The Sound and the Fury

I decided to read through the Race to the Top Technical Review Form for the District’s application. The reviewer comments are quite telling in not only why DCPS lost out to Delaware et al, but is also insightful in terms of the language used to describe the District’s (read Michelle Rhee’s) efforts at reform.  Here are the quotes. If you would like a fuller reading just go to this site which I got from the DC Schools Insider: States Applications, Scores and Comments

…the absence of a data base infrastructure could be problematic… The signatures of LEA leaders are present, except for the teacher union of DCPS. This is problematic since teacher development is a key element in the overall plan, and the union could be a positive partner.

In regards to test scores:

…the specific data present show mixed results and continuing and sizable achievement gaps.  There is little evidence of significant achievement gap reduction with regard to subgroups. In particular, the graduation rates for the state (sic) are ambiguously presented for only a short period of time.  Moreover, it is not clear there are significant gap reductions for subgroups in the area of graduation and college going (sic).

On Data Systems to Support Instruction (including implementing a statewide longitudinal data system):

It is important to note that developing SLED is a substantive challenge with the timelines provided since the District presently has no such system. Access to the data will be made available to researchers, but no particular efforts to engage researchers proactively are described.

On section D. Great Teachers and Leaders:

Alternative pathways for teachers and leaders are authorized by law. Three are presently approved with some 300 teacher candidates in these programs–one principal program is operating with 14 candidates. These alternatives exist and there are plans to augment capacity, but at the moment they are not leading to the production of many of the District’s educators. With regards to the assessment of teacher shortages/needs, the proposal asserts that that this is not a substantial issue for district schools and those new alternative programs for teachers and leadership will address these shortages.  No evidence to support these assertions is provided.

On evaluating teacher performance (IMPACT):

Overall, this plan may be too ambitious with regard to implementation and impact within the timeframe designated with the application presently lacking descriptions of critical elements that make up the plan.

from another reviewer on the same subject:

The District plan calls for using a “smart targeting” to move resources and human capital to where it is needed most. An example of this effort sends “better” teacher candidates to schools that need such teachers is described, but no overall description of how “smart targeting”  would work to reach its goals is specified.  Targeted grants to participating LEAs will be provided to assist in hard to staff areas and efforts to provide expanded professional development to targeted schools will attempt to address the “high need” issues.  However, no details are provided on how this will be done in a sufficiently targeted manner than that described in the overall plan for professional development. Overall, this plan has important components included but lacks specificity.

On the evaluation of teacher effectiveness:

… Moreover, teacher preparation programs face revocation consequences if 25% of its candidates are identified as “ineffective” in their second year of service. These high stake consequences require a very solid student data system and linkages to teachers and preparation programs, an ambitious and technically difficult goal to achieve. A New Education Leadership Program leading to a district credential will be created and implemented to address issues of leadership preparation specific to the District, but no evidence is provided that this is an efficient way to address the preparation of leaders for the District. There is no indication in the plan related to assisting programs that may be identified as “ineffective”.

From another reviewer on the same area:

The District plans to utilize data from all these efforts to address continuous improvement however no specifics are provided with regard to these analyses. Therefore, it remains unclear how all this (sic) elements of evaluation will be directly linked for purposes of continuous improvement.

Isn’t it interesting that the criticism that many teachers had with IMPACT, i.e. that it is not a fully realized plan with all the parts in place, is the exact same criticism that the reviewers for the District’s application had? In fact, when you go through these comments certain words keep popping out at you. Words like unclear and no specifics and no evidence provided and no indication and no details provided and lacking descriptions of critical elements.  This is the problem when you go in for vague terms such as “excellence” and “dynamic” and pepper your language with references to teachers needing to be “rock stars”.  This is also what happens when you let inexperienced people play in the big people’s area – ultimately their lack of depth goes on public display.

I know that some will point out the fact that we were also criticized for a lack of union involvement. I would say that in order for there to be union involvement you have to have a union and under George Parker’s ineffective leadership our union has practically dissolved. Let’s see what happens when we actually get someone who leads in charge of our union.  I would also say that this particular criticism of the reviewers was only one among many and all the other criticisms can firmly be placed at the feet of Rhee and Company.

Big on words and ideas, short on planning and implementation – that is the hallmark of Michelle Rhee’s tenure here at DCPS. Many of us have been saying this for the last couple of years. Whenever I have talked with anyone who worked downtown when Rhee was coming out with her 5 year plan (Lenin had a 5 year plan, too, btw) they would say the same thing in regards to what was there: a whole lot of smoke and mirrors with not much substance. The criticism in the RTTT review does point out the high ambitions the District has and the noble goals we are aiming for but they also consistently point out the lack of planning as well as the fact that the District makes claims and does not back up those claims.

Let’s look at the claims. On test scores it is finally documented that Rhee’s (and Fenty’s) claims about DCPS graduation rates were “ambiguously presented for short periods of time” – in other words, to borrow my favorite phrase from that great HBO series The Wire, “The Stats were juked.”  Our achievement gap has widened – something many of us have been saying since the NAEP scores came out.  Smoke and mirrors.

I have a problem with big ideas that are big on ideas and short on ways to make those ideas reality. here is a letter that was in the post March 25 that highlights some of the problems that occurred in Texas under Rod Paige (former Secretary of Education under George W. Bush and the main mover of NCLB):

To follow on an earlier post O googled Rod Paige and found a CBS 60 seconds II report on Houston drop-out rates which fell stunningly while he was superintendent. The problem being that all the data was fudged, if a student left school it was attributed to another cause or reason rather than dropping-out. This was during Rod Paige’s tenure and his implamentation of what became the blueprint for NCLB, including performance based yearly contracts for principals.

I mention the latter because it may be that principals fudged the stats themselves to make thier schools look better without ptessure from the top, but if that is so it is a decision which every principle made without a single exception. Reminds one of the failures of China’s Great Leap Forward in the late 50’s when local functionaries where under pressure to show agricultural progress following collectivisation and so they reported increased harvest when production was actually falling to protect thier positions within the party. These increased harvest reports led to increasing transfers of foodstuffs from rural to urban areas as the reports warranted such while after a few years the rural areas were actually starving. If a high ranking official came to your area you put an a false show of prosperity for them.

Houston math scores also rose due to a tactic whereby students who did poorly in 9th grade algebra, or never took algebra were held back a year or more, regardless of thier other performance, and then later promoted directly to the 11th grade and thereby passed over 10th grade and never took the performance measuring tests. Some of these students then never graduated because they would then fall short of graduation requirements, and unofficially dropped out.

For this Rod Paige was appointed Secratary of Education by GW Bush. From Paige’s Houston policy, and the Texas-based testing services employed to administer it, which happened to be operated by GOP supporters and operatives, was born NCLB. The testing services reaped a huge financial windfall as they were in a position to take advantage of the situation (Maybe like Haliburton had been in position in Iraq to take advantage of post-invasion no-bid contracts due to its prior and ongoing work there).
NCLB had less to do with student achievement and more to do with rewarding GOP supporters in the education sector. Who says that nepotism and the spoils system is dead.

This is what is taking place in the District right now. This very same thing. The lack of transparency guarantees it.

7 thoughts on “The Sound and the Fury

  1. Thanks. This is another example of how the stats are juked. A 5 point jump in NAEP scores but only because 68% of the students who had IEPs were excluded. Smoke and mirrors. Thanks for the link.

  2. You’re welcome. Hope you’re enjoying your spring break.

    What’s the special ed population of DCPS? Oakland’s is 10%.

    BTW, my biggest fear is that Rhee will depart from DC, move in w/KJ, and end up in Sacramento ruling the state.

  3. The break has been great – much needed in a very tense year (thanks to you-know-who). Our SPED population is 20%, or was for 200-2009. According to the DCPS website statistics for this year are “not available”. Big surprise. Downfall has to happen at some point. The question is when?

  4. Nice post. It’s fun to see authorities calling DCPS out on stuff the menial teachers have been complaining about forever.

    I’m glad I watched The Wire before I came to DC – it’s given me a lense through which to better understand the reality of politics and education.

  5. I hope to be there. Despite Randi Weingarten’s reasoning, I think that all teachers need to be there. Now is the time to show unity as much as possible.

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