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Independent evaluation of school reform begins

The four principal figures in D.C. school reform were on their best behavior Monday when they visited with the National Research Council (NRC) committee that will conduct an independent evaluation of their efforts.

The rare joint appearance by D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, State Superintendent of Education Kerri L. Briggs and Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso was part of an inaugural public meeting for the 13-member panel.

The evaluation is required by the 2007 law that gave Mayor Adrian M. Fenty control of the school system. After months of political squabbling and stalemate over the choice of an evaluator, the Fenty Administration and Gray settled on the NRC, the research arm of the National Academies.

The NRC has assembled a committee loaded with big names in the academic and education policy sectors, led by former Clinton White House adviser Christopher F. Edley, Jr., now dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and University of Wisconsin sociologist Robert M. Hauser.

The panel's principal mission -- which will play out in a series of reports over the next three to five years -- is to determine what significant improvements in the school system, if any, are attributable to the Fenty-Rhee effort. On Monday, all four speakers said they welcomed the NRC inquiry, and committee members asked them what questions they would like to see answered by the study.

Rhee asked the panel to assess whether her "theory of change," about the District overhaul, which has emphasized raising the quality and effectiveness of teachers, was on target. She also asked the panel to reflect on whether there were organizational changes to be made "to better set ourselves up to be successful." Without explicitly criticizing the arrangement, she mentioned that the DCPS general counsel reports to D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, and that the agency's chief financial officer reports to D.C. chief financial officer Natwar M. Gandhi.

The soft-spoken Reinoso asked that the panel not make final judgments about the failure or success of an effort that he said will be under way for many years. "I don't think that the standard should be, 'Have we crossed the finish line?'" he said.

Gray urged the panel not neglect special education and career and technical education when looking at what the District has or has not accomplished. He cited the 2,800 special ed students attending private schools, at an annual cost of $166 million, because they have not been able to get their needs met by the District system. "We are spending dollars in some very ineffective and inefficient ways," Gray said.

Still, it was an unusually placid appearance for the three agency heads, who often find themselves locked in contentious public hearings with Gray. Edley even remarked how smoothly they worked as a group, each deferring to the person who could best answer a question.

"That's called punting," Gray quipped.

When the evaluation was announced last summer, Michael J. Feuer, the executive director of the NRC's division of behavioral and social sciences and education, said he envisioned a $1.5 million budget, much of it coming from private sources. That has been ramped back to $750,000, with the District contributing $325,000 and the National Science Foundation donating $200,000.

The committee, which hopes to publish an interim report this fall, will spend the next few months trying to figure out what school data it can use to make its assessments -- which by itself will be a challenge.

At a Sunday afternoon session Erin McGoldrick, chief DCPS' Office of Data and Accountability, said that when she came on board in 2007, she found "dozens of data systems that did not speak well to each other." Improvements have been made, she said, but numbers prior to 2005 are highly suspect.

Here are the rest of the committee members:

Beatrice F. Birman, managing research scientist, American Institutes of Research.

Carl A. Cohn, professor of urban school leadership,Claremont Graduate University and former head of the Long Beach State Unified School District.

Leslie T.Fenwick, dean, Howard University School of Education.

Jon Fullerton, executive director, Center for Education Policy Research, Harvard University.

Fernando A. Guerra, director of health, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

Jonathan Gueverra, CEO, Community College of the District of Columbia.

Jonathan Guryan, professor, University of Chicago.

Lorraine M. McDonnell, professor, political science, University of California Santa Barbara.

C. Kent McGuire, dean, College of Education, Temple University.

Maxine F. Singer, Carnegie Institution of Washington.

William F. Tate, director, Center for Study of Regional Competitiveness in Science and Technology, Washington University.

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By Bill Turque  |  March 8, 2010; 6:35 PM ET
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A quick question, and I'm being sincere here. Do any of the individuals on this panel have a child enrolled in a District of Columbia Public School or any urban public school system? Just curious.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | March 8, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Title1SoccerMom, It looks as though only 2 or 3 possibly live in DC.
As for
"with the District contributing $325,000"
that's about 4 teachers.

The private funding cutback makes me wonder about the private funding for teacher raises.

Posted by: edlharris | March 8, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Now that is funny. The plagiarist asked that the committee not make final judgements on the failure or success of an effort that will be underway for many years. They've been there for three years and if the committee finds failure they should not include that in the report? That defeats the purpose. Why would a committee charged with evaluating the reform effort allow failure to continue? There should be a standard. How else will this Fenty/Rhee administration continue to structure their movement if the findings good or bad are not cited? This should be interesting.

Gray, while you're at it, audit the books! You have oversight! How is the budget driving instruction and programs for academic success?

Posted by: candycane1 | March 8, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

Ditto candycane1!! Chairman Gray definitely needs a forensic audit on the DCPS fiscal budgets SY 08-09 and SY 09-10. I can't believe that DCPS books have never been audited under Rhee's administration and had three (3) CFO in DCPS since 2007, Pamela Graham, Noah Wepman and a new CFO assigned after Noah Wepman was fired after the budget hearing in November 2009.

What new educational programs have been implemened for student achievement after Superientendent Clifford Janey left DCPS?

Rhee's teacher/education reform is over spending, over hiring, and manufacturing a riffed.

Posted by: sheilahgill | March 8, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

Sheilahgill: Out of the three of them, Graham should have received a medal. She tried to tell them that the budget didn't support the spending and they made her fall on the sword. After that, Wepman eases "back" into DCPS after quietly leaving the first time. A quiet move indeed after federal money slated for spec. ed was moved.

Posted by: candycane1 | March 9, 2010 7:27 AM | Report abuse

"The panel's principal mission -- which will play out in a series of reports over the next three to five years -- "

Clarity please - when will the first report come out? It's not mentioned in the statement above, which only addresses the duration of the evaluation process, not the schedule of reports. And it mentions nothing about the consequences. Are there any, or does that just apply to teachers?

On another subject: Bill, did you really mean "principal proposal" or is this an error?

Posted by: efavorite | March 9, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

The committee really will have its challenges trying to figure out what data can be used for assessments. Numbers prior to 2005 are highly suspect compared to what, now? With the inaccuracy of posted test scores, flaws in the budget, recently reported non-compliance of the health survey, out of control spending,etc, will we be seeing McGoldrick's St. Hope's model for data compilation? I love the statement of Rhee wanting to know if "her" theory of change is on target. Is that a way of saying not researched based or best practices? This will be interesting indeed.

Posted by: candycane1 | March 9, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

"I love the statement of Rhee wanting to know if "her" theory of change is on target."

yeah, candycane - I noticed that. Maybe it's an attempt to divert evaluators from anything Rhee deems not directly related to her theory of change, which she will define as she goes along and which will exclude examination of any data she wants to hide.

Like her Capital Gains program, started in '08, that paid students for behavior, grades, attendance, etc. Here's what Rhee said last July in a WAMU interview when asked about completing the data analysis:

“We have not been able to do that yet and actually, we are not responsible for doing that. Harvard and the edlabs will do that. So now that we have the data in hand, we actually have to go through a process where the schools are able to review their data and make any notes that they want to, if they think there was anything that was incorrect. So we clean it over the course of that time period that they have to dispute the test score results and once it’s all clean and finalized, then we’ll send that data to Harvard and they’ll do that analysis.”

Are the folks at Harvard falling down on the job? How complicated could that data analysis be?

Posted by: efavorite | March 9, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

sending the data "to Harvard" -- or anywhere other than the WTU, the infected teachers, the DC Auditor, or the DC Council -- would be superior to letting DCPS analysts do it. They have been undermined and ridden with moles or close to a year now, would you not agree? And please don't suggest Howard, or UDC (!!) or Gtown or GW or AU. They have no credibility.

Posted by: axolotl | March 9, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Sorry - I see I missed the point that the committee hopes to publish an interim report in the fall.

I strongly urge the committee to check with Roland Fryer, head of EdLabs at Harvard, to see what's holding up his report on the Capital Gains started in ‘08. His website says that his organization is: “Transforming education through the power of the scientific method”

The DCPS program supposedly involves “Biweekly data collection” and an “Online customized database” so it would seems he should have some data analysis by now.
Back in March of 09, City Paper reported that: “Last September, DCPS began participating in a Broad-funded program called EdLabs, intended to measure the effectiveness of various incentives on academic performance. The program was led by wunderkind Harvard professor Roland Fryer, who also masterminded the Capital Gains program, which rewarded kids for good grades with cash. According to the foundation’s Web site, Broad is also funding a “fiscal audit” of DCPS and a “strategic planning effort” to “build a foundation for a performance-oriented culture.” Broad is also a donor to New Leaders for New Schools, which has helped place dozens of principals in DCPS schools.”

And here’s an excerpt from a 9/25/08 Broad Foundation press release on the program:
Fryer: “Transformative thinking, along with a tough-minded, rigorous approach to designing and evaluating innovative education reforms, is essential if we want to truly improve. I would like to thank The Broad Foundation and Harvard University for supporting a long overdue initiative to apply the same scientific standards of research and analysis to education reform as is expected in fields like medicine and technological development.”

So, please evaluation committee – go at it; use the scientific method and don’t delay reporting your results as Harvard has. Remember – Children first, before adult interests.

Posted by: efavorite | March 9, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

efav.--thanks as always for your impressive research. Harvard can do some great work, as we know, but tends to run on its own clock.

Posted by: axolotl | March 9, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

axoloti - you're welcome! I drew from info I had already compiled on EdLabs and the Capital Gains program.

I can't speak for Harvard's timetable, but I do know that universities need to be accountable to funders in order to continue receiving grants.

Posted by: efavorite | March 9, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

In all sincerity, the reference of "does any of them have children in DCPS" is not fair. If that was the case...then in life we would exclude those of medical expert opinion if they were not afflicted with any ailments.

Now, why is it that Bill is surprised that all of sudden the "three" are acting like "one" can we all just use the two words of professional and political careers are at stake. I am telling you that Vincent Gray will use a athletic analogy every chance he will get...can those in the public assume that Gray will always be the back-up quarterback.

I find the committee assembled quite a formulative group in total. I have worked with at least two-of-them on educational generated projects for the federal government. Again, the data will be presented and then there are rounds of interpretations and defending data. The time-table of 3-5 years to have this actually play out...only substantiates Gray's athletic analogies.

Here's many times do you all think the principle players in this independent evaluation reform will change? Starting with the first change beginning around September 2010.

Posted by: PowerandPride | March 9, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Power and Pride--

You worked on educational generated projects? That is so fascinating!

Posted by: gardyloo | March 9, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

candycane: I thought the same thing. Reinoso is smooth. They already see that this report will come up with them falling way short. This is their way of spinning it so they can say that this is an ongoing effort. It's an ongoing chaotic mess is what it is and the sooner Rhee and her equally incompetent and inexperienced staff are gone then the sooner we can get underway with real education reform.

Someone also needs to look at all these top salaried folks who are in the central office. I'd also like to know how Rhee's salary stacks up against the superintendents in Fairfax, Montgomery, PG and other surrounding districts. She runs an extremely small school district in comparison but seems to make a lot more money. Someone needs to put her under IMPACT and a pay-for-performance plan.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | March 9, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Sigh, I really have no comment, the silliness started long ago this morning. People already "know" the outcome long before the report is written and when the report comes out positive they'll say that the board "didn't have kids in school" as if DCPS parents don't support Rhee more than the teachers do. the jockeying for spin on this is just sad.

There's a big sign on the bulletin board at my son's school about "blogging with the WTU" to encourage teachers to blog union talking points. It's just a spin game and the kids are the real losers.

Posted by: bbcrock | March 9, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock; that is pretty much it in a nutshell...the "spin" and the how and the when it is presented will define what we really lost and that is the time. Here we are in the school year of 2009-2010 and the article references the years of 2005 and 2007 respectively with the inferences of a data-purge date being around 2013 or 2015. Yes, it is fascinating in the most sarcastic way, don't you think gardyloo?

Posted by: PowerandPride | March 9, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

First, is there anyone with less credibility with respect to education issues than Victor Reinoso. What really is his role or function within the education landscape in our city?
Second, I am very uncomfortable with everything regarding the education issues that impact our city being funneled through Harvard University for evaluation or analysis. There are several other top-flight schools of education (John Hopkins University being one) that could possibly provide a different, if not fresh or a more objective analysis or perspective. Besides, isn't Rhee a product of the Harvard School of Education?

Posted by: Robmic812 | March 9, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Let's not be naive BBCROCK. there are politcal agendas in every phase of American life. that's why we can't get anything done as a nation let alone a 10-mile squared entity with 600K people.

Just looking at the roster and noting the affiliations the part that scares me most is that it's 100% academics! i mean no offense to the intelligentsia of America, but many of these folks have no clue on operating/administering a school system. Frankly, many do not know real work and the real world. I say that as one that considered a PhD.

DCPS needs more than a panel to review stats and more researching of numbers. DCPS needs a full scale operational and management analysis that incorporates academics to food service to finance to special ed to building management to HR, etc.

I don't see people with direct experience in running school districts. I do see conservative universities, I see small local entities, i see urban, HBCU, etc. What I do not know is their political position. If the panel is not balanced or the political positions is defined in one area versus another, there is no way the report will be balanced, fair or truthful.

Just recall, Fenty tried to get the American enterprise instititue to do this report with the conservative person that endorsed Rhee's hire and methods leading the charge. We know what the results of that study would have said.

Posted by: oknow1 | March 9, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse


The Harvard program I mentioned is evaluating the Capital gains program only. It is not related to the school reform evaluation.

There is only one person from Harvard on the School reform evaluation team.

Posted by: efavorite | March 9, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

oknow1--so, you want to see big-time school district executive experience on the eval? You can find some in the bios for several. But remember, professional public ed. executives -- generations of them -- brought districts to their knees in Washington, NYC, Chicago, Detroit, Phila., LA, and almost any large city. It has taken extraordinary efforts--from people without the credentials you are demanding--just to begin arresting the severe declines. Read the NYT Mag cover story from last Sunday. All of the deans from all of the large and best ed. schools agreed a few years ago that their teacher education methods were ineffective, almost totally. We need to get a grip. Fixing the DCPS takes something new--as in New People/New Ideas.

Posted by: axolotl | March 9, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

It's telling that neither of the two co-chairs of this who's who in education committee have substantive backgrounds in either education policy or evaluation research.

It's all for show, nothing more than a farce. Consider two things. First, this effort was started last summer. Six to 8 months later, their just getting around to defining the research questions. Second, the actual budget is half of what was originally proposed. Consequently, you can rule of rigorous research designs such as random assignment--the gold standard of research. DC will end up with a bunch of descriptive, undefinitive academic toilet paper.

Posted by: 4GUDGOV | March 9, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Oknow1: I like your points.
Urban Dweller: We are on the same page.

Efavorite: You are the expert here. You can put your fingers on it. There was an article highlighting certain schools that implemented the Capital Gains program. If you recall, Hart had bad experiences with the program, citing poor management and children tearing up checks due to the amounts, as well as stealing them from other children. One school reported that the children were saving the money to go on a school trip. I'd like to see a DCPS correlation between those schools and their attendance percentages, pass/fail percentages and increased test scores. We already know that Garnett Patterson implemented the program but it's success was not reflected in test scores. Perhaps the Harvard think tank doesn't have the results they were hoping for. Which then begs the question, How much did we spend on that consultant and was the consultant the only one who benefited? As I recall, Fryor himself had no evidence that this would yield positive results and that it was an experiment.

Posted by: candycane1 | March 9, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

The panel is too large, the time horizon DC school officials look toward too distant, the charge too diffuse, the budget (cut in half) too small, and the data and data systems too poor. Five good education journalists with unfettered access and a few days with Mary Levy could better follow the kind of work the WaPo reporter did on Capital Gains last summer, which was more informative than the two-stage least squares estimates of uninteresting parameters with robust standard errors that will be forthcoming from Harvard's Roland Fryer.

If the experiment had the Pavlovian conditioning hypothesis one of his economist buddies, Tim Harford, recounted, then the results of Capital Gains will not be known for at least year. (This is as good an online description of the notion as any:
Students who were conditioned and reinforced through Capital Gains should this (and next) year be following through with good habits which could not have been predicted from their academic pasts, when compared to students in the control group.

Posted by: incredulous | March 9, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

" the jockeying for spin on this is just sad."

It happens all the time and will continue.
The spin one sees was aptly identified back in the 1930s by Irish journalist Claud Cockburn.
He was writing about reporters, but the same applies here:
the jockeying for spin on this is just sad.
Claud Cockburn:
Claud proclaimed that facts and rumours were of equal significance, and warned against what he called ‘the factual heresy’ – the claim, dear to journalists with a saint-like idea of their own mission, that lumps of truth lie about like gold nuggets waiting to be picked up. He did not think journalism was either saintly or fact-bound. ‘All stories are written backwards,’ he once observed. ‘They are supposed to begin with the facts and develop from there, but in reality they begin with a journalist’s point of view from which the facts are subsequently organised.’

Posted by: edlharris | March 9, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

candycane - the achievement levels of schools who used Capital gains is easy enough to get, but what's needed is the ability to tie capital gains to individual students, which is not publicly available (as far as I know) which means Rhee can hide disappointing results if she can keep Harvard at bay or if she can convince Harvard to distort the findings (doubtful, but she can be convincing).

Recall the statements she made last summer before DC-CAS results were made public about how "her" principals scored better than others. There was no way of checking that at the time and once the scores were out, you still needed a comprehensive list of principals to run the numbers. Brandenburg finally did just that and found -- no differences.

If you haven't already, check it out:

Also, here’s something else from Harvard - a working paper from the business school about the misuse and misunderstanding of goal setting: “We identify specific side effects associated with goal setting, including a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation:

And here is a Turque article on the program:

Posted by: efavorite | March 9, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

As a parent with kids at a school with capital gains I have to say there is a core problem with this program in DC. We have parents applying out-of-boundary, that they want in just so they can get the money. They don't care if their kids learn, as long as they get the cash.

Second, Harvard can't give good short term data. Previous studies on paying kids to learn had shown that you can get short term behavior changes, but when the money goes away so does all the improvement. I don't understand why we are letting this experiment go on.

Posted by: qazqaz | March 9, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

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