MEDIA WATCH: Former Rhee ally confirming cheating charges against Rhee? Jay Mathews of the Washington Post on 'cheating'

For the fifteen years I've tried to follow the sorry history of the so-called "standards and accountability" movement across the USA, there have been several constants. You could always count on groups like the "Education Trust", "American Enterprise Institute," and "Achieve, Inc." (from the earliest days) to provide up-to-date cheerleading for whatever attack on public education found itself into the latest iteration of corporate school reform. Likewise (despite what Jerry Bracey tried to do by talking with the guy from time to time), you could always count on the Washington Post's Jay Mathews to hype whatever the flavor-of-the-month reform might be. Mathews was there cheerleading teacher bashing and union busting all along the line, whether we were in "Reform 1.0" during the latter days of the Clinton administration, "Reform 2.0" (Bush and No Child Left Behind), or Reform 3.0 ("We've finally gotten it right this time for sure...") Race To The Top, Arne Duncan, and the Obama administration.

A good example of Mathews's work was his cheerleader approach to the KIPP charter schools.

But could it be he's actually looking behind the sound bites and the latest hype at some of the facts? It's possible. After all, Mathews, unlike many of the proponents of corporate school reform, has been in schools and classrooms from the hard core inner city to the toniest suburbs. He's can count, and can easily see that classes of 30 to 40 very poor kids with one teacher are not likely to do as well (no matter what the measure) as classes of 20 in wealthy suburban districts (or classes of 15 in schools like Sidwell Friends or the University of Chicago Lab School, where Barack and MIchelle Obama send their daughters, while attacking public school teachers with all the zeal of a used car salesman selling a shiny lemon flood survivor off the front of the lot).

So could it be that Mathews has finally noticed the all the lies actually have disastrous consequences, and that the truth might finally be in order? So, on Sunday June 19, 2011, a little over a month from the day tens of thousands of teachers and supporters of public education will be marching and meeting in the SOS events (what might be the biggest show in D.C. in a decade or two), Jay Mathews discovered that under Michelle Rhee at least some of the "miracle" might have come about from simple cheating.

Cheating? What cheating?, By Jay Mathews, Posted at 05:35 PM ET, 06/19/2011

My colleague Bill Turque had an intriguing story recently about an attempt by Bruce-Monroe Elementary School in the District to raise achievement through the popular Singapore math program.

It hasn’t worked so far, Turque reported. The math proficiency rate at the school declined from 49 percent in 2009 to 23 percent in 2010. Reading proficiency at Bruce-Monroe also dropped from 39 to 24 percent.

The educators and experts Turque consulted gave many possible reasons for this. There was too much staff turnover. The school lacked enough funds for teacher training. The school was distracted by a merger with Park View Elementary School.

Nobody offered the reason that first came to my mind. I wonder whether the school’s test security suddenly improved.

A series on cheating nationally by USA Today earlier this year (conceived and edited by my wife, Linda Mathews) revealed widespread wrong-to-right erasures on D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System tests. Those exams are used to judge the city’s schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The newspaper found 103 D.C. schools with above-average erasures. In a few classes the average was more than 10 wrong-to-right erasures per child on a single exam.

I don’t know what the erasure rates were at Bruce-Monroe. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education told me it will take at least 15 business days to provide that information. But I know from official documents acquired by USA Today that four Bruce-Monroe classrooms in 2009 were flagged for having an above-average rate of wrong-to-right erasures. That is enough to have a significant impact because only 141 students were tested at that school.

Bruce-Monroe Principal Marta Palacios, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, declined to comment.

Acting Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson has asked the D.C. inspector general to investigate possible cheating on the DC-CAS tests. I will be surprised if much comes of that. There still appear to have been no interviews of any of the children who allegedly changed so many wrong answers to right.

The Inspector General is supposed to review the erasure investigation submitted by the Caveon data analysis firm. That contractor accepted without a trace of skepticism the explanations from several educators that better teaching explained their students’ high rate of wrong-to-right erasures. This ignores the fact that if students are well taught, they will mark the right answer the first time, not have sudden flashes of insight that lead to many corrections.

I have sought other explanations. To me, an obvious question is whether administrators in charge of the tests (or maybe well-educated burglars, if you want to be fair) took the answer sheets out of the locked school cabinets where they were kept and changed the answers long after the children went home.

I attended last week’s confirmation hearing for Henderson, a good person who knows schools. No one asked her any detailed questions about how she planned to address this embarrassment. The question has been pushed so far into the background that otherwise intelligent commentators have suggested that Henderson’s recent announcement of minor sanctions at three schools for testing irregularities meant the problem was solved, even though her actions had nothing to do with erasure rates.

Administrators don’t want the system’s reputation further tarnished. Henderson doesn’t want to hurt teacher morale. But our schools’ success or failure is going to be judged by those test results. If the scores are the product of cheating rather than genuine student achievement, we are lost. School decisions about which students need extra help and which teachers should seek other employment would be based on lies, and our schools would be in even worse shape in the future than they are now.

By Jay Mathews | 05:35 PM ET, 06/19/2011


June 23, 2011 at 3:57 PM

By: John Brown

Wanted: Rhee's Gang

Saunders and Candy should offer a resolution at the next WTU Exectutive Board Meeting that a reward be offered to DC's teachers and parents for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the cheating administrators of the DCPS, the only force capable of orchestrating a fraud on this scale.

And Kayla Henderson should be called to step down. She was obviously complicit in this criminal enterprise.

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

2 + 2 =