Jun 26, 2012

Ignoring DC Public Schools Erasure Gate!

to whiten with whitewash, to cover up or gloss over the faults or errors of; absolve from blame

Written by Candi Peterson

Last week, Washington Post education columnist, Jay Mathews and blogger of Class Struggle wrote an excellent piece titled: "DC Keeps Ignoring its Test Erasure Scandal." While I don't always agree with Mathews, he certainly hit the nail on the head this time. Two thumbs up to Jay Mathews!

Mathews believes that the results of the second investigation into the testing erasure scandal in DC Public Schools is a cover-up. I wholeheartedly agree with him. As a veteran reporter, Mathews knows a white wash when he sees one.  Mathews gives full disclosure in his article stating that he is married to Linda Mathews, editor at USA Today who conceived and exposed the series of articles in 2011 into testing erasure scandals not only in DC but Atlanta, Georgia, as well.

Mathews asked the million dollar question of DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson,"What about all those erasures?" Mathews writes: "Henderson seems uninterested in the question stating that I am pleased that this investigation is complete and the vast majority of our schools were cleared of any wrongdoing." What is interesting about Henderson's comments, is what she doesn't say. The  investigation conducted by Alvarez and Marsal is only for the 2011 school year. We are still awaiting the DC Inspector General investigation results for school year 2010 and there will be no investigation into years 2008 or 2009. DC officials limited the scope of the probe so that a full scale investigation will not take place. Go figure.

I'm troubled that in the years where there was a great likelihood that there was rampant cheating under the Michelle Rhee/Kaya Henderson administration, we will never have a legitimate answer as to what really happened. Mark Simon, DCPS parent wrote a post on the Concerned for DCPS list serve explaining why some think that an investigation into 2009 would be insignificant. Simon writes :"When IFF looked at the test score results for the past three years, they noted an abnormal bump in the scores in 2009. They said that since cheating was widespread across the school system, they discounted it as having an effect in any particular school."

In Mathews' article, he all but asks what's wrong with this picture, when an investigation does not make any mention of asking students about erasures. For me, this is problematic, especially since as Mathews writes, no students were questioned in the initial Caveon Consulting Company investigation. It seems to me this investigation didn't really want to find out what happened. Rather, as Mathew reports, Cate Swinburn, Chief of Data and Accountability for DC Public Schools had her own hypothesis that wrong-to-right erasures "might have been caused by students first making tentative answers, then going back to rethink them as teachers often recommend." How did Swinburn arrive at such a conclusion especially since students were never questioned by investigators about their own erasures? Not to mention, that the frequency of wrong-to-right answers, evidenced by erasure reports in DC Public Schools is unlikely to happen, according to Mathews' sources.

I am more inclined to agree with Mathews position when he makes the argument: ".... had investigators taken seriously the possibility that high erasure rates could have been due to principals or testing coordinators changing answers after students turned them in, it would have helped to determine if students who had many changes on their tests, remembered making them. " That is of course, if Alvarez and Marsal had thought to question students about their erasures. Mathews states DC students were asked questions that were not related to the issue of test erasures. Students were asked if they cheated? and if they knew who did? What else would we expect from a company whose motto is: "when the stakes are high, companies and stakeholders look to A & M to help find the right answer and deliver the solution ?"

In looking at the comments that followed Mathews article, I noticed that one poster asked why are we surprised at the results. I am not surprised at all especially at this 'no accountability administration' who regularly points the finger of blame at teachers for all that's wrong in public education. Being the idealist that I am, I did hope for a comprehensive investigation.

Mathews opines a final point in conclusion, with which I concur: "The failure to do the kind of thorough inquiry that revealed massive test tampering by principals and teachers in Atlanta after high numbers of erasures will leave many people here in doubt. The latest investigation, which cost $400,000, has done the children of D.C. no good at all."

Mathews' article can be viewed by clicking the title of his article: DC Keeps Ignoring its Test Erasure Scandal.

© Candi Peterson 2013

Jun 17, 2012

Is Teacher Churn Undermining Real Education Reform in DC?

Candi Peterson, blogger
An Op-ed in this Sunday's Washington Post, written by Mark Simon, education analyst and DCPS parent calls attention to the rate of turnover of both teachers and principals as a huge education reform. Simon argues the turnover rates are so high we're losing a lot of our best teachers and creating a hostile culture in too many schools. Turnover in charter schools is even higher.

By Mark Simon, Published: June 15- Washington Post

"I suppose the leaders of D.C. Public Schools want me to be happy that social studies teacher Kerry Sylvia won’t be coming back to Cardozo Senior High next year. The sound bite sounded appealing when DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced recently in her new strategic plan that one way to improve graduation rates is to focus on teacher talent — to remove bad teachers and replace them with better ones. But what if, however well intentioned, the reforms are actually leaving uninspired teachers in place and getting rid of some of the best talent?

When I heard that Sylvia had received a notice last month that she was being “excessed” from Cardozo after 13 years, it didn’t add up. I know good teaching, having taught high school for 16 years myself and helped to design the celebrated teacher evaluation system in Montgomery County. My daughter is about to graduate from DCPS, and I have been an engaged parent and a close DCPS observer for 14 years.

Sylvia is clearly a brilliant teacher, committed to her students, her school and its community. She is not only an award-winning teacher but also a leader and student advocate. I’ve talked with her students, several of whom told me that Sylvia’s class was the reason they come to school. If the District’s new plan is eliminating teachers like Sylvia, it’s on the wrong track.

DCPS has one of the highest teacher turnover rates in the nation. Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania estimates that, “nationally, on average, about 20 percent of new public school teachers leave their district to teach in another district or leave teaching altogether within one year, one-third do so within two years, and 55 percent do so within five years.” In DCPS, by contrast, 55 percent of new teachers leave in their first two years, according to an analysis by DCPS budget watchdog Mary Levy. Eighty percent are gone by the end of their sixth year. That means that most of the teachers brought in during the past five years are no longer there. By comparison, in Montgomery County just 11.5 percent leave by the end of their second year, and 30 percent by the end of year five. DCPS has become a teacher turnover factory. It has a hard time keeping teachers who are committed to their school and the community it serves.

According to Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, “Teaching is no different than any other profession — experience matters. Researchers have found that teachers reach peak effectiveness with about seven years of experience. But 80 percent of the teachers hired by D.C. this year will be gone before they get there.” Carroll estimates that “the District is burning about $12 million a year on teacher churn — $12 million that is spent hiring and replacing teachers with no gain in school performance.”

Three aspects of the Michelle Rhee-Kaya Henderson reforms contribute to higher rates of teacher churn: unstable school budgets from year to year; greater freedom for principals under the IMPACT evaluation system to identify teachers for dismissal or transfer; and school closings. But most of the turnover comes from teachers leaving voluntarily, not those excessed like Sylvia.

For years, researchers, such as Jane Hannaway of the Urban Institute, have advised DCPS that turnover can be a good thing because odds are that replacement teachers will be better than the ones who leave. But I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps the wrong teachers, in some cases great ones, are being pushed out.

Now, a significant new study by researchers Susanna Loeb of Stanford University, Matthew Ronfeldt of the University of Michigan and Jim Wyckoff of the University of Virginia upends Hannaway’s assumption. The study, “How Teacher Turnover Hurts Student Achievement,” concludes that, separate from the relative quality of teachers who may be brought in to replace those who leave, teacher turnover itself harms a school. Turnover affects morale and the professional culture at a school. It weakens the knowledge base of the staff about students and the community. It weakens collegiality, professional support and trust that teachers depend on in their efforts to improve achievement.

In March, Post reporter Bill Turque penned an insightful profile of another demonstrably terrific teacher, Sarah Wysocki from MacFarland Middle School, who was fired from DCPS after getting low scores in her IMPACT evaluation. The mechanical process of IMPACT insults good teachers and doesn’t do justice to the complexities of good teaching.

If the reform strategies in place in DCPS were working, then perhaps a resolute and unsympathetic response to so-called “soft issues” of staff morale and workforce culture would be understandable. But gains in student achievement in DCPS have stalled. The dropout crisis continues. It’s not that reform isn’t a good idea, but these modest results call for some humility. They might even call for listening to the wisdom of accomplished teachers we can’t afford to lose.

The writer is a DCPS parent, the former president of the Montgomery County teachers union and an education policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute. He blogs at realeducationreformdc.blogspot.com "

Jun 14, 2012

More DCPS Staff Excesses Next Week!

excess : an elimination of a position at a particular school due to a decline in student enrollment, reduction in the local school budget, a closing or restructuring, or a change in the local school program when such an elimination is not a reduction in force or abolishment.

Written By Candi Peterson

More DC Public Schools employees are due to be excessed at the beginning of next week. Inside sources report that emails were initially sent from Human Capital Chief, Jason Kamras to principals authorizing excess letters to be delivered on the last day of school Thursday, June 14. However, excesses have now been postponed until Monday, June 18.  Employees who will be excessed are non-WTU members and include a variety of school based positions.

Jun 6, 2012

The Cardozo Experiment: DC Public School Gets Race To The Top Funds

Written by Candi Peterson

So it seems that DC Public Schools will be using Race to The Top (RTTT) Dollars to create more school administrators and educrats which according to the Urban Dictionary is an officer, administrator or other bureaucrats in a school district. Similar stories are taking shape around the country as districts race to the top for funds under President Obama's signature 2009 reform effort for education. 

The last two weeks have been a helluva adjustment for Cardozo Senior High school staff, of which I am a part. We just learned that Cardozo Senior High beloved principal and the administrative team will be dismantled. Principal Grant of Cardozo Senior High in NW Washington, DC announced in our May staff meeting last week that she has not been re-appointed (after 5 years as principal) by DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. Grant in her 'Swan Song' to staff, chimed "Don't cry for me." Not unlike her predecessor, Henderson is no different than former DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee in terms of firing principals. Lisa Gartner, staff writer for the DC Examiner reported in a June 5, 2012 article : "It's become something of a tradition for DCPS to shed dozens of principals each year.... In fall 2008, the school system replaced 43 principals. That number dropped to 26 in 2009, rose slightly to 30 in 2010, and fell back to 24 last school year." Gartner noted in the article that more than half of the principals being replaced were hired by Rhee.

As is typical in our district, when a principal is not reappointed, plans quickly roll out to hire a new principal. In the interim, an Instructional Superintendent (I.S.) steps in to oversee the 'transition process' and meet with the school staff for a brief question and answer session. A first meeting with our schools, I.S., Dan Shea occurred this week. When I questioned Shea as to why our principal was not reappointed, I wasn't surprised when I got the 'pat response' often provided by our district- "we cannot share that information as it is a personnel matter." Not even with the PTA, I asked? Shea responded no. 

A day later another meeting was held, after school with the I.S. and educrats from downtown. At this second meeting, we learned that in school year 2012-13 we will be gaining a planning principal, in addition to, an experienced principal partner, a planning vice principal and an instructional specialist. As I understand it, this team of administrators will be part of a planning team (not the team who actually runs the school) and some of them will travel the country for upwards of 5-6 months to observe best practices so they can incorporate successful educational models into the turn around of Cardozo Senior High School, which I believe will coincide with the school's planned re-opening in 2013. I don't think it is happenstance that the end of the planning year will coincide with the re-opening of the school's soon to be newly renovated building. Currently, we occupy an archaic elementary school building (known as Meyer Elementary), which has been modified with demountable trailers to accommodate our size.

In our last meeting, we were advised that approximately 6-7 DC Public Schools will receive Race to the Top (RTTT) Funds this school year, as well as, District funds to increase student achievement and attendance. Kramer Middle School in S.E. DC is already a recipient of RTTT funds and has gone through a similar process as outlined on the DCPS website. Additionally, Garfield Elementary School (whose principal, Ms. Tilghman was not re-appointed this year) and Johnson Middle School are slated to also receive funding. Ironically, Cardozo is  one of 38 DC Public Schools recommended by an Illinois Facilities Fund (IFF) study to close Tier 4 schools which are considered by the study to be the lowest performing and replace them with high-performing publicly-funded charter schools. (no final decisions have been made at this time, but according to statements made by DC Mayor Vincent Gray- he is in support of charter school expansion). This recommendation from the Illinois Facilities Fund study parallels the tenets of Race to the Top (allow or encourage public charter schools). It also would not surprise me for a minute, if plans are underway to reconstitute Cardozo's existing staff at the end of school year 2013, all the while using current staff to run the school while the planning principal and company are traveling and/or observing the instructional delivery of teachers and staff to implement in the turn around school model. When asked whether we could use any of our newly acquired funds to re-hire teachers we lost through excessing, we were informed by Shea that we would need to recruit more students, to get more teachers.

Race to the Top is defined as a 4.35 billion dollar contest, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), that is designed to spur reforms in state and local districts in kindergarten-12th grade education. "Districts in their plans to improve education must pledge to install a new system to evaluate teachers, use data to measure how well students are learning, pump resources into troubled schools and allow or encourage public charter schools" as reported by Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post writer in her January 10, 2011 article titled: "D.C. behind schedule in meeting Race to the Top promises."

Don't get me wrong about my analysis of Race to The Top. I am not saying that we don't need to reform our under performing schools. We do. However, if the Department of Education has 4.35 billion dollars laying around, why do we need a contest ? Why not share the wealth so that as many of our struggling schools, as possible, in the country have a chance to succeed and get the resources at long last that are needed? What's up with firing all the principals in exchange for a revolving door approach of newly hired principals that Michelle Rhee proved didn't work? Why not give the resources like Race to the Top funds to existing principals ?  After all, isn't it logical to conclude that had Cardozo Senior High School been given resources galore in the first place, sufficient staff, and a full planning year that we would have had a greater likelihood for success ? 

In the words of fellow teacher blogger, NYC Educator: "It's amazing that we jump through hoops to get race to the top money, agree to all sorts of reforms, and make such a big deal out of it when it turns out kids are the last to actually benefit from it. The money was never to reduce class size, to promote innovation, to improve instruction, but rather a chance to utilize a wishing well of Bill Gates Foundation/Eli Broad ideas hoisted upon the country. Here's a country that adores innovation in education, and no one cares whether or not it works as long as teachers and administrators can be held accountable for whatever ends up happening.... The Race is not about how well children do. It is, rather, about making clueless billionaires appear to be taking positive action on education. "

© Candi Peterson 2013