The ‘Smoking Memo’ on Michelle Rhee’s EraserGate was leaked to John Merrow

The “smoking memo” has turned up.
The one that Michelle Rhee, Kaya Henderson, and Charles Willoughby didn’t want the public to see.

The one where the testing company expert told them all about the cheating and what steps they should take — none of which were taken.

That memo was leaked to John Merrow of Frontline. You really should read his entire article. It’s long, it’s got footnotes, and it’s excellent.

http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=6232&cpage=1#comment-19730

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Teachers, parents, and concerned citizens should take the time to read this long, footnoted, in-depth follow-up by John Merrow (a journalist at Frontline) on the cheating scandal (by adults) in Washington, DC public schools, in particular at Noyes right here in Brookland.
 
The article points out several things:
(1) Rhee gave lots of money to adults who cheated
(2) She put impossible pressure on principals to cheat; they, in turn, put that pressure on their teachers
(3) The achievement gap between white and black students, and between poor kids and wealthier kids, increased on Rhee’s and Henderson’s watches; any increases in NAEP scores are continuations of trends that began under her predecessors; and DCPS students’s scores are still at the bottom of the nation
(4) Rhee, Henderson, Kamras, and IG Willoughby have steadfastly refused to investigate the cheating seriously and to do the sort of analysis that actually shows malfeasance
(5) Turnover among administrators and teachers in DCPS has turned a revolving door into a whirlwind
(6) The idealistic principal who followed Wayne Ryan at Noyes, and who was originally a great admirer of Rhee, found a lot of evidence of cheating there, but her whistleblower suit was dismissed, and she now runs a cupcake store
(7) Despite noises to the contrary by Rhee, the number of highly-paid central-office administrators has jumped; DCPS has the highest administrator-to-student ratio anywhere in the region
(8) Funds that should have been used to help students who were behind were, instead, used to pay illegitimate bonuses to dishonest adults.
Here is the URL:
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A couple of key quotes:

” former DeKalb County District Attorney Robert … Wilson said that he had been following the DCPS story closely.  “There’s not a shred of doubt in my mind that adults cheated in Washington,” he said. “The big difference is that nobody in DC wanted to know the truth.”

*****

It’s easy to see how not trying to find out who had done the erasing–burying the problem–was better for Michelle Rhee personally, at least in the short term.  She had just handed out over $1.5 million in bonuses in a well-publicized celebration of the test increases[9]. She had been praised by presidential candidates Obama and McCain[10] in their October debate, and she must have known that she was soon to be on the cover of Time Magazine[11].  The public spectacle of an investigation of nearly half of her schools would have tarnished her glowing reputation, especially if the investigators proved that adults cheated–which seems likely given that their jobs depended on raising test scores.

Moreover, a cheating scandal might well have implicated her own “Produce or Else” approach to reform.  Early in her first year she met one-on-one with each principal and demanded a written, signed guarantee[12] of precisely how many points their DC-CAS scores would increase.

It’s 2013.  Is there any point to investigating probable cheating that occurred in 2008, 2009 and 2010?  After all, the children who received inflated scores can’t get a ‘do-over,’ and it’s probably too late to claw back bonuses from adults who cheated, even if they could be identified.  While erasure analysis would reveal the extent of cheating, what deserves careful scrutiny is the behavior of the leadership when it learned that a significant number of adults were probably cheating, because five years later, Rhee’s former deputy is in charge of public schools, and Rhee continues her efforts to persuade states and districts to adopt her approach to education reform–an approach, the evidence indicates, did little or nothing to improve the public schools in our nation’s capital.

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.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. [...] he explains the key insights in the memo leaked to John [...]

  2. [...] have written about this brilliantly here and here. Here's a brief summary of the [...]


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