Thursday, March 31, 2011

Diane Ravitch on "An Age of Hyppcrisy"- From Education Week

An Age of Hypocrisy
By Diane Ravitch on March 22, 2011 9:53 AM | 8 Comments | 2 Recommendations
Dear Deborah,
In an earlier post, I questioned whether we live in an age of national insanity. I did so because it seems insane to think that we can improve our nation's schools by attacking teachers and the education profession and by turning public funds over to the private sector. After I reflected a bit more, I began to wonder if we actually live in an age of national stupidity, because our policymakers are pursuing policies that have no evidence to support them; this is what they think of as "innovation." When a policy fails again and again (like merit pay) and you push it through anyway, that's not "innovation," it's willful ignorance and stupidity.
In the wake of the events of the past few weeks, I have concluded that we also live in an age of hypocrisy. We see governors and legislatures claiming the mantle of "reform" as they slash school funding, increase class size, attack teachers' benefits, and hack away at the programs and services available to children. In Detroit, the Broad-trained emergency financial manager, Robert Bobb, plans to close half the public schools and increase class sizes to 60, to address the deficit. He seems eager to convert as many public schools as possible into charter schools. Michael Winerip of The New York Times visited Detroit and reported that the charter schools in that city get no better results than the regular public schools. Corporate reformers are convinced that charter schools will somehow be cheaper, but I have observed that over time, charter operators complain loudly that they are not getting the same funding as the regular public schools. So, over time, they get no better results and bring about no savings. What will we gain by eviscerating the public sector?
In Florida, the "reform" legislation eliminates teacher tenure and bases 50 percent of teachers' evaluations on standardized test scores. The legislation also calls for merit pay for test-score gains and requires districts to develop tests in every subject that is taught, including art, band, choir, physical education, and on and on. Critics warned that the legislation was a multi-billion-dollar unfunded mandate, because the legislature is not providing funding for merit pay or for test development. I don't know whether this legislation is stupid or insane; I expect it is both. It certainly will not improve the quality of teaching and learning in Florida. I note that Michelle Rhee advised Gov. Rick Scott on his "reform" agenda. Shame on her.
In South Carolina, the legislature plans to cut $12 million from funding for physical education and guidance counselors, but managed to find $25 million to fund new charter schools. So, all the children in the state will be less fit so a handful of children can attend privately managed charters. Makes sense, no? Oh, yes, the legislature also found $10 million to pay for a golf tournament. I guess the money isn't all gone, but priorities have changed.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker pushed through his legislation to curtail collective-bargaining rights for public-sector unions, as part of his "education reform" agenda. The same legislation permits the governor to sell public utilities without competitive bidding. Being a true corporate reformer, Gov. Walker wants to lift the income cap on vouchers, so that everyone can attend non-public schools at public expense. He wants more charter schools. And he wants to cut the budget for public education by $900 million.
While right-wing governors impose cuts on the public schools and lay off thousands of teachers, the corporate reformers are strangely silent, perhaps because the dramatic reductions in education budgets are accompanied by cuts to corporate/business taxes. When states and cities face deficits, as they do, why is it okay to impose sacrifices on public schools, but not impose taxes on the richest members of our society? Forbes recently posted a list of the richest people in the world and noted that there are now more than 400 Americans who are billionaires. Bully for them, but why shouldn't they pay more in taxes? They can certainly afford it. Will Mark Zuckerberg move to a tax haven if he is asked to pay more in taxes? I don't think so.
The governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, is lowering taxes on businesses while increasing taxes on poor and working-class people. Snyder plans to cut business taxes by 86 percent, which will cost the state nearly $2 billion in revenues. He will make up the difference by raising personal income taxes and hiking the rates on the lowest earners (but not the richest!). If a town or school district faces a deficit because of the state's reckless tax cuts for business, then the governor will have the power to remove the elected government and replace it with an emergency financial manager, empowered to break any and all contracts and rule by decree. As E.D. Kain wrote in Forbes online, why are there no protests from the Tea Party or Fox News about these big-government policies in Lansing that suspend democracy? There is a word for this kind of anti-democratic collaboration between business and government, but we haven't used it much since the 1940s: fascism.
Where are our nation's priorities? If you missed it, I hope you will read Paul Krugman's excellent column on "The Forgotten Millions" in The New York Times.
Some of the corporate reformers say that school budgets must be cut because "the money is all gone," or "we are broke." E.J. Dionne answered that claim in The Washington Post. Certainly, if we refuse to tax the people who have the most money, then we are broke.
It is simply astonishing that the richest nation in the world can't or won't provide a good education to all its children.
An age of insanity? No, these are rational people. An age of stupidity? No, these are people who could probably do quite well on an IQ test. An age of hypocrisy? Yes. An age of meanness? Yes. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Parents say charter expansion could push P369's therapy kids into hallways, stairwells

BY Ben Chapman <>  

Wednesday, March 30th 2011, 4:00 AM

 Parents are charging that an expansion of the Community Roots charter school 
housed in PS 67 in Fort Greene would push the P369's therapy programs into 
hallways and stairwells.<> 

Parents are charging that an expansion of the Community Roots charter school 
housed in PS 67 in Fort Greene would push the P369's therapy programs into 
hallways and stairwells. 

A Fort Greene public school's therapy programs for disabled kids could be 
destroyed if the city expands a charter school, parents and teachers are 

Department of Education <>  
plans call for Community Roots Charter School <>  
to take up more rooms in Public School <>  
67 on St. Edwards St. in the next school year.

The expansion could displace therapy rooms used by students at P369 - a school 
for students with learning disabilities that also occupies space inside PS 67. 
Teachers and parents say the impact on students would be severe.

"It's a disaster - our kids are going to suffer," said a teacher at P369 who 
wouldn't give her name because she fears retribution for speaking out against 
her bosses.

The city's plans call for Community Roots to take over four additional 
classrooms in PS67 as it expands from a K-5 school with 300 students to a 
450-student K-8 school starting next year.

Two of the classrooms will come from P369; they are currently used for speech 
therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy.

Without those rooms, kids will be forced to have therapy in the hallways and the 
stairwell, teachers said.

"It's heartbreaking, my daughter needs a private space for therapy," said 
Yolanda Roque-Genus <> , 
51, an administrative assistant from Fort Greene <>  
whose daughter Nyla, 5, has autism and and receives speech therapy at P369.

Yesterday, P369 teachers and parents rallied at the building as Community Roots 
students arrived from school, prompting some Community Roots parents to complain 
that the protestors disturbed the students.

"My son has gotten an excellent education there," said Yung-Mi Lee 
<> , 43, a lawyer from Clinton Hill 
<>  whose son Nathan, 
11, is a fifth-grader at Community Roots.

"It's a terrific school, and they should expand it," said Lee.

DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld <>  
said the city's plan will leave enough room for all the schools located in the 

"PS 67 and [P369] are only losing two classrooms ... and both will continue to 
have over 20 rooms to serve their students," said Zarin-Rosenfeld

UFT's Jackie Bennett on Closing Schools

Third Turn of the Screw: The DOE and Closing Schools
Posted By Jackie Bennett On March 29, 2011 @ 4:02 pm In NYC DOE | No Comments
Which Schools Close?Most New Yorkers who follow these things know that the DoE has targeted for closure four high schools with a C on their annual high-stakes Progress Reports even though schools with a D or F have not been targeted.

The DoE might argue that this is proof that they take a nuanced look at each school’s quality, but the evidence suggests something different. These “C” schools have higher — and unacknowledged — concentrations of high-need students then the D schools that they outperformed. And, when the DoE chose which schools with Ds to close, again chose the schools with higher concentrations of very high need students, all the while saying that the difference was the quality of the school.

It is not as if it did this with intent to get the students with the highest needs more quickly into the newest schools. For all its focus on numbers, these concentrations have been ignored by the DoE in their reams and reams of justification about why they chose the schools they did. What’s more, our newer schools tend not to serve the high need students who would have attended the older schools but have been scattered by their closure.

A little background, and then some charts. First, the high needs I am referring to here are the needs of students who arrive at a school overage for their grade, a condition that has a huge impact on whether or not a student is apt to graduate on time or even at all.

Overage students can have significant learning disabilities, low academic scores, limited English language proficiency or interrupted education. In many cases, with or without academic challenges, their private lives are careening out of control. Any one of these issues represents a challenge, and many students are struggling with all or most of them at the same time. In all, only 19% of overage students wind up graduating or getting a GED. Their needs impact the school as a whole and this single characteristic (being overage for the grade level) has been identified by the DoE and its consultants as about the most significant predictor of a student’s, and a school’s, success.

The DoE knows about the challenge [1], but its policies, by design or otherwise, seem to be taking a major challenge and making it much worse. In the first turn of the screw, the admissions and transfer policies seem to have concentrated overage students into a few schools in every neighborhood, thus creating large disparities in local populations. Next, the DoE created Progress Reports that punished the schools that had these concentrations, even though the Reports were supposed to be demographically neutral, measuring the quality of the programs rather than the high needs of the kids.

A chart from my post last week [2] compares schools that received As to schools that received Ds in the neighborhoods (districts) of closing schools. In 8 out of 11 neighborhoods, the schools graded as or F work with at least twice the proportion of overage students as the A schools. In some neighborhoods the difference is eight-fold. In most of the closing schools themselves (not charted there) one out of four, and sometimes one out of three, students arrive over age.

So, first the DoE policies concentrate the high-need students. Next the DoE creates Progress Reports that give failing grades to the schools with higher concentrations. But then comes the third turn of the screw. The DoE moves in to shutter even the high-concentration schools that avoid a failing grade.

The whole thing is bizarre.

Here again is a summary of the concentrations of overage students in the closing high schools, compared to all other high schools that received a C or D/F. This chart is followed by comparisons within the individual neighborhoods.
Which Schools Close?
While non-closing C, D and F schools had high concentrations of incoming overage students, all except one of the closing schools had more. Look at Robeson on the right where one out of every three students enters over age. Only three high schools citywide received performance bonuses this year and two of them were closing schools. Robeson, with its incredibly high need population was one of them. But none of that has stopped the hell-bent DoE in its zeal to shut it down.

It is also worth noting also that three of the four closing schools with the lowest concentrations are new schools. The difficulties these schools have had even without the same concentrations may attest to the struggles that can affect a newer school.

That’s the summary. But the disparities become more glaring when we compare the closing schools to schools in their own neighborhoods. Here are four closing schools that had higher concentrations than the other neighborhood Ds (red, center) as well as the As (blue). Note again that two of the closing schools with high concentrations got Cs.

Closing schools and their districts

Here are five more closing schools that did not have any other or F schools in their neighborhoods. These charts compare the percentage of overage students in schools (blue) to the closing schools (red).

Closing schools and their districts
For me, these charts are very troubling. Each represents incredible disparities in populations among schools right in the same neighborhood. Each also represents disparities in how the schools were graded.

But they represent something else as well. In the service of “bolder, faster change” DoE seems to have embraced a course of action that is as heedless as it is reckless. It is possible that the DoE doesn’t realize what it is doing, and it is possible that it knows and does not care. But it is not possible that it did not notice that in community after community, New Yorkers have been asking the DoE to look again at these schools because something in the DoE’s calculations isn’t adding up. Why they have not listened well enough to take another look, I do not know.
Source: 2009-2010 DoE Progress Reports and the CEP Reports on each school’s DoE website. All can be found at [3]

Article printed from Edwize:
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

DiNapoli Audit Identifies Discrepancies in Dropout Rate Reported by NYC Department of Education

From: []
Sent: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 11:57 AM
Subject: DiNapoli Audit Identifies Discrepancies in Dropout Rate Reported by NYC Department of Education

March 29, 2011


The dropout rate among New York City public school students is higher than claims made by the city Department of Education (DoE), according to an audit released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.  DiNapoli’s auditors found that for the 2004 through 2008 school years, the dropout rate may have been as high as 16.5 percent, rather than the 13 percent cited by DoE.  As a result, the graduation rate may have been as low as 62.9 percent, rather than the 65.5 percent reported by DoE.  
 “The city school system needs to sharpen its pencils when it comes to knowing which kids are dropping out and which kids are transferring to another school,” said DiNapoli.  “DoE should be doing its homework and making sure the right papers are turned in to back up the reasons why students are leaving school.”
High school graduation and dropout rates are regarded as important indicators of a school’s effectiveness.
While the audit considered reported rates within 5 percent of audited rates to be generally accurate, the difference means that the graduation rate and discharge rate include thousands of students who actually dropped out.
DiNapoli’s auditors attribute the discrepancy to DoE’s erroneous classification of dropout students as having been “discharged” from high school.  Discharged students should only be categorized as such when they transfer to another school or another educational program, leave the country, or are deceased.  
DiNapoli’s auditors examined DoE’s discharge records for its 2004-08 general education cohort (the group of students who entered ninth grade in 2004 and were expected to graduate four years later), and found that in a random sample of 500 “discharged” students, 74 (14.8 percent) didn’t have the required documentation.  As a result, all 74 should have been classified as dropouts.
Projecting the results of the sample to the entire cohort, DiNapoli’s auditors found that the correct graduation rate for the cohort was between 62.9 and 63.6 percent, rather than the 65.5 percent reported by DoE, and the correct dropout rate was between 15.5 and 16.5 percent, rather than the 13.0 percent reported by DoE. At some individual high schools, the correct graduation rates could be lower, and the correct dropout rates higher, than DoE reported.
According to DoE, the city’s 2004-08 general education cohort had a total of 88,612 students, of whom 46,896 graduated, 15,368 were still enrolled after four years, 17,025 were discharged, and 9,323 dropped out.
DiNapoli’s auditors also examined DoE’s discharge classifications for its 2004-08 special education cohort and identified similar errors. Auditors estimated that the correct graduation rate for this cohort was between 8.9 and 9.3 percent, rather than the 9.7 percent reported by DoE, and the correct dropout rate was between 20.6 and 23.8 percent, rather than the 17.2 percent reported by DoE.  Even with the identified error rate, the NYC graduation rate is trending upwards as reported by DoE.

DiNapoli recommended that DoE officials: ·        Ensure that DoE discharge guidelines fully align with New York State Education Department (SED) regulations; ·        Instruct all schools to adhere to the SED regulations for discharge classifications, and provide training in the regulations for school staff who administer discharges; and ·        Conduct periodic reviews of discharge classifications to determine whether they are being made and documented in accordance with SED regulations.
DoE officials generally agreed with DiNapoli’s recommendations and indicated they have taken action or will be taking action to implement them. Most notably, DoE’s guidelines were amended before the 2009-10 school year to better align with SED’s guidelines on required documentation to support a discharge classification.  Click here for a copy of the report.

Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools- Joanne Barkan

Dissent Magazine, Winter 2011
Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools

By Joanne Barkan
To see an MSNBC interview with Barkan about this article, click here.

THE COST of K–12 public schooling in the United States comes to well over $500 billion per year. So, how much influence could anyone in the private sector exert by controlling just a few billion dollars of that immense sum? Decisive influence, it turns out. A few billion dollars in private foundation money, strategically invested every year for a decade, has sufficed to define the national debate on education; sustain a crusade for a set of mostly ill-conceived reforms; and determine public policy at the local, state, and national levels. In the domain of venture philanthropy—where donors decide what social transformation they want to engineer and then design and fund projects to implement their vision—investing in education yields great bang for the buck.

Hundreds of private philanthropies together spend almost $4 billion annually to support or transform K–12 education, most of it directed to schools that serve low-income children (only religious organizations receive more money). But three funders—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with road) Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation—working in sync, command the field. Whatever nuances differentiate the motivations of the Big Three, their market-based goals for overhauling public education coincide: choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making. And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don’t rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher. Other foundations—Ford, Hewlett, Annenberg, Milken, to name just a few—often join in funding one project or another, but the education reform movement’s success so far has depended on the size and clout of the Gates-Broad-Walton triumvirate.

Every day, dozens of reporters and bloggers cover the Big Three’s reform campaign, but critical in-depth investigations have been scarce (for reasons I’ll explain further on). Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that the reforms are not working. Stanford University’s 2009 study of charter schools—the most comprehensive ever done—concluded that 83 percent of them perform either worse or no better than traditional public schools; a 2010 Vanderbilt University study showed definitively that merit pay for teachers does not produce higher test scores for students; a National Research Council report confirmed multiple studies that show standardized test scores do not measure student learning adequately. Gates and Broad helped to shape and fund two of the nation’s most extensive and aggressive school reform programs—in Chicago and New York City—but neither has produced credible improvement in student performance after years of experimentation.

To justify their campaign, ed reformers repeat, mantra-like, that U.S. students are trailing far behind their peers in other nations, that U.S. public schools are failing. The claims are specious. Two of the three major international tests—the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and the Trends in International Math and Science Study—break down student scores according to the poverty rate in each school. The tests are given every five years. The most recent results (2006) showed the following: students in U.S. schools where the poverty rate was less than 10 percent ranked first in reading, first in science, and third in math. When the poverty rate was 10 percent to 25 percent, U.S. students still ranked first in reading and science. But as the poverty rate rose still higher, students ranked lower and lower. Twenty percent of all U.S. schools have poverty rates over 75 percent. The average ranking of American students reflects this. The problem is not public schools; it is poverty. And as dozens of studies have shown, the gap in cognitive, physical, and social development between children in poverty and middle-class children is set by age three.

Drilling students on sample questions for weeks before a state test will not improve their education. The truly excellent charter schools depend on foundation money and their prerogative to send low-performing students back to traditional public schools. They cannot be replicated to serve millions of low-income children. Yet the reform movement, led by Gates, Broad, and Walton, has convinced most Americans who have an opinion about education (including most liberals) that their agenda deserves support.

Given all this, I want to explore three questions: How do these foundations operate on the ground? How do they leverage their money into control over public policy? And how do they construct consensus? We know the array of tools used by the foundations for education reform: they fund programs to close down schools, set up charters, and experiment with data-collection software, testing regimes, and teacher evaluation plans; they give grants to research groups and think tanks to study all the programs, to evaluate all the studies, and to conduct surveys; they give grants to TV networks for programming and to news organizations for reporting; they spend hundreds of millions on advocacy outreach to the media, to government at every level, and to voters. Yet we don’t know much at all until we get down to specifics.

Pipelines or Programs

The smallest of the Big Three,* the Broad Foundation, gets its largest return on education investments from its two training projects. The mission of both is to move professionals from their current careers in business, the military, law, government, and so on into jobs as superintendents and upper-level managers of urban public school districts. In their new jobs, they can implement the foundation’s agenda. One project, the Broad Superintendents Academy, pays all tuition and travel costs for top executives in their fields to go through a course of six extended weekend sessions, assignments, and site visits. Broad then helps to place them in superintendent jobs. The academy is thriving. According to the Web site, “graduates of the program currently work as superintendents or school district executives in fifty-three cities across twenty-eight states. In 2009, 43 percent of all large urban superintendent openings were filled by Broad Academy graduates.”

The second project, the Broad Residency, places professionals with master’s degrees and several years of work experience into full-time managerial jobs in school districts, charter school management organizations, and federal and state education departments. While they’re working, residents get two years of “professional development” from Broad, all costs covered, including travel. The foundation also subsidizes their salaries (50 percent the first year, 25 percent the second year). It’s another success story for Broad, which has placed more than two hundred residents in more than fifty education institutions.

In reform-speak, both the Broad Academy and Residency are not mere programs: they are “pipelines.” Frederick Hess, director of Education Policy Studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, described the difference in With the Best of Intentions: How Philanthropy Is Reshaping K–12 Education (2005):

Donors have a continual choice between supporting “programs” or supporting “pipelines.” Programs, which are far more common, are ventures that directly involve a limited population of children and educators. Pipelines, on the other hand, primarily seek to attract new talent to education, keep those individuals engaged, or create new opportunities for talented practitioners to advance and influence the profession.…By seeking to alter the composition of the educational workforce, pipelines offer foundations a way to pursue a high-leverage strategy without seeking to directly alter public policy.

Once Broad alumni are working inside the education system, they naturally favor hiring other Broadies, which ups the leverage. A clear picture of this comes from Los Angeles. The foundation is based there and exerts formidable influence over the LA Unified School District (LA Unified), the second largest in the nation. At the start of 2010, Broad Residency alums working at LA Unified included Matt Hill, who oversees the district’s Public School Choice project that turns schools over to independent managers (Broad pays Hill’s $160,000 salary); Parker Hudnut, executive director of the district’s innovation and charter division (Kathi Littmann, his predecessor, was also a Broad resident); Yumi Takahashi, the budget director; Marshall Tuck, chief executive of the nonprofit that manages schools for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Mark Kieger-Heine, chief operating officer of the same nonprofit; and Angela Bass, its superintendent of instruction. In June 2010, the Board of Education hired Broad Academy alumnus John Deasy as deputy superintendent of LA Unified (he’s a likely candidate for the superintendent’s job). At the time of hiring, Deasy was deputy director of education at the Gates Foundation.

Broad casts a long shadow over LA Unified, but other foundations also invest. A $4.4 million grant from the LA-based Wasserman Foundation, $1.2 million from Walton, and smaller grants from Ford and Hewlett are paying the salaries of more than a dozen key senior staffers in the district. They work on projects favored by the foundations.

Philanthropists Are Royalty

On September 8, 2010, the Broad Foundation announced a twist on the usual funding scenario: the Broad Residency had received a $3.6 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to Broad’s press release, the money would go “to recruit and train as many as eighteen Broad Residents over the next four years to provide management support to school districts and charter management organizations addressing the issue of teacher effectiveness.” Apparently Broad needs Gates in order to expand one of its core projects. The truth is that the Gates Foundation could fully subsidize all of Broad’s grant-giving in education, as well as that of the Walton Family Foundation. Easily—it’s that outsized. Since Warren Buffett gave his assets to Gates, the latter is more than six times bigger than the next largest foundation in the United States, Ford, with $10.2 billion in assets.

Now is the moment for me to address the inevitable objection. Many people, including leftists, consider it unseemly, even churlish, to criticize the Gates Foundation. Time and again, I’ve heard, “They do good work on health care in Africa. Leave them alone.” But the Gates Foundation has created much the same problem in health funding as in education reform. Take, for example, the Gates project to eradicate malaria.

On February 16, 2008, the New York Times reported on a memo that it had obtained, written by Dr. Arata Kochi, head of the World Health Organization’s malaria programs, to WHO’s director general. Because the Gates Foundation was funding almost everyone studying malaria, Dr. Arata complained, the cornerstone of scientific research—independent review—was falling apart.

Many of the world’s leading malaria scientists are now “locked up in a ‘cartel’ with their own research funding being linked to those of others within the group,” Dr. Kochi wrote. Because “each has a vested interest to safeguard the work of the others,” he wrote, getting independent reviews of research proposals “is becoming increasingly difficult.”

The director of global health at Gates responded predictably: “We encourage a lot of external review.” But a lot of external review does not solve the problem, which is structural. It warps the work of most philanthropies to some degree but is exponentially dangerous in the case of the Gates Foundation. Again, Frederick Hess in With the Best of Intentions:

…[A]cademics, activists, and the policy community live in a world where philanthropists are royalty—where philanthropic support is often the ticket to tackling big projects, making a difference, and maintaining one’s livelihood.

…[E]ven if scholars themselves are insulated enough to risk being impolitic, they routinely collaborate with school districts, policy makers, and colleagues who desire philanthropic support.

…The groups convened by foundations [to advise them] tend to include, naturally enough, their friends, allies, and grantees. Such groups are less likely than outsiders to offer a radically different take on strategy or thinking.

…Researchers themselves compete fiercely for the right to evaluate high-profile reform initiatives. Almost without exception, the evaluators are hired by funders or grantees….Most evaluators are selected, at least in part, because they are perceived as being sympathetic to the reform in question.

Hess found that the press, too, handles philanthropies with kid gloves. One study reviewed how national media outlets (the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, and Associated Press) portrayed the educational activities of major foundations (Gates, Broad, Walton, Annenberg, and Milken) from 1995 to 2005. The study revealed “thirteen positive articles for every critical account.” Hess had three explanations for the obliging attitude of the supposedly disinterested press: a natural inclination to write positively about “generous gifts,” the routine tendency to affirm “professionally endorsed school reforms,” and the difficulty of finding experts who will publicly criticize the foundations.

The cozy environment undermines all players—grantees, media, the public, and the foundations themselves. Without honest assessments, funders are less likely to reach their goals. According to Phil Buchanan, executive director of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, “If you want to achieve the greatest possible positive impact, you've got to figure out how to hear things from people on the ground who might know more than you about some pretty important things” (Seattle Times, August 3, 2008).

No Silver Bullet

The sorry tale of the Gates Foundation’s first major project in education reform has been told often, but it’s key to understanding how Gates functions. I’ll run through it briefly. In 2000 the foundation began pouring money into breaking up large public high schools where test scores and graduation rates were low. The foundation insisted that more individual attention in closer “learning communities” would—presto!—boost achievement. The foundation didn’t base its decision on scientific studies showing school size mattered; such studies didn’t exist. As reported in Bloomberg Businessweek (July 15, 2010), Wharton School statistician Howard Wainer believes Gates probably “misread the numbers” and simply “seized on data showing small schools are overrepresented among the country's highest achievers….” Gates spent $2 billion between 2000 and 2008 to set up 2,602 schools in 45 states and the District of Columbia, “directly reaching at least 781,000 students,” according to a foundation brochure. Michael Klonsky, professor at DePaul University and national director of the Small Schools Workshop, describes the Gates effect this way:

Gates funding was so large and so widespread, it seemed for a time as if every initiative in the small-schools and charter world was being underwritten by the foundation. If you wanted to start a school, hold a meeting, organize a conference, or write an article in an education journal, you first had to consider Gates (“Power Philanthropy” in The Gates Foundation and the Future of Public Schools, 2010).

In November 2008, Bill and Melinda gathered about one hundred prominent figures in education at their home outside Seattle to announce that the small schools project hadn’t produced strong results. They didn’t mention that, instead, it had produced many gut-wrenching sagas of school disruption, conflict, students and teachers jumping ship en masse, and plummeting attendance, test scores, and graduation rates. No matter, the power couple had a new plan: performance-based teacher pay, data collection, national standards and tests, and school “turnaround” (the term of art for firing the staff of a low-performing school and hiring a new one, replacing the school with a charter, or shutting down the school and sending the kids elsewhere).

To support the new initiatives, the Gates Foundation had already invested almost $2.2 million to create The Turnaround Challenge, the authoritative how-to guide on turnaround. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called it “the bible” for school restructuring. He’s incorporated it into federal policy, and reformers around the country use it. Mass Insight Education, the consulting company that produced it, claims the document has been downloaded 200,000 times since 2007. Meanwhile, Gates also invested $90 million in one of the largest implementations of the turnaround strategy—Chicago’s Renaissance 2010. Ren10 gave Chicago public schools CEO Arne Duncan a national name and ticket to Washington; he took along the reform strategy. Shortly after he arrived, studies showing weak results for Ren10 began circulating, but the Chicago Tribune still caused a stir on January 17, 2010, with an article entitled “Daley School Plan Fails to Make Grade.”

Six years after Mayor Richard Daley launched a bold initiative to close down and remake failing schools, Renaissance 2010 has done little to improve the educational performance of the city's school system, according to a Tribune analysis of 2009 state test data.

…The moribund test scores follow other less than enthusiastic findings about Renaissance 2010—that displaced students ended up mostly in other low performing schools and that mass closings led to youth violence as rival gang members ended up in the same classrooms. Together, they suggest the initiative hasn't lived up to its promise by this, its target year.

Last fall, Daley announced that he wouldn’t run again for mayor; Ron Huberman, who replaced Duncan as schools CEO, announced that he would leave before Daley; and Rahm Emanuel, preparing to run for Daley’s job, announced that he would promote another privately funded reform campaign for Chicago’s schools. “Let’s raise a ton of money,” he told the Chicago Tribune (October 18, 2010). Eminently doable.

Investing for Political Leverage

The day before the first Democratic presidential candidates’ debate in 2007, Gates and Broad announced they were jointly funding a $60 million campaign to get both political parties to address the foundations’ version of education reform. It was one of the most expensive single issue efforts ever; it dwarfed the $22.4 million offensive that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth mounted against John Kerry in 2004 or the $7.8 million that AARP spent on advocacy for older citizens that same year (New York Times, April 25, 2007). The Gates-Broad money paid off: the major candidates took stands on specific reforms, including merit pay for teachers. But nothing the foundations did in that election cycle (or could have done) advanced their agenda as much as Barack Obama’s choice of Arne Duncan to head the Department of Education (DOE). Eli and Edythe Broad described the import in The Broad Foundations 2009/10 Report:

The election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as the U.S. Secretary of Education, marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform. In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned.

With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time, and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted.

Arne Duncan did not disappoint. He quickly made the partnership with private foundations the defining feature of his DOE stewardship. His staff touted the commitment in an article for the department’s newsletter, The Education Innovator (October 29, 2009):

…The Department has truly embraced the foundation community by creating a position within the Office of the Secretary for the Director of Philanthropic Engagement. This dedicated role within the Secretary’s Office signals to the philanthropic world that the Department is “open for business.”

Within weeks, Duncan had integrated the DOE into the network of revolving-door job placement that includes the staffs of Gates, Broad, and all the thinks tanks, advocacy groups, school management organizations, training programs, and school districts that they fund. Here’s a quick look at top executives in the DOE: Duncan’s first chief of staff, Margot Rogers, came from Gates; her replacement as of June 2010, Joanne Weiss, came from a major Gates grantee, the New Schools Venture Fund; Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali has worked at Broad, LA Unified School District and the Gates-funded Education Trust; general counsel Charles P. Rose was a founding board member of another major Gates grantee, Advance Illinois; and Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement James Shelton has worked at both Gates and the New Schools Venture Fund. Duncan himself served on the board of directors of Broad’s education division until February 2009 (as did former treasury secretary Larry Summers).

How to Set Government Policy

Nothing illustrates the operation of Duncan’s “open for business” policy better than the administration’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top (RTTT). The “stimulus package” included $4.3 billion for education, but for the first time, states didn’t simply receive grants; they had to compete for RTTT money with a comprehensive, statewide proposal for education reform. It is no exaggeration to say that the criteria for selecting the winners came straight from the foundations’ playbook (which is, after all, Duncan’s playbook). To start, any state that didn’t allow student test scores to determine (at least in part) teacher and principal evaluations was not eligible to compete. After clarifying this, the 103-page application form laid out a list of detailed criteria and then additional priorities for each criterion (“The Secretary is particularly interested in applications that…”). Key criteria included

(C)(1) Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system

(D)(2) Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance [this is followed by criteria for evaluating performance based on student test scores]

(E) Turning around the lowest-achieving schools

(F)(2) Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools

States were desperate for funds (in the end, thirty-four applied in the two rounds of the contest). When necessary, some rewrote their laws to qualify: they loosened or repealed limits on the number of charter schools allowed; they permitted teacher and principal evaluations based on test scores. But they still faced the immense tasks of designing a proposal that touched on all aspects of K–12 education and then writing an application, which the DOE requested (but did not require) be limited to 350 pages. What state has resources to gamble on such a venture? Enter the Gates Foundation. It reviewed the prospects for reform in every state, picked fifteen favorites, and, in July 2009, offered each up to $250,000 to hire consultants to write the application. Gates even prepared a list of recommended consulting firms. Understandably, the other states cried foul; so did the National Conference of State Legislatures: Gates was giving some states an unfair advantage; it was, in effect, picking winners and losers for a government program. After some weeks of reflection, Gates offered the application money to any state that met the foundation’s eight criteria. Here, for example, is number five: “Does the state grant teacher tenure in fewer than three years? (Answer must be “no” or the state should be able to demonstrate a plan to set a higher bar for tenure).”

Who says the foundations (and Gates, in particular) don’t set government policy?

On October 9, 2009, Edward Haertel, chair of the National Research Council’s Board on Testing and Assessment (BOTA) sent a letter-report to Arne Duncan to express BOTA’s concern about the use of testing in RTTT’s requirements.

Tests often play an important role in evaluating educational innovations, but an evaluation requires much more than tests alone. A rigorous evaluation plan typically involves implementation and outcome data that need to be collected throughout the course of a project.

REFLECTING “A consensus of the Board,” the nineteen-page letter went on to review the many scientific studies that demonstrate the pitfalls of using standardized test scores as a measure of student learning, teacher performance, or school improvement. BOTA recommended that the DOE use these studies to revise the RTTT plan. Unfortunately, as Haertel explained in his cover note, “Under National Academies procedures, any letter report must be reviewed by an independent group of experts before it can be publicly released, which made it impossible to complete the letter within the public comment period of the Federal Register notice [for RTTT’s proposed regulations].” The scientists needed a peer review of their work, so they missed the Federal Register deadline, and that meant Duncan could ignore their recommendations—which he did. Haertel’s letter ( makes for poignant reading in the twenty-first century: science imploring at the feet of ideology.

Other Ways to Invest for Political Influence

Private foundations are not allowed to lobby government directly, but they can, and all do, “share the lessons of their work” with lawmakers and their staffs. As the RTTT story shows, the Big Three also intervene more directly in policy and politics in ways available only to the mega-rich.

Consider the case of school reform in Washington, D.C. Former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee battled the teachers’ union in acrimonious contract negotiations for more than two years; she wanted greater control over evaluating and firing teachers. Her breakthrough move was to get $64.5 million from the Broad, Walton, Robertson, and Arnold foundations to finance a five-year, 21.6 percent increase in teachers’ base salary. The union took the money in exchange for giving Rhee some of the changes she wanted. The money came with a political restriction: the foundations could withdraw their pledges if there was a “material change” in the school system’s leadership. When critics challenged the legality of the arrangement (Hadn’t Rhee negotiated a deal that served her personal financial interests?), the chancellor found a way to shuffle funds and spend on a schedule that made the leadership clause irrelevant. The foundations’ attempt to dictate who would be D.C. schools chancellor failed, but their investment paid off with highly publicized (and, the foundations hoped, precedent setting) concessions in a union contract.

On the question of who controls public schools, the Big Three much prefer mayoral control to independent school boards: a mayor with full powers can push through a reform agenda faster, often with less concern about the opposition. On August 18, 2009, the New York Post quoted Bill Gates on mayoral control: “The cities where our foundation has put the most money is where there is a single person responsible.” In the same article, the Post broke the news that Bill Gates had “secretly bankrolled” Learn-NY, a group campaigning to overturn a term-limit law so that Michael Bloomberg could run for a third term as New York City mayor. Bloomberg’s main argument for deserving another term was that his education reform agenda (identical to the Gates-Broad agenda) was transforming city schools for the better. Gates put $4 million of his personal money into Learn-NY. “The donation helped pay for Learn-NY's extensive public-relations, media, and lobbying efforts in Albany and the city.” The Post also reported that Eli Broad had donated “millions” to Learn-NY. Since Bloomberg’s reelection, however, the results of one study after another have shown that his reform endeavors are not producing the positive results he repeatedly claims.

In its “advocacy and public policy” work, the Gates Foundation also funnels money to elected officials through their national associations. The foundation has given grants to the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, National Conference of State Legislatures, United States Conference of Mayors, National Association of Latino Elected Officials Education Fund, and National Association of State Boards of Education. They’ve also funded associations of high nonelected officials, such as the Council of Chief State School Officers (see

Ventures in Media

On October 7 and 8, 2010, the Columbia Journalism Review ran a two-part investigation by Robert Fortner into “the implications of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s increasingly large and complex web of media partnerships.” The report focused on the foundation’s grants to the PBS Newshour, ABC News, and the British newspaper the Guardian for reporting on global health. Of course, all three grantees claim to have “complete editorial independence,” but the ubiquity of Gates funding makes the claim disingenuous. As Fortner observes, “It is the largest charitable foundation in the world, and its influence in the media is growing so vast there is reason to worry about the media’s ability to do its job.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy, too, questioned the foundation’s bankrolling of for-profit news organizations and its “growing involvement with journalism” (October 11, 2010). Neither publication mentioned that Gates is also developing partnerships with news and entertainment media to promote its education agenda.

Both Gates and Broad funded “NBC News Education Nation,” a week of public events and programming on education reform that began on September 27, 2010. The programs aired on NBC News shows such as “Nightly News” and “Today” and on the MSNBC, CNBC, and Telemundo TV networks. During the planning stages, the producers of Education Nation dismissed persistent criticism that the programming was being heavily weighted in favor of the Duncan-foundation reform agenda. Judging by the schedule of panels and interviews, Education Nation certainly looked like a foundation project. The one panel I watched—”Good Apples: How do we keep good teachers, throw out bad ones, and put a new shine on the profession?”—was “moderated” by Steven Brill, a hardline opponent of teachers’ unions and promoter of charter schools. The panel did not belong on a news show.

Gates and Broad also sponsored the documentary film Waiting for Superman, which is by far the ed reform movement’s greatest media coup. With few exceptions, film critics loved it (“a powerful and alarming documentary about America’s failing public school system,” New York Times, September 23, 2010). Critics of the reform agenda found the film one-sided, heavy-handed, and superficial.

In 2009 the Gates Foundation and Viacom (the world’s fourth largest media conglomerate, which includes MTV Networks, BET Networks, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, and hundreds of other media properties) made a groundbreaking deal for entertainment programming. For the first time, a foundation wouldn’t merely advise or prod a media company about an issue; Gates would be directly involved in writing and producing programs. As a vehicle for their partnership, the foundation and Viacom (with some additional funds from the AT&T Foundation) set up a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization called the Get Schooled Foundation. The interpenetration of foundations and the spawning of new ones is endless. In July 2010, Get Schooled hired Marie Groark, then senior education program officer at Gates, as its executive director. Among its initiatives, Get Schooled lists Waiting for Superman, which is produced by Paramount Pictures, a subsidiary of Viacom. This is how the New York Times (April 2, 2009) described the Gates-Viacom deal:

Now the Gates Foundation is set to expand its involvement and spend more money on influencing popular culture through a deal with Viacom….It could be called “message placement”: the social or philanthropic corollary to product placement deals in which marketers pay to feature products in shows and movies. Instead of selling Coca-Cola or G.M. cars, they promote education and healthy living….Their goal is to weave education-theme story lines into existing shows or to create new shows centered on education.

The Hubris That Comes from Power

On June 15, 2010, Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes announced the results of the “Grantee Perception Report,” which the foundation had commissioned from the Center for Effective Philanthropy. The center, a nonprofit research group, has rattled the foundation world with surveys that show how grantees evaluate a funder and also how that evaluation compares to the evaluations of other funders. Some 1,020 Gates grantees, active between June 1, 2008, and May 31, 2009, responded to the survey. On questions relating to the experience of working with Gates, the foundation got bad grades. “Lower than typical ratings,” Raikes wrote.

Many of our grantee partners said we are not clear about our goals and strategies, and they think we don’t understand their goals and strategies.

They are confused by our decision-making and grant-making processes.

Because of staff turnovers, many of our grantee partners have had to manage multiple Program Officer transitions during the course of their grant, which creates more work.

Finally, they say we are inconsistent in our communications, and often unresponsive.

The report intrigued me because it shows another aspect of how Gates operates on the ground. More important, it helps explain why the Big Three can keep marketing and selling reforms that don’t work. Certainly ideology—in this case, faith in the superiority of the private business model—drives them. But so does the blinding hubris that comes from power. You don’t have to listen or see because you know you are right. One study after another sends up a red flag, but no one in the ed reform movement blinks. Insanity, defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, applies here.

Can anything stop the foundation enablers? After five or ten more years, the mess they’re making in public schooling might be so undeniable that they’ll say, “Oops, that didn’t work” and step aside. But the damage might be irreparable: thousands of closed schools, worse conditions in those left open, an extreme degree of “teaching to the test,” demoralized teachers, rampant corruption by private management companies, thousands of failed charter schools, and more low-income kids without a good education. Who could possibly clean up the mess?

All children should have access to a good public school. And public schools should be run by officials who answer to the voters. Gates, Broad, and Walton answer to no one. Tax payers still fund more than 99 percent of the cost of K–12 education. Private foundations should not be setting public policy for them. Private money should not be producing what amounts to false advertising for a faulty product. The imperious overreaching of the Big Three undermines democracy just as surely as it damages public education.

Joanne Barkan, who graduated from public schools in Chicago, lives and writes in Manhattan and on Cape Cod. Her next article on education will focus on teachers and their unions.

*The Broad and Walton foundations had endowments of about $1.4 billion and $2 billion, respectively, in 2008 (the latest available figures, according to the Foundation Center). The Gates Foundation had an endowment of $33 billion as of June 2010, with an additional $30 billion from Warren Buffett, spread out over multiple years in annual contributions (from The Broad endowment comes primarily from the sale of SunAmerica to AIG in 1999; the Walton endowment from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.; and the Gates endowment from Microsoft.

[Ed: due to a production error, this article first appeared online with the subtitle “Public School Reform in the Age of Venture Philanthropy.”]

Marc Epstein on Deform End Game

The Huffington Post

History teacher at Jamaica High School
The Education Reformers' End Game

Okay, you've won! Tenure has been abolished. There are no limits on charters, and vouchers are available to all takers. Collective bargaining is a thing of the past. The dreaded fire-breathing dragon union now resembles a salamander. Governors, state legislatures, mayors and editorial boards, who've claimed that they can turn around the dismally depressing performance levels in our urban inner cities -- if only these vestiges of the past were abolished -- have had their way.

But some questions remain, because as Colin Powell once said when referring to post-war Iraq, the "Pottery Barn Rule" now applies. That is, "you break it, you own it." So it might be useful if we ask the victors some questions about the new education landscape now that the "War on Entrenched Teachers & Unions" has been brought to a successful conclusion.

I was talking to a guidance counselor about students with special needs the other day. He told me that the number of kids attending city schools who live in shelters is at an all-time high. Just a few days ago, a colleague at an elementary school had told him that a number of these students, that had been placed in their building because their shelter was nearby, just disappeared without anyone informing the school administrators.

It seems that the city had moved them to another shelter, and they were shuffled off to the new location and another school without notice.

Now all obsolete, ineffective teachers on the losing side of the war believe that children placed in shelters have all sorts of disadvantages before they enter the schoolhouse door, a view not shared by the value-added reformers who maintain a good teacher should get any child to make a year's worth of progress under their supervision. I wondered -- if these students who were forced to move had been enrolled in a charter school, could the city demand that another charter school closer to their new shelter be required to accept them even if it means that they exceed their capacity?

Here's another question: Which teachers are we going to hold responsible for these students' performance? More than half the school year is over, and when we track student performance with less than 16 weeks left in the term, will their results be tied to their old teacher's evaluations or the new one's?

You might not realize it, but the problem isn't just confined to homeless kids who are moved around like furniture. New York City has a remarkably unstable student population. Students drop in. They drop out. The most recent census figures indicate that the outflow of population from New York is the largest in the nation.

An NYU study tracked a student cohort numbering 86,000 that entered the first grade in 1995. It found that less than 40 percent remained in the system after eight years! How will the progress of these students be measured? Who will be rewarded for the unmeasurable progress? Who will be blamed?
Combine these numbers with the outflow New York is experiencing and you realize that the exodus can't simply be blamed on poor public schools when people are leaving the state altogether, not just switching to private and parochial education.

We know this to be true because the Archdiocese of New York announced that it would be closing 27 schools in June.

As it stands now, 50 percent of the teachers who are hired in any given year leave the system voluntarily by their fifth year of teaching. So why are the generals in the Gates Reform Army so energized about holding on to the youngest teachers when half of them will be gone before you know it? Just what will a fabulously expensive tracking system track if neither teachers nor students remain in the system after a few years?

Will Gates, Bloomberg or Rhee suggest that a special court master be appointed so that a salary "clawback" paid to teachers who left the system after a few years and didn't live up to the data's expectations be created? After all, if you can do it with people who were on the winning side of the Madoff Ponzi scheme, why can't you do with it teachers who don't produce the good data?

Then there's the testing conundrum. Now that the unions, seniority and tenure have been dispensed with, what are we going to do about the testing system that will tell us which teachers are worth retaining?

In New York, the Regents have admitted the tests they've been administering aren't a valid measurement of student progress, and because of costs, they want to eliminate high school Regents exams in some subject areas instead of expanding them. So what are we going to do about high school teachers who don't teach a Regents course?

How will we judge art, music and physical education teachers? For that matter, how will we measure teachers of languages like German, Hebrew and Latin? If a child enters a gym class overweight and doesn't lose a designated amount will the teacher be held responsible? What skills do we expect art and music teachers to impart so that we can determine if they should be terminated?

Now imagine that the number of students enrolled in charter schools grows to about one half of the NYC school system. Who is going to be inspecting these schools to ensure that monies are properly spent, crimes and abuses are reported to the appropriate authorities, and that an excellent teacher isn't fired because a capricious principal doesn't find the teacher appealing?

In short, how do you finance and maintain a bureaucracy that actually has to deal with the nuts and bolts of educating hundreds of thousands of kids when everyone is on their own?

Bill Gates, a man who put his money where his mouth is when it came to financing the "War on Entrenched Teachers and Unions," wants a new education environment that discards the 19th- and 20th-century industrial model, because as a man who made his fortune in the post-industrial age, he believes that we have to keep up with the times.

I'm sure that he envisions a day when we'll be able to say "beam me up Bill and Melinda," and we'll all realize our educational potential. Why not distance learning without teachers at all? But until that day arrives, he might do well to study an earlier attempt to break away from the past by washing it away with a reform tsunami, and look at the bleak outcome we see in the field of mental health.

New York Times recently ran an expose of the abuses that go unreported in mental health group homes in New York State. The movement to remove mental patients from the horrors of state hospitals in the '70s and place them in group homes echoes in the arguments against our public schools and the need to "deinstitutionalize" students, moving them into charter schools. However, the litany of abuses documented in the group homes by the Times should give anyone who thinks that the smashing of one troubled institution and replacing it with another is the magic bullet.

Just how the reformers will remake the landscape is a matter of speculation. But I would suggest turning to China's Cultural Revolution for guidance about how it will shake out. That's because Utopian schemes foisted on large complex societies with religious zeal substituting for sound public policy usually end badly.

Richard Stengel wrote
"At a 1979 White House banquet honoring China's Deng Xiaoping, Shirley MacLaine enthusiastically recalled a trip to the People's Republic and a meeting with a nuclear physicist. Since being sentenced to a commune to grow tomatoes, she told Deng, the scientist said he felt much happier and more productive. Replied Deng politely: 'He lied.' "

In Fight for Space, Educator Takes On Charter Chain

March 27, 2011
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Joel I. Klein, the former schools chancellor, are strong supporters of charter schools. Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein have repeatedly told principals at New York City's traditional public schools that a new age of reform has dawned, that charter schools are the cutting edge and that if these principals want traditional public schools to survive, they must learn to compete in the educational marketplace.
And so, last summer, Julie Zuckerman, the principal of a highly regarded public elementary school - Central Park East 1 in East Harlem - applied to open a new elementary school on the other side of Manhattan, in Washington Heights. Her plan was to create something truly rare: an urban school not focused on standardized testing.
Ms. Zuckerman, who worked in education as a principal and teacher for nearly 30 years and has a doctorate from Columbia, was given preliminary approval for the school in October. On Jan. 6, she was one of 30 people invited to the Education Department's headquarters at Tweed Courthouse, where Cathleen P. Black, the current chancellor, congratulated them for being chosen to run new schools.
On Jan. 19, Ms. Zuckerman was informed that her school - to be called Castle Bridge - would be located in a vacant space at Public School 115 in Washington Heights. "We are all systems go," wrote Elizabeth Rose of the Education Department. On Jan. 27, Ms. Zuckerman was informed by Alex Shub, another department official, that she would be getting $40,000 in start-up money. "Sounds like you are doing all the right things," Mr. Shub wrote in a Feb. 14 e-mail.
And then, a few days later, Ms. Rose called to say that everything had changed. Ms. Zuckerman would not be getting the space at P.S. 115. Instead, Marc Sternberg, a deputy superintendent, had decided to award that space to KIPP, the biggest, richest charter school chain in the country.
That set off sparks. There is a quiet but fierce battle going on in education today, between the unions that represent the public school teachers and the hedge-fund managers who finance the big charter chains, between those who trust teachers to assess a child's progress and those who trust standardized tests, and occasionally it flares out into the open over something as seemingly minor as the location of a school.
On one side is KIPP, a nonprofit organization with 99 charter schools nationwide, including seven in New York City. It is a favorite of the Broad, Gates and Walton foundations; in the last four years, KIPP has raised $160 million to supplement the public funds it receives ($13,527 per student in New York).
On the other side is Ms. Zuckerman, who has followed in the footsteps of Central Park East's founder, Deborah Meier, one of the best-known education innovators in America.
When Ms. Zuckerman was told the earliest she would be getting a site for her school was 2012, her supporters were furious, but not too surprised. "Everyone knows the D.O.E. favors charters," said Kevin Guzman, who, along with his wife, Melissa, runs a preschool in Washington Heights and has circulated petitions on behalf of Ms. Zuckerman's school. "It was David versus Goliath."
Ms. Zuckerman refused to comment for this article. However, interviews with her supporters, including fellow principals, teachers, parents, community activists and elected officials, made it possible to piece together her story.
I also obtained e-mails that Education Department officials sent to Ms. Zuckerman.
They were provided by a staff member of an elected official. The staff member was sympathetic to Ms. Zuckerman but did not want to be named because of fear of retaliation.
Mr. Sternberg also did not respond to requests for an interview. But he wrote in an e-mail, "We can always improve our process around planning," and added, "KIPP has run some of the best schools in New York City for 15 years, and we think this school is going to be an excellent option for Upper Manhattan families."
He denied there was any favoritism.
There are major differences between Central Park East 1 and KIPP schools. Central Park East is known as a progressive school. Learning is often done through group projects. Instead of survey courses, students are encouraged to go deeper on fewer topics. There is little test prep.
The KIPP chain is famous for long school days that end at 5 p.m., as well as Saturday school. Performance on standardized tests is a central focus, and test prep is extensive. Courses tend to cover more ground, but do not go into as much depth.
There are also similarities between Central Park East and the four KIPP schools serving elementary-age children in New York. Both Central Park East and the KIPP schools have similar poverty rates: 74 percent of Central Park East students get subsidized lunches; two of the KIPP schools have higher poverty rates and two have lower rates. Academic performance is comparable. Two of the KIPP schools scored better than Central Park East on the 2010 state English tests; two scored worse. In math, KIPP is considerably stronger with three of the four KIPP schools doing better than Central Park East on state math tests.
Both are in demand. KIPP has 2,000 students on waiting lists for its seven schools, said Steve Mancini, KIPP's spokesman.
At Central Park East, 180 were on last year's waiting list for 12 openings. The Guzmans, whose preschool, the Small Idea, also follows a progressive philosophy, say that for several years many families with children at their preschool have applied to Central Park East, but none have been lucky enough to be selected in the school lottery.
When it comes to resources to open new schools, Central Park East is badly overmatched. According to its most recent tax forms, KIPP had a $1.7 million school expansion budget for New York in 2008. KIPP also has many well-paid executives working on new-school development, including David Levin, the KIPP New York superintendent, who makes $296,751 a year; eight other New York staff members earn $104,299 to $150,950.
At a public hearing in Washington Heights in February, Mr. Levin brought along two busloads of supporters dressed in KIPP T-shirts.
There were five people from Central Park East, including Ms. Zuckerman, at the same meeting. Ms. Zuckerman had no money or paid staff to fill out the abundant paperwork required for a new school. She did the planning in her spare time and got help from parent volunteers.
The Guzmans, who live in Washington Heights, have been the primary neighborhood organizers for Ms. Zuckerman's school. They are volunteers who make a combined salary of $42,000 from their preschool and live in a back room of the school.
KIPP officials appear confident that the space in P.S. 115 is theirs. Though the decision will not be final until an April 28 vote by the city's Panel for Educational Policy, KIPP posted recruiting flyers making it sound like a done deal: KIPP Star Elementary/Washington Heights/Now enrolling kindergarten/Housed within the P.S. 115 building.
Mr. Mancini, the KIPP spokesman, said that as soon as they realized the mistake, flyers were changed to say "proposed location." (He provided a photo as confirmation.)
It took Ms. Zuckerman two weeks to get an appointment with Mr. Sternberg to ask why he had taken away her school site. She brought along three people for support: Mr. Guzman; Celia Oyler, an associate professor from Teachers College at Columbia University; and Marcia Sells, a lawyer who has a daughter attending Central Park East. At one point, Ms. Zuckerman asked to have the vacant space in nearby Intermediate School 90 - a school that had been mentioned earlier in the year as a possible location - if she could not have P.S. 115. She was told that I.S. 90 was being kept vacant for at least a year, so KIPP could eventually use the space to expand its school.
Castle Bridge was supposed to serve 200 students, including 10 percent who have a parent in prison. No other school in the city is known to seek out this group of children.
Several elected officials, including Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, have lobbied the chancellor to reverse the decision. Mr. Stringer spoke with Ms. Black twice last week. "She owned up to the fact that mistakes were made," Mr. Stringer said. "She said she was looking for ways to solve the problem - I was pleased."
A spokesman said the chancellor declined to comment. However, Mr. Sternberg did appear to get more focused last week.
He said he could not find space for September but promised Castle Bridge would open. "The best long-term solution for Castle Bridge," Mr. Sternberg wrote, "is to make sure it opens in 2012 with permanent and adequate space."
Ms. Zuckerman's friends have urged her to get any promises in writing and counseled caution, reminding her how much the Department of Education's word is worth.

Monday, March 28, 2011

When test scores soared in D.C., were the gains real?

When test scores soared in D.C., were the gains real?

WASHINGTON — In just two years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus went from a school deemed in need of improvement to a place that the District of Columbia Public Schools called one of its "shining stars.

By Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

Marvin Tucker raised questions about high test scores of daughter Marlana, right, now 16, that showed math proficiency despite her struggle with the basics when she attended D.C.'s Noyes.
Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes' students scored "proficient" or "advanced" in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.
Because of the remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Education named the school in northeast Washington a National Blue Ribbon School. Noyes was one of 264 public schools nationwide given that award in 2009.
Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes' staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.
A closer look at Noyes, however, raises questions about its test scores from 2006 to 2010. Its proficiency rates rose at a much faster rate than the average for D.C. schools. Then, in 2010, when scores dipped for most of the district's elementary schools, Noyes' proficiency rates fell further than average.
A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.
Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008. That's more than half of D.C. schools.
Erasures are detected by the same electronic scanners that CTB/McGraw-Hill, D.C.'s testing company, uses to score the tests. When test-takers change answers, they erase penciled-in bubble marks that leave behind a smudge; the machines tally the erasures as well as the new answers for each student.
In 2007-08, six classrooms out of the eight taking tests at Noyes were flagged by McGraw-Hill because of high wrong-to-right erasure rates. The pattern was repeated in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when 80% of Noyes classrooms were flagged by McGraw-Hill.

By Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP
Michelle Rhee, then-chancellor of D.C. schools, visits with J.O. Wilson Elementary third-grader Kmone Feeling last August.
On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.
"This is an abnormal pattern," says Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied testing for 20 years.
A trio of academicians consulted by USA TODAY — Haladyna, George Shambaugh of Georgetown University and Gary Miron of Western Michigan University — say the erasure rates found at Noyes and at other D.C. public schools are so statistically rare, and yet showed up in so many classrooms, that they should be examined thoroughly.
USA TODAY examined testing irregularities in the District of Columbia's public schools because, under Rhee, the system became a national symbol of what high expectations and effective teaching could accomplish. Federal money also was at play: Last year, D.C. won an extra $75 million for public and charter schools in the U.S. government's Race to the Top competition. Test scores were a factor.
USA TODAY initially looked at Noyes only because of its high erasure rates. Later, the newspaper found that Wayne Ryan, the principal from 2001 to 2010, and the school had been touted as models by district officials. They were the centerpiece of the school system's recruitment ads in 2008 and 2009, including at least two placed in Principal magazine.
"Noyes is one of the shining stars of DCPS," one ad said. It praised Ryan for his "unapologetic focus on instruction" and asked would-be job applicants, "Are you the next Wayne Ryan?"
In response to questions from USA TODAY, Kaya Henderson, who became acting chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools after Rhee resigned in October, said last week that "a high erasure rate alone is not evidence of impropriety."
D.C. "has investigated all allegations of testing impropriety," Henderson said. "In those situations in which evidence of impropriety has been found, we have enforced clear consequences for the staff members involved, without hesitation."
Henderson, who was Rhee's deputy, said the system would identify only schools where violations of security protocol were found. "For the majority of schools" investigated, there was "no evidence of wrongdoing," she said. Out of fairness to staff members, she said, she declined to identify all the schools that were investigated.
There can be innocent reasons for multiple erasures. A student can lose his place on the answer sheet, fill in answers on the wrong rows, then change them when he realizes his mistake. And, as McGraw-Hill said in a March 2009 report to D.C. officials, studies also show that test-takers change answers more often when they are encouraged to review their work. The same report emphasizes that educators "should not draw conclusions about cheating behavior" from the data alone.
Haladyna notes, however, that when entire classrooms at schools with statistically rare erasures show fast-rising test scores, that suggests someone might have "tampered with the answer sheets," perhaps after the tests were collected from students. Although not proof of cheating, such a case underscores the need for an investigation, he says.
At Noyes, USA TODAY found several grades with wide swings in their proficiency rates from one year to the next. In 2008, 84% of fourth-grade math students were listed as proficient or advanced, up from 22% for the previous fourth-grade class. The math scores for the fourth-grade class in 2010 dropped off to 52% proficient or better.
For the school as a whole, test scores seemed to ride a roller coaster: In reading, from 2006 through 2010, the annual percentage of all Noyes students testing as proficient or higher went from 24% to 44% to 62% to 84% to 61%, according to official records. Reading scores at all D.C. elementary schools slumped on average by 4 percentage points from 2009 to 2010; Noyes' scores plunged 23 points.

'It's our children'

In 2008, the office of the State Superintendent of Education recommended that the scores of many schools be investigated because of unusually high gains, but top D.C. public school officials balked and the recommendation was dropped.
After the 2009 tests, the school district hired an outside investigator to look at eight D.C. public schools –– one of them was Noyes, USA TODAY learned — and to interview some teachers.
John Fremer, president of Caveon Consulting Services, the company D.C. hired, says the investigations were limited. The teachers were asked what they knew about the erasure rates but not whether cheating had taken place, Fremer says. They told Caveon that they "did what they were supposed to do and they didn't do anything wrong," he says.
Henderson, the D.C. chancellor, says D.C. educators interviewed by Caveon "gave specific reasons for high erasure rates. ... Some emphasized to their students that (they) ... should always go back, review their answers and make corrections, if needed.
"Other teachers," she says, "encouraged students to eliminate wrong answers in the test booklet by marking an 'X' next to wrong answers, which could account for an unusual number of erasures if students marked their 'X' on the answer sheet instead of the test booklet."
School district officials would not release the reports Caveon compiled. Caveon has been hired again to investigate the results of 2010 tests in which 41 DCPS schools, including Noyes, had at least one classroom flagged for high erasure rates. USA TODAY could not determine which schools are being scrutinized.
Parents and some State Board of Education members say they were never told which schools had high erasure rates or other irregularities.
Zell Foster, whose daughter Paige is an eighth-grader at Noyes, says that even if the school district didn't find any violations at the school in 2009, parents should have been informed that an investigation was underway. She says neither the school nor the district sent home notices about the erasures.
"It's not fair. It's our children," Foster says. "We shouldn't be in the dark."
Mark Jones, a member of the State Board of Education, says district officials appear not to have dug deeply into why some schools had such high erasure rates, but if they did, they have not shared what they found. He says parents need to know because they make decisions about where to send their children to school based on test scores.
"We should clearly have the data, whether it's good or bad," says Jones, who has two daughters in a public elementary school. The district at the very least should have told parents "we have anomalies and we are investigating," Jones says.
Ryan declined to answer questions from USA TODAY through the district's spokeswoman and did not respond to telephone calls or e-mail. Last year, he was promoted to instructional superintendent in the D.C. schools, overseeing a cluster of schools.
Rhee resigned after the mayor who appointed her, Adrian Fenty, lost his re-election bid last fall. She has since organized a non-profit, StudentsFirst, which is trying to raise $1 billion to promote education reform. When reached by telephone, Rhee said she is no longer the chancellor and declined to comment further.
D.C. officials declined to let USA TODAY visit schools or talk to principals, including Adell Cothorne, the principal who succeeded Ryan at Noyes for the 2010-11 school year.

An impasse over erasures

McGraw-Hill's practice is to flag only the most extreme examples of erasures. To be flagged, a classroom had to have so many wrong-to-right erasures that the average for each student was 4 standard deviations higher than the average for all D.C. students in that grade on that test. In layman's terms, that means a classroom corrected its answers so much more often than the rest of the district that it could have occurred roughly one in 30,000 times by chance. D.C. classrooms corrected answers much more often.
In 2008, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) — the D.C. equivalent of a state education department –– asked McGraw-Hill to do erasure analysis in part because some schools registered high percentage point gains in proficiency rates on the April 2008 tests.
Among the 96 schools that were then flagged for wrong-to-right erasures were eight of the 10 campuses where Rhee handed out so-called TEAM awards "to recognize, reward and retain high-performing educators and support staff," as the district's website says. Noyes was one of these.
Rhee bestowed more than $1.5 million in bonuses on principals, teachers and support staff on the basis of big jumps in 2007 and 2008 test scores.
At three of the award-winning schools — Phoebe Hearst Elementary, Winston Education Campus and Aiton Elementary — 85% or more of classrooms were identified as having high erasure rates in 2008. At four other schools, the percentage of classrooms in that category ranged from 17% to 58%.
Although all of the experts consulted by USA TODAY said such aberrations should trigger investigations at the school level, that did not happen in D.C. in 2008. No schools were investigated.
In November 2008, Deborah Gist, then the state superintendent of education, recommended that D.C. public schools and several charter schools investigate why their erasure rates were so high. "It is important to note that these (data) analyses do not suggest reasons for the high erasure rates," Gist wrote to the schools. "However, it is important that all procedures available to us are employed to guarantee the validity of the state assessment system."
Seven charter schools responded to OSSE and carried out probes. Gist's proposal met resistance from Rhee's staff, documents obtained by USA TODAY show. Memoranda flew back and forth for five months as D.C. school officials questioned the methodology and the rationale for an investigation.
Documents show that Rhee's chief data and accountability officer, Erin McGoldrick, requested more information from OSSE in February 2009. She asked for more details on the two lists of schools OSSE submitted for possible investigation. The lists were compiled using two different statistical methods for identifying examples of high wrong-to-right erasures. Noyes was on both lists.
"DCPS must be confident in the data provided before undertaking a full investigation," McGoldrick said, because of the "disruption and alarm an investigation would likely create at schools."
In April, state superintendent Gist left Washington to take a job as head of Rhode Island's state school system. Her successor, Kerri Briggs, then dropped the request for D.C. public schools to investigate its schools. Both Gist and Briggs, now director for education reform at the George W. Bush Institute in Texas, declined to comment.
A memo later prepared by Victor Reinoso, Washington's deputy mayor for education, noted that McGraw-Hill itself had cautioned that officials "should not draw conclusions about cheating behavior" from the data analysis. A USA TODAY review of the McGraw-Hill document, however, showed that a company analyst also said the data could properly be used to identify "possible cheating incidents for follow-up investigation."

The balance of power

The impasse over the 2008 scores illustrates the unusual balance of power within the D.C. school system. In 2007, when then-mayor Fenty took charge of D.C.'s failing schools, the D.C. school board was eliminated and replaced by a state board of education with little power. Fenty won the right to name the chancellor of D.C. public schools and in mid-2007 appointed Rhee.
From the start, Rhee emphasized a need to raise scores, restore calm to chaotic schools and close those with lagging scores and small enrollments. She paid bonuses to principals and teachers who produced big gains on scores. She let go dozens of principals and fired at least 600 teachers. Others retired or quit.
Turnover was brisk. Richard Whitmire, author of The Bee Eater, a biography of Rhee, reported that Rhee hired 1,918 teachers during her three years in office –– about 45% of those on the payroll last October. Only 2,318 current teachers had been hired before Rhee took charge.
The pressure on principals was unrelenting, says Aona Jefferson, a former D.C. principal who is now president of the Council of School Officers, representing principals and other administrators. Every year, Jefferson says, Rhee met with each principal and asked what kind of test score gains he would post in the coming school year. Jefferson says principals told her that Rhee expected them to increase scores by 10 percentile points or more every year. "What do you do when your chancellor asks, 'How many points can you guarantee this year?' " Jefferson says. "How is a principal supposed to do that?"
Rhee churned through principals. TheWashington Post reported that 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, either resigning or retiring; other principals, on one-year contracts, were let go for not producing quickly enough.
Union officials say the pressure for high test scores may have tempted educators to cheat.
"This is like an education Ponzi scam," says Nathan Saunders, head of the Washington Teachers' Union. "If your test scores improve, you make more money. If not, you get fired. That's incredibly dangerous."
When D.C. administrators resisted investigating the 2008 scores, there was no counterweight to force the issue. The state board is empowered only to advise OSSE. Mary Lord, a board member with a teenager who attends a D.C. high school, is critical of the decision not to investigate the 2008 scores. "If you are going to add all this weight" to testing, "hanging the principals' reputations ... and the teachers' pay on it, you have to make sure it is totally accurate," Lord says.
Board members say that, like parents, they have been kept in the dark about testing irregularities. The state board wasn't aware, Lord says, of the dispute between the superintendent's office and Rhee until its members saw reports in TheWashington Post in the fall of 2009. She says she did not see the erasure analysis or the lists of schools flagged by McGraw-Hill until USA TODAY shared its copies.
After Rhee gave bonuses to educators in some schools that posted big gains in test scores in 2007 and 2008, there was little incentive to examine those scores, Lord says. "You've handed out these big bonuses. What are you going to do? Take them back?" she says. "It's a bombshell. It's embarrassing."

'A total disconnect'

Questions were raised about high test scores at Noyes well before 2008.
A former Noyes parent, Marvin Tucker, says he suspected something was wrong in 2003, when the test scores his daughter, Marlana, brought home from school showed she was proficient in math.
Tucker says he was skeptical because the third-grader was getting daily instruction from a private tutor yet struggled with addition and subtraction. "She was nowhere near where they said she was on the test," he says. "I thought something was wrong with the test."
He questioned Ryan, the principal, and teachers about his daughter's scores but no one could explain how she had scored so high, Tucker recalls. Ultimately, Ryan barred him from the school for a year, saying he had threatened staff members, Tucker says. Tucker denies that.
Tucker also points out that if his daughter was proficient as a third-grader, that didn't last. When Marlana moved on to middle school elsewhere in D.C., her test scores fell and she no longer was considered proficient in math, he says.
Tucker shared his concerns about testing and other issues at Noyes with other parents. A small group went to the school board. "We tried to go through the chain of command," says Debbie Smith-Steiner, a neighborhood activist who worked with Tucker.
Parents even staged a small protest at the school board's offices, she says. Nothing changed and the group eventually let it go, Smith-Steiner says. "There wasn't anything we could do. You are fighting these battles and nobody is listening. Nobody is saying, 'How are these test scores going up so much?' "
Councilman Tommy Wells, then a school board member, says he relayed the parents' concerns to school officials. He says those officials assured him the allegations were checked out and nothing was confirmed. "There were parents and community members who did not like the principal," Wells says. "But we took their concerns seriously."
Several teachers at Noyes also were dubious about the legitimacy of test scores, describing what one called "a disconnect" between the high scores and how their students performed in class.
Ernestine Allen, a former teacher who taught pre-K as well as second- and fourth-grades for five years at Noyes, says it was hard to trust the scores of some students entering her classes. Their scores showed they were doing well when, she says, they were still struggling with reading.
"You wonder, how is it that this student got such a high score?" Allen says. She says teachers talked about the problem among themselves. But, she says, "Who do you tell?"
Allen left Noyes in 2006 after a series of run-ins with Ryan, which included a poor evaluation and an incident in which he called the police on her son, Preston. A police report shows Preston Allen, then 31, went to Ryan's office in October 2005 and asked the principal to stop using profanity when he talked to his mother. Ryan said the situation would be handled "administratively," the report said. No arrests were made.
Another Noyes instructor who taught more recently than Allen agrees with her that test scores were unreliable. "Something doesn't make sense," says the former teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. "It's a total disconnect between what scores showed and what I could see in the classroom."
The former teacher also says "there was no way" the students themselves could have erased their own answers and changed them to the right ones. "They didn't check their work," the teacher says.

A limited investigation

The tests administered in April 2009 produced another round of score improvements for D.C. schools. The proficiency rate districtwide in reading for elementary schools rose 3 percentage points over 2008; the math rate jumped 7 points.
Data obtained by USA TODAY show that, after those tests, 46 D.C. public schools were flagged by McGraw-Hill for having classrooms with high rates of wrong answers changed to right ones. Last October, five of those schools won TEAM awards — and bonuses for teachers and principals — for their high scores. It was the second win for Noyes' staff and the first for J.O. Wilson Elementary, another school that regularly has had more than 80% of its classrooms flagged for high erasure rates.
OSSE chose eight D.C. public schools plus four charter schools for investigation. District officials would not identify the eight D.C. public schools, but USA TODAY was told by a former official that Noyes was one of them.
Fremer, president of Caveon Consulting Services, the Utah company hired by D.C., acknowledges the investigations were limited and focused mainly on process. "Did everyone who should have received training (on how to give tests) receive training? Was there a mechanism in place for checking out the test booklets? How were they stored?" he says in describing the questions.
When Caveon interviewed individual teachers, Fremer says, an official from the school district was always present and occasionally a principal sat in. Teachers were asked about why erasure rates were so high, Fremer says, but he adds: "We didn't ask if teachers cheated."
D.C. school officials did not ask Caveon to do its own analysis of the test data, Fremer says. For other investigations, he says, Caveon has gone to the testing company to examine the tapes of the scanning machines that detected which wrong answers were erased and changed to right. It is helpful, he says, to examine each student's answers to determine, for example, whether students got hard questions right but missed easy ones. That unlikely outcome can indicate tampering.
After Caveon's investigation, D.C. school district officials cleared all but one of the eight public schools originally on the list. OSSE approved those findings, according to documents USA TODAY obtained.
At Burrville Elementary, where half of the school's classrooms had been flagged for high wrong-to-right erasure rates by McGraw-Hill, the conclusion was that one teacher had wrongly cleaned up stray pencil marks on student answer sheets. That was not allowed, OSSE said in a letter to Rhee. In that classroom, students' math and reading scores were invalidated.
At another school, Stanton Elementary, where wrong-to-right erasures in one fourth-grade class were about 10 times the district average, no violation was found. But an unidentified teacher was banned from administering future tests. The letter sent to Rhee by OSSE did not explain why.
Ted Trabue, president of the State Board of Education, agrees the 2009 investigation was limited. But he credits OSSE, which sets test security policy, for tightening the rules since 2009. For this year's testing season, which starts April 4, OSSE added a security seal to the outside of the test booklets that can be broken only by students.
Acting chancellor Henderson said "stricter protocols for receiving, storing and returning test materials" are now in place, and each school has been assigned an independent observer from the central office to monitor test administration.
There are people here — parents, politicians and some educators — who also want D.C. to be more aggressive and open about irregularities.
Jefferson, the head of the Council of School Officers, says that if questions remain about the legitimacy of test scores at schools such as Noyes, the school district should not just conduct a thorough investigation, it should also tell the community about it. "You don't want this cloud hanging over them," she says. "You don't want their achievement tainted. ... They did all this work to be a Blue Ribbon School. When you don't say anything, you leave a lot of questions."
Lord, the state board member, says it's hard to fix a problem when there has been no open discussion about it. Without a public debate, Lord says, "it begs the question: Was this a strong school because they were cheating all along?"