Michael Winerip: “Unsettling Sight” in Washington

Michael Winerip from the 2/27/12 New York Times:

What was Arne Duncan doing sharing the stage with Michelle Rhee at a recent education conference?

Mr. Duncan is the education secretary.

Ms. Rhee was the chancellor of schools in Washington from 2007 to 2010.

Since last summer, the Office of the Inspector General in Mr. Duncan’s department has been investigating whether Washington school officials cheated to raise test scores during Ms. Rhee’s tenure.

You would think Mr. Duncan would want to keep Ms. Rhee at arm’s length during the investigation. And yet there they were, sitting side by side last month, two of four featured panelists at a conference in Washington about the use of education data.


“This is an amazing panel, so I’m thrilled to be part of it,” Mr. Duncan said in his opening comment.

So, Arne Duncan’s Department of Education is investigating the school district Michelle Rhee used to run for rampant cheating on tests during her tenure as D.C. schools chancellor.

Late last month, they shared a stage at an education conference, with Duncan justifying it by saying he was part of an “amazing panel”. Between the two of them, they have no more than 5 years teaching experience.

There are people who say that Rhee should not be held accountable because she did not do the cheating. Yet, she put the system in place to judge students, teachers and schools by these test scores. When test scores increased, she was happy to take the credit.

Yet, when test scores did not increase, she blamed teachers. Many lost their jobs.

After her stint as chancellor, she used her shameless self-promotion skills to form a non-profit lobby group that continues to pull in millions of dollars from billionaires. She pockets a very hefty salary for doing so.

And now that those test scores on which she constructed her mythical legacy are called into doubt, there are people who say she should not be held accountable.

I thought Rhee was all about accountability?

And now the guy whose office is investigating these test scores and, by proxy, her “legacy”, deigns to share a stage with her.

There is a huge story in here somewhere. Not only does it call into question the objectivity of the investigation, it shines a light on the smoke and mirrors of education reform, the blurring of lines between public and private institutions and the conspiracy (there, I said it) among the billionaire boys’ club to destroy (privatize) education.

Arne Duncan needs to learn that he is no longer in high finance where the word “democracy” is a foreign term. He cannot merely share the stage with people his office, that he runs as a public servant, is currently investigating.

I know the following examples are not strictly the same, but they are in the ballpark:

What if President Andrew Johnson shared a stage with the people involved in the Lincoln assassination?

What if Al Smith shared a stage with the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory?

What if Robert Kennedy shared a stage with the mafia?

What if Ken Starr shared a stage with Bill Clinton?

That is the idea. Something is rotten in Denmark. Unfortunately, conflcits of interest are the norm in education reform today, as well as government as a whole.

Neoliberalism at its worst: shamelessly disdainful of “We the People”. That is the real story here.

2 responses to “Michael Winerip: “Unsettling Sight” in Washington

  1. We’re fortunate to have Winerip reporting on education, particularly at the highest-profile paper in the country. Rhee’s self-promotion will likely contribute to her undoing and Duncan is being rejected by most educators and administrators in the field, in great part because of this sort of news illustrating their detachment from the real needs of public school teachers, parents, and students. Thanks for bringing this article to more people’s attention.

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