John Merrow, who doggedly pursued the cheating scandal in D.C. here takes issue with someone named John Buntin who wrote of a fictional match-up between Michelle Rhee and me.

Merrow chides Buntin for ignorance of the facts that Merrow covered. He sent this letter, but got no reply:

“I have a couple of observations about your Rhee/Ravitch piece that I hope you don’t mind my sharing. The first is a minor quibble about the firing scene. We filmed that as part of my NewsHour coverage–we followed the young Chancellor for her entire three years in DC (12 NewsHour reports). Only later did we include it in our film for Frontline. I allowed Oprah to use the footage, and Davis Guggenheim appropriated it without our permission for “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” although he did eventually pay us for using it.
My second objection is substantial and has to do with Rhee’s record as Chancellor. Not long after she departed, USA Today broke the story of widespread erasures on the DC-CAS, the city’s standardized test, during Rhee’s first and second years. We covered that in our Frontline film.

“However, AFTER the film I obtained a copy of a confidential memo that made it clear just how much she knew of the erasures and how she failed to act. That is summarized here:

“While “Rhee vs. Ravitch” is a compelling headline and a sexy feature, it’s a roadblock to understanding American education. Ravitch is a passionate advocate who argues from facts. In contrast, Rhee’s policies were tried, and they failed. By almost every conceivable measure, the DC schools are no better than before her tenure. In key areas of student attendance, graduation rates, and principal and teacher turnover, they are worse. Central offices in abutting districts have shrunk, but DCPS’ has grown considerably. Even DC’s most recent gains on NAEP, which began 12-15 years BEFORE Rhee’s tenure, seem to have been fueled by an influx of better-educated families (gentrification) and quality pre-school. Here’s a summary:

“I urge you to revisit this story. There is a titanic struggle going on in public education, one that is complex and deserving of coverage. Using Michelle Rhee as symbolic of ‘one side’ is misleading, unfortunately. Wendy Kopp and Teach for America might better represent one side and Ravitch another, although the issue has more than two sides.”

A good response from John Merrow. Read the whole thing as it is quite interesting.

Mr. Buntin, not known to me, should have covered–or pretended to cover–the debate I was supposed to have with Michelle Rhee on February 6 at Lehigh University. She agreed to the debate, agreed to the date but then began making demands about the format. First, she demanded that we needed seconds. She chose Rod Paige, who had been Secretary of Education in the George W. Bush administration. After a long silence and no signed contract, she required that we have two partners. My choices: Pasi Sahlberg of Finland and Helen Gym, parent leader from Philadelphia. Again a long silence. Rhee then cancelled, saying she could not find a second partner. All very puzzling.