Holes in the Case against Michelle Rhee; Too Many Signs of Success to Dismiss Former D.C. Chancellor's Achievement
Byline: Paul E. Peterson, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
With states from New Jersey to Indiana searching for ways to modify teacher compensation and teacher tenure laws, the pioneering work by Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of schools for the District of Columbia, has come under increasing scrutiny.
Not only have newspapers claimed cheating at a few specific schools in the District, but two separate studies have sought recently to cast doubt on the distinctiveness of the gains achieved by D.C. students during Ms. Rhee's tenure in office - one by Alan Ginsburg, a former director of policy and program studies at the Department of Education, the other by a committee constituted by the National Research Council (NRC).
According to Mr. Ginsburg, Ms. Rhee was no more effective than her predecessors. Not surprisingly, his argument has been picked up quickly by American Federation of Teachers President Randy Weingarten, who asserts in a Wall Street Journal interview that Ms. Rhee had a record that is actually no better than the previous two chancellors. The NRC committee says gains in the District were no greater than those in 10 other big-city school districts for which comparable information is available.
Where's the evidence that Ms. Rhee was no better than her predecessors? And that other cities are doing just as well?
In my report, released today by Education Next, I put to one side data from the District's own assessments now subject to cheating allegations. Instead, I consider the performance of District students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a low-stakes test for which incentives to cheat are minimal, as the performance of no student, teacher or school is identified and about which no cheating allegations have been raised.
Mr. Ginsburg and the NRC committee also rely upon the same NAEP data, but neither excludes (when possible) the scores of students attending charter schools beyond Ms. Rhee's control, and Mr. Ginsburg, when comparing Ms. Rhee with predecessors, does not adjust for national trends in performance. Once the data are corrected and adjusted for national trends, it becomes evident that during the Rhee years, fourth-grade students gained at a pace twice that seen under her predecessors in both reading and math. The gains in math by eighth-grade students were nearly as much, although no eighth-grade reading gains are detected.
Gains are not enormous in any one year, but over time, they add up. In 2000, the gap between the District and the nation in fourth-grade math was 34 points. Had students gained as much every year between 2000 and 2009 as they did during the Rhee era, that gap would have been just 7 points in 2009. Three more years of Rhee-like progress and the gap would have been closed. In eighth-grade math, the gap in 2000 was 38 points. Had Rhee-like progress been made over the next nine years, the gap in 2009 would have been just 14 points, with near closure in 2012. In fourth-grade reading, the gap was 30 points in 2003; if Rhee-like gains had taken place over the next six years, the gap in 2009 would have been cut in half.
But perhaps the NRC report makes a more persuasive case. …