Did Michelle Rhee cheat, as Comish Gist suspected?

One of the reasons it doesn’t work so well to threaten teachers with their jobs if their students don’t improve their standardized test scores is it incentives cheating. The news didn’t make that big of an impact when it happened recently in Atlanta, but now Michelle Rhee, the superwoman or scourge of the so-called education reform movement, is on the hot seat for potentially overseeing cheating rather than education reform while she was in charge of the schools in Washington D.C.

In a post titled “Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error,” PBS News Hour education correspondent John Merrow uncovers a new memo indicating Rhee may have had reason to suspect that an overabundance of erasure marks was cause for concern: perhaps teachers were changing wrong answers to show improvement because Rhee’s hard-line reform efforts weren’t producing results.

While the story sheds more light on why high stakes performance metrics may have more in the way of unintended consequences than so-called education reformers are letting on, it’s doubling-interesting for Rhode Island because Merrow reports that Deborah Gist was the first to call Rhee’s attention to the potential concern when our education commissioner worked under Rhee in D.C.

About halfway down the very long story that is making very big waves in the politics of public education:

The official who had spotted the problem and urged Rhee to investigate has kept her mouth shut. Five months after she had informed Rhee of the widespread erasures, Deborah Gist resigned to become State Superintendent in Rhode Island. Rhee now publicly praises her efforts there.Sandy Sanford, who earned roughly $9,000 for his work on the memo, has been paid at least $220,000 by DCPS for various services.

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Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.

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