Archives for category: Michelle Rhee

In the Frontline documentary, John Merrow confronted Michelle Rhee with statistics from certain schools showing dramatic increases in test scores followed by equally dramatic declines. And they had this exchange:

JOHN MERROW: What’s your reaction to those numbers? That the gains are phony.


Yeah. I mean, I—again, I—I feel like when you look at a situation like that does it call things into question? Absolutely. And should those things be investigated? A hundred percent. No—there’s no doubt about it. // But I can point to, you know, dozens and dozens of schools where, you know, they saw very steady gains over the course of the—the years that we were there, or even saw some dramatic gains that were maintained. So I think, in isolated places—could something have happened? Maybe.

Retired D.C. teacher and blogger extraordinaire G.F. Brandenburg has started an investigation of the “dozens and dozens of schools” that allegedly saw “steady” or “even some dramatic gains” when Rhee was chancellor.

He will continue his search for the “dozens and dozens” of schools in future posts.

See how great it is to be a math teacher?

Here on this blog we have math teacher Gary Rubinstein correcting the mistakes of the Gates Foundation’s $50 million MET project and now math teacher Brandenburg fact-checking the most divisive figure in American education today.

G.F. Brandenburg is the unofficial watchdog for the D.C. public schools.

In this post, he includes a link to the court documents that contains Adell Corthorne’s account about the cheating that she saw, what happened when she reported it, and her belief that the district received Race to the Top funding based on inflated test scores.

This is a jaw-dropper.

Michelle Rhee was interviewed by “The City Paper” in Nashville.

The story describes her thus: “A Tennessee transplant, she is turning her attention to schools in her new state.” It also refers to the “roots” she is “setting” in Nashville. Apparently, she never told the reporter that she lives in Sacramento, not Nashville. She describes herself as a “public school parent” because one of her daughters attends public school in Nashville. But she did not acknowledge that her older daughter goes to an excellent private school, Harpeth Hall School (“Nashville, TN’s only independent, college-preparatory school for girls, grades 5-12”).

One can hardly blame her for choosing Harpeth Hall. It has an 8:1 student/teacher ratio, with a median class size of 13. Class sizes in public schools in Nashville and other cities are much, much larger.

I bet that Harpeth Hall does not give standardized tests and does not evaluate teachers based on their students’ test scores.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Michelle Rhee became an advocate for small class size, and for the same goals and purposes for all children that she wants for her own child?

Read here the inspiring mission and purpose of the school in the Faculty handbook:

Harpeth Hall is an independent college preparatory school for young women where each student
realizes her highest intellectual potential, becomes fluent in the sciences, the humanities, and the
arts, and discovers her creative and athletic talents. Harpeth Hall develops responsible citizens who
have global perspectives and make a meaningful contributions to their communities and to the
world. With a tradition of excellence and a commitment to lifelong learning, Harpeth Hall educates
young women to think critically, to lead confidently, and to live honorably.

Our Core Purpose is to nurture a sense of wonder, to cultivate a will and facility for learning, and to
promote cultural understanding, environmental stewardship, and service to others. The pursuit of
these goals will inspire students and faculty to combine knowledge with goodness and reflection
with action.


This is a remarkable exchange of correspondence about the PBS program “The Education of Michelle Rhee.”

Many readers on this blog thought the documentary was too favorable towards Rhee, recycling a lot of old footage in which she is shown as a courageous upstart who did it all “for the kids.” They thought it provided far too rosy a portrait of a woman who provided lessons in how NOT to be a leader, not only because she used pressure tactics to demand higher scores, but because she repeatedly showed herself to be heartless, callous and indifferent to other human beings.

Others, however, thought it was unfair to Rhee.

Chancellor Kaya Henderson wrote a statement to the PBS ombudsman to complain about the program’s portrayal of the (alleged) cheating scandal. She believes that the investigation by the D.C. Inspector General cleared the district of any suspicion.

Someone who describes herself as a DC parent also wrote to the PBS ombudsman to complain that the program harped on a non-existent cheating scandal.

As you will see, both the statement and the letter attack the credibility of former principal Adell Cothorne, who told John Merrow that she witnessed staff changing test sheets.

PBS stands by the documentary. The exchange is well worth reading.

Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post has written a comprehensive review of Michelle Rhee’s moment on the national stage, presenting a balanced portrait.

Rhee is still pretending to be a liberal Democrat, even though–as Layton points out–she has allied herself with the nation’s most rightwing governors and advocates for the privatization of public education.

The only thing I read that I had not seen before is that StudentsFirst has raised only $7.6 million, despite the claim by Rhee that she would raise $1 billion.

Otherwise, there is nothing new. Nothing new about the cheating scandal. Somehow I think the public is going to tire of her routine. The only unanswered question is whether, when, and how the D.C. cheating scandal will finally be cracked open. What did she know, when did she know it, or was she totally in the dark?

Apparently, she is now promoting her book but the question I have as a writer is whether she wrote any of it since she has been traveling nonstop promoting the full ALEC package of charters, vouchers, anti-union, and anti-teacher legislation. The minimal requirement for writing a book is a sustained period of time in which you can write. She has not had that time in the past two years. Why didn’t she just say, “as told to,” as other celebrity authors do?

The D.C. Inspector General is satisfied that there was no systemwide cheating. The office investigated Noyes campus and found that maybe there was a teacher or two who might have cheated.

The U.S. Department of Education seconded the nearly clean bill of health offered up by the DC IG.

But here are the actual scores of the Noyes school, compiled by retired DC teacher Erich Martel and posted on G.F. Brandenburg’s blog. Those retired DC teachers are plenty smart.

Look at those scores: First they soar up, then they plummet down.

Nothing suspicious there, right?

And apparently that is not the only school in D.C. where scores rose and fall in ways that suggest systematic tampering.

This is a scandal that will not die. There is too much evidence left on the table.


In case you wondered what Adell Cothorne, the star of the PBS Frontline special about Michelle Rhee’s cheating scandal, is doing now, she is very happy making gourmet cupcakes. Thanks to reader Linda of Connecticut for finding her on the web. I wish we lived close to Ellicott City, Maryland, so we could sample her cupcakes.

Adell is in business with Bill Kerlina, another ex-principal from D.C.

As you know from reading the posts on this blog, Adell filed a whistleblower complaint against the leadership of the D.C. school system. Chancellor Kaya Henderson denies that there was widespread cheating, denies that Cothorne complained about cheating, denies that Cothorne met with administrative staff, believes that the cheating scandal never happened, and alleges that Cothorne is pursuing her claim for financial gain.

So, we must rely on John Merrow to follow up this story. It matters for Adell Cothorne, but it also matters for the children of D.C. and for educators across the nation, who are sick of being bullied by administrators who tell them to produce higher test scores or get out.

The Daily Howler is a tough marker.

He reports on how the media reports on events.

He was not happy with the PBS show about Rhee.

He thought it was dated and failed to ask important questions.

By the way, if you haven’t seen The Daily Howler reports on how the media fumbled the latest international test scores, you should. See here. And here. And here.

There is a connection. Rhee loves to carry on about how horrible American schools are, how dreadful our teachers are, how far down we are in international tests. But if you read the links above, you will learn that our scores on international tests are not so bad. StudentsFirst will have to rewrite a lot of its documents, maybe even retire that insulting video where SF showed a US athlete in the Olympics who pranced around and stumbled pathetically, a man doing a female-only sport. When I recall that awful commercial (shown on national television), it makes my blood boil. What is it with this woman? Why does she want to humiliate the U.S. in the eyes of the world? Why does she have such contempt for our teachers, our schools, and our students?


Paul Thomas taught high school in rural South Carolina for nearly twenty years. Now he teaches at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.

He writes here about what it means to have a life of service, in contrast to a life devoted to self-service in a celebrity culture, a life adorned with press conferences, self-promotion and photo ops.

Last night, I posted the commentary that I wrote after seeing a preview of the PBS Frontline show on Michelle Rhee.

This morning, I realized that my favorite paragraph was deleted, presumably to save space. It was this:

” She leads by threats and coercion, never by inspiration or example. She personifies the Ice Queen, a woman who is charming but cold, cruel, and heartless, even proud that she lacks even an ounce of compassion for those whose careers she is terminating. She is doing it all ‘for the children.'”

I am sorry this was cut. I think this is important because it goes to the heart of Rhee’s education policies. She believes that a good leader must be cold and hard and that leadership consists of making hard decisions with no regrets. She thinks that those who work for her can be frightened into compliance and, acting in fear, will produce the right results.

When the camera shows her firing a principal, we see a cruel, affectless face, a person utterly lacking in empathy. Yes, sometimes people must be fired, but should there not be some expression of regret? One should feel some regret about terminating another person’s career, cutting off their livelihood, sending them away without a job. Is kindness really such an obsolete character trait?

This is a poor model for leadership. Great leaders inspire, not coerce. It is also a poor model for educators, who can’t fire the children who don’t measure up.