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Michelle Rhee, Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools, speaks during
Michelle Rhee knew more about likely widespread cheating on standardized tests than she has admitted, and knew it much earlier, than she has admitted. A high level of wrong-to-right erasures on tests at dozens of schools came to light two years ago, but there still hasn't been the kind of full investigation that led to the indictment of 35 administrators and teachers in Atlanta. Now, PBS reporter John Merrow has obtained a memo from an outside consultant showing that Rhee knew about the cheating early on and knew that they were not restricted to a handful of schools—and did nothing to stop it.

According to the memo by consultant Fay "Sandy" Sanford, 191 teachers in 70 schools were implicated. For instance:

Sanford analyzed the evidence from one school, Aiton, whose scores had jumped by 29 percentiles in reading and 43 percentiles in math and whose staff–from the principal down to the custodians–Rhee had rewarded with $276,265 in bonuses.  Answer sheets revealed an average of 5.7 WTR erasures in reading and 6.8 in math, significantly above the district average of 1.7 and 2.3.
Not only were the erasures not fully investigated, under Rhee or since, but:
Among the 96 schools flagged for wrong-to-right erasures were eight of the 10 campuses where Rhee handed out so-called TEAM awards "to recognize, reward and retain high-performing educators and support staff." In all, Rhee bestowed more than $1.5 million in bonuses based on increases in 2007 and 2008 test scores.
Michelle Rhee made it clear to principals that they would lose their jobs if test scores did not improve. She fired hundreds of teachers for low test scores (as compared with one for cheating). She offered big bonuses where test scores improved. She based all this on a single test with low security and many opportunities for cheating (test booklets arrived well ahead of time and the completed tests didn't leave the schools for nearly two weeks). And when she was confronted with evidence of widespread cheating, she didn't investigate. The D.C. Public Schools have still not investigated fully, despite the reams of evidence that have appeared in the media and despite the example of Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Rhee has taken her education policy model on the road with her StudentsFirst organization, despite the fact that, as Merrow concludes, since her appointment as chancellor,

DC’s schools are worse by almost every conceivable measure.
Teachers don't feel appreciated and don't stick around, creating a revolving door atmosphere; student enrollment has dropped; Rhee's beloved test scores have not risen; and the gap in academic performance between low-income and high-income students has actually increased. That, and the cheating that by now we can fairly say has been covered up by Rhee's administration and subsequent ones, is Michelle Rhee's legacy in Washington, D.C. The fact that she's been allowed to become a dominant voice in the nation's education policy is an embarrassment, and a tragedy for the teaching profession she's degrading and the kids whose education she's damaging.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Fri Apr 12, 2013 at 08:04 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, American Legislative Transparency Project, and Daily Kos.

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