Penetrating the Smokescreen

A great deal has happened since “Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error” appeared in this space two weeks ago.

  • DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson testified under oath that she learned of Sandy Sanford’s long-buried memo from my blog this past January. My source recalls being in at least one meeting when Ms. Henderson and then Chancellor Michelle Rhee discussed the memo and its contents.  Someone is lying.
  • The DC City Council held what it called a ‘round table’ that, for the most part, danced around the crucial issues and failed to address an important question: “Did Chancellor Rhee cover up the 2008 erasures?”
  • The DC Inspector General continued to evade direct questions, further embarrassing himself and his inadequate investigation.
  • The Rhee-Henderson smokescreen–their claim that six investigations have proved they did the right thing–has become easier to see through. It turns out that everything rests on the first ‘investigation’ done by Caveon, a shaky foundation if ever there was one.

At the risk of burying the lead, I propose to examine these points in order.{{1}}

“The first time I ever saw the Sandy Sanford memo was in January of this year. John Merrow reported on it, and I had to ask my staff, ‘What is this Sandy Sanford memo? Can I see it?’  It has been alleged that I have been in meetings with former Chancellor Rhee about this issue. That was not something that I would have been engaged in, in the scope of my responsibilities at that time.”

That is Kaya Henderson’s sworn testimony before the City Council’s ‘roundtable’ hearing on education on April 18, 2013.  She prefaced her statement by acknowledging that she knew she was under oath.

As noted above, my source told me about being present at ‘at least one meeting’ in 2009 when Ms. Henderson and Ms. Rhee discussed the memo and its contents.  My source is absolutely terrified of being publicly identified, and I have sworn to protect my source’s identity, but I can tell you that my source had little to gain by speaking to me in the first place. “If anyone ever figures out that it was me, I will never work in education again,” my source said, trembling.  Such is the level of fear that Ms. Rhee and Ms. Henderson inspire.

But leave aside the contradiction between Ms. Henderson and my source for a moment. Consider instead the likelihood of Henderson’s not being involved in discussions of this deadly serious challenge to Ms. Rhee’s leadership.  Ms. Rhee and Ms. Henderson are best friends, as both have said many times.  Is it credible that best friends would not unite to face this most challenging moment, when powerful evidence had emerged suggesting that Ms. Rhee’s own principals might have been responsible for the rash of ‘wrong-to-right’ erasures?  Is it credible that Ms. Rhee would not have asked her best friend to help her figure out how to react to this threat to her claim of unprecedented academic success?  What are best friends for?


The Council hearing was called by David Catania, who chairs the newly reconstituted Education Committee. The key witnesses were Chancellor Henderson and Inspector General Charles Willoughby.  Two other Council members, Kenyan McDuffie and David Grosso, joined Mr. Catania.  One purpose of the hearing was to advance Mr. Catania’s own legislation to make cheating a crime (which it apparently is not under current District law). But he acknowledged that the publication of Dr. Sanford’s memo had given the hearing a second purpose: to look back at what transpired in 2008 and 2009.

Reading from what he called a ‘timeline’ of events, Mr. Catania said that Dr. Sanford had been asked to review the testing data on January 28, 2009 and wrote his memo the next day. Dr. Sanford actually traveled to Washington on January 25th and spent the next five days at DCPS, apparently writing his memo on the fifth day of his work there.  (Dr. Sanford also billed DCPS for 16.5 hours of work done before flying to Washington.)  He did not, as Mr. Catania’s timeline suggested, get the data one day and dash off a memo the next. He took it seriously, as well he should have.

While the timeline error is minor, it highlights a pattern of minimizing the memo itself, which both Ms. Rhee and Ms. Henderson have done publicly.  They have cited Dr. Sanford’s warning that ‘the picture is not perfectly clear,’ while omitting the rest of his point: ‘the possible ramifications are serious.’

Chairman Catania kept pressing on the absence of an investigation of the 2008 erasures. Every other year has what he called a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” investigation.  After all, Mr. Catania said, we have investigations by “independent outsiders” in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.  Why not 2008?

And the Chairman made his own position clear: “If I found any evidence that suggested there was a coverup or significant cheating, this would be a different situation.”

Several times he contrasted the DC situation with Atlanta, usually saying something to the effect that ‘this is not Atlanta.’

Later he noted, “We may never really know what happened in 2008 because the trail runs cold.”

As the Chairman must know, the trail has not ‘run cold.’ And while there is no proof that cheating in 2008 was not as extensive as it was in Atlanta, the truth is out there: CTB/McGraw-Hill still possesses all of the materials from the 2008 DC-CAS.  He, the entire City Council or the Mayor could demand a sophisticated erasure analysis to determine if the WTR erasures reveal patterns. We already know that hundreds of classrooms in about half of the schools had WTR erasures that were four, five and six standard deviations away from the norm.  That suggests but does not prove hanky-panky.

A deep analysis might reveal that almost all the students answered the hard questions correctly–after erasing their original wrong answers.  Bingo!

If someone wants to know the truth, it’s right there in the files.


Councilmember McDuffie questioned Inspector General Willoughby at some length, following up on his own hearing on February 21, 2013.  At that first hearing, Mr. McDuffie asked the IG why he had not looked at other high-erasure schools. “Because we didn’t find evidence of a conspiracy to cheat at Noyes,” he replied. Was it prudent to take the word of firms that were paid by DCPS or OSSE {{2}} instead of seeking an outside, independent opinion and to rely on media reports, Mr. McDuffie asked. “Yes,” Mr. Willoughby replied.

Asked by Mr. McDuffie if he had tried to find an explanation for the pronounced test score drops when security was tightened, Mr. Willoughby replied, “We were told that it was caused by an influx of new students.” His 17-month investigation resulted in a 14-page report, which he released August 8, 2012. (The Atlanta report runs 813 pages.) He found no evidence of widespread cheating at Noyes but cited some security concerns and noted that one teacher had been dismissed for coaching students on a test. The IG’s essential message: except for that one teacher, all was well.{{3}}

The IG’s investigation had been requested by Ms. Henderson (who had succeeded Ms. Rhee as Chancellor) not long after USA Today revealed the extent of the erasures. Even today she boasts of the thoroughness of her approach: “I am frustrated because people are saying I haven’t done enough,” she told ABC News recently. “I have used every tool in my tool kit to get to the bottom of cheating.”

Mr. Willoughby’s February testimony did not assuage Mr. McDuffie’s concerns. In a letter dated April 17, 2013, the Council Member wrote that he continued to be ‘gravely concerned.’While I do not wish to make inflammatory accusations, the discovery of this memorandum creates doubt that your investigation thoroughly and expansively examined the allegations,” Mr. McDuffie wrote.  In his testimony, Mr. Willoughby had referred to ‘factors that limited the scope of his investigation,’ but the tone of Mr. McDuffie’s letter suggested he saw the five factors as excuses. “In my review of the factors I cannot help but conclude that your office did not investigate further because you were told that no cheating occurred anywhere else.”

Mr. Willoughby was called back before the Council on April 18th and was closely grilled once again by Mr. McDuffie. It is sad and disappointing to watch Mr. Willoughby’s weak defense of his badly compromised report.  Unfortunately, Mr. McDuffie could not get a straight answer when he tried to get Mr. Willoughby to explain why he ignored the 2008 data.

Mr. McDuffie chastised the IG for relying on news reports as his source, for not looking beyond Noyes, and for relying on companies hired by DCPS. Mr. Willoughby spoke positively of his reliance upon Caveon’s investigations and responded to the Council member’s criticism by saying “I stand by the report…It is an excellent report.”


And speaking of Caveon…..

The investigations “found that there was some cheating, but that it was isolated to only a few schools.” (Michelle Rhee, February 8, 2013)

“We have had six{{4}} investigations that have cleared DCPS of widespread cheating. (Henderson, April 16, 2013)

If you believe Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson, those multiple investigations prove that Rhee and Henderson were on the case.  What’s more, the fact that the investigations failed to turn up credible evidence of widespread illegal behavior bears witness to their integrity.

If you believe them….

It turns out that the first Caveon investigation is the linchpin for all that follows, from Chairman Catania’s citing it as the first to have a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” to Ms. Rhee’s and Ms. Henderson’s claims that these investigations vindicate them.

You recall that the rash of ‘wrong-to-right’ erasures in half of DCPS schools during Ms. Rhee’s first year has never been thoroughly investigated, beyond the initial analysis done by CTB/McGraw-Hill.  Deep erasure analysis, a process that would have revealed any patterns of erasures, was never ordered by Chancellor Rhee (or by the Mayor, presuming he was aware of the issue).

When the erasures continued in Ms. Rhee’s second year on the job, she was under pressure to investigate, and so in December 2009 she hired Caveon, a security firm that is based in Utah. Why Caveon?  Ms. Henderson explained to Mr. Catania’s Committee, “The reason that we hired Caveon was because we thought that we needed an objective third party to actually do the investigation and to make recommendations to us.”

However, according to Caveon President John Fremer,{{5}} his firm did not conduct an investigation in Washington in the normal sense of the word because his firm does not conduct investigations. {{6}}  “We use the word ‘investigation’ in our materials because everyone else does,” he said, “but we do analysis, with the goal of process improvement and quality assurance.”  Then he added, “We were not brought in to help DCPS with an analysis of what had happened.”

The contract was for a two-part project: a security audit and questioning of certain people at just eight DCPS schools (even though many more had been implicated).  But, he emphasized again in our conversation, it was not an investigation Caveon was hired to “review and collect information,” he said.  “I give advice as to where to focus attention. I am not trying to position a client to put people in jail. Instead, we give them enough information about problems to allow them to fix them in the future.”

The security audit, he said, consisted of examining DCPS’ policies and procedures around the testing.  Caveon did not seek to find out if principals and teachers actually followed the rules, and so Caveon apparently did not inform Chancellor Rhee just how easy it would be to cheat on the DC-CAS before, during and after its administration. {{7}}  Caveon did make some recommendations to improve security–recommendations, he said, that DCPS did not follow.

Part Two of Caveon’s work–the questioning–is even more interesting.  Dr. Fremer told me that DCPS gave him a list of the eight schools it was authorized to go into. DCPS also gave Caveon about 50 questions to ask of teachers, proctors, principals and assistant principals.  He said DCPS indicated that Caveon was not to stray from the list.  Follow-up questions, the essence of a good investigation, were actively discouraged, according to Dr. Fremer.

He told me that DCPS’ list of questions did not include “Did you see anyone erasing answers?” or “Did you participate…” or “Are you aware of organized erasures?” or “Are you aware of cheating?”

Dr. Fremer told me that his employees never use words like ‘cheating’ or ‘illegal behavior’ because they are ‘too emotional.’  Instead, he said, they asked individuals if they could explain huge discrepancies in wrong-to-right erasures between classrooms.

Caveon was contractually obligated to show DCPS drafts of the report before it was made final, which Dr. Fremer said was completely appropriate.  “There was no pressure to ‘sweeten the sound’ of our report,” Dr. Fremer said. “We wanted DCPS to check for mistakes and make certain that we did not reveal the identities of individuals.”

Caveon sent DCPS its final report in February 2010, saying that it had not found evidence of cheating–which it had not been looking for, as Dr. Fremer explained. It recommended some changes in security procedures.

How much control did Chancellor Rhee have over what Caveon did? It seems obvious that she could have demanded a deep analysis of the erasures–after all, it was her contract. But she recently told one of her supporters that she was frustrated by what went on. Here’s what Whitney Tilson wrote to me after talking with Ms. Rhee this week: “She also expressed frustration at some of the investigations because she agrees that they were weak – but she didn’t control them and any attempt by her to influence them would be inappropriate.”

That is her public position: she didn’t control the process and was frustrated but didn’t interfere because that would have been inappropriate, but she had approved (and possibly designed) the process for Caveon to follow, and Caveon was contractually obligated to let DCPS review its drafts.

At the April 18th hearing Chairman Catania alluded to what he called Caveon’s ‘positive’ role in helping expose the Atlanta cheating.  That is an overstatement, to put it mildly. Prior to its work for DCPS, Caveon had been hired by the (so-called) “Blue Ribbon Committee” established to look into allegations of cheating in Atlanta.  Caveon looked–and reported finding nothing wrong in what turned out to be the epicenter of cheating by adults on standardized tests. {{8}} Dr. Fremer told me that while he ‘knew’ there was widespread cheating going on, that was not mentioned in his final report. “We did not try to find out who was cheating,” he said.  “Our purpose was to rank order the schools beginning with those with the most obvious problems (of unbelievably dramatic score increases), in order to make the task of investigating more manageable.”   In other words, Caveon produced a list!

Dr. Fremer admitted that he knew some Atlanta teachers were lying to him, but he said his hands were tied because he didn’t have subpoena power.

Georgia’s investigators are contemptuous of Caveon’s efforts, labelling it a ‘so-called investigation.’  Richard Hyde, one of the three leaders of the investigation, told me that “either by coincidence or design, it was certain to fail.”  Mr. Hyde denied that Caveon needed subpoena power because its investigators were representing a governmental agency, and under Georgia law it is a felony to lie to someone representing the government.  What’s more, Mr. Hyde said, Caveon had a fundamental conflict of interest–it was investigating its employer, at least indirectly, because the “Blue Ribbon Commission” (which Mr. Hyde dismisses as “The Whitewash Commission”) included a deputy superintendent of schools.

Robert Wilson, another leader of the Georgia investigation, is even blunter. Of course Caveon didn’t find cheating because “Caveon couldn’t find its own ass with either hand,” he scoffed.  Why anyone would hire Caveon was, he said, beyond him–unless they didn’t want to find out anything.

Dr. Fremer seemed hurt and offended by the criticism. “We try to be non-emotional,” he said, acknowledging that “People who listen only to the law enforcement side do not respect us.”


Caveon I was Chancellor Rhee’s first foray into ‘investigation,’ and she and Ms. Henderson regularly cite it as evidence that all was well–because Caveon did not find what it was not looking for.

Next in this row of dominos is Charles Willoughby, who leaned heavily upon Caveon’s report as he exonerated DCPS.

Then there’s the Department of Education’s Inspector General’s investigation, which leaned heavily upon Mr. Willoughby’s work when it reported on January 17, 2013, that “No information was obtained or developed during the course of the investigation that substantiated the allegation of false claims made to the federal government or confirmed widespread cheating on standardized tests.”

For some reason I hear Harry Belafonte singing “Hosanna.”

House built on a weak foundation
Will not stand oh no
Story’s told throughout creation
Will not stand oh no

So let’s connect the dots: Scores rose dramatically on the 2008 DC-CAS after Chancellor Rhee required her principals to give her written guarantees of test score increases.  The subsequent discovery of a rash of wrong-to-right erasures suggested collusion by adults but the erasures were not (and have never been) investigated. Caveon was hired to ‘investigate’ the 2009 results even though it does not do investigations, and, surprise, it did not find evidence of cheating. And Caveon’s supposed ‘clean bill of health’ is the foundation for the claims by former Chancellor Rhee, Chancellor Henderson and Chairman Catania that all is well.

All is not well.


[[1]]1. If you think I’ve become a fanatic, or as one blogger put it, “Ahab,” please consider this: It’s easy to say “We’ll never know what happened, so let’s move on,” but those smudge marks on the 2008 answer sheets represent real kids who may have been denied remedial help because adults conspired to cheat. And given Michelle Rhee’s national prominence, it could happen again.

If you’ve made up your mind one way or the other, you can stop reading now. But if you are on the fence and can keep an open mind, please read on.  A web of deception that has been woven with great care over the past five years now seems to be unravelling.[[1]]

[[2]]2. He was referring to Caveon and Alvarez & Marsal, hired by either DCPS or OSSE, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.[[2]]

[[3]]3. Just how weak was Mr. Willoughby’s effort?  As we reported on Frontline in January, the Inspector General’s investigation is remarkable for what it did not investigate. He chose not to investigate 2008, the year with the most erasures. He chose not to investigate Aiton, the school Dr. Sanford had singled out for special attention because of its high wrong to right erasures. He did not examine the test answer sheets or perform an electronic analysis. And he did not investigate J.O Wilson – a school with excessive WTR erasures in 100% of its classrooms – simply because Chancellor Henderson had assured him that it was a good school.

Although more than half of DC’s schools had been implicated, he focused only on Noyes Education Campus, the school that USA Today had made the centerpiece of its investigation. Over the course of the next 17 months, his team interviewed just 60 administrators, teachers, parents and teachers, all from Noyes Education Campus. (Atlanta investigators interviewed over 2,000 people and reviewed 800,000 documents). Rather than seek outside experts (as Atlanta investigators had), he relied heavily on information from Caveon, which had been, of course, in the employ of DCPS. He did not ask to perform erasure analysis but relied on interviews–sometimes conducted over the phone.

Without the power to put people under oath, he told City Council member McDuffie in February that he just asked them if they had cheated. If they said they hadn’t, that was the end of it, because, he explained, he “wasn’t conducting a fishing expedition.” Test monitors sent by the central office to patrol Noyes for the 2010 test told Mr. Willoughby that they had been barred from entering classrooms. School officials denied that charge–and Mr. Willoughby believed them, not the monitors.

One of those witnesses was breaking the law by lying to an official of the DC Government.  Washington has enacted a statute that is parallel to US Code 18-1001, which makes it a crime to lie to an official of the US Government, according to the office of the Attorney General of the District of Columbia.[[3]]

[[4]]4. Two of them (Caveon I and II) were directly controlled by Rhee and Henderson, and the first Alvarez & Marsal investigation was paid for by OSSE.  Willoughby’s investigation was heavily–perhaps inappropriately– influenced by DCPS. A sixth investigation, by the US Department of Education’s Inspector General, was narrow in scope.  The investigation of 2012 DC-CAS results–by A&M–was more aggressive; not surprisingly, it is the only one that has turned up a significant amount of cheating by adults.[[4]]

[[5]]5. We spoke on the phone–twice–for over an hour on April 22, 2013.[[5]]

[[6]]6. Dr. Fremer did tell me, however, that he was convinced that there had been a significant amount of cheating, involving what he called ‘collusion.’ “It would have been nearly impossible for individual teachers to have done that much erasing,” he said.  He suggested two possible explanations: 1) teachers working with the classroom proctors during the test; and 2) organized erasing after the test was over.[[6]]

[[7]]7. I refer you to “Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error” for details on how easy it would have been to cheat.[[7]]

[[8]]8. 35 people indicted, including former Superintendent Beverly A. Hall[[8]]

74 thoughts on “Penetrating the Smokescreen

  1. Thanks for pursuing this John, it has ramifications way beyond D.C. Stay with it–I think this is the kind of investigative reporting that people get Pulitzer prizes for.


  2. John, thanks for demonstrating courage and tenacity on behalf of kids and parents. How about running for the US Senate?



    • That is funny. Have you read the comments for the past few weeks? I don’t have many friends (and I am trying to slow down)


      • Slow down?!?! Please keep doing what you’re doing Mr. Merrow! Keep in mind that when folks can anonymously comment on a blog (like I am doing now), it tends to encourage angry people who like to critcize. But I believe there are far more people who are very supportive of your work. At least for me, now I understand why there needs to be a freedom of the press. You are doing what those in power don’t want to do because they have too much to lose.


      • Concerned, John is a septuagenarian, so he does have the right to retire soon. That said, I sincerely hope he ONLY slows down and does not yet retire, because there is still so much more important work for him to do!

        John, Have you tried looking at everything with fresh eyes, from the political and corporate forces behind the shock doctrine of, “A Nation at Risk” to those behind the market-driven solutions that “saved” New Orleans and other urban school districts? If you are really open to unveiling and seeing the truth, since what is right usually does ultimately prevail, history is bound to see you as one of the first heroes to emerge from this decades long “reform” saga which, sadly, has never really been about the best interests of children.

        I don’t think this is a story that can be told without carefully examining and analyzing the socio-economic-political basis of education “reform”, including the rise of neo-liberalism in both parties, making them indistinguishable on many issues and virtually on the same page in education today. I’d suggest starting with the 1971 Powell memo and the (originally clandestine) workings of ALEC throughout the past several decades, as well as the role of think tanks, foundations, and special interest groups in the crafting of education policies, to the exclusion of genuine educators. (Since this spans a number of administrations and involves both parties, it is really much bigger than Watergate.)


      • Neo-liberals have actually had several play books to guide them in the dismantling and privatization of public education, including the Milton Friedman model which was implemented in Chile and so devastating to education in that country that students went on hunger strikes and rioted in the streets:

        Seriously, one would have to either be on the side of those who profit from privatization or be wearing rose colored glasses to not see that corporate education “reform” is a business plan which, contrary to the claims of non-educators Friedman, Obama, Duncan et al., is not a magic bullet for education, is detrimental to students and communities and further stratifies our already highly inequitable society.


  3. Dear Mr. Merrow,

    I would like to add another “smokescreen” to your list:

    In a memo to DCPS employees, Kaya Henderson responded to your blog posting “The Reign of Error” with the following:

    “In addition, you may have read last week that some members of the press are concluding, based on an internal DCPS communication, that there was widespread cheating on the 2008 DC CAS. This is a misrepresentation of the facts. As the OSSE has made clear: the methodology used to identify possible wrongdoing was flawed and independent investigations have cleared DCPS of any widespread impropriety.”

    I would like to know what she means by “the methodology used to identify possible wrongdoing was flawed.”

    If you have a chance to interview Kaya Henderson, please ask her what she meant by this and let your readers know how she responds.

    Yes, it is a house built on a weak foundation. The playbook of the DCPS reformers has been:
    1. Answer all questions with non-answers.
    2. Repeat what you want people to believe over and over again (even if it contradicts all logic).
    3. Count on The Washington Post editorial board to stand by you no matter what.
    4. Expect that many reporters (and talk-show hosts) will be awestruck with the DCPS “education reform” efforts and unprepared to follow-up with hard questions.
    5. Expect that if enough time passes, people will stop asking questions.
    6. Always talk about moving forward (not looking back).

    Their playbook did not expect the USA Today story or your recent tenacity. Please don’t give in to rule number 5 of their playbook.


    • Rhee, and her ilk, are an insult to common decency. Her sorry policies have been duplicated around the nation resulting in an all out war against hard working dedicated teachers. Students have come to believe that teachers are interchangeable throwaways, and that as students they should have power over personnel decisions.
      These “so called” edreformers have deprofessionalized an entire industry by planting TFA recruits into core subjects they often haven’t even earned a degree in. Rhee was a failure in the classroom, and she is now an embarrassment to the city of Sacramento, and education in general.
      As a parent, I have watched this mess unfold in disgust. As a K12 newcomer, I am horrified by what I have seen edreform do to under served urban children. Market based reforms are engineered to make the wildly wealthy richer on the backs of the poor. People who support this grand ripoff are cheaters also, and they will live with the souls of the students and educators they have oppressed and ruined. They need to use some of their charter school shaming techniques on each other, and leave the kids alone.


  4. Last spring at a Ward 4 schools showcase, a small group of veteran teachers sat with a print- out of the ward’s test scores over the past several years, a number of which showed suspicious spikes in DCCAS scores followed by dramatic plunges. Laughter was bitter, as one teacher read out the scores and the rest of us responded in chorus, “Cheated… Didn’t cheat!”

    It is criminal (literally) that neither DCPS administration nor Mr. Catania demonstrate any interest in using available statistical tools to analyze wrong-to-right erasure patterns, but really, common sense alone would suggest systematic cheating. What else would explain the spiking scores? Did teachers suddenly teach so much better one year only to sink back into their old incompetent ways the next? Or is it more likely that frightened human beings – administrators and teachers, alike – responded to the threat of imminent termination versus big cash rewards, and gave Rhee the outcome she demanded? Mr. Catania is wrong, by the way. In this respect, DC is just exactly like Atlanta!

    None of us would accuse another teacher of cheating without proof, but each of us knows someone who has muttered about students with high scores one year, who, come next year, are curiously unable to show any evidence of such ability. I personally believe that individual teachers, and/or admin teams in collusion did cheat in 2008 and probably in subsequent years as well. Not everybody, but at least in ’08, significant numbers of them. Human nature under duress often proves frail, and I sympathize. However, during those same years, many teachers who were honest enough not to cheat did lose their jobs based on test scores. Is it possible that one motivation for Mr. Catania’s willingness to sweep this episode under the rug is the reasonable fear that fired teachers might attempt some sort of court action based on validity of test results used to determine their “effectiveness?”


  5. Don’t worry too much about that one blogger. He was on the Virginia State Board of Education when it was producing useless reports. (
    He also believes teacher unions protect teachers who abuse children. When challenged to produce evidence, he demurred.
    He defended Michelle Rhee lying on her resume.


  6. I’m starting to allow myself a bit of hope that maybe there are still remnants of the Fourth Estate that haven’t been bought out by the 1%. Huge takeaway here is that we need to work VERY hard to keep the public in broadcasting and education.


  7. Thanks, John, for staying on the case. for the kids and for the democracy. Back in the late 60s I learned that “caused by an influx of new students” is ed-research-speak for “we haven’t a clue and we aren’t interested in finding out why.” Joan


  8. This is interesting, no doubt.

    At the risk of being labelled a softie, I’m on the fence.
    1. Example of small thing.

    “Someone is lying.”

    Could be.

    But set aside specifics of this case. Isn’t it often established in criminal cases that there’s another, blander possibility: error in memory by either party?

    That is, presumably you returned to your source. Asked: “Are you SURE?” The right thing to do.

    Consider this.

    “Once witnesses state facts in a particular way or identify a particular person as the perpetrator, they are unwilling or even unable—due to the reconstruction of their memory—to reconsider their initial understanding.”

    It’s from an old Stanford law journal article.

    I think your view has been: “It’s too big a deal for either party to be mistaken. So one of them is lying.” Is that a fair characterization?

    But we find particularly in “big-deal” situations, like someone witnessing an actual shooting, mistakes in memory are common, and people tend not to be able to search their memory in hindsight and say “You know, maybe I’m misremembering.” It’s not a matter of honesty, more of neurology.

    I.e., I don’t think I’m describing a 1% chance, the way a defense lawyer would to push hard on the “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Feels “plausible.” Disagree?

    2. Example of large thing

    The story is framed on presumption that the logical self-interested thing to do was cover-up.

    But there are other reasonable self-interested things to do here. Here is one example:

    Rhee calls a press conference. “I’ve been cleaning up DC schools. The work isn’t over. The latest version is some principals and teachers cheating on tests. I’ve broomed them out. That’s how I roll. I don’t retrain you. I fire you.”

    Honestly, how does that play in national media?

    I think she gains more than she loses there. Hand-wringing commentary in EdWeek, perhaps, but she probably gets praised on the national news shows. Legend enhanced. Tough.

    I defer to you, of course, in guessing how national media might play such a story. Am I reaching here?


    • Two veteran educators told me that they would have followed the scenario you describe above: go public, cancel those results, have students retake the tests, et cetera. But, as I described in “Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error,” it was her initial step–demanding guarantees–that created the conditions that led to (apparent) widespread cheating. A do-over would have forced her to examine her own fundamental assumptions. Is she capable of doing that? That’s hard for all of us to do, maybe harder for those who see the world in black and white terms.


  9. Keep those critical comments coming — I’m sure Mr. Merrow learns from them.

    When I commented (and proved) that he misstated the scores of Shaw Middle School – Rhee’s “model” school — he retracted and corrected it — granted, it took him two tries to get it right.

    See the official correction at the top of that story and my several comments below that.

    My guess is that DCPS knowingly provided the false, not yet publicly available, information to Merrow’s team, who then reported it in a film documentary not scheduled to be released until after the real, lower scores were made public. I like to think that’s when he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rhee could not be trusted and was using the press to spread false information. She continued to lie about Shaw’s scores in the Washington Post and it wasn’t until after several months of badgering that Jay Mathews made the correction, in the form of a conversation with me on his blog:
    Mathews has since become a major critic of the Rhee administration regarding the DC cheating allegations.

    Now that readers have access to a lot of the same material that journalists do, journalists have to keep on the toes more – and some of them are.

    My sense is that many journalists are looking for a hot story more than they are looking for the facts. “Rhee the miracle worker” was a much better story than “Rhee the liar” was. Fortunately for American’s children, that has changed. Now, the hot stories are about Rhee cheating and lying – they happen to be the true stories, too – always were, as John Merrow has learned the hard way.


  10. Many thousands of teachers and parents who have a stake in uncovering what actually occurred in Washington WILL NEVER READ YOUR LONG EXPOSE. You have done all of us a service by going into so much depth. However, you are missing 90% or more of our potential audience.
    You can find emotionally powerful, ONE SENTENCE summaries of it all at my Website. People will read them in two seconds, The Mountain Man Insights make an instant HEART-CONNECTION. As they go viral on the Internet, they will have an impact that cannot be reversed by the Big Money. As a Mountain Man Insight says: The truth keeps peeking out from under our cover-up.
    Mountain Man Insights page.
    At top of the page: Search Topic: schools


  11. I think your analysis ignores something that applies to both DC and Atlanta. Both superintendents believed that teachers and administrators could do much better if they faced strong pressure to perform. They expected push-back and dire predictions that pressure would lead to cheating. When they got the expected push-back the superintendents renewed the pressure.

    That, more than an intention to encourage cheating, explains their early responses.

    They surely should have investigated more rigorously and sooner. And, they should never have followed standard operational procedures, leaving test papers in the hands of people who might have an incentive to alter them. That was a huge blunder then. It would be unconscionable for anyone to do it now (but many still do).

    But I do not think any of your evidence sugests that either Hall or Rhee meant to set up a situation where teachers and principals were likely to cheat. Both were former teachers and though they thought their former colleagues needed to face performance pressure they also respected teachers as professionals who cared about the children they served. That didn’t turn out to be true in many cases, and yes the superintendents should have figured it out more quickly.

    In the real world performance incentives work but systems have to be built to deter, identify, and punish cheating. As we see, education is no exception. Hall and Rhee were not cautious or suspicious enough at first.

    Rhee also lashed back at her accusers, following her standard procedure of considering them nay-sayers who needed to learn she wouldn’t back down.

    That went on too long, and as the evidence mounted both superintendents should have taken on the problem instead of continuing to deny it existed.

    Finally, I agree with Mike G that your informant’s recollection (and the fact that Kaya Henderson and Michele Rhee were friends) is too thin a basis on which to conclude that Henderson was any part of a cover-up.


    • to Paul Hill — Seriously? Rhee already was herself a liar (resume) and cheater (baltimore) and you don’t think she expected cheating? Then when the scores soared she simply believed it?


  12. Yes, I generally don’t accept arguments of this kind:

    Somebody claims X has lied in the past

    So X must be a liar

    Therefore X is surely lying now


    • That’s not the argument being made. There is strong evidence for the accusation, which Merrow and others have clearly outlined.


    • Oh, Paul. Come on. Are you that tied to Rhee and so-called “Ed Reform” that you can overlook something so obvious?

      Let’s assume you were right and that Rhee had no “intention” to cheat or encourage cheating on these tests. However, when the initial scores weren’t nearly high enough, Rhee had already demonstrated too much arrogance and bluster to “wimp out” or “make excuses”; she apparently told everyone that their careers, their futures, the financial support for their families was at serious risk UNLESS the scores were good.

      Is Rhee not responsible for telling these people that they personally would be held accountable for these numbers, even though there are far more variables at play?

      Is Rhee not responsible for covering up, and making what she surely knew were false claims after these scores were recorded? (What are the actual odds most statisticians provided for such other-worldly score increases? Did Rhee not know that the odds were far greater than winning the lottery?)

      Is Rhee not responsible for failing to conduct anything less than an ultra-thorough, completely independent, put everything under a microscope investigation? Did she conspire to keep such an investigation from taking place? Did she make sure her friends and cronies knew to confine the inquiry and to say nothing that gave any hint of anything when questioned?

      And, like Watergate, did the attempt to cover up the crimes produce worst crimes than the initial offenses? It certainly appears that way.


    • It works in court when lawyers are establishing the credibility of witnesses.

      “Shame me once, shame on… shame on you. Fooled me, you can’t get fooled again”


  13. Mr. Merrow:

    The dishonesty, albeit the dishonesty of omission, you lay on Rhee and company is not much less than that of the Newshour’s as it dealt with my complaint about ICIVICS.


  14. Mr. Merrow,

    Michelle Rhee’s brand of educational reform, based on lies and fraud, is spreading across the nation and adversely affecting many children and teachers. I believe the purpose is to privatize the schools, lower teachers’ salaries and siphon the tax money into private pockets. That’s why this story is so big. Thank you for your persistence. Please don’t give up.

    By the way, I know many of your critics blame you for creating Rhee and others like her but I believe that you sincerely thought they wanted to help poor children. I first believed in your sincerity and integrity when you visited a “failing” school and saw how hard both children and teachers were working. You also saw that most of the children were fairly good readers despite their middling test scores. I think you realized then that test scores don’t tell the whole story. Since that time you’ve been asking questions and doing your own investigating instead of just accepting the word of the “reformers.” I hope your persistence will result in an Atlanta-type indictment for Rhee and a Pulitzer for you.


    • Thank you, but don’t hold your breath for either. But it would be wonderful if everyone took a careful look at the condition of the DC schools after six years of Rhee reform. They are in worse shape by almost every measure that I can think of. That is something people need to be made aware of, in my view. Kids are losing opportunities, and they don’t get a do-over for a year or two or three of lousy education.


      • But that is exactly what Rhee said…we can’t wait. We have to fix it now.

        She never knew what she was doing and she still doesn’t.

        She merely packaged herself as the corporate shyster for the oligarchs. Rhee could care less about anybody but herself. What a pathetic example for her daughters.


      • “They [ie. DCPS schools] are in worse shape by almost every measure that I can think of. ”

        Really? I have suspected this to be largely true, but find no comprehensive evidence? Why not? Because, education journalists and the public they could have led have been satisfied with the simple metrics of selective test scores. Are there are alternatives? John, you probably well know that the British system of comprehensive audits, OFSTED,still in modification and change, could have been a model. But, they explicitly set to one side the “league tables” of test scores which the British public and press is also much enamored of.
        With such regular comprehensive education audits, analyses of the entire school –which BTW, are approached in the not-publicly released school audits of the DC Public Charter School Board — we could know whether you are right, that the DCPS schools are worse off. Absent those audits and absent serious and systematic collection of evidence from the press during the last six years, we only have stories of winners and losers, and judgments like yours, which I am sure you would acknowledge would not meet your own standards for fact-checking, however much your experience and “gut” tell you that you missed while covering Ms. Rhee the whole story.

        Finally, your forthright delivery of assessments of work by Caveon leads me to think of what Rhee and the cheering press did for educational fitness with this fable about a school bowling league: [Yes, this is about clear numbers and testing.]:

        After sharp increases in scores from universally required student participation, an investigation into whether lanes were grooved and pins set on unstable surfaces has led to few disqualifications. Meanwhile, school leaders, students and their parents have celebrated performances at the 95th percentile nationally in age-group bowling scores. …….while the obesity rate in the school population exceeds 50%, and a sample of fasting blood tests leads estimate that 40% are already diabetic. School leaders, however point to the bowling league scores as clear evidence of outstanding levels of student fitness and health.


      • Harry quoted John, “They [ie. DCPS schools] are in worse shape by almost every measure that I can think of. ”

        and he then wrote: “Really? I have suspected this to be largely true, but find no comprehensive evidence?”

        Actually, Harry, John already addressed this in detail in his previous piece, “Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error.” See:


    • I agree with you, Linda.

      Michelle Rhee made fools out of a lot of people. She exploited the good intentions of so many who were young, idealistic, caring and genuinely motivated to make a difference.

      But she also snowed so many normally savvy, smart, experienced and tough DC reporters.

      It’s hard to believe that people who spent decades intimidating the Power Elite of DC, asking them questions that scared them, could be seduced by a young woman who used the most crude, transparent, amateurish deceptions—false entries on her resume!—that should have been so easy to catch.

      Maybe because so many people WANTED Rhee to succeed that it impeded any reporter from treating her like anyone else nominated for a key position.

      How did Michelle Rhee get past “the gatekeepers” of the 4th estate? A lesson to be told in the very near future, after we get to the bottom of test cheating, fake resume items, and her annual compensation since leaving her job in DC.

      Thank you, again, John, for all you’re doing. Please, on behalf of our students, keep up the good work.


  15. John,

    Thank you for shining the light on the data obsessed corporate reformers and teacher bashers. You probably know enough to cause many restless nights as you analyze the irreparable damage caused by the reformers since 2001.

    Those who live by “data” are quick to demean based on “data.” However, they only make excuses for themselves and scapegoat others when the data point to wrongdoing at the reform level.

    There seems to be evidence of a cover-up much broader than Watergate.

    FOIA requests have been successful in finding evidence of widespread cheating in Texas.

    Taxpayers have a right to the DCPS information through FOIA. It’s important for you and for others to file requests for copies of the DC Comprehensive Assessment System (CAS) results in math and reading (below basic, basic, proficient, advanced), grades 3-8 and grade 10 for all schools in DCPS for years, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. With the information and spreadsheets, retired educators or others could easily develop charts and graphs showing score drops and score increases. If the FOIA for all schools is too broad, I recommend starting with Aiton Elementary, Beers Elementary, Brightwood Education Campus, Eaton Elementary, Hendley Elementary, Kenilworth Elementry (closing in July), Langdon Education Center, Miner Elementary, Noyes Education Campus, Shaw Middle School (closing in July), and Winston Education Campus (closing in July)

    This information could force a credible investigation based on data and help countless students and honest teachers. How could the data obsessed reformers especially Arne Duncan resist?

    FOIA Officer, DC Public Schools
    Donna Whitman Russell
    1200 First St., NE
    Washington, DC 20002

    Phone: (202) 442-5170
    Fax: (202) 442-5098

    Again, thank you for your commitment to these important issues.


  16. All of you are missing the point. There is considerable anger and disenchantment with Rhee, and rightly so, she should be punished for her wrong doing. But, the real issue here is testing. The absolute standard which is set by testing, by it’s very nature, leads to cheating, almost requires cheating. If the individual being tested is put in danger by the test, it is part of the human genome to protect yourself using whatever means is necessary. Rhee is probably a perfect example of that.

    The use of testing to evaluate our students is a left brain approach to assessment. It forces teachers to make sure their students learn exactly the information that is required to pass. It allows no variation from the known facts. A student who makes an “out of the box” judgment about the question on the test, fails. I know this from experience. I have often had third graders answer standardized questions incorrectly, and when I asked them to explain their answer, it was totally within reason. There needs to be a latitude in using assessment to make judgments about students and teachers and schools. Standardized tests do not allow that, and human teachers, principals and superintentents are going to protect themselves.

    I am not suggesting the cheating in Washington and Atlanta, and the superintendent’s actions, or lack of actions, is appropriate, but in respect to human nature, it is understandable. While I completely appreciate Mr. Merrow’s continued focus on the issue of Rhee and the state of Washington, DC schools, I hope, at some point, he will include some investigation and discussion of testing, and whether our current interest in standardized test is helping our students, or simply shutting down imaginative, innovative right brain thinking.


  17. To me it’s a huge issue that former Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall is facing a possibly long prison sentence for the exact same kind of cheating in her district, while Michelle Rhee is an education “reform” diva and media darling getting extremely rich from her activities. When will she have to face judgment for what was obviously the exact same conduct in which Hall engaged?


  18. Readers need to listen to Margaret Spellings say, “We were shooting in the dark when we designed NCLB.”

    Go to this link and scroll to the video featuring Spellings, Tom Pauken, TWC; Susan Kellner, TAMSA, and Robert Duron, TEA. About 55.30 into the video, a board member who is an accountant puts Spellings on the defensive about NCLB/AYP.

    I recommend for readers to listen to the entire video and see Spellings on the defensive.


  19. Reminds me of the flawed austerity study that was used to justify budget cuts worldwide.

    One would think people who claim to be data-driven would double check the data, but as long as it fits whatever agenda they’re pushing they’ll swallow anything.

    Some of the reported gains in DC, NY and Atlanta are ludicrous. Did no one question them on that basis alone?


  20. Ignore the detractors, John. Supporters of Rhee and corporate “reform” are likely to come and weigh in here in defense. There are also those who seem to have demonstrated in comments on various other websites, as well as here, a pattern of behavior indicative of the belief that, as Kingsley Amis stated, “If you can’t annoy somebody, there is little point in writing.”

    Just keep on keepin on. The pursuit of truth and justice when so many are trying to prevent that from occurring is truly a mitzvah, a very important and good deed for humankind.

    Your persistence and hard work are greatly appreciated!


  21. You leave you’re 10 speed unlocked in some poor urban area, it’s gone. We’re talking about DC here, Marion Barry, graft, corruption. Rhee left $8,000 piles of money out in the open, of course it got taken, how smart was she? Not very.

    But the real story for me, is her firing several hundred people, later in her term with little or no cause. She showed the power hungry capriciousness of a Stalin or Pol Pot, that the good of her mission entitled her to destroy lives at will, with randomness and without reason. When I watched your show in January, this is what impacted me the most.


  22. Mr. Merrow,

    I am a teacher who once believed I would teach till retirement. But now, at the age of 51, the pressures have mounted to such unimaginable degrees that I have decided to resign my position in an urban school. I have been well-respected in every school and district where I have taught; no one WANTS me to leave. I say that only to be clear: these are not the comments of a disrespected, “disgruntled” employee.

    People in power, like Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan and his neo-liberal team including hoards of superintendents and school board members, have a vested interest in a negative perception of public schools. I’ve heard Arne Duncan himself say something like charter school teachers are simply out-working regular public school teachers. How could he possibly prove such a thing? He can’t. So it’s nothing but propaganda–propaganda that allows him and others of his ilk to push for a form of charter that reduces the teacher role and therefore teacher pay and allows for HUGE technology profits (and the implications for the type of education our urban students will be receiving is horrifying to me). To put it simply, profiteers (politicians and their special interests) need to keep inappropriate levels of heat on teachers in order to either exhaust or undermine teacher effectiveness in order to negatively impact public perception in order to gain more power for corporatizing in order to turn public dollars into private profits.

    When you wrote of the cheating scandal a couple weeks ago, I’m quite sure I compromised my humanity to a near giddiness at Rhee’s potential suffering. She (and others like her) have stolen from me, personally, a career for which I was once passionately invested. And so I began eagerly watching for signs that she would be indicted and that public awareness might shift the momentum of corporatization. Instead, what I have discovered in SO many places is that media has been influenced by Gates and his foundation, or other lobbyists and charter profiteers (like Murdock). As a result, I feel, perhaps, more hopeless and helpless than ever.

    I am so very grateful for your work, but fear the comment that you made above–not to count on any indictments. Why is that? Is it because there’s been too much manipulation of media? Do you believe there is ANYTHING that can be done?


    • I hope you do not leave the profession. You sound like a serious, committed professional, and the profession needs lots of teachers like you. Perhaps you can work with other teachers to create sensible means of assessing student learning–and teacher performance. There are a lot of people like you out there, of that you can be sure


      • Dear Mr. Merrow,

        I think your advice above to Jan Carson is well-intentioned but beside the point.

        I came to Newark 7 years ago via TFA and have been teaching at my placement school ever since. (It’s a wonderful school, so I don’t deserve any special credit for doing that.)

        Over the years, I have worked as hard as I could for my students. In the last couple of years I have also felt obligated to put increasing time and energy into trying to preserve my school in the context of a district administration that is hostile to the very idea of public schooling.

        The one purpose of our current superintendent, fellow TFA alum Cami Anderson, is to charterize and privatize every school in Newark. Many “low-performing” neighborhood schools (in very distressed neighborhoods) have been summarily closed and their buildings leased to charters over the vehement objections of parents, students, and community members, including our elected representatives on the Advisory Board and City Council.

        High-performing magnet schools such as mine are subject to constant attack in the form of co-locations (actual and threatened), dracononian budget cuts (actual and threatened), and the shameless hi-jacking and manipluation of our admissions procedures. Every time we’re subject to one of these attacks, we must summon enormous volunteer efforts from staff, students, parents, and almuni. Even if all goes well, we can’t possibly achieve anything more than the preservation of a (somewhat diminished version) of the school’s current resources, climate, and culture for another year or so. We have had to mount huge campaigns to fight multiple “assualts” during a single school year.

        Unfortunately, this relentless assualt on public education is not confined to Newark. Our circumstances here are only one local instance of a national campaign funded by billionaires and supported by many prominent politicians, both Democrat and Republican.

        I do try, as well, to work with my fellow teachers in the grassroots way you recommend above. However. there is no way ordinary people such as oursleves–working togtehr only with “other teachers”–can prevail against the wealthy and powerful of our society.

        To put it blunly: we are screwed. My school, which is nationally ranked, will most likely be destroyed within five years.

        Furthermore, it ain’t just us. You have written that DCPS is now worse by every measure that than it was before Rhee’s tenure. I expect that will soon be the case in every similarlly struggling urban school district. In fact, by then, you may start to see such evidence of damage in more middle-class districts as well.

        I continue to work as hard as I can and struggle as hard as I can for two reasons.

        First, my school is wonderful and offers sonething truly valuable to our current students. Perserving that for just a few more years is worth unstinting effort. Even if future generations won’t have access to what we offer, every student we get to serve well under out current model is a victory for ordinary people and our hopeful emmisary to the future.

        Secondly, I suppose I would just rather go down fighting than tamely submit to this gross injustice.

        I hope som day the tide will turn, that ordinary citizens will use our democratic social instrutions to demand a better, fairer, more humane organization of public schooling, and of our society as a whole, than I see today. However, I think it is unrealistic to expect currently exhausted and chronically embattled professional educators such myself, my colleagues, and Jan Carson to bring that about.

        That is the work of another generation. All we can do is prepare them as best we can for that work under the extreme pressures and limits within which we now teach


      • Jan, Newark TFA and Stacey, The key is for teachers to collaborate with each other AND partner with parents. This is proving to be an effective strategy, since teachers and parents are the primary stakeholders. In Chicago, which has been a mayoral controlled city for 18 years and has never had an elected school board, despite being maligned by politicians and the press for years, the teachers’ union was able to garner parent support for the strike last fall because teachers had developed strong relationships with parents. Teachers and parents have partnered to jointly address a number of concerns here, including class size and school closures.

        I know how exhausting it all may seem now, but passing this off on another generation to deal with means allowing more and more schools to be given away to private enterprises and, in many cities, there will not even be a memory of something worth fighting for before long. Please consider following the lead of the teachers and parents in Chicago.


      • As I stated above I am trying, but there are only so many hours in the week.

        Thus, there are only so many hours I can devote to teaching, advocating for my school, and community organizing. Any time given to one has to be taken away from the other other two,

        The more I focus on reaching out to other teachers, parents, and community members, the less time I have for actual teaching, which makes me feel terribly guilty.

        However, I know if I just focus on teaching, my school–and, indeed, the whole district–will be dissolved.

        In Newark, we are trying to follow the Chicago model, but organizing to resist entrenched interests with so much more money and power and sheer man-hours available is just extremely difficult. I feel in awe of the achievements of the organizers in Chicago. I am committed to doing everything I can, but, realistically, I know that may not be enough.

        I wrote the above posting because, while I appreciate Mr. Merrow offering Jan Carson encouragement, I do not think he grasps the extreme constraints under which such teachers operate.

        For me, “passing this off to another generation” is not a substitute for taking action myself. Maintaining the mindset that, even if we fail, our students may someday succeed is not despair, but an antidote to it.


    • As a fellow veteran teacher, and an advocate of arts education and libraries, I’ve been “in the trenches” as far as fighting for the rights of children to have access to “unmeasurable” forms of education….How does a music teacher measure the achievement of her 21st century learner in a way that can be decimalized…Although there is credible data out there that show student achievement is directly correlated with the presence of an active and accredited school library program, administrators ignore it.
      The solution is for the public to pay attention to who is on the school board. The school board needs to be the overseer of the taxes that people pay, and know what they’re talking about. So many school boards are appointed or elected based on politics, without the knowledge that they require to make ethical and research-based decisions to begin with!
      As the previous blogger mentioned, the message needs to go beyond educators and administrators and politicians. This is the rights of our children we’re talking about. And if they’ve been compromised, those children and, indeed, our democracy, need to be fought for by the people who are paying for the schools.


      • NewarkTFA, Chi-Town Res, and Stacey, all great comments.

        To Chi-Town Res, I intend to keep working for education but not in the capacity of teacher. My health and my personal relationships, including those with my children, can no longer withstand the pressure, and, honestly, if I actually said what I think, it would only be a matter of weeks before I was fired. Our district leaders do not tolerate “rebellion” (propagandized term for debate). Teaching effectively silences me. To Stacey, here’s what our school board elections have come to: In our last election, of two candidates battling for a seat in one district, one, Emily Sirota, was infinitely more qualified and prepared to represent the interests of our city’s students honestly and effectively. The other, FAR less qualified, took charter moneys to triple the amount of funding Emily was working with. Emily refused to give charters more room or to endorse vouchers, beautifully explaining why either was detrimental to our kids. The difference in the funds raised (Emily less than 60K and Anne 175+K) was the difference in the election. Anne beat Emily soundly. From what I have seen, I believe that our “Democrat” governor and mayor have likewise been purchased (Obama and Duncan, too). We now need campaign reform that reaches all the way down to school board elections. Disgusting. As I mentioned above to John, many of our beloved systems that we have long counted on for fair and accurate reporting have either taken “Foundation” money or purchased media for control. ALL need to be watched closely.

        NewarkTFA, thank you. I feel a little less lonely.


  23. Thanks for your hard work and coverage of this issue. I have great admiration for you, and for that matter your source, whose fear I can only imagine and whose bravery I could only aspire to.


  24. The culture of cheating, created by Rhee and other superintendents, as a result of high stakes testing, NCLB, and the very misguided ed reform, is not so much a testament to the inherent dishonesty of people, but to the impossibility of what they are being asked to do.

    Their is no excuse for the cheating that occurred. But more culpable than the actual principals and teachers backed onto the edge of a cliff, so that they do desperate things, are the architects and proponents of this unbelievably stupid policy that is effectively scuttling our system of public education.


  25. Here’s the key sentence in this article:
    “If someone wants to know the truth, it’s right there in the files.”
    And “IF SOMEONE WANTS TO KNOW THE TRUTH….” is the key phrase…
    Alas… no one wants to get to the bottom of this… because it will show that this house of accountability is built on a weak foundation and the “story told throughout creation”— that school’s should be run like a business— is wrongheaded.


  26. The trail hasn’t run cold. Although the test was 5ish years ago, I am sure if it was placed in front of them the older kids who took it they would remember doing it – it was such a fraught time that all the events around this must be quite memorable. Ask them how many times they erased – they may have to run through each questions to remember what they answered and if they changed it.

    Sometimes kids write answers in patterns when they don’t want to do the tests e.g. A A A A A A or snakey – A B C D C B A . They are the ones likely to be changed because they are likely to generate a low score. Find any students who had this pattern, either from the original script or from the memory of the students, and count the erasures. The computer program that monitors erasures should be able to pick up simple patterns like this in the answers sheets. Changing the answers in this case is not likely to be the student (why would she/he erase when she/he was not even interested in getting the answers right in the first place) and you can probably check with the student as well.

    There is plenty of evidence still out there.


  27. Thank you for your perserverance, for your tenacity, for your respect of the truth and for following your heart. Thank you also for your common sense! It doesn’t take much to see how corrupt Michelle Rhee and her co-horts are. Please keep on doing your very superb journalism and dedication to children, teachers, and education. You are a precious asset to the profession and to the truth.


  28. I have no preconceived notions about Michelle Rhee — if anything, have admired her — but it’s important to know the truth here. Surely Rhee, at some level, understands that as well. And the data still exists. Thank you, John Merrow, for showing us journalism at its best.


  29. The Failure of Rhee, example 301:
    D.C. summer school switches to invitation only
    The District’s summer program for elementary- and middle-school students used to be open to everyone on a first-come, first-served basis. Officials have reconfigured the program to target lagging readers, a strategy meant to maximize limited resources and reach students who are likely to benefit the most from the five-week program.

    But there’s a trade-off: The new summer program is not designed to meet the intensive needs of students who are most profoundly below grade level.


  30. Mr. Merrow, thanks for sustaining my hope that real journalism is not completely dead. I used to be a journalist and now am a teacher. I have been dismayed to see both of these once-noble professions fall prey to corporatist greed, inevitably accompanied by a culture of fear. The journalists and educators still willing to point out the emperor’s absurd nakedness are a courageous few. Thank you!!


    • Ms. Arnold-Before you and others cannonize Merrow consider that he is five years late with his disclosures. Reporters of education should be breaking news. Merrow could start by pointing out how odious the Race to the Top” really is.


  31. Dear Mr. Merrow:

    You are my hero. a real hero—not some made up superman nonsense.

    PLEASE keep up the good work. We have no other way of fighting this mess other than people of conscience who are willing to do the work to bring forth the truth.

    Post on this blog any way that you want to connect with parents and children affected by this travesty and I guarantee you will have dozens of folks lined up to help out. Believe me you have many friends who you don’t even know yet.

    DCPS Parent


  32. To DCPS Parent:

    I agree with you about Mr. Merrow’s professionalism and his persistence to connect most of the dots. The billionaires with Rhee’s teacher bashing, believe they are in charge of “reform” and “accountability.” They work to dismiss and ridicule most journalists, teachers, and administrators. They curry favor with state legislators, editorial boards, some school boards and mega foundations. In an effort to privatize public education, they have joined their billions in financial resources with a propaganda machine based only on greed and power. The corporate list of profiteers includes Rhee, Duncan, Spellings, Klein, Bloomberg, DFER, Murdoch, Bush, Kress, testing lobbyists, etc. with Rhee as their poster child for creating chaos.

    However, parents in Texas (where the NCLB fraud started) are on top of the scam. Coalitions of parents with facts related to the testing madness will always get the attention of the reformer crowd. In Texas, we know the reformers are following TAMSA and HB5.

    Consider the following for DCPS:

-Create a grassroots organization featuring an innovative website with a blog and social media similar to TAMSA
    -Push-back with questions (how and why) about the cheating scandal, etc.
-File FOIA requests for DCPS records including e-mail and memos
-File FOIA requests for DCPS IMPACT scores, years 2007-present, math and reading, grades three through eight and ten for each school (beginning with Aiton Elementary)
-File FOIA requests for vendor contracts (follow the money)
-Create presentations, charts, and graphs related to the data/FOIA and post on the website
-Speak to community organizations, parent groups, and churches
-Request a credible investigation into cheating in DCPS schools, 2007-present
-File lawsuits if the DC council and mayor refuse to listen and act
-Campaign against DC council members and the mayor if they stonewall

    -Speak with teachers and administrators who will provide insight

    -Learn from TAMSA and read articles about how parents in Texas are standing up to Pearson INC, and the lobbyists who are destroying public education using the smokescreen of “accountability” and have created a cottage industry by scapegoating poor kids
-Raise questions about the testing contracts and testing data based on FOIA – post contracts on the website 

    Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) in HPISD.

    About 54:30 into the following video after a CPA raises questions, Spellings says, “We were shooting in the dark when we designed NCLB.”

    Important articles and the presentation are found at the website.

    Crash Test

    Thinking about DCPS parents –

    Texas Parent


    • I hope D.C. area folks jump on this and connect to this Texas Parent.

      Another resource is Parents Across America. I don’t know too much about them but they sound like they do what Texas Parent describes above. From their website they have a D.C. chapter, so I hope they’re reading this.


  33. Dear Mr. Merrow:

    I’ve commented before, but what you’re doing has major implications in the national education reform debates. So many people have put an incredible amount of trust in Rhee-type reforms. This testing is an extreme example of bad policy. But there are many others.

    Take a look at this blogger, Gary Rubinstein (I have no affiliations with him):

    He is a very thoughtful educator who has experience with many education reformers, but he is now very critical of a lot of the reform movement. He is a critical thinker, like you are. This is what makes you and him so dangerous to those in the false education reform movement. It’s hard to dismiss you two as status quo lazy educators protecting adults or unions.


  34. I want to publicly apologize to Mr. Merrow.

    When FRONTLINE premiered THE EDUCATION OF MICHELLE RHEE I was outraged at the lack of transparency, criticism, and research that was presented in the piece. I blamed Merrow specifically for being complicit in this action because he should have known better. While the damage of that episode has been done, Mr. Merrow’s actions subsequently have finally exposed Rhee for the fraud and criminal that she is.

    Mr. Merrow, I would like to suggest the following.

    Have a follow up FRONTLINE special with Guy Brandenburg, Adell Corthorne, Mary Levy and Dr. Diane Ravitch. The EXPOSING OF MICHELLE RHEE could be a working title. Challenge the “Bee Eater” to appear on the show with all of the aforementioned individuals.


    • A follow-up FRONTLINE would be FANTASTIC! You could probably fill in a few hours with all the material you’ve gathered in just the last few months! (I’m no journalist, so of course this is probably so much work. But gosh, this story can’t disappear.) You and your producers and anyone who supports your work is very much appreciated by….everyone involved in public education (I speak for all of them.)


      • I agree with SubRex and Concerned that a follow up should be made. Frontline editors would be fools not to. And if not them, who?

        Captain, thar she blows!!!


  35. John,

    Too bad you didn’t come to this realization when you were doing the glowing documentary about Rhee. I can’t believe SOMEONE didn’t say, “This woman invited us along while she fired someone. What kind of psychopath are we profiling?”

    But kudos for realizing your mistake and doing something about it.


  36. Rhee recently wrote a piece.

    On the “missing memo” she writes:

    “Yes, I was tempted to go on a media tour to explain that “secret memo” surfaced by my critics. Because the fact is, it wasn’t secret at all; both the D.C. Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Department of Education were given copies of the so-called “smoking gun” while conducting their independent investigations into cheating in D.C. in 2008 and dismissed it. Both concluded (along with four other separate investigations) that there was no evidence of wide-spread cheating in DCPS. But I realize we don’t have nearly the same resources as our opponents, and decided it wasn’t the best use of my time.”

    It would be nice to see Rhee on a media tour (along with John Merrow). She needs to be intereviewed by some reporters who know the right follow-up questions to ask.


  37. Now Michelle Rhee has created a non-profit called Students First and is raising large sums of money for state lobbying efforts across the nation to help push for Common Core. Her cohort in crime David Coleman has moved over to run the College Board in charge of SAT testing, and again pushing Common Core. When will someone shut her down?


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