Education Reform in D.C.: Going Back is Not an Option

Guest post courtesy of Victor Reinoso, Deputy Mayor for Education, Washington, D.C.

There’s a lot of debate here in DC right now about education reform and the root causes of recent progress.  As a former member of the Board of Education and the current Deputy Mayor for Education, I have been fortunate to have two front row seats for this debate.

As I see it, the recent progress in student achievement has not happened by accident, or because of some grand, genius plan.  Rather, leaders stuck to some fundamental principles:  Be unafraid to try something new. If it’s in the best interests of kids, do it. Process, while important, cannot be the enemy of reform.

When I was elected member to the District’s Board of Education in November 2004, I was optimistic about pursuing real reform for a school system that needed it perhaps more than any other in the country.  In 2004 DCPS was at the bottom in performance, led by its sixth superintendent in ten years.  Enrollment was declining, due primarily to a flourishing charter school movement – a movement most viewed as something to fight rather than a resource for innovation, ideas, and talents to embrace.  Half-empty facilities were crumbling, books and services weren’t reaching classrooms, and a dysfunctional special education system was draining schools of resources that all students needed, without even meeting the needs of kids in special education.

What alarmed me and many others the most, was that there were so many dedicated people in leadership positions – on the school board, in DCPS, and in the mayor’s office – and despite all our work, we weren’t gaining any traction.

It wasn’t that we didn’t know what to do – It was that we lacked the will and collective leadership to make it happen.  For example, we knew we had to close schools. Here was a system that had lost 30,000 students in 15 years and had dozens of half-empty buildings show for it.  Multiple studies confirmed the need to “rightsize” the system so we weren’t spending millions heating empty space when kids didn’t have art and music teachers.

Back then, we met with school administrators and debated the data, the process, and the plan. Eventually we agreed on a recommended course of action for the superintendent.  Yet by the time the plan was ready for a vote, it had been butchered and watered down because of the need to please so many adults and different agendas.  We went from a plan to close about 20 schools to a proposal to close six.

Today, with Mayor Fenty overseeing the school system and Chancellor Michelle Rhee at the helm, we still arrive at decisions after analyzing the data, hearing from the community, debating potential actions, and determining the best path forward. The difference is that once we decide what’s best for kids, we execute, and with a greater focus and sense of urgency. In just 3 ½ years, we closed 27 schools, established accountability measures for central office staff, negotiated a landmark teachers’ contract, created innovative partnerships with charter schools to turn around low-performing DCPS schools, implemented a groundbreaking new teacher evaluation system enabling performance rewards for highly effective teachers and dismissals for ineffective teachers.

It hasn’t been perfect along the way, but as the first time up on the bike of this new approach to reform, it’s more than any of us had been able to do in decades. Most encouraging are the results we have seen already – increased student achievement on state and national assessments, higher graduation rates, a stabilized enrollment, and modernized classrooms for students from every neighborhood in the city.

What has enabled all of this is leadership; leadership that embraces bold action and never backs away from necessary change, no matter how difficult.  Leadership that unequivocally supports the push forward, regardless of politics and opposing interests.   Without this, we would not have an environment in DC in which reform could succeed. I’ve been fortunate to see firsthand how these dynamics of leadership are playing out in DC. And from where I sit, that’s why we must keep going forward – because going back, like failure, is not an option.

44 Responses to “Education Reform in D.C.: Going Back is Not an Option”

  1. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    One of the most shameful practices in the United States has been the custom of placing the least qualified teachers in the schools for poor minority students. For over fifty years, our neediest students have often had to contend with young teachers right out of college, who often had neither full credentials nor experience. And that was if they were lucky. Many other students in these schools had many substitutes throughout an academic year. In order to keep these “subs” from getting benefits and increased salaries, many districts dismissed them right before the cut-off time for getting the higher salaries. The bottom line was always money, and sadly parents often did not complain. Of course, nothing like this happened in the “leafy suburbs,” then or now.

    During times of recession, it becomes even worse for poor people. They are often the first to lose their jobs and their children are among the first to lose their teachers. In Washington DC, for example, Michelle Rhee fired many experienced teachers in order to fill classrooms with teachers from the New Teacher Education Project. These ostensibly “effective” teachers are actually mainly rookies with neither full credentials nor experience. They differ in one way: they are much cheaper than the dismissed teachers. Ms. Rhee thought no one would notice but she is being investigated for a possible conflict of interest. As “Jonathan” said in another post, “Follow the money” if you want to understand what is happening.

    Fortunately, there is a growing awareness worldwide that poor children require the same things that rich children do in order to excel in school. In addition to good teachers, they need medical care, nutrition, social supports and the opportunity to engage in a wide range of enriching activities. The most effective counties in the world (Finland, Netherlands, Canada) have found a way to improve the education of their poorest children by offering many such supports. We can do it too.

    There is some indication that the United States is belatedly realizing how important it is for us to provide an equal education for our most vulnerable children. Educators and civil rights groups are demanding equal funds and equal services for these students. They know that it is imperative that these students have teachers who are experienced, well-prepared and successful. There is also a growing recognition that many children require medical and social supports if they are to be successful.

    In Washington, DC, Vincent Gray represents a new breed of reformers who call for such obvious improvements as health care, preschool and experienced, successful teachers for ALL children. Citizens should not accept less.

    No, we cannot turn back.

  2. Mary Says:

    Did you write this yourself Victor or did someone pen it for you? Either way, shame on you. You of all people know there hasn’t been academic progress. have you looked at the DC-CAS scores that just came out?

    You know that it’s not “fear of change” that cause people in DC to question Michelle Rhee. It’s firsthand experience with the mess she’s made in many of the schools.

    You lost your soul in this job. I hope they are paying you a lot.

  3. Attorney DC Says:

    Mary: Well said.

  4. Billy Bob Says:

    WOW–the absence of the importance of teachers working hard and dedicating their lives to children as reasons for improvement is deafening.

    I guess you think the world revolves around those in central office/mayor’s office. If you have not figured it out already, you didn’t teach the first-grader to read or the 9th grader how to do algebra. A TEACHER did.

    Think of how to support them and build their capacity and watch your district shine. Treat them disrespectfully and watch your district crumble over the long run.

  5. edlharris Says:

    Most encouraging are the results we have seen already – increased student achievement on state and national assessments,

    They were rising on NAEP over the past decade, in fact, the pace of improvement slowed from 2007 to 2009.
    The achievement gap between white students and African-American students has increased, with it being led by lower achievement among the economically disadvantaged students.

  6. DC resident Says:

    This post by Mr. Reinoso is very revealing. The “we” refers to the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and Chancellor of DCPS. In other words, all the education reform in DC that the Fenty Administration seems to care about is DCPS.

    As a DC resident and taxpayer I’m certainly happy to see improvement in DCPS, but Mr. Fenty and Mr. Reinoso have effectively shut out the 27,000 students in public charter schools in DC. If DC charters were a district it would be larger than the Pittsburgh or St. Louis public school systems.

    We know he ignores these kids because otherwise Mr. Reinoso would be bragging about the innovative programs that charter founders have created for DC families, the strong academic progress their students have made in terms of test scores and graduation. He would be bragging not just about closing DCPS schools but allowing these spaces to be used by charters to bring about bottom-up reform.

    Why isn’t he touting these achievements? Because the Fenty Administration, since it can’t control charters, has been hostile to them, making sure that excess buildings go to private developers or are underutilized, but never retained for educational use outside DCPS. The Administration has consistently found magic pots of money for DCPS without touching the per pupil allotment for kids in public charter schools and actually lowering the facilities allotment.

    The 27,000 kids and their parents in charter schools and the teachers and administrators of those schools and the Public Charter School Board will probably get the resources they need to continue to make bottom-up reform if they get new leadership. I hope Michelle Rhee stays on at DCPS, or her successor continues her fine work, but also hope to see a city government that includes all public school children in its vision for the future.

  7. reform fan Says:

    I find it interesting that those criticizing this post, and the reform generally, aren’t backing up their points with facts. CAS scores are up over the life of the reform – 2007-2010. That’s a fact. DCPS was recognized by the Department of Education in its NAEP TUDA report as the only district in the country making gains in both math and reading at both 4th and 8th grades. That’s also a fact. Whether you like how it’s been done or not, or whether you have a political axe to grind of a different sort – well, those are separate issues. But as to the issue that Deputy Mayor Reinoso seems to be making – that the reform is making a positive difference that is being felt across the District – it seems pretty hard to argue against. There’s simply no mistaking that the school system is getting better.

  8. Skeptic Says:

    Linda/Retired Teacher-

    I have been reading this blog, and several others, for years. You clearly have a passion for education and for upholding the prestige of the teaching profession.

    However, given the frequency, length, and views espoused in your posts (especially the one above in which you promote Vincent Gray for mayor over Adrien Fenty – and Michelle Rhee by proxy) I am left with one question: are you currently on the payroll of a teacher’s union?

    My private (now public) view is that you are a communications specialist for the AFT or NEA who spends a significant part of your time simply scouring blogs for posts that challenge union orthodoxy. I’m sure you won’t be inclined to answer my question either way, but I thought I would ask it nonetheless.

  9. frmrtchr Says:

    It is amazing to me how much demonizing of people goes on in these posts. Sold his soul? Look at his background. This is a person who has worked for years with the intention of helping kids, before and after the change to mayoral control in DC. To Billy Bob, he says from the start that he’s sharing his experience from that perspective, though one of the biggest accomplishments he mentions is the teacher contract that pays salaries that show some respect to teaching, and challenges teachers to improve (what a slap in the face it is when you teach your heart out but nothing is really expected of you). The point I read here is mostly about the ways that process on the management side bogged things down before, and it makes sense that someone who was here before and after Mayor Fenty, would be in a position to shed some light on that instead of focusing on the classroom, as the teacher would probably write about. Based on the comments on all these education pieces, it’s pretty clear that nobody would ever come to consensus on all the decisions that any leader would make in a given day. Can you imagine how many years it would take to get everyone in the room to agree on a teacher performance evaluation? We’d all be dead before anyone made a decision. Process-comes-first guy may have good intentions, but he’s not getting my vote.

  10. frmrtchr Says:

    And Mary, I’m not sure how anyone could conclude that Chancellor Rhee has made a mess of a school system in which less than 15 % of the kids could read and write on grade level when she got here. Isn’t that like arriving at the scene of an earthquake and yelling at the rescue workers who are pulling away the rubble to find the life underneath?

  11. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Skeptic:

    Thanks for the compliment. I am a retired teacher and grandmother who spends a lot of time at home caring for my disabled husband, who cannot be left alone. I am a member of NEA Retired, but don’t participate in any of their activities. I am the author of one professional book on reading instruction so I suppose that makes me a professional writer. I DO have a lot of time on my hands, and what better way to spend it then to advocate for a high-quality education for all children and for full professional status for teachers.

    These blogs offer me the opportunity to fight an educational “reform” movement that I believe is trying to discredit public education for the purpose of financial gain. I am convinced that the present “reform” effort is actually a thinly disguised attempt for business people to get their hands on the previously untapped treasure trove of school money. Because middle-class parents normally keep a very sharp eye on this money, the targets are low-income children in impoverished schools. That’s what we’re seeing now.

    We know that unions have a neutral effect on the education of children. Some of our poorest performing districts have weak union support while some of our highest (Massachusetts) have very strong teacher unions. The opposite can also be said. Also, in looking at world-wide teacher unions we see the same thing: Some countries with strong unions have excellent schools (Finland) but so do countries with weak or nonexistent unions. Unions represent teachers and so when they are attacked, I know that teachers are being attacked. Teachers are the people I wish to defend. Most of these men and women have dedicated their lives to the nation’s children and don’t deserve the bashing that they are receiving at the present time. Yes, of course there are ineffective teachers but this has nothing to do with unions. Research tells us that the majority of these people (about 5% of the faculty at each school) are usually given “satisfactory” ratings by principals who don’t want to go through the process required to dismiss them. Unions don’t hire, evaluate or fire teachers. Administrators do.

    As I’ve said before, I’d like to see unions evolve into the fully professional associations that teachers initially wanted them to be (but were denied by legislators).

    Because of my experiences as a mother, grandmother, teacher and reader, I feel certain that true educational reform must take a complex, multi-dimensional approach. Now that I have time to watch my grandchildren learn, I am convinced of the importance of health, nutrition, interaction with parents and peers, motivation of the learner, and the quality of the school. All these factors are extremely important so the absence of even one can have a very negative effect on a child’s education. Therefore, it is very important to make certain that ALL children have these basics. If that’s not possible, we should provide good substitutes (e.g. high-quality preschool for those with little interaction at home). It’s entirely disingenuous to say “I know Sophie is absent half the year because of her asthma, but No Excuses! Give her a good teacher and she’ll do as well as a healthy child.” Does anyone truly believe this?

    You sound like a sincere and honest person, Skeptic, so I hope you’ll return the favor and believe that I have told you the truth about myself.

  12. DCPSParent Says:

    The evidence is clear that DCPS kids can achieve, and many are achieving at higher levels than they were a couple of years ago. There are facts that speak to this. And many of us can see it in our own children. How on earth could ANYONE be against kids learning and achieving? If you are against this, what are you FOR? Get off the sidelines. Take the time that you spend on these blogs picking apart every part of Rhee, her boss, her personality and get in the real game–use those hours to work with a child. Accomplish something meaningful. Talk is cheap.

  13. efavorite Says:

    Dear Reform Fan — You mention the importance of backing up statements with facts, then fail to do it yourself. Here are facts with verification. Please check them out.

    Until 2009, student achievement scores in DC had been going up slowly and steadily for over 10 years up under 6 different superintendents? You can verify it by going to:
    http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/states/
    then clicking on “District of Columbia” and scrolling to the bottom.

    It’s not a secret, but Rhee doesn’t talk about it, except to take personal credit for the gain that happened on her watch. She also doesn’t mention that the achievement gap has widened on her watch. She used to talk a lot about their intention to close the gap, but fell silent about it, when the gap widened. The Post reported on it once:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/12/AR2009121201276.html

    Rhee is also pretty quiet about the fact the elementary scores dropped in 2010. She mentioned it once last month, when announcing preliminary local DC-CAS achievement scores (just released to the public yesterday). Nonetheless, Rhee – and the Washington Post – have revived the refrain of improving scores, as if the bad news never happened. If you want verification, you can read about it here:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/13/AR2010071306622.html

    Key sentence: “After two years of significant gains across the D.C. school system, elementary students lost ground in reading and math test scores this year, a setback to Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee as she seeks to overhaul the city’s schools.”

  14. DCPSTeacherandParent Says:

    As someone who has taught in a DCPS school and sent my children to both DC public and private schools, it is easy to recognize that no school system and its leadership is perfect. That being said, the will to strive for improvement in the form of improved quality of teaching and learning, health services, social supports, and facilities has been unwavering and inspiringly strong. Missteps have occurred, but aren’t those to be expected? Who amongst you can cast the first stone? We are in unchartered waters. If there was a perfect system to replicate, we would have done it. But there is not, so we are forging our own. The many teams that work within the school system are to be commended for their commitment and dedication to improving the lives – not just the test scores – of our children. The more supportive and less condemning we are of a team and system that works non-stop to improve the system and the students and teachers it serves every year, the better the results we’ll yield.

  15. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Talk is cheap but the pen is mighty!

    I spent a lifetime preparing my own sons for Harvard, Stanford and challenging careers. I taught thousands of little children to read and write. I mentored teachers and wrote a book on reading methodology. Now I am using my time and talents to advocate for the best possible education for all our children. If the Powers that Be are reading my posts, this is what I hope to see:

    Fully professional teachers. Once our teachers have been carefully selected and highly trained, I want to see them freed to make the best possible decisions for their students, just as other professionals do. At this time, many teachers are actually being forced to act against their professional judgment. This can be stopped now and it won’t cost a penny.

    Medical and social supports for all American children. Other advanced countries have done it and we can too.

    It’s important for each of us to fight for what we think is right. That’s what I’m doing and you probably are too.

  16. efavorite Says:

    DCPSteacherandParent, you say, “The more supportive and less condemning we are of a team and system that works non-stop to improve the system and the students and teachers it serves every year, the better the results we’ll yield.”

    This has a totalitarian ring to me –as if you’re telling people not to criticize the efforts underway. Is what Ms. Rhee is doing above criticism, unlike anything else in our democratic society? Is the system she’s building so delicate that mere words meant to help could harm it? I thought she was tough. But apparently if she doesn’t get everything exactly her way, she’ll leave. She’s threatened us and some people are frightened by it.

    You say, ” the will to strive for improvement in the form of improved quality of teaching and learning, health services, social supports, and facilities has been unwavering and inspiringly strong.”

    I say, show me. Platitudes are easy. What health services and social supports has Rhee installed in the schools? She’s made it perfectly clear that “teachers are everything” nothing more is needed to improve student achievement. Facilities are not her bailiwick and she cannot take any credit for them. If you live in DC, you know that’s the responsibility of Allen Lew. Are you really from DC, are did you come her to spread more platitudes?

    You say, “Missteps have occurred, but aren’t those to be expected?
    Missteps?? Like saying she’d RIFd teachers who had sex with children? This is no slip of the tongue. Like RIFing teachers because of a budget deficit, then finding the money later to use for something else? Like lying about test scores?
    http://learningmatters.tv/blog/on-the-newshour/michelle-rhee-in-dc-episode-10-testing-michelle-rhee/2476/comment-page-1/#comment-322
    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2009/10/one_of_the_struggles_most.html:

    Some missteps.

    And then your admonition, “Who amongst you can cast the first stone?” As if only a perfect person could possibly criticize Michelle Rhee.

  17. DemostiX Says:

    Mr. Reinoso might also have expressed pride, as some of his colleagues did, in a press release, citing the record number of public school students in DC who attend schools which are not the neighborhood school they might attend as a matter of right.

    I have long been an advocate for school choice, critical of binding a child or family to a school closest to home. Respecting diversity also means respecting diversity of school qualities. Freedom of geographic movement is a human right. Borders should be open, etc. etc. I’ve followed, with dismay, how seldom school choice was exercised in the US and in England, when and where attendance was liberalized.

    So, bravo, Mr. Reinsolo for bringing in the technology that has long enabled medical school graduates to be matched to residencies, and charter school applicants to over-subscribed schools. The State has done good by hiring a contractor to apply lottery and gaming-world expertise to enable more efficient exercise of choice

    But should we praise this movement when what underlies it is an every growing demand to get the hell out of one’s local school; when so little confidence exists that the local school is superior to distant locale? When refugees can now state their preferences of camps, and have their fourth-choices honored by efficient lottery? When the closing of schools, like the dismissal of principals and abandonment of and by teaching staffs may be roiling and churning the student population? Why do we count as progress our monitoring of more people scratching while ignoring the incidence of eczema and sores that causes the itching?

    In other words, Mr. Reinoso’s data-based decision process are mostly data-filled press-releases. In quality control we speak processes that “out of control”, where as many parameters as we may monitor and report make little difference or sense. Twirling the dials does not bring the system back in control. Mr. Reinoso may mean well, but little is going on in DC public schools that indicates more of them or many more children are part of healthy and stable educational processes. Only by increasing the number of Pre-K places has DCPS been able to stop its enrollment slide to charter schools, and the growing daily commute of larger and larger number of students looks more like flight from disappointment and fear than movement to securing places in a bright educational future. If it were otherwise, Mr. Reinoso would have written about the sparkling and vital institutions his administration has fostered, not just about consolidation of enrollments, which many old cities have been doing for years.

  18. Jay Rosenblum Says:

    And what evidence do we have that kids in DCPS under the current system are learning any more than the low-level thinking kinds of things that are tested on NAEP and DCCAS? Where’s the evidence of artistic and creative achievement, in addition to teach-to-the-test basics? Where’s the evidence that these kids are becoming qualified citizens? What are the college acceptance and completion rates? Remember Stanford Professor Emeritus Elliot Eisner: “Not everything that matters can be measured; not everything that can be measured matters.”

  19. edlharris Says:

    reform fan
    Here is the NAEP data on DC schools:

    Source: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/states/ (then click on “District of Columbia”)

    DC NAEP MATH SCORES
    4th grade Math
    1996 – 187
    2000 – 192
    2003 – 205
    2005 – 211
    2007 – 214
    2009 – 219

    8th grade Math
    1996 – 233
    2000 – 235
    2003 – 243
    2005 – 245
    2007 – 248
    2009 – 254

    DC NAEP READING SCORES
    4th grade Reading
    1998 – 179
    2002 – 191
    2003 – 188
    2005 – 191
    2007 – 197
    2009 – 202

    8th Grade reading
    1998 – 236
    2002 – 240
    2003 – 239
    2005 – 238
    2007 – 241
    2009 – 242

    Here is a summary of the recently released DC-CAS scores:

    Only eight (8) out of 87 DCPS Elementary Schools made AYP this year. Two (2) of the eight were 2 Special Education Centers…Mamie D. Lee & Sharp Health Center.

    Two (2) out of 34 DCPS middle and high schools made their AYP targets. The two (2) high schools are School Without Walls and Banneker SHS – (Honor High School).

    No DCPS middle school made their DC CAS AYP targets for this school year. There has been a big INCREASE in the number of DCPS schools not meeting their DC CAS (AYP) targets over the past three (3) years.

    The NCLB data (DC CAS) indicates that over 57% of DCPS students are NOT proficient in math and also indicated that 56% of DCPS students are NOT proficient in reading this year.
    http://www.nclb.osse.dc.gov/

  20. Skeptic Says:

    Linda/Retired Teacher-

    Thank you for your response to my post. I’m sorry it has taken me a few days to return your message.

    First of all, I will hold your husband in my thoughts and wish him a full recovery. You are doing God’s work in your care for him. I also honor your full career in service to our children as a teacher. I have a tremendous respect for my elders, especially those who dedicate themselves to the human service field (my mother is a social worker). As you know, I do not always agree with your viewpoints but I respect and honor your experiences and integrity.

    My experiences in education are very different from yours. First of all, I am younger and want to be cautious to recognize that your body of work is much more complete than mine at this point. However, I have benefited from an excellent education through which I have studied education policy under a number of preeminent thinkers. The late Ted Sizer, with whom I worked closely as and undergraduate, is the individual I am most indebted to. After getting a masters degree in Education Policy and Management I have worked for several years in the education reform space as a policy analyst and non-profit executive.

    I have spent the past several years working with many of the people that you think are “trying to discredit public education for the purpose of financial gain.” I understand the impulse to demonize people with whom you disagree, especially when you sense that others’ views do not square with your own life experiences. (Pot/Kettle/Black: I was guilty of Bush-bashing during the unfortunate years of his unfortunate Presidency). But here is the thing: I know Wendy Kopp and Andy Rotherham and Richard Barth and Paul Herdman and many of the other leaders of the “reform” movement that you find threatening to your notion of teacher “professionalism”. And I know that each of them are motivated first and foremost by the same passion that you have for helping disadvantaged children. That we come to different conclusions about policy remedies is fine – and worthy of debate.

    But I do hope that you will reconsider the notion that people with whom you – and others (edlharris) – disagree so fervently are driven by the profit motive. These are good people who have a different theory of change for how to improve education. They are not part of a conspiracy and they are not trying to take money from poor kids. They/we are trying their/our best to make meaningful improvement in a field that – as you would agree, I’m sure – has failed to serve low-income children for generations despite tripling our investment over the past thirty years.

    So, let’s continue the debate about policy issues. But hopefully we can elevate the level of discourse and start back from a position of mutual respect.

  21. dccounselor Says:

    Are these Reinoso’s words or did he steal them from someone else?

  22. TitleIsoccermom Says:

    DCPS parent here. Test scores on the elementary level have DROPPED since Rhee arrived. Yes, that’s right, the 2010 DC-CAS scores are lower than they were in 2008.

    I’m a parent in the system and I’m deeply concerned that Rhee, who can fire teachers based on test scores, has refused to acknowledge that on her watch test scores have dropped.

    The NAEP scores are telling and if you look closely, you can see that Rhee has grown the achievement gap.

    While this is strictly anecdotal evidence, at my child’s school, nothing is better since Rhee arrived. I’m am disappointed in her lack of leadership and in Victor Reinoso, My child deserves better and so does every child in DCPS.

  23. phillipmarlowe Says:

    from efavorite to DCPSteacherandParent,

    You say, “The more supportive and less condemning we are of a team and system that works non-stop to improve the system and the students and teachers it serves every year, the better the results we’ll yield.”

    This has a totalitarian ring to me –as if you’re telling people not to criticize the efforts underway. Is what Ms. Rhee is doing above criticism, unlike anything else in our democratic society? Is the system she’s building so delicate that mere words meant to help could harm it? I thought she was tough. But apparently if she doesn’t get everything exactly her way, she’ll leave. She’s threatened us and some people are frightened by it.

    You say, ” the will to strive for improvement in the form of improved quality of teaching and learning, health services, social supports, and facilities has been unwavering and inspiringly strong.”

    I say, show me. Platitudes are easy. What health services and social supports has Rhee installed in the schools? She’s made it perfectly clear that “teachers are everything” nothing more is needed to improve student achievement. Facilities are not her bailiwick and she cannot take any credit for them. If you live in DC, you know that’s the responsibility of Allen Lew. Are you really from DC, are did you come her to spread more platitudes?

    You say, “Missteps have occurred, but aren’t those to be expected?
    Missteps?? Like saying she’d RIFd teachers who had sex with children? This is no slip of the tongue. Like RIFing teachers because of a budget deficit, then finding the money later to use for something else?
    Like lying
    about test scores?

    Some missteps.

    And then your admonition, “Who amongst you can cast the first stone?” As if only a perfect person could possibly criticize Michelle Rhee.

  24. phillipmarlowe Says:

    On behalf of efavorite:

    Dear Reform Fan— You mention the importance of backing up statements with facts, then fail to do it yourself. Here are facts with verification. Please check them out.

    Until 2009, student achievement scores in DC had been going up slowly and steadily for over 10 years up under 6 different superintendents? You can verify it by going to here
    then clicking on “District of Columbia” and scrolling to the bottom.

    It’s not a secret, but Rhee doesn’t talk about it, except to take personal credit for the gain that happened on her watch. She also doesn’t mention that the achievement gap has widened on her watch. She used to talk a lot about their intention to close the gap, but fell silent about it, when the gap widened. The Post reported on it once.

    Rhee is also pretty quiet about the fact the elementary scores dropped in 2010. She mentioned it once last month, when announcing preliminary local DC-CAS achievement scores (just released to the public yesterday). Nonetheless, Rhee – and the Washington Post – have revived the refrain of improving scores, as if the bad news never happened. If you want verification, you can read about it here:

    Key sentence: “After two years of significant gains across the D.C. school system, elementary students lost ground in reading and math test scores this year, a setback to Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee as she seeks to overhaul the city’s schools.”

    efavorite

  25. phillipmarlowe Says:

    Why, and how, has Michelle Rhee enlarged the Achievement Gap in DC?

  26. dccounselor Says:

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dcschools/

    Bill Turque’s link on this article.

  27. A committed DCPS parent Says:

    Reinoso, guess what? I am a DCPS parent and I too don’t want to “go back” but I also am not falling for this sham of a reform that is based on lies and manipulation of data.

    One of the biggest reasons why enrollment has stabilized is because DCPS now educates three and four year olds in scores of schools across the city. As a result, many parents do not have to pay thousands of dollars a year in daycare expenses for their 3 and 4 years olds– this is the driving incentive not Rhee. This is just one small example of Rhee’s spin to dupe the public on what a great job she is doing.

    Let’s move on to AYP. The DC CAS scores don’t lie and in many schools the scores have dropped steeply this year. How can she explain that away? Oh yeah, she delayed the release of individual school scores until weeks after her press conference that inaccurately potrayed how bad the scores really are.

    Why do I (and others) have to be accused of wanting the status quo when we express legitimate criticisms of Rhee’s supposed reform. I want reform too but reform that is not just a fad or one that thrives on demonizing teachers. No smoke and mirrors reform for me!

    Creating systemwide chaos and instilling the fear of god in your employees is not real reform.

  28. edlharris Says:

    Here’s my post without the weblinks:

    reform fan
    Here is the NAEP data on DC schools:

    Go here and click on ‘District of Columbia’

    DC NAEP MATH SCORES
    4th grade Math
    1996 – 187
    2000 – 192
    2003 – 205
    2005 – 211
    2007 – 214
    2009 – 219

    8th grade Math
    1996 – 233
    2000 – 235
    2003 – 243
    2005 – 245
    2007 – 248
    2009 – 254

    DC NAEP READING SCORES
    4th grade Reading
    1998 – 179
    2002 – 191
    2003 – 188
    2005 – 191
    2007 – 197
    2009 – 202

    8th Grade reading
    1998 – 236
    2002 – 240
    2003 – 239
    2005 – 238
    2007 – 241
    2009 – 242

    Here is a summary of the recently released DC-CAS scores:

    Only eight (8) out of 87 DCPS Elementary Schools made AYP this year. Two (2) of the eight were 2 Special Education Centers…Mamie D. Lee & Sharp Health Center.

    Two (2) out of 34 DCPS middle and high schools made their AYP targets. The two (2) high schools are School Without Walls and Banneker SHS – (Honor High School).

    No DCPS middle school made their DC CAS AYP targets for this school year. There has been a big INCREASE in the number of DCPS schools not meeting their DC CAS (AYP) targets over the past three (3) years.

    The NCLB data (DC CAS) indicates that over 57% of DCPS students are NOT proficient in math and also indicated that 56% of DCPS students are NOT proficient in reading this year.

  29. efavorite Says:

    I’m gratified to see so many responses from people aware of the reality in the DC public schools.

    Frmrtchr – I guess you hadn’t heard about the plagiarism charges against Reinoso. Google and see what you find.

    Thanks to those who posted my earlier comments coped on Turque’s Wapo piece. I hope this link-less post makes it online.

  30. Art Says:

    Linda/RT … I’m curious about your claim that you taught “thousands” of children to read and write. i know you taught for more than 30 years, but were your class sizes really that large?

    Secondly, you talk about freeing teachers to make decisions concerning their students and you seem to think that would make teaching more like other professions = medicine and law, perhaps. Could you say more about just what freedom you think teachers should have and how that is appropriate for public education?

  31. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    I was a reading specialist for many years and saw many children during that time. Perhaps “thousands” was an exaggeration. If a person was a reading specialist for twenty years and a first-grade teacher for another 22 years, how many students would she have had?

    I’d like to see teachers have freedoms similar to what college professors at public colleges and universities have. This means they would control entry into the profession, have a career ladder, make decisions regarding promotion and tenure, choose textbooks and materials, have a seat at the table with citizens to decide on curriculum and make most decisions regarding instruction. A faculty and parent “senate,” or something similar, would make most of the decisions about the governance of a school. The head of the school would be a member of the faculty and serve at the pleasure of the senate or school council.

    It is my belief that once teachers have full professional status, the profession will be better able to attract and retain “the best and the brightest.” This would be of great benefit to students.

    Let’s go for some real change!

  32. DCResident Says:

    Linda,

    You do realize that in normal professional jobs people do not get tenure correct? People serve at the pleasure of their boss. If they aren’t deemed effective they are let go. If they are deemed highly effective they get promoted or go find another company that values them more highly. And truth be told in professional jobs the expectation that their boss will assess them with 100% objectivity isn’t actually expected, and many professionals don’t even have data directly linked to them like test scores. Our performance, just like a teacher’s performance, is difficult to judge. But that doesn’t mean the judgment made by my superiors is somehow invalid or that they are out to get me. It just means that their opinion matters. Any good manager knows that if you have someone who delivers at a high level you keep them around even if personalities don’t mesh perfectly. If the manager in question is the principal and the principal is being held accountable based on the performance of their school it would be ridiculous to believe a principal would systematically remove successful teachers from their school.

    Also the comparison between higher ed and k-12 education isn’t especially valid if only because k-12 is free and guaranteed, higher ed not even close. That changes the dynamic of governance.

  33. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    In almost all professional jobs, individuals are voted in or out by their peers (e.g. medicine, law, higher ed,). Full professionals are rarely relieved of their positions unless they have committed a crime or have a serious breach of conduct or ethics. Incompetence must be proven before the person is stripped of his or her credentials. That’s what I want to see for teachers. The bottom line is that talented people will not be attracted to a “profession” that requires a high degree of education without offering professional autonomy and security in return. I know many people want to deprofessionalize teaching (back to hiring young men and women out of school and employing them for a few years before they get married or find something “better”) but I don’t believe that will be in the best interest of our children.

    Also, in all government jobs (social worker, librarian, firefighter, teacher, police officer) there is strict “due process.” I asked the local librarian recently if her boss or supervisor could just say “You’re fired” and she responded with “No, I’m a civil service worker.” This is basically because these workers accept relatively low salaries in exchange for job security and healthy pensions. This is a matter of law, so if you don’t agree with it, you need to write to your state and federal legislators.

    As an aside, I want to say that what is happening now is because of the recession. During tough economic times, civil servants and other government workers usually keep their jobs, while private sector people suffer job loss. This causes a lot of understandable resentment and hostility but people need to remember that there is a trade-off. Both my sons accepted jobs in the private sector for twice what I made as a teacher, but they also accepted the possibility that they could be fired with little or any due process. It’s interesting to note that my one son just quit a $160,000 private sector job to become the councilman of our city for $30,000. When asked why he did this, he said, “Life is short so a person should do what he wants to do and I want to help run this city.” So he has a low salary but it will be extremely difficult for someone to say “You’re fired!” And there you have it.

  34. Chris Smyr Says:

    Alright. Let’s break the data down.

    READING ELEMENTARY

    2009: 47.75% proficient
    2010: 44.37% proficient (-3.38%)

    MATH ELEMENTARY

    2009: 46.05% proficient
    2010: 43.16% proficient (-2.89%)

    READING SECONDARY

    2009: 45.36% proficient
    2010: 47.15% proficient (+1.79%)

    MATH SECONDARY

    2009: 46.42% proficient
    2010: 49.57% proficient (+3.15%)

    Just the above data set alone should lead one to consider that there has been a share of growth and decline in total student achievement. The trouble starts there.

    1) If you cite one half of this data set and forget to mention the other half, you can alternatively argue that there has only been GROWTH! or DECLINE! in DCPS, and you can go about your merry way. I’ve seen mostly the latter here and elsewhere, but either is a bad argument, as it is quite apparent you are picking and choosing only the data you want to see.

    2) The above data alone means little without context; an accurate look at student proficiency levels over the past few years (both before and during Rhee’s tenure) is necessary to claim that student achievement is increasing/decreasing relative to past years.

    What follows is data and analysis on proficiency levels in DCPS over the past 7 years:

    ELEMENTARY:

    2003: 44.11% proficient in reading, 53.58% in math

    2004: 46.22% proficient in reading, 55.52% in math
    2005: 50.57% proficient in reading, 58.03% in math

    2006: 37.20% proficient in reading, 26.80% in math
    2007: 38.18% proficient in reading, 30.46% in math

    Before Rhee ever came on the scene, proficiency levels were *not* steadily increasing for elementary school students. There was growth from 2003-2005, but a strange decline in 2006. The 2006 year was the first that the DC-CAS was used, and at that time the AYP yearly goals were modified as well as past AYP goals/starting points normalized to the new tests. For example, the normalized AYP for elementary math in 2005 became 25.3% for the new test instead of 48.67% for the old test, and the normalized AYP for elementary reading in 2005 became 34.2% instead of 41.92%. Another example: the 2006 scores would have just barely met even the normalized 2005 AYP. This all may suggest that, while the DC-CAS may be a more difficult test, the test scores in 2006 and 2007 relative to the normalized AYP run slightly lower than compared to past years where students were on average achieving AYP.

    Questions may persist in how this new test may have been the single cause in declining scores, but given this AYP normalization, it suggests that the burden of proof should lie on the side accusing the new test for the significant declines. Why would the DC-CAS be different enough from the SAT-9 to require significantly different teaching styles and strategies for teachers to better prepare their students? Why should it be argued that, even after normalizing the AYP targets, the drop from 58% proficiency in 2005 to 26% in 2006 still suggests a “steady increase” in student achievement?

    Now, how did DCPS do when Rhee was around?

    2008: 45.46% proficient in reading, 40.66% in math
    2009: 47.75% proficient in reading, 46.05% in math

    2010: 44.37% proficient in reading, 43.16% in math

    In 2008 there was a large increase in proficiency levels (+7% in reading and +10% in math). That wasn’t an increase that logically stems from past “steady growth”, as that kind of growth seems rather nonexistent prior to 2008.

    Since 2007, DCPS students have substantially improved in test scores, from 38% and 30% proficiency to 44% and 43% proficiency. The stagnant scores for the last couple years are something that ought to be analyzed properly in looking at how to proceed on the elementary level, but it’s certainly not indicative that students have plummeted in achievement levels over the past few years.

    An analysis of secondary scores provides some similar trends, but also shows larger increases from 2007-2010:

    SECONDARY:

    2003: 29.78% proficient in reading, 36.64% in math

    2004: 31.87% proficient in reading, 39.32% in math
    2005: 31.91% proficient in reading, 35.92% in math

    2006: 32.33% proficient in reading, 26.26% in math
    2007: 34.75% proficient in reading, 32.92% in math

    The argument for steady growth may be more readily made here for secondary reading, and perhaps even for math (if you assume the 35% to 26% drop in 2006 was just due to difficulty/newness of the test, but as before, that assumption needs to be further supported). But what happened in 2008 and on?

    2008: 42.18% proficient in reading, 40.99% in math
    2009: 45.36% proficient in reading, 46.42% in math

    2010: 47.16% proficient in reading, 49.57% in math

    In 2008, there was an even larger growth in both reading and math from the previous year (+8% for both). Since then, scores are continually moving upward, and at a generally higher rate than past years. Overall, there has been substantial improvement since 2007, from 35% and 33% proficiency then, to 47% and 50% proficiency now.

    All of this suggests that the test scores for DCPS are more nuanced than to support one’s conclusion that Rhee is a bane on student achievement, or even that she’s a blessing. Certainly, however, there has been growth in scores since 2007, and more of it than before, and that should also help inform our decision making.

  35. reform fan Says:

    Phillipmarlowe, efavorite, and TitleIsoccermom:

    In order to look at achievement under the Mayor and Chancellor’s reforms, you must start with 2007 – that was the baseline year data from which the current reform started. 2007 was the last year without Rhee at the helm, 2008 was the first year Rhee was at the helm. So 2008 would be her first year of performance, 2009 the second, and 2010 the third.

    In 2007, DCPS elementary students scored 37.5 proficient in reading and 29.3 percent proficient in math on the DC CAS. In 2010, DCPS elementary students scored 44.4 percent proficient in reading and 43.4 percent proficient in math. That is an increase in both subjects. Period.

    I’ve never heard Rhee say that she has been the only one to show gains under her leadership. What I have heard, and what the US Department of Education, the Council of Great City Schools, and others have said is that the gains DCPS is seeing right now are larger and happening at a faster pace than peers around the country. On the achievement gap, that’s definitely something that concerns me as well, but I recognize it’s a harder piece to crack, particularly when you want to eliminate it without lowering or even keeping static the scores of white and wealthy students. It’s also a much more complicated issue than just comparing scores within a single jurisdiction, as the Education Trust has pointed out – for instance, Ed Trust recommends that you look also at comparisons between a subgroup in one jurisdiction and their counterparts in another. Under that analysis, again, DCPS is doing what they should be doing by leading the pack. At any rate, the Mayor’s reform plan in general has been pretty clear about the commitment to eliminate the achievement gap, as evidenced in the District’s Race to the Top application. How to do it? Do you have a better idea than raising student achievement at the rapid pace that DC is doing it now? Again, your post seems to be reflective of your opinions on the reform, which you’re of course welcome to have, rather than facts about the reform, which are overwhelmingly positive.

    Having trouble adding these hyperlinks:
    http://www.nclb.osse.dc.gov/aypreports.asp?prev=y
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/20/AR2010052002147.html
    http://www.cgcs.org/pressrelease/DCBriefing_Statement.pdf
    http://www.edtrust.org/dc/publication/gauging-the-gaps-a-deeper-look-at-student-achievement
    http://osse.dc.gov/seo/frames.asp?doc=/seo/lib/seo/cos/race_to_the_top/dc_rttt_section_vi_application.pdf

  36. efavorite Says:

    Chris – thanks for crunching the numbers. Please keep in mind that there are two distinct measures of student achievement –DC-CAS – the locally devised test taken once a year by DC public school students only – and NAEP – the national test taken once every two years by students nationally. It’s considered to be much more dependable than any of the state tests. In NAEP, the scores *have* risen steadily (but slowly) as outlined above in edlharris’s post.

    In DC-CAS, the scores are not as steady, and as you noted, they declined a lot in 2006 after the change in tests. Yes, conventional wisdom is that the decline and subsequent increase is related to getting accustomed to the new test. There is no way of knowing this for sure, I suppose, but apparently it has happened in other districts when the test changed. At any rate, you can see that the NAEP scores did not fluctuate dramatically during this time, continuing their slow climb. No one really knows what caused that either, but it’s probably not related to the turnover in superintendents during the last decade. Oddly, the biggest rise in scores was during a time of the greatest upheaval at the top. DCPS had unprecedented gains during the two year period between September 2003 and September 2005 (see chart above) when DCPS had four superintendents – including two actings. Paul Vance (July 2000 to Dec. 2003), Elfreda Massie (acting, Jan-April 2004), Robert Rice (acting, April-Sept. 2004), Clifford Janey (Sept. 2004 to June 2007)

    No one would make the argument that this rapid change caused the increase, so why would anyone make the argument that Rhee’s presence would be the reason for an increase, without studying the underlying causes?

    You mention what happened after Rhee “came on the scene” as if her very appearance would cause a change in the scores. Why would that be? What would matter would be connecting something she’d done with the scores. In her first year, she reorganized central office and closed schools. She kept the same curriculum as before and has not changed it since. She did not make major changes in school personnel – hiring/firing principals – until the summer of 2008, so it’s hard to credit her with any score increase in the 2007-2008 school year. Then, in the summer of 2009, she started her first round of major teacher firing, then hired a lot of first-time teachers and had a RIF of more teachers in the fall. She also installed her new teacher evaluation system. So, I would say it’s only in ‘09 and ’10 that score changes could be credited at least in part to Rhee’s changes, and frankly, she isn’t looking so good. After all the number crunching you did, it’s not evident that Rhee is a bane or blessing on student achievement. Why would one person be either?

    Answer — Because she set herself up to be. Because she’s caused a tremendous upheaval in the schools with the promise that scores would rise to the point that DCPS would be the highest performing district in the nation, because of the effective teachers she would bring in to replace the obviously ineffective teachers already here for much to long. The achievement gap would close and no longer would the quality of a children’s’ education be based on their zip code. That was the promise. She is not on the road to delivering it. Not even her most ardent supporters, if they looked at the numbers, would accept it. The problems in the schools are much more complex than firing and hiring teachers, but that’s all she knows, so that’s all we are getting.

  37. phillipmarlowe Says:

    Comparing DC-CAS (internal) with SAT9(external) is like comparing apples and oranges.
    It even worse than the change in MAryland from MSPAP to MSA.

  38. DCResident Says:

    The impressive thing about the NAEP gains were that they were greater for DC students than any other urban district. It isn’t the raw numbers increase it is the relative increase as compared to other similar districts. As a DC resident it felt good to be making more progress than everyone else. I felt pride for our city. Only in DC do we attack people for doing better than their counterparts in other cities. We fail as a city because we want to fail. It is disheartening but it is home.

    Things aren’t perfect and the way the schools are run certainly isn’t perfect. But having lived here as long as I’ve lived I can tell you all that the schools were a complete and utter embarrassment. Still are actually, just less of one. We can argue all we want about Michelle Rhee destroying the schools. Well I have news. The schools were destroyed already. I’m tired of people longing for the old days because the old days were crap, far crappier than today.

    I don’t like Fenty. I think he is arrogant, detached and not altogether smart. But the people he’s chosen to run the city have made the city better than it has been. And for that I will vote for him. Because he made things better whether I like him or not.

    I don’t normally post on these because it makes me sad. It makes me feel defeated. Not because I have differing opinions but because reason doesn’t rule, doesn’t matter. We just tear things down.

  39. efavorite Says:

    DCresident — I don’t feel we’ve been tearing things down here. Certainly, that can happen on blogs, but here I’ve gained and shared information. I think there have been many reasonable and factually verified statements that have been very helpful.

    Regarding your comments on NAEP – please know that there is more than one NAEP measure. Originally, NAEP just measured states as a whole. DC, because of its unique status, was included as a state. Then, recently they started measuring some urban districts separately – using the same test, but pulling out the numbers to provide information on how those troubled districts were doing. Thus, DC is measured as both a state and a district.

    My understanding is that districts decide to participate as time goes on, so the number of districts is increasing. When Detroit was recently added, DC rose out of last place. Nice, but not exactly an achievement for DC. I think it was deceptive of Reinoso to include it as an example of DC gains under Rhee without clarification. It’s this kind of ongoing deception and misuse of statistics that will keep me from voting for Fenty and have me cast my vote for Vince Gray, because I know he too wants to continue school reform, but is committed to doing it in an honest and sincere way.

  40. efavorite Says:

    I see the links I embedded in my last two posts are not showing up – at least on my screen. I’ll try a different tactic here.

    From the post yesterday: “when DCPS had four superintendents”
    Google

    From today’s earlier post: “When Detroit was recently added”
    Google

    and “He too wants to continue school reform”
    Google “Vince Gray for Mayor” and go to his education plan.

  41. efavorite Says:

    Sorry, apparently certain symbols make everything within them disappear. Trying again.

    From the post yesterday: “when DCPS had four superintendents”
    Google “Rhee’s staying power” Bill Turque, Washington Post July 20 2010

    From today’s earlier post: “When Detroit was recently added”
    Google Jay Mathews “We’re tied for no. 14! We’re tied for no. 14!” December 8 2009 Washington Post

    and “He too wants to continue school reform”
    Google “Vince Gray for Mayor” and go to his education plan.

  42. DCResident Says:

    efavorite – I’m not sure what misuse of statistics you are referring to with NAEP. Yes, DC moved out of last place in absolute terms thanks to Detroit (which I think is an achievement for DC and I think they were higher than second to last in one of the subjects). But that has nothing to do with the size of the gains. I believe the impressive part is that DC made gains when nobody else did (if compared to states) and made bigger gains then anyone else did (if compared to other urban districts).

    Your statement that this is a misuse of statistics, acting as if that statement is a fact, is what I refer to as tearing things down. You undermine success by claiming deception. This is either purposely deceptive on your part or you are unintentionally leaping to conclusions.

  43. efavorite Says:

    DCResident
    The misuse of statistics is claiming that the rise shown in the NAEP urban scores in achievement is substantial or important without putting it in the context of the NAEP state scores, and without mentioning that DC is already way behind most states and cities, so that DC’s improvement doesn’t mean that other areas are under-performing in comparison.

    Of course, it’s nice and DC should be going up — it’s just not as impressive as it’s made out to be. It’s misleading, making it sound like DC is growing by leaps and bounds (since Michelle Rhee arrived!) and it simply is not.

    This is not tearing down – This is being honest and realistic.

    Did you check any of my examples above? Rhee and company have been playing loose with statistics since they arrived.

    I agree, DCPS has been an embarrassment. I was glad at first when Rhee arrived and quite taken by her tough talk and obvious intelligence. Then I started listening most closely and doing the math. I saw how poorly she treated people and watched some of the dumb mistakes she made. She’s a charlatan and will embarrass us even more before she finally leaves.

  44. efavorite Says:

    Something else, dcresident — I haven’t heard of anyone who is “longing for the old days,” though I do hear a lot of people saying that other people have such a longing.

    Please consider that having grave concerns about the way school reform is being conducted right now in DC does not equate with longing for the old days.

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