Gove's US education guru's record on schools questioned

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A controversial US education expert who advised Michael Gove is facing claims that her track record of raising standards could have been founded on cheating by schools.

Michelle Rhee has been dubbed the “Witchfinder General” because of her commitment to removing failing teachers from the classroom.

Her hard-nosed reforms – which reward the most talented teachers while punishing the worst – caught the eye of the UK Education Secretary who indicated they could be adopted here.

But a US television documentary to be aired tonight on a US channel investigates claims that teachers achieved higher test scores during her reign as Washington DC Schools Chancellor by cheating.

Ms Rhee now heads a national student-based group calling for school reforms. Student First, was famously impatient with the conditions she inherited in Washington where – thanks to union muscle – teachers had jobs for life and there was no connection between their job security, pay and how teachers performed. She closed down entire schools – in one case, in front of TV cameras.

Tonight’s PBS film The Education of Michelle Rhee explores allegations that teachers may have doctored test papers to ensure higher grades and secure higher wages for themselves.

The film interviews a principal who took over a school in 2010 and tightened security surrounding exam papers, only to see grades falling suddenly by 25 per cent compared to the year before.

Ms Rhee, according to The Washington Post, defends herself in the film, saying “dozens and dozens of schools” have seen dramatic gains.

After being invited to the UK by the think-tank Policy Exchange, she met Mr Gove, who praised her hard-nosed reforms and indicated they could be adopted here. “Michelle points out in everything she does that what they [children] need is the most effective teacher who demands the highest standards and is relentless about that,” he said.

Since then, Mr Gove has announced plans for denying teachers automatic pay rises, placing them at the discretion of the headteacher.

Conservatives have emphasised this will allow heads to reward talented teachers, effectively allowing a good teacher to rise from £21,000 a year to £51,000 in six months.

His proposals angered teachers’ leaders, though. In a submission to the STRB (The School Teachers’ Review Body), the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers warned that evidence  shows performance-related pay rises do tend to discriminate against women and teachers from ethnic minority groups.

NASUWT says it is “naïve” to believe at a time of “savage cuts to education bdugets” that more performance-related pay will lead to higher salaries for talented teachers.