With Washington, DC’s school system now under federal investigation for alleged fraud in granting high school diplomas, some education experts are concluding the longstanding claim the district is a national model for “education reforms” is nothing more than “a lie.”
The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden and the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke summarized Monday at National Review:
Education reformers used to celebrate D.C.’s dramatic decline in school suspensions. Then a Washington Post investigation revealed that it was fake; administrators had merely taken suspensions off the books. The same reformers used to celebrate D.C.’s sharp increase in high-school graduations. Then an NPR investigation revealed that it, too, was fake; almost half of students who missed more than half the year graduated.
As the Washington Post observed on February 2, President Barack Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan – in Common Core jargon – referred to the school system of the nation’s capital as “an example of ‘what can happen when schools embrace innovative reforms and do the hard work necessary to ensure that all students graduate ready for college and careers.’”
Over $120 million has been donated by wealthy philanthropists to D.C.’s school district since 2007, the Post says, yet, now, the news that more than 900 students who were truant and involved in other problematic situations were still awarded high school diplomas, has turned the school system “virtually overnight into an embarrassment for the city and its elected leaders.”
The FBI, the U.S. Department of Education, and the D.C. Office of the Inspector General are currently conducting probes of the school district. The investigations have a particular interest in Ballou High School, where a 17 year-old special needs student was attacked by his fellow students, and then died, because he refused to allow them to use his cell phone.
It is not just Washington, DC, however, that has been accused of inflating passing rates.
In 2015, administrators of the Chicago Public Schools admitted they inflated passing rates and falsified the number of dropouts.
Breitbart News reported in July 2017 that U.S. high school students have been earning more A’s in the classroom, yet their scores on the SAT achievement test have declined, a clear sign of grade inflation.
Additionally, data published in April 2017 from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) finds that the average public high school graduation rate in the U.S. is above 83 percent, though only 56 percent of college students graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years, and only 29 percent who enter two-year community colleges earn an associate’s degree within three years, according to a study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Eden and Burke assert the “accountability” system required in D.C.’s school system requires administrators to demonstrate “impossible statistical improvements” that, ultimately, are aimed at giving the appearance the achievement gap between white and nonwhite students is shrinking.
The authors continue:
You can’t make student behavior better through a dictate banning traditional school discipline. You can’t change life trajectories by ordering teachers to graduate students who fail their classes. Do things the old fashioned way — by offering teachers support, encouraging students and giving them structure, and making incremental improvements to curriculum and instruction — and you likely won’t achieve the so-called “transformational” change you’d need to be deemed a successful principal.
Progressive bureaucrats are driving the mantra of “accountability,” but what they are demanding accountability to are metrics that show – validly or not – that public school students in large cities are graduating, excelling, and displaying remarkable behavioral improvements.
In Minnesota, state bureaucrats are demanding that school districts adopt “unconstitutional racial quotas” to eliminate racial disparities in school suspensions, writes Jerome Woehrle at Liberty Unyielding. The racial disparity school discipline metric came about as a result of Obama-era “guidance” that many say has hurt minority students most and made schools more dangerous.
“But telling a school district not to have a higher discipline rate for blacks than for whites is an unconstitutional racial quota, as an appeals court ruled in 1997,” he adds.
Civil rights and constitutional proponents now say they look forward to the Trump administration education department’s rescission of the disparate impact metric as a means to threaten schools to keep minority suspension rates low.
Roger Clegg, President and General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity – and a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division from 1987-1991 – explained to Breitbart News how the policy works.
“What the disparate impact approach means is if there is a disproportionate statistical result from a policy, that policy can be ruled illegally discriminatory,” he said, “even though the policy is neutral on its face, is neutral as intended, and is neutrally applied.”
Clegg said the Trump administration should revoke the Obama school discipline policy.
“The problem is that it pushes schools not to discipline students – who ought to be disciplined – in order to get their racial numbers right,” he added. “And the people who are going to be hurt most by that are the students who want to learn, but are not going to be able to learn.”
Eden and Burke say the goals of D.C. bureaucrats are at odds with most parents, for whom “accountability” is about whether a school is meeting their child’s needs and allowing them to learn in a safe environment.
“True accountability won’t come from forcing school leaders to squeeze schools into producing statistical improvements,” they write. “True accountability will come only when parents and the community, rather than clueless bureaucrats, are the ones putting pressure on schools.”