John Merrow’s Takedown of the Gates-Jobs Takedown of America’s Public Schools

I don’t know if you watched it (I didn’t), but apparently there was a major TV extravaganza last night about how America’s high schools are obsolete and need to be re-invented. John Merrow did watch it, and was rather disgusted. Here is a bit of his commentary:

Last night’s program was high energy and cute without being daring.  For example, it had a clever ‘red carpet’ segment but with teachers as the stars.  Lots of cheering, but that was it.  That’s sadly timid.  Imagine if Melissa Rivers, the host on the red carpet, had asked teachers the question she always asks the Hollywood stars: “You look marvelous. What are you wearing tonight?’  

And picture a male teacher responding:  “These old things?  I bought these khakis 12 or 13 years ago. I was going to buy a new pair for tonight, but I just spent $380 on basic supplies for my classroom.  Oh, and would it be rude of me to ask how much your outfit cost?”

Imagine a female teacher responding, “What am I wearing?  Actually, I’d rather talk about tomorrow’s field trip….I’m taking my kids to the Getty Museum, where they will….. see provocative art and meet contemporary artists.  And the next day my students will be on Skype, talking with students in a high school in Paris about climate change. We’ve been measuring the air quality here and sharing the data with them for purposes of comparison and analysis.  But I have to charge the kids for the bus to the Museum and I had to ask some wealthy parents to pay for the scientific equipment because the school district has been cutting our instructional budget.”

And another teacher could have said, “To be honest, I’m happy for this attention, but I can’t help but thinking about the fact that you make 17 or 18 times more money per year than I do.”


Assessment of Rhee/Henderson/Mayoral control in DC public schools

Here is a very long article on the legacy of the mayoral takeover of DC public schools back in 2007, which brought in Chancellors Rhee and Henderson, among other things. Having been a teacher, a mentor, and a volunteer in and visiting DC public schools for that period of time, I’m not particularly impressed with the changes I’ve seen. The article, which I still haven’t finished reading, has criticism of what hasn’t worked, by Mary Levy and  John Merrow, and also features a reply by Thomas Toch (who is very much a cheerleader for the “reforms”).

Here’s the link. Please read the article and comment, and take some action as well.

The ‘Smoking Memo’ on Michelle Rhee’s EraserGate was leaked to John Merrow

The “smoking memo” has turned up.
The one that Michelle Rhee, Kaya Henderson, and Charles Willoughby didn’t want the public to see.

The one where the testing company expert told them all about the cheating and what steps they should take — none of which were taken.

That memo was leaked to John Merrow of Frontline. You really should read his entire article. It’s long, it’s got footnotes, and it’s excellent.


Teachers, parents, and concerned citizens should take the time to read this long, footnoted, in-depth follow-up by John Merrow (a journalist at Frontline) on the cheating scandal (by adults) in Washington, DC public schools, in particular at Noyes right here in Brookland.
The article points out several things:
(1) Rhee gave lots of money to adults who cheated
(2) She put impossible pressure on principals to cheat; they, in turn, put that pressure on their teachers
(3) The achievement gap between white and black students, and between poor kids and wealthier kids, increased on Rhee’s and Henderson’s watches; any increases in NAEP scores are continuations of trends that began under her predecessors; and DCPS students’s scores are still at the bottom of the nation
(4) Rhee, Henderson, Kamras, and IG Willoughby have steadfastly refused to investigate the cheating seriously and to do the sort of analysis that actually shows malfeasance
(5) Turnover among administrators and teachers in DCPS has turned a revolving door into a whirlwind
(6) The idealistic principal who followed Wayne Ryan at Noyes, and who was originally a great admirer of Rhee, found a lot of evidence of cheating there, but her whistleblower suit was dismissed, and she now runs a cupcake store
(7) Despite noises to the contrary by Rhee, the number of highly-paid central-office administrators has jumped; DCPS has the highest administrator-to-student ratio anywhere in the region
(8) Funds that should have been used to help students who were behind were, instead, used to pay illegitimate bonuses to dishonest adults.
Here is the URL:
A couple of key quotes:

” former DeKalb County District Attorney Robert … Wilson said that he had been following the DCPS story closely.  “There’s not a shred of doubt in my mind that adults cheated in Washington,” he said. “The big difference is that nobody in DC wanted to know the truth.”


It’s easy to see how not trying to find out who had done the erasing–burying the problem–was better for Michelle Rhee personally, at least in the short term.  She had just handed out over $1.5 million in bonuses in a well-publicized celebration of the test increases[9]. She had been praised by presidential candidates Obama and McCain[10] in their October debate, and she must have known that she was soon to be on the cover of Time Magazine[11].  The public spectacle of an investigation of nearly half of her schools would have tarnished her glowing reputation, especially if the investigators proved that adults cheated–which seems likely given that their jobs depended on raising test scores.

Moreover, a cheating scandal might well have implicated her own “Produce or Else” approach to reform.  Early in her first year she met one-on-one with each principal and demanded a written, signed guarantee[12] of precisely how many points their DC-CAS scores would increase.

It’s 2013.  Is there any point to investigating probable cheating that occurred in 2008, 2009 and 2010?  After all, the children who received inflated scores can’t get a ‘do-over,’ and it’s probably too late to claw back bonuses from adults who cheated, even if they could be identified.  While erasure analysis would reveal the extent of cheating, what deserves careful scrutiny is the behavior of the leadership when it learned that a significant number of adults were probably cheating, because five years later, Rhee’s former deputy is in charge of public schools, and Rhee continues her efforts to persuade states and districts to adopt her approach to education reform–an approach, the evidence indicates, did little or nothing to improve the public schools in our nation’s capital.

This story is bound to remind old Washington hands of Watergate and Senator Howard Baker’s famous question, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” It has a memo that answers an echo of Baker’s question, “What did Michelle know, and when did she know it?” And the entire sordid story recalls the lesson of Watergate lesson, “It’s not the crime; it’s the coverup.”

That Michelle Rhee named her new organization “StudentsFirst” is beyond ironic.

Indictments in Atlanta Cheating Scandal Make Me Wonder: When Will Michelle Rhee & Her Enablers Also Be Indicted?

Those who trust our DCPS leaders to do the right thing regarding building a school here in Turkey Thicket should consider this:
Beverly Hall, the ex-superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, was just indicted with a recommended multi-million-dollar bond for leading a massive cheating ring run by her and some administrators and teachers on their state’s standardized tests; she and her cronies raked in big bucks and much fame and honors for these fake high scores. A link to today’s NYT article:
USA Today ran a brilliant series of investigative columns about a year or so ago on cheating by adults on standardized tests in Atlanta, Washington DC, and several other cities. The cheating here in DC, according to their serious, well-documented investigation, was about on a par with that in Atlanta, IMHO.  The most brazen example that they found — and one of the few examples where the reporters could find people willing to speak on the record — was right here in Brookland at Crosby Noyes ES/EC, under then-principal Wayne Ryan. You may have also noted that the principal at Noyes who followed Ryan found extremely clear evidence of said cheating ring, and spoke out about it, and was forced to resign for telling the truth. (Look up John Merrow’s PBS special on that.) That principal was later also publicly vilified by Henderson — essentially for telling the truth about the cheating.
If you recall, Ryan earned big bucks, a promotion, and lots of fame and honors for leading a ring of teachers and administrators who changed students’ answers on the DC-CAS for many years. Michelle Rhee promoted him to the central office as being “all that” – a position that he mysteriously abandoned once the excrement hit the ventilator (figuratively speaking), just as Beverly Hall conveniently retired.
Rhee herself similarly lied, repeatedly, in print and in numerous interviews, about her own non-existent, utterly unbelievable “90% below the 13th percentile rising to 90% above the 90th percentile” miracle in Baltimore. She lied about much more on her resume, and once chosen to be chancellor, gave all DC principals marching orders on how much to inflate their students’ test scores in the coming year and earn big bucks, or be fired. Kaya Henderson defended Rhee and Ryan, and was deputy to Rhee during all those shenanigans and lies.
BTW: I and many others have shown that there has been NO tremendous surge in NAEP scores in DCPS under the disastrous reign of Rhee and Henderson. The one big change is that the gap between the scores of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, between those of white kids and non-white kids, and between those with free or reduced-price lnches and those without, has WIDENED and the gap is by far the widest here in DC than in any other state or city. If you don’t believe me, go look up the NAEP scores yourself, or look in my blog under NAEP in its little search engine. (You can also use my blog to do searches for the original news articles on the scandals I am discussing here.)
I wonder when the turn before the grand jury will come for Ryan, Henderson, and Rhee.
(Obviously not while we have Arne Duncan in the DOE and Charles Willoughby as our IG.)
My conclusion is this:
My neighbors here in Brookland should not expect any of the people I mentioned to do anything right for you or for me or my kids or my grandchild-to-be.
The people I named are utterly corrupt, and take their lying very seriously.
Not our welfare.
Your thoughts?

Reactions to John Merrow’s recent piece on E.D. Hirsch

It is an odd mixture, but I hope you will glance at the short post, on the occasion of Don’s 85th birthday.

Here’s the link:


Thanks for this, John.

I have very mixed reactions to EDHirsch — not all necessarily at the same time.

About a decade or so, I thought EDH was just plain wrong, but decided I should read what he had to say, so I did just that. It was a painful experience, but I had to admit he made a lot of very convincing points. I wrote an op-ed published in the Washington Post about that time, in an article that was mostly critical of what I saw a poorly-thought-out and clearly never-tried out math curriculum  that was being foisted on the students of DC by administrators who had no clue. I think I concluded by endorsing his effort over what was being tried in DCPS at the time – long before charter schools started spreading like fungus or mushrooms.

In any case, my opinion is that Hirsch is worth reading, but he’s a very powerful, logical, and persuasive writer, and if you immerse yourself in his work without having time to discuss it with friends or acquaintances or colleagues or students, you may find yourself being won over by Hirsch, simply because you were unable to argue back with actual data and facts (not just rhetoric). Some of what he argues is correct, but I disagree with him that it is really possible to come up with a single, standard curriculum for everyone, and I also think that a number of educational experiments that he condemns as utter, outright failures have actually been successful at times.

(I should go back and look at my copy and see if I write any comments in the margin. )

In any case, if I had it to do today, I would probably withdraw the endorsement I made at the time, unless I had a chance to visit one of the Core Knowledge schools myself and see how they do it. CK schools may not be perfect, and probably wouldn’t suit me or my wife or my kids, but it might be a pretty good.way of teaching that doesn’t do too much harm, and produces some good results. It seems from your piece, John, that the CK model seems to be working at the schools you visited, and seems well-organized and providing a reasonable education.

Which is about the best one can hope for!

We are not all going to agree  on one and only one perfect way of raising or educating children. Disagreements on what should be emphasized and what should be discouraged are part of what make us human.

That’s fine.

However, what’s not fine is to cheat and abuse kids, and, unfortunately, that’s happening a lot. It should not be the case that the children of the rich and near-rich get an excellent education, with small classes, teachers who aren’t being micro-managed, and lots of ‘extras’ like art, music, sports, drama, and project, but the children of the poor and near-poor, particularly but not exclusively minorities, get a lousy one. Irony of ironies, those ‘extras’ are being removed from the education of those poor students — in the name of improving it! Influential “reformers” like Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg say it’s a wonderful idea to have 50 to 100 students in a room with a single, inexperienced and untrained teacher who has no plans to stick around in the teaching profession. What planet do these nuts come from? Have they ever taught a class themselves?

Oh. They never have. That explains a lot. Neither did Arne Duncan.

Unfortunately, it appears from the objective facts that a good number of organizations that claim to be all for the children seem to be mostly focused on increasing profits for a tiny handful of corporate billionaires, following some arbitrary educational philosophy that has exactly ZERO experimental support and which has FAILED to achieve any of the miraculous results they boasted they would achieve, not even raising test scores. In other words, kind of like latterday, educational snake-oil salesmen, and what they are proposing is quite demonstrably NOT WORKING. If you want examples, look at my blog as well of those by Valerie Strauss, Diane Ravitch, EduShyster, and anybody else we point to on our blogs.

And one of their biggest pitch-ladies, Michelle Rhee, who actually did teach for a while in Baltimore, has been proven to be a serial fabricator of facts. Or, in plain English, a big fat liar, as I and you, John, and many other people have repeatedly shown. Every claim Rhee made about her supposed successes in Baltimore are demonstrably false. (Whether she ate a bee or not, I don’t know and I don’t care.)

I don’t put E.D.Hirsch into that category of Rhee-ly big liars, because I have no evidence of any phoniness or fraudulence on his part. (Then again, I haven’t looked. Has anyone?)

But I have one big question, the answer to which I have no clue, again because I’ve never looked:

What kind of attrition rates for cohorts are there at the schools modeled by EDH? 

(That’s an enormous indictment of even the highest-flying charter schools: they find that they have the exact same difficulty that the regular, urban public schools (RUPS) have been increasingly unable to solve: RUPS are forbidden from expelling, suspending, or otherwise sanctioning in any way the most difficult-to-handle, violent, mentally disturbed students. Teachers have in fact been disarmed of the weapons they need in the classroom: the promise that if a student is seriously disruptive, the student will be removed by another adult and will face very unpleasant consequences that the kid and his/her family actually care about, up to and including removal to another institution that’s much less free. There is absolutely no disciplinary support behind teachers in most non-magnet public schools. And, sorry, NRA, a teacher carrying a gun is the absolutely worst solution I can think of for this problem. I mean, a teacher is ALWAYS considered to be in the wrong if he/she happens to come into any physical contact whatsoever with a student – whether to straighten a collar, remove a “kick me” sign from the back of an unsuspecting patsy, congratulating a student with a pat on the back or head, god-forbid! actually hugging a student for ANY reason, or trying to stop a fight. I know of a number of cases just like this, and could give you lots of details if you cared to listen for a few hours. What the charter schools DO have, and here in DC they use it liberallty, is the right to get rid of students. They have many subtle and not-so-subtle ways of doing it; if public schools could do it, they would be a lot more orderly than they are today. It’s quite difficult to manage a class with just one or two out-of-control students when you have neither administrative nor family support. I honestly assure you that this happens in many public schools and also in some charter schools I have visited.)

So, if a charter or alternative school claims that they are achieving superior results in test scores and attendance and graduation and college acceptance rates, in comparison with the exact same population that’s in the regular public schools, they are simply lying. For one thing, you have to look at the attrition rates. I know a little bit about my few  strengths and many weaknesses as a teacher over my 30 years teaching in public schools in DC. You may find it hard to believe that a lot of my students actually went on to college, even Ivy League in a number of cases I know about — and some went on to jail. Some went on to productive lives doing all sorts of things. Most, of course, I have no idea, but I do run across some of them from time to time.


Guess what, no surprises: a strong correlation between family income & education on the one hand and student achievement on the other. (Academic achievement and actual smarts for life are two different things: many of my kids were way smarter than I was at many things — some that I know of even ended up doing much more mathematics or sciences than I ever did, at much deeper levels, so that I can’t follow what they are doing at all. Others were soooo good at emotionally manipulating a situation in ways I seldom could anticipate.


Teaching in south Anacostia (DC) is quite different from teaching in Chevy Chase (DC) – and that was as true 35 years ago when I started as it is today. You don’t think I tried to overcome that? I did, I tried as hard as I possibly could, and I failed.

We’ve all failed. Nobody has won.


Any “reformer” who claims that the gap has been overcome that gap is probably referring to a charter or private school where the truly emotionally disturbed kids, the ones most affected by what it means to be poor and black or Hispanic in America, the violent and disruptive crazies, have been either made to shape up or ship out. Or never entered in the first place.

We in the public schools have lost the “ship out” solution.

Why? Is it the intention of the today’s ruling class — as publicly advocated by wingnuts like Jerry Fallwell — that the public schools must fail?


To restate my question, what in fact do they do at Core Knowledge schools about the attrition problem?

Guy Brandenburg, Washington, DC

From: John Merrow <>
To: John Merrow <>
Sent: Thursday, March 21, 2013 12:26 PM
Subject: Some thoughts about E.D. Hirsch, Jr and the randomness of life–an odd mixture

It is an odd mixture, but I hope you will glance at the short post, on the occasion of Don’s 85th birthday.

Here’s the link:
John Merrow
Education Correspondent,
PBS NewsHour, and President,
Learning Matters, Inc.
My blog:
The Influence of Teachers:
Follow Learning Matters:

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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