I’m Rather Disappointed with the New Frontline Piece on Michelle Rhee

I just finished watching John Merrow’s most recent hourlong piece on Michelle Rhee.

I was disappointed that it still seemed to make Rhee seem like a superstar who does little wrong.

Yes, he does point out pretty clearly that there was a huge amount of cheating by adults in DC public schools in the form of changing student answers on yearly tests; it is clear to me that Rhee pushed for impossible gains, and principals and teachers felt that they needed to cheat in order to keep their jobs and gain large bonuses. Merrow was, of course, unable to get Rhee to admit to stonewalling the investigations. But she clearly did, if you look at the exchange of emails and letters printed in USA Today. But will viewers agree with me, or give her the benefit of the doubt?

Merrow should have asked Rhee something like this: “You held up Wayne Ryan of Noyes ES as a superstar for raising test scores so dramatically — and promoted him, and gave him large bonuses. It is abundantly clear that those gains were the results of cheating. He refuses to comment. What do you have to say for yourself now?”

Another question he should have asked, as a follow-up: “You say that you don’t know why Caveon didn’t use all of their investigative tools to detect cheating on the DC standardized tests. But the reason was very simple: they would have to be paid more money to do so. Why did you decide not to commit the funds to have these extra investigations done?”

He did get the subsequent principal of Noyes to describe what looked like an ‘erasure party’ by staff at the school, and evasions by staff to avoid talking to investigators. She also told how nobody from the DC Inspector General’s office even interviewed her at all.

He also should have examined one of Michelle Rhee’s supposedly signature reforms: the ‘Capital Gains’ experiment, where students at certain middle schools were paid to be good, to be on time, do their homework, and so on. It was a failure: there were no differences in achievement between the control group and the experimental group; but she never, ever acknowledged this failure; I seem to be the only person who has commented on this failure in print.

He also should have shown with graphs what the results were in DC public schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, before, during, and after Rhee’s administration. If he had done so, he would have had to note that her reign made only one really significant difference: the gap between whites and blacks in DC, the largest in the nation, became wider than ever.

Having Richard Whitmire on screen so much was a joke: he is a fawning admirer of Rhee.

Not enough was done to point out that every single “fact” that Rhee put forth in her resume and verbally concerning her career at Harlem Park ES in Baltimore was a lie. I personally gave Merrow plenty of data, but he let Whitmire have the last say on the famous “90% below the 13th percentile to 90% above the 90th percentile” claim that Rhee made.

 

If you watched the show, what were your reactions?

As usual, if you want to make a comment you have to find the words “leave a comment” that are in super-tiny letters at the bottom of this column.

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Rheefer Madness …

    Yet another fine example in the FRUNTLAME tradition of Nerf™ Ball Journalism.

    I was thinking they had never heard the main motto of investigative journalism before — Follow The Money — and then I realized it would probably lead to some of their own funders.

  2. [...] Brandenburg was disappointed by John Merrow’s profile of Michelle Rhee. Like many others, he had expected that it old be an exposé of the cheating scandal in DC during [...]

  3. “Merrow was, of course, unable to get Rhee to admit to stonewalling the investigations. But she clearly did, if you look at the exchange of emails and letters printed in USA Today.”

    Then why didn’t he confront her with those emails and letters?

  4. I want to commend you on your brilliant investigative journalism. While watching the documentary I anticipated your presence as your exposing Rhee has been the definitive take on her tenure in education. When you never appeared I knew this was an absolute farce.

    I have taken the information you provided and have spread it to as many people as possible. It is an action I will continue to do in the face of the billionaire privatization propaganda campaign.

  5. [...] 1/8/13: GF BRADENBERG: I’m Rather Disappointed With the New Frontline Piece on Michelle Rhee [...]


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