Rhee on Erasergate: No Biggie
LL didn't have room in his column this week for some highlights of former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's new memoir. One particularly interesting passage is Rhee's take on USA Today's investigation that found an almost impossibly large number of erasure marks on standardized tests.
Rhee acknowledges that her initial response to the story—attacking it as "insulting" to teachers after refusing to comment to the paper's reporters—was "misguided."
"Journalists will scrutinize school systems. It's their role. But our reactions shouldn't be to push back at every doubter or negative article. We have to welcome scrutiny," Rhee writes.
She goes on to say that the USA Today's story was much ado about nothing, noting that the District's Office of Inspector General conducted a "seventeen-month examination of testing procedures and results. It found problems in only one school. The report concluded there was 'insufficient evidence on which to conclude that there was widespread cheating.'" She also notes that there hasn't been a dramatic drop in test scores that would indicate that previous gains had been ill-gotten.
It's worth noting that the IG report found evidence of cheating at only one school because it only bothered to investigate one school. (LL and others have already gone over what else was wrong with the IG's weak effort.)
Another fun anecdote details Rhee's roll-out as Adrian Fenty's pick as chancellor. The last LL reported many moons ago how the Fenty administration alerted Washington Post editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao (whom Rhee thanks in the book's acknowledgements, along with Washington Post Company CEO Don Graham) and reporter David Nakamura a full day before telling then-D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray.
In her book, Rhee describes joining Armao and Nakamura on a Sunday at the Wilson Building, two days before the Fenty administration would announce her as the new chancellor. Rhee describes joining Fenty, Armao, and Nakamura in a room and launching into her spiel about why she was excited to take on the new job. "I realize that I'm a bit of an unconventional choice, but I know schools and I know school districts," Rhee said. She continues:
Armao and Nakamura were looking at me as if I were purple.
"Why don't you back up," the mayor said, "and tell them who you are and why you're here."
Are you kidding me? I figured the mayor had been prepping them, teeing up the conversation and explaining why they were sitting there on a Sunday afternoon. The announcement of the new chancellor was the biggest scoop in the city. But apparently the mayor had just been engaged in small talk. They had no idea who I was.
"Of course," I said. "I apologize. My name is Michelle Rhee. I am the new chancellor of the Washington D.C. public schools."
Jo-Ann Armao's jaw dropped.
David Nakamura smiled. He knew he had a scoop.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery