Tuesday, January 8, 2013

UPDATE on Frontline, Michelle Rhee: Highlights Cheating Scandal / Rhee critique goes mainstream?: Esquire skewers her record / Henwood weighs in

Tune in to Frontline on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) tonight, January 8, 2013. Click here to find your local affiliate and broadcast time.

Michelle Rhee, former teacher, former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor, and tireless self-promoter of her brand of education reform, more properly called deform, will be the subject of a Frontline inquiry tonight.

"Standardized testing is a crack cocaine of education": CRITIQUE OF RHEE GOES MAINSTREAM?
The critique of Michelle Rhee and her record, which has been given a free pass by major newspapers and broadcast television, now has a stinging critique by Charles P. Pierce in Esquire, January 7, 2013, with gems like the crack coke parallel (with a link to Michael Winerip's writing in the New York Times on the follies of Tennessee's reach for the Race to the Top), and casting the education privatizer "movement" is "shot through root and branch with patent-medicine remedies pitched by for-profit grifters and hustlers."

One problem with the education "reform" industry is not merely that it generally looks at "education" as though it were a commodity, like soybeans, and that the problems with how we educate a great many children of our fellow citizens can be solved if we just refine the delivery systems for the product. In other words, most education "reform" proponents treat "education" as though it exists in a vacuum unaffected by the factors — like, say, joblessness and poverty — in the real world outside the classroom. (How many prominent school "reformers" have stepped up and said anything about the increasingly effective campaign by the NRA to arm public school teachers? Thought so.) Thus do we come to the second problem with the education "reform" movement — it is shot through root and branch with patent-medicine remedies pitched by for-profit grifters and hustlers.

They have their own genre of richly financed propaganda, like 2010's Waiting for Superman and this year's Won't Back Down. There are an awful lot of hedge-fund gunslingers involved in the movement toward charter schools, a phenomenon about which, to his eternal credit, Bob Somerby — who actually has taught in the public schools — has been banging his tin drum at The Daily Howler for some time now. (It should also be said that Somerby's knee does not jerk. He readily gives some reform programs, and even some of Rhee's work, the props he thinks they deserve.) Some of the hustlers, alas, have the ear of this administration, and one of those people is Michelle Rhee.

Rhee's entire (and very lucrative) career as a proponent of educational "reform" is based on her time as chancellor of the public schools in Washington, D.C. Between 2007 and 2010, she did everything that sends a thrill up the leg of the "reform" community. She bashed teachers, scapegoated principals, and shined up her own armor for public consumption every chance she got. She also instituted a system of standardized testing by which Michelle Rhee would be able to judge the awesome awesomeness of Michelle Rhee.

Standardized testing is a crack cocaine of education. It is rife with problems. It is also a multimillion industry without which might not exist, among other things, The Washington Post. A reliance on standardized testing as a metric for progress is generally a reliable "tell" that "reform" has ended and that the grift has begun. A reliance on standardized testing as a metric for progress — and, it should be said, as a Procrustean scoreboard to judge whether a teacher, an administrator, or a school system are doing their jobs properly — almost guarantees that some finagling with the numbers will take place. It is a sub rosa way to install a corporate model on public education and, since the corporate model for everything in this country right now is a moral and ethical quagmire, it encourages cheating on a massive scale. Hence, the very real possibility that the empire built by Michelle Rhee, tough-talking "reformer," may be built upon a wilderness of crib sheets.

Tomorrow night, the PBS investigative program Frontline will broadcast a show about Rhee's tenure in Washington, and it will seriously confront the notion that an insistence on standardized testing may have resulted in a scandalous level of cheating in the city's school system, as well as a deeply rooted attempt to cover it up.
Read the rest of the article: Rhee Finances - Esquire

The Washington Post, January 5, also did a review of Frontline's documentary on Rhee.

NYC Public School Parents blog has pointed out several points that have gained growing attention in recent years:
· How she most likely greatly exaggerated her own record as a teacher. · Evidence of widespread cheating in DC schools when she ran them, and her failure to investigate these allegations properly -- a special focus of a Frontline program due to air tonight;

· The voluminous research pointing out that evaluating teachers on the basis of test scores through value-added models, as she pushed for in DC and now in her state report cards, is unstable, unreliable and unfair. (See the most recent analysis from a group of statistical experts, concluding that “We cannot at this time encourage anyone to use VAM in a high stakes endeavor.”) The way she inflated the number of supporters of StudentsFirst, counting as members anyone who signed deceptively-phrased online petitions, calling for unobjectionable policies like paying good teachers more or stopping bullying in schools.

· How she fired more than more than 5 percent of the teachers in DC, though at least some of these teachers may need to be reinstated because she did this improperly.
· How the teacher evaluation system she relied upon, called IMPACT, was altered after she left by her successor to diminish its reliance on test scores, dropping that component from 50 to 35 percent.
· How a recent report from the organization she used to run, TNTP, though predictably positive in its spin, revealed that the IMPACT teacher evaluation system was one of the top reasons that even “top performing” teachers plan to leave DC schools. The report also cast further doubt on the system, saying that there may be a “flaw in the design or implementation of IMPACT [that] makes it easier for teachers working in low-need schools to earn top ratings.”
· The documented predilection of StudentsFirst to fund right-wing Republican candidates, despite claims of bipartisanship.
· Most recently, Rhee made a tone-deaf statement on the mass shootings in Newtown CT, calling such children “our most valuable assets”.
· Finally, her refusal to oppose a bill in Michigan that would allow concealed weapons in schools, until the legislation had already been vetoed by the Governor.
Ever self-righteous, she has taken to turning her guns upon state governments and their education policies. Refreshingly, California's deputy superintendent of education calls her branding of him "a badge of honor."
California got an "F" for refusing to sign onto the provisions of "Race to the Top", including test-based evaluations of teachers; Richard Zeiger, the state's deputy superintendent, called the state's failing grade a “badge of honor.”
Go to NYC Public School Parents for more of its Report Card for Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst.

StudentsFirst, the school “reform” outfit led by the notorious Michelle Rhee, is out with a state-by-state Report Card on the nation’s schools. Grades were awarded on the basis of states’ conformity to the standard reform agenda—ease of creating charter schools, ease of firing teachers, ease of hiring teachers who aren’t certified in the traditional fashion, and testing testing testing. In the past, there’s never been any evidence that this agenda actually improves educational outcomes—and this report is no exception. Despite Rhee’s love of testing, there’s no mention of how states that do well under her criteria do on standardized tests compared to those that score poorly. That’s no surprise, really, since states that get high grades from StudentsFirst do worse on tests than those that score poorly.

Rhee’s group gave letter grades to each state, along with a GPA that allowed them to be ranked from 1 to 51. (DC counts as a state here.) No state got a grade higher than a B-, and only two states made that grade. Eleven states got an F. Tough! But do these grades mean anything?

To evaluate the StudentsFirst grades, I got 8th grade reading and math scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, aka NAEP, the Nation’s Report Card. Testing can be a debased pursuit when it’s used to measure individual schools and teachers (sample sizes are just too small, and there’s too much statistical noise from year to year to base anything on), but the NAEP is as good as they come for measuring broad trends.

Here are the results. StudentsFirst has Louisiana at #1 in its rankings—but the state ranks 49th in reading and 47th in math. North Dakota, which StudentsFirst ranks 51st, comes in at #14 in reading scores and #7 in math. Massachusetts, which ranks #1 in both reading and math scores (and which is also the most unionized state for teachers in the country), comes in at #14 on the Rhee scale.

Looking more rigorously at the results, the correlation coefficient on the rankings in the StudentsFirst report card with state rankings on reading scores is -0.20. (The correlation coefficient is a measure of the similarity of two sets of numbers, ranging from -1.0, completely dissimilar, to +1.0, perfect similarity.) That’s not a large number, but the negative sign means that the correlation is in the wrong direction: the higher the StudentsFirst score, the lower the NAEP reading score. The correlation on math is even worse, -0.25.

More bogosity from Michelle RheeClick to Henwood's site for the remainder of the article including his link to the spreadsheet in question.