The Rhee Miracle Examined Again – By Cohort

Unless I get some more hard data, this will be my last column on the so-called Rhee miracle in Baltimore.

Here I will attempt to follow four different cohorts of students through Harlem Park Elementary, one of the Baltimore City public schools that was taken over by Tesseract/Edison company for several years in the early-to-mid-1990s and failed. Using publicly available data, I graphed the average percentile ranks of groups of students as they went through Harlem Park in first grade, then second grade, then third grade, and so on. If there’s a blank in my graphs, it’s because the data isn’t there.

I highlighted the classes where Michelle Rhee was teaching. In her last year, the scores did rise some, but nowhere near what she claimed. In her first year, they dropped almost as low as they can go. If Tesseract/Edison had been using the IMPACT evaluation system she foisted on DCPS teachers, she would have probably been fired after the first year!

Look for yourself:

Why does this matter?

Simply because I think it’s important for the public to know that the main spokesperson for the movement for additional dumb standardized testing, for teaching to the test, and for firing teachers based on those dumb tests, would herself have been fired under those criteria.

And she has lied repeatedly about that, and has repeatedly claimed that she performed some sort of miracle when she was teaching in Baltimore: a miracle that no-one else has ever, ever achieved.

Voters in DC, to their credit, saw through her lies and voted Adrian Fenty out of office largely because of her lies (I think) and the horrible effects she had on DC public schools. Yay! But in the rest of the country, people probably only know her because of adoring media coverage that paints her as some sort of saint; she has become an advisor to several right-wing Republican governors who think that the key to educational success is breaking teacher unions.

The public has the right to know about what a liar she is, and to judge accordingly.

PS: my data source is here.

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  1. Dear Guy,
    I am sending you and another commentator this email I received from a journalist who writes on education issues. However, until they give me the OK, I’m leaving out their name. I have responded to the journalist and suggested they contact you and the other commentator:

    I’m writing with what you will undoubtedly find an odd question. I’m starting on a commentary about why Michelle Rhee, far more than other school reformers, draws such extreme negative reactions.

    Especially interesting to me is why this group focuses on the “legitimacy” issue, such as whether she did in fact become a highly effective teacher in Baltimore. In some ways it reminds me of the “birther” opposition to Obama: Proving he’s not a U.S. citizen would negate his legitimacy as president.

    I realize you may not agree with that comparison, but I”d like to include quotes from one of Rhee’s fierce detractors in the piece. Nothing complicated or long, just a quick summary explaining the source of your dislike for Rhee. I would show you in advance any quotes I might use.

    Anyone else, please feel free, if Guy doesn’t mind, to respond here.

    • Try these adjectives. They describe how many folks think of Rhee: 1. sanctimonious 2. self-righteous 3. hypocritical 4. lying 5. prevaricating 6. fact-distorting 7. ideologically driven 8. insulting 9. condescending

    • I’d like to address the journalist’s comparison: legitimacy is extremely important when you make a singular claim like Rhee’s. As any teacher will tell you, bringing 90% of a low-performing class to the 90th percentile in 1 year sounds beyond impossible, and yet she made the claim over and over again with no documentation and essentially no journalists or the mayor who hired her demanded to see any before they were willing to repeat the claim.

      It’s hardly the same thing as claiming that a man from Hawaii was born in Hawaii. All the evidence points toward Obama having been born there (cert of live birth, announcement in the newspaper, his mother and grandmother living there). Basically nothing besides Rhee’s own claim of performing nothing less than a ‘Miracle’ pointed to her ever having done it. Please tell me you see the difference.

    • In response to the “birther” analogy…I would love for anyone on this blog to do the research and produce a Maryland Teaching Certificate for Michelle Rhee…because I am certain that she doesn’t have one. Usually, when your teaching career ends after three years, it because you have failed to meet the requirements for certification. Maryland is one of the more rigorous states. That is a far greater legitimacy issue for one who is so critical of certified teachers, a rarity in your average charter school.

  2. Hi,

    I taught at Harlem Park, the school Rhee taught in. Some of my colleagues taught with her. If you’re interested in getting in touch with them, e-mail me.


  3. Where are you finding the scores of Rhee’s students in the data- it only looks like the whole class? Are you showing where those students were at the beginning of the year versus the end?

    You are not accurate when you say “the classes where Michelle Rhee was teaching”. You are showing the grades where she was one of the teachers, not the class she was teaching.

    • In the last year, there were only two third-grade classes at Harlem
      Park. Rhee claims that she team-taught with the other teacher. So if
      she was telling the truth about that then, in fact, it was indeed her
      and her colleague that supposedly brought those students from the very
      bottom to the very top — but didn’t.

      In case you missed it, all of my numerical data on Rhee’s alleged
      miracle comes from the UMBC study on the Tesseract project. I gave the
      links in several places. If the link I am going to provide doesn’t
      work, you can always google it.
      (I see that I forgot to put that link into a few of my articles.
      Sorry. I will fix that right now.)

  4. [...] Post edu-writer Jay Mathews highlights the work of former teacher, now blogger Guy Brandenburg, who unearthed the most famous set of missing test scores in American education: for the third-grade classes at Baltimore’s Harlem Park Elementary School, taught by a rookie [...]

  5. [...] Post edu-writer Jay Mathews highlights the work of former teacher, now blogger Guy Brandenburg, who unearthed the most famous set of missing test scores in American education: for the third-grade classes at Baltimore’s Harlem Park Elementary School, taught by a rookie [...]

  6. I was one of those teachers fired after her first year of teaching. I taught a grade that didn’t take the DC-CAS, but I did have to give my students reading tests constantly, which scored how many words they could read in a minute. A couple of them improved significantly, most improved a little, some stayed in the same place or slipped a little. My first year was terribly hard (I was teaching in a failing, very low-income school in SE with a lot of problems), and I can honestly say (after tormenting myself over it for months) that I did the best I could in the situation I was in. If I was given the chance Rhee was given–to leave my first bad year behind and try again–I might still be a teacher right now, and I might be getting better at it. It seems, from looking at this data, that I didn’t do any worse than Rhee did in her first year. But I was told by everyone that I wasn’t measuring up to IMPACT standards (though they never actually tried to help me figure how I could measure up) and I was fired. I am not a teacher anymore, and after that experience, I don’t want to be ever again.

    • Mrs. Teacher: I am sad that you had a bad experience from the administration and system. If you were able to treat your students like children in need (instead of numbers), you may still be a teacher. Michelle Rhee is doing to FL what she did to D.C. I wish we could stop this insanity!

    • If you taught at Stanton or Garfield in SE, that was where I began my tenure in DCPS, in 1992, after teaching for five years in NY. This year, after 25 years of never having an unsatisfactory rating, I was rated down on IMPACT and fired. It doesn’t matter if you are in year 1 or 25, IMPACT, like the numerous evaluation tools that DCPS used previously, is a flawed document that can be used subjectively by administrators to get rid of whomever they care to. In order to resolve the budget issues right now, veteran teachers earning the maximum salary are the targets.

  7. Thank you! This is from a fellow teacher, who is sick and tired of test scores.

  8. [...] current issue: A week ago, blogger G.F. Brandenburg dug up some data which suggests that Rhee’s claim of huge gains in test scores when she was a classroom teacher [...]

  9. [...] Brandenburg’s examination of the data started it all, and he wrote a [...]

  10. Here’s the thing: best practice in education dictates that teachers constantly (weekly or biweekly depending on the age) monitor their students progress via teacher administered tests (formative assessment) such as running records or guided reading observations. If Michelle Rhee was following these best practices (which were certainly around when she was teaching) she would have known where her students were academically and what gains they were making. So, she was either lax is her use of formative assessment and record keeping or she was promoting classroom successes that she knew could not possibly be true even IF she did not have access to the standardized test data. Either way, she is demonstrating a lack of moral character and as such should not have access to other people’s children.

  11. Say, for argument’s sake, that I’m the coach of the Washington Capitals hockey team (Bruce B.) – I was a player of some renown, but not a star as many of my current players are. But I ask all of my players now is to exceed what I achieved. Who cares what I wrote on my resume if I can get Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin to play above where I did, indeed above what they might have been when they started. Who cares what Rhee wrote on her resume? She asked them to achieve, some did, some did not. I would wager most of the complainers are those that won’t ever achieve and then they project their failure onto Rhee by saying she lied. Sour grapes. Go find some other line of work and shut up already.

    • Thomas Jefferson, I think that comparing Michelle Rhee and Bruce Boudreau is quite illuminating.

      Unlike Michelle Rhee, Bruce Boudreau appears to be a man of his word. As far as I know, he has never, ever made outrageous claims about his own past

      “I scored unassisted hat tricks in 90% of the thirteen Stanley Cup playoff series that I played in, resulting in the Baltimore Bats winning an unprecedented twelve Stanley Cups in the years 1991-1995, producing acclaim from the Morning Show, the Wall Street Journal, the Hartford Courant” would be such an exaggerated claim — one that Bruce B has never made, because he appears to me to be a reasonable, honorable man.

      And imagine if our anti-Bruce were called on those phony claims, and then made the counter-claim that all of the records were lost and that he simply kept making those claims based on what his previous coach told him?

      The real Bruce actually seems to have some clue how to manage a team to produce results without going around disparaging the skills, moral qualities, and intelligence of most of his players and staff. Nor has Boudreau terminated 25% of his players over 3 years. All of which were feats accomplished by the one whom you are comparing BB to.

      Yes, excellent comparison. As in, compare and contrast.

    • BruceB: People get fired every day, in DIFFERENT PROFESSIONS for lying on applications or resumes. Have you ever heard of ethics? If she claims that her percentiles jumped to the 90’s% and she didn’t do it or can’t prove it. Yet she demands that lawmakers write state laws that fire teachers for not attaining Rhee’s standards… it IS wrong. If it is a standard that she may not have accomplished, how can lawmakers hold others to Rhee’s standard? I have heard her claim that teachers can get 6 figures if they are successful teachers. She’s a liar.

  12. It figures somebody without any knowledge of education would have hired this liar, this fraud, to begin with. Unless you have a class full of gifted-and-talented students, you aren’t going to have “90 percent of students in the 90th percentile,” let alone achieve this in a couple of years. I taught in a private school which typically frontloaded its student body with GT students, with my class of 12 having 2 or 3 students in the 99th percentile, and my class overall STILL scored “only” in the 78th percentile on the Stanford Achievement Test. This high score would be all but impossible to achieve in public schools outside of a tiny number of schools where the students have wealthy or professional parents. Any administrator would have seen through this line of b.s. from Rhee in a second.

    • A fraud hired a fraud. Check out FL!

  13. [...] teacher measure up? Guy Brandenberg, a now-retired D.C. teacher with three decades of experience published a blog post that accused Rhee of lying “in an effort to make gains in her class look more impressive than [...]

  14. [...] First organization, appears to never not be under scrutiny. This time, a former D.C. math teacher is alleging that Rhee "lied repeatedly" about the gains made in her time at Baltimore's Harlem Park Elementary [...]

  15. With all the work she has done using tests for evaluation purposes, Rhee must know that her claim is nearly impossible to achieve. To repeate that claim without evidence? Knowing how unlikely it is? Sounds like poor judgement & an inflated ego/self delusion at best.

    That said, the numbers from the study do not appear to be reliable. The number of students tested at Harlem Park dropped from 79 2nd graders in 93/94 to 43 3rd graders in 94/95 (her students would be in these groups). With so many students not tested it is impossible to make detailed conclusions.

    Maybe her students test scores improved significantly (though not to the level she claims based on the report). Maybe her students scores actually went down. It makes you wonder if it was mostly lower performing students that were not tested in 94/95, magically raising the average score.

    There are many other problems with the numbers. They list a total of 11 classes for grade 1-5, which would not seem to make sense for a school of 500 students. The # tested dropped in all grades in 94/95 even though the # students in the school was stable & there was no dramatic change in the numbers tested at the other schools.

  16. Do you have the 93-94 third grade scores plotted? also, what does the data look like from the teacher she team taught with? Do we know what her classroom assignments were before teaching with Rhee?

    • I don’t think I plotted the 93-94 third-grade scores at Harlem Park and the other schools, but if you care to look, they are on the same ERIC pdf file, at and following page 143. Here is the URL:

  17. [...] a study that includes test scores from the Baltimore school where Rhee taught from 1992 to 1995. The post, dated Jan. 31, generated intense discussion in education circles this week. In it, Brandenburg [...]

  18. A reporter from a major paper wants to contact you.

    Please email with information on how to do this.

    I would suggest that you include on your website your email address.

  19. [...] a study that includes test scores from the Baltimore school where Rhee taught from 1992 to 1995. The post, dated Jan. 31, generated intense discussion in education circles this week. In it, Brandenburg [...]

  20. [...] subject of Michelle Rhee’s teaching record has recently received a lot of attention. While the controversy has been interesting, it could also [...]

  21. Congratulations, your efforts demonstrate both real investigative skills on your part, and the lack of investigative skills on the part of DC-area reporters who covered Rhee.

    Although purely from a lay perspective, what strikes me about the data – apart from the fact that it reveals a gross level of overstatement on Rhee’s part – is that it appears to be very noisy. All three cohorts that had ’91-’92 scores dropped substantially in ’92-’93 (except for Cohort U’s reading score, which looks basically flat). If one assumes there was some systemic reason for low ’91-’92 scores, then it makes the rise in Rhee’s students in Cohort V look even less impressive. I find it hard to believe, too, that Cohort T’s slide from ’91-’92 to ’92-’93 represents something genuine – are we really to expect that a group of children, 65% of whom are meeting math standards one year, will slide to below 20% the next?

    I think exposing this data is a public service, but I am not sure why any rational person would require more evidence of Michelle Rhee’s lack of judgement than she provided during her time at the helm of DC’s schools. The arbitrator’s decision to reverse her summary firing of 75 “probationary” teachers without cause just underscores that although she talks an objective standards talk, she doesn’t really walk it.

  22. Rhee represents White Chalk Crime – white collar crime in education – at its best. Either Rhee incompetently did what she did or she, like most other leaders in education, took advantage of power and perks available to those corrupt enough to steal from our children while destroying the American Dream. Check out and if you want to understand what is going on in education. Rhee received excessive criticism since she blamed teachers for what administrators and school boards are doing. Her unbalanced approach to reform either stems from other EducRAT$ use of her as a leader to push forward their nefarious agenda, or her own willingness to rise to the top on the backs of our children. Either way this is White Chalk Crime and it won’t end until the public becomes educated on this topic and stands up against it.

  23. If Rhee made anywhere near the kind of improvements she claims (and I can’t understand why so many have taken her at her word. She barely had any experience at that point in her teaching career.) then she should be sharing her teaching methods with others, and not calling for teachers to be fired based on scores. But you don’t get into lucrative and prestigious power positions by being a teaching methods consultant, I guess.

    • Exactly! It seems *highly* unlikely that anyone who has had that kind of success in the classroom would keep their methods to themselves, and go on to try to systematically eliminate anyone else who didn’t come up with the same or similar methods on their own. That’s like a doctor curing a disease, then keeping the process a secret.

  24. [...] [...]

  25. [...] retired teacher / blogger revealed what numerous national media organizations never did (here). Depending on your view of things, this is either a major problem for Rhee or for journalism. [...]

  26. [...] statistically impossible and on further investigation, have caught Rhee in a lie. However, her followers still support her methods, discredited as they are.These fabrications are used to prove that testing and [...]

  27. and dark mystery tunnel . From the outside, that is, from one not part of the Baltimore public school system (except a million years ago when I was a student in them) it’s difficutl to get at the reality of rhee and her claims, what is factually so. Nonetheless, i enjoyed reading this blog, albeit with a very critical eye. Thanks for engaging in thei important debate.

  28. [...] Washington Post article today elaborates on this controversy which came to light recently with a blog posting by a former DC schools math teacher Guy Brandenburg who reviewed studies of students Rhee taught in [...]

  29. [...] Ravitch is critical of the reform measures that Michelle Rhee and her StudentsFirst advocacy. The Eduskeptic has written a few times about Rhee and her lack of experience in the public school system, and the inability to find anything to substantiate her claims of being anything other than an average rookie teacher. [...]

    • thank you for writing this blog-
      I hope it will enlighten some people who have been convinced through misinformation and misleading math that unions are ruining schooling

  30. [...] to the close scrutiny of Gary Brandenburg, Bob Somerby, Matt DiCarlo, Dana Goldstein, Diane Ravitch, USA Today, and others, we now know [...]

  31. [...] her organization, Students First, will be the subject of a PBS documentary tonight. Despite misrepresenting her own teaching career, presiding over an extensive cheating scandal, and getting poor results during her [...]

  32. I wonder if she did indeed perform miracles in increasing the scores to where they actually were. They may have been a lot worse without her.

    Why don’t you get her on this page and question her directly.

    Is this test used with all teachers?

    • In Baltimore, the evidence is clear: she lied repeatedly and specifically about performing a miracle. She finally admitted lying.
      If there was a small increase in scores, it is also clear from the evidence how it was accomplished: attrition – tremendous reductions in the numbers of students over a two year period; and gaming the test: enormous numbers of students scoring SO LOW THAT THEIR SCORES WERE NOT EVEN COUNTED — thus, the average score of the remaining students showed an increase.

      This sort of gaming is a hallmark of her career.

  33. […] has been questioned by some as a result of alleged embellishments on her resume about her own teaching record. Without credibility, it is impossible to sell one’s wares to anyone but true […]

  34. High stake testing (not low stakes assessments, which can be useful) do not work, and there is no evidence for their efficacy. Thus, their proponents have to like to support them. PTxS

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