Michelle Rhee was the chancellor of Washington, D.C. schools from 2007 to 2010, during the time D.C. school officials cheated to raise test scores. The Office of the Inspector General in Arne Duncan’s Education Department has been investigating the case for the past six months. Considering how much the outcome the investigation could influence her career, it would seem a no-brainer that Duncan should not be fraternizing with her.
Nevertheless, the two sat side by side last month, as two of four featured panelists at an education conference in Washington. The conference was about the use of educational data.
Supposedly they did not talk about how to exploit educational data to further one’s career, as both Duncan and Rhee have done, or how to massage the numbers and game the system, as Rhee and her underlings supposedly did. It is also unlikely that the panelists discussed how much of a cash cow the testing and accountability mania have become for test and textbook publishers or revealed how much of their personal portfolios are invested in these companies. They most certainly did not talk about how little the tests and their data reveal about the quality of teachers and schools or how they undermine the quality of education by focusing on memorization and multiple choice guessing, while taking away class time and resources from arts, music, science, critical thinking and inquiry.
As the New York Times correctly pointed out today, Rhee’s reputation as a national leader of the education reform movement is based on the inflated D.C. test scores.
In March, USA Today published the results of an investigation of the D.C. schools that found unusually large gains at 41 schools and a suspiciously high rate of erasures on tests. This was one-third of the elementary and middle schools in the district.
In a rather amateur attempt to redirect blame to the Times, Duncan’s spokesman Justin Hamilton said, “It’s irresponsible for a New York times columnist to presume guilt before we have all the facts,” as if by not appearing publicly with Rhee Duncan might be biasing the jury.
The problem is that there is no jury—at least not yet.
This is an investigation by Duncan’s office. By socializing with a suspect under investigation, it gives Duncan and the entire Department of Education the appearance of being in bed with her, biasing the investigation and destroying what little confidence the public may have had that they would get to the bottom of the scandal or prevent any further cheating.