Former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee's political organization, StudentsFirst, contacted us after our item appeared on the PBS Frontline investigation of Rhee's tenure as chancellor (“Rhee record probed,” Feb. 7).
A spokesperson of the group wrote that “in addition to the DC inspector general investigation you mentioned, there have been three additional analyses finding no evidence of widespread cheating. Those studies were conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, Caveon Test Security, and Alvarez & Marsal.”
The DOE probe found no evidence of widespread cheating in Washington, D.C., public schools. “Our investigation was unable to substantiate the allegations that false claims were made to [DOE] for payment of funds, and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to intervene,” the department said in a prepared statement.
The report on that investigation was released Jan. 7. That was the day before the Frontline program was broadcast, though the DOE results were posted on the PBS website.
The Caveon report supported Rhee as far as it went—“Caveon did not find evidence of cheating at any of the schools”—but Rhee herself questioned the breadth of its probe: “We just hired them to do the investigation and really believed that they were going to do it in as comprehensive a manner as possible.”
We were unable to obtain a copy of the Alvarez & Marsal report. The company's website has no reference to it. But one online site reported that the company's report “found cheating in fewer than 0.0006 percent of [D.C.] classrooms.”
However, it was easier to find criticism of Alvarez & Marsal's involvement in the D.C. matter. The company aids troubled businesses, and education analyst Diane Ravitch wrote, “Alvarez & Marsal has no experience in investigating cheating scandals.” At another point, she wrote about the company's direct involvement in running a school district: “Alvarez & Marsal [was] previously known for its work in St. Louis, where they ran the district like a business for one year, collected $5 million, and left, shortly before the state declared the district to be in such bad shape that the state took control.”
Test scores rose in D.C. when Rhee was chancellor, but there were still the lowest graduation rates in the country and among the widest achievement gaps.
Rhee's political organization ran a television campaign in Nevada in 2011 to influence schools bills before the Legislature.