How Washington, D.C., Schools Cheat Their Students Twice

Caleb Rossiter, Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2012

I recently bumped into a former student of mine outside the high-poverty public high school where I used to teach math. Quaniesha, as I’ll call her, was on her way home, and I was on my way in for the SAT tutoring sessions I hold with athletes trying to become “NCAA-eligible” so they can accept sports scholarships.

Quaniesha feigned anger as we walked past the school’s metal detectors: “Why you do me like that, Doc? I gotta start Credit Recovery next week.” She was smiling and knew full well how our back-and-forth was going to go.

She’d say I failed her in math. Then I’d say no, you failed yourself. She’d say I was a bad teacher. Then I’d ask her how often she had come to class, done her homework, or even brought her notebook and done the class work rather than cursed and fought and joked around.

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But if Quaniesha was feigning anger, I was really angry, because the Credit Recovery program she was starting is a fraud to which I alerted the chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools last summer in a memo and at a one-on-one meeting.

In Credit Recovery, students who have failed a semester-long course attend a special class after school for a few weeks and magically earn credit for it—without taking a mastery exam. It is a big reason why the 50% of high-poverty, public-school students who actually graduate from high school are generally helpless before a college curriculum.

The dirty little secret of American education is that not only do half of students in high-poverty high schools drop out, but most of those who graduate—as I found in my two years teaching and testing students—operate at about the fifth-grade level in academics, organization and behavior. {snip}

Of my ninth-graders last year, only 10% were present in class more than three days a week, and a full 50% attended two days a week or fewer. When they did attend, the chronically absent did virtually none of the class work or homework. As a result, I thought it remarkable that a mere 68% of my ninth-graders failed—which, by the way, was typical across the ninth grade in the math department.

Instead of insisting that students retake failed courses and actually work, the school system allows students to take Credit Recovery or equally bogus summer-school courses. Thus students “age-out” of middle school with second-grade skills and “D-out” of high-school courses they rarely attend.

That explains why my so-called precalculus class of seniors last year entered with an average fourth-grade math level, just like my freshmen: They had learned little in the previous three years while “passing” algebra I, geometry and algebra II/trigonometry.

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From my experience, 80% of high-poverty high-school freshmen are at elementary-school level, which includes the 50% who are going to drop out. {snip}

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