Michelle Rhee: Is She Merely A Liar, or is She Just Stupid? You Decide

I’m revisiting this because I hope that Michelle Rhee is investigated, indicted, put on trial, convicted, and sentenced. I also help that her appeals all get denied, that much of her wealth is confiscated, and that she ends up serving many years behind bars for educational and financial fraud. Along with a number of other present and former administrators in DCPS and the charter schools here.

Jay Matthews* of Class Struggle at WAPO wrote a few years ago that I was being too harsh on Michelle Rhee: it’s not a lie if she thought it was true, he implied; her defense was that she was just going by what her principal told her and she hadn’t written any of the numbers down.

Well, Jay, let’s assume you’re right for a moment: let’s assume Rhee really thought that she had taken on a class of (IIRC) 3rd graders that had 90% of them scoring at or below the 13th percentile, and in only two years Rhee had managed somehow to make it so that 90% of them were now … wait for it …. above the 90th percentile!

(If you didn’t know: Rhee and her team-teacher  ‘followed’ that class from one grade to the next so they had them for two years, back in the early 1990s. This was at Harlem Park Elementary, in a poor inner-city region of Baltimore, as part of a fairly well-controlled experiment to see if in fact a for-profit “charter-like” educational business could manage inner-city schools better than the traditional, public school system. Statistics were generated on many things, such as teacher and student attendance, grades on state tests, satisfaction, and so on. Both Baltimore Public Schools and Edison/Tesseract were given nine schools, which were measured by UMBC researchers for several years. I looked at the report, and so can you. If you can’t find it, I can send anybody an electronic copy (put a note in the comments). )

Why is this a miracle?

It’s like having a class of incoming, tiny, little second graders, all girls, who almost all weigh 46 pounds or less. Then in just two years you feed and strengthen them and somehow ensure that their bones grow as well, so that when they reach the age of ten, almost every single one of the girls now weighs 105 pounds or more. At age ten.

That sort of growth spurt is extremely rare in any single person. But a whole class? Give me a break. It doesn’t matter how much you feed them or how many pullups you have them do! Entire grade school classrooms of kids don’t ever change that much!

But – suppose this miracle had actually happened.

What would have been the results?

Well, anybody in education who heard of such a modern-day educational loaves-and-fishes miracle like this one would want to hear and know all about it. Word of mouth would have caused ENORMOUS amount of attention from educators all over. Every teacher in every inner school in the country would want to know what their secrets were, and they would be sitting on the floor, in rapt attention, trying to learn lessons from these undisputed master teachers. Their lesson plan files would have been nation-wide best sellers, and probably would have been translated into numerous foreign languages. Teachers from Finland, Singapore, Japan, Shanghai, Germany, and South Korea would have been making pilgrimages in order to discover these amazing American educational secrets.

Verily I say unto thee, their fame would have spread far and wide.

But back in the real world, nobody except Joel Klein and a few people at Teach for America had heard of Michelle Rhee until she was appointed Chancellor under DC Mayor Adrian Fenty as a total surprise to DC residents (including me). Neither Klein nor TFA was raving in public about those teachers’ amazing accomplishments. And while it took Rhee over a decade to reach fame and fortune (through this fraud and others, I would say), the other team teacher certainly never entered the public eye at all. Even I don’t recall her name.

When I read Rhee’s resume at the time she was appointed, I was thunderstruck. My jaw dropped — I think it literally hung open for a long time. Not figuratively. I looked up the references she gave about interviews she had given to various newspapers and found nothing about this miracle. (What’s more, one of the articles that supposedly extolled her teaching practices was allegedly in the Wall Street Journal. No such article on her from the 1990s in the WSJ exists.)

Now, if Rhee had really believed that she had accomplished moving 90% of a group of randomly selected kids moving from below the 13th to above 90th percentile, then she also would have gone to her employer (Edison/Tesseract), along with her principal, and all the data printouts from CTBS, proving that she had indeed performed this utter miracle. Tesseract then would have gone to the authorities in Baltimore and at UMBC and jumped up and down and demanded that their contract be continued, because they had this team of miracle-producing teachers in their successful, measured, experimental charter school, and they had beaten every expert everywhere and produced an educational miracle that had never been equaled, anywhere!

There would have been an enormous fuss. Rhee would have been world-famous, in the mid-90s, instead having to be plucked from obscurity by Joel Klein, Adrian Fenty, and a few billionaires, over a decade later. Her big mouth and anti-union and anti-teacher rhetoric made her very famous, which she certainly parlayed into great wealth — but it wasn’t that made-up miracle.

Instead, in the real world, Tesseract got closed down by Baltimore around 1995, because Edison cost a bit more money and got essentially the same or slightly worse results, while providing a slightly worse education overall, than the regular Baltimore public schools. Tesseract/Edison did protest, of course, but they lost. THEY NEVER SAID BOO about Rhee’s mythical miracle.

(I suspect that Rhee had not yet invented her miracle yet in 1995. It would be interesting to see when this 90-13-90-90 miracle began appearing on her resume over the years.

(Keep in mind: Rhee gave no fictitious credit to this almost-completely-unknown co-teacher. I can only wonder what kind of conversations she has had with her former colleague…)

So there are only two, not three choices. We know from the statistics that I unearthed and had confirmed by others, that there was no such miracle in Harlem Park under Michelle Rhee’s watch. Plus by this over evidence (like the ‘dog that didn’t bark in the night’) that I am adducing.

It’s clear that her numbers were made up by her — much the way Ronald Reagan and many politicians (like #45) do, because they sounded good.  Possibly, every time she told the story, the numbers became a little more miraculous. Was this self-delusion, or outright conscious lying?

In fact, my research does show that while there was some sort of a small increase in CTBS scores at her grade level. But there was also a very large decrease in the student population at her school, which could push the scores either up or down, depending on which kids leave or who replaces them. And there was a very high proportion of kids whose scores were so low that they weren’t counted — and that will necessarily and HUGELY improve a class’ average.


(1) Rhee is too mathematically illiterate to know how statistically impossible her made-up figures are. She also blinded herself to, or was too mathematically ignorant to realize, the likely effect of cutting out all the low-scoring students’ scores. If this is the case, then Michelle Rhee is too innumerate to hold any job in education. Ever.


(2) She understood the statistics just fine and decided to go with the lie because she knew that most people (that includes most reporters and politicians) don’t understand mathematics or statistics well enough and are intimidated by anybody who spouts numbersm and that she could gain a lot of fame, power, and wealth by doing so.

So —

Michelle Rhee is either hugely stupid or a big fat liar.

Which is it?

(PS: I don’t think she’s stupid at all. I can only guess what her personal fortune is now. Lying can be very, very profitable.)

I hope she gets her just deserts. And no desserts for her in prison.


  • Jay’s wife helped expose a lot of the educational malfeasance in Atlanta and DC when she was at USAToday.  Disclosure: my wife tells me that she had one of Jay’s kids in her class many years ago, and that the ‘kid was a riot’.


Published in: on February 2, 2018 at 4:17 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Lying is very profitable — just look at Trump. Don’t ask him, because he’ll just lie.


  2. Jay Matthews’ kid is a riot?

    Of course he is, because his father is a joke.


    • That’s not nice.


      • Sometimes, the truth hurts and then we …


      • Nor was it nice for Jay Matthews to hype a sociopath who destroyed a lot of people’s careers, and was publicly promoted in very bad faith, for the purpose of doing just that.

        No ill will towards the son (it was the post who originally mentioned him, not me) but Matthews, Sr. was a megaphone for Rhee and Kipp at a crucial moment, enabling them to command resources all out of proportion to their competence or worthiness.


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