Home / General / More on the Rhee Fraud

More on the Rhee Fraud


I liked the Frontline documentary on Michelle Rhee a little more than Somerby did. To some extent, I understand why they chose a give-’em-enough-rope approach, and I think they left it pretty clear that Rhee’s approach made the rampant cheating that Rhee refused to investigate inevitable. Still, I agree with Somerby that some of Rhee’s false claims demanded more specific refutation. And I think that the access they had to Rhee was in some way a disadvantage; a documentary that put Rhee’s D.C. tenure in the larger context of the education “reform” movement would have been better.

Also, I’d like to add a point to Erik’s post about the Students First “report card” that many media outlets unaccountably treated as something other than worthless propaganda. The fact that the the criteria the group uses has no discernible relationship to student performance is bad enough. But the crietria themselves give away the show. Consider, for example, one reason why the group ranks Louisiana highly:

Louisiana also recently enabled new teachers to participate in a more portable retirement plan.

Note the Orwellian language here — teachers are being “enabled” by being shuttled into a pension system that transfers risk from the state to them. Amazingly, the methodology being used by Rhee’s grifters gives states a “4” (the highest score) if they have defined contribution pensions and a “0” if they have defined benefit pensions. In other words, states get higher rankings for their education systems if they make their pension benefits less attractive! Even more amazingly, pension “reform” is an “anchor” category, meaning it gets three times the weight of some of the other categories that might actually have a clear positive relationship with improving a state’s educational system.

Students First, in other words, can’t even make any pretense that it’s about anything but reactionary policy proposals that have some vague connection to education. Maybe for the next round they can just go all the way and give states better report cards if they cut marginal tax rates and pass new abortion regulations.

…Dean Baker has more.

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  • RedSquareBear

    It seems as if Democratic support for the Rhee machine is eroding. The continued efforts

    This is a good thing, inner-core suburban women are a (D) stronghold and public education is a major mover for that demographic. Removing the lie of bipartisanship from the Rheeists can only hurt attempts by the Republicans to make inroads into this constituency.

    I hope Arne leaves and someone less-terrible than takes over at Education. Possibly someone with actual classroom experience?

    • RedSquareBear

      Oh for an edit button. I changed my first sentence and didn’t erase my old one.

  • “Give them enough rope” isn’t really effective unless the audience really knows the details already, meaning they are attuned to the dog whistles. This isn’t effective. It isn’t a TV drama where a long-term viewer knows the history of a character so seeing scenes that might be opaque to a first-time viewer instead can be rich with nuance or importance. She really is an invented and destructive creature. What is her purpose? For what powers is she being deployed?

    • DocAmazing

      It was an excellent album. “Julie’s in the Drug Squad” remains a classic.

      • Bill Murray

        Sandy Pearlman overproduced it. and they changed that song name to “Julie’s been working for the drug squad” when GEER came out on CD

        • Anonymous

          It’s overproduced but it’s still an excellent album. Great songs.

    • Kurzleg

      At the risk of decapitation, I’d like to point out that Michael Moore’s “TV Nation” did the GEER better than almost anyone I’ve ever seen. The piece on a company preying upon HIV-positive people and buying their life insurance policies for pennies on the dollar beats anything I’ve seen before or since. (And for those who say that the market was just filling a void that existed I say, “FUCK YOU.” )

      • sharculese

        IMO the best example is Fog of War because McNamara so obviously wanted to explain himself, and the harder he tried the tighter the noose got.

  • Why is it that left-leaning groups are always at each other’s throats, while right-leaning groups can’t climb on board each other’s trains fast enough?

    Remember in 2001, when Focus on the Family became Focus on the Tax Cut?

    • RedSquareBear

      The Right has the unifying strength of:
      1. A vision of an (idealized to the extent it ever existed at all) Edenic past from which man has fallen.
      2. A fairly incestuous set of big-money backers.

      • Anonymous

        3. A movement made up of authoritarian personality-types. When James Dobson tells his flock supply side economics have a biblical basis, they don’t ask why or how.

        • Kurzleg


    • Cheap Wino

      As Deep Throat said, “Follow the money.”

  • TT

    Amazingly, the methodology being used by Rhee’s grifters gives states a “4″ (the highest score) if they have defined contribution pensions and a “0″ if they have defined benefit pensions.

    If a group of Pentagon “reformers” came along, backed by hedge fund barons primed to make a killing, and used DoD’s defined-benefit retirement plan as one of the key metrics finding the combat effectiveness of certain units wanting, they’d be laughed out of the room in half a heartbeat. And the same centrist pundits who laud Rhee’s brazen con artistry would be leading the charge. But when it comes to the effectiveness of other public services and those responsible for them, suddenly the wisdom of extravagantly self-styled “reformers” cannot be questioned.

    • wengler

      Except guys like Pinetta have been pushing 401k plans.

      You gotta grift the rubes BEFORE the first large group of people try to retire on these plans.

      • Bill Murray

        but Panetta doesn’t want to use 401(k) percentage as a combat readiness rating

  • Alan in SF

    ALEC has the same approach, although they make the mistake of actually listing a state’s performance right next to its “reform grade,” making it abundantly clear to anyone who can read just how bogus this is.

    And let me add, as I always do, that while many companies have abandoned ALEC since it’s been exposed for the far-right tool it is, State Farm Insurance continues to be a top-level ALEC funder and executive leader. If you’re a State Farm policy holder, you’re a State Farm shareholder — drop a line and let them know how you feel. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is committed to destroying the public education system.

    • Kurzleg

      Thanks for this note. We are, and I WILL be contacting them.

  • Alan in SF
  • StevenAttewell

    While it’s terrible tv, I would have loved a discussion of the fundamental flaws in the testing and measurement systems Rhee relies on, outside of the question of cheating.

    • How about revenge. None of the kids in my freshman chem class laughed when I asked them whether anyone they knew screwed up these tests to screw the teachers. They all went oh yeah.

      • There is that – I was luckily enough that I was in the guinea pig year for Massachusetts’ test, so only had to do it once, and wrote whatever I wanted.

        But it doesn’t even require intentional altering of results – even in best-case scenarios, the variability for one individual teacher from year to year is so great that it’s basically unusable.

  • LFC

    I didn’t watch the Frontline story (don’t have a working TV at the moment, for one thing). Based on an earlier post here and some other things I’ve read, I don’t much like Rhee’s politics and her Student First organization seems unsavory.

    There’s little question, though, that when Rhee took over as chancellor of the DC public schools the system was in deep trouble. Although her tenure was controversial and I’m (vaguely) aware of the reports of doctoring test results etc., I wonder whether she left the system worse off than she found it. My impression, as someone who followed her tenure only casually, is that she did some good things and some bad things, was personally somewhat abrasive, and managed to antagonize several key constituencies.
    But I find it interesting that, unless I’ve missed something, the posts about Rhee here don’t address a central question: did her tenure leave the system better off on balance, in terms of its core mission (i.e. educating kids) or not?

    • even handed centrism

      on one hand bite me, but on the other go fuck yourself

      • LFC

        @even handed centrism: shove it

    • ZetteZelle

      As someone who watched her tenure VERY closely (parent of a 6 year old who is now in his third year of public education in DC), I’d say that the public schools are better now than they were before she came, but that doesn’t mean she made them better. She tends to get credit for improvements that others were responsible for (building renovations, standards work done by her predecessor). The recession and eastward-creeping gentrification brought more high-SES background kids into DCPS; these kids scored well on standardized tests and their parents gave disproportianate amounts of volunteer time and money for school improvements. (In the wealthy neighborhoods, it’s always been standard for several special teachers–the literacy coach, for example–to have their salaries 100% paid by the parent association.)

      The school closures needed to be done, but while Rhee showed courage before they took place, she passed the buck on the question of where to send kids whose schools had closed. Rather than sending kids to the nearest still-open school, the city sent them to the nearest school with space–and DC out of boundary rules mean that the only schools.with space are the absolute lowest performing, worst managed ones. So kids are in some cases walking past better, closer schools on their way to the awful place they’ve been assigned to.

      • The major contribution was clearing out the central BOE, a collection of vicious losers. It was essentially impossible to work with them even when you were giving it away.

      • LFC

        @ZetteZelle: Thanks for this answer.

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