Open Thread: Rhee, Between the Lines

Looks like “polarizing edu-celebrity” Michelle Rhee might finally be getting some serious media attention (Frontline: The Education of Michelle Rhee), which would make a nice change. My mom was studying for her NY state teaching degree when I was in high school in the early 1970s; reading books like James Herndon’s How to Survive in Your Native Land left me permanently biased against top-down miracle cures for Our Broken Educational System. Not that anything in the ensuing forty years has offered much of a counter-argument (Is our children learning, Neil Bush?). Or, as Doghouse Riley succinctly expresses it: Michelle Rhee is not the Lance Armstrong of education — she’s the BALCO of education.”

Per Mr. Pierce at Esquire:

Rhee’s entire (and very lucrative) career as a proponent of educational “reform” is based on her time as chancellor of the public schools in Washington, D.C. Between 2007 and 2010, she did everything that sends a thrill up the leg of the “reform” community. She bashed teachers, scapegoated principals, and shined up her own armor for public consumption every chance she got. She also instituted a system of standardized testing by which Michelle Rhee would be able to judge the awesome awesomeness of Michelle Rhee.

Standardized testing is a crack cocaine of education. It is rife with problems. It is also a multimillion industry without which might not exist, among other things, The Washington Post. A reliance on standardized testing as a metric for progress is generally a reliable “tell” that “reform” has ended and that the grift has begun. A reliance on standardized testing as a metric for progress — and, it should be said, as a Procrustean scoreboard to judge whether a teacher, an administrator, or a school system are doing their jobs properly — almost guarantees that some finagling with the numbers will take place. It is a sub rosa way to install a corporate model on public education and, since the corporate model for everything in this country right now is a moral and ethical quagmire, it encourages cheating on a massive scale. Hence, the very real possibility that the empire built by Michelle Rhee, tough-talking “reformer,” may be built upon a wilderness of crib sheets

The current model for education “reform” in this country — a corporate model with transparency problems and severely decreased political accountability — is broken. Handing over “our” schools to hedge-fund managers, and to the people like Michelle Rhee who volunteer as well-remunerated middle managers, privatizes public education without having the basic cojones to admit that it’s happening. This is not the way it’s supposed to work.

I’m looking foward to watching the documentary once PBS posts it online.

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45 replies
  1. 1
    Sad_Dem says:

    As a former union thug public school teacher, I couldn’t agree more that top-down reform, standardized testing, and charter schools are really all just a con to bust unions and make money for those with pedigrees and resumes.

  2. 2
    lamh35 says:

    Man, if I had a franchise with Wendy’s I’d be pissed. I’m telling ya’ll if you decide to franchise with a company pay attention who you franchise with. Cause one member of the franchise can fuck it up for all the other franchisees. Now this person is gonna mess with someone else money. There has got to be rules when it comes to franchising on doing shit like this that may affect other members.

    Wendy’s Franchise Cuts Employee Hours To Part-Time To Avoid Obamacare

  3. 3
    WereBear says:

    @lamh35: I do believe the Denny’s franchisee got told off, and he shut up. I’m sure it will work for Wendy’s, too.

    Because there is a rule about not bringing crap down on the image of the franchise. And I’m sure they are not shy about enforcing it.

  4. 4
    trollhattan says:

    Thanks, was hoping we’d see a frontposter on this. High time somebody confronted her long-con, although I don’t think it will halt an inevitable Aspen Institute co-presentation with Blenderella, which will hasten the EndTimes(tm) considerably,

    Coincidentally, her grift group today issued an “F” to California, gleaning this response:

    Richard Zeiger, California’s chief deputy superintendent, told the New York Times that the state’s F rating is a “badge of honor.” “This is an organization that frankly makes its living by asserting that schools are failing,” Zeiger said of StudentsFirst. “I would have been surprised if we had got anything else.”

    http://blogs.sacbee.com/report.....rylink=cpy

  5. 5
    Scotty says:

    Ever notice you can ace every single standardized test but that doesn’t provide you with any useful skills in the job market?

  6. 6
    dead existentialist says:

    MS. Rhee taught elementary school for 3 whole years so she should be considered an expert on educational reform. The dumbing down of America in action. Sheesh.

  7. 7
    WereBear says:

    @Scotty: And that’s the other problem. As presently constructed, you go to college, or you flip burgers.

    We have to be able to do better than that. George W. Bush didn’t learn a thing in college, but he went anyway. There’s a lot of smart kids who could have used that slot.

  8. 8
    Baud says:

    @trollhattan:

    Nice. Good for him.

  9. 9
    J. Michael Neal says:

    FYWP

  10. 10
    Ross in Detroit, Rational Subjectivist says:

    Greetings from Meriden CT.
    One MI school system has gone 100% commercial and it’s not going well. I hate to see this happen to the kids, who have one chance to get an education. But maybe some high profile failures will put education outsourcing to rest for good.

  11. 11
    dmsilev says:

    @Scotty: Standardized tests primarily measure one thing: The ability to do well on standardized tests. How useful that is for predicting actual abilities and results is …debatable.

  12. 12
    RossinDetroit, Rational Subjectivist says:

    Greetings from Meriden CT.
    One MI school system has gone 100% commercial and it’s not going well. I hate to see this happen to the kids, who have one chance to get an education. But maybe some high profile failures will put education outsourcing to rest for good.

    ETA: FYWP

  13. 13
    Cacti says:

    @dmsilev:

    Standardized tests primarily measure one thing: The ability to do well on standardized tests. How useful that is for predicting actual abilities and results is …debatable.

    And if you make standardized testing the end-all of the educational experience, you’ll end up with a lot of students who are good at standardized test-taking and little else.

  14. 14
    FlyingToaster says:

    Because of NCLB and the deranged emphasis on test prep, I’m declining to deal with our local schools. Worse, because I live in a district classified “level 3” or struggling, I’m both sending my WarriorGirl to private school next year for Kindergarten (she’s been in a private preschool for the past 2+ years already), and moving our collective asses to a town that is not going bankrupt nor building ~1K apartments within half a mile of my house.

    And I’m in Massachusetts. I shudder to think what it’s like where I grew up.

  15. 15
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    wrong thread

  16. 16
    gelfling545 says:

    @Sad_Dem: Just so. They require advanced degrees and continual professional development to teach, yet all decisions are taken out of the teachers’ control. All blame, however, may be awarded to the teachers. (The latest here is that parents are not responsible for school attendance; neither are students. It is the job of the teacher to convince the students to attend.)

    We certainly can’t ask teachers what to do or allow them to make decisions about their students’ needs because, as you say, we are “thugs”. This is, as far as I can tell, because we insist on getting a salary for our work. This has been my greatest area of disappointment with the President, whom, in most things, I completely support. Race to the Top is finishing off the schools that No Child Left Behind accidentally left functioning but be sure not to ask any teachers who are actually on the job what they need, EVER.

    The next time I require any specialized work (plumbing, electrical, accounting, medical) done I will hire a professional & then take all actual decisions about the job out of his/her hands and require that s/he submit to the decisions of a panel of persons with little or no training in the field. It makes as much sense as our approach to education.

  17. 17
    Sad_Dem says:

    I used to read the Daily Howler for updates on what the education grifters were getting away with saying in the media. Trouble is that it hasn’t changed in a long time. Teachers must be credentialed and professionally developed like mad, but they can’t be trusted to give a kid a hug or an F.

  18. 18
    gene108 says:

    @RossinDetroit, Rational Subjectivist:

    But maybe some high profile failures will put education outsourcing to rest for good.

    Thanks for the laugh.

    There’s no way failure is going to deter people, who want to privatize the profits from tax payer funded public education money. They control enough of the media that failures just aren’t going to register with people.

    Americans have been conditioned to believe our educational system is going to hell in a hand basket for a couple of generations, even though 90%+ of Americans go to public schools and somehow manage to make to adulthood, start families and pay their bills.

    Privatization failures are just another side effect of our failing educational system, which would still be failing if it was a public government run system.

    There’s no hope to change things until someone in the 90%+ of Americans, who are products of the public education system step up and say, “my education didn’t suck, my schools weren’t failing and these schools did a damn fine job educating me.”

    We need to realize most schools meet the needs of their students. Some school districts have issues, but those are not representative of most American school districts.

    As long as we have politicians, who generation after generation, keep preaching about how our education isn’t good enough, we’ll continue to have crazy ass ideas about how to fix it and people trying to scam some money out of the system in the process.

  19. 19
    RobertDSC-iPhone 4 says:

    She’s kind of cute. Otherwise I have no interest in what she’s selling.

  20. 20

    I work for the fourth-largest school district in the country, and Ms. Rhee is viewed politely as a vendor of petroleum products derived from serpents.

    FWIW, she grew up in private education in Toledo, Ohio; she went to the same school I did, except I was seventeen years ahead of her. Please don’t hold that against me or the school.

  21. 21
    dollared says:

    Thanks Anne. Tell me everyone, did we always live in a world where liars and cheats prosper?

  22. 22
    bemused says:

    @trollhattan:

    I was just reading today’s Mpls Trib. Minn got a D from Student’s First. The article did say the “group advocates for mayoral control of low-performing school districts and , as part of the report card evaluation, it gave the state a 0 on a 4.0 scale for not having such a statute in place. Similarly, the national group says Minnesota ‘must’ enact a voucher program to help empower parents”.

    Outrageous.

    Students First is funded by the Koch bros, right?

  23. 23
    kay says:

    @bemused:

    Any mention of for-profit schools? Surely Rhee is aware that charter schools in MI, IN, FL and OH are “public” only in the sense that they’re publicly-funded?
    Isn’t it odd that when the “reformers” lauch these PR blitzes they never, ever mention that they’re privatizing these schools?
    What could possibly explain this HUGE completely dishonest ommission?

  24. 24
    handsmile says:

    @RossinDetroit, Rational Subjectivist:

    Meriden, CT is one of the few places on the planet where one can partake of the sublime comestible, the “Steamed Cheeseburger.” Ted’s Restaurant there serves them up.

    As a matter of fact, I believe it is only in central Connecticut where they may be found. During those halcyon years of student life at Wesleyan University in nearby Middletown, late-night steamed cheeseburgers at O’Rourke’s Diner were a staple of my existence.

    I do now seem to recall, however, that you are a non-carnivore. More’s the pity. Meriden sadly lacks other distinction.

  25. 25
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    This is why Yglesias (Dalton and Harvard) infuriates me. I still suspect he’s never set foot in a public school, but that doesn’t stop him from pontificating on the subject. And while I don’t think personal experience is obligatory for all subjects, somebody who has never set foot in a public school should really shut the fuck up about how public schools are run.

  26. 26
    IowaOldLady says:

    Rhee’s group isn’t even looking primarly at test scores but rather at ideology. The local paper tonight says Iowa got an F. I understand Louisiana was rated very high. That’s ridiculous.

  27. 27
    RSR says:

    heading off to watch the football game, so I don’t have time to jump into the thick of this, but two great follows on twitter regarding this subject are-

    @teachersabrina
    @dianeravitch

  28. 28
    kay says:

    @pseudonymous in nc:

    Liberal supporters of “school reform” are worse than conservatives. Conservatives at least KNEW it was about privatization, which they support. Liberals thought it was about “reform” despite all evidence to the contrary.

  29. 29
    rikyrah says:

    @pseudonymous in nc:

    This is why Yglesias (Dalton and Harvard) infuriates me. I still suspect he’s never set foot in a public school, but that doesn’t stop him from pontificating on the subject. And while I don’t think personal experience is obligatory for all subjects, somebody who has never set foot in a public school should really shut the fuck up about how public schools are run.

    amen
    amen
    amen

  30. 30
    rikyrah says:

    glad that Rhee is being exposed for the lying grifter that she is.

  31. 31
    Xantar says:

    I am no fan of standardized testing or Michelle Rhee, but I honestly want to know: how do we measure our schools? It seems to me that one of the main problems with our education system is we have no idea how to tell a good school from a bad school or a good teacher from a bad teacher other than having someone observe things in action and say, “Well, this seems to be working and the students seem to be engaged by the experience.”

    We can’t use standardized tests. And we can’t use other metrics like graduation rates or future income because so much of that is tied up in the area where the students live. The American education system isn’t going to hell in a handbasket, but we do score much lower than other countries in math and science. Surely that’s an indication that we can do better. But how can we tell?

  32. 32
    kay says:

    @IowaOldLady:

    Wear your “F” like a badge if honor. It means your legislature hasn’t been bought off by privatizers and you still own your public school
    system.

  33. 33
    apocalipstick says:

    @Xantar: Well, we could test a smaller percentage of our students, as many other industrialized countries do. We could stop lumping the test scores of special needs students in with mainstream scores (school in my area was denied proficient status due to the test scores of three profoundly delayed students). We could stop acting as though math and science are the only two damn subjects worth studying. We could invest in apprenticeship and training programs so that students could acquire a practical skill if they have no interest in/plans for an academic track. We could realize that American schools have never, even in the 50s and 60s (when we were innovating our asses off and leading the world in technology), scored at the top of international standardized tests. Mostly what we need to do is stop panicking and thrashing about; there has never been, and will never be, a society where the majority of citizens have graduated with an ‘A’ in Physics 3.

  34. 34
    mapaghimagsik says:

    @Xantar:
    Observation? Non-standardized tests with some standardized testing?

    It really depends on weary you wasn’t out of your metrics.

  35. 35
    trollhattan says:

    @Xantar:
    I don’t think standard testing is bad per se, but it’s also not an end-all be-all metric and as we can see, when it becomes a school’s only measure it swallows the entire works.

    Having a 5th grader all I can add is a school where the parents are involved can get the job done, even under horrid budget limitations. Our kid’s teachers have been super, she’s on track educationally (I know because I can still understand the math homework–I think I have two more years, tops) and her school is the top “performing” primary in the district.

    It’s going to be much harder to keep track when she hits middle school and goes from one teacher to six or seven, but these days email adds a lot of communication in between those pesky report cards.

    BTW, the US has been “underperforming” in math and science since at least the Cold War, so nothing new there.

  36. 36
    mapaghimagsik says:

    @mapaghimagsik:
    Er what you want out of your metrics. Fywp

  37. 37
    PeakVT says:

    @Xantar: American kids, summed up and averaged, score very well considering how much more childhood poverty America has. Here’s some data.

  38. 38
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    Money, honey. If you live in a town like mine; prosperous, middle class and above, with high real estate values, then your schools will be relatively well funded and you keep a cadre of highly qualified teachers. If you live in, say, Lincoln Heights (Roughly twenty miles west of here) then the real estate values are low, funding is poor, the only for-sure meal that the kids get is the government sponsored school breakfast, and many of the teachers are their because they didn’t have anywhere else to go.

    IMHO, educational funding should be the same per-student no matter where you live. This top down bullshit is a grift and it’s a cover for the fact that all students are not treated equally.

  39. 39
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    Rhee is a menace to society, one of those vampires who sees public schools and sees the last great, untouched pile of cash left in our nation, and she wants it, and doesn’t give two shits who gets hurt or killed in the process.

    Worse yet, both liberals and conservatives have been doing their very best to help her and those like her dismantle the public school system and steal every last dollar they can get their filthy hands on.

  40. 40
    Mike G says:

    But maybe some high profile failures will put education outsourcing to rest for good.

    Bad ideas that deliver more wealth and power to the influential never fail, they can only be failed. Performance standards are only for the little people.

  41. 41
    The Fat Kate Middleton says:

    Students First is funded by the Koch bros, right?

    Yes. See Diane Ravitch: http://dianeravitch.net/category/studentsfirst/

  42. 42
    The Fat Kate Middleton says:

    Rhee is a menace to society, one of those vampires who sees public schools and sees the last great, untouched pile of cash left in our nation, and she wants it, and doesn’t give two shits who gets hurt or killed in the process.
    Worse yet, both liberals and conservatives have been doing their very best to help her and those like her dismantle the public school system and steal every last dollar they can get their filthy hands on.

    That pretty much covers it.

  43. 43
    Mnemosyne (iPhone) says:

    @Xantar:

    I remember being tested with standardized tests when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s. The big difference seems to be that we were tested at intervals of about three years, not four times a year.

    Any idiot can tell you that if you’re testing that often, you’re not going to get useful results.

  44. 44
    FlyingToaster says:

    @Xantar: When I started trying to figure out whether it was sane to send WarriorGirl to our local schools, I started reading Gerald Bracey. From there I’ve been pointed to the studies demonstrating that what we’re “testing” ain’t what the powers-that-be claim.

    If you want to know if a child has learned, assign a project to demonstrate said knowledge. Filling in bubbles demonstrates test-consciousness or willing compliance to authority, and not much else.

  45. 45
    What Have The Romans Ever Done for Us? (formerly MarkJ) says:

    @trollhattan: Even worse, it gives a B – the highest rating given to any State – to Louisiana of all places.

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