D.C. Public Schools Paid $218,000 for Consultant's 'Memo'?
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, has asked for a special hearing at the D.C. City Council on Thursday regarding allegations of a cheating scandal in the D.C. Public Schools. The claims of impropriety would have taken place under then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee during her tenure from 2007 to 2010.
We've written on this subject extensively over the past two years (see AT articles here, here here, and here), but a new piece of information, a provocative memo from a data analysis consultant hired by Rhee, has been released -- three years after the fact. The New York Times broke the story just days ago.
Why did PBS's John Merrow, who knew a year ago that a mysterious memo existed, not expose this in his Frontline special on Michelle Rhee this past January? Why did it take Merrow several months' worth of FOIA requests to obtain a copy from DCPS?
Rhee's "trusted advisor" in 2009, Fay G. Sanford of UL EduNeering (acquired by the education company Kaplan, Inc., a subsidiary of The Washington Post Company in 2007), after reviewing the reports on high erasure rates from various agencies, wrote that "the possible ramifications are serious."
Here is the story of the memo in a nutshell from John Merrow on April 13, 2013:
The rash of "wrong to right" (WTR) erasures was first noticed by the DC official in charge of testing [State Superintendent Deborah Gist], who, after consulting with the test-maker [McGraw-Hill], asked Rhee to investigate, in November, 2008. Through her data chief [Erin McGoldrick], Rhee turned to Dr. Fay G. "Sandy" Sanford for outside analysis.
On January 15, 2013, Merrow disclosed Sanford's pay agreement with DCPS:
Dr. Sanford began consulting for DCPS early in Rhee's tenure. He had been approached by Erin McGoldrick, Rhee's Chief of Data and Accountability, even before she began working for DCPS. "She didn't have any background in data-driven instruction," Sanford told me in mid-November of last year, "and so she asked me for help."
Sanford's undated agreement says he will be paid $85 per hour for work performed at his offices in California (his company is called Eduneering) and $1500 per day for work performed at DCPS, plus reimbursement for travel, food and lodging. [snip]
McGoldrick and DCPS relied on Dr. Sanford to the tune of at least $218,935.45 in roughly three years. [snip]
Dr. Sanford confirmed that he had written a memo about the erasure data at the request of DCPS. He said that to Joseloff in late spring of 2012 and again to me in our phone conversation on November 20, 2012[.]
Was Rhee's data chief, Erin McGoldrick, for whom Sanford worked, told to keep the true data under wraps -- and, by extension, Mr. Sanford as well? And if there was a cover-up, Kerri Briggs, the person who replaced Gist in 2009 as state superintendent of schools, would have been instrumental in continuing the ruse. Briggs previously worked in the Department of Education under George W. Bush. When she came on board in D.C., she averred that there was nothing to the cheating allegations, effectively curtailing investigatory momentum.
Rhee continues to claim innocence regardless of the evidence piling up against her. If she was aware of high erasure rates in her school system and didn't call for a thorough investigation (only 60 people were interviewed), like Governor Perdue of Georgia had (Perdue hired special investigators, who interviewed 2,000 people to get to the bottom of the Atlanta cheating scandal), then she is guilty of egregious negligence.
We do know that Rhee was very aware of the meaning of high-stakes testing and the implications for advancing her agenda. After giving a speech in Minnesota in November 2011, she stated emphatically, "I thought at the time that if we produced outsized results, people would want us to continue[.] ... I was absolutely wrong. People cared more about the processes." Yes, processes do matter, Ms. Rhee.
If Rhee's intention was to get "outsized results" quickly, then the cheating scandal makes sense. Principals and teachers would be under the gun to increase scores. Rhee did reward some principals and teachers with bonuses based on those increases. If she knowingly paid educators for improved scores which may have come from illegally changing test answers, she would be facing the same consequences as Beverly Hall in Atlanta.
But the overriding question remains. Why, after five years, has AFT president Randi Weingarten called for further investigations into the alleged cheating? Could she be appeasing those of her members who have been rabidly recording Rhee's every move on their website RheeFirst! since first publishing in March 2011?
Or could the Thursday hearing be the appointed time by the AFT, Rhee, PBS, the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Obama administration media shill the New York Times to throw people like Gist, Sanford, and McGoldrick, who are no longer useful, onto the cutting room floor?
Since Rhee has managed to stay above the fray through careful public relations, she may still not have to answer for her actions if the onus is on others involved in the case.
Read more about Michelle Rhee and the D.C. cheating scandal on Potter Williams Report.