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Rhee Con

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Much more on Rhee’s tenure in DC and the cheating scandal she knew about and buried from John Merrow. Rhee was completely unqualified to run a school system but certainly accomplished in getting people to lavish her with praise (up to and including the current occupant of the White House), and the consequences were pretty much inevitable:

It’s easy to see how not trying to find out who had done the erasing–burying the problem–was better for Michelle Rhee personally, at least in the short term. She had just handed out over $1.5 million in bonuses in a well-publicized celebration of the test increases. She had been praised by presidential candidates Obama and McCain in their October debate, and she must have known that she was soon to be on the cover of Time Magazine. The public spectacle of an investigation of nearly half of her schools would have tarnished her glowing reputation, especially if the investigators proved that adults cheated–which seems likely given that their jobs depended on raising test scores.

Moreover, a cheating scandal might well have implicated her own “Produce or Else” approach to reform. Early in her first year she met one-on-one with each principal and demanded a written, signed guarantee of precisely how many points their DC-CAS scores would increase.

Relying on the DC-CAS was not smart policy because it was designed to assess students’ strengths and weaknesses. It did not determine whether students passed or were promoted to the next grade, which meant that many students blew it off.

Putting all her eggs in the DC-CAS basket was a mistake that basic social science warns against. “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” That’s Campbell’s Law, formulated in 1976 by esteemed social scientist Donald Campbell (1916-1976) .

Applied to education, it might go this way: “If you base nearly everything–including their jobs–on one test, expect people to cheat.”

And the novice Chancellor was basing nearly everything on the DC-CAS.

Read the whole thing — I can assure you that it’s a better time investment than Won’t Back Down.

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