As for the facts Ravitch uses in her op ed, it turns out that they're not technically lies – just distortions. The schools ARE improving, some dramatically so, but they started at such a low level that, on an absolute basis, they still have a long way to go. But you wouldn't know this from reading Ravitch's column. It's REALLY hard to turn around a failing school and it takes time – sometimes a long time – but we should be celebrating, not crapping on, real progress.
Below is a school-by-school analysis done by an independent researcher, who concludes:
Ravitch is correct that the four featured schools are not high-performing on an absolute scale but she disregards each school's growth and, in several cases, impressive relative success, which Obama and Duncan focus on. While all the numbers Ravitch cites about each school are accurate, in one case (Urban Prep) she manipulates the data to make her case stronger through an apples-to-oranges comparison. Obama also seems to be a little loose with the numbers in order to play up the progress at Miami Central. The details of both examples are below.
1. Bruce Randolph School (Denver)
In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama hailed the Bruce Randolph School in Denver[i], where the first senior class had a graduation rate of 97 percent[ii]… Mr. Obama's praise for Randolph, which he said had been "one of the worst schools in Colorado," seems misplaced. Noel Hammatt, a former teacher and instructor at Louisiana State University, looked at data from the Web site of the Colorado Department of Education. True, Randolph (originally a middle school, to which a high school was added) had a high graduation rate, but its ACT scores were far below the state average[iii], indicating that students are not well prepared for college. In its middle school, only 21 percent were proficient or advanced in math[iv], placing Randolph in the fifth percentile in the state (meaning that 95 percent of schools performed better). Only 10 percent met the state science standards[v]. In writing and reading, the school was in the first percentile.
- Ravitch is accurate in her assessment that Bruce Randolph is not achieving strong academic outcomes on an absolute scale. In 2010 the school did not meet state benchmarks for academic achievement in middle or high school.
- The school is making academic growth, however, working its way up from the lowest performing middle school in the state[vi] to the ranking of "approaching" the state benchmark for academic growth in middle school (between the 30th and 45th percentile of schools in the state) and "meeting" that benchmark in high school (between 45th and 60th percentile)[vii].
- Ravitch also exaggerates the difference in the school's CO ACT score (17) and the state average (19.4) It is scored on a scale of 1-36.
2. Urban Prep (Chicago)
At a celebration in February for Teach for America's 20th anniversary, Education Secretary Arne Duncan sang the praises of an all-male, largely black charter school in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, Urban Prep Academy, which replaced a high school deemed a failure[viii]…. Gary Rubinstein, an education blogger and Teach for America alumnus who has been critical of the program, checked Mr. Duncan's claims about Urban Prep. Of 166[ix] students who entered as ninth graders, only 107 graduated. Astonishingly, the state Web site showed that only 17 percent passed state tests, compared to 64 percent in the low-performing Chicago public school district.[x]
- While Urban Prep is not a high-performing school on an absolute scale and Ravitch uses accurate numbers to make her case, she inflates the gap between the school's performance and the district average through an apples-to-oranges comparison. She says 17% of Urban Prep students passed state tests, compared to 64% in the district – a more accurate district average is 28%.
- 64% represents the average district pass rate of multiple tests given across K-12.[xi]
- Urban Prep students took only one, the PSAE (given to 11th graders).
- The PSAE has the lowest pass rates of all the tests – Urban Prep's 17% compares to a 28% for the district.
- Urban Prep's achievement of 100% college admittance for its first graduating class is significant and impressive.
3. Miami Central Senior High School (Miami)
And in March, Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan joined Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, to laud the transformation of Miami Central Senior High School….Miami Central had been "reconstituted," meaning that the principal and half the staff members were fired. The president said that "performance has skyrocketed by more than 60 percent in math," and that graduation rates rose to 63 percent, from 36 percent. But in math, it ranks 430th out of 469 high schools in Florida. Only 56 percent of its students meet state math standards, and only 16 percent met state reading standards. The graduation rate rose, but the school still ranks 431st, well below the state median graduation rate of 87 percent. The improvements at Miami Central are too small and too new to conclude that firing principals and teachers works.
- While Miami Central High School is not a high-performing school on an absolute scale, it's made some progress since it was reconstituted in the 2006-2007 school year. That said, it appears that the Obama Administration overplayed the results.
- Progress: Miami Central improved its scores from an "F" to a "D" on the State's report card two years ago and then from a "D" to a "C" last year.[xv] In addition, the percent of students meeting state standards on the FCAT in math and reading has gone up at both the 9th and 10th grade level over the last several years.[xvi]
- The White House uses a different set of facts in relation to student achievement improvement in Obama's speech and on their website that don't align.[xvii] This gives us pause on the level and detail of research they did into the school's results.
- We were able to confirm that all of the numbers Ravitch cites are accurate except we could not access school rankings (they must be purchased through the state's department of education website.)
- Ravitch possibly misrepresents the reconstitution process:
1. Ravitch says: "Miami Central had been "reconstituted," meaning that the principal and half the staff members were fired."
a. From the plan the state put in place[xviii] it appears that principals were replaced and teachers had to reapply for their jobs. If they weren't rehired they were supposed to be transferred to another school in the district. It seems inaccurate to say this constitutes 'firing.'
b. The White House website[xix] uses the following language to describe the change in staff: "Promoted a strong school leader to become the new principal; Replaced more than half the staff."
4. PS 33 (NYC)
To be sure, the hyping of test-score improvements that prove to be fleeting predated the Obama administration. In 2005, New York's mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, held a news conference at Public School 33 in the Bronx to celebrate an astonishing 49-point jump in the proportion of fourth grade students there who met state standards in reading. In 2004, only 34 percent reached proficiency, but in 2005, 83 percent did. It seemed too good to be true — and it was. A year later, the proportion of fourth-graders at P.S. 33 who passed the state reading test dropped by 41 points. By 2010, the passing rate was 37 percent, nearly the same as before 2005.
· Since 2005, as Ravitch attests, PS 33 has not experienced a radical turnaround. The fluctuation in ELA test scores Ravitch observes is a trend that has continued over the past seven years at PS 33
1. In 2005, there was a nearly 10% increase across the board in the percentage of 4th and 8th grade students in New York City meeting or exceeding state standards in ELA[xx] (scoring at levels 3 or 4 on state assessment).
2. PS 33 now falls below the New York City average for % of students at proficiency in ELA[xxi] (scoring at levels 3 or 4 on state assessment) in 4th grade—45.6% and grades 3-8—42.4% for 2010.
i."You see, we know what's possible from our children when reform isn't just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities. Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado -- located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their families to go to college. And after the first year of the school's transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, "Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it." (Applause.) That's what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country." http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/25/remarks-president-state-union-address
iii. CO ACT scores were ranked "Does Not Meet," indicating the school's average composite score is below 17. https://cedar2.cde.state.co.us/documents/SPF2010/0880%20-%206350%20-%203%20Year.pdf. The state average was 19.4. http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeassess/documents/COACT/2010/2010_COACT_ST.xls
viii. Duncan said: "Last year one of those schools graduated its first class of seniors. It was an all African America, all male charter school, Urban Prep. One hundred seven young men, 107 went on to four year universities, 107 graduated on time. Same children, same community, same poverty, same violence, far too many of those children growing up in single parent families, actually went to the school in the same building but with different adults, different expectations, different sense of what's possible and guess what that made all the difference in the world." http://www.teachforamerica.org/after-the-corps/alumni-summits/20th-anniversary-summit/#video.
Graduation rate also reported here: http://abcnews.go.com/WN/tim-king-students-urban-prep-charter-academy-persons/story?id=10088324).
xi. ISAT, which is given to grades 3 through 8 (70%), IAA given to students with severe cognitive disabilities (49%), PSAE, given in 11th grade (29%), ACCESS for K-12 ELL students (% not available). http://iirc.niu.edu/School.aspx?source=School_Profile&schoolID=15016299025010C&level=S
xvi. http://www.schooldigger.com/go/FL/schools/0039000596/school.aspx?entity=25&subentity=44. In 9th grade math the percent that met state standards between 2007-2010 rose from 24 to 44; in 10th grade math the percent that met state standards between 2004-2010 rose from 32 to 58; in 9th grade reading the percent of students that met state standards between 2007-2010 rose from 11 to 16; in 10th grade reading the percent of students that met state standards between 2004-2010 basically stayed level (it went from 11 to 12 percent).
xvii. In his speech, President Obama says, "Performance has skyrocketed by more than 60 percent in math, about 40 percent in writing." The White House website quotes a variation of this stat, "Achievement at the school has improved by 40 points in writing and over 60 points in math." The two stats include the same numbers in the same subject areas, but different modifiers ('percent' versus 'points').
xviii. http://www.fldoe.org/board/meetings/2006_08_15/MiamiCentralSrHighPlan.pdf, #12 reads: All instructional staff must reapply for their jobs, and must have evidence of being highly effective. As part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the United Teachers of Dade (UTD), any staff member desiring to leave any ZONE school, which includes Miami Central Senior High School, is provided with that opportunity on a yearly basis. This transfer process allows staff members who are not committed to the mission of the school to transfer to another school within the district. Teacher performance is a key component in the reconstitution efforts for a failing school. A close review of teacher performance based on FCAT data results is conducted annually. Teachers of reading, language arts, and mathematics courses who do not attain 50% or higher of their student load to make a year's worth of learning gains are transferred to another school within the district. Additionally, staff members who have not demonstrated good attendance, have consistently high failure rates, and/or do not comply with guidelines will be transferred to a more appropriate setting. A Human Resources staff member has been assigned to work with school administration at Central to quickly fill these positions with highly effective instructional staff.
xx. See slide 27: