The Education of Michelle Rhee (via Frontline)

Grab a soothing drink (or set that VCR or DVR) because this is going to be good - Frontline is showing a special on Michelle Rhee.  It will be on KCTS 9 at 10 pm Tuesday night. 

Rhee, the poster girl for all that is wrong in public education reform today, has had this discussion long coming.  Given Frontline's hard-hitting reporting, I'm sure they will be thorough and frank. 

Coincidentally, Rhee just released a report card of sorts, through her "group" StudentsFirst on how states are doing.  Diane Ravitch calls her out on it here.

This comes on the heels of a number of staffers at StudentsFirst, all Democrats, who abruptly left the organization recently. 

From the Huffington Post:

"There were known to be some significant differences on political strategy and policy matters, especially in StudentsFirst's approach toward unions and partisanship," said a source close to the education reform community who declined to be named in order to preserve working relationships.

The shake-up is significant because if SF is less concerned about its positioning among progressives, that could decrease its credibility among Democrats, imperiling the bipartisan appeal of the group.  

As Diane Ravitch said in her piece about this:

Think about how frequently Rhee has allied herself with rightwing governors like Mitch Daniels, John Kasich, Rick Scott, and Chris Christie. She has advocated for for-profit charter schools and for-profit universities. She supports vouchers. She was honored along with Governor Scott Walker by the far-right American Federation for Children, which is passionate for vouchers and privatization of public schools.

What part of her agenda is bipartisan?

Update:  From Esquire:

One problem with the education "reform" industry is not merely that it generally looks at "education" as though it were a commodity, like soybeans, and that the problems with how we educate a great many children of our fellow citizens can be solved if we just refine the delivery systems for the product. In other words, most education "reform" proponents treat "education" as though it exists in a vacuum unaffected by the factors — like, say, joblessness and poverty — in the real world outside the classroom.

Thus do we come to the second problem with the education "reform" movement — it is shot through root and branch with patent-medicine remedies pitched by for-profit grifters and hustlers.

About Rhee:

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

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.

Bravo, Esquire.  The emperor has no clothes. 


Anonymous said…
My favorite commentary on Michelle's new screed:

Unknown said…
Soley blaming teachers for our education problems is like blaming our soldiers for losing Vietnam. It's about politics.
Before choosing a school for your child, please read this. It's an eye-opener. It is written by a retired educator. Can we ever get back to common sense education ? It's well worth reading: "America's Biggest Hoax," available on Amazon or Kindle.

Josh Hayes said…
Ryan, what a great link. I particularly liked this piece of analysis:

"Looking more rigorously at the results, the correlation coefficient on the rankings in the StudentsFirst report card with state rankings on reading scores is -0.20. (The correlation coefficient is a measure of the similarity of two sets of numbers, ranging from -1.0, completely dissimilar, to +1.0, perfect similarity.) That’s not a large number, but the negative sign means that the correlation is in the wrong direction: the higher the StudentsFirst score, the lower the NAEP reading score. The correlation on math is even worse, -0.25."

I'm sure these results are not statistically significant (It's not clear to me whether the author means r or r^2 here; if it's r^2, the coefficient of -0.2 means that about 20% of the variation in reading scores is explained, negatively, by the "grade" assigned in the report), but it shows that the factors Ms. Rhee's organization values are in fact counter-productive for children. Good to have evidence to show that.
Jon said…
On the negative correlation, another quote from that article:

For a bunch of business-supported technocrats supposedly in love with metrics, there’s absolutely no empirical support for their ambitions.

This is the problem I have with the Gates Foundation as well. They claim they are in love with data, but, when the data says that charter schools as currently implemented do more harm than good, they push charters anyway.
Jon, absolutely on point. Bill Gates is HUGELY data-driven and yet, where's the solid data on what he supports?
dan dempsey said…

Puget Sound ESD consortium got $40 million

but KIPP in WA DC got $10 million.
dan dempsey said…
Tom Freidman in the NY Times recently wrote:



Military pilots in combat must do this effectively or be shot down.

Education Decision Making is characterized by Deciding and Acting but without Observation and Orientation.

When is comes to education BMGF is characterized by ignoring relevant data. The Gates Foundation is a amjor piece in the Education Racket.

REMEMBER the CCSS were begun in secret and financed by Gates during that time.

dan dempsey said…
From Erich Martel in WA DC a recently retired teacher in DC public schools:

In 2011, I read the 4 volume, 800 pp Investigation Report produced by the 3 lead investigators of the Atlanta, Georgia cheating scandal. Since that report named names, I wanted to see how the accused staff broke down by their job categories.
The climate of intimidation showed many similarities to DCPS. That led to the following review:

"Teaching in 'A Culture of Fear, Intimidation and Retaliation'"
(includes an embedded spreadsheet listing each of the Atlanta schools and the category of 178 staff cited)
Key facts: In 38 of the 44 Atlanta schools where a staff member was cited, the principal was also cited either for directly promoting cheating or failing to implement required safeguards to prevent cheating. Of the 108 teachers cited, all but 17 were in a school where the principal was also cited.

The report mentions several instances of teachers who faced retaliation when they reported staff cheating to assistant superintendents.

Two good articles on aspects of testing:
1) Educators cheating on tests is nothing new; Doing something about it would be [by] Richard P. Phelps*
- - - - - - -
2) Using Student Achievement Tests to Evaluate Teachers—A Very Bad Idea [by] Dr. Tom Haladyna*
mirmac1 said…
Thank you Dan! I was hoping to catch it online!
dan dempsey said…
A bit on High Stakes cheating:

Dishonest Educators
By Walter Williams,
dan dempsey said…
Greg Linden,

Thanks for the link above. It is a great summary. Now if only the WA State legislators would read this and Randy Dorn would use it. Ditto for the US Senators, Representatives....... then more folks would realize that Obama/Duncan are pushing destructive practices.
Anonymous said…
Story: D.C. charter schools expel students at higher rates than public schools

and from Matthew Ladner comes this:

Expulsion Rates in DC
The video specifies that DCPS expelled three students last year, while the charter schools expelled 200.

It seems self-evident to me that 3 was far too low, and it is difficult to know whether 200 is "too many" for the charter sector without a great deal more context. A district where you have to make the FBI Most Wanted List before getting expelled is not a proper baseline for comparison.

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
Right On Steve Preston! Great analogy. Thank you for posting it. WSDWG
n said…
Not many post-show comments.

I came away with more respect for her. She took on the challenge herself as a TFA teacher and succeeded in increasing success for her students.

Relying on standard testing scores was the chink in her learning curve. Paying thousands of dollars for increased scores? That was stupid.

I think most teachers try hard. I don't think any non-teacher understands how much time, effort and $$$ it takes to really maximize learning for children. Especially those coming from disadvantaged homes.

I've seen teachers fired who could have been very good teachers with a little specialized tweaking. But we have few principals who know what makes good teaching. I've seen poor teachers retained because they have rapport with principal and sometimes even the parents. There's a lot of BS in teaching.

Schools are very political places.

Anyway, I came away with a grudging respect for her personally. She is a great teacher. I agree with Josh that her organization's values which reflect her own are counter-productive to the academic success of children. But I didn't come away disliking her as much as I thought I would. I wonder if she hasn't let ego and celebrity get in the way of good intentions?
Anonymous said…
Dan, your Walter Williams link was pretty damning. What are we going to do about that?

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