“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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Scooped Again – By the Washington Times in 2007!

Scooped again.

I see now that my own analysis (and dismissal) of Rhee’s claims of stupendous success in the classroom, based on the UMBC study written by Lois Williams and Lawrence Leak in 1995, came about three years later than a fairly objective analysis in the Washington Times, dated June 28, 2007. Here is most of the article, with the parts highlighted that I think are important.



D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s choice to reform public schools has been unable to provide proof of the remarkable student improvement she achieved during her brief teaching stint in Baltimore.

“We were told that these kids came in on this level and they were leaving on average at this level,” said D.C. schools chancellor-nominee Michelle A. Rhee, who has noted a dramatic improvement in student test scores in her resume.

“I didn’t think to ask back then for solid documentation or proof or any of those things,” she said. “As a new teacher, I didn’t think those things were particularly relevant.”

Mrs. Rhee, 37, began her three-year teaching career at Harlem Park Community School in the 1992-93 school year through the Teach for America program.

In the 1993-94 school year, when she taught second-graders at the inner-city school, those students had scored at the 13th percentile on standardized tests.

By the end of the 1994-95 year, after Mrs. Rhee had taught the same students as third-graders, 90 percent of them scored at the 90th percentile, according to her resume.

Mrs. Rhee said the test results were achieved on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS).

Her biographical information on the mayor’s office Web site (http://dc.gov/mayor/news/) and on the Web site of her former nonprofit — the New Teacher Project (www.tntp.org) — both say such “outstanding success” in the classroom earned Mrs. Rhee national media acclaim.

But education experts note that most low-income schools have a high student-turnover rate and Mrs. Rhee taught her students as part of a team. Tying the percentile jump specifically to her is extremely hard to do, they said.

“Although there were some significant gains for third-grade Title 1 students in reading [during Mrs. Rhee’s tenure], there is nothing that would establish a sufficient evaluation link between that particular population of students and any particular individual staff member,” said Ben Feldman, who is in charge of testing for Baltimore schools. “You couldn’t go there.”

In addition, establishing a precise link between student achievement and Mrs. Rhee’s performance in the Baltimore school system is difficult in part because of dated information systems and antiquated storage.

Mr. Feldman said retrieving data from a decade ago is hard because his office changed its information storage systems for the year 2000.

Still, the normal curve equivalent score (which is similar to a percentile) on the CTBS for Harlem Park second-graders was 27 in reading and 43 in math in the 1993-94 school year, according to a 1995 report published by the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

The report also shows that third-graders at the school for two years achieved a score of 45 in reading and 51 in math in 1994-95. The report does not break down scores by specific class and excludes some students from the totals, including those who received special-education services.

Those scores show significant gains at Harlem Park, but the question remains whether they support the remarkable gains highlighted by Mrs. Rhee and her backers.

“It’s nothing to sneeze at at all,” said Mary Levy, director of the public education reform project for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “The only question is where does this 90 come from. Ninety [percent] is amazing. You get that kind of score at schools attended by advantaged children.”

Figures contained in the university study also show that Harlem Park’s elementary enrollment fell from 523 in 1992-93 to 440 in 1994-95.

Mrs. Rhee, who was in her early 20s while at the school, said she did not remember the size of her class.

Her time at Harlem Park coincided with an experiment by the Baltimore school system to let a private company — Education Alternatives Inc. (EAI) — manage nine out of 180 city schools, including Harlem Park.

The Maryland study, which focused on the EAI experiment, and a follow-up report showed that the project elicited little progress in CTBS scores among its students.


Me again:

The whole thing is so bizarre – and typical of Rhee and her star-struck, reality-defying acolytes.

Rhee claimed very specific (and incredible) gains among her students. Admits that she had no actual data whatsoever – she didn’t even remember how many students she had – which means that she made the whole thing up – but pointedly refuses to admit that. She claims that there was national press coverage of her amazing success, and cites various publications (without, however, providing any dates). When I and other investigators look into those publications (such as the Wall Street Journal), we find no such acclaim at all. When I and other investigators look into the actual CTBS data for the time period, we find no evidence whatsoever of any such unprecedented, extraordinary gains.

Then, well-paid, right-wing ideologues like Rick Hess attack me (!!) for supposedly playing loose with the statistics – but exonerate Rhee for making up a pleasing fairy tale, and claim that perhaps her claims are true, but that none of her students were tested (!!!!!). One rather obsessed Rhee-lover, Chris Smyr of Eduwonk (I think), goes on to make the outrageous claim that the principal author of the UMBC study has no right to comment on my conclusions that Rhee made all of her claims for success up!!

Meanwhile, Rhee continues to make claim after claim in the national press — claims that go against all evidence, but which are accepted at face value by almost the entire establishment press, with the exception of Valerie Strauss, a paid blogger/reporter for the Washington Post. Jay Mathews, the most-printed WaPo education writer, appears to realize that Rhee made up nearly all of the claims that got her the job as DCPS chancellor, but he doesn’t quite come to the correct conclusion — which is that she is a fraud from beginning to end.


Were large numbers of students not tested in Baltimore?

Here is Mafara Hobson’s response to my criticism of Rhee’s claims of achieving a miracle in 1994-1995:


Our public schools are in crisis. Instead of talking about how to fix them, we’re getting unfounded attacks on Michelle. To get back to the debate about public schools, we want to address this misinformation head-on.

A blogger has posted some error-laden numbers, based on a 1995 study, claiming that Michelle was not an effective teacher. A couple of mainstream journalists have picked up and re-broadcast this storyline without reviewing the underlying analysis.

Here are the underlying facts about the 1995 study:

  • This was not a study of Michelle’s students. It was a study of the school’s entire grade level, which had four teachers.
  • There is no way to know if any of Michelle’s students were even included in this study. The study included only certain students at the school, and excluded large numbers from their sample.

Some have expressed surprise that credible journalists would swallow a blogger’s analysis without looking at the facts for themselves. We were quite frankly surprised ourselves. To our members, this episode is further proof of what we’re up against and why we need your support to get the message out.


A few points:

I’m not the one making up stories about “Michelle Rhee’s miracles”. Unlike Hobson, I try to point to actual data so you, the reader, can check it for yourself.

The study states that basically all of the elementary students were administered the CTBS, but that the scores of  somewhere between 20 to 25% of the students were excluded because they enrolled after February 1, were absent on testing days, or were in certain levels of special education (see pages 25 and 109).  The average exclusion rate at the Tesseract schools in 1994-1995, the study claims, was 20%, up from 16% in 1991-2 (see pages 109 and 33), although the percentage of special education students had declined from about 8.6% to about 3%.

According to the tables later on (page 143), there were reading scores reported at Harlem Park in the 3rd grade in SY 1994-5 for 43 students. If this only represents 75 to 80% of the grade-level cohort for that year, then there were between 54 and 57 students in the third grade. That is not nearly enough students for four classes (14 students per class?!?!).

Also, on page 127, they report the number of students that they observed in the various classes at the various schools at various years. For grade 3 at Harlem Park in 1994-5, they report these numbers: 19 and 21, which I interpret to mean that in one classroom they saw 19 kids that day, and in the other class, they saw 21 kids. I presume some of the children were absent on that day. Which of the two classes was Rhee’s? I have no idea, nor does it matter.

Let us now look only at scores for “Two-Year” students who remained at Harlem Park from second grade in 1993-4 through the third grade in 1994-5, which you can find on pages 152 for math and 149 for reading. These are precisely the students on which Rhee has repeatedly claimed that she brought to the 90th percentile, because she had them for two years. In math, the 53 students (out of a total of 66 to 71, total) achieved an NCE [Normal Curve Equivalent] score average of 51, which is equivalent to either the 51st or 52nd percentile. Hmm. In reading, the 56 students for whom scores are reported (out of somewhere between 70 to 75 students, if we assume the same exclusion rates) reached an NCE score of 45, which is equivalent to the 40th percentile. Hmm again.

Not a miracle in sight.

It is deceptive for Hobson to claim that there is even a remote possibility that not a single one of Rhee’s students was tested. What — every single one of them was absent, or came in after February 1 of 1995, or was in a severe special education status? That defies belief.

Michelle Rhee’s own repeated interview statements speak of 70 students that were team-taught by her and her team-mate; she speaks of team-teaching with this other teacher and taking the same cohort of students from the second grade in 1993-4 through the 3rd grade in 1994-5. Well, it is certainly possible that there really were 70 students in the cohort in their two combined classes in the second grade, given the table on page 143, when the scores for 79 students were reported. With the exclusions added back in, that would be somewhere between 99 and 105 students, which is certainly enough for four classes. Perhaps that is what Hobson is referring to, in a statistical bait-and-switch?

Rhee never claimed, anywhere, that she did a super-fantastic job  while her team teacher’s students all scored in the cellar.  That’s the only way that Michelle Rhee or her spokesperson, Mafara Hobson, can have it that Rhee performed a miracle, given the aggregate scores for the whole cohort.

Are you ready to throw your fellow team-teacher-and-miracle-worker under the bus, Ms. Rhee?

Or is it more likely that you and she were responsible for the entire 3rd grade class, and that by winnowing out the lowest-scoring students, you were able to bring the test scores of the remaining ones up to about the 50th percentile in reading and math on a highly suspect standardized test of so-called basic skills?


Oh, and who exactly is going around attacking public schools?

A lot of people think that it’s YOU, Michelle Rhee, who are leading the charge.

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