I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Rhee-al World

The Rhee-al World, as described by Michelle Rhee on Real Time with Bill Maher:
MAHER: I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I hear that all the time: "closing down schools." Where do the kids go then?  
RHEE: Well because the district had done such a poor job of education kids for a very long time, kids were sort of fleeing the district. So we were running the same number of schools, but just with fewer kids. So you can close down the low-performing schools, and then, hopefully, send the kids to somewhat higher-performing schools. [emphasis mine]

The real world:
Former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee’s decision to close 23 D.C. public schools in 2008 cost the city far more than previously reported, according to the District’s auditor.
The original $9.7 million price tag should have also included another $8 million that the city spent to move to demolish buildings, remove furnishings and transport displaced students, D.C. Auditor Yolanda Branche wrote in a recent report.
In addition, Branche wrote, the city forfeited $22 million in lost property value at the closed sites, bringing the total cost to about $40 million.
That news, first reported by the Washington Examiner, comes as current Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is in the midst of planning for another round of school closures, expected to be announced sometime this fall. [emphasis mine]
And where, pray tell, are those kids who get displaced going to go?
 The District’s traditional public school system is in danger of shrinking significantly unless officials make changes that persuade parents to stop fleeing to public charter schools, D.C. Council members said Wednesday. 
“I believe we are within a year or two of hitting an irreversible tipping point,” said David Catania (I-At Large), who chairs the council’s Education Committee, during a hearing on Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s plan to close 15 under-enrolled city schools. 
“If we don’t become very serious about marketing and competing” with charter schools, Catania said, “traditional public schools, as we know them, will become a thing of the past.” 
Charter schools have grown quickly in the District during the past 15 years and now enroll more than 40 percent of the city’s public school students, leaving the traditional school system with half-empty buildings in many neighborhoods — and something of an existential crisis. [emphasis mine]
So Washington's kids have been "fleeing" to charter schools: which Rhee herself heavily promoted when she was Chancellor. The "flight" of students from DCPS was largely by Rhee's own design. And I think we all have figured out what that Rhee-ally means...

While council members focused on avoiding future school closures, activists announced Wednesday that they plan to challenge in court the latest round of closings. They say the closures disproportionately affect African American children and students with disabilities.
Black students make up 72 percent of the school system’s total enrollment but account for 93 percent of the students affected by the closures, said Mary Levy, a longtime school system watchdog.
“Folks are losing access to walkable schools, to public resources. What we feel it is about is pushing low-income and moderate income people of color out of the District,” said Daniel del Pielago, of the community group Empower DC, which has called for a moratorium on school closures. [emphasis mine]
But maybe this is all worth it if it "saved" enrollment in Washington's "public" schools (sorry, reformies, charters are NOT publics). Did it?
It [DCPS enrollment] seems to have stabilized, but that’s all; and this at a time when the entire population of the District of Columbia grew by about one-fifth (about 100,000 people) and the enrollment in our publicly-funded, but privately-run charter schools has gone through the roof. So, not exactly a stellar job; in fact, the sort of job that ought to get Henderson and company fired for sheer incompetence. In fact, this is not the only time that DCPS enrollment was roughly stable – that also happened from 1990 to 1996. 
total audited dcps enrollment 1990-2012
It is time to throw them out and go back to a democratically-elected school board and neighborhood schools — to begin with. Yes, lots of changes need to be made, but this crew has not a clue
Amen. What else has the proliferation of charters in the nation's capital wrought?
The District’s public charter schools have expelled students at a far higher rate than the city’s traditional public schools in recent years, according to school data, highlighting a key difference between two sectors that compete for the District’s students and taxpayer dollars.
D.C. charter schools expelled 676 students in the past three years, while the city’s traditional public schools expelled 24, according to a Washington Post review of school data. During the 2011-12 school year, when charters enrolled 41 percent of the city’s students, they removed 227 children for discipline violations and had an expulsion rate of 72 per 10,000 students; the District school system removed three and had an expulsion rate of less than 1 per 10,000 students.
And has this helped improve student achievement?
Look at these two graphs, which show bars that depict what percent of students in each of the public and charter schools are proficient in math: 
The chart shown above is for all of the regular DC Public Schools. Notice that there are 15 schools (out of 117, or about 13% of the total number of schools) with proficiency rates over 80%.
Now let’s look at the graph for the DC charter schools:

Here, there are only four schools (out of 70 charter schools, or about 6%) that have 80% or more of their students scoring at what is called “proficient”.
Now, I'll admit - that isn't quite enough to say that Washington's charters haven't improved student achievement. We need more analysis to say what's Rhee-ly happened. But as the great G.F. Brandenburg, who made all these graphs, points out:
By the way: none of this data is published at the regular NCLB/OSSE/DCPS data location, at least not yet. There are so far no breakdowns of student populations at each school by gender, race/ethnicity, proficiency in the English language, special education status, family income, AND grade — which is why I haven’t published anything on that. Seems to me that as time goes on, DCPS, charter schools, and OSSE are all releasing less and less information to the public. [emphasis mine]
Stonewalling by DCPS and the Rhee regime? Why, I'm just shocked...

The Rhee-al World is a place where those who care about schools need not worry themselves with independently confirming Michelle Rhee's assertions. She sets the narrative: you, like the mostly credulous press that hangs on her every word, need only nod your head in assent.

You'll see the data that I say you can see!


giuseppe said...

I almost switched channels when I found out that Rhee was going to be on Bill Maher's show but I toughed it out. It wasn't a total softball interview but not probing enough for me. Bill pointed out that US schools with low poverty rates outperform many of the top international schools. Rhee countered that he was comparing apples to oranges. She said that when you compared affluent US pupils to affluent foreign pupils, the US ranked 23rd in outcomes. I don't trust her numbers, I'm not sure if I believe her or not. But the US has the highest child poverty rate amongst the rich countries, how the hell can you ignore that? Finland is an overwhelmingly middle class country with low poverty rates while we have incredible income disparity with truckloads of homeless and poor people. We have very high poverty rates for a rich country.

giuseppe said...

I see from an earlier article of yours you debunked Rhee's assertion about comparing apples to oranges. Thanks for doing all the wonky and hard work knocking down Rhee's tsunami of BS, which is a full time job.

Michael Fiorillo said...

As you correctly point out, in a rational situation, Rhee and her successors would have deserved to be fired for incompetence.

That they were not, and that things like this are happening all over the country, is one of many Tells that reveal the underlying dynamics - privatization of public resources, displacement and replacement of populations - of corporate school reform.

Tim Slekar said...

Gotta love the Jazzman for doing the hard work. The depth of the fact presented is so impressive. Takes Rhee apart piece by piece. I decided to go for Maher. He should have the facts that the Jazzman seems to have no problem finding. http://atthechalkface.com/2013/03/20/does-anyone-have-half-a-ball/