I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rhee-ly Big Trouble

Oh, my:
It’s been over six months, and we have still not received the McGoldrick-Sanford emails. How hard can it be to find email? Or could there be something in the McGoldrick-Sanford communications that DCPS does not want the public to read?
But we know the Sanford memo is out there. What does it say? Three secondary sources have told us that Sanford was troubled by the widespread erasures. An anonymous letter was mailed to me on June 20, 2012, stating in part, “The memo indicated there was cause for concern with a significant number of school test results….(Sanford) did not draw conclusions, but we all know he suspected cheating was widespread.”
A second secondary source told of being in a meeting where McGoldrick spoke of Sanford’s memo and conveyed his concern. A third secondary source said much the same thing.
Primary sources are the gold standard, of course, and in this case there is only one: the memo itself.
In my conversation with Dr. Sanford (November 20, 2012), he said to me, “You know, the memo doesn’t say what you think it says.”
And what is that, I asked him?
“You think it says I found cheating.”
No, I responded. I think it says that there was cause for concern.
He was silent.
Am I right, I asked? Is that what you reported, that there was reasonable cause to investigate?
He was silent.
I asked him to confirm or deny.
He was silent for a long time, and then he changed the subject.
I inferred from that exchange that he did not want to lie to me but that he also felt bound by the rules of his contractual relationship and could not answer. By this point in our conversation I come to feel that Dr. Sanford was a straightforward and honorable man. [emphasis mine]
So there's a memo out there that has not been released that probably confirms former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee knew that Stanford - a consultant Rhee herself had hired - raised concerns about widespread cheating in her district. And this was back in 2008, very early in Rhee's tenure.

A few things:

- This is really outstanding reporting by John Merrow. But why wasn't it in his Frontline report on Rhee? Merrow glossed over many other problems with Rhee's resume to focus on the cheating scandal. I wish he hadn't; however, if he's going to concentrate on that story, why didn't he include these revelations in his report? Had he not yet confirmed some key pieces of the story? If so, that's a shame, and I hope PBS lets him do a follow-up.

- When you read Merrow's full post, you'll learn that Sanford made a lot of money from his time at DCPS:
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.
The document makes clear that he would be under the direct supervision of McGoldrick. His duties are broadly defined in five areas: professional development; data analysis and data modeling; critical review of plans, programs or any other related topics, program design and implementation; and–the open-ended job–”any other services not specified above but related to the data and accountability welfare of the district as directed by the Chief of Data and Accountability (McGoldrick).”
McGoldrick and DCPS relied on Dr. Sanford to the tune of at least $218,935.45 in roughly three years. Sanford’s purchase orders and invoices, which we obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) were invariably sent to the attention of Erin McGoldrick (with her email address) and paid by DCPS. [emphasis mine]
Nice work if you can get it, eh? But wait a sec: Sanford was on the payroll for "roughly three years," which would be close to the entirety of Rhee own time at DCPS. But he wrote this mysterious memo in November of 2008, early in Rhee's term. He may well have been concerned with a possible cheating scandal, but it appears he hung around for two more years after he wrote the memo.

What did Sanford do to push Rhee to investigate? Did he write any other memos? Were there any conversations with Rhee where he urged her to follow through? Did he ever become frustrated that a wider investigation wasn't being conducted? Was he interviewed during the investigation of cheating by the IG of the USDOE? And what did he think about the public adulation Rhee heaped on schools that turned out to have suspicious test scores?

I understand that Sanford has an obligation to protect "work product," but he has a greater obligation to protect the public interest. It's time to tell the entire story of the Rhee reign in Washington, D.C., and his part in it.

- This part of Merrow's post really killed me:
She [Rhee] turned to a trusted advisor, Dr. Fay G. ‘Sandy’ Sanford. 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.”
Now, I read that as Sanford saying McGoldrick didn't have any background in data-driven instruction. Which is pretty amazing: Rhee's head honcho in charge of data didn't have a background in data? Really?

But it's possible that Sanford is saying Rhee didn't have a background in data. That would explain why Rhee instituted a teacher evaluation system that was a mathematical train wreck, why she put out a "report card" that makes the same mistake, why she won't even consider student achievement in her evaluation of state education systems, and why the work coming out of StudentsFirst these days is just generally goofy and illogical.

Let's see how this plays out. But if this memo contains anything like Merrow conjectures it does, we could see Michelle Rhee's image take yet another beating.

Merrow! Stop asking for my memo!


Tom Hoffman said...

OTOH, she should have done a lot of number crunching for her MBA. It is one of the many annoyances in this "business model" reform crap. I can't imagine anyone using such bogus metrics to run a business. At least not successfully...

be careful said...

She is Rheepulsive.....a big of a sociopath, too.

Unknown said...

There are several points in this article But the one that strikes me most is the "Ed Reform Consultant" or perhaps the Highly Qualified Turnaround Provider.

Sanford's $1,500 a day fee in this story pales in comparison of Broadie Mike Miles' Paterson contract at $7,500 a day.

But what's more amazing is that no one is questioning this atrocious abuse of tax payer dollars! Not one legislator! Yet we will hear them all this upcoming budget season, yapping away and posturing on how we need to address ed funding for the next school year!

This April will mark the end of the Miles/Paterson contract. Will there be a report on what great things this contract at $7,500 a day brought to the Paterson School District? Will the contract hold up to the scrutiny of a standardized test for evaluation purposes?

From the political perspective, how did a new company formed by a superintendent (Broad graduate) of a Colorado school district in his spare time find it's way to such a lucrative contract in a state operated school district in Paterson, NJ?

Duke said...

TS, that Paterson story is probably the most under-reported tale of reforminess in NJ. If you have more to share, please do.

Unknown said...

FYI, Rhee doesn't even send her own children to public schools.

Her daughters attend Harpeth Hall in Nashville, TN, a tony private all girls school in the heart of Belle Meade. Reese Witherspoon and Amy Grant are both alumni.


We hear this same song again and again by our elite edu-reformers. What they recommend for other people's kids is consistently not what they choose for their own.