This is not a well-known secret: every distribution will always have a bottom 5%.

In D.C., under the control of the Mayor, the school system had adopted a rating system that is guaranteed to produce winners and losers. The losers are set up for privatization.

Parent activist and blogger Valerie Jablow thinks this stinks. She’s right.


She writes:

It’s not merely that the relativity of the STAR rating means that we will always have 1-star schools–which is unbearably cruel, given what’s at stake. It’s also that it purports to be neutral. After all, who can argue with test scores? They’re numbers–and everyone knows numbers don’t lie! Numbers are neutral!

But the reality is that the STAR rating and others like it are most definitely notneutral. Rather, these ratings were created out of deeply political motivations to determine school winners and losers. And without infusions of real resources tied to those 1- and 2-star ratings (and not merely listening sessions mediated by private advocacy group PAVE), DC schools with low ratings stand to lose a lot.

Moreover, if the STAR rating were about ensuring quality in our schools, we would know exactly how far those Anacostia high school teachers moved their students every single year. And we would also know what resources they got–and the resources they needed–in doing so.

But these ratings not only don’t tell us any of that, but teachers at Anacostia will be penalized to the extent that their students do not score well on PARCC. Not to mention that those teachers get only a few years to move that bar. (See p. 35 of our ESSA plan to see what happens when a school doesn’t move that bar fast enough: privatizing.)

We thus find ourselves in a very interesting place–wherein we have a school ratings system that cannot really tell us about school quality, all the while it purports to do just that.

Soooo: why do we have this rating system?

It would appear to be about choice–but even then, in a very limited context.

While all our charter schools are about choice, and now educate about half our students, most families attending DCPS also engage in choice of some sort, whether through the out of boundary process or through selective high schools. In fact, according to school analyst Mary Levy, about 25% of our high school students currently attend selective high schools–which makes DCPS’s choice to invest in a new one (Bard) and expand another (Banneker) on trend.

Except that the trend is a little concerning…

So, let me ask again: why do we have this rating system?

We have just spent a considerable amount of civic money and effort not only making it easier for families to reject schools with low test scores (the star rating appears on our lottery website), but also investing in tests that make it easier for schools with some of the city’s highest test scores to select out an already limited pool of high-scoring students.

All the while we learn nothing from the resulting ratings about the resources provided (or needed) at our schools or, for high schools, growth that teachers have been able to effect for their students–who more likely than not start out at or below grade level everywhere except for a relatively small number at only a small subset of our high schools.

Perhaps the worst part is how these ratings enable a grotesque educational bait and switch.

That is, the underlying assumption appears to be that the ratings enable parents to choose and thus helps students and makes schools better, presumably through competition. But the only competition herein is pitting public against the public, such that the public loses every time it wins, since our public schools are a system of, for, and by the public. Not to mention that “winning” in this context is very strange indeed: is it a slot at a selective high school for your child? Or your school not being closed down or privatized? All the while this so-called competition neither informs us about what is really going on inside our schools nor helps schools support the students they have.

So, gotta ask again:

Why do we have this rating system if it’s not really about quality or helping schools or truly informing parents or ensuring we have adequate resources for the majority of our schools that do not now (and may never) have many students getting a 4+ on PARCC?

Maybe this rating system, which appears so ill-suited for what it purports to do, is really about something else entirely–say, resources?

That is, because 1-star schools will always be with us (how convenient!), our city will thus ensure a steady flow of resources from closed or privatized 1-star schools (buildings, students, personnel, furniture, supplies) for, well, whoever would like to have them.

Now who’s winning?