Michelle Rhee and the Washington Post

The disturbing news of yet another testing scandal comes from Columbus, Ohio. Kudos to the Columbus Dispatch for its reporting on erasures and the ‘scrubbing’ of attendance records, and to the paper’s editorial pages for demanding action.

The paper’s editorial on May 7 quotes Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as follows: In a visit to Columbus last month, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was emphatic that this district lacks strong leadership. “There’s been a lack of oversight and a lack of accountability.” Even more astonishing was Duncan’s statement the Columbus’ data-scrubbing scandal is in a league of its own, because it could involve not just proficiency-test manipulation, but also brazen grade-changing to increase the graduation rate. “I almost don’t know of another situation like this,” Duncan said.

Is there ‘another situation like this’ anywhere in America? Well, there’s Atlanta, of course, and El Paso, where the former superintendent is serving time. And then there’s the city that Secretary Duncan works in. I have documented here and here the extent of the problem and the inadequacy of the so-called investigations in Washington, DC.

I don’t know the details about El Paso, but in Atlanta, Columbus and Washington, many adults in powerful positions worked very hard to deny that anything was amiss, and–in Washington at least–still are.

Why is Washington in denial? Fear of Michelle Rhee’s wrath? An unwavering commitment to 2007’s great narrative about the fearless young reformer who “challenged failing schools and incompetent teachers”? I wish I knew the answer.

In March a major national magazine rejected “Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error,” despite its pedigree (five reporters {{1}} with 175+ years of covering education) and its meticulous sourcing. An editor explained the decision: “The problem is just that we don’t really have the resources (legally or editorially) to handle investigative pieces like this one.” {{2}}

At the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association at Stanford last week, I asked Secretary Duncan whether, in light of the new information, the rash of erasures in Washington should be investigated. He declined to provide a direct answer. “If anyone in Washington or anywhere else is turning a blind eye to things that are illegal or immoral, that should be investigated,” he said, adding that DC had been investigated repeatedly.

Why won’t Washington’s Mayor address the issue? Requests for an interview with Mayor Vincent Gray were rejected a year ago (“The Mayor will not be available”) and again earlier this month (“Thank you for the inquiry, however, the Mayor is focused on moving the District and District schools forward.”) (sic)

At least the Mayor’s office wrote back. DC Councilmember David Catania has ignored my requests for comments. {{3}}

What about the city’s unelected power structure? “I see no evidence of an Atlanta-style conspiracy. If I did, I would want an investigation. However, I see no value in digging into the past. … I want to move forward .”{{4}} That’s what a well-regarded community leader told me a few days ago. Councilmember Catania said much the same thing at a recent hearing, indicating that, if he had any inkling that DC had an ‘Atlanta-style’ situation, he would be all over it in a heartbeat . {{5}}

There’s a great line of inquiry: Does Washington have an ‘Atlanta-style’ situation? In some respects, yes. There are four striking similarities: Irregularities at a majority of schools in both cities; a secret report buried by the school administration in both cities; pseudo-investigations in both cities; and widespread support from ‘the establishment’ in both cities.

There’s one key difference between Atlanta and Washington: the role played by the local newspapers.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s reporters {{6}} and its editorial page have done their jobs, while the Washington Post’s editorial page has been a reliable cheerleader for Michelle Rhee. {{7}} Reading the Post’s editorials side-by-side with those that appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is revealing. It’s also deeply depressing for someone who relied on and loved the Washington Post, as I did when I lived in DC from 1974-1988.

What some call the adoration of Michelle Rhee began on December 16, 2007 in a signed editorial by Jo Ann Armao, describing her day with the new Chancellor, “Data inform every decision. How come, the chancellor asks when looking at numbers flashed on a projection screen, one constituent services employee is generally able to close out complaints in two days when it takes others as long as 12 days? The discussion is about “deliverables,” about meeting and then exceeding objectives. No session ends without a to-do list.”

Rhee was quietly scrambling to contain stories about the widespread erasures when the Post celebrated her first two years with an editorial on June 16, 2009 that began this way:

“You can list Michelle A. Rhee’s accomplishments since becoming D.C. schools chancellor two years ago today, and they run more than 10 pages: boosting math and reading test scores; putting art, music and physical education classes in every school; streamlining the central office; closing 23 schools; recruiting new principals.”

The cheerleading continued. On May 2, 2010, a Post editorial asked: In the recent tumult over a proposed contract for District schoolteachers, the key question has been ignored: Why is everyone in the city not working together to make sure that Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee sticks around?

And when Chancellor Rhee made some outrageous comments about firing teachers for having sex with students, the Post’s editorial page managed to turn her wholly inappropriate words into an attack on the teachers union: “Certainly she owes an apology to the dedicated teachers her words may have inadvertently hurt, but so does the union for its hand in enabling some of these unfit teachers to stay in the classroom.”

Why has the Post’s editorial page been so uncritical? {{8}} Some have suggested that it must emanate from the top of the masthead, from Donald Graham, the Chairman of the Washington Post Company. He denies exerting any direct influence, although he did say that it has been the Post’s long-standing tradition to support the superintendent, whoever that may be, because, he told me, “The Post wants the schools to improve.” {{9}}

Regarding the editorial page, Mr. Graham said, “Anyone who knows Fred (Hiatt, the Editorial Page Editor) or Jo Ann (Armao, the editorial writer who focuses on education) knows that no one tells them what to write.”

Mr. Hiatt explained his thinking in a 2011 interview with Media Matters. ‘Our view was that by abolishing the elected school board and taking full responsibility for the schools and then appointing a strong chancellor committed to a strong set of reforms, Mayor Fenty offered the best opportunity in a long time to actually make progress. And that if this chancellor missed, it might be a long time before the stars would align again and a serious attempt to improve the public schools would take place. Over the four years, our view was that Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee took a lot of hard decisions that were necessary. After four years the schools were in much better shape than they had been four years before and that was measurable and demonstrable.’

He further told the magazine: ‘I’ve given you my assessment of why I think, why we thought this was the most important issue, why we thought people who were seriously committed to reform should be supported and how if you look at the actual facts, the result suggests there was progress over four years,’ he said. ‘To me that’s the important question: Were the schools getting better or weren’t they?’ {{10}}

By 2009 the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which had welcomed Beverly Hall when she arrived in Atlanta, was deep into its investigation of dramatic test score increases, which in 2009 led to an audit. Here’s how the AJC editorial page handled the situation on September 20th of that year. “The APS’ refusal to accept the audit’s main finding does nothing, though, to inspire confidence among those who abhor cheating and worry that children were harmed by inflating their scores, thus masking learning challenges that should be addressed.
The district’s position also casts an unintended cloud over APS’ many accomplishments in recent years. That’s a shame.”

AJC reporters blew the whistle in Atlanta. By contrast, Washington’s shameful situation was not exposed by the Post but by USA Today, {{11}} a national newspaper that happens to have its headquarters in suburban Virginia, in March 2011.

How did the Post react to the exposé? “….to use the issue of erasure marks at a handful of schools to disparage the very real improvements made in recent years by D.C. schools is irresponsible..’

However, the Post did take umbrage at one point. “Attention should be paid to how tests are administered and how suspicious test activity is investigated,” its editorial page thundered on July 30, 2011, in an editorial condemning the illegal behavior in Atlanta. That editorial, which makes no reference whatsoever to what was going on in Washington, is headlined “No Excuses for Atlanta’s Cheating Scandal.”

Just how strongly was the AJC on the case? See for yourself.

February 21, 2010: {{12}} “For the good of its students, APS should drop its defensive posture and do everything necessary to examine this issue in an objective manner. …The seriousness and breadth of the allegations warrants an outside inquiry. … A thorough, unbiased and independent investigation is called for … any cheating must be uncovered and the perpetrators dealt with quickly and fairly, using all means at administrators’ — or even prosecutors’ — disposal.”

August 8, 2010: {{13}}“As of now, the tenure of Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall is, and will be, regarded more for what went outrageously wrong than for what went well.”

By contrast, here is how the Post’s editorial pages responded to our January 8th Frontline program. The editorial on January 11 is headlined “DC Schools Pass Yet Another Test.” Still, those who believe in measuring student success, as we do, have to recognize that as the importance of testing grows, so does the incentive to cheat. If the answer were to eliminate high-stakes testing, there would be no SATs or professional licensing exams. We believe the vast majority of educators would never stoop to tampering with tests. But cheating allegations have to be taken seriously and security protocols put in place. D.C. officials say they have done both, and there is still no evidence to the contrary. (emphasis added)

When “Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error” revealed the existence of Dr. Sanford’s secret memo, with its clear implications that Chancellor Rhee’s own school principals might have done the erasing, the Post called it ‘old news,’ echoing Rhee and current Chancellor Kaya Henderson. {{14}}

“Several investigations have been conducted into student testing by the public school system. All — including inquiries by the D.C. inspector general and the U.S. Education Department’s inspector general with the participation of the U.S. attorney — concluded that no widespread cheating occurred. But the public airing of a 2009 memo from a schools consultant about possible cheating is seen by critics of Ms. Rhee as a smoking gun that widespread cheating occurred and was covered up. The memo, which was known to investigators, contained no proof of cheating and warned that ‘much of what we think we know is based on . . . incomplete information.’”

This November 21, 2010 editorial in the AJC may remind careful readers of what happened with Dr. Sanford’s memo. “This month, the AJC reported that Hall saw a report in May validating the AJC’s reporting on questionable test score increases. The report was kept from the public and most of the school board. That suggests the scandal has expanded from inadequately addressed cheating allegations to a cover-up intended to protect image and not children.” {{15}}

One must surmise that no one at the Post recalled the Atlanta newspaper’s warning from three years earlier. {{16}} “The AJC has revealed cheating our schoolchildren may be a nationwide nightmare. Now parents and taxpayers everywhere should heed Atlanta’s painful lesson and demand full investigations. … School districts large and small can study the example Atlanta has set. They should each test the simple, yet profound thesis question first raised by the AJC: ‘Are these results valid?’”

No one in power in Washington is asking that fundamental question, and their failure taints Michelle Rhee’s legacy. Would a careful investigation have implicated the former Chancellor? I have never heard or seen any evidence that indicates that she was directly involved, and not even her harshest critics accuse her of that level of involvement, but why not try to find out what she knew, and when she knew it? She is, after all, America’s best known education advocate.

Unfortunately, with the complicity of Washington’s power structure and the unreflecting love of the Washington Post, the evidence {{17}} has been ignored or swept under the rug. No one wanted–or wants–to know what happened on her watch.

The Atlanta cheating and cover-up were exposed {{18}}, of course and on July 10, 2011, the AJC editorialized thusly {{19}}: “Denials, deceit, destruction and damage. That is the legacy of departed Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall and those who colluded with her. Whatever good Hall and her team achieved during their reign was erased by their collective and individual misdeeds and failings. … APS leadership steadfastly persisted in a pattern of denials backed by outright, and perhaps even illegal, deceptions. …. The power of truth and the pungent scent of likely wrongdoing picked up by others prevented district officials from getting away with their cover-up.”

And whither the newspaper that uncovered Watergate and published the Pentagon Papers? It’s not too late for the Washington Post to insist that the City Council put Dr. Sandy Sanford, former Chancellor Rhee, Chancellor Henderson, former OSSE head Deborah Gist and others under oath. While it is probably too late to find out who cheated or to claw back the generous bonuses Ms. Rhee handed out, whether there was a deliberate cover-up (the buried Sanford memo, the severely limited investigations) should be investigated, and the truth established, for once and for all.

A strong stand by the Post could also sharpen the national debate about the wisdom of high-stakes testing. As noted at the top of this piece, cheating by principals, teachers and students seems to have reached epidemic proportions. We shouldn’t ban testing, of course, but we ought to be debating how to hold students, teachers and principals accountable.

Neither the City Council nor the Mayor seems to have the appetite for an investigation, but the Washington Post could supply the backbone they clearly lack. If the Post cannot or will not step up, then perhaps a revision of the closing lines of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men is (sadly) appropriate.

This is the way the Post ends
This is the way the Post ends
This is the way the Post ends
Not with a bang but a whimper


[[1]]1. Linda Mathews, Jack Gillum, Jay Mathews, Michael Joseloff and me[[1]]
[[2]]2. I also approached the Post’s Outlook editor, Carlos Lozada, about publishing the article, but my emails were not answered for many days. Finally Mr. Lozada wrote, saying that my emails had gotten swept up by his spam filter. By that time I had posted “Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error” on my blog.[[2]]
[[3]]3. May 8, 2013
Dear Councilmember Catania,
I am continuing my reporting on the erasures and the lack of an adequate investigation and am hoping that you will provide an answer to my previous question regarding the Caveon report. I think my interview with John Fremer made it clear that he himself did not consider what he did to be a thorough investigation but rather a security audit. And yet the DC Inspector General based his study on Caveon, and then the USDE Inspector General relied on Mr. Willoughby’s work. None seem to deserve ‘The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,’ at least from what I have learned.
Have you changed your view regarding the adequacy of the first five investigations? Do you intend to pursue this further? Do you feel that the DC schools are measurably better off today than when Michelle Rhee was appointed Chancellor?
Thank you
[[4]]4. It strikes me that phrases like ‘moving forward,’ ‘not obsessing about the past’ and ‘improving the future’ are what people say when they don’t want to know what might have happened in the past.[[4]]
[[5]]5. Councilmember Catania and Mayor Gray could find out what happened by arranging for a deep erasure analysis of the answer sheets in question (still held by McGraw-Hill/CTB). They could also look into Chancellor Rhee’s failure to investigate overwhelming evidence of adult misbehavior to determine whether there was a deliberate cover-up. Mr. Catania has the power to compel people to testify under oath. That’s how the Atlanta cover-up began to crumble.[[5]]
[[6]]6. Heather Vogell, Alan Judd and John Perry[[6]]
[[7]]7. For a detailed analysis of the Post’s attitude toward Michelle Rhee, look at this October 2011 article in Media Matters, “Steadfast, Protective and, At Times, Adoring.” http://mediamatters.org/blog/2011/10/12/steadfast-protective-and-at-times-adoring-the-w/183112 [[7]]
[[8]]8. Its support has caused internal friction that has occasionally bubbled over in public, most notably between reporter Bill Turque and Jo Ann Armao. For details: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/2010/01/28/washington-post-editorial-board-livid-over-turque-blog-post/[[8]]
[[9]]9. Personal conversation, May 14, 2013. Mr. Graham acknowledged feeling conflicted about the erasures because of his great respect for Post reporter/columnist Jay Mathews (“the best education reporter on the planet!”). “Jay believes bad things happened, and I don’t discount that possibility. But I don’t want to focus on the past. We need to move forward and fix the schools,” he said.[[9]]
[[10]]10. Media Matters, October 2011. My emails to the Post’s editors were not answered. My note to Mr. Hiatt included an op-ed submission about the current state of the public schools, arguing that by most measures the schools are not better than they were in 2007, pre-Rhee.[[10]]
[[11]]11. Washington Post reporter Bill Turque was on the erasure story well before anyone else. His persistence so angered Rhee that she campaigned to have him taken off the education beat and refused to recognize him in public meetings. Here the city’s ‘establishment’ helped out. A wealthy philanthropist, Katherine Bradley, made a $100,000 grant to the school system’s foundation so DCPS could hire Anita Dunn, a highly skilled PR executive who had worked for President Clinton. Ms. Dunn also advised DCPS on how to handle inquiries from Jack Gillum of USA Today during its investigation. “Just disengage,” she advised.
Mr. Turque was eventually assigned to another beat, a decision he and others say had nothing to do with DCPS and everything to do with the Post’s need for another reporter on the political campaign beat.[[11]]
[[12]]12. “For the good of its students, APS should drop its defensive posture and do everything necessary to examine this issue in an objective manner.
The state’s recommendations call for school superintendents to look into the answer sheet erasures in districts where schools showed “severe” or “moderate” concerns. It’s within reason to give local district officials first crack at examining the matter.
In Atlanta’s case, given that questions were raised about more than two-thirds of the city’s elementary and middle schools, it’s heartening that the Atlanta school board called last week for an independent investigation. The seriousness and breadth of the allegations warrants an outside inquiry.
A thorough, unbiased and independent investigation is called for, given that students would suffer the most harm from any cheating that might have occurred. If CRCT scores were wrongly inflated, that imposes a terrible, undeserved punishment on struggling students whose shortcomings were papered over. Falsifying tests could keep those children from getting needed help that would improve their chances of making the real grade on the next round of testing. If APS educators are truly dedicated to their charges, any cheating must be uncovered and the perpetrators dealt with quickly and fairly, using all means at administrators’ — or even prosecutors’ — disposal.
If that doesn’t happen, the latest allegations about testing irregularities at APS will call into question — perhaps unfairly — any legitimate gains achieved during the tenure of Superintendent Beverly Hall.”[[12]]
[[13]]13. “As of now, the tenure of Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall is, and will be, regarded more for what went outrageously wrong than for what went well.
That may be tough news to hear for a nationally renowned educator known for driving data-fueled, top-to-bottom reform and improvements. Nevertheless, it must be said and heard.”[[13]]
[[14]]14. Post columnist Valerie Strauss took a different tack. “If the memo isn’t enough to spark a new investigation, this should be: My colleague Emma Brown reported in this new story that teachers in 18 D.C. classrooms cheated last year on high-stakes standardized tests during the chancellorship of Henderson, Rhee’s successor in the post, according to the results of an investigation released Friday by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. This confirmed cheating took place after security was tightened as a result of the earlier suspicions. All in all, a new probe — by investigators with real subpoena powers, which is how the Atlanta cheating scandal was uncovered — is clearly warranted.” April 13, 2013[[14]]
[[15]]15. http://www.ajc.com/news/news/opinion/opinion-atlanta-school-chief-shouldnt-wait-until-j/nQnDn/[[15]]
[[16]]16. April 1, 2010[[16]]
[[17]]17. http://www.dcfpi.org/an-uphill-climb-for-dc-schools-a-look-at-dc-cas-test-score-trends[[17]]
[[18]]18. “We believe the reporting of this story stands alongside the most important work this newspaper has done during our community’s history.” signed editorial by Kevin Riley, editor in chief, July 8, 2011[[18]]
[[19]]19. http://www.ajc.com/news/news/opinion/special-report-aps-cant-close-the-book-on-cheating/nQJNM
“Denials, deceit, destruction and damage. That is the legacy of departed Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall and those who colluded with her. Whatever good Hall and her team achieved during their reign was erased by their collective and individual misdeeds and failings.
Last week’s release of a comprehensive, unflinching report on up to a decade’s worth of cheating on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test at APS confirmed yet again what we at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution have suspected for more than two years. Which is that a sorry subset of APS staff engaged in a long-running pattern of pervasive cheating. Their actions injured children for the benefit of adults. These cheaters stood to gain job security or bonuses within a system obsessively focused on achieving good numbers, no matter the cost to integrity or ethics. The result was a despicable robbery of students’ right to get the help they needed, as well as a fleecing of taxpayers who pay for public education.
Time and again, AJC reporters exposed questionable test performance at too many schools. The odds that these gains occurred without adults gaming the system — cheating — were far too long to be believed by even those who had a stake in the outcome. Even a blue ribbon commission’s 2010 report trumpeted by Hall as showing that “there is no orchestrated cheating in Atlanta Public Schools” mentioned odds of one in a “quadrillion” or “quintillion” that some test events would have occurred naturally.
As this newspaper continued to report on CRCT irregularities, APS leadership steadfastly persisted in a pattern of denials backed by outright, and perhaps even illegal, deceptions. The district even brought on a consultant to, in effect, disprove the AJC’s work that was apparently causing so much heartburn at APS. Not surprisingly, the district later denied that a copy of that consultant’s report even existed within its purview. Last week’s findings confirmed that the report, which largely exonerated our work, had in fact been received and subsequently deleted from Hall’s computer.
Such duplicity was part and parcel of APS’ pattern of operation during Hall’s tenure. The CRCT report says that, “On multiple occasions, APS administrators attempted to explain away evidence of cheating.” The power of truth and the pungent scent of likely wrongdoing picked up by others prevented district officials from getting away with their cover-up.[[19]]

75 thoughts on “Michelle Rhee and the Washington Post

  1. John,
    Thank you for continuing to explore, not only the details of this scandal, but also the reasons it has remained covered up for so long.

    As this post on my blog reveals, the Washington Post has a largely undisclosed financial stake in the proliferation of high stakes testing, as a result of its ownership of the very profitable Kaplan K12 Learning Services.

    To quote:
    “At the same time as the Post Corporation’s Kaplan arm is marketing products to public K-12 education, the Post’s editorial and journalistic arm is heavily involved in political advocacy.”

    “It promotes policies and individual public officials which directly affect Kaplan K12’s profits. The Post has never disclosed its financial interest in Kaplan K12 Learning, which is a separate division from its Kaplan Higher Education. The Post was forced to disclose that it operates chains of for-profit online colleges and satellite campuses, while its editor is actively lobbying against reform of the industry. It now praises itself for its openness, but disclosure only came after a federal sting operation shut down several of its campuses for outright fraud.”

    “During all the discussion of Kaplan, the newspaper has still never disclosed the financial interests of the other branches of its for-profit Kaplan subsidiaries, in public elementary and secondary schools.”

    Did this influence the Post’s editorial stance?



    • Teacher Highlights Washington Post Conflict of Interest in Education Arena – Living in Dialogue – Education Week Teacher

      “Kaplan K12 Learning Services is a for-profit private company which does extensive business with the public school system of the District of Columbia. It also sells online “virtual” elementary and high school programs to public districts all over the country. It operates publicly funded, for-profit online elementary and secondary charter schools, statewide in six states. Kaplan has recently moved to increase its investment in services that are mandated by the Race to the Top competition. It is actively investing in “compliance” services.

      It aims to provide, at a profit, the expensive data monitoring and management services required to implement “value added” teacher pay formulas.

      At the same time as the Post Corporation’s Kaplan arm is marketing products to public K-12 education, the Post’s editorial and journalistic arm is heavily involved in political advocacy.”



  2. John,

    Thanks for this post, and for continuing to be the voice of skepticism and inquiry, rather than the voice of unquestioning approval that the Post has inappropriately provided.

    Like you, I have tried to get the paper to publish the ugly truth about the lack of progress in DCPS under Rhee as measured by NAEP scores, and of increased teacher churn and the lack of benefit to either students or the district from school closures, as documented in the recent report produced by the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. The Post declined to publish an Op-Ed on the matter authored by two of my co-chairs, Tom Payzant and Pedro Noguera, both respected scholars.

    This is one of many reasons I no longer subscribe to the paper and have lost faith in its ed board.

    -Elaine Weiss


  3. Did Pearson provide testing services and/or consultation through one of their consulting creations to DC during Rhee’s time? Their practice of providing consulting services by one entity and then selling tests to the group with whom they consulted seems questionable at best.


  4. There is a clear bias on the part of the editorial board. I encountered it first hand at a meeting of the Education Writers Association in NYC IN 2011 when I was one of a dozen education bloggers invited to participate. I had a conversation with Armao in which she made clear her distaste for what Valerie Strauss does, her remarks bordering on disparaging of a colleague.

    There is something of a history of the Post being protective of educational establishments. This applies not just to DC. Years ago when Maryland was first coming up with its High School Assessments, the sample question for Government offered by the state’s Department of Education was poorly constructed, actually having two correct answers as presented. A number of us immediately pointed it out to the Post, which dismissed our concerns and accepted the bloviations of the Department of Education. During its history that test – Government – continued to be troubled by items with more than one correct answer, items with no correct answer, imbalance of questions,imbalance of the various forms. Perhaps had the Post taken our concerns more seriously in the first place that would not have happened?

    What is interesting in this case is that Jay Mathews, whom Don Graham praises so highly, is on the same page as you are, and still the Post will not take the appropriate action.

    By the way, one reason Bill Turque was so effective covering the school beat is because he understands how politics works, and believe me, DC Schools has always been a very political hot potato.


    • One thing I don’t understand Ken, is how Armao got her position in the first place. She has no experience with education and no education degree. Plus she was a reporter for several two-bit newspapers. How did she get to be the Education Editorial Writer?


    • Oh, and by the way Ken, the best thing I’ve heard in a long time is that Armao doesn’t like what Strauss writes! Way to go Valerie – kleep up the great work! However, I suspect Valerie won’t last.


  5. The point must be raised: how is it that the folks going to jail seem to be black or Latino, while Michelle Rhee, who is of Korean descent, is not indicted? At the very least, she should be under serious investigation for obstruction of justice. Most likely, she should be in jail.

    I find it impossible to believe that there is no ethnic factor at work here. Or are only white and Asian school personnel sufficiently well-connected to avoid jail?


  6. This good piece does not address the news side of the WaPo. I disagree with another commenter. WaPo put a journalist on the DCPS beat who had no prior education experience, He rarely reported. I jested many times that he must have been on leave / assignment, as though a Bob Woodward, to be writing a book, so little did he ever report on what was going on in schools, parent associations, or line functions (say, curriculum development, or training.)

    For example: We could have known how much of the school year was devoted to test prep, without suspicion of exaggeration by the teachers who despaired that it was “full time” or “half-the-day” between January and May. (Blame him or blame his editors; doesn’t matter, the news job was not being done. Dog-and-pony show attendance excepted.) Instead, we got press-releases on fractions of text-books delivered on time.

    So, contrary to John Merrow’s reply, supported by one of his fans in answer to an earlier blog entry, we know little about the conditions of the schools, and little about the condition of the administrative and support apparatus. I, with Merrow, believe strongly they are, with some exceptions, in as much disrepair as ever, and even worse for having the best non-sycophants driven out by an autocrat — Rhee.

    But, the reporting, the serious educational audits of actual functioning of the schools which one gets the impression http://WWW.OFSTED.GOV.UK takes seriously? Let’s roll tape of reporting on DCPS before the testing “anomolies”. Vacant. (Nothing came of the NAS panel / review / plan either.)


  7. The Post keeps demonstrating how different they are now from their glory days as investigative journalists during the Watergate scandal. I had not fully considered it before, but this lifelong Democrat has to wonder if the Post would have encouraged Woodward and Bernstein to pursue the truth if the president and political party involved at the time had been Democrats.

    Regardless of political affiliation, journalists who have integrity feel obligated to pursue, uncover, confirm and report the truth –even when indicators of corruption and fraud test their loyalties. This is important in every community and regarding all areas of government, but it is especially significant when it occurs in our nation’s capitol and it involves children –who, by their very nature, are completely reliant on adults for representation, protection, advocacy and the implementation of policies that are in their best interests.

    Thank you for pressing the Post to do their duty, John. What a shame they even need this kind of reminder and encouragement today regarding such an important matter.


  8. John, have you read the blog post Cody linked in the first comment? There there’s a live link there, to Common Core products the Washington Post Corporation is currently offering for sale to DC and nationwide, through it’s wholly-owned Kaplan K12 subdivision. Can you comment on that?

    During the 2010 election, when Fenty and Rhee were ousted, was WaPo doing for-profit business with the District of Columbia Public Schools, or not? At the time, Kaplan’s own website had a pull-down menu listing 26 products its various subsidiaries vended, which it claimed were available through DCPS. It might have avoided discrediting Rhee because its own brand would suffer.

    Can a reporter get on it, at last, and find out if that’s true? What contracts actually existed, and for how much? According to entirely reliable and routine business reporting, WaPo acquired another for-profit virtual charter chain since then, before it sold Kaplan Virtual Education to K12inc.

    Is their current financial bind influencing their editorial stance, do you think? How about Murdoch, through his News Corporation, buying up the education ventures he promotes on Fox News and the Wall Street Journal? Is that easier to wrap our minds around?

    If the Washington Post editors compromised its journalists to promote Donald Graham’s other shady business interests, the first step toward redeeming Katherine Grahams legacy is full disclosure of any possible conflicts, on the pages of the Post itself.


    • Great points Mary. I strongly believe there is a financial side to this, and the Post steadfastly refuses to achowledge they have a bias in their editorials. Back when this was happening, it was the Kaplan side of the business that was making money, while the newspaper side was losing money. Of course the editorial writers focus on what will bring in more money for a company whose newspaper is losing money.


  9. “A lie may achieve victory when truth is afraid of its own strength. But there comes a time when truth refuses to die and takes up its sword.” – Albert Camus

    If anyone should know that authorities who abuse their power and cover-up transgressions that occurred on their watch are involved in the most egregious lies of all, it’s the Washington Post. Those who are in positions to reveal the truth and do nothing to prevent deception appear to be in collusion as well. Indeed, this is a very sad ending for what was once such an honorable truth-teller. One can only hope the Washington Post capitalizes on this opportunity to engage in self-reflection and redirects themselves towards once again aiming to reveal truths.

    Just can’t thank you enough, John, for not allowing the lies to claim victory, and for your fearless strength in the pursuit of truth!


    • I wouldn’t say “appear to be in collusion”, they definitely are. Why no one was asking how inexperience and malpractice in the classroom leads to a chancellor’s position and authority which then leads to unwavering press and political worship on the national stage…that’s the news story that implicates the news agency themselves. It’s national news when it appears the prisoners of war (schools, administrators, teachers, students, parents…) try to arrange their survival, but it’s apparently not news-worthy when the oppressors turn out to have a hidden agenda, be unqualified and unprepared, dishonest and unworthy of their position.


      • Yes, excellent points, Dan.

        Maybe John can explain why Rhee’s credibility was not seen in an entirely different light by the press.after she admitted to putting tape on the mouths of her class of 2nd Graders –which caused them all to bleed. Just “old news”?


  10. My guess is that people involved in all of this, assuming these allegations are true, are weighing two decisions:

    – Choice 1: “Oh my gosh Merrow is on to something. I better do all I can to prevent the truth from coming out. When questions are asked, let’s just play the ignore game. Ignore the questions until the story dies. Stories always die. Instead, reframe this and say stuff like let’s move forward. I’m focused on the future, not the past. Marginalize people who are asking questions. Deflect, don’t respond, re-frame and speak about the future.”

    – Choice 2: “Oh my gosh Merrow is on to something. Let’s see where this story goes. I don’t feel safe being alone and speaking out. Once I see that a tipping point is reached, maybe only then will I come out and speak the truth. But right now, this story might die, so I don’t want to put my neck out to get chopped.”

    If Choice 2 is true, then what this takes is people to be placed under oath. This isn’t about trying to nail someone and get people in trouble. This is about the future of education. Many state education policies have their foundation set on policies that happened in D.C. If D.C. actually wasn’t the miracle, then why should it be replicated? Childrens’ education is at stake. If this really is about students first, I hope all the educators who are following this look in the mirror and ask themselves if it really is. Let’s get this truth out.


    • To Concerned: excellent speculation – I suspect it’s some of both depending on who you are or who you’ve become since “education reform” became such a big issue.

      There are those who have a vested financial/professional interest in keeping the truth under cover and there are those who can’t face the harm they’ve done by supporting what has turned out to be such a farce. These people, unlike John Merrow, try to forget their role in fostering it. That’s my theory, anyway.

      They don’t actively want to harm children, but that’s just what they are doing by their silence. I suspect these people were in denial for a while, then, unlike Merrow, disregarded the signs of Rhee’s duplicity and then (and now) are embarrassed to admit they were wrong. They are tacitly choosing to protect their self-image over their original worthy goal of improving American public education. It’s been easy to proceed in this self-serving way, because the establishment supports this position.

      So what makes Merrow different? A few things:

      He’s a seasoned education reporter, meaning that he knows there are no educational miracles and he doesn’t fear for his reputation. Chasing the Rhee story can’t hurt him and could be the icing on the cake of a long, respectable career.

      He was disgusted by the gusto with which Rhee humiliated a principal by firing him on camera. I’m guessing that it’s Merrow’s sense of propriety that prevented the public from witnessing the entire demeaning event.

      He himself got played by Rhee when she gave him false inflated scores for Shaw Middle School.

      He especially disapproves of cheating, after an embarrassing boyhood experience with it, which he reported here. http://learningmatters.tv/blog/uncategorized/sometimes-it’s-better-to-get-caught-cheating/1585/

      This is all wonderful but it makes me wonder what it will take for good people without these attributes and experiences to publicly admit they were wrong – and to do something good for kids’ education. After all, this was their original noble intention.


      • Hello, efavorite. You were around in fall 2010, and we tried endlessly to talk Jay Mathews over on his WaPo comment thread (I’m mport84). It’s taken him all this time to move this far, which is fine I guess, because he’s picked up John Merrow on the way.

        But the mechanism you propose is too slow and safe to save public education from being crippled as a democratic institution, and then sucked dry by terrifyingly powerful and wealthy monopolists, all under the color of good intentions. There are some very bad intentions operating here, at very high levels. Yes, it’s helpful to break down their base among corrupted public officials and clueless pundits, who are always going to be looking for the safest way to work their own advantages. If that’s all Merrow does, though, he’s still working for the other side.

        Is this maneuver just a back fire, to accelerate and isolate Rhee’s inevitable fall, and establish a scorched earth zone between her and powerful patrons like Gates and Broad? Read the piece above carefully.

        There isn’t any mention whatsoever of profit as a motive in the cheating scandals, or in the testing insanity Merrow now decries. There isn’t any call for investigations of financial conflicts in regulatory actions and funding restrictions by the US DOE.

        There is again a call for “accountability” of children and teachers, but no invitation to the people to take part in a conversation about whether they want authority over their children’s education delivered to private business consortia. Merrow is still careful to stay aligned with Bill Gates, without asking whether he’s the same remorseless monopolist he’s always been, or a saint of the unimpeachable free-market pantheon.


      • I’ve long argued that when the press and public schools are both threatened with high-tech “disruption,” these two key pillars of a democratic society will go down or rise together.

        Currently we have the drowning man of print journalism taking public education (and the $500 billion spent on public education which it hopes will be its salvation) down with it. See my August 2012 piece on this: http://www.k12newsnetwork.com/2012/08/why-the-biggest-investigative-news-journalism-story-in-years-wont-get-covered-sinking-news-ships-look-to-profiteering-from-education-to-lift-them-into-new-markets/

        My solution is to offer a member-supported, citizen media news network & advocacy platform: http://K12NewsNetwork.com. We offer a community and tools to add the bite of organized action to the bark of grassroots watchdogs.

        How it works: post original writing or re-posts of your own writing on K12NN. Ask uncomfortable questions of district staff, corporations, and others. Dig up and expose public records documents. Post video footage of public school board meetings, and so on. Be responsible for what you say. Organize your community to get answers: launch a petition, set up a meeting or town hall, and if need be, run a campaign where you can create precinct walk lists and phone lists from voter files, send email blasts, and so on.

        Get out of your school/district/state silo, and see what’s happening elsewhere.

        You could even run for school board or other local office on our platform. We are not a 501c3, so we are not hamstrung by restrictions on political activity. The hour is too late for that kind of preciousness.

        It’s time to move from being passive consumers of news to shaping and making the news in whatever big or small ways that you can.

        Think global, but act local applies here.

        I hope you’ll join me in crowd-sourcing the watchdogging of public school issues.
        After all, I’m a parent of a public school kid and a citizen just like you, using my site to inform my community about school funding issues, testing policies, and the successful passage of a parcel tax in our town to address the more entrenched problem of California’s chronic underfunding of K-12.

        Please do contact me at k12newsnetwork @ gmail.com for more information.

        We are an intentional community that has as its explicit mission the strengthening and improvement of public schools through open, transparent, accessible, authentic, and equitable means, so our resources will not be going to support privatization of public schools through vouchers, triggers, or charters, for example.

        Cynthia Liu
        K-12 News Network


      • Hi, MPort —

        I don’t propose a mechanism, I see what’s happening with more accurate media exposure of Rhee and propose more of it.

        There are other things that need to be done, but getting the word out by trusted media sources is a needed start.


      • Mary, I’ve been thinking of this comment a lot these past few days, and I’m now questioning what’s been omitted relative to profit and protection (of Gates or anyone like him). And I’m particularly interested in light of what’s happened recently with AP phone records, and the powers lost to an increasingly corporate state. You might want to check out another Chris Hedges piece that just came out; it’s not so very distant from your thoughts here.


        No doubt, PBS and other non-profits who’ve had to take money from wealthy contributors because of the increasingly poor distribution of wealth in this country, must some days look at themselves in frustration at best, disgust at worst. But if it is true that they feel an obligation to these contributors, they must also know that by protecting the interests of corporations, they only risk increasing corporate wealth, expanding poverty to many more, and rendering permanent the condition of their own service in partial-truths. In light of the Hedges piece and these recent events, I’m thinking Cynthia (below) might be on to something.


      • Wow. That Chris Hedges article. He is so right. Things are bad, really, REALLY bad. This is not the country that I was born into 61 years ago. Who knew Big Brother would turn out to be bait and switch politicians owned by the makers of our favorite products?

        The important thing to remember is that nowhere in our Constitution does it say anything about our being a capitalist country. We really must unite and rise up against greedy, “free-market” intoxicated, neo-liberal capitalists, or die as their indentured servants.


  11. I have long felt that this scandal was being covered up, and maybe even enabled, by the Washington Post. Is it because Rhee has friends in high places at the Post? Was there a financial conflict of interest (Kaplan)? Was Big Money dictating a particular point of view? Does it just reflect the dire financial straits of one of our great newspapers? Has investigative reporting become too expensive? I’d also like to know this: When people suspect that a crime has been committed, but officials don’t want to do anything about it, can ordinary citizens initiate something?

    Sadly, the real story here might be “The Rise and Fall of the Washington Post.”

    As others have said, the truth usually wins out, although it might take a while.


    • “When people suspect that a crime has been committed, but officials don’t want to do anything about it, can ordinary citizens initiate something?”

      Good question. You’d think that DC teachers and parents would have a case.

      John, do you happen to know if anyone has contacted the ACLU or Common Cause?


  12. Was the company EduNeering that was purchased by the Washington Post/Kaplan in 2007 (and sold in 2012) the Eduneering that Bill Merrow referred to in his “Missing Memo” piece?

    “Sanford’s undated agreement says he will be paid $85 per hour for work performed at his offices in California (his company is called Eduneering) and $1500 per day for work performed at DCPS, plus reimbursement for travel, food and lodging.”

    If they are one and the same, how did EduNeering (owned by Washington Post/Kaplan at the time) end up with a contract with DCPS via Michellle Rhee?

    purchased by Kaplan in 2007: http://staging.kaplaneduneering.com/about-us/history/

    sold in 2012: http://www.ulqcl.com/kappnotes/index.php/2012/04/ul-acquires-eduneering-from-kaplan/


  13. New York City has an Atlanta-Washington-Columbus situation waiting to go nuclear. Cheating before and during Bloomberg was/is business as usual. Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal exposed a perennial “65 bulge” in Regents scores–up to 10% of Regents passes were actually failures. Klein had no comment. No heads rolled. The story died. But it lives just off stage ready to be cued.


  14. Coincidentally, Diane Ravitch today published this link to a Washington Post article from 2009, written by Fred Hiatt:


    Opening sentence: “You might call it the Obama-Duncan-Gates-Rhee philosophy of education reform.” Or perhaps, it’s a love fest.

    Powerful people don’t admit to their mistakes; they just move forward. Small schools a disaster? Move forward. VAM scores can’t sort effective teachers from ineffective ones? Move forward. Cheating to make it all seem like it works? Move forward, don’t look back.


    • Considering how many of these folks are the very people who call for accountability at every turn, their “move along, nothing to see here” stance demonstrates that they support a double standard, that accountability does not apply to them or their cronies. Such injustices cannot last indefinitely.

      I would like to believe that there are people at every level in this saga who have a conscience, who are finding it challenging to live the lie, and that they will soon be stepping forward to reveal the truth.

      “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before beginning to improve the world.” –Anne Frank


  15. John, you seem to be stuck with a very limited concept of who can be “held accountable”, and to whom or what. Listen to yourself:
    ” We shouldn’t ban testing, of course, but we ought to be debating how to hold students, teachers and principals accountable.”

    Can billionaire profiteers, corporations, hired advocates, and bought foundations be “held accountable” to students and communities, or is it only ever the other way around?

    Joel Klein was never “held accountable” to the children of New York City, and he went straight into the corporate education reform industry, from his public service position. Now, children are being “held accountable” to Rupert Murdoch’s business ambitions.

    Students are in my room every day, buffeted by every new business plan. I’m a grown teacher, but they’re children, for God’s sake! Where have you been, while runaway greed and lies come stalking right into the room, grabbing us by the throat and shaking us, to hold us accountable to cheats and frauds?


  16. Do not forget the DCPS Chancellor cabinet meetings used to take place at the post, not sure if they still do but that is a little too cozy don’t you think?


  17. John, WaPo has not been out in front of anything for years. They only tend to confirm, with both their “news” and editorial sections what people already believe is true, because people want confirmation, not to be challenged. And pleasing the masses tends to be where the short-term money is found. They are following what appears to be our current cultural norm of putting immediate profits as the top priority, first in their mission. They are not alone here. I see it in the way Pepco (DC’s electricity supplier) is run: their purpose is to make a profit for shareholders, delivering electricity has taken a distant back seat for al least 15 years. It is how Exxon and other companies can justify raising prices more than their costs increase. WaPo is doing the same. If criticizing Rhee would sell more advertising (selling papers does not bring in enough money), they would do it – whether it was justified or not. But Rhee is still on top of her game and key advertisers (and WaPo board members) are supporters with a financial stake in Rhee’s success even though she is no longer in DC.


    • “Rhee is still on top of her game”

      How? By rating districts with the lowest test scores high, like NOLA and DC, and districts with the highest test scores low, based on how far along they are with privatization and stripping teachers of due process rights? That just makes her look like a silly corporate lackey.

      Rhee just spouts the same spin as other corporate “reformers,” so it doesn’t look like it’s “her game” at all. She is not prepared to go off script and can look rather foolish, like when she was on a panel with Diane Ravitch and Rhee complained about increases in spending and Ravitch pointed out rightly that this is largely due to costs for special education.

      Rhee also resorts to outright lies, such as when asked about cheating and test scores in DC. I am not a union teacher with skin in the game and I think the leader of the UK teachers’ union topped Rhee handily here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18592185


      • Thank you for sharing this link. It was wonderful to see someone aggressively and publicly calling out Michelle Rhee on her lies.

        Too bad there aren’t journalists in the mainstream American media who are willing to go on camera with Rhee and point out the fact that the woman is a congenital liar.


      • Yes, Rhee faced off in England with someone who really knew what she was talking about and who was very well prepared. Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the teachers’ union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), is a career teacher with a PhD. I don’t think Rhee saw that coming, because she is so used to just rattling off the “reform” talk and not being contested on this side of the pond.

        Except for the teacher bashers who support corporate “reform”, most of our mainstream journalists are wimps when addressing issues in the education arena.

        But I can’t imagine Randi Weingarten or Dennis Van Roekel being hard-hitting with Rhee either. I looked on youtube for face offs between Weingarten and Rhee and all I could find came off looking like they are on the same team, not adversaries, because Weingarten has sold out teachers on so many levels. I’d love to see Karen Lewis from the Chicago Teacher’s Union go up against Rhee. I think she has the same kinds of knowledge, skills and chutzpah as Mary Bousted.


      • In summer of 2008 I went up against Michelle Rhee in a Washington Teachers Union meeting and she was clueless. Rhee fears any real educators. You don’t need a celebrity educator to debate her becuause she cant debate. Michelle Rhee’s rhetoric is the same as men standing on the corner in front of a liquor store. Once you ask a question that requires real knowledge; the subject will soon change. The problem is most people don’t know the questions to ask Rhee. And she refuses to to avail herself to any hard questioners.
        Randi Weingarten is the same way once you question the basis of her useless rhetoric with the contradictions of her behavior ……silence.


      • My goodness everyone needs to watch this video! Too bad the reporter shifted gears a little when things were getting heated.

        Now, I know everyone here isn’t a fan of Rhee. There was a thing of two that I agreed with. She said teachers need to be evaluated better. I agree. But I don’t agree with the “evaluate so we can fire” method of improving people. The reformers would argue “we can’t wait. kids can’t wait” But trying to fire your way to excellence seems short sighted and simplistic.

        And did Rhee really say only 2 classrooms had suspicious things happening?


  18. John,

    Once again in your reporting zeal you have left out the millions of school children affected by Chancellors Rhee lies across the country. And the thousands of teachers fired across the country especially Wash DC whose lives have been shattered by your reporting. You deserve no awards for destorying millions of childhoods and the careers of the teachers who cared the most about the children. Your actions do reflect common decency and a clear conscious which should be your only reward. Please acknowledge your large role in creating Rhee and destoring lives!!


  19. DC Teacher — I disagree with you about Merrow’s effect on education. I watched his PBS segments very carefully and saw him attempt to be objective, which is what any good reporter should do.

    There were times when he treated the subject matter lightly, but only once did I see him get something wrong. I called him on it and he corrected it immediately — which is more than I can say about the Washington Post.

    Lives have been “shattered” by other reporters who have actively misrepresented the facts, covered for Rhee and praised her – something I never saw Merrow do.

    If anything, he seemed like he was treading cautiously in order to continue to have access to her. Without that access we never would have witnessed Rhee’s heartless public firing of a principal or seen the cruel look on her face when she said “stress is good.”

    As people commenting here are hoping for other journalists and people in the know to speak out, I think they should be encouraged to do what’s best for kids, not to be blasted for whatever damage they’ve done. It makes it all too easy to remain in denial and in silence.

    When journalists and other influential people take the kind of chance Merrow did, I’d like to see them honored and thanked for it. We need more people to do that and there are plenty more out there.


    • “When journalists and other influential people take the kind of chance Merrow did, I’d like to see them honored and thanked for it. We need more people to do that and there are plenty more out there.”

      This has long been my belief as well, and I really think it needs to be stressed in our culture from early childhood. For example, when I taught classrooms with Preschool, Kindergarten and 1st Grade students, I soon realized that, when kids are that young, they are just learning to tell lies and the reason they start to do that is for self-protection. I didn’t want my students to think they needed to protect themselves from me. I also wanted to instill in them the value of telling the truth and of being a good person. Thus, I never called kids “bad;” I always told them that I believed they were born good, that I knew they wanted to be good, and that they were learning how to behave in socially appropriate ways. I stressed that the consequences would be much less severe if they told the truth. And I always thanked children when they did so and acknowledged that they were trying to be a good person. That resulted in a pretty remarkable number of children who typically did tell the truth and very few kids who ever told lies in my classes.

      I definitely agree that John and others who own up to whatever roles they may have played in this saga and speak the truth about what they know should be acknowledged and honored for stepping forward.


  20. Thanks for reminding people that it’s not about me. It’s about the tyranny of high stakes bubble testing, the scapegoating of teachers, and the irrelevance of what I call “regurgitation education.”


    • Well, it might not be about you per se, John, and maybe I missed something, but I had not heard you mention the “the scapegoating of teachers” before now. You continue to confirm my faith in the goodness of people!


  21. Thanks, John and Chi-town — I think we’re making some progress here.

    Next steps? Get more journalists and supporters of school reform to see the error of their ways and own up to it. Get more school officials and teachers (including TFA recruits) to give their true insiders’ view.

    John — you could be influential with the many reporters and editorialists who were once on the Rhee and school reform bandwagon and who have since fallen silent. I like to think that some of them are too embarrassed to admit they were wrong, and will stay silent without a stronger societal push to speak out.

    It sure would be nice if this new, true story, based on changing one’s mind based on facts and research, became the hot story that everyone wanted to have a say on.


    • I think this can happen once a certain “tipping point” is reached, so that those who are silently thinking “maybe these reforms aren’t so great afterall” will feel safe enough to speak out. It seems to be happening slowly with those who follow what’s happening with TFA. But how about charters and other reform groups?


    • Efavorite and concerned (and John, too), there is no way to do this while everybody stays safe and waits for the wind to blow. Sacrifices are being made, and prices paid for the progress so far. Inside the public schools, with the kids in front of us, we’re asking people to take risks every day, and real people have stepped up. Look, John Kuhn has commented here (you should feel honored). Did he wait till it was safe to stand up in Washington DC and give that speech?

      Yes, people can be fired. People have been fired. Pundits and reporters will see their careers dry up. Honest superintendents have been ousted, teachers who wouldn’t cheat were replaced by ones who would. Department heads in teacher education colleges have rolled.

      On the other hand, your career and security can advance mightily if you side with corporate interests. Young TFA teachers’ speeches about data-driven instruction are immediately rewarded, and they are on the short path to teacher-leader, and get chosen out and sent to Flip-Con.

      The realization that it’s not about you, “It’s about the tyranny of high stakes bubble testing…” has to come from a free mind. It reflects an existential choice, especially for somebody who has found himself drifting to the easier side. So, in every specific case, it’s also about you.


  22. Keep up the great work John. There are hundreds of thousands of teachers out here that love what you are doing!

    Another idea is to do a TV panel interview with the leaders of the public education movement, such as Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, John Kuhn, Carol Burris, Ken Bernstein, Gary Rubenstein, Josh Starr, and others. I’m tired of seeing interviews of the reformers.


    • Maybe Frontline would be interested in either a follow-up on the Rhee program. Or, Frontline investigates the decade of NCLB and RTTT and interviews some of the people mentioned by Jack S.

      The reformers get lots of media coverage. Why not those critical of reformers?


    • What a fantastic idea!! (No surprise coming from such a terrific superintendent though!) Maybe John can put a bug in their ear.


  23. Someone posted this on another blog:

    May 17, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    I have a petition on the white house petitions site to have the feds investigate Rhee and the cheating scandal. Please sign it at the following URL.



  24. John,

    You are on the brink of an investigative report that will free millions of students and teachers from being used as tools for corporate profits. Certain evidence indicates that corporate reform is beginning to crack. Middle class and upper middle class moms are now following the money in some states.

    It’s the Occam’s Razor principle being played out. Keep it simple and follow the money in DC. Why is the money funneled to the reformers through grants and contracts?

    Readers need to have the Wireless Generation and Kaplan contracts with DCPS during the Rhee years. It’s easy to post information on Scribd, etc.


  25. Ravitch did a blog on this, awarding it “Best Comment of the Week”:


    Here’s an excerpt:

    Jo-Ann Armao has a proven history of re-writing and softening
    former education reporter Bill Turque’s criticisms of Rhee… without
    either the knowledge, permission, or prior input of Turque.

    For her part, Rhee was livid at Turque’s coverage, and consequently
    refused to talk to Turque, and directed all D.C Public Schools
    staff to do likewise.

    Well, WaPo education reporter Bill Turque
    wrote the following regarding Editor Jo Ann Armao’s bias
    in favor of former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle
    Rhee (Turque’s criticism made the initial print and on-line
    editions… the parts that were later re-written by Armao are
    in CAPITALS):





    Ouch! A supposedly objective pillar of U.S. journalism—the
    very entity that brought down a corrupt president—now

    Dem’s fightin’ words!

    Well, Jo Ann was non-plussed by this characterization, and
    without Turque’s knowledge or consent,
    had the last sentences re-written & greatly condensed for the later print and
    on-line editions thusly:

    “Where this gets complicated is that board’s stance, and THE

    (again, the part BELOW that Armao rewrote/condensed is in CAPITALS…
    note how Armao excised the pointed adjective “OBVIOUS”… to make
    Armao appear more objective that Turque believes she is.)

    Again, this alteration was printed as if Turque himself wrote the
    Above words (in CAPITALS), when it came from Armao’s keyboard
    without any prior permission and input from Turque… to the public,
    this misleading at best, despicable at worst.

    Other sections of Turque’s piece were similarly watered down by
    Armao. This was a huge story during January and February 2011.

    As a pro-union teacher out her in L.A., I could go on at length about
    my problems with the L.A. Times coverage of education.
    Don’t get me wrong. Occasionally, its coverage is fair and
    accurate, but at other times, most of the coverage is…
    well, let’s not get into all that here.

    However, the problems with bias at the L.A. Times pales
    In comparison to such an action on Armao’s part. She
    deliberately misled people into thinking Turque wrote
    words that he did not.

    Regarding the Turque/Armao WaPo controversy, Robert
    Pondiscio of Core Knowlege put it best at:


    Regarding the Armao rewriting / censoring, Pondiscio states:

    “Having spent the better part of my career in journalism, I was
    thrilled to read Turque’s original blog post, and delighted the
    paper showed enough respect for its readers to lift the curtain
    on its processes. By explaining the behind-the-scenes
    machinations and showing how powerful people maneuver
    to affect coverage and spin perceptions, they were treating
    readers like grownups, holding both Rhee and the paper
    itself accountable.

    “But what happened? Why change the story?”


  26. Not at all surprising, but good, now, to have a little factual bite to my suspicions. Thank you. I agree with Mary Porter who said there are many more who need to be held accountable, and surely we have seen the evil of testing used as it has been. But I’m feeling a little hope. A number of journalists, like you, have said that it isn’t likely we’ll see any meaningful investigation, but I sense that information is traveling and there might just be enough populace power to demand action. We’ll see.

    Here’s one of the most thoughtful pieces I’ve read yet about the state of education in our country. It was written a couple years ago but is still entirely relevant.



    • Thanks so much for sharing the article by Chris Hedges, Jan. Yes, that was written two years ago and it is every bit as relevant today. He really does understand what has been happening to education in this country.

      I would like to add Anthony Cody’s insightful article as must reading, too: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2013/01/the_education_reform_dichotomy.html

      Maybe John, Chris and Anthony can work collaboratively to get the message out to other mainstream journalists, before all is lost. (Yes, I do think an educator like Anthony should be included.)


  27. I would like to celebrate Merrow’s consistently high quality coverage of K-12 education…..and his ‘scoop’ on the Sanford memo in DC. Her self-promotion seems more and more fragile as the reality of DPS over 2007-2011 becomes more evident with time and fine reporting like Merrows. Kudos.
    Improving education for young Americans is not going to be achieved by high stakes testing alone and people like Rhee make it less likely that good teachers will be recruited in the future. It, like politics, will seem to attract politician-careerist types who know how to massage reality to make themselves look better than the rest of the teaching profession while berating the non-self-promoting types who try to do as good a job as possible, but do not want to play the game of celebrity-based-educational reforms.


  28. I can’t I find anything indicating that the teachers from Teach for America who confessed to cheating in Atlanta were among the teachers and administrators who were indicted for cheating. (There were at least three TFAers who confessed and possibly more. See: http://nycteach.blogspot.com/2011/07/teach-for-america-corps-members.html )

    Anyone know if any TFAers were indicted in Atlanta, or could this be another indicator of what happens when you have friends in high places to CYA?


  29. On Sunday, May 5, the NY Times Week in Review published a thoughtful piece by its public editor, Margaret Sullivan. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/public-editor/repairing-the-credibility-cracks-after-jayson-blair.html?pagewanted=all
    Even though she is writing about Jason Blair, the reporter who faked sources and lied to readers, her piece is remarkably relevant to the issue I wrote about, and I wish I had been up-to-date on my newspaper reading. “Anything that damages credibility…has to be guarded against energetically,” she writes. ‘Because once that happens, that damage can take years–yes, a decade or more–to repair.”


    • Like Janet Cooke at the Washington Post.
      New York Times also had Christopher Jones who fabricated a visit to Kampuchea and plagiarized from Andre’ Malraux.
      And for them, there are the less than outright fabricators, like Shirley Christian, Kit Seelye , Claire Sterling and Judith Miller.


    • The Great Recession hurt many people and institutions, including journalists and newspapers. Because investigative reporting became too expensive, many journalists just started reading reports from others, and passing it on in their own stories. So when a “miracle school” announced that their students had gone from the thirteenth percentile to the ninetieth” no one checked before reporting it.

      Now that the economy is improving, journalists are asking questions again and checking their facts, but a lot of harm has been done.


  30. Here’s another influential journalist’s recent views to be aware of: Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism http://www.journalism.columbia.edu/profile/50,

    He just wrote a negative review of Rhee’s book “Radical” for the “New Republic.” He is obviously on to her.

    How Michelle Rhee Misled Education Reform A memoir illustrates what’s wrong with her brand of school reform 5/20/13

    Lemann is a Harvard grad who has written for the Atlantic ,the New Yorker, The Washington Post, the New York Times, etc. He looks like just the kind of guy who could influence mainstream journalists to start checking the facts and telling the truth about Rhee and the whole corporate school reform movement.


    • Look who Rhee was speaking to, Stanford Graduate BUSINESS School students, and BUSINESS people on LinkedIn, because corporate education “reform” is a BUSINESS plan and that appeals to BUSINESS leaders. No surprise who is really first in her world.


    • It’s revealing to read that Rhee states that her opponents “bring nothing to the table.” As teachers, we bring OURSELVES to the table. Like her, very few, if any, reformers elect to be with the children. To me, that says it all.

      What ARE the “reformers” interested in? That’s easy: just follow the money. These people are interested in reforming the distribution of school tax money, as they believe it should go to them. Thankfully, journalists and other citizens are finally catching on. It sure took a while!


  31. I’ve thought of another reason why journalists and other influential people are silent about Rhee and the failure of education reform — they are trying to figure out what to say.

    They are actively thinking about it and preparing a response.

    Could be. Time will tell. Meanwhile, perhaps some of us could give them ideas on material for a properresponse.


  32. Here’s a link to a newspaper column I wrote that was published in January, 2013 challenging Schools First assertions regarding Minnesota:

    This column appeared in weekly suburban and rural newspapers reaching up to 650,000 families.

    I admire and appreciate the work that John Merrow has done on the Rhee situation. But I think it is important to know that there have been other columns questioning some of her assertions. As noted, this one appeared in January of this year.


  33. thank you Joe — I’m happy to know about your column and am aware that many journalists have been presenting accurate facts and deserved criticism about Michelle Rhee.

    I would like to see more of this from journalists and other people and organizations who were influential in creating Rhee’s celebrity.

    This is what Merrow is doing and the NY times and perhaps the New Republic (I’m not familiar enough with their past related writings to make a definitive statement about them).

    There are entities who were rife with praise of Rhee and “no excuses” school reform who have gone silent now that they’ve been proven wrong. And they have been proven wrong — and they know it. The data support it.


  34. eFavorite,

    You can huff and puff and blow all the smoke you want but at the end of the day. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of conveince and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Mr. Merrow can answer that question alone in the solitude of his mind and soul. Michelle Rhee has gone on to destroy millions of school childrens academic life and educators carears. I personally will not forget Mr. Merrow substanial role in creating the calamity of a Corporation De-former. A blind man could see Rhee was a fraud. With Mr. Merrow’s experience I highly doubt that his brain was completely in the dark. People lost homes, careers, families and some died. You can sugar coat what happpened in Wash DC but, I’ve had a front row personal experience of the devastation and the continuing effects!!


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