MICHELLE RHEE’S INADEQUATE RESPONSE TO LEGITIMATE QUESTIONS…. While more than a few major media outlets have offered effusive praise for Michelle Rhee, USA Today ran a very different kind of piece this week. The paper took a closer look at D.C. test scores during Rhee’s tenure as the city’s schools chancellor.

The results weren’t flattering. While her work has been heralded as producing miracles, USA Today‘s investigation found less magic and more smoke and mirrors. Reported improvements in test scores now appear dubious, and “wrong-to-right erasure rates” suggested there may have been instances of actual fraud.

Rhee did not initially respond to USA Today interview requests, but finally offered a comment after the story was published.

“It isn’t surprising,” Rhee said in a statement Monday, “that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved … unless someone cheated.”

USA TODAY’s investigation into test scores “is an insult to the dedicated teachers and schoolchildren who worked hard to improve their academic achievement levels,” Rhee said.

Wait, that’s the response? There’s credible evidence that Rhee’s impressive record is a mirage, perhaps even the result of outright fraud, and her defense is that “enemies of school reform” aren’t to be trusted? Does she realize that USA Today is not the National Education Association’s newsletter?

Mark Kleiman said the response eliminates any benefit of the doubt he was prepared to extend to Rhee.

[I]t was, barely, possible that Rhee was culpably negligent — but no worse — in the cheating and the cover-up via a grossly inadequate “investigation.”

However, her slime-and-defend reaction to the exposure of the cheating eliminates that possibility. She was, and is, complicit in the cover-up, if not the cheating itself. There is simply no honest explanation for the very high ratio of wrong-to-right changes to right-to-wrong changes. […]

So when she blames uncomfortable facts on unnamed “enemies of school reform,” she’s bullsh*tting.

Rhee may want to come up with a slightly more detailed defense to salvage her reputation.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.