Thanks to a reader for a tip-off to this well-written and hilarious piece by Gene Lyons of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette which came via Salon. I needed a laugh and this delivered. It is entitled Michelle Rhee; Education Reform Huckster.
What made me laugh:
- Except for weight loss potions, no area of American life is more prone to fads, panaceas and miracle cures than public education.
- That's definitely not so with regard to the kinds of tycoon-endorsed, multiple-choice testing regimens favored by educational celebrities like ex-Washington, D.C., public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee -- currently making TV appearances in support of a foundation she calls StudentsFirst. MichelleFirst might be more accurate.
Until Rhee antagonized many educators by running Washington schools like underperforming Wal-Mart outlets, that is: Scolding teachers as lazy, incompetent and worse, hiring and firing left and right.
What made me shake my head in agreement:
- Everybody agrees that schools are failing, and since everybody went to school almost everybody's an expert.
- Whether it's New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Microsoft's Bill Gates, the guy with the thickest wallet is assumed to have all the answers.
- See, the latest panacea is all about running schools like businesses: Top-down management, strict accounting, merit pay; basically, talking about opportunity and equality, but acting like Donald Trump.
- "This is like an education Ponzi scam," a teacher's union official told USA Today. "If your test scores improve, you make more money. If not, you get fired. That's incredibly dangerous." And Michelle Rhee is the Bernie Madoff of education Ponzi schemes. (Before anyone gets huffy about that opinion, lying about educational gains to further your agenda is a crime against children.)
And Michelle Rhee's claims to fame?
Ah, but Rhee had become famous for making the trains run on time, handing out $1.5 million in bonuses to principals and teachers of Washington schools that produced dramatic jumps in student achievement.
Except now it appears she really didn't. An exposé by USA Today reveals that scores of high-performing Washington schools displayed "extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones."
Furthermore, "[a]mong the 96 schools that were then flagged for wrong-to-right erasures were eight of the 10 campuses where Rhee handed out so-called TEAM awards." Although Rhee and current D.C. school officials declined comment, the newspaper interviewed parents who'd become suspicious when their struggling children brought home sky-high test scores.
Oh, and the Baltimore miracle? Confronted with contemporaneous test scores dug up by a skeptical teacher, Rhee admitted to the Washington Post that she’d soften that 90th percentile business to "significantly."