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 (10)  

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.

DCPS Graduation Rates Artificially Inflated Under Rhee & Henderson

According to this article by Bill Turque, it appears that the Rhee and Henderson administrations have been shown to be falsifying data once again. They added an extra 20% margin to the actual, factual DCPS high school graduation rates, and proclaimed victory.

You should really read his article.

If I’m not mistaken, with this massive shrinkage of the fictitious DC graduation rates, the Deforming Duo (Rhee & Henderson) and their funders and out-of-touch acolytes have NOTHING LEFT about which they can actually claim success.

The last myth, that supposedly they increased DCPS graduation rates, is shown to be a chimera. A lie. Sorry, make that “use of an incorrect formula.” Well, there’s an entire book called “How to Lie With Statistics”; it’s by Daryl Huff (good book – look it up). Sounds to me that Rhee and Henderson could write several new chapters with up-to-date examples, using their own joint and several educational record.

Think of all the lies they have been caught up in.

(1) A lot of the DC-CAS score increases at certain schools are almost undoubtedly the result of massive cheating. A lot of that cheating was apparently done by a principal whom Rhee was very fond of promoting as her success story, but who has since been fired/quit since the news of the scandal spread.

(2) Even Rhee admitted to Jay Mathews that she had no idea what she was doing in hiring and firing principals based on her 3-minute gut reaction, and that many of her new hires utterly failed. Some of these principals (old and new) manage to have 300% turnover in teaching staff at their school over a very short period of time — and are yet able to collect millions of dollars in donations and to earn the very highest public educational awards for administrators. Those teachers that were hired, fired, or quit under stress were almost all eager, bright young (or not-so-young) things who were extremely highly motivated to do their best for the young people at their school. But they all failed and were humiliated under this insane regime.

(3) We have way larger numbers of teachers than ever before in DC with very little classroom experience, who either get fired or quit in droves because of the lack of support and insanely contradictory directives; any institutional memory or ties with neighborhood families are constantly being destroyed.

(4) IMPACT and all other VAM-style evaluation or bonus schemes(*) have been shown to be unreliable in practice, and to have negative consequences for motivating students or teachers. The middle-school experiment in bribing kids to do the right thing here in DC was a failure. Almost any psychologist who studies human motivation could have predicted that it wouldn’t work.

(5) There is no discernable difference in overall trends on NAEP scores under Rhee and Henderson on the one hand, and during the decade before them, except for some new declines in some grade levels after 2 full years of IMPACT. No victory to celebrate there, despite Rhee’s best attempt to bait-and-switch by comparing two entirely different categories when trying to brag of her “successes.”

(6) Population gains in DC public schools are mostly because of whole-scale marketing of all day kindergarten and pre-K classes. Meanwhile, the charter school numbers keep growing, which I don’t really see as an improvement. There is very little that most of the charter schools are doing that I can see that is experimental or better or really producing wonderful results.

(7) Charter school students for the most part get scores very similar to those in the regular DC public schools, with these two differences: The DC public schools have more kids at the very highest levels AND more kids at the very lowest levels on income and on test scores. The charter schools have more kids in the middle, fewer Hispanics and whites, and fewer children with disabilities or ESL kids. The situation might be quite different in other cities, or it might be just like ours. I have no idea, not having looked carefully enough even at Atlanta or NYC. However, a serious national study showed that if a student chose a charter school at random, then in 5 cases out of 6, they would do as well as, or worse than, if they were in a regular public school. In only 1 case out of 6 would they do better. 1/3 of the time, they do worse.

(8) There have been no cost savings anywhere. The amount of money that goes to contractors — some of them former TFA members who chose to make money and earn prestige, and to tell teachers what to do, rather than remaining in the classroom — is obscene. Central office is bigger than ever, and at wildly inflated salaries from what they used to be.

(9) And there’s the little matter of the numerous whoppers on Michelle Rhee’s resume – lies and exaggerations about the media coverage while she taught, and flat out making numbers up about a nonexistent educational miracle in her 3rd year of teaching, with what I conclude was the help of her Baltimore principal. (There was no other school anywhere in the UMBC study of the Tesseract schoolls and their regular BPS counterparts that had anything like the number of “1” scores. You probably say, “Who cares about ‘1’ scores? What’s that mean?” Well, it’s important. It means that the student scored SO LOW THAT THEY DON’T COUNT THEIR SCORE. It’s a great way to increase the apparent average of any group of things or scores or people — you just remove the low ones while you do the math, and secretly put them back when the computation is done. And that is apparently how they achieved somewhat of a bump in scores at Harlem Park. I think.

(10) Large numbers of DCPS teachers, to their credit, have refused to take the “poison-pill” bonuses that they earned on the numbers racket that is VAM and IMPACT. Good for them!

(11) Rhee’s foundation, Students First, is a joke of an “astroturf” organization funded by secret billionaires who don’t have to declare who they are or how much they have given. (I am told its a 501c4, not a 501c3 like several groups I belong to, and that they don’t have to disclose squat to the public. So far, I can’t find anything.) But we know that Rhee has a habit of palling around with the most outrageous right-wing extremists who want to repeal pretty much all of the New Deal, decertify labor unions, impose their own brand of religious restrictions on education and much more.

(12) There are probably quite a few more lies that various of us have exposed; I am proud to have contributed to some of this research. But I can’t think of any more without doing some research. Anybody want to add some more examples?

In any case, it seems to me that this should be the last straw.

We need to be indicting people, and they need to be pilloried (figuratively, that is) and removed from all positions of influence on education or anything else. They are complete and utter fakers and have no track record of success at all. I will name three people that need to go, in alphabetical order:

Arne Duncan.

Kaya Henderson.

Michelle Rhee.


*Seems to me that bonuses mostly motivate folks who like money, and folks who really like money don’t go into teaching. There are banks and businesses and stock markets that they can embezzle from instead. Teachers? I mean, a teacher isn’t going to get rich even if he or she does steal all his or her students’ lunch or field trip money AND wins a $5,000 bonus by cheating and erasing answers on his or her class’ answer sheets. No, if a person wants to get really rich, you become a hedge fund manager if you want to do it semi-legally. If you don’t care whether it’s legal or not, there are lots of ways to embezzle money — but you can’t do it from the classroom.

The one study that seems to say that VAM has some success was based on data from the 1990’s, well before NCLB, when there were no high stakes put on scores on achievement tests; and the supposed benefit, using their unknown algorithm, of having an absolute superstar of a teacher (which is defined by … a teacher in whose classroom a significant number of kids had a higher-than-expected gain in test scores from the previous year, on a test with unknown relevance to anything at all) is … get ready for the drum roll … here it is … An extra few hundred dollars in income per year for the student, later on.

Whether any of those minuscule detected impacts would hold up under today’s high-stakes testing environment isn’t known. It might happen that students with suspiciously big jumps in test scores end up getting run over by cars more frequently. Or have better bowling averages. Or have higher scores on WII games. Or have less dandruff. Who knows? I wonder if there might be a correlation between the number of freckles on a teacher’s forearm and his or her students’ rates of having automobile accidents? If we look hard enough, we could probably find some small correlation to something.


“Michelle Rhee” is to “Data” as “Counterfeiter” is to “Dollar Bill”

There are very few public figures who have a looser connection with the truth, with facts, and with data, than Michelle Rhee.

(In plain English: I think she is a major liar and distorter. There is not an educational statistic that she won’t twist.)

But she’s coming to DC next week as a featured panel member of something called the Data Quality Campaign, along with Arne Duncan, another educational DEformer who is unfortunately head of the US Education Department. The event details are here: it takes place 1:30 to 5pm at the Renaissance Washington Hotel next Wednesday 1-18-2012 on the south edge of Mount Vernon Square here in DC. It appears that the panel will advocate national, multiple-choice testing for all students in all grade levels and for all subjects in all months of the year and firing and paying teachers and making all educational policy based on those results.

A dumber idea than that is hard to imagine. It also is a huge waste of many billions of dollars — money that will go to just a handful of enormous testing-and-publishing companies. These funds will be lost forever to local schools and school districts, parents, teachers, and students, and will instead go to enrich some of the 1% who run this country.

I think it would be a great thing if some folks went there and showed the public that there are a number of people who think that Rhee is a propagandist for untruth, and that there are few things less useful for teachers and students than making educational policy based on stupid, nationally-composed multiple-choice tests and being locked into a national curriculum. (Don’t laugh: they even just now came out with national standards for sex education. I am not making that up.)

Registration is free: use this link.

Rhee has an amazingly long history of distortions; where I first found my jaw dropping was when I read her resume, where she claimed to have been in the Wall Street Journal and on TV during the mid-1990’s when she was a TFA temporary teacher in a for-profit charter school experiment that failed in Baltimore. When she claimed that she took an entire elementary school class from below the 20th percentile to above the 90th percentile on a nationally-normed test, I simply could not believe it. Nobody in history has ever accomplished anything like that without some sort of fakery.

Sure enough, when I later found a careful study on that failed educational experiment, my suspicions were confirmed. No such miracle happened at all at Rhee’s school (Harlem Park ES) or in her grade. What happened instead was that Rhee’s grade instead had an inordinate number of kids who scored at a “1” level, meaning that their scores were so low that they simply weren’t counted. As a consequence, I conclude, the average of the scores of the remaining students had a modest increase. The lead analyst for the UMBC study agreed with the conclusions I drew. Rick Hess of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, a personal friend of Rhee, predictably disagreed.

As you also may have heard, Rhee promoted Wayne Ryan, the principal of Noyes, based on what proved to be utterly fallacious, doctored increases in student scores at that school. (Ryan was allowed or “encouraged” to quietly resign after the news of the cheating came out, but that was after Rhee quit when her patron, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost an election because she earned the hatred of most of the electorate in Washington, DC. You can see a good summary of much of Rhee’s record at RheeFirst. I uncovered a fair amount of her lies and distortions in the pages of this blog. (BTW thanks to WordPress, this blog has a pretty good search engine if you want to look stuff up; it’s at the upper right-hand corner of this page.)

Anybody interested in making a stink at this conference? Anybody else interested in pointing out that there is another way (or many other ways) of improving education in America?

Published in: on January 12, 2012 at 10:35 am  Comments (1)  
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A Slightly Longer Summary of the Harlem Park Data

The data clearly show that no modern-day educational miracle happened there in 1994-5.

First, a table showing the number of students, percent of students at the school for whom there are scores, a likely approximation of the total number in the cohort, reading and math NCE scores, and those scores expressed as percentiles, for the cohorts where Rhee taught at Harlem Park in 1992-1995.

In case you don’t remember, Rhee taught third grade at Harlem Park Elementary (HPE) in 1992-3, and has described that year as a failure. The next year (1993-4), she says she team-taught with another second-grade teacher and then brought that entire double class of students up into the third grade in 1994-5, which is the year that Rhee claimed that the entire group went from the 13th percentile to OVER the 90th percentile.

I certainly don’t know exactly how many students Rhee had in her class, or how many her team-teaching colleague had in hers. It appears that Rhee has conveniently lost all of her records. However, the  Tesseract schools in Baltimore appear to have had class sizes around 25 students (give or take a few).  On the other hand, Rhee has claimed that she and her colleague took a group of seventy (yes, 70) students from the bottom to the top. As usual, that doesn’t sound too likely, either. I got my estimates by dividing the number in the grade cohort by the percentage of students with scores. They are only estimates.

Recall this: the students for whom there is no data fell into four groups (I garbled this earlier):

(1) students who didn’t show up during testing week;

(2) students who enrolled after February 1 of the testing year;

(3) students who had such severe education disabilities that they were excused from testing; and

(4) those who put their heads down during the test and didn’t write anything meaningful at all.

BY DEFINITION those groups of kids are not going to be the ones that Michelle Rhee has been bragging about. Obviously!

But one thing is clear: whether she and her colleague had 50 students or 70 students, there is no way that they brought those classes from the 13th percentile in 1993-4 to above the 90th percentile in 1994-5, either in math or in reading.


Now, let’s look at the scores ONLY for students who remained at the school for two years or more (which is precisely the group with which MR claims that huge success):

Again: no sign of bringing large numbers of students from the 13th to the 90th percentiles.


Published in: on February 13, 2011 at 2:15 pm  Comments (9)  

Here’s What I Posted on Michelle Rhee’s Blog at ‘StudentsFirst’

Someone else brought the 1995 study to my attention, and I went through it and tried to pick out the parts that compare the cohorts at Harlem Park when Rhee taught there, to those in other, similar schools. The original 1995 data is here: 


What I discovered is that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of Michelle Rhee accomplishing the miracle that she has over and over claimed: raising students from well below the 20th percentile to having over 90 percent of them scoring above the 90th percentile.

As far as I can tell, it looks like there were only about two classes of third graders at Harlem Park during the year 1994-1995, the year that Rhee said that she and her team-mate brought two classes from the very bottom to the very top. And the scores for that third grade cohort at Harlem Park in both reading and math for 1994-1995 appear to be somewhere between the 40th and 55th percentile. At best.

You can also look at my blog,


where I point out the exact pages in that long study where you can look for that information.

Only about 20% to 25% of the students were excluded from having their test scores processed for the study at Tesseract schools, so that doesn’t increase the number of students in the actual classes by very much.

What’s more, I find it extremely interesting and significant that the cohort of students that were in the 2nd grade at Harlem Park appears to have shrunk by nearly 50% by the time they got to the third grade, when Rhee made her so-far-still-unsubstantiated claims of this educational miracle. Exactly how that winnowing out, I can only guess.And my guesses are fueled by my suspicion of Rhee’s notoriously long track record of distorting data.

Care to respond to that, either Michelle Rhee or Mafara Hobson?

Guy Brandenburg

The Rhee Miracle Examined Again – By Cohort

Unless I get some more hard data, this will be my last column on the so-called Rhee miracle in Baltimore.

Here I will attempt to follow four different cohorts of students through Harlem Park Elementary, one of the Baltimore City public schools that was taken over by Tesseract/Edison company for several years in the early-to-mid-1990s and failed. Using publicly available data, I graphed the average percentile ranks of groups of students as they went through Harlem Park in first grade, then second grade, then third grade, and so on. If there’s a blank in my graphs, it’s because the data isn’t there.

I highlighted the classes where Michelle Rhee was teaching. In her last year, the scores did rise some, but nowhere near what she claimed. In her first year, they dropped almost as low as they can go. If Tesseract/Edison had been using the IMPACT evaluation system she foisted on DCPS teachers, she would have probably been fired after the first year!

Look for yourself:

Why does this matter?

Simply because I think it’s important for the public to know that the main spokesperson for the movement for additional dumb standardized testing, for teaching to the test, and for firing teachers based on those dumb tests, would herself have been fired under those criteria.

And she has lied repeatedly about that, and has repeatedly claimed that she performed some sort of miracle when she was teaching in Baltimore: a miracle that no-one else has ever, ever achieved.

Voters in DC, to their credit, saw through her lies and voted Adrian Fenty out of office largely because of her lies (I think) and the horrible effects she had on DC public schools. Yay! But in the rest of the country, people probably only know her because of adoring media coverage that paints her as some sort of saint; she has become an advisor to several right-wing Republican governors who think that the key to educational success is breaking teacher unions.

The public has the right to know about what a liar she is, and to judge accordingly.

PS: my data source is here.

I have a puzzle for you: Can You Spot the Baltimore-Rhee Miracle of 1993-1995?

Is Michelle Rhee a liar, or is she honest? You decide.

You remember that Michelle Rhee said that when she taught for three years in Baltimore, after a bit of a rough spot during her first year, she brought her students from the very bottom to the very top, right? If that’s true, then it should be really easy to spot those scores, especially since there were exactly TWO third-grade classes at her Baltimore school during her final year, and she says that she team-taught with the other second-grade, later third-grade, teacher during those last two years. (Or maybe there were two teachers in her class – I can’t tell from her account.) But no matter. A jump that large should be really, really obvious.

In last month’s Washingtonian Magazine, she told an interviewer:

In my second year of teaching, we took them from the bottom to the top on academics, and what I learned from that experience was these kids were getting screwed because people wanted to blame their low achievement levels on the single-parent households and on the poverty in the community. In that two-year period, none of those things changed. Their parents didn’t change.

“What changed?
“What we were doing with them in school.”

And as I pointed out in my previous post, her official resume says “Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90% of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.” (emphasis added by me)

Here comes the puzzle.

I looked up the CTBS reading scores for nine different schools in Baltimore for the period 1992 through 1995. I converted all of the CTBS NCE reading scores in the second grade for 1992, 1993, and 1994, and for the third grade in 1995 into percentile ranks, because that is the measurement that Rhee refers to. The CTBS is, as far as I can tell, the only nationally-standardized test that was given in Baltimore. The MSPAP, which was also given during at least some of those years, is a Maryland state-wide test, and so far, I haven’t found scores on the MSPAP for 1995.

Here are the graphs showing the CTBS reading scores in nine different schools (or clusters of schools) during the years Michelle Rhee claims to have worked her miracle. I included all of the seven Tesseract/EAI schools, including Harlem Park where Rhee taught, and I also included some of the regular public schools that were officially designated as comparison schools in the study that was supposed to figure out whether Edison was doing a good job or not.

I will NOT tell you which graph is Harlem Park. It’s your job to figure out which one it was.

Hint: Rhee was still in college for SY 1992. She worked at Harlem Park for SY 1993, 1994, and 1995. She taught second grade for the first two years, and then apparently followed the students into the third grade for SY 1995.

Let’s look at the graphs:

OK, boys and girls. Which school was it? A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, or I?

(No more hints today. I’ll give the identities of these schools tomorrow.)


Error notice: I noticed this morning that I had accidentally inverted the percentile ranks and NCE scores in several places, which made some of these graphs wrong and the question harder to answer. It is now fixed, but I wish I was a better proofreader. I apologize to all.

Published in: on January 28, 2011 at 3:04 am  Comments (5)  
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Fraud Accompanies Michelle Rhee, Part 3

This is the last of 3 guest columns on this topic, by the same author.

The sequence of events as described above along with multiple other factors listed below, give credence to the opinions of many that the 2010 DC Democratic primary election was a referendum on Michelle Rhee; however, I prefer to view the election as political democracy self correcting.



1.      Never Vetted

Adrian Fenty violated the review panel requirement; he broke the law in picking a Chancellor without allowing a review panel of stakeholders to participate in the selection process. Fenty did not inform the council of his choice until the eve of the announcement and did not give her name to a panel of parents, teachers and students as the takeover legislation required.


2.      Not Qualified

Michelle Rhee’s title was chancellor, not superintendant; her title was changed because she did not meet the qualifications for employment as a school district superintendent. DC’s children need and deserve: the best, the brightest and the most qualified school leaders.


3.      Résumé Discrepancies


•       Taught in Harlem Park Community School, one of the lowest-performing elementary schools in Baltimore City, effecting significant measurable gains in student achievement. Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90% of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.


The following text is excerpted from the “The Daily Howler,” an American political blog written by Bob Somerby.


In a wealthy suburban school district, that would be a remarkable record—one a principal ought to verify. In a school like Harlem Park, it would be an educational miracle—a revolution.

If so, Michelle Rhee should have been arrested and held for further study. If those deserving Harlem Park kids really did achieve at those levels, a young teacher had authored an educational miracle; she had somehow managed to solve a heart-breaking, decades-long educational puzzle. The school should have been crawling with researchers, trying to figure out what she’d done.



•       Classroom practices featured on “The Home Show” and in the Wall Street Journal and the Hartford Courant.


Unless something is missing from the Nexis archives, Rhee’s claim about the Courant is simply a bald-faced misstatement. How about Good Morning America? In the Nexis archives, transcripts of the program only date back to July 1996. (There is no report on Rhee, or on Harlem Park, in the archives after that date.)


4.      A Question Of Ethics

Just after D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty nominated Michelle Rhee for the chancellor’s job, Sacramento Mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson, Rhee’s “boyfriend,” personally called nearly all 13 council D.C. City Council members and flew from California to tell them that Rhee is a hands-on executive who works round-the-clock. He credited her with helping to turn around Sacramento High School. “He was the showstopper,” recalled D.C. State Board of Education member Mary Lord. “It was sort of like, if she’s got the support of a star like that, it’s all well and good.”


Most recently, a little more than a week before the September 14th primary, Chancellor Rhee campaigned for Mayor Adrian Fenty as a “private citizen” though DC’s Hatch Act mandates that government employees not to use their positions to influence elections.


5.      Budget Pressure Debacle

In the spring and summer of 2009, Chancellor Michelle Rhee hired 934 new teachers; just six weeks into the school year in October 2009, Rhee fired nearly 400 DC Public School employees, including the 266 teachers citing a $43.9 million dollar budget pressure. Later, it was discovered that the budget pressure never existed; Rhee claimed a math error caused the budget discrepancy. On April 13, 2010, five months after the October 2009 mass firing, Rhee announced a $34 million budget surplus that she intended to use to fund the groundbreaking contract for which she has been much heralded. Only, District of Columbia Chief Financial Officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, said that the $34 million dollar surplus did not exist because DC Public Schools’ central office overran its budget by 30 million dollars.


6.      Smear Tactics

In February 2010, Fast Company, an online magazine, followed up on a September 2008 story it ran on the “Iron Chancellor” Michelle Rhee.  The article addressed accusations by the Washington Teachers Union that Rhee had manufactured a budget pressure to excuse the firing of 266 teachers. Rhee’s response was:”I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. … Why wouldn’t we take those things into consideration?” Later, Rhee finally released a statement explaining that only one (1) teacher had been accused of sexual impropriety and that only 9 of the 266 teachers who were fired in October 2009 had dubious work histories. However, 257 teachers were also slandered and included in the list of teachers fired for budget reasons.


7.      Unbecoming Behavior

•       Michelle Rhee behaved in a manner unbecoming of the high standard expected of a chief executive officer.  In December 2008, DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in all black, stone-faced and holding a broom; the caption next to the photograph read, “How to Fix America’s Schools.” Rhee’s aggressive actions, her abrasive and oftentimes demeaning talk with regard to her inherited DC Public Schools staff, along with that broom picture (a broom is a floor-sweeping device used specifically to sweep out trash), was most indicative of her meager estimation of veteran DC Public School educators. The cover was intentionally debasing and threatening.


•       Recently, Michelle Rhee recounted her year long ordeal as a “crappy” second grade teacher 18 years ago at Baltimore’s Harlem Park Elementary to a room of new DC Public School teachers. Rhee told the novice teachers that she placed pieces of masking tape on the lips of her thirty-five rowdy 2nd graders on a trip to the school cafeteria for lunch; after arriving at the cafeteria, the kids removed the tape along with the skin on their lips, which caused bleeding; thirty-five 2nd grade children began crying.


The other story Chancellor Rhee recounted to the group actually involved her speaking in Negro dialect when impersonating one of her students. “Lawwwd Ms.Rhee whatchu gonna do!!!!??” Rhee boomed, drawing a big laugh. “Lawwwd Ms. Rhee whatchu gonna do!!!!??” (Washington Post)


•       Michelle Rhee called DC Council Chairman Vincent Gray’s primary victory over Mayor Adrian Fenty a “devastating” blow to children in Washington’s traditional public schools.


8.      Poor Judgement

On June 27, 2008, former NBA star Kevin Johnson and Michelle Rhee’s boyfriend was the subject of an investigation conducted by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the misuse of $850,000 of Federal grant funds provided to St. HOPE Academy from 2004 to 2007.  Then DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee visited Gerald Walpin, who was inspector general of the government volunteer organization AmeriCorps. “The basic point of her meeting with me was to tell me what a great guy he was,” Walpin recalls, “and what wonderful work he has done, and that maybe he had made mistakes administratively, but that she thought I should give as much consideration as possible to his good work in deciding what to do.”  Previously, Rhee had called Walpin to see how the investigation was going; she was planning to include St. Hope in a group of educational organizations that would be hired to run 10 of the District’s most troubled high schools.


On four different occasions, young women or teenage girls had accused her boyfriend/fiancé, Kevin Johnson, of inappropriate sexual conduct. Three of the four were affiliated with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the parent body for the the volunteer organization AmeriCorps. Although charges were never pressed, one of the students said she was offered $1,000 per month in exchange for her silence. In the summer of 1995, allegations surfaced that Johnson inappropriately touched a 16-year-old girl. No charges were filed in the case. St. Hope was eventually ordered to pay back $425,000 of the AmeriCorps funds; however, no action was taken on the sexual allegations. A congressional investigation report contains charges that DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee handled “damage control” after allegations of sexual misconduct against Kevin Johnson surfaced. (The Washington Examiner, The Washington Times)


9.      An Accountability Double Standard

Brian Betts was Michelle Rhee’s superstar principal of Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson. Rhee recruited Betts from Loiederman Middle School in 2008 after he failed to get even an interview for four principal positions in the Montgomery County, Maryland school system. Betts was given “unprecedented power to mold his staff;” he personally selected 28 of his 35 teachers and staff. Betts said he wanted a school full of young, ambitious and not yet “jaded” teachers; he hired only two teachers with more than five years of experience. Betts received extra money from Rhee to hire two young teaching stars also from Loiederman to coach his almost entirely new staff.  Shaw had the best technology, texts and instructional materials. Shaw became Rhee’s showplace school, where she sent celebrities and reporters to observe her “best and brightest” do their thing. Quite remarkably however, the test scores of students attending Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson did not go

up; they actually went down. Tests scores are Michelle Rhee’s own yardstick to measure a school’s effectiveness. That very same year, Michelle Rhee fired a whole lot of principals, most of whom had far fewer resources than Mr. Betts; they likewise had consolidated schools with merged student populations and much better test scores. (Washington Post, 2008)


10.     If It Looks Like a Duck…..

Shady is, as shady does.


Our children in the District of Columbia, as do the children in Atlanta, need and deserve a quality education; their lives depend on it. They do not need to be caught up in the biggest power grab in the history of American public education. The Michelle Rhee story had the potential to become the greatest success story of the American education reform movement. “New chancellor takes on the worst performing public school system in the nation, disembowels the big bad teachers’ union and saves the day for thousands of poor and illiterate inner-city kids.” The only thing wrong with this story is that it is simply not true; it has been grossly distorted by nonsensical propaganda.


The deplorable truth is that cheating on state standardized tests has become a national epidemic; a lot of people know about it and a lot of people are not doing anything about it. Honesty, it seems, has not instantaneously yielded booming increases in student achievement levels; so across the nation, we have collectively resorted to fundamentally dishonest approaches to school reform.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that intelligence plus character is the goal of true education; I surely hope so.


Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 6:02 pm  Comments (12)  

Rhee Resignation – A Relief, or More of the Same?

On the one hand, I am naturally rather relieved that Michelle Rhee is leaving DCPS. (After all, I’ve been publicly encouraging her to go!) Perhaps she could try teaching again in a normal classroom without lots of aides, with no extra funds from outside corporations, no administrative or parental support, and so on, and see how she really does (as opposed to the fairy-tale she concocted about Harlem Park ES in Baltimore). However, that won’t happen. She will instead earn millions on the lecture circuit and in some right-wing educational DEFORMER think tank, attempting to persuade gullible members of the public that evil-minded teachers are the cause of urban poverty, and that untrained, inexperienced, transient young college grads and tons of additional standardized tests and threats can somehow cure the widening gap between the poor and the super-rich. (And guess which group Rhee is joining?)

On the other hand, I am afraid that what I have seen so far from Vince Gray appears to be more of the same regime: test, punish, threaten, and fire. Kaya Henderson is almost Michelle Rhee’s clone (granted,  not as vicious, and with a different hair style, but let’s recall that she backed up all of MR’s brazen lies). Mayoral control of schools has succeeded in truly improving urban education in precisely zero school districts. Increased standardized testing and turning schools into test-prep factories, ditto. Removing any rights to due process for teachers and other school employees, ditto.  Ignoring the huge burdens of poverty, ditto. Turning public education over to private entrepreneurs, no improvement. Linking student scores on standardized achievement tests to teacher bonuses, zilch. Bringing in inexperienced, untrained teachers who have no intention of sticking around for the long haul, no difference. Saying that EVERY child can succeed in Advanced Placement classes have most likely watered down AP courses for everybody. Forcing all teachers to pass EVERY student, no matter how often they skip school or don’t do assignments have caused standards and achievement to go through the floor. Pretending that there either is no discipline problem in urban schools, or blaming all of the behavior problems on the teachers, are practices that have led to the near-destruction of most urban school systems.

Let’s not get discouraged! We got rid of Fenty and Rhee! Yay! Now, we need to make sure that presumptive Mayor Gray truly makes a 90-degree turn away from the failed ‘DEFORMS’ of the Rhee-Henderson-Fenty-Klein-Bobb-Duncan crowd.

I think it won’t happen without a lot of additional pressure from below.

Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 5:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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