Dear Commons Community,
A New York Times article opens with the question: What was Arne Duncan doing sharing the stage with Michelle Rhee at a recent education conference? On the surface, this seems not to be a problem except for the fact that Mr. Duncan is the education secretary. Ms. Rhee was the chancellor of schools in Washington from 2007 to 2010. And 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. The article states that:
“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.”
Ms. Rhee’s reputation as a national leader of the education reform movement has rested on those test scores, which soared while she was chancellor. Then, last March, USA Today published the results of a yearlong investigation of the Washington schools that found a high rate of erasures on tests as well as suspiciously large gains at 41 schools — one-third of the elementary and middle schools in the district.
The article further commented on the question of whether it really mattered that Secretary Duncan appeared onstage with Ms. Rhee?
“Mr. Duncan doesn’t think so, according to his spokesman, Justin Hamilton. “It’s irresponsible for a New York Times columnist to presume guilt before we have all the facts,” Mr. Hamilton wrote in an e-mail. “Our inspector general is investigating the cheating issue in D.C. public schools, and we should all let the findings speak for themselves.”
The Office of the Inspector General is an independent oversight agency, although the secretary can refer cases for investigation.
Richard L. Hyde is one who believes that Mr. Duncan should keep his distance. Last year, Mr. Hyde directed 60 state agents in a nine-month investigation of cheating in the Atlanta public schools. They identified 178 teachers and principals in nearly half of the city’s schools who cheated — 82 of whom confessed. The case they built is so strong that criminal indictments are expected.”