Michelle Rhee probably blew it on cheating—but got much else right

John Merrow’s expose on cheating in Washington, D.C., doesn’t look good for former D.C. chancellor Michelle Rhee and current chancellor Kaya Henderson. Indeed, it’s hard to dismiss “two highly placed and reputable sources,” not to mention the missing memo*

Let’s be clear, however: This is hardly evidence of Atlanta-style wrongdoing. We have no reason to believe that Rhee (or Henderson) encouraged cheating or covered up illegal behavior. It’s more likely that they simply exercised poor judgment in not treating the evidence of cheating more seriously.

Critics are bound to say that all reforms that Rhee stands for—teacher evaluations, tenure reform, and school choice—should be dismissed. But let’s not abandon education reform and accountability at the expense of our students, which getting rid of testing surely would.

Instead, to borrow from Michael Petrilli on the Atlanta cheating scandal, let’s “mend it, not end it.”

Did Michelle Rhee know about the cheating? The evidence is strong.

Should we investigate the D.C. cheating in 2008–10? Maybe.

And should we look at improve standardized testing to curb cheating and to improve student learning? Absolutely.

 * Rhee noted that both the D.C. Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Department of Education's Inspector General have already conducted an investigation, which concluded that there was no widespread cheating.

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