Michelle Rhee’s legacy
Lately, as background research for my book, I’ve been looking into the 2008 cheating scandal associated with Michelle Rhee’s high stakes Value-Added Model regime in the D.C. area,
Specifically, I’m talking about the high erasure rates associated to certain standardized tests that had cash bonuses attached to large improvements, and the consequential investigation that was smothered.
Let me break it down. Certain high poverty schools weren’t doing so well. Michelle Rhee came in as chancellor and suggested that the teachers and principals simply needed some more incentives to achieve better student learning. Her theories got boosted by various academics. Teachers would get $8,000 for really great scores, and principals $10,000.
In addition to Rhee giving certain teachers bonuses, she fired hundreds of others, sometimes for bad scores, sometimes without explaining why.
Against this backdrop, you might not be surprised to hear, there was widespread cheating, or at least suspiciously high scores and suspiciously high erasure marks on student tests (12.7 erasures on average, compared to the average of less than 1).
An investigation followed but came up pretty empty. Compare that to the Atlanta cheating scandal, where a bunch of teachers were sent to jail for cheating. They were also working under a high-stakes testing regime of bonuses and firings.
I’m not suggesting we want more jailings, by the way. I’m suggesting that the original high-stakes regime was fundamentally flawed and naturally gave rise to the cheating in the first place.
Moreover, I’m suggesting that Michelle Rhee’s legacy was one were she was very happy to fire people but very reluctant to admit that her educational reform successes were based on lies.