Aug 24, 2011

Why is Michelle Rhee Silent on the DC Cheating Scandal?

Disclaimer: I am not writing in my official capacity as WTU General Vice President, but rather as an announced candidate in the 2013 WTU elections and WTU member.
Candi Peterson

Michelle Rhee is refusing to talk to USA Today reporters about the testing cheating scandal that occurred on her watch while she was DC Public Schools Chancellor (2007-10). Hmmmm inquiring minds want to know why Ms. Rhee, with her infamous gift of gab won't open up on this topic ? The article below, which was featured in the NY Times newspaper on August 21 is a 'must read' on the latest controversy surrounding Rhee and USA Today.

By the way, someone sent me the featured photo of Rhee with students with tape over their mouths which is symbolic of the irony of this story.

August 21, 2011

Eager for Spotlight, but Not if It Is on a Testing Scandal

WASHINGTON — Why won’t Michelle Rhee talk to USA Today?

"Ms. Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington public schools from 2007 to 2010, is the national symbol of the data-driven, take-no-prisoners education reform movement.

It’s hard to find a media outlet, big or small, that she hasn’t talked to. She’s been interviewed by Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw and Oprah Winfrey. She’s been featured on a Time magazine cover holding a broom (to sweep away bad teachers). She was one of the stars of the documentary “Waiting for Superman.”

These days, as director of an advocacy group she founded, StudentsFirst, she crisscrosses the country pushing her education politics: she’s for vouchers and charter schools, against tenure, for teachers, but against their unions.

Always, she preens for the cameras. Early in her chancellorship, she was trailed for a story by the education correspondent of “PBS NewsHour,” John Merrow.

At one point, Ms. Rhee asked if his crew wanted to watch her fire a principal. “We were totally stunned,” Mr. Merrow said.

She let them set up the camera behind the principal and videotape the entire firing. “The principal seemed dazed,” said Mr. Merrow. “I’ve been reporting 35 years and never seen anything like it.”

And yet, as voracious as she is for the media spotlight, Ms. Rhee will not talk to USA Today.

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.

Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for Ms. Rhee, said the reporters were “provided unprecedented time and access to report out their story,” including many meetings with senior staff members and the chief of data accountability. By last fall, Mr. Sevugan said, district officials’ patience was wearing thin. The deputy press secretary, Satiya Simmons, complained in an e-mail to a colleague, “Jack Gillum isn’t going away quietly, Uggh.”

“Just stop answering his e-mails,” advised Anita Dunn, a consultant who had been the communications director for President Obama.

The reporters made a dozen attempts to interview Ms. Rhee, directly and through her public relations representatives. Ms. Bello called Ms. Rhee’s cellphone daily, and finally got her on a Sunday.

“She said she wasn’t going to talk with us,” Ms. Bello recalled. “Her understanding was we were writing about” district schools “and she is no longer chancellor.”

On March 29, the day after the story came out, Ms. Rhee appeared on the PBS program “Tavis Smiley” and attacked USA Today.

“Are you suggesting this story is much ado about nothing, that this is lacking integrity, this story in USA Today?” Mr. Smiley asked.

“Absolutely,” Ms. Rhee said. “It absolutely lacks credibility.”

Mr. Smiley asked if she was concerned that she had put too much pressure on teachers and principals to raise scores. “We want educators to feel that pressure,” she answered.

Ms. Rhee emphasized that the district had hired a top security company, Caveon, to investigate in 2009, and was given a clean bill of health. The district released a statement from John Fremer, Caveon’s owner, saying, “The company did not find evidence of cheating at any of the schools.”

However, in subsequent interviews with USA Today and this reporter, Mr. Fremer made it clear that the scope of his inquiry was limited, and that the district had not requested that he do more. Indeed, Caveon’s report, posted on USA Today’s Web site, was full of sentences like, “Redacted was interviewed at redacted.”

Teachers described security as “excellent” and “very vigilant,” and investigators, for the most part, took their comments at face value.

It did not take Ms. Rhee long to realize she had miscalculated. Three days later, she told Bloomberg Radio she was “100 percent supportive” of a broader inquiry.

Still, she would not talk to USA Today. Mr. Sevugan gave no explanation, but pointed out that she had spoken with several other news outlets.

The reporters did not give up. On April 26, Emily Lenzner, a spokeswoman, wrote Mr. Gillum, “Michelle is willing to do an interview, but we’d like to do this in person.” She asked if they could hold their story, and arranged for a meeting on May 3 at the StudentsFirst office in Washington.

On May 2, another Rhee spokeswoman e-mailed to say the reporters were too interested in cheating and not enough in StudentsFirst. She said they could submit a list of questions.

There were 21 questions; Ms. Rhee did not answer 10 of the 11 about cheating.

Mr. Gillum, who recently took a job at The Associated Press, said he was surprised by how unresponsive Ms. Rhee has been. “She talks about how important data is, and our story is data driven,” he said.

So that people could make their own judgments, Linda Mathews, the project editor, posted the relevant public documents on the USA Today Web site.

Shortly after the follow-up story appeared, the district’s inspector general began what was supposed to be an inquiry, but in July The Washington Post reported that just one investigator had been assigned. “Basically it was one guy in a room who made 10 phone calls,” Mr. Toppo said.

Officials with the federal Department of Education have indicated that they are assisting with the investigation.

In Washington, two investigators spent five days at eight schools. In Atlanta, the state deployed 60 investigators who worked for 10 months at 56 schools. They produced a report that named all 178 people found cheating, including 82 who confessed. There was not a single case of “redacted and redacted doctoring redacted grade answer sheets at redacted.”

People in Atlanta could go to prison. Last week, a grand jury issued subpoenas seeking the names of school employees who had received bonuses for test scores. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that there were subpoenas for “signed copies” of “any and all oaths of office” taken by Beverly Hall, the former superintendent.

The three reporters still hope to interview Ms. Rhee. “Absolutely,” said Mr. Toppo.

Which brings things full circle: Why won’t Ms. Rhee talk to USA Today? "



Anonymous said...

Her silence is deafening. In New York City yesterday the NY Times ran a story that the special commissioner of Investigation stated that reports of cheating have tripled under the Bloomberg administration. The chancellor responded by stating that they rely on people to report such instances. This from an administration that lives and dies by compiling data. They do not wish to have the results challenged. Rhee being quiet on the matter is no worse than the response from NY. I will quote rep Waters "they can all go straight to H_ _ _!!

I_educ8 said...

The pic looks photoshopped, Candi. Although there are reports (maybe even by Rhee in first person) that she actually did tape students' mouths, I do not believe she would be stupid enough to trot them out at a press conference like that.

Anonymous said...

Of course it is photoshopped educ8 see Candi's side comment.

Peter said...

Wait -- can you clarify why you're not blogging as the WTU vice president anymore?

Anonymous said...

I think Candi clarified it Peter that she's not blogging in her official General Vice President role. I'm glad of it and hope Candi you will start writing again regularly.

Efavorite said...

She's probably silent because her lawyer and her PR consultant told her to keep her trap shut - nothing good (for her) could come from talking.

Maybe her next comments on this topic will come in court.

Sheila H. Gill said...

Michelle Rheeform is silent on the DC Cheating Scandal because Kaya forced Wayne Ryan, Ex-Noyes Principal, into early retirement.

How many other DCPS employees will be forced out related to the DC Cheating Scandal?

DC Voters write or email Eric Holder, US Attorney General, to investigate Wayne Ryan NOW!!!

Linda/RetiredTeacher said...

DC teachers need to insist on a thorough investigation of test invalidation in the schools. It is their ace in the hole as I am almost certain this cheating was engineered from the top.

MEQG said...

Sheila: Wayne Ryan was told he had a choice... resign or be fired! Rhee, Kaya and company plans are falling a part. PG is ending their contract with TFA and going with The Wallace Foundation. Same difference, they all belong to the same group; they all lied about test growth and you have Deasy being protected and now in Califorina with the same mess.

Anonymous said...

About time for the truth to surface.

DCPS Parent said...

Yes, all the test cheaters and the administration of Rhee that allowed such cheating to happen should face justice. I honestly believe that Ms. Rhee should be sent to jail. Do you know she has destroyed children's lives in the district of columbia. I am telling you all, we are tired of all her crimes on our children. Michell Rhee should go straight to HELL fire.

RMY said...

Hi, Candi,
What would she say? "I successfully ruined the school system by closing schools without fore thought. I triumphed by injecting my poison into the WTU. I pulled the wool over everyone's eyes while completing my assignment to make sure that veteran, African-American, staff, were fired and their reputations destroyed so that they commit suicide. I had no business being a Chancellor because I couldn't teach my way out of wet tissue paper in any DC Public School including her daughters' choice school." Come on, Candi......................,What would she say?

Sheila H. Gill said...

All Stakeholders need to be present at the DC Parent Power
Organizing Meeting on August 31, 2011.

Let's work together and demand a federal investigation of the DCPS Testing Scandal and Rheeform injustices!!

Share with others:

Watha T. Daniel Library (Shaw Library)
1630 7th St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
Main meeting room
5:30-7:30 p.m
Wednesday, August 31st 2011
1 block from the Shaw/Howard Metro (Green Line)
Street parking is generally available

If it is meant to be, it is up to me!! All of us who support public education. We will not be silent on the DCPS Cheating Scandal and other wrongdoings that continue under the Rhee/Henderson Administration.

Anonymous said...


We at Johnson Middle School have heard that our abusive ex-principal Pamela Ransome is still working in the DCPS central office under the name Pamela Clark. She is TFA and Kaya protects her own. Please verify if this is true?

Anonymous said...

Parent Power, given its organizers, seems to be inspired by DCPS emps who were term'd. So be it, just as long as the point of view is clear.

I am glad Candi is blogging again.

As for cheating, don't we have pits in our stomachs about what an Atlanta-style investigation of cheating might show. ??? Read the Atlanta report; it names teachers and administrators who performed or directed or observed erasing and other cheating. All of those employees will, understandably, be fired, as far as one can guess.

I do not think all of us in the District are ready for that outcome here. There seems to be a group who believe that there won't be firings. I think that is nuts; it is a certainty. And as a stakeholder in this mess, I have no real problem with it. We need the kind of DCPS employees who have consistently good ethics and values. Ethics and values were a big criticism of Rhee, but the picture was often mixed and cloudy. In the case of cheating, the cases will be open and shut. Finito. Again, I do not think some of the closely involved stakeholders are ready for that, no matter how much the citizens and taxpayers and parents demand that such employees be removed. Do you agree?

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