IN SEARCH OF THE 63 CHILDREN! According to a major study, Rhees star pupils didnt exist: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2011
The soul of Lawrence ODonnell: For our money, Michael Lind makes his points rather poorly in this Salon piece, though we think his basic points are strong. Liberal journalists should stop clowning in certain ways, he suggests. We expect to discuss his piece in more detail in the future.
For an example of what Lind might mean, consider Lawrence ODonnell.
ODonnells performance was slithering, gruesome, all through last evenings Last Word. But he saved the slimiest part for the very end. Pretending to care about Lara Logan, he handed us rubes this garbage:
This slithering fellow said he was sickened. We think we might know what he means.
Several people have offered soul-shriveling reactions to the assault on Logan. (For Salons report on these comments, click here.) On last nights Hannity, the rubes were only told about Nir Rosen, a NYU professor who has criticized Logan from the left, as a war-monger. (In the wake of his comments, Rosen has resigned from his NYU post.) ODonnell played the same tribal game; he of course mentioned only Schlussel, a relatively insignificant low-life who has long been one of the most repulsive voices on the right.
Please note the game this fellow played, a game which involved Bill OReilly.
From what this fiery liberal said, a viewer might have gotten the idea that Schlussel appears on OReillys programalthough youll note that ODonnell didnt actually say that she does. This of course helps us liberal rubes get all fired up at the very bad people found in the other tribe. For ourselves, we couldnt remember seeing Schlussel on any Fox program in recent years. So we entered her name in the Nexis archives. This is what we found:
First, we searched on OReilly and Schlussel. If the Nexis archives can be trusted, Schlussel last appeared on OReillys program in June 2002almost nine years ago. (According to Nexis, this was her second appearance on the Factorher second and her last.) We then searched on Fox News and Schlussel. It seems her last appearance on any prime-time Fox program occurred in 2003 (Hannity & Colmes).
Schlussels comments were appalling, as her comments typically are. She is a very minor player, but she is always repulsive. But ODonnell wanted to use the assault on Logan for his narrow tribal purposes. Whatever his flaws, and they are many, Bill OReilly has nothing to do with the sickening comments about Lara Logan. But the corporate suits at MSNBC want you to be always pleased.
Olbermann used to play these phony OReilly-related games too, though we certainly cant recall a time when he did so in such a sickening context.
Logan was the victim of a sickening crime. And then, in slithered Lawrence ODonnell, using it for his advantage. Reworking ODonnells heartfelt language, we thought it was hard to be surprised by what can surface on cable these days. But then, up stepped ODonnell.
Again, please note the slick way he didnt say that Schlussel appears on OReillys program. Were not sure when weve seen a person so vile on TV.
Last night, ODonnells whole program was a sick joke; more on this topic tomorrow. What a shame, that Michael Lind didnt explain his points better.
PART 3IN SEARCH OF THE 63 CHILDREN (permalink): February 11last Fridaywas the day the music man died. A high-level hustler walked back an old tale. Nick Anderson reported the action in that days Washington Post:
Sic semper con men! At some point in the past four years, Rhee had softened another bogus claimthe claim that she won acclaim in the Wall Street Journal and on Good Morning America for her outstanding success as a teacher. Now, the whole house of cards came down. Rhee acknowledged that she shouldnt have made that detailed claim about her miraclethe detailed claim around which her ministry for education reform has long turned.
I should have said significant gains, Rhee now said, offering a mushy-mouthed, watered-down claimthe type of claim that wouldnt have helped her advance her gong-show career.
(Would that claim have been reasonably accurate? At this point, its still unclear.)
Good lord! What had happened? What had led the music woman to revise her sacred tale? Earlier in his report, Anderson offered the outline:
Rhee could have described her accomplishments differently! Go ahead! Treat yourself to a good, long, rueful laugh!
At any rate, Anderson had the story right. Brandenburg had reviewed an important study from August 1995a study commissioned by the Baltimore City School System, which was attempting to decide whether to continue a three-year experiment in public school privatization. (To read his post, click here.) Over the previous three years, a private entity, Education Alternatives Inc. (EAI), had been running nine of Baltimores public schools. An institute at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) had been commissioned to study the seven elementary schools involved in this ongoing project. This was a major, high-profile effort, closely watched by the Baltimore press.
Brandenburg was thus reviewing the data from a very high-profile study. (To review the full study, click this.) And uh-oh! One of EAIs elementary schools was Harlem Park Elementary, the school where Rhee was working her miracles as a third-grade teacher! By a tumble of fate, Rhees miraculous, three-year career in the classroom coincided with the three years reviewed in the UMBC study. The study was released in August 1995, just two months after the end of Rhees final year in the classrooma year which would become famous for what it helped us see about educational reform.
Land o Goshen! UMBC had studied the very school where Rhee was teachinghad studied it during the very year in which her miracle occurred! But what did this high-profile study seem to show? Anderson went there too:
Oof! According to the UMBC study, Harlem Parks third-graders finished nowhere near the 90th percentile in the 1995 testing. Allegedly, this was the year in which Rhee had completed her miracle cure, with 90 percent of [her] students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.
The 90th percentile or higher, Rhee had always said. Presumably, that meant that her students had recorded scores ranging from the 90th percentile all the way up to the 99th. As Anderson suggested, there is no sign in the UMBC study that anything like this actually occurred. That said, there are some oddities in the UMBC study which should be observed at this time.
At this point, we should note another fact. This UMBC study was fully reported in the Washington Times when Rhee arrived on the DC scene in June 2007. In precise detail, the Times Gary Emerling described the study, reporting the mediocre scores it ascribed to Harlem Parks third-graders. He even noted that the scores bore no relation to Rhees self-glorying claims (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/9/07). Back in 2007, everyone knew about the UMBC studybut the Washington Post chose not to discuss it. Despite Emerlings report in the Washington Times, the Washington Post never mentioned the study; it never reported the awkward data found in this major research effort. Last Friday morning, the Post was four years late to this partyand Rhee was retracting the sacred tale upon which she has based her influential reform ideas.
Back to that high-profile study, and to some of its curious aspects:
The most remarkable part of that study didnt involve students test scores. The most remarkable part of the study involved the astonishingly low rates at which students had actually been tested. The study noted that many students at [Harlem Park Elementary] were not tested, Anderson reported last Friday. That statement is perfectly accurate, but it barely scrapes the surface of this studys most puzzling aspect. Good God! According to the study, only 62 percent of Harlem Parks students were actually tested that year in math; only 64 percent were tested in reading. (These numbers were not broken down by grade level.)
Can these data really be accurate? Please understand: The testing program in question (the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills/CTBS) was mandated by the state of Maryland. Beyond that, CTBS results had been hotly debated the previous year with respect to the seven elementary schools which made up the privatization experiment. This was a very high-profile annual program; every student should have been tested, except small numbers of students in a few categories, including kids in special education. (According to the study, only three percent of Harlem Parks students were in special ed.) Its bizarre to think that Harlem Park failed to test almost forty percent of its students; equally strange is the way the UMBC researchers took these remarkable data in stride. In fact, non-tested rates were remarkably high at all seven EAI schools, though none of the other schools even approached the rates at Harlem Park. (According to the study, Harlem Park tested 62 percent of its students in reading. The rate at the other six EAI schools was 85 percent.)
Beyond that, non-tested rates were remarkably high at the studys comparison schools; were amazed by the researchers insouciance about these remarkable data. The percentage of students for whom 1994-1995 CTBS test scores were recorded in this document is only 75 to 80 percent of the students enrolled in a school, they write at one point, using the jumbled, imprecise English which typifies studies of this type, undermining faith in the researchers competence. Thus the scores for 20 to 25 percent of the students were not reflected in the published scores for a grade or school. Those numbers vastly understate the situation at Harlem Park, of course. But does that mean that those other 20 to 25 percent of the students actually had test scores, but their test scores simply arent reflected in the published scores? We have no idea, but uncertainty lurks in this report due to the way the researchers dealt with these remarkable datadata which seem to show vast numbers not getting tested. Why would anyone look at those data and not send up an alarm? Why would Baltimore City accept such low rates of testing? Why would the state of Maryland?
If this study means what it seems to mean, lets of students werent getting tested in a lot of Baltimore schools that year. And uh-oh! Nowhere were fewer kids getting tested than in Grade 3 at Harlem Park, where Rhee was performing her miracle. At this point, lets consider the version of her miracle tale Rhee told Newsweeks Evan Thomas in 2008. In this recounting of her story, Rhee claims she was teaching 70 kids, a specific claim she had made in the past. In this passage, Rhee describes her last two years of teaching, the years when her miracle happened:
In telling her inspiring tale, Rhee has often said that she co-taught 70 kids. Multiplying by 90 percent, that would mean that 63 of those kids ended up scoring at the 90th percentile or higherin the top ten percent of the nation. According to Rhee, 63 third-graders at Harlem Park turned in those miracle scores that year. But uh-oh! In that high-profile UMBC study, there is no sign that anything dimly like that actually occurred at that school.
Were Rhee and her fellow teacher working with 70 students? At this point, the UMBC study completely breaks down, seeming to offer a pair of contradictory numbers. At one point, the study seems to say that a total of 43 third-graders were tested in reading at Harlem Park that year; at another point, it seems to say that 56 two-year students were so tested at the third-grade level. (Those would be third-grade students who had been in the school for at least two years.) The numbers seem to be contradictory. Using our math and logic skills, we can see that if 56 two-year third-graders were tested, it cant be true that only 43 third-graders were tested in all. For no other school can we find this type of contradiction in the UMBC data. This may mean that the researchers made some sort of transcription error at this point in their work.
(Or it could always mean something stranger.)
At any rate, Rhee has boasted, bragged and bellowed about her success with 70 students whom she taught for two straight years, in their second- and third-grade years. If we can trust this studys data, only 56 two-year third-graders were tested at Harlem Park that yearand their performance on the CTBS doesnt begin to resemble the claim bruited by Rhee through the years.
How well did those 56 students perform? In reading, those 56 children achieved a normal curve equivalent of 45the rough equivalent, the study says, of perhaps the 42nd percentile. In short: As a group, those 56 third-graders scored below the national norm. There is no sign that any significant number of kids scored at or above the 90th percentile. And although this UMBC study has some obvious shaky elements, might we make an observationan observation which is blindingly obvious?
In the 1994-1995 school year, the seven schools run by EAI were under enormous pressure. During and after the previous year, major disputes had broken out about the low test scores of the EAI schools; by the fall of 1994, everyone knew that the pressure was on, that the plug might be pulled on the program. (As a simple Nexis search will show, all these matters were being discussed in the Baltimore Sun.) Do we possess three brain cells among us? If any school in the EAI group had an educational miracle occurring, this glorious fact would have been shouted to the skies by EAIs corporate leadership. Trust us: The teachers involved would have gained acclaim in the national mediathe kind of acclaim Rhee used to say she had attained, before she realized she had to stop saying it. Its absurd to think there was some large group of third-graders scoring at the 90th percentile or higher, but their test scores somehow never came to the attention of the UMBC researchers.
Was there a large group of third-grade students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher? Barring some truly bizarre occurrence, youd have to be a fool to believe itor youd have to be a journalist at the Washington Post. Tomorrow, well wander back through the years, recalling the way this papers education journalists have swallowed a wide range of stories.
This miracle tale predates Michelle Rhee. Our journalists have constantly bought it.
Tomorrowpart 4: The history of an old story