More bogosity from Michelle Rhee

StudentsFirst, the school “reform” outfit led by the notorious Michelle Rhee, is out with a state-by-state Report Card on the nation’s schools. Grades were awarded on the basis of states’ conformity to the standard reform agenda—ease of creating charter schools, ease of firing teachers, ease of hiring teachers who aren’t certified in the traditional fashion, and testing testing testing. In the past, there’s never been any evidence that this agenda actually improves educational outcomes—and this report is no exception. Despite Rhee’s love of testing, there’s no mention of how states that do well under her criteria do on standardized tests compared to those that score poorly. That’s no surprise, really, since states that get high grades from StudentsFirst do worse on tests than those that score poorly.

Rhee’s group gave letter grades to each state, along with a GPA that allowed them to be ranked from 1 to 51. (DC counts as a state here.) No state got a grade higher than a B-, and only two states made that grade. Eleven states got an F. Tough! But do these grades mean anything?

To evaluate the StudentsFirst grades, I got 8th grade reading and math scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, aka NAEP, the Nation’s Report Card. Testing can be a debased pursuit when it’s used to measure individual schools and teachers (sample sizes are just too small, and there’s too much statistical noise from year to year to base anything on), but the NAEP is as good as they come for measuring broad trends.

Here are the results. StudentsFirst has Louisiana at #1 in its rankings—but the state ranks 49th in reading and 47th in math. North Dakota, which StudentsFirst ranks 51st, comes in at #14 in reading scores and #7 in math. Massachusetts, which ranks #1 in both reading and math scores (and which is also the most unionized state for teachers in the country), comes in at #14 on the Rhee scale.

Looking more rigorously at the results, the correlation coefficient on the rankings in the StudentsFirst report card with state rankings on reading scores is -0.20. (The correlation coefficient is a measure of the similarity of two sets of numbers, ranging from -1.0, completely dissimilar, to +1.0, perfect similarity.) That’s not a large number, but the negative sign means that the correlation is in the wrong direction: the higher the StudentsFirst score, the lower the NAEP reading score. The correlation on math is even worse, -0.25.

If you group the states by their StudentsFirst grades and look at the average test scores and rankings, you can understand why Rhee & Co. didn’t bother to get into outcomes. The two states that got B-’s did almost 8 points worse on math than those that got F’s, and over 9 points worse on reading. The B- states were toward the bottom of the rankings, and the F were above the middle. (And yes, 22-45 is -23, not -22, as the table suggests; the difference is a result of rounding.)

StudentsFirst grades and NAEP 2011 test results, 8th grade

         Rhee              NAEP scores           NAEP ranks
        grades          reading    math       reading    math
          B-             258.4     275.3        42        45
          C+             257.3     276.1        37        34
          C-             263.8     282.0        29        31
          D+             268.3     286.8        18        21
          D              263.5     283.3        30        26
          D-             266.2     285.0        23        24
          F              266.2     284.8        22        22

          F less B-        7.8       9.5       -20       -22

(For the full data, see this Excel spreadsheet.)

The results aren’t perfectly negative, and there’s not a perfect downward stairstep pattern in the NAEP columns on this table. But the evidence is nonetheless against Rhee. Alas, that’s the typical story of school reformers’ efforts. For a bunch of business-supported technocrats supposedly in love with metrics, there’s absolutely no empirical support for their ambitions. You might suspect that their real aim is to bust teachers unions and save money educating a population that elites have lost interest in.

Rhee herself has a rather checkered history. When she was being vetted to run the DC public schools, she claimed miraculous results in her previous work in Baltimore—but, as the Washington Post put it, “she could not produce data to support [her] statement.” That didn’t stop her from getting the job. And when she left the Washington post, an investigation by USA Today found strong evidence of cheating behind her claims of vastly improved test scores. And now she has a foundation, promoting the same agenda using data that can’t survive fact-checking. But the corporate and financial elite loves her education agenda, and when the elite loves you, there’s no blemish that can’t be overlooked.

24 Comments on “More bogosity from Michelle Rhee

  1. The grades are for “state policy” (what states are doing to improve education). No one is going to argue that Louisiana students are outperforming Massachusetts students. However, according to StudentsFirst, Louisiana is doing a better job of ensuring that its education system is improving.

  2. ‘…when the elite loves you, there’s no blemish that can’t be overlooked.’

    That’s a great summary of the last two presidential elections.

    As for your evaluation of StudentsFirst, you conveniently left out that the StudentsFirst rankings looked at educational POLICIES, not school performance. Also, if you actually read the StudentsFirst report you would have seen that they included the NAEP data you cited and they said the policies they graded need to be effectively implemented in order to achieve better school performance.

    Aside from completely letting your bias get in the way of any sort of effective analysis, nice job.

  3. Thanks for this, Henwood. We desperately need more writing from you in the new year.

  4. Oh, I’m so glad that someone did this. One note: Rhee’s report card is funding by the American Enterprise Institute and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Fordham’s research on the evils of unionized teachers has been described as “silly” and “laughable.”

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  7. A+ for Rhee’s effort to spread commodification throughout the education industry. As we all know, the cheaper the commodity, the greater the market share. It’s quantity that counts. Quality slows down the production of edumacation ™, sucking up unnecessary amounts of monetised wealth i.e. taxes which should stay in the control of our friends, the job providers of the capitalist class. Rhee is right. In a cost-efficiency democracy, the Nation needs more bang for the buck, not quality teachers or lower student/teacher ratios. What’s the purpose of edumacation anyway? To turn out masses of individuals who freely compete with each other in the marketplace for labour for positions at say, a Wall Mart or a bunch of disgruntled, pointy headed intellectuals full of resentment at the positions which say, Harvard Law grads snag at the “New York Times”?

  8. The charter school movement is about siphoning off the ‘talented 10th’ and making everyone else contented Walmart greeters or thugish security guards.

    Countries with such a narrow talent pool are not world powers.

    Once the much maligned boomers retire, the U.S. is going to disintegrate rapidly. The educational disparities that existed versus the world 30 years ago are closing rapidly by the year. For instance, compare the upbringing of a South Korean 30 years ago with the present.

    Our elites don’t know what they are doing even on their own terms. And nothing about the U.S. political culture suggests the decline will be pleasant.

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  13. Fix your podcast feed. I understand you are old, and probably poor, but come on, man.

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  16. Michelle Rhee – The famous former Washington DC School District Chancellor

    Michelle Rhee on OPRAH

    Michelle Rhee on abc’s ThisWeek

    Michelle Rhee on The DailyShow with Jon Stewart—michelle-rhee-extended-interview-pt–2—michelle-rhee-extended-interview-pt–3 FRONTLINE: The Education of Michelle Rhee

    Why Teach For America works – Michelle Rhee

    A Two-Tier Proposal for Teacher Pay – Michelle Rhee

    Time Magazine: Rhee Tackles Classroom Challenge,9171,1862444-2,00.html

    Michelle Rhee Discusses “Waiting for Superman,” Charter Schools And Sch…

    Stanford University: A Conversation on “Waiting for Superman”

    “Radical” Fighting to Put Students First should be a must read for all members! Michelle Rhee’s new book, “RADICAL: Fighting to Put Students First,” is now in stores! For more information about where you can find it, to read an excerpt from the book, and to share your story about education in America visit the official site at or

    Michelle Rhee at the ACE 2011 Spring Luncheon

    Michelle Rhee and Kevin Johnson (4/20/11)

    Michelle A. Rhee 03.17.11

    Cornell Alumni: Olin Lecture 2012: Michelle Rhee ’92

    Harvard Public Health: Michelle Rhee, Former Chancellor of Washington D.C. Public Schools

    Geoffrey Canada – Conversations at KCTS 9

    Geoffrey Canada interviewed by Julian Bond: Explorations in Black Leadership …

    “Waiting for Superman” the documentary and Bloomberg documentary “Risk Takers” Michelle Rhee should a required screening for all members. I saw them on Netflix and became an instant member of and Michelle Rhee follower.

    “Won’t Back down” the movie is another example to screen to all members.

    Share the reasons you fight for education reform. Your story will inspire others to get involved. So tell us: Why are you working to put students first?

    Check out today’s blog by StudentsFirst staffer Charity Hallman, “One size fits all, or so they said,” on The Fordham Institute’s “Education Gadfly Daily: FLYPAPER” blog.

    To view the Fordham study, “When Teachers Choose Pension Plans: The Florida Story,” visit

    Watch MAKER videos on StudentFirst Founder Michelle Rhee visit

  17. Michelle Rhee will outlive all the nay sayers through her tenacity and determination to fight TENURE in schools!

  18. Michelle Rhee’s only talent is for self-promotion; her major goal while at DC Public Schools was to place cronies in the schools that worked in the District — often leading to those schools declining — and shutting down other schools, all the time focusing on breaking the union rather than improving educational outcomes.

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