Here is a guest column by V. Joyner, originally posted as a comment.
“It’s Truth-Telling Time”
This is a response to a column written by Kyle Wingfield that appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on September 24, 2010, titled “Dear APS board: Go get Michelle Rhee;” a portion is excerpted below:
Dear APS board: Go get Michelle Rhee
7:00 pm September 24, 2010, by Kyle Wingfield
Whatever you think of the cheating scandal in Atlanta Public Schools, the system will probably need a new superintendent when Beverly Hall’s contract expires next summer. All indications are that Hall will leave then on her own, if she isn’t pushed out before.
For once, there’s a good solution waiting in Washington.
Her name is Michelle Rhee, and she’s been chancellor of the District of Columbia’s public schools for three years. Now, her tenure may be coming to an abrupt end after her sponsor, Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost his re-election bid earlier this month.
Let APS board members waste no time before trying to recruit her here.
On September 14th, Washington DC’s largely African American voters ended the sovereignty of Mayor Adrian Fenty and were most optimistic about the impending departure of Michelle Rhee. Everywhere, reporters, pundits, talk-show hosts and bloggers who often inundate TV segments, print media and the Internet with information so far from the truth, stated repeatedly: Black D.C. residents kicked out a mayor who, along with schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, was making the first serious difference in decades in the city’s notoriously decrepit school system.
Although the public, both locally and nationally, has widely accepted the idea that Michelle Rhee’s methods have radically improved DC Public Schools, there are very good reasons to believe this is not so.
As one DC reporter put it, “It’s truth-telling time.”
In the fall of 2008, having just completed her first year on the job, District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was confronted with a major cheating scandal. An erasure analysis report from CTB McGraw-Hill, the publisher of the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS), detected a high number of erasures. Then DC State Superintendent of Education, Deborah A. Gist, ordered the analysis after noticing sizeable gains in student reading and writing proficiency rates at some schools.
Forty-five of 150 DC public schools (almost a third of all DC schools) had at least one classroom with an elevated erasure level in 2008; the data showed that suspicious erasures were most heavily concentrated in 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th-grade classrooms at a half-dozen schools. (Washington Post)
Gist submitted a list of 26 schools with proficiency gains of 20 percent or more to Chancellor Michelle Rhee. The report indicated statistically remarkable improvements in test scores at the following schools: Aiton, Hearst, Raymond, Thomas, Hendley, Garrison, Maury, Reed, Draper, Powell, Bowen, Young, Cleveland, Winston Education Center, Sharpe Health School and Mamie D. Lee School.
Several schools on the list demonstrated gains in test scores by 40, 50 and nearly 60 percentage points. Aiton Elementary School’s test scores increased in reading by nearly 30 percent and in math by more than 40 percent.
“A spreadsheet summary of the CTB McGraw-Hill study shows that Bowen Elementary in Southwest Washington was one of schools where test results improved dramatically in 2008. The percentage of children showing proficiency in reading grew by 27 points, from 36.2 to 63.2 percent. The 34 students in one class averaged more than 10 wrong-to-right erasures on the exam. The citywide average for wrong-to-right erasures on the reading test in elementary grades was between 1.4 and 2.3, according District officials.” (Washington Post)
On July 9, 2008, roughly two months prior, at Plummer Elementary School, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso announced the preliminary results of the DC Public Schools’ DCCAS. The schools on Gist’s list were heralded for their extraordinary gains in test scores.
However, Sharpe Health School and Mamie D. Lee School demonstrated the largest and most impressive test score gains during the 2007/2008 school year; the two schools netted gains in the 50 to 60 percent range. This feat was most remarkable given that both schools are self-contained special education schools serving students with moderate to severe physical and cognitive disabilities including:
Speech or Language Impairment
Traumatic Brain Injury
Severe Multiple Disabilities
Other Health Impairments
Severe Orthopedic Impairment
Amazingly, Mamie D. Lee posted the exact rate of student proficiency, 88.89%, in both reading and math.
On November 20, 2008, in a memo to Chancellor Michelle Rhee, Gist said the data did not automatically point to cheating. “There are many reasons that a class could have more erasures than other classes,” she wrote. But to guarantee the validity of the scores, Gist asked Rhee to “please take the appropriate steps to investigate the results enclosed and provide a report within 60 days.” (Washington Post)
Unlike Atlanta Public Schools, no semblance of an independent or in-depth investigation was ever conducted, albeit test anomalies could have indicated wide-spread cheating or at the very least, breaches in testing security protocols. Chancellor Rhee did not think it was necessary. Chancellor Rhee said: “Given that the people who actually developed the test said that it was inconclusive, we just didn’t think it was necessary to investigate possible cheating.” (Washington Post)
On Monday, September 7, 2009, Washington Post staff writer Bill Turque wrote:
“Despite two requests from the District’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education, D.C. public school officials never provided evidence that they investigated possible cheating at some schools after an analysis showed high rates of erasures on standardized tests in 2008, according to newly released documents.”
The entire state of affairs begs the question: why.
Why did the high number of erasures on the DC CAS not merit further investigation? Why did Chancellor Michelle Rhee, a “data-focused decision maker” and certainly no fan of DC Public School teachers, squash an investigation that could have supported her in weeding out poor performing and corrupt teachers and administrators? Given that standardized test data are the driving force behind her testing and accountability reform initiative that links student performance to teacher performance and pay, shouldn’t Chancellor Rhee have acted vigilantly to ensure the integrity of the data?
Would a deeper look into the extraordinary increases in DC Public Schools’ student test scores have uncovered innovation and genuine success or a culture of brazen deception, cheating and intimidation, which only serves to deepen the crises of DC’s poor and minority children who have the greatest need for educational opportunity?
Chancellor Rhee said that the student test score gains demonstrated that the approaches she used during her first year in office were working. Mayor Adrian Fenty praised Chancellor Rhee for bringing about the miraculous rise in test scores. Though, Mayor Fenty credited Rhee for the 11% increase in student test scores, the largest gain in the nation, Chancellor Rhee implemented NO academic initiatives during the 2007/2008 school year.
Obviously, a little bit of cheating goes a long way in Michelle Rhee’s version of school reform; moreover, a whole lot of cheating can thrust you into the spotlight as the “it girl” for education reform in America, backed by conservative think tanks and billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walton Family Foundation. You might even get cast as a heroic pioneer in Davis Guggenheim’s “Waiting for Superman,” a rousing propaganda film designed to proselytize American people.
Guggenheim’s film suggests that the problem with public education is that tenure protects bad teachers and unions protect tenure. It is pure political fabrication that teacher tenure rules make it impossible to get rid of poor teachers.
A study conducted by the New Teacher Project, the organization that Michelle Rhee herself created and served as its chief executive officer and president just prior to joining DC Public Schools, clearly indicates that the difficulty in removing ineffective teachers has much more to do with poorly trained administrators who have few skills and inadequate tools to distinguish between excellent, average, and poor teaching.
Michelle Rhee, for certain, is not “the warrior woman for our time” as described by Oprah Winfrey; Rhee is just another example of the maxim “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
During Mayor Fenty’s administration, the mayoral take-over of DC Public Schools had all key players at both state and local education agencies appointed by or reporting to the mayor including: then DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, then DC State Superintendent of Education Keri Briggs (Deborah Gist’s replacement) and Deputy Mayor for Education, Victor Reinoso. They functioned as enlightened despots who held absolute power over the school system. There was no system of checks and balances that would have given school administrators, teachers, parents and community members a voice into issues that directly impacted them and the District’s children.
(to be continued…)