Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rhee Scores Perfect 0%

Michelle Rhee turned up on LinkedIn as an expert"influencer" (no, not influenza) to analyze "the state and future" of her industry.

In general, I try not to give any space in my head to Ms. Rhee, but she remains such a perfect example of everything that's wrong with the Masters of Reforming Our nation's Schools, and this post is such a perfect example of how badly she gets everything wrong, that it seems worthwhile to spend some time and attention explaining why Rhee doesn't deserve any of our time and attention. It's a short article, with only a few points to make, and yet Rhee doesn't get a single thing right. Not a thing.

To open, she notes that putting "education" and "industry" together might strike some as odd. She explains that away:

However, putting those words next to each other is a reminder that the American public education system does have an end-goal: to deliver the “product” of well-educated young people and thereby a well-educated country.

Yes, the woman whose favorite current talking point is that all this kerfluffle about schools is caused by adults failing to put students first, just called students a "product," like a toaster or a cheese roll or anything else that might come of a factory assembly line for someone to buy and use. I wonder if it's too late to change her organization's name to "ProductsFirst."

She follows up with familiar statistics-- context-free international test rankings, lots of African-American kids who read below level, a projection about the workforce of 2018. And then she announces five takeaways from the current state of education factories across the US.

We aren't focused enough on students

What she means is, we don't have enough ball busting teacher evaluations in place. "Studies show that robust evaluations improve teacher quality and benefit kids," she says, but if you're hoping to see an indication of what studies those are or how exactly they reached that conclusion or even what "benefit" we're talking about that the products would receive-- well, you hope in vain.

But when we try to have that public conversation, the focus somehow turns to educators’ challenges – things like managing classroom time and administering standardized tests – rather than what’s best for student achievement.

Wrong again. The sentence imagines that having a well-managed classroom or having less teaching time sucked away by pointless testing would not be best for student achievement. No, teachers want more time and resources because we are all dreaming of handing out worksheets, propping up our feet and drinking pina coladas.

Just kidding. As many have pointed out, teachers' working conditions are students' learning conditions. We are lifeguards trying to reach our floundering students while Rhee and her cronies want to strap us to cement blocks. Then, when we complain about how hard this makes to reach our students, they sneer, "Oh, yes, it's all about you, isn't it."

We get caught up in crazy debates that distract

She's pretty close to not-wrong here, but she fails to grasp that the debates are crazy because one side of the table is occupied by crazy people. Her specific point here is that we keep having this crazy debate about poverty being a problem, and it's just out of control.

But it’s a distraction to use poverty as a scapegoat and, until it’s solved, refuse to discuss how to improve failing schools and refuse to address the low achievement levels among poor and minority students. Just because a solution won’t fix every single problem our kids face doesn’t mean we should give up trying. 

This is a Rhee specialty-- hard-hitting debate against a straw man. Once again, Rhee has successfully struck down an argument that nobody has made. Find me a teacher anywhere in a high poverty area who says, "Because my students are poor, I will just never try to teach them." Until that day comes, Rhe is in fact having a debate that is crazy because she is debating voices in her own head.

Adult-Focused Political Lobbying Organizations Have a Stranglehold on Education

Man, I wish. But in Rhee-land, these groups-- okay, actually, we're only talking about teachers' unions-- have hijacked cool reformy stuff, including battling back that swell Common Core. No mention of all the political lobbying by, say, StudentsFirst et al. Although, for whatever reason, she does not raise the usual specter of Tea Party crazies. Nope-- just teachers who are devoting all their time and energy to screwing up schools because, hey, that's why I got into teaching as my lifetime (longer-than-two-years) work-- because I was motivated by a powerful desire to interfere with the education of young people. I mean, young products. I just could not wait to throw my big wooden sabos into the big school assembly line.

Reform is Working

And now I am beginning to suspect that Rhee is actually high as she writes this, because if she's seeing any signs of reformy success, she is operating on some separate plane of existence. We should all send her a copy of Reign of Error. She cites DC and Tennessee as states that are making awesometastic gains, while the rest of the nation stays flat. That would be the same flat that, in her intro, was a death-spiral in desperate need of reforming.

This is one of the most threadbare tunes that the MoRONS sing, because they have had their way for at least a decade. Anything that's desperately wrong these days is their own damn fault, but they need to do this bizarre dance where 1) we are failing and need rescuing and 2) the rescue is totally succeeding.

Change is Happening Far Too Slowly

Too slowly for whom? Because the emerging national consensus is that everything in the CCSS regime has been rolled out so fast that they may have left the wheels behind. Did Rhee miss the "It's the implementation" memo that CCSS fans have been reading from? You know-- the one where all this reformy stuff is truly great and all these hiccups are just the result of being too quick and doing wacky things like testing on standards that aren't being taught yet.

No more handwringing or fretting over election-year cycles (damn democracy, anyway). Let's just get this done. It's the oldest sales shtick in the book-- we must act RIGHT NOW or the opportunity will be lost forever. Rhee mentions results-driven improvements, and I wished she had mentioned a specific one, because, again, reformy stuff has been failing hard all across the country. Also, she would like mean Mayor deBlasio to give Eva back the rest of her schools.

Those of us who care about American public schools have a responsibility to focus on delivering a great education for all students. But right now, we’re distracted.

You know what? I have to upgrade her to a 10%. Still below basic, but at the end, she finally gets something right, mostly by accident. Because I'm pretty sure that sentence doesn't mean the same thing it does to her that it does to me.

We are distracted. We're distracted by people who don't know what they're talking about trying to dismantle US public education so that corporate vultures can pick at the bones. We're distracted by policies that bleed public schools of resources so that corporate interests can gain a bigger ROI. We're distracted by policies that mandate educational malpractice and attempt to turn our students into products and data generation devices and cogs in a giant soulless machine.

Michelle Rhee might actually be a nice person. I don't know. But what I know is that she didn't succeed as a teacher, didn't succeed as a school leader, hasn't succeeded in anything in education except earning big bucks talking about all the things she doesn't know. She is the Kim Kardashian of education, a celebrity spokesmodel who is just one more shiny distraction from the serious work of education that needs our attention. I swear this is the last time I'm going to spend some of my attention on her.


  1. My children are not a "product" and they are not "human capital" and they are mine. I want decisions about education made in my own community for the children who attend school in my community. I don't believe national education reformers have answers that apply everywhere, but parents and teachers at the local level do. Go away Ms. Rhee and take all your bully friends with you!

  2. Nice person??? Google 'taping kids mouths shut', 'firing people on camera', 'falsely accusing teachers of being pedophiles', 'cheating scandal', 'rushing to sexual predator fiance's side to manage PR fallout' .... plenty of official documentation detailing her involvement in all of the above.... not nice...

  3. But she got One and a Half right out of the 62 specific measurable predictions she made for school and test score progress in DC! Shame, shame, Peter! She is not always wrong!
    (But then again, 1.5/62 is over 2%!! Giver her credit where it's due!