Where are these “Dozens and Dozens’ of DC public schools with continued, steady growth thanks to Rhee & Henderson?

Michelle Rhee said on the recent Frontline PBS special that there were ‘dozens and dozens’ of DC public schools that supposedly made steady progress on the DC-CAS over the past four or five years.

Jay Mathews only found 13 schools which did what Rhee claimed:  Brent, Eaton, Murch, Oyster-Adams, Payne, Plummer, Prospect, Ross, Thomson, Tubman, Hart, McKinley Tech, Sousa.

A commentator by the name of ‘LetsBeReal’ pointed out that a large fraction of those schools in fact were populated mainly by relatively affluent white students or were schools with selective admissions: Brent, Murch, Eaton, Oyster-Adams, Ross, and McKinley Tech.

I looked at the grade-by-grade proficiency ratings at the remaining schools and found a LOT of very suspicious rises and falls in proficiency rates for same-cohort groups from year to year, in all but one of those schools: Hart.

Here is what I found:

At Payne, the cohort that was in the 4th grade in 2012 went from 38% proficient in reading in 2011 to 55% proficient the next year, a 17-percentage-point rise, which means (to me) that it should be flagged. Either the teacher last year was doing something so wonderful that entire books should be written on how to replicate those feats, or there was cheating. Same group went from 14% proficient in math in 2011 to 60% proficient last year. Unbelievable, frankly.

The cohort that was in the 5th grade at Payne in 2012 had DC-CAS reading proficiency rates since 3rd grade of, respectively, 17%, 23%, and 46%. In math, the scores for that same cohort, by year were 23%, 35%, and 50%. Either amazingly good or brazen cheating, one or the other: in any case, it needs to be checked out.

The Payne cohort that was in the 5th grade in 2011 had DC-CAS reading proficiency rates of starting in the 3rd grade of 52%, 31% and 50%. In math, 58%, 34%,, and 31%: very suspicious as well.

Still at Payne, the cohort that was in the 5th grade in 2010 had DC-CAS proficiency rates in reading of 41%, 32%, and 63%, which is again unbelievable. The math scores were a lot steadier: 24%, 32%, and 33%.

At Plummer, I also found a lot of suspicious rises and falls. Cohort in 4th grade in 2012 in reading went from 31% in the 3rd grade to 68% proficient the next year. In math, the same group went from 38% to 81%. The cohort that was in the 5th grade in 2012 went from 40% to 18% to 46% proficient in reading over three years, which is unbelievable. In math their scores were much more believable: 36%, 32%, and 40%.

Still at Plummer, the cohort that was in the fifth grade in 2011 had reading scores that went like this over their three years there: 44%, 33%, and 36%. In math, their scores were 60%, 18%, and 29%. The cohort that was in the fifth grade in 2010 had reading scores of 47%, 22%, and 30%. In math, they were 37%, 13%, and 33%.

Prospect LC is a special education school, where teachers are apparently able to rewrite the DC-C AS to fit their students’ needs and abilities. (At Sharpe Health school, where students are often unable to walk, feed themselves or clean themselves,  between 95% and 100% of the students are supposedly “proficient” or “advanced”, but that doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in other schools.) In any case, at Prospect, I found one cohort (the group that was in 7th grade last year) whose proficiency ratings went from 25% to 0%, then 0% again, followed by two years of 5% — in reading. In math, that same cohort went from 13% to 31% to 0% to 24%, hardly reassuring. The cohort one year older had reading pass rates of 0%, 0%, 0%, 6%, and 0%. In math, their pass rates were 0%, 0%, 11%, 29%, and 25%. (I’m not making this up, as Dave Barry used to say.) And the cohort that reached the 8th grade in 2011 had pass rates in reading of 0%, 0%, 0%, and 17%.. In math, the same group had pass rates of 0%, 0%, 17%, and 42%.

At Tubman, to summarize, I found nine cases where proficiency rates jumped or fell by more than ten percentage points from one year to the next from 2008 through 2012.

At Sousa, I “only” found seven such cases.

At Thompson, I found eight suspicious rises and falls.

At Hart, I only found one suspicious rise, but if Rhee thinks that going from about 12% proficient overall to about 25% proficient is wonderful progress, then I don’t know quite what to say, given that Rhee herself bragged — falsely — on her resume that she brought an entire class or two of students in Baltimore from below the 13th percentile to above the 90th percentile, using methods that she has never shared publicly.

Both Erich Martel and I feel that a ten-percentage-point rise or fall raises a red flag. Just possibly, such a rise would demonstrate tremendous teaching. However, from our own experience, it’s much more likely the result of cheating. In any case, it needs to be checked out – but not by “See No Evil” Inspector General Charles Willoughby.

In any case, if these are the only schools which Jay Mathews found that had sustained gains, and if these schools fall into two groups: schools with mostly non-poor students and relatively large fractions of white students on the one hand; and schools with many very many suspicious rises and falls in cohort proficiency rates – with the single exception of Hart, then I think we can say pretty clearly that Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson have a pretty clear legacy:




Abetted by fraud and deception.


You can find the school-by-school, grade-by-grade proficiency ratings at http://nclb.osse.dc.gov/index.asp for 2008 through 2011. Unfortunately, OSSE still has not released the grade-by-grade scores for 2012, but I was leaked a spreadsheet containing that data. If you would like to see it for yourself, I have posted it on Google Drive, here:


I will shortly post tables containing the exact numbers so you can see what I’m talking about.

John Merrow also replies to a friend of Michelle Rhee

One of the tiny handful of DC parents who are deceived by Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson wrote another attack on the credibility of the good section of John Merrow’s PBS special on Rhee. It reads like a press release from Henderson’s office. Here is Merrow’s response:

Here’s PBS’s John Merrow’s Response

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your open letter to the PBS Ombudsman. Let me begin by addressing the timing of the statement by the USDE Inspector General. It was released just hours before our national broadcast, and it was only then that Frontline learned of Adell Cothorne’s legal complaint, which had been sealed from public view until it was released by the IG. Although it was too late to include this information in the body of the film, Frontline made extraordinary efforts to include detailed information about the USDE IG’s statement and Cothorne’s filing, and included links to documents in the coda to the film and on its web site.

While we had heard rumors of an investigation by the USDE IG, we were unable to confirm them and could not identify any DC educators who had been interviewed by the USDE IG. We understand now that she [the USDE IG] did her work ‘in tandem’ with the DC Inspector General.

You write ” . . . on six exams administered since allegations of cheating were raised, DC students continued to show steady progress rather than a system wide drop off as you would expect under increased testing security.” I would make two important points. First, the relevant comparison is not to the entire system but to the schools which were flagged for high erasure rates. If one examines the data for the 16 schools with erasure rates of 50% or higher, it is clear that heightened security had a significant impact.

The DC-CAS scores at Noyes, where 81% of classrooms were flagged for high erasures, are themselves circumstantial evidence that supports Cothorne’s allegation. Below are the Noyes DC-CAS scores over five years; 2011 represents the year that security was tightened.

  2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Reading 44.14% 61.53 84.21 61.36 32.40
Math 34.24% 57.69 62.79 53.64 28.17


 That represents a drop of nearly 50 points in reading between 2009 and 2011, and a drop of roughly 34 points in math. Note also that in 2011 Noyes students were scoring belowtheir pre-Rhee level.

In all, data are available for 16 schools with erasure rates of at least 50%. DC-CAS reading scores rose in only two schools after security was tightened. Math scores rose in just 4 schools and declined in 12.

Here are three examples:

* At Aiton, (which, like Noyes, had been awarded large cash bonuses) scores in reading dropped from 58.43% proficient to 20.80%, well below pre-Rhee levels. In math, Aiton dropped from 57.87% to 16%, which is also below pre-Rhee levels.

* Raymond also received large bonuses from the Chancellor. Its scores in reading fell from 70% to 42.44%, and its math scores fell from 68% to 45.71%. The reading score is below pre-Rhee levels.

* Savoy went from 46.51% to 20.39% in reading and from 38.37% to 15.38% in math, also well below pre-Rhee levels.

Second, you reference ‘steady progress,’ and it is true that the DC-CAS scores have shown very slow but steady growth (a point made by Rhee in her final interview and shown in our film). That change is credible and consistent with what students of measurement say can be expected in schools that are making progress. However, hugegains and losses are greeted, quite properly, with skepticism by experts, although not by Rhee or her team.

Moreover, as noted in the film, DC schools continue to rank among the worst districts in the nation and have the absolute lowest graduation rate in the US.

The co-investigator of the cheating scandal in Atlanta, Georgia (where investigators had subpoena power and put those testifying under oath) told Frontline that they considered wrong-to-right erasures at a rate of three or more standard deviations away from the norm to be prima facie evidence of cheating. In some classrooms at Noyes, the rate was five or more standard deviations away from the norm, and yet this did not trigger an in-depth investigation.

‘In depth’ would mean erasure analysis and a search for patterns. This can reveal if the person doing the erasing corrected the easier questions or the more difficult ones. If the latter, that raises questions.

No erasure analysis was conducted by Caveon or the DC Inspector General or requested by Rhee.

You write: “Frontline implies that the DC Inspector General’s investigation was not credible and relies on Cothorne’s testimony to substantiate this point.” That is incorrect. We examined the IG Report carefully and reported the facts. Which are: The DC IG report did not examine DC-CAS results during Rhee’s first year, the year with the greatest number of erasures. He did not perform erasure analysis. He did not interview Cothorne. Individuals who spoke with him were not under oath. His report cites one instance where he heard conflicting testimony and simply accepted the word of one individual and rejected the other’s, but he provides no support for that decision. During his 17-month investigation he interviewed just over 50 people. 17 months is approximately 515 days, meaning that he interviewed, on average, one person every 10 days.

He did not examine other schools. In fact, the IG acknowledges that he eliminated one school, Wilson, because the current Chancellor convinced him that Wilson faculty and staff were working hard. However, Wilson’s scores dropped 19% in reading and 23% in math between 2009 and 2011, and 100% of its classrooms had been flagged for high erasures.

We requested an interview with the DC IG to discuss his report, including Cothorne’s charges, but that request was rebuffed.

After interviewing Cothorne, Frontline also attempted to interview Chancellor Rhee. It is accepted form in journalism for the subject of a program to be given ‘the last word,’ a final opportunity to respond to what others have said, and we wanted that to be the case in this instance. We negotiated with Rhee’s attorney, Reid Weingarten, who insisted on seeing written questions that we would be asking. Frontline submitted a number of written questions, which we will not release because they include references to other allegations not made public. Weingarten had indicated that Rhee would respond in writing and, at the same time, consider an on-camera interview. In fact, she did not respond in any way.

Frontline stands by the program, and I stand by what I wrote in Taking Note, my blog.

Frontline counters lies from Kaya Henderson

You’ve probably heard Kaya Henderson’s attempts to discredit Adell Cothone and John Merrow of Frontline. Let me reprint here what Frontline replied:

Response from Frontline’s Phil Bennett

In her statement, DC Public School Chancellor Kaya Henderson asserts: “PBS did not give DCPS the opportunity to respond to these specific allegations. PBS contacted DCPS about doing a documentary on education reform, but did not share any allegations of impropriety or offer DCPS the opportunity to refute any claims.”

This statement is misleading. FRONTLINE made repeated interview requests to current and former DCPS officials including Chancellor Henderson to discuss allegations of cheating — including the 2011 report by USA Today. In response to an email request for an interview, Henderson wrote to our correspondent, John Merrow, “I would prefer not to be interviewed further for your documentary.” It is unclear why Henderson wrote “further” since an earlier introductory phone call from Merrow was not an on-the-record interview. Merrow and Producer Michael Joseloff sought responses to Cothorne’s allegations from the DC Inspector General, who investigated allegations at the Noyes Education Campus (but did not interview Cothorne), and repeatedly from Wayne Ryan, Cothorne’s predecessor at Noyes and later her supervisor when he moved to the DCPS central office. Neither would agree to an interview. FRONTLINE also asked Michelle Rhee for a final interview after we had learned of Cothorne’s charges. She declined to answer a list of questions that we submitted in writing. We did not return to Henderson with a list of specific allegations after she declined our interview request. One reason for this was that the practices that Cothorne says she discovered at Noyes took root during Rhee’s tenure, not Henderson’s.

It is disingenuous for DCPS officials to suggest that they were blindsided by allegations of cheating at Noyes. They were given multiple opportunities to talk with us, and refused. Rather than address the serious questions raised by the film, many of them beyond the alleged cheating scandal, Chancellor Henderson chose to attack the messenger.

As for the question of whether Cothorne was interviewed by investigators twice, as Henderson asserts, we reported in the film that the DC Inspector General did not interview Cothorne about alleged cheating at Noyes, even though she was the principal of the school. This is accurate — neither DSPC nor the IG has challenged our reporting on this point. This is significant because DCPS cites the IG investigation as the most recent and thorough report on the allegations. We did not address in the film whether Cothorne was questioned by Caveon. When we interviewed Cothorne on camera, she told us she had not been interviewed by Caveon about the 2010 DC CAS (Comprehensive Assessment Test). On the morning of the broadcast, she told us that she had misspoken. She said then that she had been interviewed by Caveon, but was asked only about test security procedures and not cheating. She told us that she had not volunteered her charges of cheating because she feared retaliation. She told us that she had later reported her concerns to DCPS and was called to meet with a “higher up” (her whistleblower lawsuit indicates it was Wayne Ryan) prior to the Caveon interview and was warned off of the subject.

We do not know what Henderson is referring to when she says Cothorne was interviewed “twice by an independent investigator.” According to USA Today, Caveon’s interviews at Noyes about the 2009 DC CAS took place on Jan. 29 and Feb. 10, 2010. Cothorne did not become principal until July 2010.

On this subject, as with the film overall, we absolutely stand by the story we presented to viewers. “The Education of Michelle Rhee” is an exhaustively fair, thorough and accurate treatment of a tumultuous period in the DC public schools, the influence of which continues to be felt not just in classrooms in Washington but in the critically important national debate about the future of education.

More Evidence on Lies and Deceptions by Michelle Rhee, Kaya Henderson, and Wayne Ryan

Quite a few interesting articles and documents showing that the so-called ‘reforms’ initiated in Washington, DC public schools under Michelle Rhee were nothing but smoke and mirrors, subsequent to the Frontline special (which was 90% puff and 10% good solid investigative journalism, thwarted by lack of cooperation from most DCPS employees).



First, Frontline reporter John Merrow gave much more detailed information about what Noyes ES ex-principal Adell Cothorne said. His written report, very much worth reading, is here.




Second, Cothorne’s own suit against DCPS can be found here, as a pdf. I am posting below a few key paragraphs.




Third, Jay Mathews has his reaction to the additional information provided by Ms. Cothorne.




Fourth, we have an explanation from Mary Levy on Diane Ravitch’s blog as to why the investigative authorities chose not to do any real investigation at all into the rampant cheating that took place in DCPS to make it appear as if an educational miracle was taking place under the magic spell of Michelle Rhee.







As promised, here are some selections from  the lawsuit filed by Adell Cothorne, former principal who took over at Noyes and found the rampant cheating there. The alert reader will note that specific individuals are name

lawsuit 1

lawsuit 2
lawsuit 3lawsuit 4lawsuit 5lawsuit 6

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.

What Will the Frontline Report on Michelle Rhee Be Like?

From: Marilyn Williams:
   In case you are interested, Frontline, Michelle Rhee’s Legacy will air on Tuesday, 1.08.2013 at 10pm PBS.
Spread the word.

GFB here:
This bears watching. My TV is set to record the parts I will miss. Thank you, Marilyn, for bringing this to attention or reminding us.
Sounded to me when I talked to John Merrow a couple of times, some months ago, that this version of Frontline won’t be kind and fawning to Michelle Rhee and the entire corporate educational DEform movement* as many  as many thought the original was.
Maybe the tide will turn against this nonsense sooner than I expected.
There have been many, many ridiculous “reforms” that have been foisted on public education since, say, the 1800s, and most of them have been pretty stupid, though well-intentioned. The current Corporate Educational Movement, with Michelle Rhee as its ‘poster girl’, looks like one of the most stupid *** fad or movement ever foisted on public school students and their teachers. In my opinion, the current fad is having the worst and most widespread pernicious effects of any that I can recall either from living and working through them, or from reading and hearing about them from my elders. It is actually having tremendous success in dismantling public education, especially since the a state Supreme Court just ruled that charter schools maybe are   or, according  to the NLRB,  are not in the public sector at all.
I don’t remember the original series well enough to recall exactly what I thought when I saw them, but I do remember the part where Rhee said something like this (as I recall it — someone else can look up the exact words and correct me where my memory twisted things – as does the memory of every other human being on earth):
Interviewer: Ms. Rhee, have you done anything you later on regretted doing?
 {with the implication that this was a softball, open-ended question that she could interpret any way she wanted and, say, described a case where she had made a mistake, and then follow up by explaining how she was able to fix it by working harder; obviously one area where there had been a lot of bitterly-opposed actions by her might be fair game, right? So she might decide to concede one error to show she’s human? Not Michelle Rhee.}
Rhee: [Serious, not joking at all.} You know, unlike anybody else I know, in my entire life I have never done a single thing that I regretted. Ever.
I don’t think she was joking.
If I am correct, and Rhee was dead serious, then what kind of crazy egomaniac are we dealing with anyway? Why has this crazy person apparently been anointed by the wealthiest people in the country to be in charge of determining the route that education in this country**? Why isn’t she a candidate for mental health treatment instead?
 Will this version of Frontline apologize and excuse and gloss over the complete and utter failures and very profitable frauds of Michelle Rhee and her corporate educational DEform* paymasters**? Or will Merrow point out a lot of those lies, failures, and frauds?
* (Also called GERM: Global Educational Reform Movement), by Pasi Sahlberg and others.
** Joel Klein, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, the Koch Brothers, the people behind ALEC etc etc etc.
*** stupid in the sense that every single one of the centrally-written tests that this entire movement is based on, are, risibly and obviously, stupid. Yeah, that’s right. They are stupid tests written by overworked, underpaid, temporary workers while the company rakes in billions in state, local, and federal payments and fees. These tests, which bear almost no connection to concepts that are worth learning, are the ones that my colleagues remaining in the classroom are legally required to administer, and who are judged on some utterly arcane statistical formula that has never been explained to the public or even to any individual teacher who has questioned his or her own rating: a VAM of unbelievable and incomprehensible complexity.


Your thoughts? (You have to click on the tiny “comment” button below – it’s unfortunately very hard to see.)


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