Michelle Rhee, and Superman’s Long Fall from the Clouds

by Hap Aziz

Given her role as he chancellor of schools in Washington, DC, from 2007 to 2010, I am somewhat disappointed in this article on Michelle Rhee in the New York Times. This, especially after having seen and appreciated the documentary Waiting for Superman. It is important to know that the Inspector General in the Department of Education under Arne Duncan’s has been investigating whether Washington school officials cheated to raise test scores during Ms. Rhee’s tenure, but that does not mean that A) any cheating had actually occurred, or B) that Ms. Rhee was involved in the cheating. Still, it leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth for a number of reasons.

Two things trouble me from a fundamental perspective about our education system personnel infrastructure. The first is the whole concept of integrity (or lack thereof) when it comes to reporting actual performance measures for student outcomes. Is the thinking among the cheating educators so skewed that they don’t see that inflating test scores hurts the students moving forward? Surely, that must be clear. The other troublesome thought is related to compensation: are our educators concerned about pay increases so much that they are willing to commit wholesale fraud for it? Even being charitable and admitting to the possibility that cheating is done primarily to preserve their own jobs in a more “competitive” environment, that simply leads me to question the educators’ faith in their own ability to do good work.

One of the underlying themes to the whole issue is the idea that teacher evaluation either should or should not be in some way tied to student performance. Is it possible to evaluate teachers in some objectively fair manner, or should seniority be the sole (or primary) driver for security of employment? That question is certainly worth a deeper discussion, and perhaps we’ll approach the topic here at a later date. Let me know what you think!

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4 Comments

Filed under accountability, education, Hap Aziz, high school students, learning outcomes, standards

4 responses to “Michelle Rhee, and Superman’s Long Fall from the Clouds

  1. The Ed Buzz

    I look forward to the next installment. But, one thing I would say is that if all you care about is test scores – and that’s what you base pay on – then, you shouldn’t be surprised when cheating happens.

    We need to remember that just like winning or loosing a football game, the intent is to play the best you possibly can. Sometime you play poorly and win, sometime you play great and loose. But, if all you care about is winning, you fool yourself into thinking you are better than you really are. That is the problem with only using test scores gives us a false sense of how well you are actually doing.

    • I agree very much with your sentiment about the “definition of winning” when it comes to learning, and your football illustration is apt. The game isn’t being played on a level field, and so many factors outside of the teaching and learning environment have an influence on what goes on in the classroom. There should be a way to “handicap” performance measures, and test scores should not be the only method of measurement. There is a lot to consider!

      Hap

      • The Ed Buzz

        We talk a lot about value added. I’ve worked in affluent suburbs and poor border cities. People int he suburbs often fool themselves into thinking they are better than they are an the border cities fool themselves into thinking they are worse than they are – all based on a number. It’s sad. I can see where some would cheat to even the field

  2. Efavorite

    Now, Rhee’s successor, Kaya Henderson, who was Rhee’s deputy, is defending the questioned scores by saying, “And the subtext, frankly, is that there are a lot of people who do not believe that kids in DCPS, or in Atlanta, or Baltimore or any other place where they look like me [she is Black] could make significant gains.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-schools-insider/post/kaya-henderson-on-dcps-cheating-allegations-many-doubt-minority-children-can-make-big-gains-on-tests/2012/03/01/gIQAqaZimR_blog.html#comments

    When Rhee made a similar statement about a year ago, she immediately backtracked, saying her remarks were “stupid.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/rhee-calls-her-remarks-on-test-erasures-stupid/2011/03/30/AF1Jji3B_story.html

    To me, they both look pretty stupid for hiding behind the kids they say they care so much about.

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