of a gypsy medicine show, is mistaken for the feared and cruel I.G.) Stay tuned. Maybe we can re-do it as Reality TV? “Undercover Superintendent”? Dr. Deasy, with a phony mustache joins a traveling cleaning crew as a junior assistant custodial trainee? Next week, in a hairnet and support hose he can be a lunch lady? And the week after a part time security aide? I sure hope Supt Cortines’ rule against reality TV has expired because I’m going on Kickstarter to crowd fund the pilot!

In lots of other news the fallout from the ATLANTA TESTING SCANDAL continues to fall out. And Gov. Brown’s Issues with Chinese Bullet Trains and Prison Occupancy is complicated by new questions about the LOCAL CONTROL FUNDING FORMULA. And seeing as how Brown’s Prison Reform is doing so well, Boardmember Galatzan wants to reform “TEACHER JAIL”. (Interesting enough, even though she is listed as a sponsor of the resolution, Board President Garcia distanced herself from it when pressed in a radio interview Friday; “Ms. Galatzan is sponsoring a resolution….”

And outgoing Mayor Tony rattled the cages of Mayor Wannabes Eric+Wendy about needing to be more involved in education - apparently that California Constitutional proscription against mayors running their cities schools applies only to him. In their debate Thursday evening they me-too-ed about pot holes, traffic and the fact that California schools are 49th in school funding. I’m not really sure how mayor of Los Angeles fixes that last one …..Though CA did go from 46th to 49th during Tony’s mayoralty!

AND AS IT’S TAX DEADLINE EVE, here’s something to think about: San Francisco Chronicle reporter XXX wrote “The Obama administration wagered that pouring billions into struggling schools over three years would pay off in higher test scores and students who would excel for years to come.
“The federal funding - an average of $1,400 more per student - required schools to adopt one of four strategies: replace most of the staff; replace the principal and revamp teaching methods; convert to a charter school; or close.”

And then she goes on to wonder whether any of that – or any of those options - worked.

Ask yourself, because nobody in the Congress, red or blue, is asking Secretary Duncan or the Department of Ed.
• Ask what happened with the SIG money.
• Ask how effective or “supplemental” rather that “supplanative” all that Title I—“Financial Assistance To Local Educational Agencies For The Education Of Children Of Low-Income Families” money has been since 1968.

But hey – wait until next year when the PowerBall money comes rolling in!

¡Onward/Adelante! - smf

Gladys explains it all for you: AMERICA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS = WALMART’S TRAINING ACADEMIES: a YouTube video animation by John the Dad

THE BASICS OF BETTER SCHOOLS: It's not about the school board, just consistent, careful, cooperative educational strategies + smf’s 2¢
Op-Ed in the LA Times By David L. Kir |

April 7, 2013 :: The bile flowed freely in the first round of L.A.'s school board elections in March, fueled by unprecedented sums of campaign money. To what end?

Listening to the ads of the self-styled reformers, you'd have thought that charter schools were the elixir for every ill and teachers were slackers who needed a kick in the pants. For its part, the teachers union dismissed those who disagreed with it as corporate takeover artists.

The school board campaign, which isn't over yet, is a fight over power — how to hire and fire teachers, for example — not a debate over education. In these adult games, kids are the losers. The vituperation, and the lines drawn in the sand, conceals what's at the heart of the enterprise: an inspiring teacher, challenging curriculum and engaged students.

But here's the good news: There are tried-and-true strategies — familiar to any educator with a pulse, accessible to any parent who does some due diligence — that, when carefully and consistently executed, can change the arc of children's lives for the better.

Union City, N.J., where I spent a year in classrooms from preschool to high school, makes an unlikely poster child for the revival of public education. Its unemployment rate is 60% higher than the national average. Spanish is the home language for three-quarters of its students. It's estimated that a quarter are undocumented. Twenty-five years ago, Union City's schools were so wretched that state officials threatened to seize control of the district.

Now Union City's third-grade through high school achievement scores approximate the statewide average. What's more, in 2011, it boasted a high school graduation rate of 89.5% — roughly 10 percentage points higher than the national average. Last year, 75% of the graduates enrolled in college, with top students winning scholarships to the Ivies. And newcomers are doing remarkably well — two of the top 10 students in the class of 2013 came to the U.S. just four years ago.

Union City doesn't feature a celebrity superintendent or rock-star teachers. Most of the teachers and principals went to third-tier colleges and have never lived farther than an hour's drive away. There are no charter schools in town. The district isn't closing "failed" schools or firing teachers and principals whose students' test scores don't pass muster; this is leadership by enthusiasm, not intimidation. The approach is working: Polls show that more than three-quarters of the residents think their schools are doing a solid job.

Boiled down to its essentials, what Union City does is so obvious it verges on platitude.

It offers high-quality full-day preschool for every child, starting at age 3. Its word-soaked classrooms, which feature tons of reading and writing, give youngsters a rich feel for language. Immigrant kids get a solid grounding first in their native language and then in English. The curriculum is thought-provoking, consistent from school to school, and tied together from one grade to the next.

Close-grained analyses of students' test scores are used to individually diagnose and address their weaknesses. Teachers whose students aren't doing well in math and reading get hands-on help. They work collaboratively with their more successful colleagues, and coaches teach alongside them. The schools reach out to parents, enlisting them as partners in their children's education. The district sets high expectations but emphasizes a culture of caring, which generates trust.

It's a stable system — the superintendent has been on the job more than a decade — with barely a hint of political pyrotechnics.

The story is similar in school systems across the country where test scores are steadily improving and the "achievement gap" for poor and minority students is steadily shrinking. The odds-defying districts come in all sizes and shapes: big and small, well funded and meagerly supported, mainly Latino or black or heterogeneous, unionized and nonunionized, with elected and appointed school boards.

Consider what's been happening in Sanger, Calif., a Central Valley town decimated by the recession. There, the child poverty rate is three times the national average, three-quarters of the youngsters receive government-subsidized school meals and nearly a quarter of the students are immigrants who are still mastering English.

In 2003, Sanger was labeled a failing school system and put on a state watch list. Now it ranks among the top half of California districts in reading and math, much higher when compared with school systems with a similar profile. In 2011, 78% of Sanger's Latino students graduated, placing it among the top 10% of districts nationwide. As in the other high-performing districts, nothing flashy is happening, just a vigilant focus on student learning rather than adult power issues. Principals are trained to "lead the learning" rather than to manage the building; curriculum is coherent and uniform, teachers are coached and data drive initiatives, student by student.

Relations with the teachers union used to be so rocky in Sanger that would-be teachers were confronted by a union-sponsored billboard on the highway into town: "Welcome to the Home of 400 Unhappy Teachers." A new superintendent turned things around by ending the I-win-you-lose contest of wills. He brought the union leadership into the policy conversation, looking for common ground by focusing squarely on students' needs. When high school teachers and administrators were at loggerheads over how closely to follow a curriculum that, teachers complained, stifled students' creativity, the school chief stepped in to ensure that the teachers had more leeway.

Sanger and Union City are small in comparison with the Los Angeles Unified School District, and L.A.'s size is one of its greatest challenges. But a big nearby district — Long Beach, third largest in the state — shows the way. In 2003, it won the Broad Prize, a $500,000 award given to the urban district that excels nationwide in boosting achievement and reducing racial and ethnic achievement gaps, and year after year, student performance continues to improve. Stable leadership has kept Long Beach on a consistent reform path: maintaining high "no excuses" standards, strengthening the curriculum and making smart use of data. As one principal put it, "We've been moving in the same direction and the same passion for years."

Policy particulars vary with community culture and school budgets, but the parallels among successful schools are striking — strong, coherent leadership, openness to families, encouragement of teachers to improve their craft, a culture of trust.

The teachable moment for Los Angeles? Resolve the raging adult power battles and stay focused on what really matters.

• David L. Kirp, professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, is the author of "Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools."

•• smf’s 2¢: It’s hard not to agree with all of what Dr. Ker writes …until we get to that bit where winning The Broad Prize is an indicator of anything.

In truth, LAUSD has already won two Broad Prizes.

• We have Eli Broad himself, living amongst us and meddling in our district – pulling strings behind the curtain.
• And we have Dr. John Deasy – the superstar graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy out in front of the curtain – and sometimes when Dr. John speaks we can hardly see Eli’s lips move at all.

It's time for a booster shot - By the numbers: HOW TO TELL IF YOUR SCHOOL DISTRICT IS INFECTED BY THE BROAD VIRUS by Sue Peters

April 11th, 2013, 4:14pm :: LAUSD's summer enrichment programming, which features free art, drama and music activities for elementary and middle school students, will be reduced again this summer.

The Los Angeles Unified School District announced today that funding limits are forcing it to reduce its summer enrichment programming, which includes academic, fitness and other enrichments like art, music and drama activities.

"The access to the enrichment opportunities for our students is becoming less and less," said Alvaro Cortés, executive director of the district's Beyond the Bell branch, which runs the summer programming. "With the budget cuts, art, music and those types of programming is being curtailed, eliminated from a lot of our schools.”

The free summer program will be in about 160 LAUSD schools, down from about 180 schools last summer. Four years ago, L.A. Unified offered the program in more than 300 schools but funding has been cut by about 60 percent since then, Cortés said.

Cortés expects the reductions to be especially challenging for working parents. Beyond the Bell’s summer program provides free supervised care for elementary and middle school kids for six to 10 weeks during the summer months.

“For parents it makes it harder," he said. "You either have to pay for it or do without it.”

Cortés hopes Proposition 30 will help restore some funding for the 2014 summer break. This year's summer programming will begin June 10.

LAUSD summer school courses are facing more major cuts. The budget for that program, which offers academic classes, used to be $43 million and served 2nd through 12th graders. This summer, the program is operating on $1 million budget and will serve only about 5,000 students who need to make up classes, according to Cortés.

by John Merrow, Taking Note |

11. Apr, 2013 :: With the indictment of former Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly A. Hall and 34 other public school employees in a massive cheating scandal, the time is right to re-examine other situations of possible illegal behavior by educators. Washington, DC, belongs at the top of that list.


Michelle A. Rhee, America’s most famous school reformer, was fully aware of the extent of the problem when she glossed over what appeared to be widespread cheating during her first year as Schools Chancellor in Washington, DC. A long-buried confidential memo from her outside data consultant suggests that the problem was far more serious than kids copying off other kids’ answer sheets. (“191 teachers representing 70 schools”). Twice in just four pages the consultant suggests that Rhee’s own principals, some of whom she had hired, may have been responsible (“Could the erasures in some cases have been done by someone other than the students and the teachers?”).

Rhee has publicly maintained that, if bureaucratic red tape hadn’t gotten in the way, she would have investigated the erasures. For example, in an interview[1] conducted for PBS’ “Frontline” before I learned about the confidential memo, Rhee told me, “We kept saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this; we just need to have more information.’ And by the time the information was trickling in back and forth, we were about to take the next year’s test. And there was a new superintendent of education that came in at the time. And she said, ‘Okay, well, we’re about to take the next test anyway so let’s just make sure that the proper protocols are in place for next time.’”

At best, that story is misleading.

The rash of “wrong to right” (WTR) erasures was first noticed by the DC official in charge of testing, who, after consulting with the test-maker, asked Rhee to investigate, in November, 2008. Through her data chief, Rhee turned to Dr. Fay G. “Sandy” Sanford for outside analysis.

I have a copy of the memo[2] and have confirmed its authenticity with two highly placed and reputable sources. The anonymous source is in DCPS; the other is DC Inspector General Charles Willoughby. A reliable source has confirmed that Rhee and Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson discussed the memo in staff gatherings. Sanford came to Washington to present his findings in late January, 2009, after which he wrote his memo.

In response to my request for comment, Rhee issued the following careful statement: “As chancellor I received countless reports, memoranda and presentations. I don’t recall receiving a report from Sandy Sanford regarding erasure data from the DC CAS, but I’m pleased, as has been previously reported, that both inspectors general (DOE and DCPS) reviewed the memo and confirmed my belief that there was no wide spread cheating.” After receiving this statement, I sent her the memo; her spokesman responded by saying that she stood by her earlier statement.

Chancellor Henderson did not respond to my request for a response.

Sanford wanted the memo to be kept confidential. At the top and bottom of each page he wrote “Sensitive Information–Treat as Confidential,” and he urged, “Don’t make hard copies and leave them around.” (The memo.)

The gist of his message: the many ‘wrong to right’ erasures on the students’ answer sheets suggested widespread cheating by adults.

“It is common knowledge in the high-stakes testing community that one of the easiest ways for teachers to artificially inflate student test scores is to erase student wrong responses to multiple choice questions and recode them as correct,” Sanford wrote.

Sanford analyzed the evidence from one school, Aiton, whose scores had jumped by 29 percentiles in reading and 43 percentiles in math and whose staff–from the principal down to the custodians–Rhee had rewarded with $276,265 in bonuses. Answer sheets revealed an average of 5.7 WTR erasures in reading and 6.8 in math, significantly above the district average of 1.7 and 2.3.[3]

Sanford, a Marine officer who carved out a post-retirement career in data analysis in California, spelled out the consequences of a cheating scandal. Schools whose rising scores showed they were making “adequate yearly progress” as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act could “wind up being compromised,” he warned. And what would happen to the hefty bonuses Rhee had already awarded to the principals and teachers at high-achieving schools with equally high erasure rates, Sanford asked? And, Stanford pondered, “What legal options would we have with teachers found guilty of infractions? Could they be fired? Would the teachers’ contract allow it?”[4]

While Sanford’s memo doesn’t raise the issue, falsely elevated scores would deny remedial attention to children whose true scores would trigger help. Just how many children could only be determined by an investigation.

Michelle Rhee had to decide whether to investigate aggressively or not. She had publicly promised to make all decisions “in the best interests of children,” and a full-scale investigation would seem to keep that pledge. If cheating were proved, she could fire the offenders and see that students with false scores received the remedial attention they needed. Failing to investigate might be interpreted as a betrayal of children’s interests–if it ever became public knowledge.


The 37-year-old Michelle Rhee had been a surprise choice to lead the schools. After college, she joined Teach for America and taught for three years in a low-income school in Baltimore. After earning a graduate degree in public policy at Harvard, she took[5] over a fledgling non-profit that recruits mid-career professionals into teaching, The New Teacher Project. In that role, she eventually ended up supervising 120 employees. As Chancellor, Rhee would be managing a school system with 55,000 students, 11,500 employees and a budget of nearly $200 million.

She surrounded herself with people with no experience running a large urban school system. Her deputy would be her best friend, Kaya Henderson, another former Teach for America corps member who was then Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at TNTP. She would be managing the District’s 11,500 employees.

Her Chief of Data and Accountability would be Erin McGoldrick, whom Rhee had met at Sacramento High School some years earlier and who was an avowed fan of Rhee. A classics major at Notre Dame, McGoldrick also studied public policy at UCLA. Although she was in charge of data analysis at the California Charter Schools Association when Rhee offered her the job, McGoldrick had no experience in Rhee’s ‘data-driven decision making,’ according to several reliable sources.

Rhee selected Jason Kamras, the 2005 National Teacher of the Year and a veteran of seven years in the classroom, to lead what she called her ‘Human Capital Design Team.’ Kamras’ assignments were to design a teacher evaluation system and create a model union contract.

That no one in her inner circle had any experience managing an urban school system did not seem to concern Rhee.

And if inexperience led her astray, Rhee believed that she had a fail-safe system that would steer her back on course, data-driven decision making. “We’re going to be doing parent satisfaction surveys, principal satisfaction surveys, teacher satisfaction surveys, so that we can gauge how good a job we are doing,” she said. There would be no management by hunches or anecdotal evidence–only numbers. “I am a data fiend,” she told me. “Measure everything. Don’t do anything you can’t measure.”

She was determined not to let anything get in her way. “What I am is somebody who is focused on the end result that I think needs to happen,” she told the PBS NewsHour in September, 2007. “If there are rules standing in the way of that, I will question those rules. I will bend those rules.”[6]

Rhee said she would be guided by one principle: “I am going to run this district in such a way that is constantly looking out for the best interests of the children.” And she knew that her actions were being watched beyond the District of Columbia. “All the eyes of the country are now on DC,” she said. “I believe that what we are embarking upon is a fight for the lives of children.”


From her first days in Washington, Michelle Rhee had flaunted her inexperience (“I have never run a school district before,” she told her 5,000 teachers at their first meeting.), but here it seems to have hurt her. An experienced educator might well have gone public with the erasures and simply cancelled the results, boldly declaring that, because the interests of children came first, she was ordering retesting, this time with the tightest possible security. Privately, the veteran could have raised the roof, but publicly she would have been a hero.

Getting at the truth would have required bold action. The essential first step: a deep erasure analysis[7] to determine whether the erasures showed patterns, because patterns are very strong evidence of collusion. Even with 70 schools involved, that could have been done quietly, but step two–putting people under oath–would have been public. The Mayor and City Council would have to be involved. While that would have been messy, it would have been dramatic evidence that she truly did put the interests of children above those of all adults, including her own.


The model for an effective investigation can be found 640 miles to the south, in Atlanta, Georgia, where an eerily similar situation involving roughly the same number of adults and schools existed. As in Washington, the Atlanta superintendent resisted investigation. As in Washington, an expert was privately asked for his analysis, which was then ignored and kept out of view.[8]

Because of aggressive reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and strong political leadership from two Republican Governors, the situation in Atlanta was investigated from top to bottom. An investigative team led by former Attorney General Mike Bowers and former DeKalb County District Attorney Robert Wilson interviewed more than 2,000 people and reviewed more than 800,000 documents. Because Wilson and Bowers were working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, they were able to put people under oath when they questioned them.

Cheating was found to have taken place in 78.6% of the schools investigated. “Superintendent Beverly Hall and her senior staff knew, or should have known, that cheating and other offenses were occurring,” the 413-page report says. Hall, a former National Superintendent of the Year, left the district just before the Governor released the report, which implicated 178 principals and teachers. If convicted, she faces up to 45 years in prison.

According to the July 5, 2011 report, “a culture of fear and conspiracy of silence infected (the Atlanta) school system and kept many teachers from speaking freely about misconduct.”

As Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said when releasing the conclusions, “When test results are falsified and students who have not mastered the necessary material are promoted, our students are harmed, parents lose sight of their child’s true progress, and taxpayers are cheated.”

In an interview in February 2013, Wilson said that he had been following the DCPS story closely. “There’s not a shred of doubt in my mind that adults cheated in Washington,” he said. “The big difference is that nobody in DC wanted to know the truth.”


It’s easy to see how not trying to find out who had done the erasing–burying the problem–was better for Michelle Rhee personally, at least in the short term. She had just handed out over $1.5 million in bonuses in a well-publicized celebration of the test increases[9]. She had been praised by presidential candidates Obama and McCain[10] in their October debate, and she must have known that she was soon to be on the cover of Time Magazine[11]. The public spectacle of an investigation of nearly half of her schools would have tarnished her glowing reputation, especially if the investigators proved that adults cheated–which seems likely given that their jobs depended on raising test scores.

Moreover, a cheating scandal might well have implicated her own “Produce or Else” approach to reform. Early in her first year she met one-on-one with each principal and demanded a written, signed guarantee[12] of precisely how many points their DC-CAS scores would increase.

Relying on the DC-CAS[13] was not smart policy because it was designed to assess students’ strengths and weaknesses. It did not determine whether students passed or were promoted to the next grade, which meant that many students blew it off.

Putting all her eggs in the DC-CAS basket was a mistake that basic social science warns against. “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” That’s Campbell’s Law, formulated in 1976 by esteemed social scientist Donald Campbell (1916-1976) .

Applied to education, it might go this way: “If you base nearly everything–including their jobs–on one test, expect people to cheat.”

And the novice Chancellor was basing nearly everything on the DC-CAS.


Associate Superintendent Francisco Millet sat in on some of the meetings with individual principals. “In that 15-minute period she would ask each one of the principals, ‘When it comes to your test scores, what can you guarantee me?’ And she would write it down. And you could cut through the air with a knife, there was so much tension.”[14]

Millet had no doubt that Rhee was sending the message that they would be fired if they didn’t achieve those guarantees. “Absolutely. Principals were scared to death that, if their test scores did not go up, they were going to be fired. And they knew that she could do it.”

Millet, who resigned after Rhee’s first year, is convinced that principals passed the message along. “There was this whole atmosphere of uncertainty. And when principals feel threatened that if their scores don’t go up, what do you think they’re going to bring down the next level, to their teachers? They’re going to make their teachers feel extremely intimidated that if they don’t do better this year than they did last year, there are going to be consequences.” That led to changes in teaching. “Everybody felt this urgency to improve test scores, and there was no focus on instruction,” Millet says. “The entire focus was on improving test scores.”[15]

Rhee categorically rejected this interpretation in an interview in September 2011 when I asked her if she had created a ‘climate of fear.’ “No! Absolutely not!,” she exclaimed, adding, “Was there a lot of pressure to improve student achievement levels in the district? Absolutely. A hundred percent. There was a lot of pressure to do that. But I think that somehow that making the leap from that to and therefore you added to it, it’s crazy.”

Perhaps inadvertently, the rookie Chancellor seems to have provided principals with two motives to cheat, a carrot–the possibility of large bonuses–and a stick–the threat of being fired.

DC’s procedures for administering tests–established before Rhee’s arrival–provided multiple opportunities for cheating. According to a veteran principal, “The test booklets came into the school a week before they were given, and they were just in a shrink-wrapped package. The booklets weren’t sealed. They were just wide open. You could just flip through the pages and see what was inside of them.”[16] From there, the principal said, it would have been easy to tip off teachers.

A number of teachers, including Martha Harris, a veteran of 46 years in DCPS, told us that some teachers received special treatment. “If you were one of the favorites, you were given (the test) by the head of the testing committee, or someone allowed you to put hands on that test ahead of time.” In short, it would have been easy for teachers to make sure their students knew the right answers ahead of time.

After-the-fact cheating–by erasing and changing answers–was even easier. “The tests would stay in the building for almost two weeks after they were given” so students who had missed a test could make it up. “They were in the building for a good month between arriving about a week ahead of time and finally getting shipped out. It would have been fairly easy for people to sit down and look through the booklets and change answers.”[17]

The erasures stayed buried for years. The official who had spotted the problem and urged Rhee to investigate has kept her mouth shut. Five months after she had informed Rhee of the widespread erasures, Deborah Gist resigned to become State Superintendent in Rhode Island. Rhee now publicly praises her efforts there.[18] Sandy Sanford, who earned roughly $9,000 for his work on the memo, has been paid at least $220,000 by DCPS for various services.[19]

When erasures continued in Rhee’s second and third years at slightly diminished rates, she and Henderson contracted for three severely limited investigations, none of which allowed for erasure analysis or an examination of the original answer sheets.

Two were performed by Caveon, a Colorado-based company. The other was performed by Alvarez and Marsal, a firm that usually coaches corporations on how to improve profit margins[20]. D.C. officials set limits on investigations, never insisting on the obvious essential step of erasure analysis; they dictated which schools should be investigated and even suggested the questions to be asked. A D.C. official sat in on many of the interviews with staffers. No erasure analysis has ever been performed. Caveon’s president, John Fremer, later told the Washington Post and USA Today that it had performed ‘a security audit’ and not an investigation.

Caveon’s 2009 inquiry turned up no cheating. Its 2010 investigation fingered three adults — from three different schools. One of them, a first-year teacher, confessed that he had stood over some of his pupils and coached them until they penciled in the right answers. His explanation: That was the way testing was conducted at his school. He lost his job.

The situation came close to exploding in March 2011 when USA Today blew the whistle on the erasures. The newspaper’s investigative team [21] reported that the odds against the 2008 wrong-to-right erasures having happened by chance in some of the schools were greater than the odds of winning the Powerball.[22] Tom Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State who has spent decades investigating cheating, told the newspaper that the score gains reported at DCPS were implausible, observing that “a slow runner can improve a little in each race he runs, but he’s not going to set a new world record.” And some of those score gains were akin to setting a new world record or “losing a hundred pounds a month on a new diet,” Haladyna said.[23]

Even then there was no full investigation. Chancellor Henderson somehow persuaded DC’s Inspector General to investigate the matter without looking into the 2008 erasures. He spent 17 months on the case, during which time he interviewed only 60 people from just one school (even though by then more than 90 schools had been implicated).[24] When I asked Mr. Willoughby why he had not looked into the first year or at other schools, all he said was that it was not “a fishing expedition,” adding “We stand by our report.”

Choosing to bury the problem and minimize investigations[25] allowed Rhee to continue with her radical makeover of the low-performing DC public school system. She extended her ‘produce or else’ approach to teachers[26] and continued to remove or reward principals based on DC-CAS scores. In 2010, Rhee confidently predicted that, within five years, the D.C. school system would be “the highest performing urban school district in the country and one that has the faith and confidence of the citizens of the city.”

Her policies remained in force even after she left DC in October 2010 to start, as she proclaimed on Oprah, “a revolution on behalf of America’s children.” Through her well-financed “StudentsFirst” lobbying non-profit organization, she began crisscrossing the nation, urging governors and legislators to do what she did in Washington.

She has been remarkably successful. At least 25 states have adopted her ‘produce or else’ test-score based system of evaluating teachers.[27]

But politicians (and citizens) in those 25 states might want to take a closer look at what she actually accomplished. Sadly, DC’s schools are worse by almost every conceivable measure.

For teachers, DCPS has become a revolving door. Half of all newly hired teachers (both rookies and experienced teachers) leave within two years; by contrast, the national average is said to be between three and five years.[28]

It was a revolving door for principals as well. Rhee appointed 91 principals in her three years as chancellor, 39 of whom no longer held those jobs in August 2010. Some left on their own; others, on one-year contracts, were fired for not producing quickly enough.[29] She also fired more than 600 teachers.[30]

Child psychiatrists have long known that, to succeed, children need stability. Because many of the District’s children face multiple stresses at home and in their neighborhoods, schools are often that rock. However, in Rhee’s tumultuous reign, thousands of students attended schools where teachers and principals were essentially interchangeable parts, a situation that must have contributed to the instability rather than alleviating it.

The teacher evaluation system that Rhee instituted designates some teachers as ‘highly effective,’ but, despite awarding substantial bonuses and having the highest salary schedule in the region, DCPS is having difficulty retaining these teachers, 44% of whom say they do not feel valued by DCPS.[31]

Although Rhee removed about 100 central office personnel in her first year, the central office today is considerably larger, with more administrators per teachers than any district surrounding DC. In fact, the surrounding districts seem to have reduced their central office staff, while DC’s grew.[32] The greatest growth in DCPS has been in the number of employees making $100,000 or more per year, from 35 to 99.[33]Per pupil expenditures have risen sharply, from $13,830 per student to $17,574, an increase of 27%, compared to 10% inflation in the Washington-Baltimore region.[34]

A comparison of pre- and post-Rhee DC-CAS scores shows little or no gain, and most of the scores at 12 of the 14 highest ‘wrong to right’ erasure schools are now lower. Take Aiton Elementary, the school that Sanford wrote about: The year before Rhee arrived, 18% of Aiton students scored proficient in math and 31% in reading. Scores soared to over 60% during the ‘high erasure’ years, but today both reading and math scores are more than 40 percentile points lower.[35]

Enrollment declined on Rhee’s watch and has continued under Henderson, as families enrolled their children in charter schools or moved to the suburbs. The year before Rhee arrived, DCPS had 52,191 students. Today it enrolls about 45,000, a loss of roughly 13%.[36]

Even students who remained seem to be voting with their feet, because truancy in DC is a “crisis” situation[37], and Washington’s high school graduation rate is the lowest in the nation.[38]

Rhee and her admirers point to increases on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an exam given every two years to a sample of students under the tightest possible security. And while NAEP scores did go up, they rose in roughly the same amount as they had under Rhee’s predecessor, and Washington remains at or near the bottom on that national measure.[39]

The most disturbing effect of Rhee’s reform effort is the widened gap in academic performance between low-income and upper-income students, a meaningful statistic in Washington, DC because race and income are highly correlated. On the most recent NAEP test (2011) only about 10% of low income students in grades 4 and 8 scored ‘proficient’ in reading and math. Since 2007, the performance gap has increased by 29% in 8th grade reading, by 44% in 4th grade reading, by 45% in 8th grade math, and by 72% in 4th grade math. Although these numbers are also influenced by changes in high- and low-income populations, the gaps are so extreme that is seems clear that low-income students, most of them African-American, did not fare well during Rhee’s time in Washington.[40]


It’s 2013. Is there any point to investigating probable cheating that occurred in 2008, 2009 and 2010? After all, the children who received inflated scores can’t get a ‘do-over,’ and it’s probably too late to claw back bonuses from adults who cheated, even if they could be identified. While erasure analysis would reveal the extent of cheating, what deserves careful scrutiny is the behavior of the leadership when it learned that a significant number of adults were probably cheating, because five years later, Rhee’s former deputy is in charge of public schools, and Rhee continues her efforts to persuade states and districts to adopt her approach to education reform–an approach, the evidence indicates, did little or nothing to improve the public schools in our nation’s capital.

This story is bound to remind old Washington hands of Watergate and Senator Howard Baker’s famous question, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” It has a memo that answers an echo of Baker’s question, “What did Michelle know, and when did she know it?” And the entire sordid story recalls the lesson of Watergate, “It’s not the crime; it’s the coverup.”

That Michelle Rhee named her new organization “StudentsFirst” is beyond ironic.


This post was written by John Merrow, veteran education reporter for PBS, NPR, and dozens of national publications. He is President of Learning Matters, a 501(c)(3) media production company based in New York and focused on education. He is also the author of The Influence of Teachers.

1-40 - Read the above story with LIVE BOOKMARKS here.

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest (but not necessarily the best) of the Stories from Other Sources

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Scott Folsom is a parent leader in LAUSD and is Parent/Volunteer of the Year for 2010-11 for Los Angeles County. • He is Past President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and represented PTA on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee for ten years. He is a Health Commissioner, Legislation Team member and a member of the Board of Managers of the California State PTA. He serves on numerous school district advisory and policy committees and has served as a PTA officer and governance council member at three LAUSD schools. He is the recipient of the UTLA/AFT 2009 "WHO" Gold Award for his support of education and public schools - an honor he hopes to someday deserve. • In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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