Michelle Rhee rose to prominence in the education reform ranks thanks in large part to methods that helped raise test scores in the perennially low-scoring Washington D.C. school district she oversaw as chancellor.
Her tough stance on low-performing schools and teachers, which included firing those whose students didn’t measure up on standardized tests, endeared her to reformers like Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.
A Shining Star
Using a merit pay inspired bonus system to spur performance in both teachers and students, Rhee’s reforms seemed to work. Schools like Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus made spectacular gains on the standardized test used by the No Child Left Behind Law to measure student academic growth. In 2006, Noyes ranked in the 10% and was labeled a school “in need of improvement” but two years later ranked 58% and was one of Rhee’s “shining stars,” proof that her reform efforts worked.
Teachers at Noyes were rewarded with $8,000 bonuses and the principal received $10,000 on two different occasions within a three-year period. Parents, however, complained that the test scores made no sense. Their children still couldn’t perform basic math, but they were ignored. Test scores, after all, don’t lie.
But sometimes, teachers do.
Altering Test Answers
A recent examination of the tests given in Rhee’s former district has revealed that perhaps her incentives worked too well and not in a good way. Noyes students’ tests, for example, revealed a high number of erasure marks on the test sheets. A frequency higher than would be expected normally and always from an incorrect answer to a correct answer. In one Noyes seventh grade classroom, the average wrong to right erasure marks averaged 12.7 compared to a district wide average of less than 1. The odds of winning the Powerball, in fact, are greater than such an occurrence being merely chance.
At least half of the schools under Rhee’s tenure appear to suffer from the same higher than should be expected erasure problem. Taking into account what was at stake for teachers and principals, it evokes questions. Had some schools engaged in widespread answer changing to secure bonuses or jobs?
What Do You Think?
Rhee’s methods have been touted by no less than the White House. But what if the miraculous turnaround of schools under her charge was the result of cheating?
The current Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, came into his White House appointment under similar circumstances. His tenure as the superintendent of the Chicago Public schools system supposedly resulted in widespread improvement based on test scores that turned out to be questionable.
If the “reformers” aren’t really reforming, why has no one put the brakes on the dismantling of public education? Even NCLB has fallen far short of it’s promise without anyone questioning the wisdom of allowing it to be the law of the land.
What do you think? Are we doing our children good, or harm, by jumping on every bandwagon and following every reformer without first testing their theories on a smaller scale to see if they have merit? What should we be doing?