January 7th, 2013

WATCH: FRONTLINE - The Education of Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington, DC public schools, is one of the most admired and reviled school reformers in America. For PBS NewsHour, Learning Matters was granted unprecedented access to Rhee during her tumultuous three-year tenure as she attempted to fix a broken school system. This hour-long Frontline documentary expands on this reporting with an examination of her legacy in Washington, DC, including her battles with the teachers’ union and her handling of a cheating scandal in the District.

The Education of Michelle Rhee is available freely as a streaming video - either above, or on the Frontline website.


John Merrow’s weekly blog provides behind-the-scenes info:

1/9/13: Meet Adell Cothorne
Adell Cothorne, the former DC principal who appears in our Frontline film, “The Education of Michelle Rhee,” was one of the few educators willing to speak on the record about the widespread erasures during Michelle Rhee’s tenure – and what she has to say is important.

1/15/13: The Missing Memo
This is the story of a missing memo, numerous attempts to unearth it using the Freedom of Information Act, confidential sources, apparently lost email, and new questions about Michelle Rhee’s decision not to investigate widespread erasures on an important standardized test during her first year in Washington, DC.

4/11/13: Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error
With the indictment of former Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly A. Hall and 34 other public school employees in a massive cheating scandal, the time is right to re-examine other situations of possible illegal behavior by educators. Washington, DC, belongs at the top of that list.



1/4/13: WASHINGTON POST -  ‘Frontline’ raises questions about test-score tampering under Rhee

1/7/13: THIS WEEK IN EDUCATION - Preview: New PBS Documentary Humanizes Rhee’s Tenure

1/8/13: THIS WEEK IN EDUCATION - Update: Behind Frontline’s Rhee Documentary

1/8/13: EWA: EDMEDIA COMMONS - Five Questions For … PBS NewsHour Correspondent John Merrow on Frontline’s New Michelle Rhee Documentary

1/8/13: WNYC: THE LEONARD LOPATE SHOW - John Merrow Guest Appearance

1/8/13: KPCC: TAKE TWO - John Merrow Guest Appearance

1/8/13: CNN: SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT - What’s Michelle Rhee’s legacy in D.C. schools?

1/8/13: GF BRADENBERG: I’m Rather Disappointed With the New Frontline Piece on Michelle Rhee

1/8/13: DIANE RAVITCH- My Commentary on the PBS Rhee Special

1/10/13: GOOD - Students Need More Than Michelle Rhee’s Education Reforms

1/10/13: SACRAMENTO BEE - Ginger Rutland: Michelle Rhee wasn’t perfect, but had the right focus on students as D.C. chancellor

1/11/13: PBS OMBUDSMAN - Michelle Rhee: Reformer, Zealot, Both or Something Else?




When standardized test scores soared in D.C., were the gains real? (USA TODAY)

Chart: Hundreds of classes in D.C. public schools flagged for ‘erasures’ (USA TODAY)

DC CAS Website

USA Today Memos - These documents detail a back-and-forth between two D.C. education agencies regarding testing investigations, obtained through public-records requests, and correspondence between USA TODAY and D.C. Public Schools.

A History of Michelle Rhee, George Parker, and Teacher Unions This resource, originally produced for our PBS NewsHour series, provides an overview of Rhee’s negotiations with the DC Teacher Union.


Learning Matters had unprecedented access during Michelle Rhee’s 3 years as Chancellor in Washington DC. During that time, we produced an award-winning series for PBS NewsHour to document her efforts, as well as supplemental podcasts.

Watch the full series below:


These podcast interviews provide a deeper look at some of the topics discussed on Frontline:

Extended interviews with Michelle Rhee:

At 37, young and in charge (10/9/07)

Rhee’s candid self-assessment (5/27/08)

Rhee looks back on her first year (7/22/08)

Rhee speaks about her national media profile (5/3/09)

Rhee on two years worth of mistakes (8/17/09)

Extended interviews with Adrian Fenty:

Adrian Fenty’s take (2/26/08)

Adrian Fenty on Rhee “still building the foundation” (9/9/10)

Further insight on DCPS teacher layoffs and IMPACT:

The 90 Day Plan (5/3/09)

Jason Kamras on IMPACT (11/17/09)

The Reduction in Force (11/17/09)

The IMPACT system, at work (9/9/10)

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What struck me as remarkably poignant about the Michelle Ree story is how surprisingly superficial her strategies, treatments, metrics, and goals became. Test scores are fine, but there are many, many other ways of measuring “gain scores” by student, by demographic, by class, by age, by language, by one, two or three year increments, which would mitigate the misunderstandings caused by the aggregates she used (and would more likely reveal the cheats). Attendance, mobility, “churning,” and a host of other demographic data, all collected by most city systems, document plenty about the cultural and educational setting, and none of which seemed to make any difference to her assessments of teachers or principals or, for that matter, to your analysis. Library or computer uses would - or should - have shown other measures of “educational change,” for which teachers, principals, and even those who seemed to lose textbooks might earn credit. And, by the way, did she cure that textbook and supply bottleneck? to what end? or to what end was it reported if it was NOT cured?

What is most upsetting about education reporting is not the superficiality of people like Rhee (or Fenty), since at least they are - or were - earnest and well intended. What is upsetting is how narrowly they could define their goals and how superficial such goals thereby become. And what is surprising is that you never questioned them for more data to produce more information. The worst kind of journalism lets the subject define the question, and then sticks between those often (as in this case) narrow boundaries.

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) must be upheld by the supreme court:

The numerous despicable attempts to restrict voting made during the last election cycle are proof of that. Anyone who truly believes the VRA is obsolete needs to recognize, given last year’s voter suppression efforts, the Jim Crowe era is biding its time.

Now even if you are dumb enough to believe that all is OK with the world and there are no reasons to have the voting rights act on the books. Then why are the the parties at opposite end’s on this? Why are the Republicans in America trying to keep people from the poles ?

The argument is that VRA is discriminatory against Southern states to require them but not other states to seek pre-clearance for voting laws; I actually agree. The Voting Rights Act should require *ALL* states to seek pre-clearance. After what we’ve seen the GOP try to pass in states all across the nation prior to the last 2012 election, I see no reason this safeguard against voter suppression should be limited to just Southern states as suggested by VRA of 1965 but now should be expanded to apply to ALL 50 states.

Ajay Jain
1209 Creekwood Drive
Garland TX 75044-2421

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