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Posted at 12:44 PM ET, 02/ 9/2011

Let's hear more from commenter who questioned Rhee's test scores

By Jay Mathews

(Updated with response from Michelle Rhee's group, StudentsFirst, at 6 p.m.)


Here is the comment I posted this morning on the Education Writers Association listserve, where topic A is the G.F. Brandenburg blog that proves Michelle Rhee said her students' gains when she taught elementary school were more than they turned out to be. I am posting it here because I want the person who says he pointed out the crucial document to Brandenburg to take some credit, and tell us how he did it. The scoop artist is edlharris, a frequent and often wise commenter in this blog. How did he find the document? Where has it been all these years since it was published in 1995? What could reporters have done to discover it sooner?

Me on the EWA listserve:

I agree that we, including me, did a bad job at this. Actually it was edlharris, the signon for a frequent commenter on my blog, who says he discovered the 1995 UMBC report that reported the scores at Rhee's school. He gave it to blogger G.F. Brandenburg, who has been by far the most persistent in checking what actually happened with Rhee and her students at Harlem Park Elementary School.

Two points to be made. Many people say Rhee lied about this, without any proof that she knew what the real scores were when she recorded her memories of what she was told on her resume. That is a misuse of the word "lie," and we shouldn't fall into the same bad habit. Also, the UMBC report shows some healthy gains at Harlem Park, but not as great as Rhee recalled being told, and included a big downturn her first year that accentuated the size of the gains her last two years.

I didn't report the numbers she gave me, if she gave me any. I don't recall. I just said the scores went up, which proved to be true. She told me she did things in her class that I knew had been effective in many other schools where I had checked the numbers.

But we should have looked harder. There were no state tests then, so we could not go the usual route. I assumed, as I suspect other reporters did, that whatever records there were kept by the private company, which had long since disintegrated when Rhee became a story in 2007. It turns out that the UMBC report was sitting on some shelf somewhere since 1995. I am going to ask edlharris how he got it, and will report back here. ---jay mathews, washpost.

(For Rhee's response, please click here.)

By Jay Mathews  | February 9, 2011; 12:44 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Michelle Rhee's early test scores challenged
Next: Baltimore City test specialist recalls Rhee story

Comments

She either knew her scores and lied or she didn't know her scores and claimed she did. Those are both lies.

Deal with it.

Posted by: tfteacher | February 9, 2011 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, it's not that hard. You sir are the worst kind of "reporter" because you arent one. you just publish opinions...

She either knew her scores and lied or she didn't know her scores and claimed she did. Those are both lies.

Deal with it.

Posted by: doctordowntown | February 9, 2011 1:38 PM | Report abuse

So you are going to report on someone else's actual reporting...crack journalism there....

Why are you the journalist? Shouldnt Harris be the journalist? since he is doing all the work?

Posted by: doctordowntown | February 9, 2011 1:40 PM | Report abuse

for doctordowntown---I was a reporter in the Washington area, Hong Kong, Beijing, Los Angeles, and the Washington area again my first 35 years at the Post. I have only been a full time columnist the last four years or so. I had my failings as a reporter, but some successes too. One thing I learned long ago is that when someone, even an amateur reporter like edlharris, uncovers a great story, it is helpful to other reporters to learn how he did it. I have already said those of us covering Rhee messed up. Now I want to find out more about how we messed up. Edlharris, I think, can help us in that regard.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 9, 2011 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Isn't it obvious to everyone, or at least those who can still be objective about current education "reform," that this growing obsession with "scores" to determine the worth and effectiveness of a teacher (and, parenthetically, the "worth" and success of a child) is becoming unhealthy, even absurd? It's only encouraging "reformers" like Ms. Rhee who have scant classroom experience and an agenda to "prove they're right" at all costs, to play reckless with the "data." (Either naively because of their lack of classroom experience or purposefully because of their agenda. Take your pick.) Making standardized test scores the be-all and end-all, instead of a limited baseline and a diagnostic tool, will only serve to encourage more of this kind of controversy.

Anne Geiger

Posted by: AWCG | February 9, 2011 2:12 PM | Report abuse

"Many people say Rhee lied about this, without any proof that she knew what the real scores were when she recorded her memories of what she was told on her resume."

Um, Jay? You're not supposed to put your "memories" on a resume.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | February 9, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse


Since when is it considered ethical to "record memories" on a resume?


Posted by: georgia198305 | February 9, 2011 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Everyone, even reformers, know that poverty is the big problem. Poverty is just too big though, apparently.

Conservatives and business friendly liberals simply want to bust unions--having nothing to do with education. It's about a mindset that fears "the other" having any power. Even the power to simply do their job.

The reform movement doesn't care that Rhee lied about her performance. They care that she is a free-marketer. And media outfits need business too, so they are in bed with the Rhees of the world. Education is supposed to be about kids, not the economy. If we take care of people basic needs, we will find that the other things will get better in synch with the better care we are taking.

Teachers don't pay attention to the high-stakes numbers because they are not useful. We generate numbers in the classroom that are useful to us and our students. Rhee and the reformers are attempting to devise a teacher assessment the same way the Bush administration looked for WMD evidence to support their unsupportable claim. Cart before horse, and all that. Reformers don't care how they make it easier to fire teachers, they just want it to be easier. Period. For business reasons, not for the sake of children.

People make claims that benefit them. The reformers are actually union busters who claim they are trying to keep America solvent, or something, and education needs fixing because great teachers like Rhee can obviously do great things in the classroom.

It's all a bunch of crap. And now we have the documentation.

Poverty is the problem. Enough about teachers, schools, unions, tenure, and superheros.

Posted by: tfteacher | February 9, 2011 2:36 PM | Report abuse

@Jay:

There are times I've criticized you if I felt you erred. This series of posts is not one of them. It's good journalism and I respect you for digging deeper.

One quick note -- Rhee's cohort group did shrink dramatically (from around 80 to around 45 or so) from 2nd to 3rd grade. It's very conceivable that her lower performers were counseled out, which may have inflated her scores.

Posted by: joshofstl1 | February 9, 2011 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Jay, What would be very helpful to many of your readers is if you* could do a breakdown of the graphs on the Brandenburg blog. It's not really clear to me what they are showing, and I like to check the validity of the critique (made by another commenter) that students who were not in Rhee's class were included.

*Perhaps with the help of a statistician.

Posted by: hainish | February 9, 2011 2:57 PM | Report abuse

the scores went up over a short interval of
time but the cohorts at the two end points
of this time interval were NOT THE SAME !

So if you want to maintain that Rhee did not
lie then WE have to believe that weeding out
the chaff is a valid way to increase student
performance.

Well, this won't be the last time we readers
are asked to believe the unbelievable.

Posted by: youngWaPoreader | February 9, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

I just posted this in the comments of the previous post on this subject (not realizing there was more already), so here it is again, since Jay Mathews once again weighed in against calling what Rhee did lying:

In my own work (social science research), if I make a claim about conducting an experiment and it is found out later I hadn't actually done the experiment, *even* if I honestly thought I'd performed it but just happen to have mislaid my original record of it, there is a term for what I've done: Academic dishonesty.

Or, in other words, a lie. A lie, in fact, that I could lose not just my job but my career over.

This is the case even if it happens to have been classroom research—that is, running an experiment to determine what pedagogical approaches are best for teaching my particular subject.

So please tell me, Mr. Mathews, why in the world shouldn't we call what Ms Rhee did lying?

Posted by: dfbdfb | February 9, 2011 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to think the Rhee was a lot more careful with the data when she destroyed people's careers and personal lives through her actions, but I don't think so. As a reporter one writes about what happened, as a columnist one promotes an idea or person. The latter brings with it responsibility. That said I think your willingness to publish this information is a major step towards atonement.

Posted by: mamoore1 | February 9, 2011 4:23 PM | Report abuse

for dfbdfb---Your example seems unrealistic to me. I can't imagine that you would write up nonexistent results because you had forgotten you had not done the experiment. It would be like me inadvertently making up a story because I had forgotten I had not done the interviews. That's not forgetting, that hallucinating. And I suspect if a doctor testified that you had suffered some health lapse that actually wiped out your brain cells, the faculty committee ruling on your case would not
call it dishonesty, but severe trauma or mental illness, and suggest you retire early and get some help.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 9, 2011 4:41 PM | Report abuse

"a health lapse that actually wiped out brain cells" - maybe that will be Rhee's excuse.

Posted by: achachi | February 9, 2011 5:12 PM | Report abuse

I just sent the following in an email to Jay:


Jay:

For most of 2007, I published the blog, "StateOfColumbia.org".  In June of 2007,  published an article about Michelle Rhee's test score claims using the same data from UMBC that you are discussing now. The blog is no longer online, but a version of the article is available on the website I currently run:

http://www.dcurbanmom.com/jforum/posts/list/101581.page

The article can also be found in the Internet Archive at (this one has hyperlinks):

http://web.archive.org/web/20071012123206/stateofcolumbia.com/weblog/archive/2007/06/28/rhee-scores

I am not a journalist and didn't have access to fancy research tools. I just spent a lot of time Googling, eventually finding the UMBC report.  As I am far from an expert on test scores, the article likely has errors. However, I am pretty confident in my main finding which is that while test score gains were made, those gains were nowhere near what Rhee claimed on her resume.  

Posted by: jvsteele | February 9, 2011 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Isn't there some other way of judging Rhee's work as a teacher other than test scores? There are so many factors other than test scores to judge a teacher's effectiveness.

Posted by: resc | February 9, 2011 6:54 PM | Report abuse

It would be interesting to see where the students are now, some 15 years after their 2nd grade experience with MR. Are headed towards professional careers due to their excellent early educational experiences delivered by amazing teachers, or have they fallen into the normal distribution of careers for kids in their neighborhood, and thereby strengthening the arguments that socioeconomic factors matter?

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | February 9, 2011 7:33 PM | Report abuse

To TheTensionMakes it work --

Rhee has the perfect excuse for why her miracle students did not become model students. Mathews quoted her in an article in 2008:

"All of those kids would go on to other teachers and totally lose everything because those teachers were" lousy. (Rhee used an earthier adjective.)”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/26/AR2008102601972.html

Posted by: efavorite | February 9, 2011 7:43 PM | Report abuse

Jay says, "I just said the scores went up"

Actually, what you said was, “Test scores soared.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/26/AR2008102601972.html

Posted by: efavorite | February 9, 2011 7:47 PM | Report abuse

It is disheartening that visceral criticisms on Rhee's reform work are so personal, having nothing to do with substantive issues or the policies she advocates.

More importantly- and glaringly obvious to anyone who cares about the real issues- is that what kind of teacher Rhee was back in 1995 has nothing to do with the reforms she is proposing now. The fact is that the reforms she stands for- instituting value-added assessments for teachers, ridding the K-12 education system of tenure, and creating more transparency from schools and school-choice for parents - make sense to a lot of people in this country. This movement is not about Rhee- it is about fixing the public school system, so that America can be competitive and do its best for its youth.

Demeaning this movement to personal attacks on one of its leaders is ridiculous. It takes attention away from the real issues. Whether you agree with Rhee or not, some of these bloggers could take a tip from her and focus on the issues rather than water-cooler gossip.

Posted by: malugirl | February 9, 2011 11:03 PM | Report abuse

malugirl - discussions of lying on a resume is not water cooler gossip. It's the kind of think top executives can get fired over.

Providing evidence about untruths is not a personal attack, it's evidence.

How about we resolve whether the poster girl for education reform is a liar and a cheater before we continue to entrust her with children's futures?

Posted by: efavorite | February 9, 2011 11:12 PM | Report abuse

malugirl - discussions of lying on a resume is not water cooler gossip. Providing evidence about untruths is not a personal attack, it's evidence.

How about we resolve whether the poster girl for education reform is a liar and a cheater before we continue to entrust her with children's futures?

Posted by: efavorite | February 9, 2011 11:14 PM | Report abuse

malugirl, simplified:

The end justifies the means.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | February 9, 2011 11:42 PM | Report abuse

Jay,I sent you an email.
I wonder, and hope, that Miss Rhee's fabrications are mentioned by news orgs if they cover the TFA lovefest in DC this weekend.

Posted by: edlharris | February 9, 2011 11:52 PM | Report abuse

Malugirl: MR has enjoyed a ride to the top while derailing lots of careers of people in the trenches who were really trying to serve the interests of kids. She maligned thousands of others. She was/is the proverbial "bull in china shop." Fine, that's her style and perhaps it has served a positive function in that clear sides have emerged in many debates. Personally, I've benefited financially and intellectually from Michelle Rhee. But, its a completely legimate inquiry we are all making into the claims this person has been making for years. She continually, as recently as December, claims that she took students from the bottom to the top, and she is insisting that all teachers must be capable of doing that (which is impossible of course because the bell curve will endure). She is attacking teacher unions as if they are responsible for everything wrong in this dysfunctional country (they have their problems but in no way are they responsible for the fact that some kids are not coming to school prepared/able to learn). Its time for her to take some heat. No one's been able to touch this sacred cow/cult figure because Adrian Fenty provided her total protection, and the Washington Post Editorial Board went along.
Let's see where her chips fall now. Let's see what this "warrior" woman has left if her integrity proves to have been less than than solid.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | February 10, 2011 4:57 AM | Report abuse

"More importantly- and glaringly obvious to anyone who cares about the real issues- is that what kind of teacher Rhee was back in 1995 has nothing to do with the reforms she is proposing now. The fact is that the reforms she stands for- instituting value-added assessments for teachers, ridding the K-12 education system of tenure, and creating more transparency from schools and school-choice for parents - make sense to a lot of people in this country. This movement is not about Rhee- it is about fixing the public school system, so that America can be competitive and do its best for its youth."

Posted by: malugirl

False, Rhee's lie about her teaching career is the SACRED STORY of her "reform" cult. It creates the REVELATION that all students can achieve impossible success, if only they have a "great teacher" like Rhee. The SACRED STORY also identifies Rhee as the "great teacher" and justifies all of the reform cult's dogma (VAT, anti-tenure, anti-union, anti-training and experience) in spite of the fact that all those beliefs have been disproven by peer-reviewed research. There is no room in the cult's faith-based dogma for heresies like actual facts. Without the SACRED STORY, all the reforms would be dismissed as failures, or never even tried because they make no rational sense. But again, cults are not based on reason. Good luck with your de-programing.

Posted by: mcstowy | February 10, 2011 3:19 PM | Report abuse

So how many people are in Rhee's group? One?

Posted by: educationlover54 | February 10, 2011 5:20 PM | Report abuse

The significance of this revelation cannot be properly assessed without looking at the whole picture.

Michelle Rhee runs a business entity whose purpose is to place new college graduates as teachers in public schools for terms of no more than a few years each. Her income and fame (such as it is) depend on a system wherein existing teachers are constantly replaced by an ongoing supply of her new recruits. Michelle Rhee's corporate "education reform" partners make money, and seek to make far more money, from their ownership of, and/or investment in, business entities whose purpose is to sell standardized testing and publicly funded private education.

Now, boys and girls, can you say "self-promoting charlatan"? Let's try an easier one: can you say "fraud"? Very good. "Deception"? Excellent. OK, boys and girls, just one more: can you say "conflict of interest"?

Posted by: nan_lynn | February 11, 2011 12:30 AM | Report abuse

jvsteele,
I saw your posting, but as it was an archive, the link to the UMBC report did not work.
However, I now see that the link contains the ERIC report number.

Thank you.

Posted by: edlharris | February 11, 2011 12:49 AM | Report abuse

Jay, you're right, the example I gave earlier *is* most likely unrealistic.

Of course, I would have thought that it would be unrealistic to think someone would have misrepresented what they did (or, in this case, what they didn't do) in precisely the same way that Rhee did.

Also, you didn't actually answer my basic question: If misrepresenting research results is significant academic dishonesty (i.e., lying), how is Rhee's misrepresentation of what are actually research results not the same thing?

Posted by: dfbdfb | February 11, 2011 2:07 AM | Report abuse

"That is a misuse of the word "lie," and we shouldn't fall into the same bad habit."

Would "massively exeragated" be better?

Posted by: resc | February 11, 2011 1:54 PM | Report abuse

yet another way she's on the wrong track
(and quite frankly,
Rhee's way off the rails) --

Will eyes wide open members of the general public please become aware of Michelle Rhee's burgeoning & awesome HYPOCRISY ?!!
Her hucksterism and apparent sloganeering is.....
"Students First", but, but ... HER DAUGHTERS LAST !

Look at her overall pattern of: SELF-CENTERED, SELF-SERVING (NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER), DELUSIONAL MISCONDUCT, SLUTTY-SLEAZY, ABHORRENT BEHAVIORAL CHOICES, & SOCIOPATHIC UTTER NEGLECT of her two young daughters !

Definitely research her bizarre history with faux-fiance (serial molester of several H.S. students & teenage Americorps staff) Kevin Johnson and investigate Rhee's direct involvement with Johnson's Sacramento Charter School corrupt cover-ups of sexcapades, financial malfeasance & misuse of govt. funds.

It is obvious when examining Rhee's pattern of irresponsible, warped & selfish misconduct (including forcibly uprooting family members), that her ex-husband is now mainly the custodial parent providing consistent care & nurturing concern for
the well-being of their daughters and he is the only
mature & responsible adult in that family !

MICHELLE RHEE FIRST.....
Children, Community stakeholders, & especially the needs of
her own daughters
come LAST !

=============================

Posted by: honestaction | February 14, 2011 8:42 PM | Report abuse

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