Saturday, April 13, 2013

The even more indefensible Michelle Rhee

USA Today's Greg Toppo drives what should be the final nail into the coffin of Michelle Rhee's reputation (via Esquire's Charles Pierce):
District of Columbia Public Schools officials have long maintained that a 2011 test-cheating scandal that generated two government probes was limited to one elementary school. But a newly uncovered confidential memo warns as far back as January 2009 that educator cheating on 2008 standardized tests could have been widespread, with 191 teachers in 70 schools "implicated in possible testing infractions."

The 2009 memo was written by an outside analyst, Fay "Sandy" Sanford, who had been invited by then-chancellor Michelle Rhee to examine students' irregular math and reading score gains. It was sent to Rhee's top deputy for accountability.

The memo notes that nearly all of the teachers at one Washington elementary school had students whose test papers showed high numbers of wrong-to-right erasures and asks, "Could a separate person have been responsible?"

It recommends that DCPS contact its legal department "as soon as you think it advisable" and ask them to determine "what possible actions can be taken against identified offenders."

DCPS officials have said they take all cheating allegations seriously, but it's not immediately clear how they responded to Sanford's warnings. Only one educator lost his job because of cheating, according to DCPS. Meanwhile, Rhee fired more than 600 teachers for low test scores — 241 of them in one day in 2010.


In a statement, Rhee said she didn't recall getting Sanford's memo: "As chancellor I received countless reports, memoranda and presentations. I don't recall receiving a report by Sandy Sanford regarding erasure data from the (DC Comprehensive Assessment System), but I'm pleased, as has been previously reported, that both inspectors general (DOE and DCPS) reviewed the memo and confirmed my belief that there was no widespread cheating."
If any of this seems surprising, you either haven't been following Rhee's career or... Well, that 'or' is a bit complicated. Rhee has always done things that seemed questionable (abuse of power, suspect claims, relentless self-promotion) but these disturbing points were largely omitted from coverage that often verged on hagiography. It was only after giving her full support to the country's most reactionary governors that her reputation started to fade.

Even with that a surprising number of otherwise intelligent journalists who have covered Rhee for years still manage to deny the undeniable.

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