[Marxism] Why is Arne Duncan fraternizing with Michelle Rhee?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Feb 27 11:50:35 MST 2012


NY Times February 26, 2012
Amid a Federal Education Inquiry, an Unsettling Sight
By MICHAEL WINERIP

What was Arne Duncan doing sharing the stage with Michelle Rhee at 
a recent education conference?

Mr. Duncan is the education secretary.

Ms. Rhee was the chancellor of schools in Washington from 2007 to 
2010.

Since last summer, the Office of the Inspector General in Mr. 
Duncan’s department has been investigating whether Washington 
school officials cheated to raise test scores during Ms. Rhee’s 
tenure.

You would think Mr. Duncan would want to keep Ms. Rhee at arm’s 
length during the investigation. And yet there they were, sitting 
side by side last month, two of four featured panelists at a 
conference in Washington about the use of education data.

“This is an amazing panel, so I’m thrilled to be part of it,” Mr. 
Duncan said in his opening comment.

If there is any hope of getting to the bottom of what went on in 
the Washington schools — whether Ms. Rhee is as amazing as Mr. 
Duncan said, or whether test scores were inflated by cheating — it 
is through the inquiry by the inspector general. (Catherine Grant, 
a spokeswoman for the office, confirmed that an investigation was 
under way, but would not give details.)

Ms. Rhee’s reputation as a national leader of the education reform 
movement has rested on those test scores, which soared while she 
was chancellor. Then, last March, USA Today published the results 
of a yearlong investigation of the Washington schools that found a 
high rate of erasures on tests as well as suspiciously large gains 
at 41 schools — one-third of the elementary and middle schools in 
the district.

Since then, Ms. Rhee has refused to talk to the reporters who know 
the story best, although she has been talking to many other people.

During the last year Ms. Rhee has, according to a spokeswoman, 
scheduled more than 150 public appearances as the head of Students 
First, an advocacy group that favors vouchers, charter schools and 
evaluating teachers by test scores, while opposing tenure and 
teachers’ unions.

Ms. Rhee has also given speeches around the country for a fee of 
up to $50,000, “plus first-class expenses,” according to an e-mail 
from Peter Jacobs of the Creative Artists Agency that was posted 
online by one of Ms. Rhee’s critics. (Emily Lenzner, spokeswoman 
for Ms. Rhee, said that the former chancellor charges for a 
“handful” of speeches a year and that the “amount varies.”)

Does it really matter that Secretary Duncan has appeared onstage 
with Ms. Rhee?

Mr. Duncan doesn’t think so, according to his spokesman, Justin 
Hamilton. “It’s irresponsible for a New York Times columnist to 
presume guilt before we have all the facts,” Mr. Hamilton wrote in 
an e-mail. “Our inspector general is investigating the cheating 
issue in D.C. public schools, and we should all let the findings 
speak for themselves.”

The Office of the Inspector General is an independent oversight 
agency, although the secretary can refer cases for investigation.

Richard L. Hyde is one who believes that Mr. Duncan should keep 
his distance. Last year, Mr. Hyde directed 60 state agents in a 
nine-month investigation of cheating in the Atlanta public 
schools. They identified 178 teachers and principals in nearly 
half of the city’s schools who cheated — 82 of whom confessed. The 
case they built is so strong that criminal indictments are expected.

Mr. Hyde said that to get witnesses to cooperate in such 
investigations, they must believe that the political leadership is 
committed. “I’m shocked that the secretary of education would be 
fraternizing with someone who could potentially be the target of 
the investigation,” he said. “The appearance of a conflict of 
interest is troubling because it can cause the public to lose 
faith in the investigation.”

In Atlanta, the governor at the time, Sonny Perdue, provided 
extensive resources for the inquiry and then stayed away. “I 
purposely kept a very low profile and let investigators do their 
work,” Mr. Perdue said in an interview.

Ms. Lenzner, the spokeswoman for Ms. Rhee, noted in an e-mail that 
Washington’s scores on the National Assessment of Education 
Progress had improved under Ms. Rhee’s leadership, a sign that the 
gains made on other tests were real. The federal test is 
considered the gold standard of assessments and beyond tampering.

Washington did record some of the highest gains in the nation on 
the federal math tests. However, reading results were less 
impressive, with eighth graders scoring lower under Ms. Rhee than 
they had a decade before.

In Atlanta, gains on the federal tests were even higher than 
Washington’s, yet cheating was pervasive on the state tests that 
are used to rate schools, principals and teachers and to pay 
performance bonuses.

The Atlanta and Washington situations are similar in several ways. 
Ms. Rhee and Beverly Hall, the former Atlanta superintendent, both 
relied on fear to motivate, relentlessly driving their work 
forces. Dr. Hall told principals that if scores didn’t go up 
enough in three years, they’d be fired. Ms. Rhee bragged about how 
hard she pushed. “We want educators to feel the pressure,” she said.

Erasure analyses of answer sheets indicated the possibility of 
widespread cheating in both districts.

In Atlanta, as in Washington, it was journalists who first 
questioned the test results. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 
published its first articles in 2001. In the years before 
widespread cheating was documented by state investigators, Dr. 
Hall denigrated the newspaper coverage and the education 
establishment rallied to support her.

Michael Casserly, director of the Council of Great City Schools, 
called the early news reports about Atlanta “badly misleading” and 
based on “very bogus analysis.” Kati Haycock, president of the 
Education Trust, a nonprofit student advocacy group, wrote that 
scores were being questioned because people wouldn’t believe that 
children of color could achieve.

Both Ms. Rhee and Dr. Hall conducted their own internal 
investigations that found little or no cheating. Both cities hired 
Caveon, a private test-security company, which reached the same 
conclusion. The state investigative report for Atlanta criticized 
the company, noting that “many schools for which there was strong 
statistical evidence of cheating were not flagged by Caveon.”

In 2009, Ms. Rhee announced that Caveon’s inquiry had cleared the 
district, but the company’s owner, John Fremer, disagreed, saying 
that the scope of the investigation was limited and that he was 
not asked by Ms. Rhee to do more.

Of course, just because there are similarities does not mean that 
the same level of corruption that existed in Atlanta exists in 
Washington.

But the public is entitled to know. And school officials cannot be 
trusted to investigate themselves. Kaya Henderson, who was Ms. 
Rhee’s deputy and is now the chancellor, has called the cheating 
accusations “harmful” and “unfounded.”

It will take courage for people to come forward and bear witness.

So it is disheartening that federal officials have selected Ms. 
Henderson as a keynote speaker for a daylong conference on Tuesday 
that is sponsored by the department’s National Center for 
Education Statistics.

It is billed as a “Testing Integrity Symposium.”

E-mail: oneducation

@nytimes.com




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