Truth-tellers, liars and equivocators

Gray's right on Fenty's failure to close the achievement gap

August 26, 2010 - 11:52 AM
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Have these two managed to close the achievement gap? Vince Gray doesn't think so. (Photo: Jay Westcott)

Friday, Aug. 27, 12:11 p.m. — This post has been updated.

It's the DCision 2010 version of Groundhog Day. Incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty (or a media member) demands a yes-or-no answer from Vince Gray on keeping schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Gray dodges, and then throws Fenty's words about former police chief Charles Ramsey back at him.

Gray has good reason to waffle on Rhee. If the council chairman hopes to win the mayoralty, he's going to need to rely on black votes. Despite overseeing overall test score gains and the revitalization of school facilities, Rhee is deeply unpopular among blacks. (A recent Clarus poll showed her with 79 percent approval among white voters, and only 28 percent approval among black voters.)

Gray rarely gets explicit in trying to work the white/black divide on Rhee (and Fenty). One of the few times has came in one of a series of YouTube videos responding to voter questions. "The achievement gap ... really has not been reduced over the past three years regardless of test scores," Gray said.

And so for the final installment of the DCision 2010 Edumacation Kids Are Political Pawns Series of Special Fact Checks, we decided to check that statement. There's no question schools east of the river need more work than schools in upper Northwest, but has the achievement gap in the District really  stagnanted?

The Gray campaign said the same data we used yesterday — the National Assessment on Educational Progress — would show that the racial gap in D.C. schools hadn't been closed. The NAEP tests fourth and eighth-graders in reading and math. Here are the results from white and black students in 2007: 

  • Fourth grade reading: Whites' average score was 258. It was 192 for black students.
  • Fourth grade math: The average score for white students was 262. It was 209 for black students.
  • Eighth grade reading: The sample size in 2007 wasn't large enough for white students, whose average score was 301 in 2005. It was 238 for black students.
  • Eighth grade math: The sample was again too small size for white students, who scored 317 in 2005. Average was 245 for black students.

And here are the scores from 2009:

  • Fourth grade reading: White students scored an average of 257, black students scored an average of 195.
  • Fourth grade math: White students' average score was 270, and black students' average score was 212.
  • Eighth grade reading: Sample size was too small for whites, while black students scored an average of 235.
  • Eighth grade math: No data for white students. Average score for black students was 244.

First of all, if Michelle Rhee really is recruiting white families to D.C. Public Schools, she hadn't been doing a good job as of 2009.

Second, you can see the achievement gap hasn't budged. Black students made slight progress in fourth grade reading, but fell a little further behind in fourth grade math. And while we can't make demographic comparisons on the eighth grade level, scores fell for black students in both reading and math.

And in an article earlier this month, the Washington Post's D.C. education writer, Bill Turque, laid out some additional evidence:

Analysis of test scores by ward shows the persistent gulf in achievement between the city's poorest children and its most affluent. In 2007, 27 percent of Ward 8 elementary students read proficiently, compared with 78 percent of their peers in Ward 3 — a spread of 51 percentage points. This year, the Ward 8 children were at 29 percent and those in Ward 3 at 86 percent, widening the gap to 57 points. In Ward 7, reading proficiency rates for secondary students rose from 17 percent in 2007 to 28 percent in 2010 — 11 points. But Ward 3's rate rose almost 13 points in that time, and the disparity between the two wards remains about 50 points.

Even Rhee admits schools in the poorer wards aren't performing as well as they should, telling Turque that "It's maddening and it's hard ... Have our ward 7 and 8 schools progressed? Absolutely. But the gap is still ridiculous."

The gap might be ridiculous, but Gray's statements about the achievement gap are as Honest as Abe.

Honest Abe

UPDATE: The day after we wrote this fact check, an article from Turque appeared in the Post breaking down the achievement gap using DC CAS scores, which are different from the NAEP scores we used. His conclusion? "After two years of progress, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's effort to narrow the vast achievement gap separating white and African American students in D.C. public schools has stalled."

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  1. ntnt ntnt

    N T

    Sep 03, 2010 - 02:26:49 PM

    The achievement gap is ridiculous, in fact very sad. People tend to forget how terrible some of these schools were. However, I do believe that DCPS is going in the right direction. I am not saying Chancellor Rhee has changed the school system, and we are on the way to closing the gap by the next year. However, achievement gaps among latinos and blacks exist everywhere including in FCPS. It is difficult to have drastic changes, but improvements come in small steps that lead us to our final destination. I think Michelle Rhee is a good leader and I find her no nonsense style refreshing. She truly cares for children and their educational success. If it was not for her. It is difficult for teachers or administrations to see that they let their kids, and communities down. I would not consider teaching in DCPS if Rhee had not shown that change is here, and is staying. People talk about testing isn't everything. A good teacher knows that but she ensures that her students have success in their testing, but also in their lives.I believe she is attracting that very kind of teachers whom are smart, young, and ambitious and will help make great strides in closing the achievement gap. Success starts in the classroom!

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