When Gov. Rick Scott began his transition to Tallahassee, everyone wondered what sort of government experts this private sector leader would seek out for guidance. I doubt any of his choices got as much attention as Michelle Rhee, the controversial education reformer who had made significant waves in Washington, D.C., and become a bit of a darling for conservatives in the education arena.
Since Scott just pushed Education Commissioner Eric Smith out of Tally, this connection is especially important to consider.
But anyone who thinks Rhee needs to play a leadership role in Florida's education system better pay close attention to what is happening in D.C right now where an erasure scandal threatens to undermine every bit of success there. Read the entire USA Today article. You will understand why "holding teachers accountable" makes for much better bumper sticker debate than public policy. And you will understand why Rick Scott cannot turn to Rhee right now if anything positive is to happen with Florida's school system.
From USA Today:
In 2007-08, six classrooms out of the eight taking tests at Noyes were flagged by McGraw-Hill because of high wrong-to-right erasure rates. The pattern was repeated in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when 80% of Noyes classrooms were flagged by McGraw-Hill.
On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.
"This is an abnormal pattern," says Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied testing for 20 years.
Basically, there is strong evidence indicating someone at the "most improved" schools in D.C. benefiting because somebody was scrubbing bad answers off tests and replacing them with correct ones. This shows why standardized testing is not only a bad single measure for grading scales, but an extremely corruptible one as well. One must truly wonder why a newspaper investigation is what has prompted more investigation.
After Rhee initially bristled at the investigation, calling it work by the "enemies of school reform," she has gotten behind a criminal investigation.
I would be surprised if we learned Rhee had any direct involvement in the erasures, but make no mistake, without "reforms" which valued test scores above all else and which punished teachers for the performance of students on said tests, there would be no incentive for cheating on these tests. This is a direct result of the right's idea of reform.
If Scott decides right now to put Rhee, or a Rhee surrogate, in charge of Florida's statewide education system, and to follow further in D.C.'s footsteps, it will mean only further national embarrassment for a much-maligned school system and an administration which is already becoming a national joke.