There is a new scandal in the District of Columbia that has shaken true believers in Rhee-style reform to their core. An independent investigation of the high school graduation rate determined that 1/3 of the district’s graduates should not have received a diploma.

Reformers have been touting the District of Columbia public schools as a model of success ever since Michelle Rhee wielded her broom and swept away every “bad” teacher. Although she had no prior experience as an administrator or principal, she was chosen by Mayor Adrian Fenty to overhaul the school system. She did so in a spirit of meanness. She openly scoffed at collaboration, which she said was for losers.  She set out to fire as many teachers and principals as she could, and she set test score goals that every school was expected to meet. She left when the mayor who appointed her was defeated in 2010, but the District has remained true to her cold-hearted vision. Rhee then formed a group called Students First, devoted to firing teachers, busting unions, and promoting charters and vouchers. Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children honored her with an award for her service to the cause of destroying public education, an award she shared at the time with Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker.

But not long after her departure, there was a major scandal in 2011, when USA Today conducted an investigation and determined that the test score erasures at Noyes Educational Complex were literally incredible. Rhee scoffed at the claims of cheating, as the principal of Noyes was one of her stars. 

Her successor Kaya Henderson continued Rhee’s policies, and the new chancellor Antwon Wilson (a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Academy) is also a true believer in Rheeform (at his most recent post, in Oakland, he nearly bankrupted the district by hiring large numbers of administrators).

D.C. continues to be a reform shrine, but it is really a monument to Campbell’s Law. When the measure becomes the goal, both the measure and the goal are corrupted.

The graduation rate scandal is probably the tip of the iceberg.