michelle rhee
Michelle Rhee

I dedicated an earlier piece here to a discussion of how No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was a stupid extension of federal powers into state responsibility and that it was just a political plum for urban areas and southern states, neither of which care much if kids that go to public school end up with any better skills than learning most of the alphabet and counting up to eleventy.

Well, according to an investigation conducted by USA Today, one of the shining stars in the NCLB universe just flamed out. In Washington, DC, Crosby Noyes Educational Campus was regarded as a failure of education even by DC standards. In 2006, 10% of the students there scored either proficient or advanced in math or reading on the standardized tests mandated by the federal government. Two years later, nearly 60% of students reached these milestones. The Department of Education, eager for any sign that their meddling had inspired success, named the grade school a Blue Ribbon School. The Chancellor of DC Schools, Michelle Rhee, took credit for the reward system which she had implemented, that included giving each of the teachers at the school an $8,000 bonus in 2008 and again in 2010. The principal was rewarded with a $10,000 bonus each year.

Rhee made the round of cable news shows and even showed up on Oprah (see the video at the end of this article). She took what seemed to be appropriate credit for developing a system that rewarded those teachers who most capably were able to drive higher scores on the part of their students.

It turns out that Rhee might have spent her money more wisely by buying copies of Freakonomics. You see, one of the chapters in Levitt’s book tells a similar tale in Chicago. Teachers who were under artificial pressure to produce artificial test score results decided to erase enough answers that they knew were incorrect, and replace them with the correct responses. After a pretty interesting statistical analysis (that phrase is regarded as an oxymoron down here) of the students’ responses, Levitt established that many of the teachers whose students had the greatest increase in their scores had erased some of the incorrect responses and replaced them with the correct ones. At the time, a running joke was ‘at least the teachers can read at a seventh grade level.’

As you may have guessed by now, there was a problem at Crosby Noyes. McGraw-Hill graded the tests for DC, and discovered that in 2008, in 6 out of the 8 classrooms where students were being tested, there were an inordinate number of erasures. As well, students who erased fortuitously consistently erased incorrect answers and replaced them with the right response. This trend continued for the following two years. In one classroom at the school, students averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures; in DC as a whole, the rate is below 1. This difference is virtually impossible. A number of statisticians have attempted to make this point to the DC School System. But the bureaucrats’ response was that ‘a high erasure rate alone is not evidence of impropriety.’ Unfortunately at Noyes, once the investigation of their erasure problem became public, it was time for another testing cycle…and this time, the proficiency rate plummeted by 23%.

This erasure problem is not confined to Crosby Noyes in DC. In at least two other acclaimed schools in the District, the same situation occurred. DC has no incentive to act, since the federal government will continue raising its budget as long as the scores increase; it doesn’t matter if the scores are real or not.

Rhee has since resigned her post, but has formed a non-profit, StudentsFirst, which is trying to raise $1 billion to raise students’ test scores. I assume that some of this will be spent on erasers.

As far as I know, there is but one way to get students to learn more, and that is for parents to become involved with their education, to pressure their kids to learn, to make sure they do their assignments, and to pressure the teachers to give their kids more work, so that they will become successful adults. Unfortunately, it is easier for many parents to pass the buck to teachers when their kids are clueless.

Here is the video of Rhee’s appearance, with the accompanying adulation, on Oprah. I’m assuming that she will be too busy to return to discuss this shameful story.:

Photos: www.wenn.com/Carrie Devorah