“I am a data fiend,” she told me. “Measure everything. Don’t do anything you can’t measure.”

In 2011 USA Today did an independent analysis of DC test scores under Michelle Rhee. They concluded there was cheating. A couple of months ago, Frontline did a piece on Michelle Rhee. After the piece aired, the reporter received a memo he had been seeking:

I first got wind of the Sanford memo while working on a documentary about Rhee for the PBS series “Frontline.” I spoke with Sanford, who confirmed that he had indeed written a memo but could not turn it over to me because it was “a work for hire.” Producer Michael Joseloff and I filed Freedom of Information Act requests with DCPS, which denied its existence, and with two Inspectors General, who acknowledged that they had it in their possession but refused to turn it over on grounds that the memo was part of the “deliberative process” within the D.C. government and thus not available to the public.
Not long after I blogged about “The Missing Memo” on January 15, 2013,it arrived in a plain white envelope. A second copy–perhaps from the same leaker–arrived in late March.
The original leaker of the memo added a note: “You’ve made some folks here nervous, but Rhee, Henderson and Kamras will all deny knowing anything about what Erin worked on.”

Michelle A. Rhee, America’s most famous school reformer, was fully aware of the extent of the problem when she glossed over what appeared to be widespread cheating during her first year as Schools Chancellor in Washington, DC. A long-buried confidential memo from her outside data consultant suggests that the problem was far more serious than kids copying off other kids’ answer sheets. (“191 teachers representing 70 schools”). A reliable source has confirmed that Rhee and Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson discussed the memo in staff gatherings.
In response to my request for comment, Rhee issued the following careful statement: “As chancellor I received countless reports, memoranda and presentations. I don’t recall receiving a report from Sandy Sanford regarding erasure data from the DC CAS, but I’m pleased, as has been previously reported, that both inspectors general (DOE and DCPS) reviewed the memo and confirmed my belief that there was no wide spread cheating.” After receiving this statement, I sent her the memo; her spokesman responded by saying that she stood by her earlier statement.
Chancellor Henderson did not respond to my request for a response.
“I am a data fiend,” she told me. “Measure everything. Don’t do anything you can’t measure.”
Because of aggressive reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and strong political leadership from two Republican Governors, the situation in Atlanta was investigated from top to bottom. An investigative team led by former Attorney General Mike Bowers and former DeKalb County District Attorney Robert Wilson interviewed more than 2,000 people and reviewed more than 800,000 documents. Because Wilson and Bowers were working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, they were able to put people under oath when they questioned them.
In an interview in February 2013, Wilson said that he had been following the DCPS story closely. “There’s not a shred of doubt in my mind that adults cheated in Washington,” he said. “The big difference is that nobody in DC wanted to know the truth.”
At least 25 states have adopted her ‘produce or else’ test-score based system of evaluating teachers.But politicians (and citizens) in those 25 states might want to take a closer look at what she actually accomplished. Sadly, DC’s schools are worse by almost every conceivable measure.

Michelle Rhee came to Ohio and lobbied my state legislature on her last national tour. She was treated like a celebrity. No one questioned any of her claims, which is unsurprising if you actually live in this state because all of her reforms involve union busting, pension looting and shifting public money to private operators. She’s a Right wing ideologue’s dream come true. They bought it because they believed it before she walked onto the floor that day.

The school reform industry response to the Atlanta cheating scandal was to call for better test security. As usual, the reform industry spokespeople are missing the larger point, the bigger picture. The truth is they based their reforms on high profile “turn arounds” in Atlanta and (especially) DC. If the scores in these places where they ran their experiments were bullshit, they “reformed” the US education system based on bullshit. They’re supposedly “data-driven” and most of them are billionaires. I shouldn’t have to point this out.

Hire an independent prosecutor like they did in Atlanta. Let’s find out. In the meantime, get a different opinion on “school reform.” Stop relying on the billionaires who backed this, the politicians who swallowed it without question, the hundreds of lobby shops who now exist because of it and the celebrities who promote it to evaluate it. They’re biased, they’re all in, they believe they are the “best and the brightest” and the top-tier analysts and executives are making a lot of money. It’s a recipe for disaster.

75 replies
  1. 1
    JPL says:

    Hopefully Atlanta school district can reform and do what is necessary to improve the schools. It’s doubtful though because now money is being siphoned off to go to charter schools.
    If Michelle Rhee were in charge of the Atlanta school district, the matter would not have been investigated. Just sayin!

  2. 2
    Punchy says:

    They need to cease issuing those standardized tests.

  3. 3
    JPL says:

    I should have added that Michelle Rhee spoke to state officials in GA about how to improve the schools after her contract was not renewed.

  4. 4
    Kay says:

    @Punchy:

    It isn’t the tests. It’s basing everything on the tests.

    The mayor of Chicago shouldn’t shut 50 public schools without entering the buildings. That’s insane.

  5. 5
    Davis X. Machina says:

    School reform on the Rhee model consists of shuttering the firehouses, selling them to developers, putting the apparatus on eBay, and buying a shit-ton of smoke detectors with the moiety of the proceeds that you don’t actually pocket..

    And then wondering why the number of fires is level at best, and usually increasing.

  6. 6
    Face says:

    All this Rhee-hashing of Rhee-ally good school improvement is Rhee-king havoc on charter schools, and Rhee-aks of anti-asianism.

  7. 7
    greennotGreen says:

    they believe they are the “best and the brightest”

    Oh, like “the smartest guys in the room”?

  8. 8
    JoyfulA says:

    Funny thing is that we had the same scandal in Philadelphia in 1977 when high-stakes testing was introduced.

  9. 9
    Kay says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    You know what this reminds me of? The demonic day care child sex abuse cases. Same lock-step thinking, same media blaring, same parade of “experts”, same bipartisan buy-in, same complete lack of ordinary common sense.

    This one has a profit motive, though. HUGE.

  10. 10
    peach flavored shampoo says:

    ESPN wants to know if they can shoehorn Tiger Woods into this story in any way.

  11. 11
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    “Measure everything. Don’t do anything you can’t measure.”

    You know who else wanted to measure everything except the contents of secret memos?

  12. 12
    bourbaki says:

    When they write an epitaph for the American Empire it will read “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”.

  13. 13
    Wyrm says:

    I work in DCPS.

    Rhee did some very necessary things regarding personnel, both teachers and front office staff, who needed to be let go. She organized “downtown” so that teachers and administrators who needed things had a reasonable chance of getting a response.

    However, this is completely outweighed by the standardized testing issues. I teach high school, and the assessment we give is not tied to the standards we are supposed to cover. As a result, the last 4 weeks before the DCCAS is review of material the students were supposed to have learned in 8th grade.

    Anyone who works in DCPS knows that cheating occurred, I know several teachers who have first hand knowledge of other teachers or principals cheating, but they fear for their jobs (correctly), and no one seems to care, so why should they risk their careers.

  14. 14
    Kay says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    I love how they ignore their own advice, the linchpin of their whole astroturf “movement”.

    Measure everything, just don’t look too close at the numbers.

  15. 15
    liberal says:

    I would assume that an important attack on the proponents of using testing in the staffing of schools is that, from a scientific/statistical perspective, trying to find the “influence of good teaching” signal in test results is actually pretty difficult.

    If nothing else, the proponent’s claims should be based on empirical evidence, and AFAICT the evidence is pretty weak.

  16. 16
    Kay says:

    @Wyrm:

    They should rat her out because it’s driving policy for tens of millions of children and it’s billions of dollars diverted that they need for their schools.

  17. 17
    cmorenc says:

    @peach flavored shampoo:

    ESPN wants to know if they can shoehorn Tiger Woods into this story in any way.

    Well, Tiger Woods is a shining example of someone who succeeds really well under rigorous standardized testing where there’s absolutely no cheating. In fact, he’s going to be tested again this very afternoon on live TV (!)

    On these same ESPN TV broadcasts of Tiger-testing, one of the recurring commercials from Exxon (??) glowingly promotes the value of “common core standards” in education, which of course involves national tests of exactly the sort under discussion. Query what is Exxon’s corporate interest in promoting this subject? As opposed to promoting how eco-friendly Exxon allegedly is for healthy whales, birds, and small children.

  18. 18
    liberal says:

    @Kay:
    Yeah, but it’s a collective action problem, and those are pretty difficult to solve.

    One person ratting out a teacher risks an unpleasant fate.

  19. 19
    Jamey says:

    Michelle Rhee is to education reform what Jenny McCarthy was to vaccine awareness.

  20. 20
    Bruce S says:

    The scene in that Frontline documentary where Rhee invites a teacher into her office to fire him with camera rolling said pretty much all I ever needed to know about her. As I recall, even the Frontline Producer was somewhat shocked. Questions about the person’s job performance aside, it was a deliberate exhibit of cruelty in the service of self-aggrandizement. Rhee admitted to having absolutely no feelings of compassion when she fired people and that she’d done it “probably more than anyone else.” That Rhee’s grandiosity also embraces dishonesty is no surprise. I think she’s a borderline sociopath.

  21. 21
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Kay:

    Measure everything, just don’t look too close at the numbers.

    The whole thing just reeks of a mix of abject stupidity, ignorance and deliberate fraud. Robust metrics are very hard to design, you don’t just walk around picking them up off the sidewalk. If you are “measuring everything” then from an analytical standpoint you really aren’t measuring anything because whatever signal might be there in the best metrics will be overwhelmed by noise from the bad ones, and definitionally you aren’t trying to distinguish between them.

  22. 22
    The Moar You Know says:

    I’d like to say that the good part of all this is that after this scandal there’s no way any district in America would hire Rhee, but I’d be wrong.

    That’s pretty discouraging.

  23. 23
    gnomedad says:

    “Don’t do anything you can’t measure.”

    I subscribe to Gilb’s Law, which states that anything can be made measurable in a way that is superior to not measuring it at all, but that’s not the same as doing things only because they are easily measured.

  24. 24
    aimai says:

    Kay, thank you so much for keeping this on the front page. I’ve learned so much from your posts.

    I also want to say that when you drill down into it you have to figure that the money wasted on these tests–which definitionally at this point produce nothign of value–would have been better spent directly on the teachers and students. I wish someone would do a comparison between what this shit costs districts/taxpayers and what could have been purchased with the same money. Kind of like those come ons for charitable donations “For 5 dollars you can vaccinate an entire village! For ten dollars 20 families can receive a goat to raise.”

    If every child received full time tutoring from a “parent in the schools” you’d see more improvement than testing the teachers to destruction. IF there were afterschool programs of tutoring and mentoring for every child, from kindergarten through until highschool you’d see more improvement per child than in testing the teachers to destruction. Its obvious.

    I’m just disgusted that the country and the taxpayers/voters continue to be offered this false choice–these rube goldberg solutions to a straightforward problem: kids need a ton of intensive, personalized, educated, tutoring from birth to highschool to perform at their highest capacity. Its going to be different for each kid–both what they need and what they can reach intellectually. If a middle class kid has a deficit their family can pour money and time and individual attention into helping tha tchild reach his or her full potential. Poor families and communities can’t. So put the fucking money in. Expecting teachers to do so in overcrowded classrooms is just illogical. Testing teachers and kids in this abusive way to determine that they are failing isn’t a solution–its just an extremely expensive way of observing and quantifying the disaster.

    Its like paying a fortune to people to photograph the results of a natural disaster rather than spending the same money to ameliorate it in advance by building better buildings or having better emergency response. Its not a solution. The solutions are obvious: spend more money on the children and their real needs. Educational achievment will follow naturally.

  25. 25
    Kay says:

    @liberal:

    We need help. All the money is on the other side.

    I watched the entire juvenile justice-school system adopt “zero tolerance”. It is a disaster, and now every juvenile judge in the country admits it’s a disaster. Zero tolerance is eerily like “no excuses”.

    We have to stop doing this.

  26. 26
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Bruce S:

    Questions about the person’s job performance aside, it was a deliberate exhibit of cruelty in the service of self-aggrandizement.

    If I had to summarize what’s gone wrong with our civilization in a single sentence it would: We figured out how to monetize cruelty.

  27. 27
    Kay says:

    @liberal:

    This insanity is a result of zero tolerance.

    They put millions of kids into the criminal justice system. Years, it went on. Media just noticed it, today.

  28. 28
    Slag says:

    As a somewhat recovering data fiend, I feel Michelle’s pain. Measurement is one thing; meaning is another. It’s been my experience that one should never put a true “data fiend” in charge of anything because they’ll never prioritize meaning over measurement.

  29. 29
    The Moar You Know says:

    If I had to summarize what’s gone wrong with our civilization in a single sentence it would: We figured out how to monetize cruelty.

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: Slavery. Capitalism. etc.

    To monetize anything requires cruelty to someone or something. Requires it. You’ll find no exceptions.

  30. 30
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Slag: I have a lecture on due diligence that I do for business law student and one part of it discusses how much due diligence investigation is enough. I propose a “Goldilocks theory.” The disadvantages of too little data are fairly obvious, but far too many people don’t see the disadvantages of trying to get too much information.

  31. 31
    Kay says:

    @Slag:

    She may be a little different than you because she didn’t have any training and the only thing she had managed prior to this huge school system was a non-profit run by her friends.
    She then hired her friends to run DC.
    The “data” reliance is a slogan. It covers a multitude of old-fashioned, boring, ordinary poor management practices.

  32. 32
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    I’m making a perhaps too-subtle means-ends distinction. In the examples you cite, cruelty was a means to acheiving an end, since the monetization process involved the theft of something which had value (e.g. somebody’s labor). What we are doing now is in effect paying people to be cruel for cruelty’s sake, e.g. in this case humilating and demeaning the teachers for no reason other than just to show them who’s boss. The cruelty isn’t a byproduct of stealing something else of value, it is the value itself. And we are compensating people handsomely for delivering that value.

  33. 33
    Shinobi says:

    In my career as a statistician, every time I have seen someone try to implement a major quantitative quality control metric, someone has tried to cheat it.

    Creating a quota for closing IT help tickets meant that only the easy tickets were closed, or that tickets were closed with no resolution. Using an overhead traffic counter to measure a store’s productivity resulted in people unplugging, or otherwise tampering with the device.

    When you’re measuring the performance of people, you need to also involve people. It is one thing to use some data to give you an overall picture, but if you’re not looking at the right data you’ll miss the forest for the trees.

    This is the sad effect of people with only a cursory (read, business school) understanding of data and analytics trying to make “data driven” decisions.

    Data can be manipulated, and it can also tell a completely wrong story. As “Big Data” becomes more and more popular I worry about how it is being implemented. More and more people are relying on computers to do their analysis and ignoring the importance of real critical thinking.

    If someone gives you a single number and tells you that it is all you need to make a decision, you should fire them immediately.

  34. 34
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Shinobi:

    If someone gives you a single number and tells you that it is all you need to make a decision, you should fire them immediately.

    Forty-two.

  35. 35
    negative 1 says:

    “Don’t do anything you can’t measure” should be the go to example for business management failure. To me the biggest irony is that I don’t think schools should be run as a business, but in terms of running a business these people are awful. Protip — when your programs revolve around operations you are doing everything ass-backwards. Can you imagine Apple saying “we can’t introduce a new product – our accounting department doesn’t have expense categories for it!”

  36. 36
    JPL says:

    @Kay: BTW A friend did mention that the D.C. schools are being investigated from Rhee on down.

  37. 37
    JPL says:

    ugh sorry double post

  38. 38
    Mino says:

    And Arnie Duncan is her evil twin. I can’t wait to see what they do with the gobs of kindergarten money they are anticipaing.

  39. 39
    Kurzleg says:

    Kay –

    To me the biggest takeaway was not the cheating scandal or even the cover up. To me, it’s the turnover of teachers and principals. The author of the piece rightly identifies this as a big issue and connects it to the need of children for stability in order for proper development, academic or otherwise, to occur. He then shows how poorly the DC schools are doing under this high-turnover system.

    This point is so fundamental that it can’t be overstated. Without stability in your teacher and principal pool, the schools are constantly in a state of flux, and the kids constantly have to adjust to new teachers and administrators, and no long-term relationships can develop. That’s a big loss for the children in the schools and has measurable results in their development and performance.

  40. 40
    Kay says:

    @Mino:

    I hope they don’t get it. No kool aid drinkers in charge of 4 year yr olds, please.
    Just fund Head Start until this fever breaks.

  41. 41
    Slag says:

    @Shinobi:

    This is the sad effect of people with only a cursory (read, business school) understanding of data and analytics trying to make “data driven” decisions.

    Yep. Our “CEO Society” is now, as with everything it ever touches, devaluing data.

  42. 42
    gelfling545 says:

    @liberal: The problem is you probably won’t actually be ratting out a teacher. You will, most likely, ultimately be ratting out an administrator whose word will be taken above yours and who is probably working under some unsubtle inferences from his/her superiors in central office.

  43. 43
    liberal says:

    @gelfling545:
    Yeah, that’s kind of what I meant: God knows what will fall out when you start to rock the boat.

  44. 44
    liberal says:

    @Kay:

    We need help. All the money is on the other side.

    Yes, from a practical political perspective, that’s it, in a nutshell. Thing is, that probably goes for most of our problems.

  45. 45
    Shinobi says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: “To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question.”

  46. 46
    gelfling545 says:

    @negative 1: If we were to “run the schools like a business” we would never let the suppliers (parents) deliver the substandard raw materials (kids with issues) to us.

  47. 47
    JPL says:

    The DC system paid teachers according to test scores. If you are a fifth grade teacher, and have a class of students that had excellent tests scores the year before, but aren’t prepared, it’s easy to figure out what happened.

  48. 48
    catclub says:

    @cmorenc: “Query what is Exxon’s corporate interest in promoting this subject? As opposed to promoting how eco-friendly Exxon allegedly is for healthy whales, birds, and small children.”

    My standard response to those ads is: “Pay your damn taxes.”

  49. 49
    Kay says:

    @Kurzleg:

    The author of the piece rightly identifies this as a big issue and connects it to the need of children for stability in order for proper development, academic or otherwise, to occur. He then shows how poorly the DC schools are doing under this high-turnover system.

    I have a traditional public school system here and that’s one of the things I most value. My fourth grader right now has the same teacher his 23 year old sister had. She knows us. On the first day of school she had amusing anecdotes about his sister. He was just beaming when he got home. “She knows Rose” He thought that was just wild.

    She lives here. She’s lived her for 30 years. I’m not a teacher or any kind of expert on children but it absolutely amazes me that school reformers don’t see this. Kids value stability. They’re not at all radical. They’re sort of stodgy, actually. They like things to stay the same. They didn’t know that about kids? Really? Jesus.

  50. 50
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Kurzleg: Sounds like the perfect preparation for a life in the American workplace. A veritable triumph for vocational education.

  51. 51
    Lurking Canadian says:

    @liberal: This, this, this, this.

  52. 52
    Lurking Canadian says:

    None of these people have ever heard the story about the guy trying to find his keys under the lamppost. Or if they heard it, they somehow missed the point.

  53. 53
    Arclite says:

    Fuck yeah. Public schools might need tweaks here and there, and there are some poorly performing schools and teacher, JUST LIKE ANY OTHER INDUSTRY. But the system as a whole is solid. No need to get rid of the whole thing.

    I have kids in the public schools, and almost to a person everyone, from teachers to administration to maintenance workers is kind, professional, and hardworking. Funny, that there’s a strong union too, yet the teachers are some of the hardest working folks I know.

  54. 54
    Arclite says:

    @Bruce S: Regarding Rhee, change “Borderline sociopath” to “Fullfledged sociopath” and I think you’ll be on the right path.

  55. 55
    Kurzleg says:

    @Kay:

    Yeah, it’s a pretty fundamental error to make. The human interaction and child development aspects of the education endeavor are the biggest blind spots for the “data driven” crowd. I hope eventually that teachers unions can develop a way to communicate their importance to the voters.

  56. 56
    Kurzleg says:

    @Arclite: Ok, I’m biased, but I can’t tell you how many nights my wife (a social worker in a large-city school district) spends working on various school-related things. Often it’s after a very trying day dealing with kids with behavior problems, where motivation isn’t exactly in big supply. Teachers and other staff DO work hard and ARE dedicated, and the current smear campaign against them is appalling.

  57. 57
    tamied says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: You’re fired.

  58. 58
    Kay says:

    @Kurzleg:

    I hope eventually that teachers unions can develop a way to communicate their importance to the voters.

    I do guardian work for kids who are in the abuse, neglect and dependency system here. They beg to stay in the same school, and we all bend over backwards to do it, no matter where we’re “placing” them. It’s the one reliable, stable place they have.

    Obviously.

    They didn’t really have to explain this to us, or present any “data” :)

  59. 59
    RaflW says:

    The death of Maggie Thatcher seems like a very opportune time for us to take real, uhhh, data-driven stock of how the 30 year experiment in global privatization is working out.

    In some industries, possibly/probably it’s working out alright. Things like consumer goods, steel, maybe even (regulated) extractive industries.

    But in public goods like health care, schools and such, I believe privatization has been a massive grift and gift to the already rich, at the expense of middle and lower classes. First, it’s a direct cash rip-off, and then, the dividend: even crappier services to those self-same “customers.”

    (Sidenote, a friend used to do homecare for two mentally disabled adults. At some point the publicly funded, privately contracted program stopped calling them clients and started calling them -and requiring all staff to call them- consumers. I mean, I guess they do consume a service. But how dehumanizing to call them consumers. They have lives, not just bodily needs. They are clients, dammit)

  60. 60
    Slag says:

    @Kay: In the process of developing an after school program, I have learned first-hand the value of school stability. We absolutely depend on kids’ teachers to guide their development . In some ways, this need for stability can be turned into an argument for standardized testing and having a “common core”. But when these things inherently lead to high turnover, they are defeating, what I perceive to be, their one and only purpose.

    Very few kids like to do their homework (especially those who don’t derive social status or other rewards for getting good grades). It’s boring. It’s work. And honestly, sometimes we just try to get the kids through it so that we can get to the “fun stuff”. But at the end of the day, we fundamentally rely on the consistency and stability that the public school system provides. Conservatism has its place.

  61. 61
    stinger says:

    @gelfling545: “@negative 1: If we were to “run the schools like a business” we would never let the suppliers (parents) deliver the substandard raw materials (kids with issues) to us.”

    That’s exactly how many charter schools show their “amazing” results — they are selective about which students they accept. Thereby increasing the percentage of “substandard raw materials” (to borrow your analogy) that open public schools must deal with.

  62. 62
    priscianus jr says:

    @Slag: Measurement is one thing; meaning is another. … one should never put a true “data fiend” in charge of anything because they’ll never prioritize meaning over measurement.

    I remember this saying: “What is precise about mathematical measurement other than its own precision?”

    I can’t find the source, but I always thought it was connected with Giambattista Vico’s criticism of the Cartesian scientific reasoning as applied to human affairs.

    Well anyway, Vico did say (On the Study Method of Our Time), that “It is an error to apply to the prudent conduct of life the abstract criterion of reasoning that obtains in the domain of science.” (Non recte igitur … ii faciunt, qui iudicandi rationem, qua utitur scientia, in prudentiae usum transferunt … ”

    Actually, if the data provides an accurate picture of the facts (which is the real question), it is a great benefit to prudence, but it can never REPLACE prudence or wise counsel, which is the only remedy against the human foolishness that Vico refers to in the next part of the sentence: “because humans, since they are for the most part fools, are ruled not by wise counsel, but by wilfulness and chance … ”

    Like that fool Michelle Rhee and all the other fools that promoted and followed her.

    The article linked below is exactly on target, talking about Vico and test scores. I strongly disagree with his conclusion, however. The idea that “liberalism” “must” “neutralize theories of a ‘common good'”is doubly false. Some liberal theories do that, but it is also true that most conservative theories today very aggressively exalt private good above the common good, or define the latter only as the aggregate of the former. (Then a few billionaires ruling nation of paupers would equal the common good.)

    Cartesianism may be the basis of technocratic liberalism, but it’s also the basis of the technocratic, corporate Right. Without getting too long-winded here, let me just ask this. Is Michelle Rhee a liberal? And don’t the fools that follow her include both liberals and conservatives?

    The kind of “conservatism” he’s talking about transcends the kind of petty partisan divides that mar American discourse — including his.
    http://www.frontporchrepublic......knowledge/

  63. 63
    ET says:

    I live in DC and while I don’t have and kids I can’t help hearing about DCPS. Everyone knows the schools are generally bad and that it seemed to many that under Rhee, DCPS was on the right course.

    There are a lot of people inside and outside of DCPS that are very vested in showing DC schools are getting better. Some of it because Rhee is the poster child for this and she was had of public schools here and no one want to say that if it didn’t work under the stewardship of a huge proponents and a hand picked successor then it must be crap.

    This is particularly true – at least to me – of the large number of transplants from suburban areas all over the country who are sending their kids to charters or competing for the few DCPS schools that are considered good. These parents seem to be much more proponents of testing and what Rhee brought to DC.

  64. 64
    Ohio Mom says:

    I saw this somewhere in blogtopia recently and I think it sums up everything about the school deform movement: Its ultimate ‘purpose is to liquidate a public good and convert it into a private one.’

    High-stakes testing, school closings, firing teachers, busting the union — all are just means to the end of turning the public school into a pipeline of private profit. Every time any of us get sidetracked into discussing say, the proper use of standardized testing, or how to best evaluate teachers, we are falling for the ruse.

    Not that those aren’t important questions but the ruse is that the deformers actually care about making education better. They don’t — they just want you to think that.

    Because all the time we spend earnestly debating just exactly would improve schools is another moment we aren’t pulling the curtain back and discovering who is really pulling the levers and why.

    I know I’m somewhat of a broken record on this subject but anyone who is interested in what is happening to public schools should drop by Diane Ravtich’s site now and then. http://dianeravitch.net/

  65. 65
    Mike G says:

    This is classic managerialism disease that is degrading life for the 99% in this country. Corporate America is infested with this mindset, which is why rich business assholes love it. The numbers ARE the only reality to these deliberately self-blinkering tools.

    It’s all about generating the numbers, don’t care what kind of fudging and mendacity goes on to make them come out right, coupled with wild extrapolative fantasies as to what the numbers actually mean. Intellectual laziness for moral cowards.

    The bottom line is commoditizing the students and teachers. It’s easier to fuck people over when all they are is numbers on a spreadsheet.

  66. 66
    sophronia says:

    Don’t do anything you can’t measure.”

    The business mentality in a nutshell. If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. We are all cogs in the machine, and if there’s any part of our lives that isn’t part of the machine, it must be ignored if not actively destroyed. Centuries of human development and fulfillment through learning, arts, science, social science? All crap. If it doesn’t produce more widgets, it’s worthless.

  67. 67
    FlyingToaster says:

    We (HerrDoktor and I) have given up on our local public school, and we can’t move this year.

    Our town’s district is classified as “Level 3: Struggling”, because the Middle and High Schools are a complete clusterfuck.

    So to dedicate more resources to the “problem”, they cut out 3/4 of the art and music education to the grade schools. There is now 1 music and 1 art teacher for 3 public schools and the early learning/special ed center.

    My daughter is about to graduate from the Suzuki Pre-K in the next town, and the last thing we’re going to put her through is that.

  68. 68
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @FlyingToaster: If you can get music and art onto the shit-list checklist, along with graduation rate and reading scores and such, let me know — the moment we pull off that trick, it’s gonna turn the US into one giant cinquecento Florence.

    All schools under the hammer revert to “Find out what the beast feeds, and feed it to the beast”. All we have to do is persuade the beast it eats art and music.

  69. 69
    Dice says:

    @Kay:
    “They didn’t know that about kids…”
    They don’t care. The point here is really not to educate any kids. It’s to make a buck (voucher school model) or ‘austeritize’ the school system (Tea Party model).

  70. 70
    Anya says:

    @Bruce S: Is this even legal. Don’t people have a right to some measure of privacy? Isn’t there some sort of employment standard act or something that covers this?

    This thread is probably dead by now but what you describe is just shocking.

  71. 71
    Kay S says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    actually there is much money involved directly…those who consult come in by the truckload, those who write the testing and run the testing central bureaucracy, etc. Why do you think Rupert Murdoch is interested in this monetizing of education? What does Neil Bush do for a living? This is beyond sickening.

  72. 72
    Linda says:

    Does anybody else find it interesting that an analytical piece on Rhee’s handiwork came out of USA Today (the Our Weekly Reader for grownups) and not, say, the Washington Post or NY Times? Big media is always the first to sniff out ideological fads and the last to discredit them.

  73. 73
  74. 74
    Susan S says:

    In the 70’s I drove my dumplings each day into Seattle’s Central District, so they could enjoy the care of a magical family of color, the Wells. It was well worth the trouble..but when I tried to enroll my daughter in public pre-school, they wouldn’t let her ..because she was black. ascinating..So, long story short..my children both started their elementary educations at a very lovely, very expensive private school ..just because it was near Mrs. Wells.

    That school educates the children of the old line Seattle..and the new, brilliant Seattle. They spend more than $70,000 per child per year..and wonders of all..their students come out testing well, accomplished and secure in their own selves.

    Nearby was ML King Elementary..with broken blinds and beat up yards and I decided when my family was educated, I would see what I could do as one, pale person to help those teachers, almost all of whom were really devoted to their students. Here are a few things we tried:

    1) The teachers could spend up to %500/mth at my office supply store..I paid the bill along with my own and never noticed the difference. Teachers all over America routinely go in their own pockets for supplies and incentives for their students..wonder if Ms Rhee has ever done so.

    2) King BooksALot, a 501c. We would buy 500 books at a time from a used bookstore..different styles, reading levels. Kids were encouraged to take them home, read them and keep them. I wanted them to have their own books..just like we who were raised in “reading” homes took so for granted.

    3) We got new books from the publisher of Jacob Lawrence’s Toussint series at a steep discount and each child received one to keep.

    4) Some years we had graduation assemblies..and gave out gift certificates for local restaurants. The restaurants were supposed to send them to us to be paid back but I found instead they were honoring each child who brought one in, and absorbing the costs themselves..cool.

    50 I weeded and planted and dug and trimmed the gardens..then the school was adopted ..and a batch of people took that over.

    we painted walls..we found prints of African-American art as well as Asian and Latino and Picasso..whatever was bright and wonderful.

    So..how was ML King judged. The Seattle Times consistently ranked the school among the worst..I didn’t understand that because I knew that the teachers routinely did a good job raising test scores between the Fall admission batch and the Spring. Well.\, the answer was simple. The Times graded these teachers and their wonderful, well mannered, nice children who happened to mainly be chocolate and not wealthy..they used the Fall scores. Simply, inexcusably wrong.

    I could go on and on..Microsoft donated computers, Craig McCaw, Macys helped me replace all the Levelor blinds on all the schools windows..the community of very wealthy and more moderate families fought to be allowed to pay for more staff, two(2) hot meals a day..the district wanted to close the school and it did.

    I suspect we really cannot put back the lovely cohesion of a public school system we knew in the 50s and 60s. But the respect for teachers and administrators must come back..parents need to leave the schoolrooms..we probably should think more of longer days, boarding schools for extremely low income children.. But above all, After the money and the time..I think I left a few kids who might not often see a pale face around knowing there was one lady who year in and out was plugging away trying to make them smile, enjoy their school a bit. And I was really most tickled that some pretty tough, weary ladies of color, teachers on the frontlines who looked at me when I first started some of these projects..and said..Yeh, Yeh..another white .. who marries a black man and thinks she knows it all.. I was tickled to have those women at our wake for ML King Elementary come up to me and give me hugs..I don’t like hugs..but those were kind of nice [They all said the blinds and food breaks were best]..

    However, regretfully, they would not go along with my very blitzed suggestion at the end of the night for us all to make a certain hand gesture in the group photo for the Seattle School Administration.,.[and I have never made that gesture in my life..but don’t you think it really is what all these fanged faced, money oriented idiots deserve?..

    Oh yes, as if this weren’t already long enough..the beginning of the fall of each Chinese dynasty was directly linked to ever increasing testing for promotion. Way nuff said.

  75. 75
    Tehanu says:

    Late to the party, I guess, but … ““Measure everything. Don’t do anything you can’t measure.” WTF? How do you measure the inspiration a great teacher — or even “just” a good one — gives a kid to get interested in something? How do you measure the pleasure a child feels in understanding something they didn’t understand before?

    Perhaps kicking “business” as a study field out of colleges would help.

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