Michelle Rhee Meet the McDump Empire

march 2011 8490

From a recent protest in California

You may have heard the name Michelle Rhee. She became the cause celebre of in-your-face school reformism for her slash and burn tenure at the head of Washington D.C. schools. The people who lived there voted her boss, the mayor, out of office last year, and she quit in a huff, saying essentially, “You people don’t deserve me.”

Rhee is now playing major role developing whatever Gov. Medicare Fraud’s education plans are. I can assure you they revolve around sticking it to teachers and making some small handful of people rich, but outside of that, I don’t know specifics. Although Rhee has claimed she doesn’t want the job, Florida’s top education official just resigned after Scott ignored him for three months.

Whatever Rhee’s future in Florida, I do know that USA Today this week published a hugely important analysis of test scores in D.C during Rhee’s tenure there. It turns out schools there had a large rate of erasures on standardized tests that led kids to change wrong answer to correct.

In one school, which Rhee singled out for its achievement, USA Today reported:

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.

Go read the story for yourself. It does not accuse Rhee of organizing any sort of cheating regime — nor do I, for that matter. But she sure didn’t look very hard when these results got flagged. And it’s hard to know exactly what accounts for all this oddness.

More importantly, check out her petulant response to a very thorough report. First, she refused to comment at all. Then she said:

“It isn’t surprising that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved for DCPS students unless someone cheated,” Rhee said. “It is surprising to see USA Today proceed down this path in the face of a statement from the independent investigators that there was no evidence of cheating. This story is an insult to the dedicated teachers and schoolchildren who worked hard to improve their academic achievement levels.”

This is an astonishing lack of maturity and accountability. How dare you question me, plebe? More class war. You begin to see why she fits in so well with Gov. Galt and the McKeel Empire approach to public schooling.

Back when I broke the specific numbers of McKeel Academy transfer/dumping, I wrote that “scoreboard education” provides great incentive for two things:

1) Manipulation of enrollment in the chase for test scores.
2) Teachers who troll for the easiest kids to teach. Believe me, I understand the instinct to take the path of least resistance.

That’s still true. I should have added outright cheating on testing, but I guess I thought that was self-evident.

I went on to add:

But even worse is the faux meritocratic smack talk from people who lack the courage or patience or persistence or honor to teach all the kids they accept and then dump that solemn responsibility on the teachers who do possess those qualities.

No one has run more faux meritocratic smack than Michelle Rhee. She makes Harold Maready look like the picture of humility. And now that someone has finally looked at her with some scrutiny, someone else should go back to look a the enrollment practice of the charter schools she championed. Based on the McKeel model, I bet I know what they’ll find.

I do wonder, though, if the worm is beginning to turn a bit on class war education. In the 2008 election, Barack Obama and John McCain both gushed over Rhee and her brand of self-referential scoreboard education.

Fast forward two years, with the battle of Wisconsin and transparent union busting afoot, and suddenly Obama is beginning to say things he didn’t in the past, such as:

“Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools,” the president told students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C.

Obama, who is pushing a rewrite of the nation’s education law that would ease some of its rigid measurement tools, said policymakers should find a test that “everybody agrees makes sense” and administer it in less pressure-packed atmospheres, potentially every few years instead of annually.

At the same time, Obama said, schools should be judged on criteria other than student test performance, including attendance rate.

“One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you’re not learning about the world, you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math,” the president said. “All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that’s not going to make education interesting.”

“And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in,” Obama said. “They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.”

That’s encouraging for those of us who want to see education used as something other than a status symbol and a weapon in the class war. It’s bad news for Michelle Rhee.

Creative Commons License image credit: Paul Bailey