New calls to probe cheating allegations in Washington under Rhee

PBS’s John Merrow recently revealed a 2009 confidential memo pointing out troubling test answer erasures in Washington, D.C., schools, which were led at the time by Michelle Rhee, now the head of  the national advocacy group StudentsFirst.

Merrow reported that the erasure concerns raised in the memo by an outside data consultant failed to prompt any investigation by top officials in the district.

The Washington Post is reporting that a probe is unlikely at this point, either. (A 2007 law placed Washington’s public schools under mayoral control. Under the D.C. model, the city council appoints some of the school board members.)

The Post reports:

The chairman of the D.C. Council’s education committee said Sunday that he has no plans to launch a full-scale investigation into allegations of widespread cheating on standardized tests in 2008, during the tenure of former Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Council member David Catania (I-At Large) said that he intends to find out why the scope of a prior cheating investigation was limited to one school, but much of his focus will be on improving the integrity of future tests, which are used to evaluate schools and teachers. Catania said that in light of the 2009 memo, he is “bewildered by the narrow scope” of a investigation by the D.C. Inspector General, which lasted 17 months and focused only on one school. But he said a full-scale reinvestigation of the five-year-old allegations “would be impractical and would yield little in terms of accountability.”

“Among other things,” he said, “simply identifying and interviewing the hundreds of witnesses would overwhelm the Council’s limited staff and resources.” It makes more sense to focus on tightening test security and strengthening efforts to identify cheating in the future, the council member said.

In response, the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued this statement today:

“This memo is troubling for two reasons: First, it strongly suggests that Michelle Rhee knew in 2009 of widespread allegations of cheating in D.C. public schools and failed to act. And second, it indicates that rather than conducting a full investigation of the allegations, a strategy was devised to dodge them.

Those of us in D.C. at the time heard rumors that Rhee pressured principals to improve test scores and that she looked the other way when evidence of cheating was put before her. As John Merrow concluded, Rhee’s overzealous fixation on testing and measurement, and her efforts to silence and fire anyone who questioned her reckless, destabilizing strategies, ultimately failed D.C.’s kids.

Under Rhee’s tenure, DC-CAS scores showed little or no gain, and the performance gap between low-income and upper-income students actually widened. Schools were destabilized by the constant churn of teachers and principals being fired, relocated or leaving out of frustration. Our children deserved better.

In 2011, my colleague Nathan Saunders and I called for an immediate, full-scale investigation to be conducted by an unbiased third party. The Sanford memo—suggesting 70 schools may be at issue—also calls into serious question whether the investigations done by the D.C. inspector general and the U.S. Department of Education inspector general, as well as the actions of D.C. State Superintendent of Education Deborah Gist, were comprehensive and thorough.

We renew the call for a full investigation, and ask the D.C. City Council, with its full subpoena powers, to conduct a series of hearings. That would be putting students first.”

In her Answer Sheet blog in the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss writes:

If the memo isn’t enough to spark a new investigation, this should be: My colleague Emma Brown reported in this new story that teachers in 18 D.C. classrooms cheated last year on high-stakes standardized tests during the chancellorship of  Henderson, Rhee’s successor in the post, according to the results of an investigation released Friday by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

This confirmed cheating took place after security was tightened as a result of the earlier suspicions. All in all, a new probe — by investigators with real subpoena powers, which is how the Atlanta cheating scandal was uncovered — is clearly warranted.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog. Note: All comments posted will be held in moderation until approved. Thanks, Maureen

53 comments Add your comment

catlady

April 15th, 2013
11:13 am

Here are two reasons why it should be investigated. 1. Rhee needs to be brought to justice, if she knew or should have known about what her draconian “leadership” wrought, or if she was complicit in the coverup 2. Rhee needs to be exposed as NOT someone you listen to, contrary from what our Georgia “leadership” thinks, if she knew, should have know, or orchestrated a coverup. There are probably other reasons, but I am too disgusted to continue.

Astropig

April 15th, 2013
11:19 am

If guilty, she should be brought to justice. Investigate. Turn over every rock. Real public school reform advocates have no place in their movement for people that cheat,no matter their politics or connections.In fact, corner cutters like Beverly Hall and others (and maybe Rhee) are the very people that we are trying to make sure never cheat our kids or our communities again.

jarvis

April 15th, 2013
11:23 am

You can’t tie job evaluation or incentive awards on results that are largely out of a person’s hands.

An increase in test scores is not something that an individual teacher can influence very much in a single year. This sort of thing will continue to occur as long as various school leaderships continue to try this approach.

The coverup of Sr. Admin is not unexpected. She was stupid and/or corrupt enough to ignore the empirical evidence around these types of incentives. Time and time again we see that that it will inevitably lead to cheating.

Dunwoody Mom

April 15th, 2013
11:25 am

IMO, this is where the real School Choice advocates need to speak up and encourage an investigation.

Dunwoody Mom

April 15th, 2013
11:26 am

Ok, so why are my comments in moderation?

Clutch Cargo

April 15th, 2013
11:26 am

“…her efforts to silence and fire anyone who questioned her reckless, destabilizing strategies, ”

There’s you’re smoking gun,inspector. Anyone that uses the powers of her position to remove good faith employees that ask questions is hiding something unsavory. Beverly Hall had the good sense to use a flunky to do her dirty work,but you get the idea. When a watchdog turns up missing, the place is about to be robbed.

Mountain Man

April 15th, 2013
11:29 am

“It makes more sense to focus on tightening test security and strengthening efforts to identify cheating in the future, the council member said.”

That is sort of like saying after the Brian Nichols shooting “we don’t need to focus on who did this and bringing him to justice, we just need to focus on security so it doesn’t happen again”. Or, ore likely: ” we need to focus our efforts on finding new and better ways to cheat that are harder to prove than erasure analysis.”

AJC isn't me

April 15th, 2013
11:33 am

This anti-Michelle Rhee thing is beginning to sound like a vendetta. One with very little substance behind it.

Maureen Downey

April 15th, 2013
11:34 am

@Dunwoody, All comments are being moderated today. Am releasing quickly.
Maureen

Mary Elizabeth

April 15th, 2013
11:35 am

@ catlady, 11:13 am

Catlady, I completely agree with your remarks about Michelle Rhee’s being held accountable for her actions.

The below statement, lifted from the article above, was issued today by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:

“As John Merrow concluded, Rhee’s overzealous fixation on testing and measurement, and her efforts to silence and fire anyone who questioned her reckless, destabilizing strategies, ultimately failed D.C.’s kids.”

I believe that no Superintendent of Schools should use these intimidating, instructionally unrealistic tactics as part of his/her educational policies.

Weingarten further stated, “Under Rhee’s tenure, DC-CAS scores showed little or no gain, and the performance gap between low-income and upper-income students actually widened. Schools were destabilized by the constant churn of teachers and principals being fired, relocated or leaving out of frustration. Our children deserved better.”

I agree with Weingarten’s statements. Our children do deserve better. The first step in making certain that every student is allowed to grow to his/her maximum potential within a relaxed, professional school environment is to hire a Superintendent of Schools – within every school district – who understands this. What occurs in schools throughout a school district begins at the top level – through the educational vision and policies of the Superintendent of Schools.

Please let your voices, and votes for Board Members who appoint Superintendents of Schools, be heard.

Georgia

April 15th, 2013
11:37 am

All this media storm because Michele Rhee and Beverly Hall signed an incorrect report card? Tiger Woods signed an incorrect scorecard and he gets a pass. The media is proclaiming a new era of golf rules. The last bastion of honor and integrity (the game of golf) is now obsolete. Isn’t that one of the signs of the Apocalypse? That and Gary Busey being considered as some sort of genius?

Mountain Man

April 15th, 2013
11:37 am

“This anti-Michelle Rhee thing is beginning to sound like a vendetta. One with very little substance behind it.”

Is that sort of like: This anti-Beverly Hall thing is beginning to sound like a vendetta. One with very little substance behind it?

Mountain Man

April 15th, 2013
11:39 am

“This anti-Michelle Rhee thing is beginning to sound like a vendetta. One with very little substance behind it.”

All that anti- Bernie Madoff thing is beginning to sound like a vendetta. One with very little substance behind it. Oops, I forgot, he confessed.

Dunwoody Mom

April 15th, 2013
11:39 am

@AJC isn’t me…Why would any of us have a vendetta against Michelle Rhee. I don’t agree with her views and methods, but suggesting that an investigation needs to be done with regards to the alleged cheating does not mean it’s a “vendetta”. If Rhee is innocent, then no one, including Rhee, should object to such an investigation.

Mary Elizabeth

April 15th, 2013
11:46 am

Readers, my 11:41 am post is a repeat of my 11:35 am post, only shortened.

I had not read that all posts are being moderated today when I posted my 11:41 am post. Sorry for the inconvenience of the essentially repeated post.

bu2

April 15th, 2013
11:50 am

“…her efforts to silence and fire anyone who questioned her reckless, destabilizing strategies, ”
But there is no smoking gun. This is just rhetoric by a union rep, not any specific charges.

“This anti-Michelle Rhee thing is beginning to sound like a vendetta. One with very little substance behind it.”

I’ve got to agree with this. The previous anti-Rhee article a few days ago was very biased and the author discredited himself with some of his comments.

Maybe there is something there, but these people making the public comments aren’t demonstrating anything other than that there was some likely cheating in DC. There’s an implication there was a Rhee coverup to stop investigation, but the choice not to investigate further than the 1 school was made after she left.

Maureen Downey

April 15th, 2013
11:51 am

@ME, Took down the second one. Only one is up now.
Maureen

LLC1923

April 15th, 2013
12:07 pm

Investigators need to determine if federal funds were used to award DC teachers and principals with high eraser rates. Also, were honest teachers fired as a result of “tests”?

This is a must read for the DC mayor and others -

Federal Judge Orders Rhee Suit To Go Forward, Will Broaden to Concealment and Fraud Claims
http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/4/prweb10586920.htm

Mary Elizabeth

April 15th, 2013
12:08 pm

@ Maureen Downey, 11:51 am

Thank you, Maureen. Much appreciated.

dougmo2

April 15th, 2013
12:21 pm

I think that the DC Board of Education should appoint a Blue Ribbon committee to investigate this alleged fraud. It worked so well here in Atlanta.

Beverly Hall

living in an outdated ed system

April 15th, 2013
12:23 pm

Again, I reiterate that we need to move onto new topics. Journalists just love a salacious scandal, but we’ve spent more than enough time talking about cheating. How about we talk about how we bring our education system into the 21st century? Lets talk about how we intrinsically motivate students and how we better educate, train, compensate and evaluate teachers.

OriginalProf

April 15th, 2013
12:28 pm

@ LLC1923. Thanks for your link. This news story is dated April 1, 2013. If there’s any doubt now, this is NOT merely a vendetta against Rhee. And the state and city laws cited above in the Washington Post story are superseded by federal law. (I would guess that the determining issue is not whether DC teachers and principals were awarded with federal funds, but whether the schools themselves received federal funds—which they plainly did.)

high school teacher

April 15th, 2013
12:35 pm

“There’s an implication there was a Rhee coverup to stop investigation, but the choice not to investigate further than the 1 school was made after she left.”

At the behest of whom? I admit to being a conspiracy theorist. Someone with lots of money and lots to gain from Michelle Rhee’s success may have contributed to the choice not to investigate. If there is any implication of cheating, then there should be an investigation. If this were a small school system whose superintendent is still in office, then sure, dismiss it. But we’re talking about Washington D.C., and the woman who was in charge is the woman who is currently serving the education reform Kool-Aid…

LLC1923

April 15th, 2013
12:35 pm

To: living in an outdated ed system

Parents, taxpayers and educators can’t move forward until the reformers are held accountable. The bogus policies have created harmful effects directed at millions of US children and their teachers for the purpose of getting countless local, state and federal contracts. It’s about greed.

Kate

April 15th, 2013
12:36 pm

Let’s have the investigation. Since she is on record saying that there was no cheating during her tenure, this ought to be easy to prove one way or the other. And this matters! She, ex-Gov. Bush (FL), and so many others talk this great game about how to fix public schools and get so many legislators who can’t think much to follow them, that we need to investigate. Let her defend herself and her subordinates — let’s see the data. That is, after all, what science is about. She ought to be saying “bring it on” but so far — silence from her. That says a lot, doesn’t it?

Colonel Jack

April 15th, 2013
12:36 pm

@LLC1923 … I just read that release at the link you provided. After being exposed to so much of what the charlatan and fraud Michelle Rhee has done to schools nationwide, I can only shake my head and say I am not surprised that the music teacher in question lost his job because of Rhee’s dishonesty.

Folks, wake up. Michelle Rhee and her ilk are NOT education reformers. They’re frauds. They’re fake. They’re phony. And they are in the hip pocket of those who stand to profit off the billions of dollars that this garbage-based “reform” will produce. It has NOTHING to do with education and EVERYTHING to do with money.

And your children will be the losers.

Wake up! Tell your State representatives that Michelle Rhee’s bovine scatology is NOT needed in Georgia, or anywhere else!

OriginalProf

April 15th, 2013
12:38 pm

@ living in an outdated ed system, April 15th, 12:23 pm: “Again, I reiterate that we need to move onto new topics.”

Given the inordinate influence that Michelle Rhee has come to have with state legislatures considering education issues–including Georgia’s–this is about a great deal more than cheating. You’re calling for a discussion of theoretical issues such as student motivation and teacher preparation and evaluation. But this subject in front of us involves all of that at a very practical level.

Also, for those of us who have lived through the Beverly Hall era from 2001 on and its aftermath of poorly prepared students (which I certainly have been getting at the University level for about a decade), this is rather like watching a morality play. One wants justice to win out.

Beverly Fraud

April 15th, 2013
1:31 pm

This anti-Michelle Rhee thing is beginning to sound like a vendetta. One with very little substance behind it.

I believe “AJC isn’t me” just got a B.W.I.
Blogging While Ignorant

living in an outdated ed system

April 15th, 2013
1:37 pm

I have to disagree, LLC. It’s about the system creating a moral hazard, which is cheating. Accountability is needed if school systems are to be prepared for the 21st century, but the incentives are out of whack and thus we are faced with a bigger mess to clean up.

living in an outdated ed system

April 15th, 2013
1:39 pm

@Original Prof – the issues I raise are not “theoretical.” There is sufficient evidence indicating that they can improve learning outcomes. Check out the work done by the Innosight Institute, and the Lexington Institute as examples.

Beverly Fraud

April 15th, 2013
1:48 pm

Given the inordinate influence that Michelle Rhee has come to have with state legislatures considering education issues–including Georgia’s–this is about a great deal more than cheating.

And you don’t think Mark Elgart, who tried to support an APS chairman who actively conspired with Beverly Hall to hide cheating, doesn’t have a great deal of influence?

But we need to discuss Rhee, and not Elgart OriginalProf?

bootney farnsworth

April 15th, 2013
1:49 pm

@ living

this whole mess is very similar to the insurance problems. the more fed involvement (Ie money) the more cheating and inflation of results will occur

living in an outdated ed system

April 15th, 2013
1:53 pm

Not sure I agree on that one, @Bootney. I think it has to do with how we set up the accountability system. If we go back to more local control, then I can assure you we will continue to fail our children. More local = more inefficiency and incompetency.

bu2

April 15th, 2013
2:07 pm

Original Prof “@ LLC1923. Thanks for your link. This news story is dated April 1, 2013. If there’s any doubt now, this is NOT merely a vendetta against Rhee. ”

The gist of the news story is that Rhee said there was a financial crisis and fired what she determined to be incompetent teachers. The lawsuit is saying since there may not have been a financial crisis, the incompetents should have kept their jobs. Its pretty weak.

The more and more weak arguments like that I hear, the less it seems likely it is anything other than personal and political vendettas.

OriginalProf

April 15th, 2013
2:10 pm

@ Beverly Fraud, April 15th, 1:48 pm.

You got it!

OriginalProf

April 15th, 2013
2:18 pm

@bu2, 2:07 pm.

Read a little further in the news story. The Federal Judge is allowing the original suit against Rhee to expand to fraud and concealment, far more serious charges than the complaint of unjust firing.

“it has been learned that Brewer will now amend his original complaint to broaden the scope of Rhee’s alleged actions into possible civil fraud and concealment claims. This has developed as a result of videotaped testimony by the former DCPS CFO Noah Wepman before the DC City Council on November 30, 2009. In that testimony, Wepman appears to admit that he willfully concealed, with the knowledge of Rhee, the true accounting figures which indicated that the DCPS had no budgetary shortfall at all- the pretext for the RIF to be instituted and the mass firings to take place.

The alleged scheme indicates that after the mass firings occurred, Rhee and Wepman then reported the true accounting figures and the money re-appeared in the DCPS budget enabling them to hire an entire flock of new teachers.

If Brewer prevails, with the case now in its discovery phase, Rhee’s- and now presumably Wepman’s- ideological experiment, which has been widely heralded by an entire nation, may quickly unravel.”

Colonel Jack

April 15th, 2013
2:25 pm

@bu2 … I’m afraid you didn’t read the story very carefully. The teacher was saying that he was fired under a Reduction in Force (RIF) for financial reasons – reasons which ultimately did not exist. If he was a “bad” teacher, there are proper avenues to bring about his dismissal, but to blatantly lie about the reason is immoral and unethical. Nobody says incompetent teachers should keep their jobs. (Well, nobody who is actually thinking, anyway.) But to circumvent the methods that are in place, and to do so dishonestly and by lying about the reason, simply means Rhee is unsuitable for such a position of importance.

Her determination of incompetence is another thing that is being called into question. Educate yourself on the issue, please. Michelle Rhee belongs in the same jail cell as Beverly Hall and anyone else who derives illegal or immoral personal profits from public education.

Digger

April 15th, 2013
2:51 pm

Of course she cheated. There is no other way to explain those type of large gains considering her students. Its just a matter of pinning the tail on the Donkey.

Beverly Fraud

April 15th, 2013
3:13 pm

@ Beverly Fraud, April 15th, 1:48 pm.

You got it!

OrigProf you realize that is completely inconsistent, given the total lack of integrity both Rhee and Elgart have displayed in the face of systemic cheating.

Mountain Man

April 15th, 2013
3:32 pm

So now Michelle Rhee is head of StudentsFirst (pushed off the cliff)?

what's best for kids?

April 15th, 2013
3:45 pm

There should be a lot of demands that Rhee be investigated. What’s good for Atlanta is good for DC.
Her credibility is in question, and since everyone thinks she is the savior of education, we need to ensure that she truly is (not).

Mountain Man

April 15th, 2013
3:48 pm

“Of course she cheated. There is no other way to explain those type of large gains considering her students. Its just a matter of pinning the tail on the Donkey.”

It is not like she can point to specific things she did to increase student performance. How did she handle the attendance issues? How did she handle discipline issues? What a bout social promotion?

OriginalProf

April 15th, 2013
3:50 pm

@ Beverly Fraud, April 15, 3:13 pm.

But the topic here is Rhee. Please stay on topic. It’s a drag to go back to Elgart’s unfortunate actions a few years ago. We get it. Stop chewing the cud of inward grief.

Catlady

April 15th, 2013
5:18 pm

Georgia, I think you probably don’t really think we can equate golf and education?

bu2

April 15th, 2013
5:42 pm

@OP and CJ
What she is alleged to have done is circumvent hiring and firing policy and possibly DC employment laws or union contracts. That’s different from the cheating allegations and sheds no light on those. It also explains the hostility of the union leader towards her. In a non-union environment and right-to-work state, the issue would never have arisen.

So I read the story perfectly well. Its not directly relevant to the cheating issue. And its an early stage lawsuit, not a verdict or settlement.

What's Best for Kids?

April 15th, 2013
6:26 pm

BU2,
Georgia is a right to work state. Whatcha got now, given the BHall debacle?

Colonel Jack

April 15th, 2013
6:37 pm

@bu2 … You’re correct, it’s not directly related to the cheating issue. But you have to admit … it does show a pattern of behavior. Rhee is untrustworthy and malicious, and I firmly believe she’s set to profit in a big way if her so-called “reforms” (which are anything but reforms) take hold.

As they say on those court shows, “It goes to character, Your Honor.” Rhee has none.

OriginalProf

April 15th, 2013
7:58 pm

@ bu2.

AFT President Weingarten stated, as given above:”…First, it [the 2009 memo] strongly suggests that Michelle Rhee knew in 2009 of widespread allegations of cheating in D.C. public schools and failed to act. And second, it indicates that rather than conducting a full investigation of the allegations, a strategy was devised to dodge them.”

As Colonel Jack notes above, the second investigation noted by LLC1923 at 12:07 pm today shows a pattern of behavior by Rhee that attempts to cover-up illegal actions rather than investigate them openly. It’s her attempt to cover-up and hinder legal investigation that’s significant and relevant, not cheating per se. I’m no lawyer, but I should think that this would establish characteristic conduct. And it was the attempt to cover-up the cheating and hinder the state’s investigation that brought Hall, etc., to grief, not the cheating itself.

bu2

April 15th, 2013
10:12 pm

@OP
Its nothing but allegations by someone suing for wrongful termination. “Wepman appears to admit that he willfully concealed….” No specifics, and “appears.” All the judge said is that the plaintiff gets his day in court. This doesn’t demonstrate any pattern of cover-up. Its an allegation by someone suing but proof of nothing at all. Again, the bashing from the AFT president who didn’t like the firings.

bootney farnsworth

April 16th, 2013
7:17 am

@ bu

its called abuse of power, and its illegal in some form or another- in every state – right to work or not.
the cover up occured in the cooking of books, ethics violations, and willful sidestepping of rules