The Case Against Michelle Rhee

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How persuasive is it?


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Summer 2011 / Vol. 11, No. 3

Podcast: Paul Peterson describes his new findings on the gains made by D.C. students

A footnoted version of this article is available here.

Recently, two separate studies—one by Alan Ginsburg, a former director of Policy and Program Studies in the U.S. Department of Education, the other by a committee constituted by the National Research Council (NRC)—have sought to discredit the work of Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of schools for the District of Columbia.

According to Ginsburg, Rhee was no more effective—probably even less effective—than her predecessors. Not surprisingly, his argument was quickly picked up by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. In a Wall Street Journal interview, she asserts that Michelle Rhee “had a record that is actually no better than the previous two chancellors.” In a blog post dated March 29, 2011, Diane Ravitch makes the same point: “The gains under Rhee were no greater than the gains registered under her predecessor Clifford Janey, who did not use Rhee’s high-powered tactics, such as firing massive numbers of teachers.” Yet the evidence Ginsburg musters to support such claims falls well short of its mark.

In the second study, the NRC committee does not deny that student performance in the District of Columbia improved under Michelle Rhee’s chancellorship between 2007 and 2010, but it says there is no scientific evidence that proves the work of the chancellor is responsible for those gains. “The problem was the [test score] changes that seem to be going in the right direction can’t be attributed to the specific changes in the system,” the study committee’s co-chair Robert M. Hauser told an Education Week reporter. While it is certainly true that one cannot, in the absence of experimental evidence, establish a connection between policy changes and test-score outcomes, Hauser added a carefully worded slap at Rhee: “All districts should be cautious about generalizing from the kind of aggregate overview data that have been used to suggest successes of changes made in the district to date.” The reporter is then informed that “students’ NAEP scores started to improve before the overhaul law passed, as noted in a report last month by Alan Ginsburg.”

The NRC study bears the more prestigious imprimatur, but it is the Ginsburg study that is most likely to be cited in future discussions of merit pay, teacher tenure, and the like. So our fact-checking of the two studies begins with his contribution to the discussion.

The Ginsburg Report

Alan Ginsburg, though now retired, was until very recently the ultimate Washington insider. For more than a generation he was known as the Department of Education’s data-collection guru, the person inside the bureaucracy who understood best what information to collect and how to collect it. So it is of considerable interest that Ginsburg has now chosen to give aid and comfort to Weingarten and other union leaders by leveling a hard-core attack on “The Rhee DC Record.”

To an Education Week reporter, Ginsburg insisted that his critique of “The Rhee DC Record” is not “intended to be anti-Rhee.” He is reported as saying that he acted only because “he believes they [his findings] should serve as a check on a policy of mass dismissals of teachers as a way to improve districts. ‘For me, it’s the much larger question in this country of building a large teaching force.’” It is nonetheless quite disconcerting that he—and those who rely on his work—say that she was engaged in “large-scale firing” and “mass dismissals” when in fact she released in 2010 just 241 teachers for low performance.

Ginsburg excludes any and all information coming from the D.C. exams, known as the Comprehensive Assessment System (CAS), required by the federal law known as No Child Left Behind. He explains that decision on the grounds that “performance levels for 2006 and afterwards are not comparable with those from prior years.” But that does not preclude a comparison of Rhee’s record for the years beginning in 2007 with the situation in the year before she arrived. Had Ginsburg taken a look at that information, he would have found an acceleration of the gains in the percentage of students deemed proficient. Before Rhee’s tenure, or between 2006 and 2007, the percentage increase in proficiency was about 1 percentage point in reading and 4 percentage points in math. But between 2007 and 2010, the gains in percent proficient were 9 percentage points in reading and 15 percentage points in math.

District Performance on National Assessment of Educational Progress

Although these gains are impressive, a USA Today investigative team has expressed concerns that, at least in some schools, those test-score results might have been improperly inflated. No conclusive evidence of cheating has yet been established, but it may well be prudent to focus, as Ginsburg does, on the performance of D.C. students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as the nation’s report card. That is a low-stakes test taken only by a representative sample of students, none of whom answer all the questions and for whom no results are reported by student, teacher, or school. As the NAEP is not part of any accountability system, incentives to cheat on the test are minimal, and no allegations of cheating have been made.

At first glance, Ginsburg does not seem to have much of a case against Rhee. D.C. scores on the NAEP shifted upward during the first two years Rhee was in office. In both 4th-grade math and reading they jumped by 6 points, and in 8th-grade math they leaped by 7 points, though they slipped a point in 8th-grade reading (see Figure 1).

But Ginsburg says those gains are actually no greater than the ones students had been making in prior years, when superintendents Paul Vance and Clifford Janey were in charge. He reports, “With respect to the distribution of DC’s total gains in NAEP scores over grades 4 and 8 between 2000-09, Vance accounted for a 46% share of the total gain, Janey 30% and Rhee 24%.”

Though headline-grabbing numbers, they are quite misleading. Between 2000 and 2009, Rhee was in office for only two years, while Vance was in office for three, and Janey for four. If gains were rising at the same rate over the nine-year period, then each superintendent should account for 11.1 percent of the gains for each year in office: Vance 33.3%, Janey 44.4%, and Rhee 22.2 %. So based on Ginsburg’s own calculations, Rhee outperformed her immediate predecessor.

More significantly, Ginsburg ignores the fact that the D.C. NAEP sample in 2009 did not include students attending charter schools not authorized by the district, while in 2007 all charter school students were included. Because charter schools outside district control were outperforming district schools, the latter appeared to be doing better in 2007 than they actually were. NAEP corrected its data-collection procedures in 2009, but, except for 8th-grade math, it failed to provide the data that allow for an apple-to-apple comparison between 2007 and 2009. For 8th-grade math, NAEP explains that had NAEP followed the same policy in 2007 that it adopted in 2009, 8th-grade math scores under Rhee would have increased by 7 points, a statistically significant gain, not just the 3 points that are officially reported.

Similar underreporting of gains may have occurred on the 4th- and 8th-grade reading exams and the 4th-grade math tests, but NAEP unfortunately does not tell us how large they were. Its report only says that giving us that information would not alter the findings as to the statistical significance of gains. So in the analysis below, I provide the corrected results for 8th-grade math, but I cannot provide corrected results for the other exams.

Closing the Gap between District and National Performance

Most importantly, Ginsburg did not adjust for national trends in student performance occurring between 2000 and 2009. Unless one adjusts for national trends, one does not know whether gains in the district are due to district-specific events or to some larger developments in the nation, such as changes in the economy, or the waning effectiveness of No Child Left Behind, or permutations in the design and administration of the NAEP examination, or some other large-scale factor.

The most straightforward way of adjusting for national trends is to look at the extent to which D.C. closed the gap between its students’ performances and those of students nationwide. Once that adjustment is made, it can be shown that Rhee did considerably better at that task than did her predecessors (see Figure 2). For example, during the Rhee years, 4th-grade students, in both reading and math, gained an average of 3 points each year relative to the scores earned by students nationwide, a gain twice that of Rhee’s predecessors.

These numbers seem small, but they add up. In 2000, the gap between D.C. and the nation in 4th-grade math was 34 points. Had students gained as much every year between 2000 and 2009 as they did during the Rhee era, that gap would in 2009 have been just 7 points. Three more years of Rhee-like progress and the gap is closed. In 8th-grade math, the gap in 2000 was 38 points. Had Rhee-like progress been made over the next nine years, the gap would in 2009 have been just 14 points, with near closure in 2012. In 4th-grade reading, the gap was 30 points in 2003 (scores are unavailable for 2000); if Rhee-like gains had taken place over the next six years, the gap in 2009 would have been cut in half.

None of this proves that Rhee could sustain the gains observed over a two-year period. That is too short a time to draw conclusions about a leader based on NAEP results alone. Also, no improvement in 8th-grade reading is detected. The overall results do, however, cast doubt on Ginsburg’s claim that Rhee did no better than her predecessors.

But perhaps the other report, the one issued by a committee of the prestigious National Research Council, makes a more persuasive case that Rhee’s performance is less than it seems.

The National Research Council Report

The National Academy of Sciences dates its lineage back to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, who asked three scientists to help in the “war against the rebellion.” Operating under its aegis, the NRC has positioned itself as the only nonprofit organization that can sign contracts with federal agencies without submitting a competitive bid. In the hard sciences, NRC periodically issues major reports of public significance. But on too many occasions it exploits its reputation for objectivity by wandering into domains where scientific knowledge is thin.

NRC has expanded its operations beyond reports to federal agencies. In the case at hand, it acted on a 2007 request of the D.C. City Council “under the leadership of Vincent C. Gray” to carry out an independent evaluation of D.C. public schools. Despite the fact that Gray was already planning his run for mayor, NRC responded enthusiastically to his request by undertaking an energetic fundraising campaign that supplemented the council’s own $325,000 in funding with a like amount from a variety of foundations and agencies, including the Spencer Foundation, the National Science Foundation (which contributed $200,000), and the World Bank (which contributed $25,000).

With $650,000 in hand, NRC staff formed the 14-member, largely academic Committee on the Independent Evaluation of DC Public Schools, consisting of a variety of professors and researchers. Its co-chairs are Christopher Edley, the left-leaning dean of Berkeley law school and, as mentioned, Robert Hauser, former University of Wisconsin sociology of education professor, a liberal critic of accountability systems, who has recently assumed the leadership of NRC’s division responsible for education reports.

Guidance for a Future Evaluation

The committee’s official assignment was not to carry out an independent evaluation, as its title implies, but only to 1) “provide guidance on how to structure” that evaluation and 2) “provide feedback about implementation” of the Rhee reforms. As part of its “guidance,” the committee calls for “systematic yearly public reporting of key data as well as in-depth studies of high priority issues.” One needs to look at more than just “student test scores,” it says. One needs to establish “suitable indicators” that “track how well the city’s public schools are doing.” “In-depth studies should be designed to provide deeper analysis of specific questions about high priority issues,” such as “teacher recruitment and retention.”

If most of this guidance consists of harmless bromides, one recommendation has an edge to it: The evaluation “must be independent of school and city leaders and responsive to the needs of all stakeholders.” Read in the context of D.C. politics, this seems to say: Keep the mayor and chancellor out of any independent evaluation, but let the unions play a major role. Now that Vincent Gray is mayor, one wonders just how eager he will be to act on that recommendation!

The committee has not issued a final document, but it has put out a press release and a prepublication version of an unedited version of the report. The rush to print seems to have been necessary in order to carry out the committee’s second objective: providing “feedback” on the Rhee record, which it apparently wanted to accomplish before her successor officially assumed office. The first substantive information in the committee’s press release reads as follows: “Data suggest that a modest improvement in student test scores has continued…but the committee cautions that it is premature to draw general conclusions about the reforms’ effectiveness at this time.” Note that the press release talks about a “continuation,” not an “acceleration,” in “modest,” not “striking,” improvement in student achievement. An Education Week reporter explains that “the evaluators confirmed that students’ NAEP scores started to improve before the overhaul law passed, as noted in a report last month by Alan Ginsburg.” Clearly, the NRC committee leadership was willing to put an NRC stamp on Ginsburg’s claims.

Do Teachers Need to Be at School for Students to Learn?

How did the committee cast doubt on Rhee’s effectiveness? The general strategy is to admit the evidence on school improvement in D.C., but then insist that it is impossible to see any connection between that improvement and the work of the chancellor. Of course, it is, as we have said, quite impossible, without experimental evidence, to prove connections between Rhee policies and changes in student gains, but that is not the committee’s agenda. Not in its executive summary, in its press release, or anywhere in the report does the committee call for the conduct of experiments that could establish causal relationships between policies and outcomes. On the contrary, the committee recommends gathering still more trend data and conducting old-fashioned case studies that in the end will prove little more than what is already known. And in the pursuit of its second objective, giving feedback on the Rhee reforms, it does not carry out even minimal case-study research to see whether a probable relationship may exist between Rhee policies and classroom outcomes.

Take, for example, the decline in student and teacher truancy. According to 8th-grade student self-reports, the rate of absenteeism declined significantly between 2007 and 2009. Teacher absenteeism also dropped noticeably over these same two years. The days on which 98 percent or more of the teachers were at school climbed from about 68 percent to approximately 85 percent.

Instead of congratulating the district on this improvement, the committee cautions: “It is important to note…that the fact that teacher absenteeism is correlated with achievement does not mean that the absenteeism causes the low achievement. There are many other factors, such as school safety, that affect both teacher absenteeism and student achievement. This is just one example of the many limitations of these data.”

In this passage we see a certain bias at work. The incidence of student and teacher truancy declined, the committee admits. But that hardly proves Rhee was a success or that students, in order to learn, need the stability that comes with the presence of their regular teacher. Perhaps school safety also improved, but the committee makes no effort to gather statistics on this point or carry out a case study to see whether Rhee had worked to make schools safer. We are simply left with the caution that a drop in the rate of absenteeism might not prove anything.

Comparing D.C. to Other Big Cities

The committee also acknowledges a notable climb in test scores on the DC CAS test and says that “NAEP shows increases similar to those seen on the CAS.” But, it says, “in comparison with other urban districts, the District’s scores were similar; many others also showed consistently significant gains.”

Really? At the 4th-grade level, D.C. students in math and reading gained 6 scale score points between 2007 and 2009, while the average gain in the other 10 cities for which comparable data are available was only 1 point and 2.2 points, respectively. In 8th-grade math, the D.C. gains were 7 points, as compared to an average of 2.9 points for the other cities. Only in 8th-grade reading does the District of Columbia lag behind, dropping a point, while the others gained 1.7 points (see Figure 3).

Do Demographics Explain Gains?

The committee next worries over whether the gains may be due to a change in the composition of the student population in D.C. “The composition of students tested in DCPS…has changed markedly since 2007,” the report says. “These patterns could bias the…statistics.” Education Week’s reporter was told that “the numbers of students with disabilities or limited English proficiency fell during that time. The district also had fewer black students and more white and Hispanic students by 2010.”

But is there any reason to believe the gains on the NAEP between 2007 and 2009 were attributable to a shift in the D.C. demography? Did high-income whites and blacks bring their children into the district’s public schools, while low-income blacks and Hispanics moved out? According to the committee’s own report, signs point in the opposite direction. The percentage of students identified as economically disadvantaged grew from 63 percent in 2007 to 70 percent in 2009. The percentage African American slipped slightly from 85 percent to 83 percent of the total, but the percentage Hispanic increased from 9 percent to 10 percent, while the white population rose from 4 percent to 5 percent. Those needing instruction in the English language increased from 7 percent to 10 percent. It’s true that the percentage identified as in need of special education budged downward by 1 percentage point, but the participation rates of special education students on the NAEP increased by 1.5 percent over the two-year period. Nothing in these data indicates that the D.C. schools had fewer challenges in 2009 than they had in 2007.

Rhee’s Record

In all the numbers Rhee’s critics have assembled, the two facts that stand out have nothing to do with test scores, but rather with student and teacher absenteeism. One does not know how quickly leaders can have an impact on student learning, but strong educational leaders are known for their impact on school culture. If we take Rhee at her word, changing culture was what she was trying to do, and those falling absenteeism indicators suggest that she may have had an effect, even in a short period of time. It’s even possible that a change in the D.C. school climate accelerated learning gains. About that one cannot be certain when only two years of NAEP data are available. But one can be quite sure that a case against Rhee has yet to be established.

Paul E. Peterson directs Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance.

A footnoted version of this article is available here.

Comment on this article
  • efavorite says:

    Nice try at discrediting the NAS/NCR and Ginsburg reports. I like to think that what you’ve done instead is bring these carefully researched, clearly written, academic reports to the attention of serious readers who up until now have been influenced only by the hype surrounding Michelle Rhee and her “reforms.”

    The default position, encouraged by Rhee and her myriad fans is that she has performed miracles of reform and anything good that happened during her watch happened because of her. How scientific is that?

    Also, there’s no mention of the cheating scandal carefully reported and researched by USA Today or Rhee’s initial response to it, accusing the writers of being “enemies” of school reform. Perhaps that hadn’t happened before this article was completed and is not referenced because it doesn’t fit the story line.

    Keep checking, Mr. Peterson and readers here, and you will find there are many facts that don’t fit the myth-making around Michelle Rhee. If students really come first, hopefully the adults will soon stop making heroines out of mere mortals and twisting themselves into pretzels trying to defend and promote falsehoods.

  • efavorite says:

    Way back in October of ’09, Michael Petrilli conceded in this same venue that he was not arguing that Rhee’s reforms were working but that news of NAEP increases gave her a boost in the media. He made the response below in the comments section of his 10/14/09 article, when presented with actual data on DCPS NAEP scores from 2000 through 2009:

    “That’s a fair point about the achievement increases preceding Michelle Rhee’s time in DC. What I implied in my post (and could have said clearer, I suppose) is that this news will give her a “boost” politically. I wasn’t arguing that it proves her reforms are working. But leaders in any turnaround effort need to show early successes if they want to keep momentum going and have the political room to keep pushing. I think this gives her some of that, for better or worse. And the media response–especially on the Washington Post editorial page–was exactly what a reformer like Rhee would want to see.”

    Please check out other comments there, including one I made showing that Rhee was lying to the press about DC-CAS scores two years ago. PBS corrected its mistake as soon as it was pointed out to them.

  • mary Ann Reilly says:

    Casting aspersion at the authors of the NAS/NCR and Ginsburg reports does not make a case. This is sloppy rhetoric, unfortunately nothing more.

  • Mark says:

    It’s always important to hold researchers to account, but this is the first time I’ve heard an analysis of NAEP scores explained away by arguing that gains or lack thereof have to be placed in the context of what was going on in the national economy and the relative gains in other cities, etc. And its the first time I’ve heard that same tired argument used to inflate the significance of small gains by extrapolating to the “What if…” those same small gains obtained year after year, to make them seem big.

    Michelle Rhee claimed that she was making a revolution in student achievement and that the pain of ignoring and punishing her workforce, ignoring parents, firing teachers, and creating a fear-based culture slavish to test prep and a single mindedness about standardized tests, was worth it. Hers was a shock doctrine and everyone with a different idea cowered and shut up.

    Ginsburg’s point was that the result she got was no better than what Janey and Vance got. He is right.

    Your accusations of bias ring hollow given your bias in defense of Rhee the reformer.

    Most people expected that test scores would go up, given the single-minded fixation on the test during the Rhee years. The question we thought we would be wrestling with in DC is whether the cost in a narrowed curriculum, a fear-based culture, too much time on test-prep, would be worth it. It turns out that the gains in test results were just in line with her predecessors who had a much better understanding of good teaching and learning practices, supported the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, etc.. So even the object of her fixation saw not much improvement. The costs in teacher and student morale of the punitive approach, and the neglect of perhaps more important emphases have to also be added up and put on the balance sheet.

    But you have not demonstrated to me that that Ginsburg’s point is refuted. On the contrary, Ginsburg simply pointed out that after all the bluster, Rhee’s test score gains were no great shakes. Seperate from NAEP, whether her CAS score gains were the result of cheating is yet to be determined.

  • Linda Johnson says:

    For me, the biggest argument against Rhee is her character. Do we really want to follow a person who took pleasure in firing an employee while both were being filmed? I don’t think so.

  • Joe says:

    Actually, demographics do explain the gains under Rhee. When you disaggregate and look at race/ethnic groups in isolation, you will see that DC’s NAEP gains during Rhee’s tenure were fueled by an influx of high-scoring whites.

  • edharris says:

    I guess Mr. Peterson will accuse the nominated successor to Cathie Black and Joel Klein of being a liar.
    Here is Mr. Walcott last Friday (April 8th)

    “Walcott was accompanied by DOE Chief Academic Officer, Shael Suransky and Chief Financial Officer Veronica Conforme. From the very start, his testimony sounded familiar. Following a brief account of his life story and how he and his children attended NYC public schools, he repeated the claims of great progress that we have heard countless time from DOE officials: “By any measure, the gains our students have made in recent years have been extraordinary – far outpacing the rest of the State and cities across the nation.” “

  • Paul E. Peterson says:


    Looking at differences in differences is standard econometric analysis. Unless you do that, you really don’t have an analysis worthy of the name.

    In this case, we are looking at the differences between Rhee
    and her predecessor relative to the difference between students nationwide over the same time period.

    Not as ideal as random assignment to Rhee or not to Rhee, an impossible research strategy, but a good deal preferable to the one you recommend.

  • Paul E. Peterson says:

    Joe, please supply the data for your claim. When researching my paper I found no evidence of any kind whatsoever for your statements. The percentage white in the district remained virtually constant.

  • phillipmarlowe says:

    Mr. Peterson over at his blog site at Harvard:

    “Not only have newspapers alleged cheating at a few specific schools in the District of Columbia during Michelle Rhee’s tenure as Chancellor of Schools for the District of Columbia,”

    A few specific schools.

    I guess for Harvard, 43 is few.

  • Ed Levy says:

    I have been friends with Alan Ginsburg for about 40 years. In addition, both of my children attended DC public schools from Pre-K through grade 12, my wife has for many years studied the DC school system in-depth, and my daughter has taught in and actively followed the DC schools. Therefore, I have become familiar with and have often discussed with Alan issues as to the DC schools. I can state categorically that Mr. Peterson’s statements and implications about Alan demonstrate almost complete ignorance as to the type of person Alan is and what motivates him in addressing these issues. These failings indicate to me that the other aspects of Mr. Peterson’s article are entitled to little credence, although I must point out to readers that I lack the expertise to comment directly on most of them.

    At the outset, Mr. Peterson states that “Ginsburg has now chosen to give aid and comfort to Weingarten and other union leaders by leveling a hard-core attack on ‘The Rhee DC Record.’” Alan is a person who is concerned about our education system, and is driven by facts and information, regardless of where they lead. The notion that his analysis is motivated by a desire to align himself with, or against, unions or other interested parties is ludicrous.

    As to the statement that Alan “does not seem to have much of a case against Rhee,” in all of my discussions with him I have seen no indication that he is trying to build a case against Michelle Rhee. And to the contrary, he often defended actions she took as Chancellor of the DC schools, sometimes to a degree I thought was unwarranted.

    Finally, Mr. Peterson finds disconcerting Alan’s statements that Ms. Rhee engaged in “large-scale firing” and “mass dismissals” of teachers. Based on my knowledge of Alan, I have complete confidence that he would not use such language unless it was clearly supported by the numbers. Further, Mr. Peterson’s attempt to refute those statements – ” in fact she released in 2010 just 241 teachers for low performance” – is too cute by half. How many teachers did she release in other years, and how many for reasons other than poor performance? My understanding is that hundreds of other teachers were dismissed, and replaced by others, during Ms. Rhee’s tenure, and that she takes credit for such actions.

  • Michael L. Hays says:

    I confess that I did not bother reading the whole of this article. The reason: the first several paragraphs were nothing more than ad hominem efforts to discredit the associations and motives of the authors challenging the Rhees record. If there were a strong case against these authors, it would have come first and been foremost. This response is a Tea–Party-type rhetoric which obviously infects higher education as well as the lower echelons in debate on public issues.

  • Phillipmarlowe says:

    Mr. Peterson appears to have been one of Michelle Rhee’s advisors and mentor when she attended Harvard after performing her Baltimore Miracle.
    One wonders if she told him about her “miracle.”

  • joe says:

    It is good to have in depth analysis of the competing claims.For education reform to be valuable enough for other districts to copy , I think a five or six year improvement of a large number of individual students should be used. New reform superintendents quite often get a one time jump in test scores that is not sustained. The superintendent moves before any lasting record can be established. Any improvement is good, but very small gains must be carefully watched to see if they can add on for five or ten years.

  • […] Her defender, ultra-conservative Paul Peterson of Hoover Institute and Harvard, attacked the USA Today investigation and the academic studies by the National Academies of Science (National Research Council) and Dr. Alan Ginsburg, former director of program and policy, US Department of Education.  ( […]

  • edharris says:

    Mr Ginsberg responds:
    “In the case against Michelle Rhee,” Dr. Ginsburg wrote, “ Paul Peterson presents three alleged flaws in my analysis that concluded that the math and reading gains under Rhee were no better than under her predecessors Vance and Janey.” (Read the full rebuttal here.)

    Two of Peterson’s proposed flaws simply misstate my methodology. The third makes the highly questionable adjustment that the DC school system deserves credit only for DC gains above the national average, presumably giving credit to the Bush administration or some unknown cause for DC gains up to the national average.

    First, Peterson claims that my analysis did not adjust for the fact that “Rhee was in office for only two years, while Vance was in office for three and Janey for four.” This is incorrect. The analysis (Exhibit IIB and IID below) clearly represents annualized gains. In math, Rhee’s annualized gains fall between Vance and Janey and in reading the annualized gains are about equal between Janey and Rhee.

    Second, Peterson also claims that I used the DC NAEP sample that “in 2009 did not include students attending charter schools not authorized by the district, while in 2007 all charter school students were included.” This is also factually incorrect. My report clearly specifies that I used the state NAEP series because of its consistent treatment of charter schools over the full 2000-2009 period.

    Third, and crucial to Peterson’s claims, is that the DC score improvement should be computed only as the excess above the national average NAEP gain. In the highly decentralized U.S. education system in which the federal government is prohibited from specifying curriculum, this criticism makes little sense. DC’s prior poor scores and the improvements during the first decade of 2000 depend primarily upon what happens in DC. In fact, for math which can be measured over the full 2000-07 period, DC gains at grade 4 were higher than any state and at grade 8 DC gains were tied for fourth highest. Yet Peterson would not give DC much credit for these outstanding gains during this period.

  • Education Next says:

    For Ginsburg’s response to this article, please see

    For Peterson’s response to Ginsburg’s concerns, please see

  • Michael Paul Goldenberg says:

    How many Rheerasures does it take to convince Mr. Peterson that the Empress wasn’t wearing any clothes?

    Rhee looks more and more like the Sarah Palin of education deform. She quit not a moment too soon, just before the dirty underbelly of her “miracle” was exposed.

  • Sandrine says:

    I am following this with interest.

    I will leave it to you and and others more qualified than I am to argue as to whether Rhee got statistically relevant gains beyond those of her predecessors in test outcomes. I will continue to follow those arguments with interest.

    I will say I am opposed to using test scores to evaluate teachers. There are too many ~ wiggly ~ factors in the mix that make it flawed, too many unfair issues vis a vis colleagues, too much damage to the educational/teaching/learning environment.

    It is a terrible idea.

    Too bad Obama made it a reality for so many in the field. I do look forward to his town halls in which he demonstrates how it can be implemented accurately and fairly. Whereupon, I will skip out just before he starts to ask for our votes.

  • Sandrine says:

    I will talk about Rhee’s expectations of teachers from another angle, one that’s related to her testing demands.

    I do hereby charge Ms Rhee with being extremely ignorant (or unqualified, if you will) when it comes to her understanding of teaching and learning. Her profound cluelessness makes her a dangerous person to let loose upon the field of education.

    I base my charge on what I found in her cherished tool for measuring teacher performance, the IMPACT guide. It’s right there for the seeing, like the nose on one’s face. It is one of IMPACT’s six tenets of educational “truth,” repeated, in brainwashy style, on the blue title page to the IMPACT guide.

    Here’s the IMPACT link (click any item in the list to get to the blue background intro. page)…(Performance+Assessment)/IMPACT+Guidebooks

    A ludicrous tenet espoused by Rhee:

    • All children, regardless of background or circumstance,
    can achieve at the highest levels.

    (This inspired my own complementary demand upon the children of the USA and their – god help them! – teachers):

    * All children, regardless of background or circumstance, can see Santa Claus slide down the chimney (if only they have great teachers who can teach them how).

    Here’s another dead branch from the Rheeform philosotree:

    • Achievement is a function of effort, not innate ability.

    Here’s my addition to that branch:

    *Any student can play the violin like a virtuoso if they make the effort. (If the student makes the effort but fails, blame the music teacher. And then fire her.)

    Unleash tiger chancellors upon us from east to west, north to south, but you simply will not get these fantasy-based notions to bear fruit. They cannot stand the smell test and so they should not stand as they do – as a threat to teachers that if they dont achieve the unachievable, they have failed. It is just plain wrong to impose such fantastical expectations upon teachers or children. We might as well say that every child can become the Einstein of our time. (Again, if they don’t, fire the ‘bad’ teacher!)

    My examples are ridiculous because the IMPACT statements they seek to mimic are ridiculous. Now, if only they werent prominently and repeatedly presented as reality-based expectations, no, demands, upon teachers. But they are in the Rheeform world of education.

    And Rhee is not an isolated example. This harmfully ridiculous belief is parroted by reform-enthralled President Obama, his ed sec, Arne Duncan, and others now presently employed in the Dept of Ed. It is seeded out there and mindlessly echoed by countless others.

    For myself, I would never allow someone who espouses such hokey “truths” as those I took from IMPACT to manage a school system (even if they dont Rheely believe them, which I suspect might be true). I would consider it the height of irresponsibility. However, I would allow such a person to work in our schools. For example, such a person might be qualified to sweep classroom floors.

    Someone like Rhee. Someone so terribly good with a broom.

  • ericpollock says:

    I tell my students everyday to find something they love and “stick to it” as something that will give them the greatest satisfaction in life.

    My problem with Rhee is that after two years of teaching she no longer wanted to be a teacher; then after another two years of being a chancellor she decided to no longer want to be a chancellor (as un-politically savvy it is to align oneself with the losing party in an election; she will no doubt probably move on to something else in which she will quit after a few years.

    I have students with better discipline, fortitude, drive and work ethic. I don’t dispute any numbers from either side, my problem with her is about conviction and professionalism.

  • […] Next reports and comments on two studies of the effect that Michelle Rhee had on DC Public Schools in a piece titled […]

  • Vladimir Ivanovic says:

    I was willing to read this article carefully and to evaluate it on its merits, but the constant ad hominem attacks made me dismiss it as just another hack job. I’ve consigned it to the dustbin of history.

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