PBS education reporter John Merrow writes about the erasure analyses, clear evidence of cheating and concealment of that evidence.
No, he is not writing about Atlanta Public Schools and former Superintendent Beverly Hall. He is writing about Washington, D.C., and former Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
Merrow questions why the strong evidence of cheating in the District of Columbia Public Schools — revealed now in a confidential memo — was not followed up as it was in Atlanta, and puts the blame on Rhee.
He says an inexperienced and ambitious Rhee arrived in Washington and imposed a “Produce or Else” reform model. He notes that Rhee met one-on-one with each principal and demanded a signed guarantee of exactly how many points their test scores would increase.
Rhee has become a national leader in education and holds great sway with state Legislatures, including here in Georgia. She is winning converts to the strategies that she employed in Washington, strategies that she contends improved student performance there. So, a true telling of her impact in Washington is important even now since Rhee is shaping education policy in many states.
Rhee failed to act on evidence of cheating because it undermined her success narrative, according to Merrow. He concludes his lengthy piece with:
This story is bound to remind old Washington hands of Watergate and Senator Howard Baker’s famous question, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” It has a memo that answers an echo of Baker’s question, “What did Michelle know, and when did she know it?” And the entire sordid story recalls the lesson of Watergate lesson, “It’s not the crime; it’s the coverup.”
That Michelle Rhee named her new organization “StudentsFirst” is beyond ironic.
Here is an excerpt, but please read his full piece:
Michelle A. Rhee, America’s most famous school reformer, was fully aware of the extent of the problem when she glossed over what appeared to be widespread cheating during her first year as Schools Chancellor in Washington, DC.
A long-buried confidential memo from her outside data consultant suggests that the problem was far more serious than kids copying off other kids’ answer sheets. (“191 teachers representing 70 schools”). Twice in just four pages the consultant suggests that Rhee’s own principals, some of whom she had hired, may have been responsible (“Could the erasures in some cases have been done by someone other than the students and the teachers?”).
Rhee has publicly maintained that, if bureaucratic red tape hadn’t gotten in the way, she would have investigated the erasures. For example, in an interview conducted for PBS’ “Frontline” before I learned about the confidential memo, Rhee told me, “We kept saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this; we just need to have more information.’ And by the time the information was trickling in back and forth, we were about to take the next year’s test. And there was a new superintendent of education that came in at the time. And she said, ‘Okay, well, we’re about to take the next test anyway so let’s just make sure that the proper protocols are in place for next time.’”
At best, that story is misleading.
The rash of “wrong to right” (WTR) erasures was first noticed by the DC official in charge of testing, who, after consulting with the test-maker, asked Rhee to investigate, in November, 2008. Through her data chief, Rhee turned to Dr. Fay G. “Sandy” Sanford for outside analysis.
I have a copy of the memo and have confirmed its authenticity with two highly placed and reputable sources. The anonymous source is in DCPS; the other is DC Inspector General Charles Willoughby. A reliable source has confirmed that Rhee and Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson discussed the memo in staff gatherings. Sanford came to Washington to present his findings in late January, 2009, after which he wrote his memo.
In response to my request for comment, Rhee issued the following careful statement: “As chancellor I received countless reports, memoranda and presentations. I don’t recall receiving a report from Sandy Sanford regarding erasure data from the DC CAS, 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 wide spread cheating.”
After receiving this statement, I sent her the memo; her spokesman responded by saying that she stood by her earlier statement. Chancellor Henderson did not respond to my request for a response.
Sanford wanted the memo to be kept confidential. At the top and bottom of each page he wrote “Sensitive Information–Treat as Confidential,” and he urged, “Don’t make hard copies and leave them around.” (The memo.)
The gist of his message: the many ‘wrong to right’ erasures on the students’ answer sheets suggested widespread cheating by adults.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog