reading between the snipes

Thompson questions integrity of schools' testing procedures

For the second day in a row, the city’s comptroller has released an audit questioning the validity of the city’s education data. And for the second day in a row, political jockeying initially overshadowed the report’s content.

At a press conference this morning, Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is running for mayor, said the audit of testing oversight revealed that the Department of Education had allowed “an environment ripe for cheating.” “We found that the Department of Education has engaged in sloppy and unprofessional practices that encourage cheating and data manipulation,” he said.

But the report did not find new instances of cheating.

The audit focuses on the role played by testing monitors in overseeing the math and English Language Arts, or ELA, tests given to elementary school students in 2008. These monitors, employed by the DOE, make unannounced visits to schools on testing days to ensure that protocols are being followed. Thompson’s audit deems the monitoring system “inadequate.”

The report suggests that the DOE is not thoroughly monitoring its monitors. “DOE does not keep track of the monitors assigned to visit schools and the submission of checklists,” the audit states. It adds that, in many instances, monitors respond to checklist questions that they couldn’t possibly know the answers to — citing a case of a monitor who arrived after the test had begun, but marked “yes” that the tests had been safely stored.

The DOE today shot back, saying that the comptroller’s auditors had not actually witnessed the process they were supposed to be investigating. According to the DOE, of 17 tests the auditors witnessed, none was being monitored.

“They didn’t follow all the procedures because they were not at the schools as monitors; they were there to assist the Comptroller’s auditors,” said spokesman David Cantor in a statement. (Cantor had been ejected from the comptroller’s press conference.) “The Comptroller also recommends several improvements to the monitoring process that the DOE already implemented in time for the 2009 tests, which he could have seen for himself if he hadn’t declined the DOE’s invitations to do so.”

The audit also highlights the fact that the city no longer uses a particular strategy to detect cheating: erasure analysis, which counts the number of times each student erased a wrong answer and bubbled in a correct one. “The old Board of Education abandoned this practice in 2001 because they determined it was a waste of money,” Cantor said.

But Thompson said erasure analysis should be reinstated. The education department said today it would take Thompson’s suggestion “under consideration.” Currently, the DOE only does a complete review of test scores if it receives allegations of improprieties.

In his audit, Thompson’s auditors performed erasure analysis on a sampling of tests, finding two fourth-grade students whose tests had “an excessive pattern of erasures.” The DOE’s statement said that the audit’s concerns over the two tests were “baseless,” and that the two students had accidentally filled in the wrong row of bubbles.

The department found 13 instances of cheating between 2006 and 2008, according to the audit.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.