The Further Adventures of Michelle Rhee’s Fabricated Success

I did not think, when I posted last night, that this USA Today story would take off the way it has. Honestly, I thought this would be one more stone tossed into the ocean, sinking down among all the other stones tossed that way before.  But this stone floats.  As of this writing, a Google search of Michelle Rhee News turns up 49 articles on the cheating scandal.  The sources are as diverse as The Wall Street Journal and Mother Jones (which I think covers the political spectrum pretty darn well) and many have titles such as: Cheating fears cast doubts on Michelle Rhee’s legacy in DC Public Schools and Testing fraud at heart of Michelle Rhee success or Cooking the school books on Politico.

Rhee was at first silent but she made an appearance on the Tavis Smiley Show where Smiley lobbed some puffballs her way and gave her outs.  After allowing Rhee to talk about how she put in all kinds of safeguards to prevent cheating Smiley asks her,  “Are you suggesting that this story is much ado about nothing, that it is lacking in integrity in the USA Today?” She responds “absolutely” and says how the report only focuses on one school and then she tries to make it look like DCPS brought in investigators to make sure things were above board. What she does not say, and what was reported in USA Today, is that DCPS only released a small part of that investigation’s report and it took a Freedom of Information Act filing by USA Today for the rest of that report to be released.  Rhee, and DCPS, tried to forestall the rest of that report from making its way in print.

Teachers have been crying foul since the day Rhee announced the bonuses for many of these schools that are on the list posted here. Oh, by the way, Madam Rhee, please take a look at the list, 46 schools were flagged for high erasures in 2009, 10 of those schools had over 50% in erasures.  Noyes was singled out because Noyes was Rhee’s model school. She crowed the success of Noyes from the highest towers in town. She took the principal, Wayne Ryan, and made him an instructional superintendent.  Noyes was pointed out because her best example was, as with much of her success, a Potemkin village.  All facade and show, nothing real and substantial. Many of us said, at the time, that there should be an investigation into schools where the jumps were extraordinary. Instead, Michelle Rhee gave the teachers of those schools $8000 each and $10,000 to each principal, to the tune of $1.5 million. The desire for success was so strong that the truth was ignored even as it screamed out in the statistics.  Even Jay Matthews, Michelle Rhee’s strongest supporter, seems to recognize the truth in USA Today’s investigation. In his Class Struggle blog on the Post online he writes Take back that blue ribbon, Secretary Duncan, stating that Duncan should revoke Noyes’ blue ribbon award from 2009.

Some will say, and already have, that Michelle Rhee did not do the cheating, that it was the teachers and administrators of these respective schools that did the cheating. That is just another canard giving Rhee an out, much like Tavis Smiley’s interview. The fact is that Michelle Rhee created this culture of fear and intimidation wherein high scores were the only measure of success, regardless of how those scores were achieved. As much as Michelle Rhee questioned the quality of the teachers in the district, when some of those same teachers (many of whom she later fired) delivered cooked scores showing proficiency going from 10% to 58%, she had no doubts that the scores were valid. She wanted success at all costs, as this excerpt shows:

The pressure on principals was unrelenting, says Aona Jefferson, a former D.C. principal who is now president of the Council of School Officers, representing principals and other administrators. Every year, Jefferson says, Rhee met with each principal and asked what kind of test score gains he would post in the coming school year. Jefferson says principals told her that Rhee expected them to increase scores by 10 percentile points or more every year. “What do you do when your chancellor asks, ‘How many points can you guarantee this year?’ ” Jefferson says. “How is a principal supposed to do that?”

How indeed? By cheating, it would seem.

Michelle Rhee’s reform has never been about the children. She used the district’s children to further her political ambitions. High test scores were necessary for her story and for advancing her agenda.  If she didn’t collude in that cheating then she was certainly willfully negligent in her diligence to make sure those test scores were valid. If she were still the Chancellor of DCPS than it would be necessary for her to resign.  As it is, Kaya Henderson and the rest of the Rhee team should resign or should be asked to resign by the mayor. Teachers had lost most of their trust in Rhee by the time she left. Most of us see Henderson as nothing more than Rhee’s factotum.  It is time to clean house, Mr. Gray.

4 thoughts on “The Further Adventures of Michelle Rhee’s Fabricated Success

  1. Here’s what I’ve been repeating every chance I get — originally posted on WaPo teo years ago. Not needed here, but please pass on the idea.

    Michelle Rhee is extraordinarily skillful, but not at managing a school system. She has a rare talent for temporarily getting smart people to believe in her and support her fervently and unconditionally. These smart people wouldn’t necessarily describe their support in these terms. It’s unusual for them to get pulled in emotionally, so they don’t reflect much on the possibility that their good sense has been compromised. Journalists who are excited by the chancellor’s vision and determination reflexively and repeatedly sing her praises in the press. Other smart people leave their jobs to go to work for her. People who change their lives for a cause or publicly put their credibility on the line have an especially hard time noticing any negative reality that might interfere with their glowing first impressions.

    Being smart people, however, they eventually re-engage their analytical skills and swallow their pride. They recognize that their unconditional support is not warranted. While mourning the loss of a miracle cure for the schools, they begin to curb their unwitting complicity in further injuring an already ailing system. That is the phase we’re entering now.

    Maybe, at last, the time has come when even hard-core “reform” friendly reporters can’t escape the truth and start telling it.

  2. Great post and I agree, I had the same reaction yesterday morning–that it would go nowhere. I can only hope that this will actually have some sort of traction in “school reform.”

    I’ve asked Guy Brandenburg to run the numbers on the DCPS non cheaters. It would be interesting to see what Rhee’s gains look like at the schools that didn’t erase to the top.

    Bee cheater…Hee!

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