School Reform In the Wrong Hands

There's more bad news coming out of the DC Public Schools this week.  Already under investigation for a major cheating scandal beginning in 2008, the DC Comprehensive Assessment System reported a double-digit plunge in math and reading scores for the 2011 school year.  Some of the same schools that were flagged for a high number of erasures on standardized tests from 2008-2010 showed the sharpest decreases.

At Noyes Education Campus in Northeast Washington, the pass rate in reading dropped more than 25 percentage points, to 32 percent, and the pass rate in math dropped more than 20 points, to 28 percent.

Noyes was one of three schools for which some 2010 scores were invalidated in May after an investigation found evidence or strong suspicion of cheating.

In July DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson fired 206 teachers who received poor ratings based on the controversial evaluation tool IMPACT which she helped develop with Michelle Rhee.  Henderson could not be reached for comment regarding the dismal test scores.

Like her fellow Teach for America (TFA) alumna Michelle Rhee, Henderson's resume includes top positions in non-profit organizations.  She was executive director of Teach for America DC in 1997 and vice president for Strategic Partnership in Rhee's The New Teacher Project in 2000 where she sought to improve teacher hiring for school districts "from a process, policy and capacity-building perspective."

According to Rhee and Henderson, the primary factor in student achievement is teacher quality.  Their initiatives have focused on getting rid of "bad" teachers to improve scores and they turned over about half the teacher corps since 2008 through retirement incentives, RIFs, firings, and attrition.  The two women replaced many of the old guard with first-year TFA corps members who hail from top colleges without classroom experience or certification. 

While Henderson has so far been silent on the plummeting test scores, Michelle Rhee, who presided over DCPS when the possibly related alleged cheating scandal took place, has stayed on message visiting school districts across the nation still preaching the necessity of tying teacher performance to high test scores.  Even while cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, and DC are dealing with the tragic fallout of the Race to the Top incentive, the "Elmer Gantry" of education reform continues her blitz across America into states like Tennessee.

In Nashville Rhee met with former TFA executive and ex-husband Kevin Huffman, Tennessee's new education commissioner.  Unsuspecting Tennesseans might not know that in 2008 when Huffman was vice president of Public Affairs for Teach for America, the organization received a failing grade from the Department of Education inspector general's office.

A third of TFA's $75-million budget came from local, state, and federal government coffers.  When the DOE conducted an audit TFA "failed to account for half the money."  The audit showed that "time and time again...there were no basic records or receipts, none for a $123,878 training expense, none for a $343,428 bill."  When asked by a CBS investigative reporter about the financial discrepancies TFA Vice President Huffman stated, "We're confident, we're confident that we spent the money on the training of new teachers."

In a recent interview, ex-wife Rhee praised the Tennessee General Assembly for enacting "tenure reform, charter school expansion and a new way of negotiating with teachers that dramatically reduces the power of the big teachers unions."  Now with nationwide statistical evidence illuminating the downside to reforms touted by Henderson, Rhee, and other TFA change agents, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives need to do their homework.

In her address at the April 2011 TFA convention in DC Kaya Henderson spoke to over 10,000 TFA personnel.  The video is worth watching.  Fired up, she comes on stage shouting, "This is my city!" and "Where you at DC?"  The Georgetown University alumna revs up the crowd telling them "this is the revolution that we all dreamed about."  The acting chancellor then exclaims that DC schools are filled with TFA-ers from top to bottom and "20 years from now...none of us is gonna be surprised when the woman sitting in the White House is a TFA alumna."  Is this kind of rhetoric really about the children?

Henderson and Rhee may never have to answer that question.  Rhee, the "rock star of education," seems to have made a clean getaway in 2010 when she resigned from her position as DC chancellor.  Co-opting the American dream of school reform through measures like school vouchers and charter schools, Rhee has successfully talked the talk, even reversing her position on vouchers which almost derailed her in 2008.  If Henderson does not survive the impending scandal, chances are she will join her longtime partner.  But the wreckage they will have left behind in DC and other cities which followed the same reforms should be at the very least cause for concern.

In the TFA convention speech Henderson promised to show the world "what all our children can do when they have an excellent education."  She seems to have failed miserably in that endeavor lending credence to the assumption that the "revolution" may not ultimately benefit the children.

In addition to the alleged cheating scandals in elementary schools, the 2011 reading and math scores for secondary schools in DC showed a stark drop from 2010.  Out of the 10 high schools attended by the majority of DC students only 2 showed slightly increasing scores.  Figures from the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Report show the change from 2010 to 2011 scores for individual DC secondary schools.

Anacostia - Reading: 16.07 /13.26 Math: 18.75 / 9.22

Ballou - Reading: 30.22 / 20.90 Math: 25.82 / 19.26

Cardozo - Reading: 20.45 / 27.64 Math: 23.86 / 25.20

Coolidge - Reading: 56.57 / 42.06 Math: 48.48 / 31.75

Dunbar - Reading: 29.46 / 26.79 Math: 23.08 / 18.07

Eastern - Reading: 20.98 / 7.14 Math: 8.39 / 3.57

Roosevelt - Reading: 31.73 / 23.33 Math: 43.69 / 24.17

Spingarn - Reading: 17.24 / 16.67 Math: 12.64 / 10.42

Woodson - Reading: 25.00 / 13.38 Math: 17.89 / 13.38

Wilson - Reading: 64.48 / 65.71 Math: 67.44 / 52.25

Putting students first should not be just a slogan.  DCPS's abysmal test scores and pending cheating scandal sound the warning bells that something has gone terribly wrong in the reform movement.  In Philadelphia, where 38 schools are currently being investigated for suspicious test results, an unidentified teacher explained why she helped her students cheat.

"I wanted them to succeed, because I believe their continued failure on these terrible tests crushes their spirit...They'd have a hard time, and I'd break it down for them," she said she did it in response to receiving intense pressure from administrators to raise scores at her former school.

In a city made up of 43.2 percent Blacks and with the possibility of schools being shut down and teachers losing their jobs, she says cheating was "widespread" and "constant" amongst almost all of her students who were "poor and African-American."

The non-profit education reformers are continuing to peddle their wares, from school district to school district.  Some like Rhee's fellow agent of change former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein have left the public arena after squandering tens of millions of dollars on merit-pay programs that didn't work.

But most like Henderson still rule over large city school systems where "human capital" like the Philadelphia teacher tries "to break it down" for her poor students while reformers take to the road raking in lots of money for little achievement.

Read more M. Catharine Evans at Potter Williams Report.

There's more bad news coming out of the DC Public Schools this week.  Already under investigation for a major cheating scandal beginning in 2008, the DC Comprehensive Assessment System reported a double-digit plunge in math and reading scores for the 2011 school year.  Some of the same schools that were flagged for a high number of erasures on standardized tests from 2008-2010 showed the sharpest decreases.

At Noyes Education Campus in Northeast Washington, the pass rate in reading dropped more than 25 percentage points, to 32 percent, and the pass rate in math dropped more than 20 points, to 28 percent.

Noyes was one of three schools for which some 2010 scores were invalidated in May after an investigation found evidence or strong suspicion of cheating.

In July DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson fired 206 teachers who received poor ratings based on the controversial evaluation tool IMPACT which she helped develop with Michelle Rhee.  Henderson could not be reached for comment regarding the dismal test scores.

Like her fellow Teach for America (TFA) alumna Michelle Rhee, Henderson's resume includes top positions in non-profit organizations.  She was executive director of Teach for America DC in 1997 and vice president for Strategic Partnership in Rhee's The New Teacher Project in 2000 where she sought to improve teacher hiring for school districts "from a process, policy and capacity-building perspective."

According to Rhee and Henderson, the primary factor in student achievement is teacher quality.  Their initiatives have focused on getting rid of "bad" teachers to improve scores and they turned over about half the teacher corps since 2008 through retirement incentives, RIFs, firings, and attrition.  The two women replaced many of the old guard with first-year TFA corps members who hail from top colleges without classroom experience or certification. 

While Henderson has so far been silent on the plummeting test scores, Michelle Rhee, who presided over DCPS when the possibly related alleged cheating scandal took place, has stayed on message visiting school districts across the nation still preaching the necessity of tying teacher performance to high test scores.  Even while cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, and DC are dealing with the tragic fallout of the Race to the Top incentive, the "Elmer Gantry" of education reform continues her blitz across America into states like Tennessee.

In Nashville Rhee met with former TFA executive and ex-husband Kevin Huffman, Tennessee's new education commissioner.  Unsuspecting Tennesseans might not know that in 2008 when Huffman was vice president of Public Affairs for Teach for America, the organization received a failing grade from the Department of Education inspector general's office.

A third of TFA's $75-million budget came from local, state, and federal government coffers.  When the DOE conducted an audit TFA "failed to account for half the money."  The audit showed that "time and time again...there were no basic records or receipts, none for a $123,878 training expense, none for a $343,428 bill."  When asked by a CBS investigative reporter about the financial discrepancies TFA Vice President Huffman stated, "We're confident, we're confident that we spent the money on the training of new teachers."

In a recent interview, ex-wife Rhee praised the Tennessee General Assembly for enacting "tenure reform, charter school expansion and a new way of negotiating with teachers that dramatically reduces the power of the big teachers unions."  Now with nationwide statistical evidence illuminating the downside to reforms touted by Henderson, Rhee, and other TFA change agents, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives need to do their homework.

In her address at the April 2011 TFA convention in DC Kaya Henderson spoke to over 10,000 TFA personnel.  The video is worth watching.  Fired up, she comes on stage shouting, "This is my city!" and "Where you at DC?"  The Georgetown University alumna revs up the crowd telling them "this is the revolution that we all dreamed about."  The acting chancellor then exclaims that DC schools are filled with TFA-ers from top to bottom and "20 years from now...none of us is gonna be surprised when the woman sitting in the White House is a TFA alumna."  Is this kind of rhetoric really about the children?

Henderson and Rhee may never have to answer that question.  Rhee, the "rock star of education," seems to have made a clean getaway in 2010 when she resigned from her position as DC chancellor.  Co-opting the American dream of school reform through measures like school vouchers and charter schools, Rhee has successfully talked the talk, even reversing her position on vouchers which almost derailed her in 2008.  If Henderson does not survive the impending scandal, chances are she will join her longtime partner.  But the wreckage they will have left behind in DC and other cities which followed the same reforms should be at the very least cause for concern.

In the TFA convention speech Henderson promised to show the world "what all our children can do when they have an excellent education."  She seems to have failed miserably in that endeavor lending credence to the assumption that the "revolution" may not ultimately benefit the children.

In addition to the alleged cheating scandals in elementary schools, the 2011 reading and math scores for secondary schools in DC showed a stark drop from 2010.  Out of the 10 high schools attended by the majority of DC students only 2 showed slightly increasing scores.  Figures from the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Report show the change from 2010 to 2011 scores for individual DC secondary schools.

Anacostia - Reading: 16.07 /13.26 Math: 18.75 / 9.22

Ballou - Reading: 30.22 / 20.90 Math: 25.82 / 19.26

Cardozo - Reading: 20.45 / 27.64 Math: 23.86 / 25.20

Coolidge - Reading: 56.57 / 42.06 Math: 48.48 / 31.75

Dunbar - Reading: 29.46 / 26.79 Math: 23.08 / 18.07

Eastern - Reading: 20.98 / 7.14 Math: 8.39 / 3.57

Roosevelt - Reading: 31.73 / 23.33 Math: 43.69 / 24.17

Spingarn - Reading: 17.24 / 16.67 Math: 12.64 / 10.42

Woodson - Reading: 25.00 / 13.38 Math: 17.89 / 13.38

Wilson - Reading: 64.48 / 65.71 Math: 67.44 / 52.25

Putting students first should not be just a slogan.  DCPS's abysmal test scores and pending cheating scandal sound the warning bells that something has gone terribly wrong in the reform movement.  In Philadelphia, where 38 schools are currently being investigated for suspicious test results, an unidentified teacher explained why she helped her students cheat.

"I wanted them to succeed, because I believe their continued failure on these terrible tests crushes their spirit...They'd have a hard time, and I'd break it down for them," she said she did it in response to receiving intense pressure from administrators to raise scores at her former school.

In a city made up of 43.2 percent Blacks and with the possibility of schools being shut down and teachers losing their jobs, she says cheating was "widespread" and "constant" amongst almost all of her students who were "poor and African-American."

The non-profit education reformers are continuing to peddle their wares, from school district to school district.  Some like Rhee's fellow agent of change former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein have left the public arena after squandering tens of millions of dollars on merit-pay programs that didn't work.

But most like Henderson still rule over large city school systems where "human capital" like the Philadelphia teacher tries "to break it down" for her poor students while reformers take to the road raking in lots of money for little achievement.

Read more M. Catharine Evans at Potter Williams Report.