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John Thompson: A Closer Look at the “Success” in D.C. That Wasn’t

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John Thompson knows that reformers point to the District of Columbia as one of their examples of success. After all, the district has been controlled by Teach for America alumnae Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson since 2007. They own whatever successes and not-successes that occurred over the past eight years. The centerpiece of their claims of success is NAEP scores, which are up.

 

In this post, Thompson identifies the flaws in the narrative of success. Thompson lauds John Merrow for critiquing the narrative of a district he once held up as an exemplar of successful reform. Merrow asked, in his post, why anyone was celebrating Kaya Henderson’s five-year anniversary in the wake of the disastrous scores on the Common Core PARCC tests, which showed a district where academic performance was dismal.

 

Thompson reviews the NAEP scores, using Rick Hess’s data.

 

Hess cites overall gains in NAEP growth under Rhee and Henderson, but those same NAEP studies actually support the common sense conclusion that the numbers reflect gentrification. Hess’s charts show that from 2005 to 2013, the percentage of D.C. students who are low-income dropped from 66% to 61.6%. (In my world, a 61.6% low-income urban school seems danged-near rich.) Per student spending increased by 40% during that time. (The new spending, alone, comes close to the total per student spending in my 90% low-income system.)

 

According to Hess’s chart, the percentage of the D.C. students who are black dropped by 1/8th from 2005 to 2013, and the percentage of students with disabilities dropped by 1/7th. And, the 2015 NAEP excluded as many as 44% of D.C.’s English Language Learners. The conservative reformer RiShawn Biddle calls that exclusion “massive and unacceptable test-cheating.”

 

Even so, as Merrow reminds us, the performance gap between low-income and more affluent students has grown even wider; for instance, from 2002 to 2015, the 8th grade reading performance gap grew from 17 to 48 points.

 

Before Rhee/Henderson, the growth in D.C. test scores was spread much more widely. Because I believe that 8th grade reading is the most important NAEP metric in terms of evaluating school performance, I will cite some of those metrics in support of Merrow. From 1998 to 2002, black 8th grade reading scores increased from an average of 233 to 238. By 2015, they were down to 236. From 1998 to 2002, average 8th grade reading scores for low-income students increased from 229 to 233. In 2015, they remained at 233.

 

Thompson says it is sad that the elites now re-engineering public education are utterly disconnected from the lives and realities of the children who attend those schools or the people who teach in them. They need a reality check, or maybe a course in sociocultural sensitivity training so that they stop stepping on the faces of children and adults whose lives they know nothing about.

 

 

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