Although Los Angeles Times readers don’t appear to be willing to give Michelle Rhee a second chance based on the poll result on the front page, education experts around the country appear to be much more measured in their responses to the allegations that she covered up a cheating scandal during her tenure as Chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools.
This has been a difficult week for Rhee, who has has to fend off accusations that she knew about the widespread cheating outlined in a memo she commissioned that was made public late last week by PBS journalist John Merrow.
In an interview with The Times editorial board, Rhee said that although she “didn’t see the memo” at the time, consultant Sandy Sanford “was just writing a memo based on something that we already broadly knew.” She noted that the testing company had expressed reservations about the erasure analysis the memo relied on, and she added that later investigations found no widespread wrongdoing.
After leaving her position as Chancellor in 2010, Rhee became head of the education advocacy group StudentsFirst. The group has played a substantial role in the recent political season, throwing its support behind candidates who share their education reform ideas, including donating $250,000 to Los Angeles School Board candidates who had the support of the Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa this March.
The second look into Rhee’s tenure as Chancellor was kicked off by the conclusion of the investigation into the Atlanta cheating scandal, where a number of top district officials were charged with wrongdoing. The investigation showed that teachers and administrators — including Superintendent Beverly Hall — engaged in a systematic effort to alter student test results.
Howard Blume, writing for the LA Times, points out that the Atlanta scandal began quite similarly to the original D.C. story – with a limited number of schools initially involved.
Similar allegations about erasures that surfaced in Atlanta recently resulted in a grand jury indictment against former schools Supt. Beverly Hall and others. Authorities have alleged that Hall conspired to cheat or conceal cheating. The result was fraudulent bonuses for employees and a false read on student achievement, prosecutors said.
Some education activists and journalists have alleged serious flaws in the investigations cited by Rhee. They noted that early probes in Atlanta also turned up limited wrongdoing. At one point, Rhee hired a firm to conduct a narrow review in D.C. — the same company whose findings Atlanta officials cited in their defense.
There have been sharp drops in test scores at some D.C. schools that were flagged in the past for high erasure rates, according to the Washington Post. Such declines could indicate cheating, but are not proof of it. To date, no in-depth erasure analysis of the 2008 answer sheets has been conducted.