'Reformers' Playing Games With the Truth

Now the issue regarding Michelle Rhee's claims to have increased her students' test scores from the 13th to the 90th percentile is settled. Now the disagreement is whether she lied, or simply repeated a falsehood - over and over. The question of Rhee's propriety also arose in two other settings this week. An arbitrator ruled that Rhee improperly fired 75 teachers, and recommended that they be rehired. It may cost the D.C. schools $7.5 million to right that wrong. The interesting point in that case is that those teachers were probationary, meaning that they had no due process rights. In other words, all the district had to do was to follow proper procedures.

Also, Richard Whitmire recently provided new insight into how Rhee allegedly shaved the truth in laying off 266 teachers in 2009, supposedly for financial reasons. To understand the importance of Rhee's biographer's scoop, we must review her largest batch of firings. Earlier that year, Rhee hired an additional 934 teachers. Then three months after the firings, she discovered a $34 million surplus. Testifying under oath, Rhee said that she did not violate the law when disregarding instructions by the D.C. Council to cut summer school rather than fire teachers three weeks into the school year. Last spring a D.C. Superior Court judge said the case was "morphing" and asked "'whether it was reasonable for the chancellor to believe last fall that there was a budget shortfall to justify' the layoffs." Rhee, however, claimed that terminations were based on a formula where 75 percent of the termination decisions were based on "school needs," with seniority and past performance counting for 5 percent.

Whitmire praised Rhee in the NY Post, however, boasting that, "Rhee made sure that the majority of the firings were based on effectiveness alone." By the way, this was before Rhee's controversial IMPACT evaluation system was in place, so she acted on the opinions of principals.

More mendacity was recently revealed in New York City under Rhee's mentor, Joel Klein. The Office of Special Investigations found that from 2007 to 2009, a principal told several of her assistant principals to give unsatisfactory ratings to a half of a dozen teachers before those teachers were formally observed. The report substantiated abuse of due process bordering on fraud, and yet the principal was not fired. Instead, the school system assessed a $7,500 fine!

New York City also announced the investigation of the latest example of schools using trickery to inflate their graduation rates. At the highest ranked school in the district, teachers were given a quota of assigning no more than five "Ds" and no "Fs." A student was promoted after missing more than 100 days of school. Another student, who missed 98 days, earned credits for cooking, yoga, and independent study, even though the school does not offer a cooking class! Credit was awarded for classes that the school does not offer, in the name of a gym teacher who does not work at the school!

These revelations should be no surprise since a 2009 audit showed that Chancellor Joel Klein had created what one critic called the "Enron of Education." The transcripts of 25 percent of the audited student records were allegedly altered as the system inflated its graduation rate by playing games with "credit recovery," and "discharge rates."

The grand prize for misrepresentating the truth, however, may go to the Los Angeles Times. On Monday, it reported, "A study to be released Monday confirms the broad conclusions of a Times' analysis of teacher effectiveness in the Los Angeles Unified School District while raising concerns about the precision of the ratings."

In fact, the study concluded, "The research on which the Los Angeles Times relied for its teacher effectiveness reporting was demonstrably inadequate to support the published rankings. Using the same L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) data and the same methods as the Times, Derek Briggs and Ben Domingue of the University of Colorado at Boulder probed deeper and found the earlier research to have serious weaknesses making the effectiveness ratings invalid and unreliable."

The National Educational Policy Center's analysis of reading scores, for instance, instead determined:

*46.4 percent of teachers who were rated would retain the same effectiveness rating under both models.
*8.1 percent of those teachers identified as effective under the alternative model are identified as ineffective in the L.A. Times database
*12.6 percent of those identified as ineffective under the alternative model are identified as effective by the L.A. Times model.

You would think that "reformers" would get their facts straight before starting a war on teachers where they would inevitably be cross examined under the rules of evidence. Perhaps they have grown so accustomed to political spin that they have forgotten that their words have real world effects.

Please, read more of my thoughts at ScholasticAdministrator.com.