Robert McCartney: “DC test-erasure scandal needs a full investigation”

I note with approval that Robert McCarney, a columnist with the Washington Post, is also calling for a real, in-depth investigation into the notorious case of enormously widespread DC standardized test-erasures. I am glad that he again brings up the case of Wayne Ryan, the Noyes ES principal who “was one of the faces used to promote former chancellor Michelle Rhee’s education reforms. Recruiting literature featured Ryan’s photo and purported success raising test scores,” in McCartney’s words.

Not long after those brochures came out, USA Today ran an in-depth series of articles showing that under NCLB, the drive to achieve high scores for students has begun to trump honesty in a LOT of schools in a LOT of different cities in MANY different states. Subsequently, the state of Georgia got confessions from hundreds of teachers and administrators detailing how, why. and when they cheated.

The wrong-to-right erasure evidence was supplied by DCPS’s own testing company. DCPS administrators held this data secret for years and tried their best to head off any investigation. The USAToday reporters had to go all FOIA to get the reports. Based on that evidence, I conclude that Wayne Ryan was one of the very worst cheaters here in DC. He got promoted, earned all sorts of prestigious national and local awards, and got lots of money along the way. I am by no means the only person coming to the same conclusion. Feel free to look in my archives (button and box on the upper right hand side of this page) for a number of articles, with links, on the topic.

And, of course, all of that supposed credit for dubious gains at certain schools also went to Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson. Remember Rhee’s initial reaction to the USA Today article on cheating on her watch? “It isn’t surprising,” Rhee said in a statement Monday, “that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved … unless someone cheated.” She quickly had to eat her words.

McCartney continues, “In June came news that Ryan, who had been promoted to a supervisory position, was no longer working for the school system. No explanation has been provided, then or now[.]”

I think we can figure it out: Ryan resigned in embarrassment or was given no choice but to resign, in order that his example and testimony won’t be used to further discredit, or perhaps even indict, his superiors. Those superiors are or were, as you know, Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson. It would be great if they should actually ever be investigated as RM is calling for.

We all know that there are businessmen and politicians and bankers and accountants and other people who steal. White-collar crime typically involves some sort of scam that makes other people think that nothing is being stolen. That’s the difference between “blue-collar” crime and “white-collar” crime, I guess. The latter type takes the money or whatever by stealth and often while wearing a suit; the former takes the money at the point of a gun or a knife (no particular dress code with this one, but I understand that comfort, camouflage, and speed are important considerations when determining the proper attire for engaging in blue-collar crime.)

Here in DC, we are no strangers to both types of crime. But it seems to me that while blue-collar crime tends not to pay very well and to have a high conviction rate, white-collar crime seems to be extremely profitable to the perpetrators. (Smuggling and black-market or sales of illicit stuff probably have the same sort of relation between blue-collar, high-danger crime and white-collar, more genteel and profitable crime. On Miami Vice it’s the folks packing the “heat” are more likely to meet an early grave than the ones supervising it all via electronics, and are the least well-compensated. Many times the bad guys do get away with millions and millions in any currency you like. Or they only go to jail for a little while, and forfeit very little of their ill-gotten gains.)

In my city, this week we saw that charges of theft are being filed against scores of DC municipal employees (no idea what levels or departments) for collecting unemployment while working for the city. Bernard Madoff made off with BILLIONS (yes, capital B) of money in a flat-out Ponzi scheme. (Which is different from a pyramid scheme, BTW)

People like Newt Gingrich earn millions just for chatting a few times a year with some very well-connected people who work at some quasi-governmental financial institutions and giving them introductions to people who can help them steal more earn more money. We see Congressmen and Senators who steer millions (probably billions, if you go back far enough?) to ‘earmarks’ that directly benefit them and the members of their families and close political and business associates. Congressional types are also free to do insider trading that would send anybody else to jail.

My very own Washington Teachers’ Union president, Barbara Bullock and several of her henchpeople, confessed to, and/or were convicted of, stealing millions of dollars from the other members of the union (our dues). Some folks in the DC tax office figured out how to circumvent all the controls in their office and issued themselves many millions of dollars in phoney tax refunds; they spread the wealth around quite widely, so that no-one would want to turn them in, and would also be at least partly guilty if anything should be found out. I lost track of how many people were charged and/or convicted.

My local DC City Council member, Harry Thomas 2,  stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from us taxpayers starting as soon as he was elected to fill his father’s former council seat. He is now out of office and facing serious charges. Do the names Michael Milken, Enron, Jeffrey Skillings, and Ken Fastow still ring bells?

All sorts of churches, non-profits, privately-held and publicly-traded companies, PTAs, Girl Scout troops, all of them, suffer from embezzlement and fraud of various types.

The point is, it looks like that a lot of decent-looking folks, not carrying guns but instead wielding pencils, carbon paper, spreadsheets, and computers or smart phones have figured out how to steal much more money than all the 7-11 stickups since 1950.

And what Wayne Ryan and his dishonest colleagues (at whatever level) did, is simply white-collar crime. Let me repeat: he earned money and prestige by organizing and engaging in these frauds.

Unfortunately, this sort of crime is the logical outcome of No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, Value-Added Methods of evaluating teachers, and DC’s own IMPACT teacher-evaluation system. If some teachers or administrators cheat by changing students’ answers, or filling them in whole hog if the student is absent; then the cheaters are likely to gain personally while the others lose their jobs because their “numbers don’t work,” as they say.

When a principal tells his/her staff to stop teaching any other material than what is likely to be on the test in April, any teacher who decides to ignore this immoral and unethical command is likely to face mild or severe repercussions, including and up to charges of insubordination or evaluations so low as to automatically engender loss of job.

(That’s why it pays to have a union, and why, when you have one, you have to fight to keep it honest. With the legal and institutional framework that a union provides, teachers can actually begin the process of contesting unethical managerial conduct like that. I am pretty sure that part of the reason that a lot of WTU-DCPS labor-management grievances ended up languishing in limbo over the years and thus were essentially dropped, was that Bullock and company spent so much of the union’s funds on furs and vacations and tchotchkes. All those millions should have been spent on hiring competent, tough labor lawyers and investigators to prosecute the cases well. We know that management spends money on legal representation. The workers need representation, as well.)

One more point: there are a number of other forensic data-crunching tools that could be used on the raw data that we already have. CTB McGraw-Hill has the ability to run all the DCPS testing data through their mathematico-statistical computer packages. Just suppose that if the original, wrong-to-right erasure analysis points to certain people; and that some other cheating-detection analysis points to the very same parties. I would vote to indict or convict on that evidence. How about you?

To conclude: I am glad that Robert McCartney is joining the call for a full, complete, and serious investigation into the DCPS cheating scandal. I hope he realizes that there are very specific tests that can be applied to the raw evidence itself, that will give nearly airtight evidence. With that open-and-shut evidence, it will be much easier for investigators to start getting people to confess and to implicate others. Let’s be honest: they didn’t let Wayne Ryan walk away from DCPS with all of his extra money and awards because they thought he had some real secret to impart for honestly raising all those test scores at Noyes all those years!

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The president needs to read your blog and he should fire his Chicago buddy, Arne Duncan.

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    • I think that teachers and parents should tell Obama that if he wants our votes and support he needs to fire Arne Duncan.

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  2. Yes, Arne has a degree in Sport’s Medicine therefor he does not know education. This explain his lack of connection to the field of education and just going along with the status quo. The Rhee mafia sound good to the ears, ” all you need is a highly effective teacher in every classroom and the child will never have difficulties with school’. Well if the is true, I want to be the first to tell Obama to stop going to parent teacher conferences, stop telling Sasha and Malia to do there homework. Put them in the hood and have them fight there way to school. Then you can blame the teacher for the failing grades.
    Arne and Rhee, does not believe that poverty and other social issue can affect a child education. Highly effective teachers are in area of DC where the parents participation and income is comparable to Obama. If that teacher move to a hood school she would no longer get high rating because that particular students will not get the re enforcement from home about the importance of doing homework.
    This is when it is ok to cheat comes in, because Rhefom has choices for failing schools:
    1:Demand Parents attend Parent/Teacher conference
    2;Make sure counselors are in every school to smooth the day for the daily traumatic students who left a traumatic home to come to school
    BUT THEY DECIDED ON THE FOLLOWING CHOICES
    1:Fire Principal and staff
    2; Hire no or little experience young administrator
    3 Proimse every body money to pass AYP
    4.Believe that students who were not proficient could improve by 50%
    in one year.
    5.Make AYP by any mean necessary
    6. You scratch my back I scratch your back

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  3. Parents and citizens should be in the streets protesting about Kaya Henderson’s continued presence in the Chancellor’s Office. Better yet, we should be in the streets protesting the continued existence of the Office of the Chancellor. If Rhee and Henderson have to foster cheating, lies and manipulation of statistics to bolster their claims of effective school reform, the only conclusion is that the monetary incentive for performance on tests is so high that money is the motive not children’s education. Take the money out of the process!!!

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