Smoking Gun Memo Raises Questions About DC School Cheating

5:16 PM, Apr 12, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA9) -- It's the oldest truth in Washington scandals: it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. 

A veteran journalist has uncovered what he believes is a smoking gun memo that proves Washington's most-heralded schools chancellor knew about widespread cheating on standardized tests -- and did nothing to investigate it. 

Michelle Rhee took over DC schools in 2007 and promised dramatic change.  She fired hundreds of teachers and administrators and offered cash bonuses to educators who could boost test scores.

But on PBS "Frontline," and now with this newly-released confidential memo, veteran journalist John Merrow suggests much of the school gains she crowed about were a sham. 

Merrow says the tragedy is DC schools, "are worse off by every conceivable measure after five years of Rhee and (current chancellor Kaya) Henderson, than they were in 2007 when she arrived. Greater truancy, lower graduation rates, lower test scores."

The 2009 memo focuses on wrong-to-right erasures on standardized tests, the same kind of changes that led to indictment of the superintendent and 34 educators in Atlanta last month.

"The preponderance of wrong to right erasures is just staggering," says Merrow. "In the first year, it was in 70 of 144 schools Roughly half the schools. And that is what Michelle Rhee chose not to investigate."

The schools current leadership insists there's no new information here, that the methodology used to evaluate erasures was flawed, and that multiple investigations have concluded there's no widespread cheating in DC schools.

A spokeswoman says Henderson has no memory of seeing the memo. Merrow says he finds that hard to believe.

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