Mike the Mad Biologist

Education Reformer, Reform Thyself

It would seem that education ‘reformer’ and former D.C. schools chancellor is enamored of personal responsibility for everyone but herself. To give you some idea of the kind of person, Rhee is consider this heartwarming tale from her days as school chancellor:

Early in her chancellorship, she was trailed for a story by the education correspondent of “PBS NewsHour,” John Merrow.

At one point, Ms. Rhee asked if his crew wanted to watch her fire a principal. “We were totally stunned,” Mr. Merrow said.

She let them set up the camera behind the principal and videotape the entire firing. “The principal seemed dazed,” said Mr. Merrow. “I’ve been reporting 35 years and never seen anything like it.”

But it’s all about the kids. The real issue is that she might fired the wrong principal–an honest one who didn’t lie and fudge the scores:

At the end of March, three of the paper’s reporters — Marisol Bello, Jack Gillum and Greg Toppo — broke a story about the high rate of erasures and suspiciously high test-score gains at 41 Washington schools while Ms. Rhee was chancellor.

At some schools, they found the odds that so many answers had been changed from wrong to right randomly were 1 in 100 billion. In a fourth-grade class at Stanton Elementary, 97 percent of the erasures were from wrong to right. Districtwide, the average number of erasures for seventh graders was fewer than one per child, but for a seventh-grade class at Noyes Elementary, it was 12.7 per student. At Noyes Elementary in 2008, 84 percent of fourth graders were proficient in math, up from 22 percent in 2007.

Ms. Rhee’s reputation has rested on her schools’ test scores. Suddenly, a USA Today headline was asking, “were the gains real?” In this era of high-pressure testing, Washington has become another in a growing list of cheating scandals that has included Atlanta, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Let’s look at how D.C. performed (italics mine):

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.

Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008. That’s more than half of D.C. schools.

Erasures are detected by the same electronic scanners that CTB/McGraw-Hill, D.C.’s testing company, uses to score the tests. When test-takers change answers, they erase penciled-in bubble marks that leave behind a smudge; the machines tally the erasures as well as the new answers for each student.

In 2007-08, six classrooms out of the eight taking tests at Noyes were flagged by McGraw-Hill because of high wrong-to-right erasure rates. The pattern was repeated in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when 80% of Noyes classrooms were flagged by McGraw-Hill.

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY….

Among the 96 schools that were then flagged for wrong-to-right erasures were eight of the 10 campuses where Rhee handed out so-called TEAM awards “to recognize, reward and retain high-performing educators and support staff,” as the district’s website says. Noyes was one of these.

Rhee bestowed more than $1.5 million in bonuses on principals, teachers and support staff on the basis of big jumps in 2007 and 2008 test scores.

I wonder if D.C. can get a refund? Since Rhee’s claim to fame is that she raised test scores by kicking ass and taking names, this shouldn’t come as a surprise:

On May 2, another Rhee spokeswoman e-mailed to say the reporters were too interested in cheating and not enough in StudentsFirst. She said they could submit a list of questions.

There were 21 questions; Ms. Rhee did not answer 10 of the 11 about cheating.

Mr. Gillum, who recently took a job at The Associated Press, said he was surprised by how unresponsive Ms. Rhee has been. “She talks about how important data is, and our story is data driven,” he said.

My take on Rhee has always been that she was someone who relentlessly pushed an idea that crashed into reality, discovered she was in over her head, and doubled down on stupid. After all, a quick perusal of the NAEP exam (often viewed as the ‘gold standard’ for a variety of methodological reasons) scores for the District showed no significant improvement. That alone should have set off warning bells. Bob Somerby lowers the boom:

It’s hard to express sufficient contempt for people who build lucrative public careers on the backs of the low-income children whose interests they claim to serve. But here’s the point that popped in our heads as we read Winerip’s profile:

Rhee was enabled every step of the way by this society’s swells. The people paid to pose as “educational experts” never said that those self-serving claims were extremely unlikely. (Potemkin experts don’t do that!) The Gotham swells who pose as reformers were probably too dumb to realize.

When Rhee showed up in DC as the mayor’s nominee, the Washington Post averted its gaze from the problems that were emerging with her self-glorying claims. But then, after stamping its foot a bit, so did the DC Council.

In his piece, Winerip mentions the interview Rhee did with Tavis Smiley last spring. He doesn’t mention the way Smiley bowed, scraped, pandered and fawned to Rhee in his quest to lick the boots of celebrity, wealth, fame and power.

Rhee seems to continue on unabated, despite her record of dishonest mediocrity. Currently, Rhee is trying to raise $1 billion for her organization Students First, which promotes education ‘reform.’ Maybe, if you’re lucky, this wonderful regime can be inflicted on your local schools. Hell, it’s not like it’s affecting children or anything…

Comments

  1. #1 grrljock
    August 23, 2011

    I hoped that Rhee’s slash-and-burn, make-everyone-her-enemy style translated to some real benefits to the DC schoolkids. Sadly, that hope is misplaced. She’s just another character who figured out a plan to get on the gravy train. I guess the Rhee years were just another type of Shock Doctrine.

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