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Columns

October 28, 2012

Hey, lobbyist, leave them kids alone!

(Continued)

Rhee’s plan to reform D.C. schools resembled Klein’s in many ways, with its goals of increasing the number of charter schools in the city and instituting a teacher-evaluation system based on standardized testing.

The notion that a teacher’s effectiveness should be gauged by how effectively their students memorize and regurgitate multiple-choice minutiae is not only of dubious validity, it’s also buck-passing that takes responsibility off the shoulders of students and parents and sticks it entirely on teachers — in the name of “accountability.”

Worse yet, these tests inevitably end up as case studies in Campbell’s Law, the adage of social scientist Donald T. Campbell, who observed that over-reliance on a quantifiable social indicator – such as standardized testing – only incentivizes the corruption of such measures.

This turned out to be the case during Rhee’s tenure as D.C. schools chancellor, where three USA Today reporters last year uncovered widespread evidence of doctored test scores. At the Rhee-touted Noyes Education Campus, answer sheets contained an average of 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures, compared to a citywide average of less than one per student. Statisticians contacted by the USA Today said the odds of having so many wrong-to-right erasures by random chance were 1 in 100 billion.

Rhee initially lashed out at the report, calling it “an insult” and blaming it on her “enemies,” but later conceding in the face of public pressure that further investigation was warranted. But while Rhee’s track record as an educator leaves much to be desired, her doctrinaire insistence on ideologically-driven solutions makes her an effective shill for for-profit companies such as Academica LLC, a Florida-based charter school management firm with some $158 million in annual revenue.

Academica CEO Fernando Zulueta – whose brother-in-law, state Rep. Erik Fresen, received a $5,000 donation from Rhee’s PAC – has profited handsomely by leasing his real estate to tax-exempt public charter schools; nine of Academica’s 60 schools pay over 20 percent of their annual revenue in rent payments, according to the Miami Herald. And charters, which divert resources away from traditional public schools, received 15 of the 31 “F” grades given statewide in a state review last year, despite comprising just 11 percent of all Florida public schools.

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