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Posted at 02:55 PM ET, 04/12/2011

Harvard education expert attacks Rhee critics

It has been a boring few days here at Class Struggle, with no fresh meat for those of us devouring the debate over Michelle A. Rhee and her tenure as head of the D.C. schools. Rejoice, then, at the appearance of a new piece by Harvard political scientist Paul E. Peterson, one of the best writers in academia and a seasoned partisan in the national education debate on the side of the no-excuses movement that backs Rhee.

I am not going to waste your time with a lengthy analysis of what Peterson says. Click right here to read for yourself his new analysis on the Education Next journal Web site, “The Case Against Michelle Rhee: How persuasive is it?”

But I will note a few points that merit close attention. Those of you who don’t like Peterson or Rhee will be heartened to learn that he brushes off much too quickly the recent USA Today revelations suggesting that much of the achievement gains under Rhee might have been the result of massive changing of answers from wrong to right by school principals who wanted their campuses to look good. I am still a Rhee admirer, but I think the test sheet erasure issue---the result of a series conceived and edited by my wife, just retired from USA Today---is vital to the national debate. Peterson should have given it more space.

For those of you, like me, who like Peterson and Rhee, he pokes some holes in recent critiques of the Rhee record I had not seen poked before.

His piece is about two recent studies, one by Alan Ginsburg, a former director of Policy and Program Studies in the U.S. Department of Education, and the other by a committee set up by the National Research Council (NRC). In both cases Peterson tries to suggest that the authors of the studies have a pro-union, left-of-center bias, and are out to get Rhee and her many conservative admirers. As a blessedly middle-of-the-road Rhee fan, who rejects such partisan tactics, I will ignore this mischief by Peterson and just mention a few matters dealing with research.

In Ginsburg’s piece, he notices that the test expert’s analysis suggesting gains were less under Rhee than two predecessors ignores the fact that he is counting fewer years for her than the other two. Looking at gains under the National Assessment of Educational Progress, former D.C. school head Paul Vance had 46 percent of the gains, former D.C. school head Clifford Janey had 30 percent of the gains and Rhee had just 24 percent of the gains. But, Peterson notes, he was counting only two years of data for Rhee, three for Vance and four for Janey.

Also, because NAEP changed its way of counting charter schools, which on average performed better than regular schools, Janey gets credit for their gains but Rhee does not.

On the NRC report, there is less data to argue about, but Peterson does score a point by noting that the committee that did the study, after noting that more research would be needed to prove that gains under Rhee were the result of her policies, then fails to call for such research in its conclusions.

There is a lot more. Have fun, and let us share the excitement on this blog by telling us what you think.

By  |  02:55 PM ET, 04/12/2011

 
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