Thursday, January 10, 2013

Memphis Connection to Rhee's Cheating Scandal

Washington, D.C. and its District of Columbia Public Schools are embroiled in a cheating scandal, a legacy of Chancellor Michelle Rhee's time at the head of DCPS.

The cheating allegation is that after the DC standardized tests became "high stakes" - so that the students' achievement as translated by how they score on the standardized tests is used to measure "teacher effectiveness" - some schools saw a large increase in "erasures" on the test.  There will always be some erasures - some from right to wrong answers, and some from the wrong answer to the right answer.  Statistical analyses by the testing company CTB/McGraw-Hill showed a huge increase in wrong-to-right erasures at particular schools.  As reported by the Washington Post, "At least five Noyes [Elementary School] classrooms had wrong-to-right erasure rates of more than 10 per child, while the D.C. average was fewer than two. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill testing expert Gregory Cizek, who worked on the investigation of similar erasures in Atlanta, said only test tampering could produce so many changes from wrong answers to right ones."

The original report on the cheating scandal in USA Today noted that there were statistically problematic wrong-to-right erasures at 41 DCPS schools.  Here's the New York Times' write-up on Ms. Rhee's changing approach to the allegations.

Of the 41 schools, Noyes Elementary School is important because it became a Blue Ribbon School on the basis of its significant improvement in test scores.  The principal was promoted to the central administration, and the school was held out as a success story for Ms. Rhee's controversial policies.  We now know that it was also important because the principal who inherited the school and its success is one of the whistle-blowers in the cheating scandal.  Turns out that after test security at Noyes was increased, the scores drastically decreased.  The complaint in her federal case was unsealed this week. The federal agencies decided not to join the case, and generally found that the claims were unfounded.  The current chancellor, Kaya Henderson, acknowledges that "isolated instances" of cheating were found, but denies that there were widespread problems.

So what's the Memphis connection?  In the complaint, head to paragraphs 83, 84, and 85, where you'll read about the two DCPS administrators that the principal contacted after walking into a room where three Noyes teachers and administrators were holding the bubble-in sheets and erasers.  One of them is Josh Edelman, the current Senior Program Officer for Empowering Effective Teachers at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  At the time, he was the Deputy Chief, Office of School Innovation for DCPS, reporting to Ms. Rhee.  You can often see him at the school board meetings, and he's a regular visitor to the MCS central offices.  His role, as I understand it, is to monitor MCS's administration of the Gates Foundation grant money.

The principal claims that neither Josh Edelman nor Hilary Dilarek (the DCPS "Director of Principal Human Capital") escalated her report.  Both now claim, as part of the DC and federal investigations into the matter, to have no record of these conversations.

Here's some more WaPo coverage of the cheating scandal.  Here's a link to this week's Frontline documentary.  January 11, 2013 update:  here's a link to a compilation of the actual test results that indicate fraud.


  1. Yes, and Josh Edelman is the brother of Jonah Edelman, head of Stand For Children, who famously declared on video that his group's lobbying efforts had made it impossible for Chicago teacher to strike.

    Seeing the video made teachers so angry that they (nearly) all voted to strike.

    Jonah Edelman apologized for his patronizing tone towards teachers in that video later (it was too late).

    1. Watching in MemphisJanuary 11, 2013 at 8:21 AM

      I have to wonder what their mother, Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, thinks about all of this.

    2. "Our children have been hijacked and shackled by bad policy and bad politics. This nation has squandered away four years and billions of dollars in education funding. Our children have been tested to death, forced to regurgitate and at the end of the day they haven't learned to do basic reading and math or much less learned to think. It's a national shame."

      —Marian Wright Elderman, president of the Children's Defense Fund