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Frontline Michelle Rhee Documentary: Tales Behind The Film

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This piece comes to us courtesy of This Week In Education.

How fascinating to wake up and find out that Adell Cothorne (pictured), the Noyes Elementary School principal interviewed in tonight's PBS Frontline documentary (a) had never been on camera in all the previous previous PBS segments on Rhee that we've seen and (b) had filed a suit against DCPS that was only recently unsealed and dismissed.

Cothorne's complaint (Cothorne v District of Columbia) makes for juicy reading but the federal government didn't think much of it. The USDE found that "cheating was limited to just one school, which it didn't specify," according to Greg Toppo's USA Today story. Cothorn had filed the complaint under the False Claims Act and "sought a percentage of any potential financial proceeds had the case gone to trial," according to Emma Brown's Washington Post story from over the weekend. According to a statement just put out by Rhee, the latest findings "confirm what we've long believed, that the vast majority of educators would never compromise their personal or professional integrity to cheat on a test, thereby cheating children."

Still, it it's a pretty big coincidence (?) that the Cothorne complaint and response popped up just as the Rhee documentary was about to air -- and that the Rhee, DCPS, and Frontline folks may not have known that was about to happen until it appeared.

Equally fascinating but much less complicated to figure out is why StudentsFirst put out its report card this week, knowing that the Frontline documentary was scheduled to air. Whatever it merits or lack thereof, the report card shines a light on the current work of Rhee and her allies, and puts the pressure back on the education establishment she's fighting against, rather than letting the Frontline story about what happened way back in 2010 take front and center. So all of you writing about what an awful report card it is are actually helping Rhee out. Keep it up. (StudentsFirst has gathered up all the positive press for you -- see below the break).

Moving on: Now having watched the show a second time now, I stand by the basic thrust of my original post (PBS Documentary Humanizes Rhee's Tenure,) that it generally favors Rhee, humanizing her with the story of her decision to join TFA (blame PBS!) showing snapshots of her as a young idealistic teacher, and giving her a chance to re-define her departure from DCPS as something she still laments. She officially resigned, but I'm not sure anyone believed that -- and in any case she made some awkward remarks about her departure at the time. This time, she gets to say, "I lost the job that I loved."

There is some heart-wrenching, angry-making footage of a teacher describing being fired and escorted from her building, and video of some verbal sparring between Rhee and the City Council that is hard to watch, knowing what is soon to come. But the Frontline piece omits the most dramatic and perhaps disturbing Rhee moments I've ever seen or watched: her 2008 argument with Randi Weingarten at NSVF, and Mayor-elect Gray's impromptu press conference in the hallways outside his offices, with a stressed-out Rhee standing in the background. (Lady Michelle Flees The Castle Gray)

Last but not least, some of you may have noticed that on Morning Joe yesterday Rhee floated the idea of turning Title I and II -- the forumula-based federal funding streams through which most K-12 education moneys flow to schools -- into competitive and reform-minded grants, sort of like Race to the Top or i3. Hey, NCLB is already blown up, accountabily-wise. Why not blow up the funding stream, too?

What's next? Who knows? Most likely, StudentsFirst will quickly move from rating states to putting out scorecards on individual legislators like Emily's List and the NRA and everyone else does. It's also possible (though not likely) that Rhee will start wearing a Guy Fawkes mask to press conferences, her allies will start calling themselves "Rheenonymous," and the threats, glitter bombs, and publishing of embarrassing information will begin.

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