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  • A Game Of Inches

    Written on June 1, 2012

    One of the more telling episodes in education I’ve seen over the past couple of years was a little dispute over Michelle Rhee’s testing record that flared up last year. Alan Ginsburg, a retired U.S. Department of Education official, released an informal report in which he presented the NAEP cohort changes that occurred during the first two years of Michelle Rhee’s tenure (2007-2009), and compared them with those during the superintendencies of her two predecessors.

    Ginsburg concluded that the increases under Chancellor Rhee, though positive, were less rapid than in previous years (2000 to 2007 in math, 2003 to 2007 in reading). Soon thereafter, Paul Peterson, director of Harvard’s Program on Educational Leadership and Governance, published an article in Education Next that disputed Ginsburg’s findings. Peterson found that increases under Rhee amounted to roughly three scale score points per year, compared with around 1-1.5 points annually between 2000 and 2007 (the actual amounts varied by subject and grade).

    Both articles were generally cautious in tone and in their conclusions about the actual causes of the testing trends. The technical details of the two reports – who’s “wrong” or “right” - are not important for this post (especially since more recent NAEP results have since been released). More interesting was how people reacted - and didn’t react - to the dueling analyses.

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  • Burden Of Proof, Benefit Of Assumption

    Written on January 20, 2012

    ** Also posted here on "Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet" in the Washington Post

    Michelle Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of D.C. public schools, is a lightning rod. Her confrontational style has made her many friends as well as enemies. As is usually the case, people’s reaction to her approach in no small part depends on whether or not they support her policy positions.

    I try to be open-minded toward people with whom I don’t often agree, and I can certainly accept that people operate in different ways. Honestly, I have no doubt as to Ms. Rhee’s sincere belief in what she’s doing; and, even if I think she could go about it differently, I respect her willingness to absorb so much negative reaction in order to try to get it done.

    What I find disturbing is how she continues to try to build her reputation and advance her goals based on interpretations of testing results that are insulting to the public’s intelligence.

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  • Settling Scores

    Written on March 21, 2011

    In 2007, when the D.C. City Council passed a law giving the mayor control of public schools, it required that a five-year independent evaluation be conducted to document the law’s effects and suggest changes. The National Research Council (a division of the National Academies) was charged with performing this task. As reported by Bill Turque in the Washington Post, the first report was released a couple of weeks ago.

    The primary purpose of this first report was to give “first impressions” and offer advice on how the actual evaluation should proceed. It covered several areas – finance, special programs, organizational structure, etc. – but, given the controversy surrounding Michelle Rhee’s tenure, the section on achievement results got the most attention. The team was only able to analyze preliminary performance data; the same data that are used constantly by Rhee, her supporters, and her detractors to judge her tenure at the helm of DCPS.

    It was one of those reports that tells us what we should already know, but too often fail to consider.

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  • Students First, Facts Later

    Written on February 25, 2011

    On Wednesday, Michelle Rhee’s new organization, Students First, rolled out its first big policy campaign: It’s called “Save Great Teachers," and it is focused on ending so-called “seniority-based layoffs."

    Rhee made several assertions at the initial press conference and in an accompanying op-ed in the Atlanta Constitution Journal (and one on CNN.com). At least three of these claims address the empirical research on teacher layoffs and quality. Two are false; the other is misleading. If history is any guide, she is certain to repeat these “findings” many times in the coming months.

    As discussed in a previous post, I actually support the development of a better alternative to seniority-based layoffs, but I am concerned that the debate is proceeding as if we already have one (most places don't), and that there's quite a bit of outrage-inspiring misinformation flying around on this topic. So, in the interest of keeping the discussion honest, as well as highlighting a few issues that bear on the layoff debate generally, I do want to try and correct Rhee preemptively.

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  • The Legend Of Last Fall

    Written on February 15, 2011

    The subject of Michelle Rhee’s teaching record has recently received a lot of attention. While the controversy has been interesting, it could also be argued that it’s relatively unimportant. The evidence that she exaggerated her teaching prowess is, after all, inconclusive (though highly suggestive). A little resume inflation from a job 20 years ago might be overlooked, so long as Rhee’s current claims about her more recent record are accurate. But are they?

    On Rhee’s new website, her official bio - in effect, her resume today (or at least her cover letter) - contains a few sentences about her record as chancellor of D.C Public Schools (DCPS), under the header "Driving Unprecedented Growth in the D.C. Public Schools." There, her test-based accomplishments are characterized as follows:

    Under her leadership, the worst performing school district in the country became the only major city system to see double-digit growth in both their state reading and state math scores in seventh, eighth and tenth grades over three years.
    This time, we can presume that the statement has been vetted thoroughly, using all the tools of data collection and analysis available to Rhee during her tenure at the helm of DCPS.

    But the statement is false.

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  • Michelle Rhee's Testing Legacy: An Open Question

    Written on November 1, 2010

    ** Also posted here on “Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post.

    Michelle Rhee’s resignation and departure have, predictably, provoked a flurry of conflicting reactions. Yet virtually all of them, from opponents and supporters alike, seem to assume that her tenure at the helm of the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) helped to boost student test scores dramatically. She and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty made similar claims themselves in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) just last week.

    Hardly anybody, regardless of their opinion about Michelle Rhee, thinks that test scores alone are an adequate indicator of student success. But, in no small part because of her own emphasis on them, that is how this debate has unfolded. Her aim was to raise scores and, with few exceptions (also here and here), even those who objected to her “abrasive” style and controversial policies seem to believe that she succeeded wildly in the testing area.

    This conclusion is premature. A review of the record shows that Michelle Rhee’s test score “legacy” is an open question. 

    There are three main points to consider:

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