Saturday, April 13, 2013

Yes, Rhee Did See Cheating Memo as D.C. Chancellor

(UPDATE: JOHN MERROW APPEARED ON CHRIS HAYES' MSNBC SHOW, DISCUSSING CHEATING SCANDAL - MEMO LINK BELOW) Valerie Strauss reported today that John Merrow reported that Michelle Rhee did see the January 30, 2009 memo about cheating in Washington, District of Columbia (D.C.) schools. Of course, she was well into her tenure as schools chancellor there, as her term of service began in June 2007 and ended October, 2010. So she could not pass this off as a development that began prior to her watch.
Just to be clear, because some have wondered, Rhee did see the memo, according to Merrow. He wrote in a post ["Michelle Rhee's Reign of Error"] on his blog, Taking Note:
I have a copy of the memo and have confirmed its authenticity with two highly placed and reputable sources. The anonymous source is in DCPS; the other is DC Inspector General Charles Willoughby. A reliable source has confirmed that Rhee and Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson discussed the memo in staff gatherings. Sanford came to Washington to present his findings in late January, 2009, after which he wrote his memo.
Rhee, however, did not push for a thorough investigation and instead, repeatedly, publicly minimized the extent of the cheating.

No, the memo doesn’t prove that cheating took place, but it does suggest there was more going on than investigators have so far uncovered. There have been several probes, but two — one by a private testing firm and the other by the D.C. Inspector General — were limited. Another, by the U.S. Education Department’s Inspector General, resulted in no action taken, though the extent of the investigation is unclear.

If the memo isn’t enough to spark a new investigation, this should be: My colleague Emma Brown reported in this new story that teachers in 18 D.C. classrooms cheated last year on high-stakes standardized tests during the chancellorship of Henderson, Rhee’s successor in the post, according to the results of an investigation released Friday by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

This confirmed cheating took place after security was tightened as a result of the earlier suspicions. All in all, a new probe — by investigators with real subpoena powers, which is how the Atlanta cheating scandal was uncovered — is clearly warranted.
Here is the bombshell 2009 memo, as reported at Merrow's Learning Matters website. At that time, the brewing scandal already had a name, euphemistic we might add: Erasure Study.

All of this reverses the long standing official story on the erasuregate scandal, that it was limited to 2011, that it was limited to one school. Yet, as this recent April 11, 2013 story by Greg Toppo at USA Today attests, the memo shows that the cheating was more widespread than previously understood.
District of Columbia Public Schools officials have long maintained that a 2011 test-cheating scandal that generated two government probes was limited to one elementary school. But a newly uncovered confidential memo warns as far back as January 2009 that educator cheating on 2008 standardized tests could have been widespread, with 191 teachers in 70 schools "implicated in possible testing infractions."

The 2009 memo was written by an outside analyst, Fay "Sandy" Sanford, who had been invited by then-chancellor Michelle Rhee to examine students' irregular math and reading score gains. It was sent to Rhee's top deputy for accountability.

The memo notes that nearly all of the teachers at one Washington elementary school had students whose test papers showed high numbers of wrong-to-right erasures and asks, "Could a separate person have been responsible?"

It recommends that DCPS contact its legal department "as soon as you think it advisable" and ask them to determine "what possible actions can be taken against identified offenders."

DCPS officials have said they take all cheating allegations seriously, but it's not immediately clear how they responded to Sanford's warnings. Only one educator lost his job because of cheating, according to DCPS. Meanwhile, Rhee fired more than 600 teachers for low test scores — 241 of them in one day in 2010.

The cheating issue first came to light in 2011, after USA TODAY reported that, between 2008 and 2010, 103 schools had test-erasure rates that surpassed districtwide erasure-rate averages at least once.
So, with those mass firings Rhee did, we wonder, was the wrong person (Michelle Rhee) not fired?
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Another matter that arises is in Merrow's account how Rhee catapulted to the top of education supervision with flimsy credentials. She was aided by elite school pedigrees, a B.A. at Cornell University and a Masters in public policy from the Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. She then went on to teach her three year minimum in the elite Teach for America program in Baltimore. She never served as a principal or as another other sort of education administrator. She had no training or certification in educational supervision. Instead, she coasted along her stint supervising 120 teachers in the New Teacher Project (TNTP). She got the D.C. Chancellor position upon no standard credentials, instead by the recommendation of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. She billed herself as a student performance wonder in her bid as chancellor, yet her actual personnel file that would document her claims of supposed spectacular student performance were unavailable. (See the June 30, 2007 Washington Post article, "Council to Challenge Rhee's Résumé.") When someone did uncover her files, they indicated that her students' scores increase during the 2nd and 3rd years, but the gains were less than half what Rhee had claimed. (See February 8, 2011 Washington Post article, "Michelle Rhee's early test scores challenged.")

Furthermore, she practiced some cronyism. She hired her best friend, and that was just the start. Merrow wrote:
She surrounded herself with people with no experience running a large urban school system. Her deputy would be her best friend, Kaya Henderson, another former Teach for America corps member who was then Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at TNTP. She would be managing the District’s 11,500 employees.

Her Chief of Data and Accountability would be Erin McGoldrick, whom Rhee had met at Sacramento High School some years earlier and who was an avowed fan of Rhee. A classics major at Notre Dame, McGoldrick also studied public policy at UCLA. Although she was in charge of data analysis at the California Charter Schools Association when Rhee offered her the job, McGoldrick had no experience in Rhee’s ‘data-driven decision making,’ according to several reliable sources.

Rhee selected Jason Kamras, the 2005 National Teacher of the Year and a veteran of seven years in the classroom, to lead what she called her ‘Human Capital Design Team.’ Kamras’ assignments were to design a teacher evaluation system and create a model union contract.

That no one in her inner circle had any experience managing an urban school system did not seem to concern Rhee.