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NCTQ Letter Grades and the Reformer Agenda–Part VIII

February 2, 2013

UPDATE 05-22-13: Looks like NCTQ has rhee-moved Michelle Rhee from its advisory board. Check  it out:

As you read, know that her NCTQ membership is now history.


One of my favorite pasttimes involves reading true crime.  I enjoy everything about forensics, from interpreting the crime scene, to determining motives and personality quirks of the perpetrators, to learning of the seemingly insignificant bit of information that finally broke the case. And as I consider what I know about NCTQ advisory board member Michelle Rhee, I realize that I will likely be unshelving some book about her from the true crime section of a bookstore in the years to come.

For now, here she is, complete with self-promoting NCTQ bio:  Michelle Rhee.

Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee CEO of StudentsFirst, formerly served as Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. Ms. Rhee is a change agent who had already transformed many urban public school systems through her work with The New Teacher Project (TNTP) which she founded in 1997, and is now a nationally recognized leader in understanding and developing innovative solutions to the challenges of new teacher hiring. As Chief Executive Officer and President, she partnered with school districts, state education agencies, non-profit organizations, and unions, to transform the way schools and other implemented widespread reform in teacher hiring, improving teacher hiring in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, New York, Oakland, and Philadelphia. Thanks to TNTP, 23,000 new, high-quality teachers were placed in these schools across the country. Ms. Rhee’s commitment to excellence in education began in a Baltimore classroom in 1992, as a Teach For America teacher. the right teacher, students in urban classrooms can meet teachers’ high expectations for achievement, and the driving force behind that achievement is the quality of the Educator who works inside it. Chancellor Rhee currently serves on the Advisory Boards for the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ); the National Center for Alternative Certification (NCAC); Project REACH of the University of Phoenix’s School of Education. She is an Ex-Officio Member of the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees. Chancellor Rhee’s expertise on education is also informed by a Bachelor’s degree in Government from Cornell University, and a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

If corporate reform bred with sociopathy, it would produce the likes of Michelle Rhee.

Given her list of corporate education “accomplishments,” it should come as no surprise that Rhee is the quintessential TFA product:

No organization has been more complicit than TFA in the demonization of teachers and teachers’ unions, and no organization has provided more “shock troops” for education reform strategies which emphasize privatization and high-stakes testing.  Michelle Rhee, a TFA recruit, is the poster child for such policies….

Rhee joined TFA in 1992 and did her token teaching service in Baltimore, as her NCTQ bio states.  However, it was hardly the “commitment to excellence in the classroom” also stated in that bio.  Rhee has become known for not only her cruelty to others, but also for the twisted ease with which she discusses such cruelty. Consider these stories Rhee openly recounts to a group of new DC teachers::

“[My first year of teaching was] the worst and in many ways definitely the toughest year of my entire life,” she said.

So, let’s get this straight: Potentially one half of the time a TFA/TNTP recruit spends in the classroom could be “the worst in one’s life?”  Forget the teacher recruits: What does that say about the quality of the experience for their students?  Rhee speaks to this “quality” as she admits perpetrating an abuse on her students and then attempts to excuse herself because of her ignorance:

Rhee had poor class management skills, she said, recalling that her class “was very well known in the school because you could hear them traveling anywhere because they were so out of control.” On one particularly rowdy day, she said she decided to place little pieces of masking tape on their lips for the trip to the school cafeteria for lunch.

“OK kids, we’re going to do something special today!” she said she told them.

Rhee said it worked well until they actually arrived at the cafeteria. “I was like, ‘OK, take the tape off. I realized I had not told the kids to lick their lips beforehand…The skin is coming off their lips and they’re bleeding. Thirty-five kids were crying.

Rhee said in an e-mail Friday that the students’ mouths weren’t covered. “I was trying to express how difficult the first year of teaching can be with some humor. My hope is that our new teachers will bring great creativity and passion to their craft while also learning from my own challenges.” Still, it’s difficult to imagine a DCPS instructor, first-year or tenth-year, surviving the masking tape stunt without suspension at a minimum. (Emphasis added.)

Here’s a hard-hitting thought:  Are the TNTP “23,000 new, high quality teachers” of the same fine calibre as their founder? The memory of children with bleeding lips is humorous to Rhee, nothing more than a light story on which to happily reminisce, a mere “challenge” in her past.  “Twisted” doesn’t begin to describe such a response to the pain of others.

And Rhee doesn’t stop with callous perverseness in harming children.  Rhee is versatile and can even take pleasure in harming adults, as well. As reporter John Merrow notes:

“We were totally stunned [when Rhee asked if his crew wanted to watch her fire a principal],” Mr. Merrow said. She let them set up the camera behind the principal and videotape the entire firing. “The principal seemed dazed,” said Mr. Merrow. “I’ve been reporting 35 years and never seen anything like it.”

Rhee describes herself as a “change agent.”

Hydrochloric acid is also a change agent.

According to her NCTQ bio, Rhee sees herself as “improving teacher hiring.”  I wonder, would she hire herself?  More importantly, does she hire people like herself and use her corporate influence to move them into the classroom?

The second story Rhee decided to tell a group of new teachers involves Rhee’s not having emergency contact information on a field trip and thereby her being unable to verify that she actually sent a child home, to the correct home, with an approved guardian:

“I start to panic…my heart is beating 100 miles a minute,” she said. Then the other three children, sensing her worry, chimed in. She recalled one little boy saying:

“Lawwwd Ms.Rhee whatchu gonna do!!!!??” Rhee boomed, drawing a big laugh. “Lawwwd Ms. Rhee whatchu gonna do!!!!??”

Rhee said she eventually found a neighbor who was able to take the girl home.

Let’s just take a moment to digest:  Rhee ignorantly handed a child over to potential danger. That child could have been harmed.  And all Rhee could do many years later in her role as chancellor (!!) is make light of the incident and not even realize her own emotional disconnect.

And now, as an NCTQ advisory board member, this woman is advising in the evaluation of teacher training programs when it is clear that she cannot even properly evaluate her own potentially dangerous and damaging behavior.

Ahh, but Rhee is a change agent.  She creates corporate reform vehicles such as TNTP and StudentsFirst to carry out her reformer wishes.

Rhee’s TNTP is a parallel to Kopp’s TFA.  Gary Rubinstein notes that TNTP used to stand for The New Teacher Project; however, like TFA, TNTP has “branched out”:

TNTP is short for The New Teacher Project, though the TNTP doesn’t officially stand for that anymore.  It is just TNTP.  It is like when Kentucky Fried Chicken changed their name to just KFC.  I guess that they are now so much more than just new teachers.  They have gotten into research and policy advising, beginning with their report ‘The Widget Effect’ a few years ago which is often quoted when reformers discuss the potential of merit pay and of ending LIFO [“last in, first out”].  Then they wrote something recently called ‘The Irreplaceables’ about how schools are retaining their bad teachers and losing their good ones.  A few days ago they came out with a new report called ‘Keeping Irreplaceables in D.C. Public Schools.’

Wonder who funds TNTP?

TNTP calls itself a “revenue-generating non-profit.” TFA also generates revenue by charging school districts a per-recruit fee; however, TFA doesn’t call itself “revenue-generating.” As for grants and private monies, here’s what TNTP has to say:

Some TNTP initiatives also benefit from the support of federal grant programs and/or private funding. In 2010, TNTP was one of 49 organizations and institutions nationwide to win a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant. Approximately 30 percent of TNTP’s annual revenue comes from the generous support of a diverse group of leading philanthropies. With philanthropic support, TNTP is able to expand its impact, develop a top-quality staff and play an unbiased, active role in policy and research. (Emphasis added.)


Note the now-familiar reformer-esque language in the Investing in Innovation grant:

The purpose of this program is to provide competitive grants to applicants with a record of improving student achievement and attainment in order to expand the implementation of, and investment in, innovative practices that are demonstrated to have an impact on improving student achievement or student growth, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates, or increasing college enrollment and completion rates. (Emphasis added.)

For reformers, it’s all about the numbers, not the people.  “Improving student achievement” = higher test scores. “Closing the achievement gap” = again, higher test scores, but higher scores for everyone despite the impossibility of all being “above average” on normed tests.  “Decreasing dropout rates” = traditionally graduate in four years with your “cohort” or you don’t count (and no GEDs, please).  “Increasing college enrollment” = numbers of graduates enrolled in college is all that matters, not trade apprenticeships or specialized training programs.   Only losers fail to attend college, and only loser teachers and schools “settle” for “second-rate,” “non-college” program completion as evidence of human success.

Now to those TNTP “private funders”:

Let’s consider the funding behind the “unbiased” “Widget Effect,” otherwise known as, “We Really Need to Fire More Teachers”:

Provided by the Robertson Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation.  Additional funding was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. We thank all of our funders for their generous support; however…

And now for a great irony:

…we acknowledge that the findings and recommendations presented in this report are those of the The New Teacher Project alone and do not
necessarily reflect our funders’ opinions or positions. (Emphasis added.)

Translation: “You rich people bent on corporate reform funded a project biased towards corporate reform with an outcome that lauds corporate reform, but we just wanted to say that your corporate-reform bent and the associated corporate-reform big money you gave us had nothing to do with our finding in favor of corporate reform.”


How about Rhee’s StudentsFirst? In her link for StudentsFirst support, Rhee cuts to the chase:

Some of the country’s key education activists and public officials are standing with StudentsFirst. They have endorsed  our policy agenda and will speak on our behalf. (Emphasis added.) Then, Rhee lists names like New York Mayor Bloomberg, former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty (he appointed Rhee as DC chancellor), former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein, and Colorado Governor Barbara O’Brien.

And what is “our policy agenda”?

Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the Washington, D.C.  public schools, launched StudentsFirst in the fall of 2010 with the stated goal of raising $1 billion over five years. Among the  reforms it advocates: abolishing teacher tenure; permitting more  teachers without formal education training to take charge of  classrooms; evaluating teachers in large measure by their  students’ growth on standardized tests; and expanding charter  schools, which are publicly funded but typically run by private  corporations, including for-profit management firms. (Emphasis added.)

How about that “one billion over five years”?  Who is buying in?

…Recent donors include New York  Mayor Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund managers David Tepper and  Alan Fournier, who have pledged substantial resources to a  StudentsFirst partner organization in New Jersey.  The Laura and John Arnold Foundation, funded by hedge fund  manager John Arnold [also a former Enron trader], has also pledged $20 million to Rhee’s  organization over five years, a donation that does not appear to  be reflected in the IRS forms released on Monday.

Funny how interesting education has become to hedge fund managers.

No corporate reform machine would truly be transformed from velveteen to flesh without Broad money (as in TFA, Broad Superintendents Academy, and Harvard Graduate School of Education funders Eli and Edythe Broad):

An additional donor to StudentsFirst is The Broad Foundation, the philanthropy run by Eli and Edythe Broad that puts billions into education reform causes such as charter schools and parent unions. Erica Lepping, a Broad spokesperson, confirmed that one year ago, the foundation contributed $500,000 in startup costs to StudentsFirst. “We’ve been in discussions with them since, regarding how we may be further able to support their work,” Lepping added in an email.

Ain’t that sweet?  The Broads see a future in supporting StudentsFirst.  And why wouldn’t they?  StudentsFirst is everything that good, true, and forthright education is not.

Forthright.  As in “up front.”  No deceit.  No guile.

As in no lying about test scores.

Michelle Rhee is a reformer in the hot seat. For all of the money and power backing she has, Rhee just can’t seem to shake that nagging DC cheating scandal.  All those erasures. Sure, she said she looked into it. After all, that’s the responsible action to take as DC chancellor.  And Rhee reports that there’s nothing to see.  Case closed.

Except that all of those lovely score gains made while she was chancellor were not stabilized gains (you know, the kind of gains one makes honestly).  That reporter John Merrow just won’t let it go. And Rhee, well, she’s innocent, right, but she just happened to retain well-known criminal attorney Reid Weingarten.

So much intriguing information on this self-titled “nationally recognized leader in understanding and developing innovative solutions”!

I think we need us a quick recap:

Michelle Rhee demonstrates poor judgment in not only in the manner in which she supervises children, but also in the manner in which she sociopathically carries herself in discussions of her mishandlings.  Furthermore, Rhee is twisted-proud enough to film herself destroying the professional careers of adults. In addition, she unabashedly represents all that is the corporate reform movement, including openly declaring war on traditional education.  Also, Rhee advocates results, and she believes she should be able to purchase those results with six-figure-and-beyond financial backing.  Finally, like many so-called reformers, Rhee is willing to fabricate results and expects to be believed even though her words contradict both evidence and common sense.

Is Rhee suited for NCTQ?

Absolutely no way, no how.

I wouldn’t even allow her a supervised visit to my own classroom.


Previous posts in this series:

Part I: NCTQ 2012 Letter Grades and Louisiana; reformer use of the op/ed

Part II:  NCTQ Alternative Certification publication

Part III:  NCTQ Adivisory Board members Steven Adamowski, Michael Barber, Roy Barnes, and McKinley Broome

Part IV:  NCTQ Advisory Board members Cynthia Brown, David Chard, Andrew Chen, and Celine Coggins

Part V:  NCTQ Advisory Board members Pattie Davis, Michael Feinberg, Michael Goldstein, and Erik Hanushek

Part VI:  NCTQ Advisory Board members Joseph Hawkins,  Frederick Hess, Paul Hill, and E. D. Hirsch

Part VII:  NCTQ Advisory Board member Wendy Kopp

  1. Jack permalink

    Well done, Mercedes.

    A couple things to add: in her confirmation hearings to take over as D.C. Chancellor, her resume included numerous canards:

    —she and her Baltimore teaching stint were featured in admiring profiles on TV’s GOOD MORNING AMERICA and THE HOME SHOW, as well as in print in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and THE HARTFORD COURANT; (subsequent work by G.F. Brandenburg showed these to be total fabrications)

    —during her Baltimore days, her brilliant and dedicated teaching took her students from the 13th to the 90th percentiles in state test scores in just two years.

    That’s the educational equivalent of the moon landing, or splitting the atom. In the dozens of times that I have shared this with veteran teachers, each responded with hilarity, “Seriously? She actually claimed this? And people really believe her?” She’s so ignorant and brazen that she doesn’t know how ridiculous such a claim is and was.

    Now, if she truly did pull off such a miracle, surely she can share how she did it. Well she shared the following anecdote with her admiring biographer Richard Whitmire (the biography was underwritten by folks from the “school reform” community… natch).

    She regaled Whitmire with the story of how she displayed a dead bee that she found on the floor to her 3rd grade class, and then suddenly ate it. Her students gasped in response. Apparently, this act was just the inspiration her students needed to make that subsequent 13th-to-90th percentile jump.

    It also gave Whitmire the title of Rhee’s bio: “THE BEE EATER”.

    So all you teachers out there getting this? Start eating dead insects in front of your students and your scores will skyrocket just like Rhee’s.

    At the time, people demanded that Rhee produce written confirmation of her student’s 13th-to-90th percentile jump. She said, “You want proof? Well, I don’t have it, but it did happen.”

    Now if you were a teacher, and your students achieved such gains, wouldn’t you have saved documentation of this?

    Brandenburg eventually dug up the 3rd Grade data from Rhee’s school to prove her claim was a lie. Whitmire disputed this, saying the data includes both 3rd Grade classes that year, but doesn’t separate out Rhee’s kids’ scores. The problem with this is that the other class would have to bascially score in the 0% for Rhee’s class to score in the 90th. Even a former champion of hers, the WASHINGTON POST’s Jay Mathews, reluctantly agreed with Brandenburg that, in regards to this claim at least, that the evidence was clear that Rhee had lied.

    In the face of this debunking, Rhee revised her bio, saying that she should have only said her students made “significant gains”. The latest version of the story is that—in making the 13th-to-90th percentile claim—she was merely repeating what a principal had told her.

    Yeah, right. Whatever.

    Also, the audiotape of her mimicking her students, “Lawwwwd, Ms. Rhee” is truly offensive. Go listen to it. She sounds like the Kingfish from AMOS & ANDY… because that’s how Rhee subjectively perceives her African-American students and the African-American community she taught in. Go watch SEASON FOUR of THE WIRE—which focuses on the Baltimore schools in the same community that Rhee taught in. Do any of those kids sound like the Kingfish?

    • According to Michelle Rhee, as pieced from several sources, she co taught two classes of about 35 students each in second and then 3rd grade. I forget the name of the other teacher, but it came up in Jay Mathews’ Class Struggle blog at the Washington Post two years ago.
      She says she took 90% of them (i.e. 63) to the 90th percentile. (I guess she must be a failure since 7 of them didn’t make it).
      The ERIC document you link to isn’t available at the moment, but if you read it, you will see only about 50ish students in 3rd grade her last year (1994-95). There were 4 classes of 3rd graders.
      So, something happened that half the 3rd grades’ test scores weren’t given to the UMBC researchers.

      Also, on her hagiographer, Richard Whitmire, don’t forget he compare those who doubt Rhee’s Miracle to the racist birthers.
      I have a copy of the ERIC document if you are interested.

      • Hi, Phillip. Rhee has always played with numbers– hidden them, lied about them. That is why she is embroiled in a colossal cheating scandal.

        I’d be glad to have a copy of the ERIC doc. Please email to

        Thank you.


    • Thank you for all that, Mercedes, I was just writing a post based on my recent DC experience. I must link and reference this. @Jack, I was wondering if I could reference your comment as well?

  2. Linda permalink

    Thank you Mercedes for all you work. This is actually heartbreaking to read. Why does a fraud like Rhee get so much attention and the hard working teacher is demeaned and disregarded?

    I wouldn’t let Rhee walk my dog.

  3. Michael Fiorillo permalink

    Thank you for all of your work on this, Mercedes.

    Rhee is also willing to use gratuitous cruelty with her own daughters, in order to score political points. In speech a speech given in Memphis decrying what she sees as the oversupply of encouragement in our public schools, the Commercial Appeal reported, ” ‘My daughters play soccer. They suck at soccer,’ said Rhee, whose daughters sat cringing in the crowd…”


    This woman truly is a sociopath who should be physically kept away from children, and whose policies are themselves sadistic.

  4. Mary Pishney permalink

    How astute to bring into the analysis of Rhee, one of her telling, psychological traits…that of a psychopath! I’ve seen her kind, all too often in both public (four principals out of 7) and 1 principal in a private school. These psychopaths were NOT lightly in that scale of disorders! I’ve seen these creatures of evil do and say things to children that are considered emotional child abuse by calling them “trash” to their faces, putting distraught students on display while their peers ate lunch and could stare at their sobbing classmate (a girl). To enumerate the vicious treatment I’ve received under these sick administrators would be too long to number here. I’ll just say I took the private school horror to mediation with the help of a top lawyer my students parents paid for. He had me wear a wire and when his law firm listened to it he said: “If you don’t have the worst case of an innocent person being destroyed by a vicious administrator, its up with the worst!” His firm was so horrified, they represented me, pro bono and I won! I’m now in the midst of a three counts
    EEOC charges; one of age discrimination and two of retaliation. Cruel, Michele Rhee clones are
    pandemic in ALL schools. I would give a couple of words of warning, I’ve learned the hard way:
    1. Keep impeccable, PRIVATE records of each and every abusive incident, complete with emails from the abuser and you. Take photos of your classroom to testify to your professionalism, as
    well as beginning, middle and end of the year subject scores, along with favorable letters from parents, etc. That notebook can be invaluable to save your career, or if you too will need to seek legal redress!
    2. My present psychiatrist, who is treating me for; PTSD, extreme anxiety and severe depression
    due to the abusive ordeal I experienced, told me to read, “Snakes in Suites; when psychopaths go to work.” EVERY TEACHER SHOULD READ THIS BOOK! It will help you ID
    such piranhas and how to cope with them (if that’s even possible). I have recommended this book to many, many teachers and I feel it’s the best “life preserver” you can have! To be forewarned
    is to be forearmed!
    As the corporate jackals with their sweet sounding group names which hide their destructive goals to the naive public, regrettably gain power, I know we will all see an increase in such monsters as Rhee, who not only abuse faculty, but perpetrate child abuse such as Rhee’s bleeding lips of students attest to! Wish this fabulous expose of her and her cronies could be submitted to every city’s newspapers to reveal just what these bally hued bullies are really all about!

  5. permalink

    Beyond all that listed as examples of questionable administrative and pedagogical competence, there is the issue that she has no training whatsoever in education. None. It’s ludicrous that the corporate reformers have backed someone with no knoledege, training or expertise in the field. Rhee must stand as one of the most hyped unqualified educational reformers of all time!

    • Gabriel, Rhee did get a teaching certificate after she was originally in the classroom. She did not stay in the classroom for long, which is probably good for any prospective students she might have damaged. However, I agree with your assertion that Rhee is certainly “hyped” beyond any qualification that she holds. This is overwhelmingly true of the TFA-originated, corporate reform set.

  6. Nancy permalink

    Students First of Missouri is having a meeting in Warrensburg, MO tlater his week at Hero’s downtown and I fear that many who attend will believe their lies and support them. Any suggestions?

    • Linda permalink

      Pass out flyers with a condensed summary of Rhee’s lies and exaggerations. See this link..cut and paste:

      Check out resources at http://www.rheefirst.com

      Or hold signs decrying privatization and duct tape your mouths.

      • Nancy permalink

        Thanks Linda for your great advice. I have already being informing faculty at UCM in Warrensburg about Monday nights meeting and the ones that do not know about Rhee I advise to go Diane Ravitch’s blog, but I did not have the other link so thank-you very much..

    • Hi, Nancy. If you are so inclined, you could put together a flyer and paper the cars while the meeting is happening. You might put together soemthing as simple as a few senteces from my blog and then refer them to the article. It s a real eye-opener for someone who knows little about Rhee. (Be sure to check on ordinances about fyers so that you don’t get into any trouble.) You might also write a letter to the editor for the Warrensburg paper.

      Keep in mind that some people will not want to know the truth. However, I think your proactivity is valuable for those who are innocently about to be drawn in.

      • Nancy permalink

        Thank-you for your suggestions, warnings, and advice. I thought about inviting someone from the newspaper, but a letter to the editor sounds better so will work on that. I do realize that some do not want to know the truth since I see it on a daily basis in my classes at UCM.

  7. beverly a carroll permalink

    I think y’all are being way too harsh on Michelle. After all, this is a woman who cares so deeply about the education of our children that she left the care and raising of her own children in the hands of their father and his wife.
    Surely there can be no greater love than a woman, a mother, who is willing to sacrifice her own children (que up the violins here), to be an absentee parent because of the greater need. In fact I am so overwhelmed with her gifts, talents and skills I nominate her President of Education of the United States!!!!!!!
    SLAP – whew i needed that

  8. beverly a carroll permalink

    PS I’m from Tennessee – and not a teacher – where I see Michelle and the Haslim cabinet trying to destroy our public schools here. I wish she’d go back to DC and do it there. Sorry DC

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