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BEWARE: The Miseducation Of Michelle Rhee

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NEW YORK TIMES: At the end of March, three of the paper’s reporters — Marisol Bello, Jack Gillum and Greg Toppo — broke a story about the high rate of erasures and suspiciously high test-score gains at 41 Washington schools while Ms. Rhee was chancellor. At some schools, they found the odds that so many answers had been changed from wrong to right randomly were 1 in 100 billion. In a fourth-grade class at Stanton Elementary, 97 percent of the erasures were from wrong to right. Districtwide, the average number of erasures for seventh graders was fewer than one per child, but for a seventh-grade class at Noyes Elementary, it was 12.7 per student. At Noyes Elementary in 2008, 84 percent of fourth graders were proficient in math, up from 22 percent in 2007. Ms. Rhee’s reputation has rested on her schools’ test scores. Suddenly, a USA Today headline was asking, “were the gains real?” In this era of high-pressure testing, Washington has become another in a growing list of cheating scandals that has included Atlanta, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas. It took the USA Today reporters a year to finish their three-part series. So many people were afraid to speak that Ms. Bello had to interview dozens to find one willing to be quoted. She knocked on teachers’ doors at 9:30 at night and hunted parents at PTA meetings. She met people in coffee shops where they would not be recognized, and never called or e-mailed sources at their schools. MORE

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Though all modern presidents like to think of themselves as leading the national education debate, they rarely are; most important decisions are made at the state, mayoral, or school-board level. But if this decentralized uprising can be said to have a leader, it is the youthful, tough-talking, and telegenic Michelle Rhee. Four years ago, Rhee was chosen to run Washington, D.C.’s troubled school district by a young Democratic mayor, Adrian Fenty. She resigned just as abruptly this past fall, after Fenty was thrown out of office. But while Rhee’s head-cracking, heresy-spouting attempt to revamp the school system was a major contributor to Fenty’s electoral defeat, she left in a blaze of martyrdom, reveling in the extravagant admiration of national ­opinion-makers, as well as her commanding role in the polemical pro-charter-school documentary “Waiting for Superman.” Over the past few months, rather than taking another municipal gig, Rhee has been campaigning through flash-point states, like a sort of wonky Che Guevara, lending celebrity, credibility, and covering fire to political leaders who endorse her vision of school reform. Last week, she was touring Ohio, as Governor John Kasich, a big fan of Waiting for “Superman,” promised “more choice, more accountability, more dollars in the classroom instead of bureaucracy.” The week prior, she was in Tennessee and Michigan; before that, she testified on Scott’s behalf before the Florida Legislature, where she was hailed as a “movie star.” At each stop, Rhee promotes her platform: expanding charter schools; connecting teacher pay to performance; revamping a pension-and-benefit system that “ends up excessively rewarding longevity”; ending tenure andwaiting_for_superman_poster1.jpg seniority-based layoffs. For too long, Rhee says, the system—and her party, the Democrats—has languished in the grip of do-nothing bureaucrats and cynical labor leaders, a protean inertial force that she sometimes calls “the blob.” MORE

USA TODAY: The USA TODAY investigation, part of a national examination of standardized testing, found that D.C. public schools showed statistically improbable rates of changed answers— from wrong answers to right ones — on student tests from 2008 to 2010, during Rhee’s time as schools chief. The high test scores earned Rhee and the school system national recognition, but some teachers and parents interviewed by USA TODAY said the abilities of students didn’t always match their high test scores. On Monday, when USA TODAY published its investigation, Rhee released a statement that USA TODAY’s story was “an insult to the dedicated teachers and schoolchildren who worked hard to improve their academic achievement levels.” MORE

UPDATE: Former District of Columbia Public Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee says she is “100% supportive” of a broader investigation into standardized test scores in the school district she used to oversee, just days after she dismissed a USA TODAY investigation that showed high rates of corrected answers on student test sheets. MORE

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