John Merrow abandons Michelle Rhee — for now
September 13, 2013 | By Louis Freedberg | 1 Comment
No more Rhee. That was the title of an email message I received yesterday from John Merrow, one of the nation’s leading journalists who has been covering education with distinction for decades – and covered the life and times of Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia schools, more than any other reporter.
I can’t recall a public declaration along these lines from a reporter in the many years I have been covering education in California and nationally. In the email, Merrow acknowledges that his desire to get at the truth of the accusations and suspicions regarding accusations about Rhee’s complicity in cheating on tests in district schools had become something of an obsession.
I am done reporting about Michelle Rhee. For one thing, there are many education stories of greater national significance to cover. But I have also been advised by trusted friends to get off the Rhee story because, as one said, “It’s beginning to look like a vendetta, and some people say you are ‘picking on poor Michelle.’”
He compares himself to CIA special agent Carrie, the obsessed heroine of the series “Homeland.”
I guess I do feel a bit like Carrie. I had unprecedented access to Rhee during her Chancellorship, and I missed some warning signs that all was not legitimate. I was not skeptical enough back then, and my failure then partially explains my desire to get it right this time.
It is hard to really believe that Merrow has definitively abandoned the Michelle Rhee beat, however. He still has Freedom of Information Act requests pending with the DC schools – requests that he says the district have come up with various ways to avoid complying with. If he gets the information he is seeking, he says he will return to the story, as he would if another insider came forward with more information about what really went on inside the Rhee chancellorship.
The important point, he says, is not Michelle Rhee as an individual, or, he implies, whether she was complicit in a coverup of alleged cheating on standardized tests to make it look like her policies were working more effectively than they actually were. Now Rhee has moved to California and through the Sacramento-based StudentsFirst she founded is becoming more involved in California education politics, including most recently backing Gov. Brown’s drastic revision of the state’s school financing system. She has adamantly denied she was aware of allegations of pervasive cheating in the district.
What rankles Merrow is the failure of the D.C.’s Mayor and City Council to look into the various allegations “because D.C. schools are worse today by almost every conceivable measures.”
What matters much more is what she (Rhee) failed to accomplish in Washington. She espoused a certain approach to reforming failing schools, a path that she and her successor have followed for six years, and that approach has not worked. That’s the central point: Rhee’s ‘scorched earth’ approach of fear, intimidation and reliance on standardized tests scores to judge (and fire) teachers and principals does not lead to improved schools, educational opportunities, graduation rates or any of the other goals that she presumably embraces.
For Merrow’s full statement, check out his blogsite Taking Note