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Michelle Rhee's early test scores uncovered

Ohanian Comment: Jay Mathews explains the difference between lying and being wrong. Question: How long do you get to avoid admitting you were wrong before it becomes a lie?

NOTE: Guy Brandenburg's blog is always worth reading.

Paul A. Moore Comment:
Well Mr. Mathews, your death bed confession is on the record. But you must count heavily on the most merciful of gods. For the monster you helped to create still roams the land. One day standing beside the teacher-hating Governor Christie in New Jersey, the next day visiting an Opa-Locka charter school with voucher loving Governor Scott in Florida. One day sitting before Oprah Winfrey's national TV audience and being lauded as a "warrior woman", the next collecting the checks of the oligarchs and the Wall Street bankers for her teacher's union busting cult.

I'm at a loss to understand the distinction you make between lying and memory lapse. I got the distinct impression you were a proponent of "data driven" education. Data is precise. Test scores are there or they are not. But I'm going to give your new take on this a try. When they come to rate me as a teacher on a value added basis, no matter the scores, I'll tell them that I clearly remember teaching my students those test taking skills.

Wish me luck and may God have mercy on your journalistic soul.

And just for old time sake, one more time, "The Fable of Michelle Rhee" by Jay Mathews.

Once upon a time, there was a young Ivy League missionary with a couple years to kill before getting on with her life's work. Rather than backpacking through Europe or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro after a safari in Africa, our intrepid heroine plunged into the mean streets of Baltimore where children who live in poverty test poorly.

One day the Ivy League princess was struck down like St. Paul on the way to Damascus. Sit the poor children in a circle, the voice told her. And sit them in a circle she did.

They forevermore scored like rich children on tests. Just take my word on that. I swear its true. And they all lived happily ever after. No, no really, stop laughing. How rude. Ok, that's enough, get up off the floor. Geez, its a fairy tale. You know like Pinocchio?

by Jay Mathews

G.F. Brandenburg, a retired D.C. math teacher with an irresistible blog, has done it again. If he had chosen a career in journalism instead of teaching, no U.S. president would have finished out his first term. He has found the missing test score data from former D.C. schools chancellor's early years as a classroom teacher, something I did not think was possible.

He has proved that Rhee's results weren't nearly as good as she said they were.

You can find Brandenburg's revelations if you scroll down on his blog to the Jan. 31 item "The Rhee Miracle Examined Again--By Cohort." Then go back further for other recent pieces he has done, with many charts, to make his findings clear. You may also be enlightened by his most recent Feb. 8 item, "The Cluelessness of Rhee, Kopp and Mathews," which finds fault with my Feb. 3 column on Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp's new book. It is an honor, of a sort, to be mentioned by Brandenburg in the same headline as Rhee, who has been his prime target for years.

My only complaint about Brandenburg's scoop is his persistent misuse of the word "lie." He says Rhee "has lied repeatedly" about her students' test score gains at Harlem Park Elementary School, then gives no evidence of that.

As I used to try to explain to my children when they got in a lather about what somebody told them, there is a big difference between telling a lie and saying something wrong. If you say words that you think are right, but are not, that is not a lie. Lying means knowingly embracing a falsehood.

Rhee told me that her information about huge gains in her students' scores came from her principal at the time. She had no data to back it up, but went with the best information she had, her memory, when asked how her students did. Until Brandenburg dug deep, nobody had the real data.

He unearthed a report on the work of the private company contracted by Baltimore to run Rhee's school when she was there in the early to mid 1900s. His data come from an academic paper, The UMBC Evaluation of the Tesseract Program in Baltimore City, written by Lois C. Williams and Lawrence E. Leak.

I checked Richard Whitmire's new biography of Rhee, The Bee Eater, to see if he has more on her Baltimore teaching years. He does not mention Brandenburg's research, and appears somewhat neutral on the argument over this issue. He quotes Rhee as saying on her resume that after two years 90 percent of her students had reached the 90th percentile in reading and math, but he also quotes other officials casting doubt on that statement. Rhee's principal, according to Whitmire, backed up Rhee. She said the students' achievement level climbed impressively. But she did not have the results to confirm that. These were not official state tests that would have been preserved and made public, but private company records.

Now we know how Rhee's kids did. Their scores went up, it appears, but not that much.

I don't think Rhee's successor, Kaya Henderson, has made any claims about how her middle school Spanish language students did in the South Bronx when she was a Teacher For America teacher. But if she does, stand back. I am beginning to think there is no document Brandenburg can't find, if you give him enough time and motivation.

— Jay Mathews, with comments by Paul A. Moore
Washington Post





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