I just received Gary's follow-up to the Erasing the Rhee Miracle piece and posted it underneath - so even if you read this piece go on down and continue. And make sure to enjoy Failing Schools blog Dr. Seuss version of EraserGate.
Erasing the Rhee Miracle
Was the Rhee miracle — the rapid rise in standardized test scores in at least some DC public schools — in fact a miracle? Or was it a scam? Was it systematic cheating? Was there a scheme to erase incorrect answers on multiple choice questions and replace them with the correct answers? A well researched and well documented article by Jack Gillum and Marisol Bello in USA Today on Monday leads to the inescapable conclusion that DCPS, or at least several people who held power in positions within DCPS, told students and parents about improvements that students didn’t really make, told the people of this city about achievements that DCPS didn’t really make, and got paid bonuses from the DC and federal governments and private foundations on the basis of test scores that didn’t really improve.
Or at least that conclusion is nearly inescapable. DCPS is disputing it. Current Chancellor Kaya Henderson and past Chancellor Michelle Rhee are disputing it (though Henderson has now agreed to refer the matter to the Inspector General). They say that their internal investigation and the investigation by their paid consultant, Caveon, didn’t support the charges. So only the thing that supports the charges is the facts.
Mayor Vince Gray hasn’t taken a stand on this scandal yet, but he should soon. This isn’t his scandal. It happened under Mayor Adrian Fenty, Rhee, and Rhee’s deputy Henderson. Gray doesn’t need to claim it as his own and accept responsibility for it, though by hiring Henderson Gray has already associated himself closely with Rhee’s claims for the effectiveness of her so-called “reform” of DCPS.
It’s not the initial scandal that causes the most damage to a government or a politician; it’s the attempt to cover up the scandal. Gray can choose to defend Fenty’s and Rhee’s administration of DCPS over the past four years or to put some distance between them and him. He would be smart not to try to pass the investigation on to others, but instead to demand that his Deputy Mayor for Education and the State Board of Education conduct thorough independent investigations. (The city council and the State Board of Education have committed to hold hearings, but single hearings by either body will not be sufficient.) Besides, it’s the Deputy Mayor for Education who has the power and authority to supervise the Chancellor. Then the mayor needs to fire anyone in the DCPS hierarchy who is proven to have altered test scores, countenanced altering test scores, or known of the alterations and not reported them. Rhee fired teachers while making false, unsubstantiated accusations against them; the Gray administration should not duplicate that cruel carelessness. But the Gray administration should also not allow this scandal to be diminished or whitewashed. Let the die-hard Fenty and Rhee supporters try to excuse and explain away this scandal; it’s theirs.
USA Today article: http://www.usatoday.com/news/
USA Today follow-up article: http://www.usatoday.com/news/
DCPS response: http://www.dcpswatch.com/dcps/
Caveon Test Security’s response: http://www.dcpswatch.com/dcps/
Rhee response: http://www.documentcloud.org/
Politico article, Ben Smith, “Rhee, DC Defend Test Investigation,” http://www.politico.com/blogs/
New York Magazine profile of Rhee, March 20 issue, http://nymag.com/print/?/news/
Salon article, “Paranoid Michelle Rhee Blames Her ‘Enemies’ for Cheating Report,” http://www.salon.com/life/
April 3, 2011
Why the Venom
Last Wednesday, the Washington Post’s editorial board downplayed the extent of the DCPS scandal about cheating on standardized tests that was uncovered by USA Today by implying the problem was limited to one school: “The report centered on Crosby S. Noyes Education Center in Northeast Washington, credited with dramatic boosts in student achievement. There were extraordinarily high numbers of erasures for three years at the school. One Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on a 2009 reading test when the average for seventh-graders in all DC schools on that test was less than one.” Then it went on to list all the possible innocent reasons for such a high rate of erasures at Noyes that were speculated on by DCPS’s investigator, Caveon. But in the same day’s Metro section, reporter Bill Turque had given a more accurate assessment of the scandal: “The issue emerged Monday when USA Today reported unusually high rates of erasures on answer sheets in more than 100 DC public schools from 2008 to 2010. At some schools, wrong answers were replaced by correct ones at rates too high to be random, according to statisticians consulted by the paper,” and also on that day Jay Mathews’s blog said one of the most convincing things about the scandal was that it was widespread through more than a hundred schools. Of course, it may be too much to expect the Post’s editorial board to read the whole long report and its supporting documents in a competing newspaper, but they should have been able to describe the extent of the cheating scandal accurately just by checking with a reporter and a columnist in their own paper.
Mathews and Turque, however, were caught in the middle of Michelle Rhee’s contortions after USA Today’s investigation was published. Rhee’s original reaction was to blast the USA Today reporters as enemies of education reform. She then spoke with Mathews and told him her initial comments were stupid and that cheating may have occurred. And then she spoke with Ben Stein at Politico and claimed that Mathews misquoted her — so that both Mathew’s article and Turque’s, which was based on her interview with Mathews, were wrong.
But the question is not how many reporters and columnists Rhee will run over on her way to spinning the story. Rhee is gone from the DC schools now. The issue is whether this will be a new day in DCPS. Kaya Henderson’s reaction to the scandals, in her E-mail to DCPS principals and administrators last Friday (which was reprinted in full by Turque on Saturday), was “The one frustration I feel as a result of the recent allegations is that it has sullied the reputation of our hard working teachers and principals.” Henderson has telegraphed the message that teachers and principals will be the targets and the victims of any investigation that she or her allies run. If DCPS controls the investigation of the cheating, no investigator will be allowed to look into any potential involvement of DCPS administrators or central office. Under Rhee and Fenty, the first priority of DCPS was to construct and protect a false narrative of educational wonders in order to build administrators’ careers and reputations, while ruining the careers and reputations of hundreds of teachers. Below, Richard Rothblum asks me why I feel venomous toward Rhee, when she “tried to shake the system out of the doldrums.” That’s why.
Post’s editorial downplaying the cheating scandal, “Cheating Allegations Can’t Mask Real Gains in D.C.’s Schools,”
Rhee’s original response to USA Today article: http://www.documentcloud.org/
Jay Matthews column quoting Rhee as backtracking on test cheating issue:
Bill Turque’s article, “Rhee Now Concedes Students’ Test Answers May Have Been Erased,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Jay Mathews’ blog item, “School List Reveals Size of DC Test Answer Erasure Issue,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Politico article in which Rhee says Jay Matthews misquoted her:
Ben Smith, “Rhee, DC Defend Test Investigation,” http://www.politico.com/blogs/
Bill Turque, “Henderson: Press Trying ‘To Knock Us Off Our Game,’”
New York Magazine (correction, in the last issue of themail, attributed to The New Yorker) profile of Rhee, March 20 issue, http://nymag.com/print/?/news/
MUST READ AT NORMS NOTES. GEM'S JULIE CAVANAGH AND SAM COLEMAN WERE PART OF THE NYC DELEGATION