DCPS Black Students need six years to reach where DCPS White students stood in 4th grade

“DC achievement gaps now, DC achievement gaps tomorrow, DC achievement gaps FOREVER!”

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Last week I told you that White DC 4th grade students were outscoring the average achievement of Black 8th graders on math by a wide margin. The below chart presents data from the 2011 4th grade math NAEP along with 8th grade scores from 2015. Data for White and Black students from the DCPS and Black students from DC charters are presented.

DC gap trend 1

I’ve looked at the both the main NAEP and the Trial Urban District Assessment and you simply cannot find another spot that matches DC for achievement gaps. As you can see, by 4th grade DC White students have already demonstrated  a level of mastery of mathematics that 8th grade Black students come nowhere close to matching by 8th grade. At fourth grade a sixty point gap between the achievement of White and Black students yawns (272 to 212). Meanwhile DCPS Black students have not come close to catching up to the 4th grade White score 4 years later. In fact at the rate of progress shown by DCPS Black students we would expect them to catch up to the 4th grade scores of DCPS White students somewhere around their sophomore or junior year of high-school.

No one should view the closing of these gaps as easy. Notice that DC Black students attending charter schools started 8 points ahead of their district counterparts in 2011 and then gained more between 2011 and 2015 (46 points for charter students, 36 for District). This left DC Black students within striking distance of the 4th grade score of DC White students (272 to 266) but still far behind DCPS 8th grade White students (314 to 266). Still DC’s Black charter school students made the largest overall gains (46 points) and did so for about half of the average revenue per pupil in DCPS.

Sick to your stomach yet? Can’t believe it? Well let’s check the tape for the NAEP reading exam.

DC gap trend 2


We see precisely the same pattern- by 4th grade DC White students demonstrate a level of mastery of reading that Black students will not equal by 8th grade. A huge gap between DCPS White and Black students (64 points) yawns out in the 2011 4th grade scores and does not meaningfully narrow by the time the cohort reaches 8th grade in 2015 (63 points). DC Black students attending charter schools demonstrated a smaller gap in 2011 (57 points) and had narrowed it a bit further by 2015 (51 points) but had still not caught up to the score of DCPS White students in 2011.

Before you reach for your demographic fatalism pistol let me just note that FRL eligible Black students attending district schools in Boston scored 24 points higher than FRL Black students attending district schools in DC. New York City and Houston clobbered DCPS by 16 points in the same comparison. None of these districts receive $29,000 per student in revenue. Houston didn’t sniff half of that figure. We cannot disentangle the effect of schooling and family with these data, but other systems seem to do much more for similar students with much less.

Getting back to the Heritage study– someone take a look at this data and tell me why oh why would we want to shower $29,000 per student on the system that produces such catastrophic results for disadvantaged kids. Charters receive only $14k per student that and get better results. Congress provides a constantly politically imperiled $8k per child on a small voucher program for low-income DC kids that merely gets them over the high-school graduation finish line at a 20% higher rate. This system of finance has been in place for decades now. Piling money on a system proficient only at serving the needs of the already advantaged while starving systems serving the disadvantaged for funds makes sense to someone.

It just doesn’t make sense to me. It shouldn’t make sense to you either.

23 Responses to DCPS Black Students need six years to reach where DCPS White students stood in 4th grade

  1. George Mitchell says:

    These are devastating results even for those who have followed the K-12 issue for many years.

    Faced with such evidence the likes of Eleanor Holmes Norton consistently have resisted a serious discussion of reform. President Obama’s willingness to kill the DC Scholarship Program has reinforced Norton and the other usual suspects. Their willingness to politicize education raises the question of whether they really care about the children who have fallen behind, generation after generation.

    • sstotsky says:

      Shouldn’t we be asking why low-income kids in Boston score 24 points higher than those in DC? Maybe it has something to do with the superior standards that were in use from 2002 to 2011 and the teacher licensing regs and licensure tests in use from 2003 on that embedded those reading standards? Maybe that’s why there’s a furious effort to prevent voters from having a chance to choose to return to those standards? The gaps decrease slowly but everyone gains. What’s happening in the name of education reform all over the country is not about improving education but about controlling it.


      • matthewladner says:

        I’ve always been on record as saying that MA switching made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Which part of highest scores on all four regular NAEP exams is not to like?

  2. matthewladner says:

    I agree George- it is a deeply disturbing situation in DC. I invite Eleanor Holmes Norton or anyone else try to attempt to justify maintaining this status quo.

    • George Mitchell says:

      About thirty years ago I testified before the US Civil Rights Commission. Clarence Pendleton, then its chair, wanted a dialogue on issues such as school choice. Naturally, Ms. Norton spoke in opposition (I believe she might have been a member of the Commission; not sure).

      Her current biography mentions “Congresswoman Norton’s accomplishments in breaking barriers for her disempowered district…” She is routinely described as a “civil rights leader.” Sure thing.

  3. sstotsky says:

    Has anyone anywhere studied differences between low-income kids who got into a charter school (via lottery) and those who were on waiting list but didn’t get into charter school but attended regular public school? That would be a better comparison, I think.

    Then, look at attendance records. Has anyone looked and noted if there were differences?

  4. Triumph104 says:

    Boston and New York City have large black immigrant populations. That would explain why those cities FRL black students outscore DC. The children of black immigrants do better academically than the American descendants of slaves.

    Houston has a large Nigerian community and reportedly Texas public schools do little besides prep students for standardized exams.

    • matthewladner says:

      NAEP is a low stakes (no one’s eval or school rating at stake) exam given to a random sample of students. The items are closely held, so both the motivation and the ability to teach to items is very much lacking. Prepping for NAEP involves learning how to read and figure some math.

      • Triumph104 says:

        I need to clarify that I am not saying that they prep for the NAEP, but that the kids have been prepped so much for other standardized tests that on the NAEP they are able to outscore kids from other states with similar demographics on the NAEP. The basic skills needed to pass a Texas state exam transfers to the NAEP.

      • matthewladner says:

        It is also possible to see constant improvement on a state test and flat NAEP scores. In that case you are simply drilling to your state test items.

      • Triumph104 says:

        I never said anything about improved Texas state scores. Stop putting words in my mouth. I will stay out of your comment section in the future.

    • sstotsky says:

      Where is the evidence that FRL black immigrants do better than FRL native black children? Poverty doesn’t seem to be the determining factor if the difference is statistically significant.

      • Triumph104 says:

        I have never seen any formal evidence. In her book, Amy Chua said that there were Jamaican and Nigerian tiger moms. I started to pay attention whenever I saw academically successful blacks at an elite level and an abnormally high percentage were the children of immigrants. An article came out a few years ago stating that about 40 percent of blacks in the Ivy League were the children of immigrants, another 20 percent have a non-black parent. There are cultural differences in their upbringing.

        Poverty only explains the academic achievement within a race not between races. Privileged blacks do poorly academically compared to other races. Blacks students with family incomes above $200,000 score the same on the SAT as whites with incomes below $20,000. The black children of college graduates test the same as white children of high school dropouts. http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_g12_2013/#/group-results

        This study found that the SAT scores applicants to the University of California were more influenced by race/ethnicity than income or parental education. Well, no kidding. Not only does California have a very small black population but many don’t meet the state’s a-g minimum high school requirements, so they never apply to a UC. Then you have a very large culturally motivated Asian population that does well despite parental education/income. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/10/27/study-finds-race-growing-explanatory-factor-sat-scores-california

        One hundred percent of the black males graduated from this Brooklyn high school. The articles states that the majority are the children or grandchildren of immigrants. The school is 73 percent FRL. http://hechingerreport.org/a-low-income-brooklyn-high-school-where-100-percent-of-black-male-students-graduate/

        Dr. Ronald Ferguson commenting on the achievement gap of privileged blacks. https://youtu.be/9uNY_VqumWE

        Dr. Laurence Steinberg explaining why some races outperform others. https://youtu.be/aGx17P_O2LI

        Race is a proxy for culture and within each race there additional cultural breakdowns. In the UK African blacks are more likely to be immigrants and outscore Caribbean blacks. http://www.unz.com/article/closing-the-black-white-iq-gap-debate-part-3/

        I know my post is all over the place but this is mainly how I came to my conclusion about FRL blacks.

      • sstotsky says:

        Perhaps you could also identify yourself?

    • edtitan77 says:

      Good point and the white population in DC is almost uniformly middle class with no white working class to speak of.

  5. Greg Forster says:

    Matt, you cruel, cruel man. Won’t someone please think of the poor, helpless DC bureaucrats? How will they scrape by if we don’t keep throwing them six figure salaries? And demanding that they do something to earn those salaries is entirely unreasonable given that they clearly can’t live up to such exhausting expectations. Shame on you!

  6. matthewladner says:

    I’m not sure what DCPS is doing with all of that revenue, it just doesn’t seem to be doing much for kids who weren’t born on third base.

    • Greg Forster says:

      If we want to boost DC education, and the DC system only works for kids born on third base, we need to keep paying DC school system bureaucrats those big six-figure salaries in order to increase the number of DC children born on third base!

  7. The PARCC scores showed that 24% of students in grades 3-8 in public and public charter schools met or exceeded expectations in math and 25% of those same students met or exceeded expectations in English Language Arts. The bottom line is that a full 75% of our students failed to meet expectations.

    The Washington Teachers’ Union acknowledges that some aggregate gains have been made, and some of those gains have been significant. However, those significant gains are found in schools that have been least effected by the so-called reform strategies. In other words, where the school district has made the greatest gains is in the schools that were already high performing and not a target of the reforms. Conversely, students in schools where the most teachers were fired, that attended schools that were closed due to low test scores, and had the most teacher turnover saw meager gains compared to their wealthy counterparts.

    For years the WTU has called on the District Administration to adequately address these unacceptable and rapidly growing achievement gaps. Those calls were met with hubris and more of the same top-down failed policies.

    Today we ask the community to review these data and understand that doing more of the same will only make a bad situation worse. In the coming days we will share more data that helps explain this unfortunate situation and share the plan we proposed to the district many months ago.

    We can close the achievement gap. But that will only happen when the current failed policies are discontinued and the voice of those working with the students in the classroom is a meaningful part of the improvement discussion.

    Maybe most importantly, we must ensure that the school district’s teacher evaluation system does not penalize those teachers who take on the challenge of educating our neediest students. Over the past eight years, DCPS has replaced over 3,000 of its teachers. So the bad teacher narrative no longer applies as a credible reason for the growing achievement gap in our school district. Many of our members have told us that the IMPACT evaluation system victimizes those who teach in low-performing schools.

    Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington Teachers’ Union

    • sstotsky says:

      Could you please explain what a “wealthy” school in DC is? Aren’t a majority of the kids in the DC schools FRL?

      Also, could you explain why schools least affected by “reforms” did better than those most affected? What are the current “failed” policies? The “reform” strategies?

      • pdexiii says:

        Drive up 16th St, Constitution Ave, or Wisconsin Ave; you’ll find wealthy DC schools.

      • sstotsky says:

        I don’t live in or near DC, pdexiii. Could you tell us who you are and where you live? Please give me the names of “wealthy schools” in DC.

    • matthewladner says:

      Ms. Davis-

      Thank you for your response. I’ll respond in a new post, and I will give you well-deserved credit for addressing this subject before anyone in DCPS administration.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: