Guess what? When you make people’s jobs and bonuses contingent on the performance of their students on high-stakes standardized tests, they have a really strong incentive to cheat! Check out the details of Michelle Rhee’s tenure as Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. schools as reported by USA Today this week:
Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in [the Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus, a school in northeast Washington]. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes’ staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.
A closer look at Noyes, however, raises questions about its test scores from 2006 to 2010. Its proficiency rates rose at a much faster rate than the average for D.C. schools. Then, in 2010, when scores dipped for most of the district’s elementary schools, Noyes’ proficiency rates fell further than average.
A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.
Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008. That’s more than half of D.C. schools.
Gee, who ever could have predicted this? Let me just quote high-stakes testing apostate Diane Ravitch:
[Rhee's] celebrity is not built on her success in D.C., however, which now appears to be a chimera.
Her celebrity results from the fact that she has emerged as the national spokesman for the effort to subject public education to free-market forces, including competition, decision by data, and consumer choice. All of this sounds very appealing when your goal is to buy a pound of butter or a pair of shoes, but it is not a sensible or wise approach to creating good education. What it produces, predictably, is cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum.
See also Dana Goldstein’s article on what The Daily Beast calls “Michelle Rhee’s Cheating Scandal.” And of course, Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler has been all over this Rhee-search this week. Ravitch is correct: it’s Rhee’s glibertarian free-marketeerism that is responsible for her celebrity, because there is no evidence that her methods produce results. She’s touting a faith-based scheme to reform schools. No one wants to hear what honest educators know, which is that standardized tests are a pretty poor measure of “learning,” and that better education costs more money, not less. (Any honest person knows this, too. They understand why Dana Hall costs $37,375 this year for the day school and Greeley-Evans District 6 schools here in Colorado spend $7,645 per year per student [2007-08 figures]. Most people know that generally speaking, we get what we pay for. Those parents with the spare coin to send their daughters to the tony private school–do we think they’re stupid, or do we think they’re lucky?) For more on the race to the bottom of “educational reform,” see Tenured Radical this week, too.
Dig this, from the USA today story:
From the start, Rhee emphasized a need to raise scores, restore calm to chaotic schools and close those with lagging scores and small enrollments. She paid bonuses to principals and teachers who produced big gains on scores. She let go dozens of principals and fired at least 600 teachers. Others retired or quit.
Turnover was brisk. Richard Whitmire, author of The Bee Eater, a biography of Rhee, reported that Rhee hired 1,918 teachers during her three years in office –– about 45% of those on the payroll last October. Only 2,318 current teachers had been hired before Rhee took charge.
The pressure on principals was unrelenting, says Aona Jefferson, a former D.C. principal who is now president of the Council of School Officers, representing principals and other administrators. Every year, Jefferson says, Rhee met with each principal and asked what kind of test score gains he would post in the coming school year. Jefferson says principals told her that Rhee expected them to increase scores by 10 percentile points or more every year. “What do you do when your chancellor asks, ‘How many points can you guarantee this year?’ ” Jefferson says. “How is a principal supposed to do that?”
Rhee churned through principals. TheWashington Post reported that Rhee appointed 91 principals in her three years as chancellor, 39 of whom no longer held those jobs in August 2010. Some left on their own, either resigning or retiring; other principals, on one-year contracts, were let go for not producing quickly enough.
Awesome management philosophy, Captain Hook! When the choice is either walk the plank or join the pirates, what do you think most of the Lost Boys will do?
How do such obvious and complete hacks like Rhee become media and municipal government darlings? Clearly, politicians and policy-makers are much more open to hearing about how they can get something for nothing. They’re desperate to believe that teachers (among all laborers) are economically irrational and they’ll do a better job and work harder while under vicious political attack and will not cheat on high-stakes tests even when their choice is being fired or receiving a $8,000-$10,000 bonus for getting the answers right, somehow.
As the old Hole song “Gutless” goes, “I don’t really miss God, but I sure miss Santa Claus.” Don’t we all miss the days of our youth, when we believed that it was possible to get something for nothing? I swear, this Three Rhing Circus (bluster, cheat, move on down the road before you’re caught) would be funny if this country weren’t so full of damn fools who believe her.