Monday, April 15, 2013

Michelle Rhee: No Excuses; Whatever it Takes. Even Cheating?

Great cover art! One of our readers sent us this link to a  revised  Time Magazine Cover that shows the real Michelle Rhee.

Michelle Rhee, promoter of all of the latest and most damaging education reforms, may have covered up a major cheating scandal in DC schools that would surely have prevented her rise to godlike status in the education reform movement. That's what a heretofore "secret" memo to Rhee uncovered by reporter John Merrow may indicate. Click on this link to see John's interview with Chris Hayes of MSNBC.

Michelle Rhee almost overnight had become the fresh new shining star  who demonstrated amazing "results" at turning around the troubled Washington DC school system. Because of her "success" in DC, and her adoption by the media as the darling of education reform, credibility was given to the recent draconian changes inflicted on the American public education system. Rhee was one of the promoters of the idea that there is no legitimate excuse for the failure to educate poor and at-risk students just as successfully as rich or middle class kids.

There was no research upon which to base this revolutionary theory. Michelle Rhee had no credentials in education other than duct taping the mouth of a noisy student when she did her 3 year TFA stint. Like Louisiana's imported superintendent John White, Rhee's rise to the top of the education ranks was based on blind faith that setting academic goals for students and firing principals and teachers and giving bonuses based on these goals would automatically bring academic results.

Her system of carrots and sticks seemed to work, and the Washington DC school system seemed to demonstrate the major achievement gains she had expected. That's where Louisiana and many other states got the ideas for many of our recent education "reforms": Abolish teacher tenure, abolish seniority, create merit pay based on a highly erratic Value Added Model, and allow private groups access to public money for charters and vouchers.  It was all predicated on the idea that the teaching profession is rife with lazy and incompetent teachers and administrators and if we could just either motivate them with merit pay or fire them, all of our students would immediately show dramatic achievement. I submit to you that this assumption was wrong, but the new approach promoted by Rhee is creating unprofessional behavior.

The recent secret memo uncovered by John Merrow showed that Rhee was willing to ignore the facts about the cheating in DC that created her big reputation. The scam worked! Rhee became a superstar of education reform based on the fake dramatic improvement of DC schools. But now John Merrow points out that even though Rhee's policies have continued, the Washington DC school system by every accepted measure is performing worse than before Rhee and is just about the lowest performing system in the country!

The Rhee theory was implemented in Atlanta and El Paso and many other places including New Orleans. What have been the real results of this policy of putting tremendous pressure on professionals who often do not have control over the major factors that influence student achievement? Cheating! What we are seeing with federal indictments of educators who cheated to produce results is just the tip of the iceberg. In 2011 the Louisiana Recovery District announced that they had reduced the high school dropout rate from 11% per year to only 5%, yet the 12th grade class was only half the size of the 9th grade class! What happened to all those students? The OWN network in their series Blackboard Wars inadvertently revealed gimmicks that charters use to inflate their results.

I met with Louisiana Director of Accountability Dr Scott Norton just before he left his position at the LDOE and found out that in our state the BESE policy is to turn investigations of test cheating over to local school administrators. There seems to be no concern that those same authorities could be involved in the cheating! Our state action when school cheating is found is to give a school a zero without further investigation. To paraphrase Bobby Jindal this is a stupid policy! What if the FBI were to launch an investigation in Louisiana as they did in El Paso?

Washington DC and the Louisiana Recovery District should have an independent investigation of the entire system with subpoena powers as was done in Atlanta.

This is what we learn from the Michelle Rhee story: When eduction miracle workers with no credentials in education promise dramatic results and apply the pressure, the educators under them end up going to jail!


Anonymous said...

See latest Time cover featuring the queen of Rheeform and Erase to the top

Anonymous said...

Excellent Post, Mike! Since Rhee and TFA go hand-in-hand, check this out:

Anonymous said...

Actually, there is no evidence to support an assumption that Rhee was involved in the ceating scandal. I appreciate so much of what you believe but filling your blog with opinions stated as facts and mistruths hurts your credibility!