Qui tam's allegations of test cheating in D.C. public schools stirs controversy

by Ben Vernia | January 9th, 2013

On December 26, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins in D.C. unsealed a whistleblower’s complaint against the District, after the federal government declined to intervene in the case. In the suit, a former principal of a D.C. public school alleged that the District’s school system submitted false claims to the Department of Education as a result of widespread cheating in the system, including cheating she observed at her school and reported to superiors.

On January 8, PBS’s Frontline aired a documentary, “The Education of Michelle Rhee,” which chronicled the former D.C. school chancellor’s tenure in the system. The program featured an interview with the relator in the case. She described discovering teachers late one night, erasing standardized tests that the system used to assess progress and reward teachers and administrators.

The documentary follows reports in USA Today and the Washington Post regarding the allegations of test-cheating. The D.C. Inspector General and the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General each conducted investigations as well; the D.C. Inspector General’s report described isolated instances of cheating, but concluded that there was no evidence of wrong-to-right erasures, as the relator alleged. (Some commentators, including the Washington Post’s Jay Matthews, have criticized the DC IG’s report; Matthews described it as “thin” and “biased.”)

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