Washington, D.C.

D.C. Miracle Turnaround School Exposed as a Fraud

A investigation released today shows how Ballou High School graduated a whole class of seniors despite rampant absenteeism and failing test scores.

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Michelle Obama visits Ballou High School

When Ballou High School, once one of Washington D.C.'s worst performing public schools, announced that all of its 2017 senior class graduated with college acceptance letters, the praise was effusive.

Both NPR and the Washington Post ran stories on the miracle school, praising its miraculous feat of boosting its graduation rate from 57 to 100 percent in a single school year.

Thanks to a joint investigation by NPR and local public broadcaster WAMU we know the miracle was cheating. According to the WAMU story Wednesday, many of the students Ballou graduated had missed so many classes they should have been ineligible for their diplomas.

D.C. Public School policy states students who miss more than 30 days of a course automatically fail that course. Records compiled by WAMU showed 141 graduating seniors had at least 30 days of unexcused absences and 86 had at least 60 unexcused absences. Roughly 20 percent of the graduating class was absent 90 or more times, or more absent than in attendance.

Ballou teachers reported students with woefully inadequate academic skills. Only 9 percent of Ballou students passed D.C.'s standardized test for English last year, and none passed the standardized math test.

"I've never seen kids in the 12th grade that couldn't read and write," Brain Butcher, a former Ballou History teacher, told WAMU.

Teachers acknowledged to WAMU the Ballou administration brought incredible pressure on teachers to pass students. This included threatening teachers with poor performance reviews should they fail students or encouraging them to give students grades of 50 percent on work that was never turned in.

In initial interviews with WAMU, Jane Spence, chief of secondary schools for the district, downplayed the chronic absences, saying, "we also know that students learn material in lots of different ways. So we've started to recognize that students can have mastered material even if they're not sitting in a physical space."

Public officials haven't been as forgiving. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference Wednesday the district was going to "thoroughly review all policies related to attendance, graduation, and credit recovery."

One would hope so. Ballou High School received some $12.7 million in taxpayer funds in Fiscal Year 2017 for its annual budget.

What the WAMU investigation makes clear, however, is that much of that money is spent on juking stats, a disservice to taxpayers and to students actively incentivized to become worse students with no consequence for their failure.

"If I knew I could skip the whole semester and still pass, why would I try," Morgan Williams, a former health and physical education teacher at Ballou, asked. "They're not prepared to succeed."

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  1. Could we get a list of the colleges that accepted these students, please?

    1. Probably most were accepted by University of DC, which is horrible and takes anyone.

      1. Imagine being a college professor and having a number of students who literally cannot write a term paper.

        1. I have friends who teach at good colleges that have low acceptance rates who are in that position. The dirty secret of American education is that even the “smart kids” are by the standards of the past, receiving appalling educations.

          1. Undergrad classes are teaching kids what they used to have as curriculum in high school 30 years ago.

            The other glaring failure is that people under 35 have very little knowledge stored in their brains and have real trouble if they cannot look it up via the internet.

            1. people under 35 have very little knowledge stored in their brains and have real trouble if they cannot look it up via the internet

              All of them?

              1. Yup. All of them Citizen.

                Every generality use in English includes every single person in the target group.

                1. Every generality use in English includes every single person in the target group.

                  At least you’re willing to admit that you don’t really know what you’re saying. You’re probably one of those people that thinks knowledge and intelligence are the same thing, too.

                  1. $park? leftist poser|11.30.17 @ 11:01AM|#
                    “Every generality use in English includes every single person in the target group.”
                    At least you’re willing to admit that you don’t really know what you’re saying. You’re probably one of those people that thinks knowledge and intelligence are the same thing, too.

                    Aw, poor Sparky cannot read so he clearly misses that I purposefully used “knowledge” and the context of stored information in one’s brain.

                2. So when you said “people under 35 have very little knowledge stored in their brains and have real trouble if they cannot look it up via the internet,” were you trying to be meaninglessly vague, intentionally dishonest, or both?

                  1. Citizen X – #6|11.30.17 @ 11:11AM|#
                    So when you said “people under 35 have very little knowledge stored in their brains and have real trouble if they cannot look it up via the internet,” were you trying to be meaninglessly vague, intentionally dishonest, or both?

                    You sure are being defensive about a general statement about a generation that clearly does not use their brain to store information.

                    What do you mean by “you”? All the you’s?

                    You are always trying to hard to seem smart Citizen.

                    1. You are always trying to hard to seem smart Citizen.

                      This is beautifully insensate, like a retarded butterfly trying to eat a sunset.

              2. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link,

                go? to tech tab for work detail,,, http://www.onlinecareer10.com

            2. people under 35 have very little knowledge stored in their brains and have real trouble if they cannot look it up via the internet.

              So what’s your excuse?

              1. I am a millennial. Me and my generation are ________ (give me a second to google it).

                1. In a sad twist, lc1789 is not smart enough to understand that $park? was just calling him dumb.

                  1. Citizen X – #6|11.30.17 @ 11:12AM|#
                    In a sad twist, lc1789 is not smart enough to understand that $park? was just calling him dumb.

                    Aw, poor Citizen, trying to explain Sparky.

                    I guess dumb people defend dumb people who spout dumb nonsense in response to a general comment about dumb people.

                    Good.to.know.

              2. Are you a millennial by chance, Sparky?

                You are proving my point about certain young people being dumb-dumbs.


                1. You are proving my point about certain young people being dumb-dumbs.

                  Fixed that for you. I don’t think it has anything to do with generations, some people are just stupid.

                2. Are you a millennial by chance, Sparky?

                  No.

                  You are proving my point about certain young people being dumb-dumbs.

                  I’m not really ashamed of being called dumb by a retard.

                  1. I called YOU a dumb-dumb. See, you cannot even read.

                    Just go back to your special needs classroom you M-R person.

                    1. Hey, we millennials are the best of this site. Crusty, MJ Green, Hihn (though he was part of the last millennials) myself. We listen to loud rock n roll music and crack wise.

                      We’re the best. Suck it nerds.

                    2. I think Chipper Morning might be too, but he never clearly stated his age.

                      Citizen X is just a fucking hipster.

                    3. No way, dude. Hipsters are so over.

                    4. lol

                    5. Me: I’m not really ashamed of being called dumb by a retard.

                      Lc1789: I called YOU a dumb-dumb. See, you cannot even read.

                      That’s a prize pig right there, folks.

          2. What a load of horseshit. I get engineering interns and they’re as sharp as any students I knew 30 years ago. This “get off my lawn, my generation was the best” horseshit needs to die. It’s disingenuous and trite.

        2. …or even read one.

    2. I saw another story where one got into Penn State. I would assume most got the call from “historically black colleges” like Gramblin’, Bafoon Cookman, nowumsane?

  2. Can the graduates stomp their feet in demand safe spaces? Then they’ve been adequately prepped for higher education.

  3. “They’re not prepared to succeed.”
    i’ll bet they are prepared to vote for a certain political party.

  4. “They’re not prepared to succeed.”

    How dare you say that their lived experience can’t be considered a success.

  5. “Thanks to a joint investigation by NPR and local public broadcaster WAMU we know the miracle was cheating.”

    Well, the Koch brothers donate to NPR.

    So much for those investigative “facts.”

  6. I wonder if Michele Obama will return to that school and voice her disappointment in school administrators lying and cheating?

    And then do some dancing?

    1. At least they had healthy lunches.

      1. Pity no one bothered to eat them.

  7. If they are not prepared to succeed, it is likely their own fault. Unless you can show me it was impossible for anyone to get an education in this school, a possibility that considering the state of public schools I won’t dismiss out of hand, then the kids who graduated without learning anything have no one to blame but themselves. The opportunity was there. They just didn’t take it. The sad fact is no amount of money or do good enthusiasm is going to get kids to learn when they don’t want to do it.

    1. One of my vousins and his wife are teachers, and that is their argument against any merit based review of teacher performance. Of course, they still eant tons of new funding shoveled into the school system as well.

      1. You want to improve education in this country, set up a national objective test that requires whatever level of education we want from people to pass it. Then let every kid between the ages of 16 and 19 take it and give any kid who passes $10,000 tax free to do anything they like with. Kids don’t learn because their parents don’t make them and they see no benefit in doing so. Give them a reason to want to other than “you should” and they will start doing it.

        1. We need ditch diggers too.

          1. We do. But I think there is a base level of education and knowledge that is necessary for a free society to properly function.

            1. Should people be forced to get that ‘base level of education’ at the point of a gun?

              Subquestion, can you force someone to learn things?

              1. ABsolutely not. But they can be rewarded for having it.

                1. There you go, then. Let those who are failing out of school…fail out of school. I don’t see why that’s so complicated when it’s known that not everyone has the capacity or desire to learn.

                  I don’t have any answers, necessarily, for what those people should do otherwise but the truth of the matter is the people who don’t want to learn ruin learning for those who do.

                  1. It’s known that not everybody has the capacity or desire to learn, but admitting to that knowledge would make life difficult for a lot of politicians and bureaucrats.

            2. We need to bring back starvation as a motivator. Make starvation great again, if you will. I still remember my late grandfather’s words, from his most excellent time living through the Depression: “If I didn’t work, I didn’t eat.”

              1. What the mick said, with the added benefit that people who have starved to death aren’t around to vote for more piss-poor policies.

        2. We need to make the K-12 math curriculum much more rigorous and challenging. There is no reason high school kids can’t do analysis.

      2. If their profession doesn’t benefit from merit pay because it’s all up to the student, then why do we need to give it much funding at all?

  8. D.C. Public School policy states students who miss more than 30 days of a course automatically fail that course.

    Holy shit. Norfolk Public Schools may suck in other ways, but their policy is to fail students after 7 course absences. My kid missed three so far this year and we got a stern letter.

    1. Holding inner city kids to the same standards as affluent suburban kids is racist.

      1. “Affluent suburban”? You’ve never been to Norfolk, have you.

        1. Do you mean all citizens of Norfolk are poor? That seems like a generality and it must mean all those in Norfolk.

          1. Yes, “all citizens of Norfolk are poor” is a generality that, on its face, means everybody in Norfolk. Congratulations on noticing the content of your own sentence. Now see if you can understand that that’s not what i said at all.

            1. Aw, poor Citizen doesn’t like his own medicine.

              Of course, it means generally poor.

              At least you admit that people make generalities in English and people like you can try and take them literally to mean all in that target group.

              1. LC: [makes generality]
                CX: “Yes, that is a generality.”
                LC: “SEE, PEOPLE CAN MAKE GENERALITIES.” [shits self]

                What “medicine” are you talking about? Is it the kind that gave you all that brain damage? Because i don’t want that.

                1. LC: [makes generality]
                  CX: “You mean every single person in that group that you made a general statement about?”
                  CX: [shits self and does not figure out why]

                  lol

        2. To be fair, Norfolk would be very affluent if you weren’t bringing down the average with you vast roster of orphans.

          1. My orphans are revenue neutral. They pay their own way, or they get fed to the orphans who do.

            1. Isn’t that still paying their own way?

              1. For a couple of days, yes.

      2. Is “affluent suburban” code for white/asian kids, regardless of circumstances?

  9. The school gave them a diploma, did you actually expect them to maintain standards of learning as well, you ingrates?

  10. A classic rookie mistake.

    If the graduation rate had risen to 87% in one year, I doubt if few or any people would have looked any closer at the underlying data.

    The administrators just got greedy.

    1. Thread… done. I only wish I had read this before I posted below.

    2. Yes, it is a lot like like a dictator holding an election and winning his office by 100% of the vote.

  11. OT (but is it really?): Grad students are walking out to protest the GOP tax plan.

    On the one hand, thank God it’s not another safe space/protest bullshit identity kerfuffle. On the other hand, thank God the American higher education system is beginning to eat itself alive. On the other other hand, the death of the American higher education system, while long overdue, is still a bit sad/discomforting.

    1. As long as we keep the good engineering, science, and law programs, I’m good, and they’re largely filled with children of legal immigrants anyway. Although our law programs are getting a little sketchy. Yale has essentially eliminated due process from their campus.

      1. We have to come up with a better way to educate people. Four-year colleges were built to train priests. They later became places for idiot sons of the rich to spend a few years growing up and enjoying their status before getting serious about life. They were never intended to or designed to be a way to train and educate the general public.

      2. I’d be fine with just engineering as it’s dominated or culturally geared towards undergrads or against grad school anyway. While I won’t deny that there is beneficial graduate research being done, grad school, for at least half a century if not longer, has been largely somewhere between a jobs program, slave labor, and prolonging childhood.

        There was a recent kerfuffle about paid and unpaid internships questioning their ethics and/or legality. Nobody thinks to bother with the fact that a legion of Ph.D.s petrify current research trends while sitting on hosts of able-bodied working adults who literally write their own business plans and make less than $30K/yr. because credentialism.

        1. Real science is a trade more than anything else. Actual research scientists serve what amounts to apprenticeships with distinguished scientists and learn the trade from them. This is why the sciences are less credential based than the liberal arts. If you want to be a working scientist doing research, it doesn’t matter what Useless News and World Distort says about where you went to school. What matters is who trained you and who did you work under while getting your PHD and of course what kind of work did you do while getting it.

          In an ideal world, you could allow promising students who exhibit the brains and desire to become real scientists skip a whole lot of the bullshit associated getting a BS and concentrate on getting the base knowledge necessary to begin their graduate work and get on with their careers.


          1. This is why the sciences are less credential based than the liberal arts.

            This isn’t true. Just saying.

            1. It is true in the research world. Who you worked with matters more than anything. That is I suppose a form of credentialism.

              1. That, and the schooling itself is credentialing. You don’t get to research, really, unless you have all the right letters after your name as a baseline.

                It’s not really called credentialing but it mimics it pretty closely. It’s not cheap, either.

                1. Well someone has to subsidize the english majors who don’t read shakespeare.

                  1. Not to mention all the Chemistry Post-docs who don’t know that if you dilute a 10X solution 10-fold it becomes a 1X solution or that if you only collected three data points, you can’t really, honestly throw cull one.

                    Some may laugh but this was published humorously in the back of a widely read/used procedural manual when I was an undergrad more than (my God) two decades ago and things haven’t gotten much better since.

          2. Real science is a trade more than anything else. Actual research scientists serve what amounts to apprenticeships with distinguished scientists and learn the trade from them. This is why the sciences are less credential based than the liberal arts. If you want to be a working scientist doing research, it doesn’t matter what Useless News and World Distort says about where you went to school. What matters is who trained you and who did you work under while getting your PHD and of course what kind of work did you do while getting it.

            This sounds a bit… contradictory or conflated to me. For your premise to work or be true, the majority of tenured Ph.D.s and/or distinguished scientists would have to be more akin to tradesmen. Otherwise, they’re training apprentices in the trade of acquiring grants and training apprentices.

  12. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Every American has access to an education. They have access to school, and to books, and to every resource they need if they want to. It is a cultural and societal problem, exasperated by unions that refuse to enact even the most basic of reforms to help.

    1. Your point is mute. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  13. This tends to happen when you force people to do something and then expect a bunch of teachers to magically make those people enjoy the forced interaction. It’s even worse when you punish the teachers for not making those people enjoy the process.

    Perverse incentives anyone? Bueller?

  14. students can have mastered material even if they’re not sitting in a physical space.

    True, & that’s why I never take attendance if I can help it.

    1. Tell the truth – by making it known that you abhor taking attendance you are hoping fewer losers will bother to show up.

  15. Hey, Jane Spence, whatcha gonna do?

    Whatcha gonna do? Make our dreams come true.

  16. Yes, I won’t dismiss out of hand, then the kids who graduated without learning anything have no one to blame but themselves.

  17. Have taught high school social studies in California for 20 years. There is so much pressure to pass all students and especially seniors it is unreal. I was told by my AP at Vista Murrieta HS that either I pass all students or I no longer teach seniors. . . I resisted and said that was unethical and now I no longer teach seniors. Our district also used APEX “credit recovery” where in some cases failing seniors make up an entire semester class in a single day or two and go on to graduate. Because I do not play along quietly I have been targeted by admin but this is how I sleep at night. . . calling out these shennanigans is how I keep my sanity.

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