November 17th, 2009

Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC
Michelle Rhee in DC Series Podcast: A devious reason for teacher layoffs?

( Click here to download the podcast )

John Merrow interviewed DC teachers’ union President George Parker about the 266 teachers who lost their jobs earlier this school year. The layoffs were said to be caused by a budget shortfall, but schools chancellor Michelle Rhee had hired 934 new teachers in the between spring and fall. Those hirings set off alarm bells for Parker and others in the District. Could there be a more devious reason for the layoffs?

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Mr. Merrow, regarding the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, you said to George Parker, President of the Washington Teachers Union, “The district actually climbed up a little bit. Nationally they were flat in math. Is it fair to say that district schools are doing better, two plus years into Michelle Rhee’s tenure as chancellor?”

Then you chided President Parker for not being willing to give Rhee credit. If you had examined the NAEP scores, you would have seen that she does not deserve credit, as Michael Petrilli, VP at the Fordham Foundation conceded when I pointed out the trend to him. In his recent “Education Next” article, http://educationnext.org/the-one-winner-in-todays-naep-release-michelle-rhee/ Petrilli initially gave Rhee credit for the rising NAEP math scores, but then acknowledged that a comment of mine made “a fair point about the achievement increases preceding Michelle Rhee’s time in DC” at He also amended his article to include a link to the NAEP site.

Here are the facts on DC’s national (NAEP) math scores, available on the official NAEP website: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/states/profile.asp

DC 4th grade math
2000 – 192
2003 – 205
2005 – 211
2007 – 214
2009 – 219

DC 8th grade math
2000 – 235
2003 – 243
2005 – 245
2007 – 248
2009 – 254

While there has been steady increase in DC math scores over the last nine years, as you can see from the chart above, the increase was often greater in the years before Rhee came. Also consider that her reform of firing teachers didn’t begin until June of 2009, after the latest NAEP testing had been completed, so she can hardly take credit for doing anything to increase scores. The amount of increase actually lessened slightly during her tenure, but it’s so slight, I don’t think it can be attributed to her, anymore than she should receive credit for the already existing upward trend.

As you mentioned, DC scores are still at the bottom of the heap nationally. They are also way below proficiency. No one, and certainly not Ms. Rhee, would want to take credit for this. However, she is a master at spin even in the face of facts, does not hesitate to try to mislead and confuse the public.




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