I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

17 October 2010

Six Reasons Why Michelle Rhee Isn't the Answer.

(NB: Edited and expanded from something I put on my facebook a couple of years ago.)

1. Ms. Rhee seriously considered voting for John McCain because - get this - she is so afraid of what Obama and the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad Democrats will do to education.

...the hell? "McCAIN: Because underfunded public schools and skeevy for-profit charters are better than the dread teachers' unions."

Dude, isn't the Obama administration's education policy bad enough?  We knew it would be like this before he got elected, too.

2. Ms. Rhee demonstrates a critical lack of understanding culturally responsive education and more broadly of social justice. It is her stated opinion that any arts, music, or otherwise "imaginative" (her words) programming should not be provided to students unless they have mastered reading. Similarly, she is disgusted by classroom meetings, TRIBES and so on.

I missed the part where teaching arts was absolutely entirely antithetical to literacy. One of the key premises of CLRP is that the arts are critical to a powerful and multifaceted literacy, actually.

But that's Ms. Rhee's problem - she sees a teacher's responding to a student's needs as "soft bigotry", if you will. It is evidently beyond her ken that social justice requires that we give students the tools they need to succeed - both by using the most effective strategies and by being absolutely explicit about the strategies we choose (so that students can succeed even in, say, a wretched KIPP school, where blindness to white privilege is required for a hire).

2a. Michelle Rhee has issues with access, privilege and race.  The secret meetings with white parents that lead to the dismissal of successful principals of color who allegedly are too of color to make white parents feel welcome are bad.  And honestly, speaking as a SFUSD denizen: are we really doing anything for our high-needs students when we pander to those with the most access?

3. Ms. Rhee is a big believer in homework, having removed the principal of her daughters' school for, among other reasons, not insisting on rigorous enough homework.

I dunno about that principal, but I have to say that I consider instruction to be my job. So while I provide homework, I tell parents explicitly that students should complete whatever amount they enjoy and that provides useful practice. If I send home a sheet that the child does not understand, it shouldn't be done - I won't differentiate homework, but I will be re-teaching and differentiating in class.

A big interest in homework tends to signal a lack of respect for parents, I've found. Just saying.

4. Ms. Rhee is incapable of civil debate, understanding what her opponents think and considering opinions other than her own.

She's dismissive of her critics - among other things, mocking them to a TIME magazine reporter. Even if I give her a pass on her lack of social graces (seeing as how the ADHD, we kinda lack 'em too), I can't excuse that. It's just petty and obnoxious. To be petty and obnoxious myself, what the hell is your damage, Michelle? Were the mean girls mean to you in junior high that you have to act like one now?

5. Ms. Rhee cannot distinguish between "education radicalism" and "business plan". There is not one radical thing about destroying unions because the #1 A+ thing that's wrong with education is teachers (it's not. I don't deny the existence of bad teachers, but this idea that we are all mindless child-hating zombies who have dedicated our unlives to the destruction of the American workforce is...awfully convenient for people who don't want a public education system at all and hate unions on principle). There is not one radical thing about ignoring facilities upgrades in favor of anti-teacher tirades. There is not one radical thing about getting a lot of money from allies you refuse to name because the unions hate them (...Broad Foundation? Chris Whittle? C'MON MICHELLE! WE'RE NOT STUPID!).

Now that we know who those allies are, I have some other issues:

5a. There is nothing business-like about a contract that demands that the CEO stay on for the money to come through.  Didn't Ms. Rhee want to be judged on her performance, not mandated upon DC's school district?  Or is that whole "value added" thing just for teachers?  Presumably not, since her performance wasn't good even on her preferred metric (test scores).
5b. The Waltons are anti-union AND anti-public education.  Did Michelle Rhee think about that at all before taking their money for public schools?

6. Ms. Rhee only taught for three years.  By her own admittance, the first eighteen months of that didn't go very well.  For the second half of her teaching career, she has variously claimed to have gotten each student to the 90th percentile on standardized tests (in Lake Rheebegon, all the children ARE genii!), to have significantly impacted student achievement, had all students above grade level and to have had one and a half years of growth in a year.  There are no data to support these claims.

None of these claims can be verified, and the first - the most easily disproven - Ms. Rhee has stepped way, way back from.  If her kids had a year and a half of growth, then (assuming they all ended up on grade level) entered second grade unable to read more than three-letter words.  This seems unlikely.

Also, we know that Michelle Rhee taught TESSERACT, a bizarre highly-computerized program (kinda like the ones she likes so much in her Manifesto) that was such a massive failure in Baltimore that it got kicked out.

Personally, I suspect that Michelle Rhee gave the TFA diagnostics to her students.  These tests are the things that allow TFAers to say their students had two years of growth, even though they are not testing proficient on standardized tests, and even if this means that the kids must not have known the alphabet on entry to second grade.  In short, these tests are bizarre and don't tell much of anything.

Beyond that, the big point is that MICHELLE RHEE LEFT TEACHING.  Hey, no offense.  People leave all the time: it's hard, especially in high-needs schools.  Teaching really is being on a stage all day long.  You can't even pee when you want.  But still, if you leave after three years, you didn't love it.

And if you didn't love it, then you don't know it.
And if you don't know it, you can't judge it.  Take all the data you want: you're still blind.
And for that reason alone she needs to shut it. Or maybe she needs to visit my classroom and see what good instruction looks like. Hey, I'm no expert and only just decent on the best of days, but I get better every year. And also? I actually am an education radical, which is why my students get top-flight high expectations core AND arts.

In closing, Ms. Rhee needs to get a clue. STAT.


Caroline said...

I'm sure she was just making **** up about the miraculous soaring achievement her Baltimore students managed, when she wasn't taping their mouths shut. Bombastic-but-often-right blogger Bob Somerby has written about this in some detail. Somerby has been both a teacher and a journalist in Baltimore, and he noted that right at the time when Rhee was teaching there, the Baltimore Sun was covering her school closely (because of the for-profit company running it). The Sun was scrutinizing and writing about test scores, so it's unthinkable that they would have failed to mention the soaring achievement she claims. The official records just conveniently happen to be lost.

Anyway, you're right that after Somerby and others started really yelling about how she was lying, she quietly changed her story, and the fawning press never called her on it in the slightest (I'm talking to you, Amanda Ripley of Time Magazine -- go back to writing about emergency evacuations, which you DO have a clue about).

It's funny how quite often, it has been a news story in and of itself when a prominent person is caught lying on his or her resume, but in this case the press aided and abetted. Sorry, I'm totally off the elementary education topic and into media criticism. Anyway, Rhee just plain lied.

Anonymous said...

That was the story that got me started on the Daily Howler, actually! It's hard to read but I try to make the effort because it's usually worth it.

I wish someone would take up the issue of TFA's internal metrics and tests, since they seem committed to not doing so.