Archives for category: Rhee, Michelle

The high-tech learning “platform” called Summit has been controversial, but nowhere more than in Brooklyn, where high school students walked out of school to protest the amount of time they spend online.

Susan Edelman writes in the New York Post:

Brooklyn teens are protesting their high school’s adoption of an online program spawned by Facebook, saying it forces them to stare at computers for hours and “teach ourselves.”

Nearly 100 students walked out of classes at the Secondary School for Journalism in Park Slope last week in revolt against “Summit Learning,” a web-based curriculum designed by Facebook engineers, and bankrolled by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

It’s annoying to just sit there staring at one screen for so long,” said freshman Mitchel Storman, 14, who spends close to five hours a day on Summit classes in algebra, biology, English, world history, and physics. “You have to teach yourself.”

Listen to the students. They make more sense than the adults. Not always

Summit stresses “personalized learning” and “self-direction.” Students work at their own pace. Teachers “facilitate.” Each kid is supposed to get 10 to 15 minutes of one-on-one “mentoring” each week.

Mitchel said his teachers sometimes give brief lessons, but then students have to work on laptops connected to the Internet.

“The distractions are very tempting,” he said. “I have seen lots of students playing games instead of working.”

Kids can re-take tests until they pass — and look up the answers, he added: “Students can easily cheat on quizzes since they can just copy and paste the question into Google.”

Listen to the students.

Students protested at Sacramento Charter High School, operated by St. Hope’s Charter chain, led by former mayor Kevin Johnson and his wife Michelle Rhee. They were angry about Teacher firings over the summer and arbitrary rules, like requiring students to wear long pants when the temperature reached 100.

Charter operators can’t push high school students around as easily as little kids.

Here’s some history about Sacramento Charter High School.

“Founded in 1856, Sacramento High School moved several times. In 1922, construction began at its current location on 34th Street. It opened at this location in 1924 and continuously served the growing neighborhoods of Downtown Sacramento, Midtown, East Sacramento, River Park, College Greens, Tahoe Park and Oak Park until 2003.

“The school was closed by the SCUSD School Board in June 2003, over the objections of many students, parents and teachers. The new charter high school, which opened in September 2003, kept the same school colors, purple and white, and the dragon mascot but not the Visual and Performing Arts Center (VAPAC) which had been one of the school’s unique features for many years. Sacramento Charter High School is governed by a private Board of Directors from St. Hope Public Schools.”

Michelle Rhee always boasted about how many teachers she fired. She was sure that “bad teachers” were the root of the low academic performance in D.C. She loved her IMPACT program, which weeded out teachers, and many good teachers were fired and went elsewhere, where they were not ineffective.

Here is one teacher who fought back and won. It took nine long years, but he won. Michelle Rhee ruined his life.

For nine years, Jeff Canady lived in a cash-strapped limbo. The D.C. Public Schools teacher was fired in 2009 after 18 years in city classrooms, the school system deeming him ineffective.

Canady, 53, contested his dismissal, arguing that he was wrongly fired and that the city was punishing him for being a union activist and for publicly criticizing the school system.

For nearly a decade, Canady, jobless and penniless, waited for a decision in his case — until now.

Earlier this month, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the fired teacher, a decision that could entitle him to hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay and the opportunity to be a District teacher again. The school system can appeal the ruling, which was made by an arbitrator from the American Arbitration Association, a nonprofit organization that settles disputes outside of court.

“I’ve been a hostage for nine years,” Canady said. “And the District wants to keep it that way.”

School system spokesman Shayne Wells said DCPS “just received the arbitrator’s decision and is in the process of reviewing it.”

Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, said Canady isn’t the only one fighting to get his job back. Other educators who were fired years ago and allege unjust dismissals are waiting for their cases to be settled with the school system.

Canady was one of nearly 1,000 educators fired during the 3½ -year tenure of Michelle Rhee — the controversial former D.C. schools chancellor who clashed with the union and instituted a teacher evaluation system that dictated teachers’ job security and ­bonuses. About 200 of those teachers lost their jobs because of poor performance, 266 were laid off amid a 2009 budget squeeze and the rest failed to complete new-employee probation or did not have licensing required under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The union, which had assailed Rhee’s evaluation system, filed a series of grievances in a bid to salvage the lost jobs.

In 2016, a teacher won a case against the school system after claiming he was wrongly fired in 2011 for a low score on Rhee’s evaluation system, known as ­IMPACT. The educator won on procedural grounds and the arbitrator’s decision did not address IMPACT, but the union still hailed it as a victory in its battle over the teacher evaluation system.

“We are certain that there are still a number of cases pending, unresolved, which were first filed during Michelle Rhee’s tenure as chancellor,” Davis said in an email.

Canady was a third-grade teacher earning about $80,000 a year when he was fired in 2009 from Emery Elementary, a school in the Eckington neighborhood that later closed. The school system, according to the arbitrator’s decision, said Canady scored low on an evaluation system that preceded IMPACT.

But Canady and the teachers union argued that his third-graders performed well and that he had previously posted strong scores on his evaluations. They said they suspected his low score was linked to his public criticism of the school system and not to his performance in the classroom. They also argued that the city did not follow proper protocol when evaluating him.

In defending its action, the school system claimed that the union had included Canady’s case as part of a larger class action complaint and had waited years to proceed with his case individually. By that point, the school system said it no longer had documents or email exchanges in the case.

Davis said she could not discuss specifics of the class action filing because parts of it are ongoing.

The arbitrator said the school system was responsible for many of the delays in the case. The ruling also said D.C. schools improperly evaluated Canady and showed “anti-union animus toward him.”

Canady said in an interview last week that he was confident he would prevail and that he had a moral imperative to keep fighting.

He said that he had ambitions to be a top official in the school system and that his firing stymied career opportunities. He imagines that by now, his salary would be substantially higher than $80,000 had he not lost his job.

“I’ve been fighting for justice for people for years,” Canady said. “Surely if I am going to fight for others, I am going to fight for myself.”

Canady remained in the District and continues to attend political and community meetings but has not held a steady job. With no income, he has moved around the city frequently and said his firing has extracted a physical and emotional toll and “devastated relationships.”

Even if the arbitrator’s decision holds, he said he is unsure if he will return to the classroom. He said he still disagrees with how the District operates its schools.

“I love teaching where they are actually trying to help people,” he said. “And I’ll do it at the appropriate time and in the appropriate situation.”



This spring, the D.C. public schools—under tight corporate reform control since 2007–were rocked by a scandal about graduation rates. It started when Ballou High School boasted about its 100% graduation rate, a story that was then celebrated by the local NPR station. After teachers blew the whistle, NPR returned to investigate and discovered that many of the graduates did not qualify for a high school diploma due to their long absences and lack of credits. This prompted a systemwide audit, which determined that a large proportion of the district’s graduates were unqualified. The system was cheating to boost its apparent (but false) success.

Emily Langhorne of the Progressive Policy Institute wrote an article for the Washington Post to declare, proudly, that charter schools were not implicated in the graduation rate scandal. In fact, she asserted, the charter numbers are audited, and every graduate is really, truly a real high school graduate.

“What’s happened in DCPS is tragic — not only that the number of students graduating declined but also that DCPS has been graduating students who aren’t prepared for life beyond school.

“Yet there is a story of real academic progress in the nation’s capital. It’s the story of the other public schools, the ones educating nearly 50 percent of public school students. It’s the story of D.C.’s charter schools…

“In 2017, D.C.’s 21 charter high schools graduated 73.4 percent of their students in four years. Since the PCSB audits every graduating student’s transcript, that number is an accurate reflection of student achievement.”

Unfortunately, this happy account leaves out some very important but inconvenient facts.

I turned to two experts on the District of Columbia Public Schools.

One of them, Mark Simon of the Economic Policy I statute, told me there had never been an independent audit of the graduation rate# at DCPS charter schools. Langhorne refers to an audit by the PCSB, the Public Charter School Board of the District of Columbia. This is not an independent agency. The data were supplied by the individual charter schools. The Progressive Policy Institute advocates for charter schools. No genuinely independent audit was ever conducted of charter school graduates.

I then turned to Mary Levy, a civil rights attorney and fiscal watchdog of D.C. schools for many years.

She wrote me that the Langhorne article was “highly misleading.” First, she agreed with Simon that there had been no independent audit of the numbers, unlike the audit of the public schools’ data.

She added: “About a third of charter school students leave their schools–and the cohort–before the date of graduation. The majority of 9th grade charter students do not graduate from charter schools. [The emphasis is hers.]

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Levy added:

We don’t know where those who leave charter schools in the 9th grade go–some surely transfer to DCPS (District of Columbia Public Schools), enlarging that cohort, some move out of DC, some drop out. We also know that DCPS 9th grade enrollment includes a number of students in their second year of 9th grade, due to insufficient Carnegie units, thus inflating the percentage based on Grade 9 enrollment. The extent to which this happens in charter schools is unknown.”

To see all the data download the excel file here.

It is one of the curiosities of our time that reformers point to D.C. as one of their triumphs, based on the gain of a few points in test scores on NAEP and rising graduation rates.

D.C. remains one of the lowest performing districts in the nation. And on those same NAEP tests that gladden the hearts of reformers, the D.C. schools have the biggest achievement gaps between blacks and whites and between Hispanics and whites of any urban district in the nation.

D.C. is not a model for the nation.

Reformers pointed to impressive graduation rates as evidence for the D.C. Miracle.

Now we know that the D.C. graduation rates were phony, and that about a third of graduates received diplomas despite absences and lacking credits.

Jan Resseger writes here about the collapsing legacy of Michelle Rhee.

Mercedes Schneider pronounces an educational maxim to sum up the Rhee legacy in D.C.:

When the survival of a school system hinges upon test scores, that system will be driven toward corruption.

Case in point: DC public schools, beginning with the advent of mayoral control and the 2007 appointment of Michelle Rhee as DC chancellor under then-DC mayor, Adrian Fenty.

Mercedes says she wrote Amanda Ripley of TIME magazine to ask if she would rewrite the cover story about Rhee. Apparently not.

Parents and teachers in Richmond, Virginia, are very concerned about their new superintendent, Jason Kamras, who was a key leader of Michelle Rhee’s team in D.C.

Kamras was the architect of Rhee’s controversial IMPACT program, which evaluated teachers in large part by student test scores. Kamras told Richmond educators that he won’t bring IMPACT with him, but he continues to believe that it was “equitable” and effective. Half of his cabinet in Richmond worked with him in D.C. He is still looking for a “chief talent officer.” (Corporate reformers do not employ assistant superintendents, they use corporate titles.)

The Richmond Times reported:

“Since the 44-year-old was named Richmond’s new schools chief in late November, Richmond School Board members, teachers and education advocates have raised concerns about the system, IMPACT, and its relationship to the “worst series of scandals in at least a decade” to rock Washington’s school system.

“It created a culture of fear,” David Tansey, a high school mathematics teacher in Washington, said of Kamras’ program. “Because it was paired with a top-down culture of getting results quickly, it became abused.”

“How Kamras, the highest-paid superintendent in Richmond’s history, plans to assess Richmond Public Schools teachers remains unclear.

“Eight days after the Richmond School Board announced Kamras’ selection in a celebratory news conference, an investigation revealed that fewer than half of students should have graduated from Washington’s Ballou High, previously touted as a bright spot in an ailing system for moving every senior on to college.

“Six days before he was sworn in at the beginning of February, an independent review found that those issues, which stemmed in part from Kamras’ evaluation system, were endemic to D.C. Public Schools as a whole.

“Kamras was noncommittal on teacher accountability when he discussed his plans for moving Richmond Public Schools forward at a community meeting the next month.”

The article quoted admirers and critics of IMPACT.

The recent graduation rate scandal began in Ballou High School, which falsely claimed a graduation rate of 100%. That revelation led to a systemwide investigation, and the discovery that the D.C. schools’ graduation rate was inflated, stemming from the fear induced by Kamras’ IMPACT system.

Richmond journalist Kristen Reed says that the power elite selected Kamras to impose Rhee-style corporate reform on the Richmond public schools. She portrays Tom Farrell, CEO of Dominion Energy, as the leader of the “Gang of 26,” business leaders who tried to eliminate the elected board and have been eager to disrupt democratic governance of the schools.

She writes:

“Farrell, who has led Dominion Energy for 10 years, has a vested interest in promoting the narrative that Kamras is a community hire. Farrell’s broader work in the power industry draws its profit model from seizing unilateral control of democratic institutions under the auspices of “public process” and “public good.” Dominion power has been widely criticized as exercising disproportionate control over the Virginia General Assembly.

“Despite extraordinary public opposition, Dominion has proven itself uniquely empowered to take Virginian land, to custom-draft its own legislation, and to do so at tremendous cost to members of the public, who have no choice but to remain a captive and disempowered consumer base. The broader public in Virginia has thoroughly articulated their reluctance to trust our energy monopoly to govern in lieu of democratic process. Our last election season communicated this message clearly when 13 candidates who ran on platforms that specifically refused Dominion funding won seats in our General Assembly. As the public pushes back, however, Farrell and his corporate colleagues continue to demand disproportionate power over public institutions.

“Farrell is right to be concerned. He not only chaired the committee that brought Kamras to Richmond, he also plays a leadership role in a particular strain of Virginia’s business elite that holds growing investment in bringing corporate education reform to our city. At stake is his long-standing interest in the Richmond public education system, which he has struggled to fully realize. In 2007, Farrell joined a movement of corporate leaders in the city of Richmond who advocated against an elected school board and in favor of a corporate monopoly on school governance.

“The Gang of 26, as they have become known, issued a now-infamous letter that demanded our democratically elected school board be “abolished.” Widespread public outcry, led by African-American education activists and the Richmond Crusade for Voters, pushed back at the prospect of a plutocratic school governance structure. Defeated, members of the Gang of 26 have continued to look for other avenues to disrupt democratic governance of public schools.”

Stay tuned.

Richmond may be the next battle between the community and corporate elites over the future of public schools.


Guy Brandenburg is a retired teacher of mathematics who taught in the D.C. public schools. He was very likely the first person to publicly explode the myth of Michelle Rhee, having pursued her initial claims about miraculously raising the scores of the students she taught as a new TFA teacher from the 13th percentile to the 90th percentile.

He continues to watch the D.C. schools, and he recently attended the public unveiling of NAEP scores for 2017. He was reviewing them in separate posts, and I invited him to combine them into a single post. He generously agreed to do so.

For his diligence and persistence as a researcher and whistle-blower, I name Guy Brandenburg to the honor roll of this blog.

He writes:


By Guy Brandenburg

Add one more to the long list of recent DC public education scandals* in the era of education ‘reform’:

DC’s NAEP** test scores are increasing at a lower rate now (after the elected school board was abolished in 2007) than they were in the decade before that.

This is true in every single subgroup I looked at: Blacks, Hispanics, Whites, 4th graders, 8th graders, in reading, and in math.

Forget what you’ve heard about DC being the fastest-growing school district. Our NAEP scores were going up faster before our first Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, was appointed than they have been doing since that date.

Last week, the 2017 NAEP results were announced at the National Press Club building here on 14th Street NW, and I went in person to see and compare the results of 10 years of education ‘reform’ after 2007 with the previous decade. When I and others used the NAEP database and separated out average scale scores for black, Hispanic, and white students in DC, at the 4th and 8th grade levels, in both reading and math, even I was shocked:

In every single one of these twelve sub-groups, the rate of change in scores was WORSE (i.e., lower) after 2007 (when the chancellors took over) than it was before that date (when we still had an elected school board).
I published the raw data, taken from the NAEP database, as well as graphs and short analyses, on my blog, ( which you can inspect if you like.

I will give you two examples:

• Black 4th grade students in DC in math (see ):

o In the year 2000, the first year for which I had comparable data, that group got an average scale score of 188 (on a scale of 0 – 500). In the year 2007, the last year under the elected school board, their average scale score was 209, which is an increase of 21 points in 7 years, for an average increase of 3.0 points per year, pre-‘reform’.

o After a decade of ‘reform’ DC’s black fourth grade students ended up earning an average scale score of 224, which is an increase of 15 points over 10 years. That works out to an average growth of 1.5 points per year, under direct mayoral control.

o So, in other words, Hispanic fourth graders in DC made twice the rate of progress on the math NAEP under the elected school board than they did under Chancellors Rhee, Henderson, and Wilson.

• Hispanic 8th grade students in DC in reading (see: )

o In 1998, the first year for which I had data, Hispanic 8th graders in DC got an average scale score of 246 (again on a scale of 0-500). In 2007, which is the last year under the elected board of education, they earned an average scale score of 249, which is an increase of only 3 points.

o However, in 2017, their counterparts received an average scale score of 242. Yes, the score went DOWN by 7 points.

o So, under the elected board of education, the scores for 8th grade Latinx students went up a little bit. But under direct mayoral control and education ‘reform’, their scores actually dropped.

That’s only two examples. There are actually twelve such subgroups (3 ethnicities, times 2 grade levels, times 2 subjects), and in every single case progress was worse after 2007 than it was beforehand.

Not a single exception.

You can see my last blog post on this, with links to other ones, here: or .


Why isn’t there more outrage?

*For many years, DC officials and the editorial board of the Washington Post have been bragging that the educational ‘reforms’ enacted under Chancellor Michelle Rhee and her successors have made DCPS the fastest-improving school district in the entire nation. (See or for just two examples.)

It didn’t matter how many lies Chancellor Rhee told about her own mythical successes in a privately run school in Baltimore (see ). She also got away with falsehoods about the necessity of firing hundreds of teachers mid-year for allegedly being sexual predators or abusers of children (see ); there were always acolytes like Richard Whitmire willing to cheer her on publicly (see ), even though the charges were false.

A lot of stories about widespread fraud in the District of Columbia public school system have hit the front pages recently. Examples:

• Teachers and administrators were pressured to give passing grades and diplomas to students who missed so much school (and did so little work) that they were ineligible to pass – roughly one-third of last year’s graduating class. (see ) You may recall that the rising official (but fake) high school graduation rate in Washington was a used as a sign that the reforms under direct mayoral control of education had led to dramatic improvements in education here.

• Schools pretended that their out-of-school suspension rates had been dropping, when in actual fact, they simply were suspending students without recording those actions in the system. (see )

• Less than half of the 2018 senior class is on track to graduate because of truancy, failed classes, and the like. (see )

• High-ranking city officials, up to and including the Chancellor himself, cheated the system by having their own children bypass long waiting lists and get admitted to favored schools. (see )

• A major scandal in 2011 about adults erasing and changing student answer sheets on the DC-CAS test at many schools in DC in order to earn bonuses and promotions was unfortunately swept under the rug. (see )

• About those “public” charter schools that were going to do such a miraculous job in educating low-income black or brown children that DCPS teachers supposedly refused to teach? Well, at least forty-six of those charter schools (yes, 46!) have been closed down so far, either for theft, poor performance on tests, low enrollment, or other problems. (see ).

**Data notes:

A. NAEP, or the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is given about every two years to a carefully chosen representative sample of students all over the USA. It has a searchable database that anybody with a little bit of persistence can learn to use: .

B. I did not do any comparable measurements for Asian-Americans or Native Americans or other such ethnic/racial groups because their populations in DC are so small that in most years, NAEP doesn’t report any data at all for them.

C. In the past, I did not find big differences between the scores of boys and girls, so I didn’t bother looking this time.

D. Other categories I could have looked at, but didn’t, include: special education students; students whose first language isn’t English; economically disadvantaged students; the various percentiles; and those just in DCPS versus all students in DC versus charter school students. Feel free to do so, and report what you find!

E. My reason for not including figures separated out for only DCPS, and only DC Charter Schools, is that NAEP didn’t provide that data before about 2011. I also figured that the charter schools and the regular public schools, together, are in fact the de-facto public education system that has grown under both the formerly elected school board and the current mayoral system, so it was best to combine the two together.

F. I would like to thank Mary Levy for compiling lots of data about education in DC, and Matthew Frumin for pointing out these trends. I would also like to thank many DC students, parents, and teachers (current or otherwise) who have told me their stories.


Tongue planted firmly in cheek, John Merrow questioned Rick Hess’s anguished post about the failure of reform in D.C. under Michelle Rhee and her deputy Kaya Henderson. Hess admitted that “reformers” circled the wagons and refused to listen to naysayers, but he blamed the naysayers for being critical of the fraud and the coverup.

John Merrow spent many hours covering Michelle Rhee as the PBS education correspondent, and it was only at the end of her reign of error that the scales fell from his eyes. But fall they did, and he has since documented the depth of the flimflam that Rhee, Henderson, and their enablers perpetrated.

When Merrow read Hess’ apologia, he reached for the phone to question Rick, but Rick was on a national speaking tour. 

The phone at the American Enterprise Institute was answered, Merrow said, by a woman with a French accent.

“I told the young woman that I had the press release in my hand and had hoped to talk with him before he left. I asked her whether he was going to apologize for being wrong about the so-called ‘school reforms’ in Washington, DC?

“Mais non. Monsieur Hess is going to be explaining why everyone of importance got it wrong about Washington. And zen he will explain how to get it right.”

“Hearing that upset me. I told her that a lot of us, including USA Today, Guy Brandenburg, Diane Ravitch, Mary Levy, the Washington City Paper, local politician Mark Simon, and me, got it right about DC. I told her that we have been saying for years that Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson were perpetrating a fraud.

“Zen, monsieur,” she said with a provocative giggle, “You must not be of importance, because Monsieur Rick explained it to me very clearly.”

“Tell me about the tour, I said. I see from the press release that The Four Seasons is the tour’s official hotel, NetJet the official airline, and Uber the official means of transportation. Will Rick be visiting schools?

“Oh, I don’t zink so,” she said. “Monsieur Rick, he does not like to be with noisy children. He prefers to talk to old people in auditoriums.”

“Will anyone else be appearing with Rick, I wanted to know? After all, lots of important people were wrong about DC: Arne Duncan, Checker Finn, Richard Whitmire, Campbell Brown, Katherine Bradley, Tom Toch, Andy Rotherham, Mike Petrilli, Whitney Tilson, Kati Haycock, the Washington Post, some major foundations, and others.”

Merrow is a notorious trickster. I suddenly remembered his resignation letter, when he announced that he was leaving PBS to join the board of Pearson. Or was that his April Fools’ letter?



Ever since D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty took control of the D.C.public schools and named Michelle Rhee as its leader, corporate reformers have hailed the long-struggling district as a model of school reform. Rhee was a blazing meteor in the world of reform, appearing on the covers of national magazines and as a frequent guest on national TV. She starred in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” and prominent reform-loving journalists burbled in print about her miraculous achievements.

She “knew” that “bad teachers” caused low student test scores, so she set about firing teachers and principals and designed an evaluation system tied to test scores to weed out the bad apples.

Her stle was mean. She gloried in her lack of empathy and her contempt for collaboration.

Now, Tom Ultican (like John Merrow before him, whom he cites) dismantles the Rhee legacy as a fraud, an exemplar of the Destroy Public Education Movement, a testament to the failure of the “portfolio model.”

Inflated test scores, inflated graduation rates, doctored data, a regime of deception and boasting. A model of corporate reform. Educators in Atlanta were sentenced to jail for the same things that happened in D.C. yet D.C. was hailed as a model.

Rhee is gone. Her successor Kaya Henderson is gone. Her successor Antwan Wilson is gone. But the hype and spin survives. When will the Mayor and City Council and people of D.C demand accountability?