Michelle Rhee was to D.C. school as…

If you ask many champions of educational reform, the former Chancellor of D.C.’s Public Schools was the change the city’s children needed.  Rhee was hailed as a tour de force in the District’s schools and in the national press. The Ivy League grad and Teach for America alumni was positioned as a glimmer of hope, not only for public school system in the nation’s capital, but for schools nationwide.

After resigning last October, Rhee made headlines for her appearances in the acclaimed documentary, “Waiting For Superman” and on The Oprah Winfrey Show, as many speculated she would soon take her approach to a larger stage.

However, new data from the D.C. schools that Rhee held as a symbol of achievement via results, is casting doubt on the myth of the former chancellor’s brand of educational reforming magic.

The Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus, was one of the schools that Rhee repeatedly cited as proof that her approach to overhaul schools in the district was working. In 2008, the school reported dramatic improvement in standardized test scores, with the percentage of students scoring “proficient” or “advanced” in math jumping from a dismal 10 percent to 58 percent in the course of just two years.

Rhee rewarded those attributed for Noyes’ remarkable progress with bonuses, up to $8,000 for teachers and $10,000 its principle in 2008 and again in 2010.

This week, in an article that has sparked heated debate, USA Today released the findings of its investigation into allegations that the scores from Noyes’ students were not wholly reflective of improvement, but coaching or cheating instead.

Documents secured under Washington D.C.’s Freedom of Information act found that the students at Noyes reported a high rate of erasures– the changing of answers on their standardized tests. The data showed that not only were students second guessing their responses, but that their second guess usually moved their answers for incorrect to correct.

The data raises serious questions not only about the progress reported at Noyes but also the progress reported across D.C. schools during Rhee’s time as chancellor at large. Rhee addressed the allegations during a segment of The Tavis Smiley Show.

Throughout her time Rhee faced criticism that her approach was not focused enough on the longevity but numbers. Her systematic concentration on test scores angered many within the city’s school system who were laid off through the chancellor’s implementation in response to economic cuts. Many argued the over 200 teachers Rhee fired were the most valuable asset to the education of D.C. students.

Yesterday, Rhee responded to the questions surrounding the Noyes’ school test scores saying:

“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 … unless someone cheated.”

What do you think of the Noyes’ school findings? Are they a fluke or evidence that Michelle Rhee’s reform magic was not all it was cracked up to be? Tell us what you think Clutchettes- share your thoughts!

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  • KGDC

    Considering that my wife worked, not as a teacher fortunately, but as someone close to her administration, she was very saddened to find that much of her progress was smoke and mirrors. She talked a good game, but her ideas were backed by little more than good intentions (maybe). When my wife would go to the administrative planning meetings for the cohort, there would be a group of plan administrators sitting around talking about ideas, but no one talking about the structure to help it succeed. You can forget about data. What they were capturing was rudimentary at best.

    On top of that, she encouraged cronyism and undermined Principals she didn’t like by cutting their funding or going into their schools and telling the teachers (on stage) that they didn’t have to listen to their Principal and that she would protect them (in ebonics, as to RELATE to the crowd I guess). Of course, once she got rid of the Principal, she would restructure the school, fired 85% of the staff and create a charter school in its place. In the meantime, displacing the teachers she told she would protect and completely dividing a school before it got the chance to succeed. If I hadn’t actually sat through TWO of her rants at two different schools, I would have even called myself a liar.

    She’s good on politics, but as the data from her own resume and data (or lack thereof) from the schools she managed, the truth is coming out. DC schools are in trouble and need lots of help, but she reversed the little progress the system was making by a decade.

    Good job, Rhee Rhee.

    • OSHH

      Rhee is a liar. She lied about what she did as a teacher in Baltimore, she lied about improving test scores, she lied about her credentials, she lied about budget issues in DC etc etc etc. She is, like KC said a very good politician…. educator, school chancelleor or teacher, mediocre at best.

  • If the President himself says too much testing makes education boring and insists we find other ways to measure academic performance, than incentivizing teacher pay which is tied to testing makes no sense; but apparently Michelle Rhee and her champions don’t see it that way. Though Mrs. Rhee may not have cheated for failing students her stringent reforms certainly didn’t help teachers already playing catch up on an impossible scale. If anything Mrs. Rhee’s reforms made the classroom a pressure cooker of academic tension; students frustrated by being force fed material to regurgitate at a later date instead of being taught, teachers resentful of their students not catching on fast enough, and parents wondering why when they ask their children what they learned in school the only reply they receive is a *kanye shrug* and a barely audible “I don’t know.”


  • tabula rasa

    I can’t tell who’s being honest and who’s not.
    When is children’s education going to stop being a game to adults?

  • I watched “Waiting For Superman” and of course the story was slanted against public schools. Don’t get me wrong, public schools, as far as I’m concerned are fundamentally flawed and something drastic needs to be done. Teacher unions are needed, as evidenced recently in Wisconsin, but still as “Waiting for Superman” highlighted, teachers’ unions can stand in the way of principals and upper level administrator getting rid of the bad teachers.

    I don’t think anyone, parent or administrators who genuinely are concerned about children would want to get rid of all teachers or a principal just because of a few bad apples. But, some of what Michelle Rhee said she was going up against has been part of my concern with the public school systems in large cities long before I knew who Rhee was and this documentary was even produced. I haven’t always agreed with the protests the local teachers’ union in Chicago advocated for at times. Sometimes I wish they had just been quiet.

    Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be shocked if Rhee was some back scenes ruthless **insert derragatory word** that didn’t anyone really like. But, as everyone knows such a position in a big city school district, is more political than being about substanitive change. I still stand that in politics we don’t see substanitive change in entities until we allow persons to have that position for 8-10 years to change things.

    Let’s just say Rhee was right, the three years she was there wasn’t long enough for her to do anything substanitive. She had a short window to produce results toward people who didn’t understand the process probably. Let’s be honest the general public doesn’t understand the intricacies and bureaucracy of local governments, all they know is that when they demand a service or results, they really wanted it to have happened yesterday.