Fact-free Praises for “Rhee-form” in DC from a Dick

Richard Whitmire is at it again, claiming huge success for the eduDEformers without the slightest evidence.

I’ll explain.

I think I have showed pretty clearly in my last several posts that the current trends (that is, slow but fairly steady progress as measured by the NAEP) in DCPS have been going on for the past decade or so: There has been no perceptible change in trends post-Rhee as opposed to pre-Rhee that we can see in any of the officially-produced data from the NCES on the NAEP and the TUDA. (Write something like NAEP TUDA DC in the little ‘search’ box on this page, perhaps to the right, and you’ll see a lot of my recent posts that have graphs and so on; you can see for yourself. )

From 2002 through the taking of the 2007 NAEP, DCPS used to have superintendents, an elected school board, and a veteran teaching staff, mostly black, that often had deep roots in the local community. DCPS also had a union that had to be listened to and reckoned with, because it actually was something that the members had themselves helped to build. (As in many other areas, we certainly had our share of crooks. It’s my contention that the crooks have had a very bad effect, by allowing themselves to be an example of black, inner-city corruption at all levels, so, as Richard Whitmire has argued, the African-American teachers and principals were precisely the ones who were holding their black DC students back. (I’m not making up this accusation – read The Bee Eater)). DCPS certainly had its share of very serious problems, about which I and many other teachers and parents spoke up and tried to fix in one way or another, not always successfully…

But for the last five years, Washington now has a completely powerless school board, a mayor who appoints chancellors based on wishful thinking, and a loss of about 80% of the former teaching staff (retired, resigned, or fired) and their replacement by overwhelmingly young, white recent college grads who find it a VERY difficult job and seldom last more than 2-3 years in the classroom, because the work load has become so overwhelming and crisis-like, with no support from any administration member at any level…

And over the last 5 years of Rhee-form, in a time when enrollment in K-12 was booming again in DC after many decades of free-fall, regular DC public schools have managed steadily to lose market share to charter schools, to such a degree that today, it’s nearly 50% charter, 50% regular public. And teaching staff are judged by a pseudo-scientific formula couched in impenetrably complex and ENORMOUS AMOUNTS of mathematical processing that literally no one can do by hand: a prominent mathematician calls this “Intimidation by Mathematics” is used to judge teachers’ and administrators’ worth. The pressure on teachers is unrelenting.

Nowadays, all of the principals and all of the downtown staff is new, too. Many of the higher-ups seem to be connected through Teach for America and various other foundations funded by a relative handful of billionaires (some very public, such as Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg or the Koch brothers or the Walton family) but they often jump from city to city, too, seeking higher pay and better perks wherever they go…

The curriculum has now become preparation for standardized tests; art, music, gym, recess, projects, libraries, and anything else not tested is disappearing from the curriculum.

On the charter-school side, it’s fairly easy for someone to open up a few charter schools and pay him/herself high salaries, set up a separate for-profit corporation that the “public” charter school does all its business with, and it’s often perfectly legal. But it’s very common for charter school operators to earn half-a-million dollars a year, or more. (Options PCS, anybody? Many charter heads report that they earn large six figures, and I wonder what they don’t report…)

So, to repeat, there has been an almost complete changeover of teaching and administrative staff in the District of Columbia’s public education sector.  And the ‘system’ appears to have totally changed, to the point that every administrator and every teachers knows full well that he/she has absolutely no right to any due process: they can be fired or forced to resign at almost any time, even in the middle of the school year, while they waste untold amounts of time that could be used actively engaging kids in real thought-provoking activities, they are expected to follow scripted lessons to the letter, and spend almost the entire year preparing a test that many of the students don’t care about all and means nothing at all to their future.

And what has changed regarding these all-important test scores? Nothing..

The trends before Rhee in the NAEP tests are almost exactly the same as after Rhee, on all levels that NAEP reports on, for DCPS.

All those changes – for NOTHING?

(I have not yet teased out the charter schools data for DC, so I won’t say anything about how they compare with the regular public schools.)

In any case, this same Dick Whitmire has, as usual, been given yet another opportunity in the Washington Post to pour his accolades on his  personal friends, Michelle Rhee, Kaya Henderson, and the rest of the new millionaire class of edupreneurs who made good via TFA, and their billionaire backers.

Here’s a quote from that Dick:

“The education momentum has shifted so dramatically in the past few years that most Washingtonians have no idea why D.C. students suddenly are being singled out for making remarkable progress.”

Has Educational Rhee-form succeeded or failed in Washington DC Public Schools?

Bottom line conclusion from my last bunch of posts (see #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6)

Mayoral control of schools in DC, aka Educational Deform à la Rhee, has been an expensive failure, and it was foisted on us under false pretenses.

How can I make that conclusion?

Very simple.

This Rhee-form has fulfilled none of its promises, even on its own terms.

Its backers (Gray, Rhee, Henderson, Duncan, Bloomberg et al) claim that it’s been a great success.

But if you look at the graphs, it is clear that if the regime of Rhee and Henderson is going in the right direction, then so was the previous DCPS regime under superintendents Janey and his predecessors.

Any good trends have continued mostly unchanged.

Remember that we were promised incredible gains in test scores? Compared with the ‘bad old days’ when teachers actually had the right to due process before being fired? And back when poor DC students still had recess and PE and art and music libraries? And compared to the evil era when their teachers weren’t required to waste nearly the entire year on scripted test-prep lessons?

None of those incredible gains show up in the data, any more than they did when Michelle Rhee wrote all those lies in her resume. (I mean, why does ANYBODY listen to a liar like that, or to Rob Ford, or to Michael Millken or Bernie Madoff or the CIA/EPA liar?)

Anybody claiming that the last six sets of NAEP  TUDA scores show brilliant success for educational Rhee-form is engaging in wishful thinking or lobbying.

What’s more, my previous posts (and those of several other researchers and commentators) have shown that there is essentially no correlation between Value-Added scores and anything else. So that’s a failure, even on its own terms: it predicts nothing, it doesn’t help teachers teach better, and is essentially a random-number generator that clearly has done nothing to improve educational outcomes in DCPS, even though it costs taxpayers many, many millions of dollars and consumes a tremendous amount of time – something teachers and other staff have far too little of.

Mayoral control  has lived up to exactly NONE of its promises of closing the achievement gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, or of improved testing outcomes for the students of the District of Columbia any better than did the pre-Rhee superintendent-and-school-board system.

Trends are almost exactly the same now as they were before Mayor Fenty got control of the schools and appointed that serial self-promoter, liar and distorter of facts, Michelle Rhee, as chancellor of DC public schools, where she led an assault on the system which has fired or forced out many thousands of teachers, producing a revolving door of constantly churning teachers who are in turn forced out or fired. What’s more, Rhee-form has turned over half the public school system to private operators with no accountability (some of them brazen criminals) and track record of success except by exclusion and undemocratic practices. Rhee-form has also subjected all students in DCPS to a stultifying test-prep regime where arts, music, social studies and recess are banned and principals themselves can be canned at any time and are under incredible pressure to cheat and get rid of teachers.

From everything I have seen, it is not at all difficult to be doing your job as a teacher just fine, and end up with a mysterious numerical score known as IVA based on some unexplained formula that gets them fired. People have confessed to me that they were wholly unable to teach at all because kids were figuratively running wild in their classrooms, yet they got great “Value-Added” scores anyway. Teachers who became National Board Certified, a tremendous accomplishment, told me of some years (but not others) getting IVA scores so low that it would put their job at risk.

Anybody claiming that the data trends before 2008 look different from the ones after 2008 is engaging in wishful thinking.

So, if Kaya Henderson and Vincent Gray and Arne Duncan claim that the current policies are causing recent gains, then they logically must conclude that the previous policies were producing the same results, and should have been continued as well.

It’s a big, expensive lie that has had real consequences.

Students are wasting nearly an entire school year under stultifying, scripted lessons preparing for an ever-lengthening regime of utterly stupid and poorly-prepared but highly secret standardized tests whose manufacturers are responsible to no-one except their billionaire CEOs. In fact, for the high-stakes tests, it’s considered cheating for the teachers even to analyze the tests after they are given, and results aren’t available until the end of summer, even though it’s a machine-scoreable test which in theory could have a good part of it be graded and fully tabulated in mere seconds… that is if the publishers actually knew what they were doing and weren’t busy lobbying among themselves as to what mathematical and sleight of hand tricks they would play with the data to make it come out the way that the politicians they want…

An Assessment of Rhee & Her ‘Movement’

This article by Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, appeared in The New Republic. It seems right on in its assessment of Michelle Rhee.

Here’s an excerpt:

     Rhee actually does know what life is like in a public school, but she either openly or implicitly removes from the discussion of improving schools any issue that cannot be addressed by twisting the dial of educational labor-management relations in the direction of management. She gives us little or no discussion of pedagogical technique, a hot research topic these days, or of curriculum, another hot topic owing to the advent of the Common Core standards, or of funding levels, or class size, or teacher training, or surrounding schools with social services (which is the secret sauce of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone), or of the burden placed on the system by the expensive growth of special-education programs.

Rhee simply isn’t interested in reasoning forward from evidence to conclusions: conclusions are where she starts, which means that her book cannot be trusted as an analysis of what is wrong with public schools, when and why it went wrong, and what might improve the situation. The only topics worth discussing for Rhee are abolishing teacher tenure, establishing charter schools, and imposing pay-for-performance regimes based on student test scores. We are asked to understand these measures as the only possible means of addressing a crisis of decline that is existentially threatening the United States as a nation and denying civil rights to poor black people.1

Some of the specific causes of Rhee’s early career, such as giving principals the right to accept or reject teachers being transferred into their schools, or not requiring that layoffs be made solely on the basis of seniority, are perfectly reasonable. The mystery of the education-reform movement is why it insists on such a narrow and melodramatic frame for the discussion. You’d never know from most education-reform discourse that anybody before the current movement came along ever cared about the quality of public education. (Remember that the reason both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush became president was that, as governors, they successfully established teacher-accountability regimes that were accomplished in ways that got them reelected and established them as plausible national figures. Rhee treats Clinton as someone who doesn’t have the guts to embrace the cause, and doesn’t even mention Bush.) You’d never know that unionization and school quality are consistent in most of the country (including Washington’s affluent Ward 3) and the world. You’d never know that the research results on charter schools are decidedly mixed. You’d never know that empowered and generally anti-union parents’ and employers’ organizations have been around for decades. (Bush’s education secretary, Margaret Spellings, was once an official of the Texas Association of School Boards.)

Surely one reason that the education-reform movement comports itself in this strident and limited manner is that it depends so heavily on the largesse of people who are used to getting their way and to whom the movement’s core arguments have a powerful face validity. Only a tiny percentage of American children attend the kind of expensive, non-sectarian private schools where many of the elite send their children. It is worth noting that these schools generally avoid giving their students the standardized achievement tests that state education departments require, making the results public, and paying teachers on the basis of the scores, and that they almost never claim to be creating hyper-competitive, commercial-skills-purveying environments for their students. Sidwell Friends, of presidential-daughter fame, says it offers “a rich and rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum designed to stimulate creative inquiry, intellectual achievement and independent thinking in a world increasingly without borders.” That doesn’t sound like it would cut much ice with Michelle Rhee.

But if the world of the more than fifty million Americans who attend or work in public schools is terra incognita to you, then the narrative of a system caught in a death spiral unless something is done right now will be appealing, and the reform movement’s blowtorch language of moral urgency will feel like an unavoidable and principled choice, given the circumstances. It is a measure of the larger social and economic chasm that has opened in the United States over the last generation that the movement has so little ability to establish a civil interaction with public-school teachers, a group made up of millions of people mainly from blue-collar backgrounds, some of whose leadership (such as Albert Shanker, Randi Weingarten’s mentor) was working aggressively and decades ago on the issues that concern education reformers now. The quasi-essentialist idea that teachers are either “great” or should be fired, which pervades Rhee’s book and the movement generally, may be emotionally satisfying, but it utterly fails to capture what would really help in an enormous system. Making most good teachers better, in the manner of Rhee when she was teaching, would be far more useful than focusing exclusively on the tails of the bell curve.

(emphasis added by GFB)

Published in: on July 9, 2013 at 4:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Few of Diane Ravitch’s Contributions

This is from Richard Hake, who apparently is paraphrasing what David Denby at <http://nyr.kr/RPfOkF> wrote (paraphrasing; supplemented by references to Ravitch’s critiques in “The New York Review of Books”:

Diane Ravitch has emerged as one of the leading opponents of the education-reform movement. She has:

1. Written a series of scathing rebuttals of reform measures in “The New York Review of Books”:
a. “The Myth of Charter Schools” <http://bit.ly/h0Lx8Q&gt;;
b. “School ‘Reform’: A Failing Grade”<http://bit.ly/TclFCY&gt;;
c. “Schools We Can Envy” <http://bit.ly/QqtdTi&gt;;
d. “How, and How Not, to Improve the Schools” <http://bit.ly/RPBDAO&gt;;
e.  “Do Our Public Schools Threaten National Security?” <http://bit.ly/10hxmth&gt;;
f. “In Mitt Romney’s Schoolroom” <http://bit.ly/TcmHxS&gt;; and
g. “Two Visions for Chicago’s Schools” <http://bit.ly/SKjkeA&gt;.

2.  Written some two thousand posts on a blog <http://dianeravitch.net/ > she started in April, which has received almost a million and a half page views.

3. Published “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education”[Ravitch (2010a)] at <http://amzn.to/pAjeZU&gt;.

4. Barnstormed across the country giving speeches berating the reform movement, which, in addition to test-based “accountability,” also supports school choice and charter schools (public institutions that often receive substantial private funding and are free from many regulations, such as hiring union teachers in states that require it), and which she calls a “privatization” movement. The reform movement has the support of President Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan; it is also championed by the Republican Party; by many governors, mayors, and schools chancellors; and by a variety of wealthy entrepreneurs and fund managers, including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Whitney Tilson. It has changed educational thinking in states such as Florida, Wisconsin, and Louisiana, and in cities such as Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

5. Argued that the reform movement is driven by an exaggerated negative critique of the schools, and that it is mistakenly imposing a free-market ethos of competition on an institution that, if it is to function well, requires cooperation, sharing, and mentoring.

Published in: on November 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Roundup of Articles on Real Education Reform

   - this is by Bob Schaeffer of Fair Test

With the 2012 election now history, we can return to the hard work of making politicians see the light about the need for real assessment reform.

FairTest offers several new columns and fact sheets as resources for that ongoing campaign along with links to a number of good pieces by our allies

Why So Many People Are Saying “Enough is Enough” to High-Stakes Testing
 http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/10/31/why-so-many-people-say-enough-enough-high-stakes-testing

Better Alternatives to Standardized Testing
 http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/11/02/an-alternative-to-standardized-testing-for-student-assessment/

A Better Way to Evaluate Teachers
 http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-darling-teacher-evaluations-20121105,0,650639.story

High-Stakes Testing Promoter Booted as Indiana Super; Replaced by Teacher
  http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20121107/ELECTION01/311079919/1002/LOCAL

An Open Letter to President Obama
  http://www.good.is/posts/an-open-letter-to-president-obama-from-bill-ayers/

Another Educator Calls on Obama to Change Course
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/11/07/a-call-for-president-obama-to-change-course-on-education/

Parents Complain About Too Much Testing to Oklahoma Super, Who Agrees
http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20121108_19_A15_CUTLIN194727

Common Core Tests = More Taxpayer $$$  — this is a national issue (see FairTest fact sheet at: http://fairtest.org/common-core-assessments-more-tests-not-much-better)
  http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/local-education/school-district-needs-to-spend-12-million-on-compu/nSsxw/

Closing the Achievement Gap: Have We Flat-Lined?  — more evidence that test-driven schooling is a failure
http://eyeoned.org/content/closing-the-achievement-gap-have-we-flat-lined_379/

Is Test-Mania Killing Interest in Science Teaching?
  http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2012/11/is_test_mania_killing_interest.html

Philadelphia Suspends Faulty School Rating System — hard data got in the way of another faith-based evaluation system
  http://thenotebook.org/blog/125293/philly-district-suspends-school-rating-system-seeks-fix

Pearson Pays Out $623K for Test-Scoring Error That Blocked Graduation
  http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20121025/NEWS01/310240052/Pearson-North-America-scoring-error-prevented-5-Mississippi-students-from-graduating-affected-121-others

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
ph-   (239) 395-6773    fax-  (239) 395-6779
cell-  (239) 699-0468

Published in: on November 8, 2012 at 5:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Two Types of Educational Reform: Montgomery County MD versus Washington DC

Excellent short article. Here is an excerpt:

Anyone who has followed reform efforts in D.C. knows that student achievement over the past five years, as measured by test scores, has been unimpressive under strategies begun by Rhee and continued by her successor, Kaya Henderson. There have been slight ups and downs in test scores, but little that’s statistically significant. The achievement gap based on race and poverty has actually widened significantly. Additionally, a system-wide cheating scandal in 2009 under Rhee, that has yet to be investigated, has thrown a pall on all the data.

In D.C., however, what has been stunning and undisputed is the change in the teacher turnover rate. For a district that used to have a relatively low turnover rate compared with the national average, now 50 percent of teachers don’t make it beyond two years, 80 percent don’t make it beyond six years. For principals, approximately 25 percent lose their jobs every year. It’s not unusual for schools to have a new principal every year. So in the name of “reform,” we now have churn. It can be said that teaching is no longer a career in D.C. What has been accomplished as a result of the conscious policies of the current and immediate past chancellor is the creation of a teaching force of short timers. Gordon MacInnes summarized Rhee’s mistakes for The Century Foundation here.

A recent Washington Post article about the rift between Democratic mayors and teachers’ unions pointed to Montgomery County’s teachers union as the exception, nationwide. The Post was half right. The union’s shoulder to the wheel, collaboration with the district to make schools better has been exemplary. But this is not exceptional. There are lots of examples of attempts at that kind of collaboration all across the country. What makes Montgomery County an exception is that the politicians and school administration have not blindly adopted the corporate reform ideology. They haven’t adopted mayoral control. They don’t worship at the altar of student test scores. They recognize that reform led by educators will be more likely to succeed. The union is made a partner. Teacher longevity and commitment to the school and its community is valued. And respecting the complexity of the craft of teaching is considered a better approach than trying to improve education by making war on educators.

A Writer at Forbes Magazine Actually Supports Teacher Unions

A comment by ‘Lisa’:

Interesting that this was published in Forbes magazine which is a national business magazine.  When reading the article you have to remember that when it says “reform”  it really means “deform”!  

As a result, I added a few alternative wordings here and there. — GFB

Why I Support the Teachers Unions 

by E.D. Kain

Teachers’ unions are often portrayed by their opponents as standing in the way of efforts to reform [deform]our schools. Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.

In February of 2011, tens of thousands of protesters descended on the capital, Madison, to protest an extreme union-busting bill aimed at reducing the power of that state’s teacher unions. Ultimately those protests failed, but they were  a remarkable display of worker solidarity and middle class organizing. Largely, this was because they involved teachers who remain one of the best organized workforces in the country.

More recently, in Tacoma, Washington teachers went on strike in order to secure slightly smaller class sizes and rebuke a pay cut aimed at closing a shortfall in the district budget. The strike ended recently, with both sides getting some of what they wanted.
I’ve wrestled a great deal with the question of organized labor, especially in the realm of public education. There’s a strong contingent on the right and the left that believes that essentially all of the flaws in our public school system stem from a combination of government inefficiency and union recalcitrance. Some people in the reform movement believe that the o nly way to affect reform is to sidestep or abolish teachers unions.

Many left-leaning [left-sounding] school reformers [deformers] believe this largely as a last resort. These are typically liberals who believe in public education but have become frustrated with what they see as union resistance to much-needed reforms [poorly-thought out fads]. There is no doubt that unions oppose many reforms [fads]. The question is, should they? Much of the time, I think they should.
Many right-leaning reformers [deformers], and some liberals as well, are simply in the business of union-busting, seeking to dismantle a powerful political opponent while ushering for-profit schools in through the side door, and handing out lucrative contracts to political allies in the private sector. For a good example of this second camp, go to Scott Walker’s Wisconsin. Or follow Michelle Rhee around the country – to Florida, Nevada, or voicing her support for union-busting in Wisconsin.

Right or left, this is essentially the neoliberal approach to school reform. Technocratic, choice-based, with a troubling dose of private, for-profit groups thrown into to the mix. Mayor Bloomberg’s New York schools are a perfect example of technocratic, anti-democratic leadership at the top, coupled with private contractors, high-stakes testing companies, and union-busting advocacy groups working from the ground up.

The Unreliable Promise of School Reform

Of course, the word “reform” when juxtaposed with “education” is not in and of itself a bad thing. I believe that some ideas in the school reform movement have potential. There is a real chance that experimenting with how schooling is delivered could have some real benefits.

If we can find ways to deliver education to the most underserved communities in this country, that alone would be a huge step forward. And as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t find every argument on the “anti-reform” side all that compelling either. Nobody is on the side of angels all the time.

Then again, a good charter school is more like a band-aid than it is a structural fix. Worse, some charters could serve as Trojan horses, chartered with the best of intentions, but then funded by donors with an anti-union agenda, and paraded in the media as reformer avatars.

A lot of money goes into these schools – quite a lot more than was being funneled from private coffers into the traditional public schools. This says nothing about the people running these schools who are more than likely doing it for the right reasons, but why have these very deep pockets suddenly opened up not to traditional public schools but to the charter school movement? Surely there’s a reason.

Nor do all school choice efforts live up to their promises. Vouchers have been met not only with public disappointment, but with few if a ny real benefits. Most charters haven’t fared much better. And for-profit schools come packaged with all sorts of other troubling implications for the future of our public – or should I say “public” – education system. Do we want to transform our elementary and high schools into little dopplegangers of College of America or the University of Phoenix?

Other ideas are equally repellent, such as high-stakes testing which seeks, in spite of claims to the contrary, to boil down education to learning by rote. When technocrats and businessmen take over the hard work of designing a system of education is it surprising that the result is a complex labyrinth of testing schemes aimed at only those subjects that can be measured, quantified, and pasted in to spreadsheets? Is it any wonder that professionals who care about education might see this as a threat?

Teacher Buy-In is Necessary for Sustainable Reform

If I could wave a magic wand I would graft Finland’s model of public education onto our own. And yes, I realize that even drawing close to Finland’s educational successes will take far more than any magic wand could provide.

One problem we face is that our reform movement has become defined by a very specific, narrow set of ideas: choice and testing and tinkering with teacher compensation and benefits. Very little attention has been paid to curriculum, infrastructure, or equitable school funding.

Most importantly, the very, very hard work of education reform will require teachers if we want it to succeed, whereas the current crop of reformers is intent on bypassing the teachers and especially the teachers’ unions. There are not many advocates for our public education system or for the welfare of children who have the organizational structure and commitment that America’s teachers have.

Parents are the only comparable demographic but they are fragmented and are often only temporary activists. No other group comes close.

Big charities, foundations, and other reform groups can leave the field at any time. They have no vested interest save their own interest, for better or worse.

The National Education Association, or NEA, was founded as a professional association of educators in 1857 and evolved into the largest teachers union in the country. The American Federation of Teachers, or AFT, was founded decades later in 1916 and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Both organizations have worked to improve school conditions both for teachers and students for decades. This is important to think about. They are not newcomers to the field. They’ve had their hands deep in the dirt for much of the history of public education.

Yes, we hear stories of unions and union members behaving badly, and these stories will be forever regurgitated to prove that the institutions themselves are to blame. What institution is exempt from this critique? What group of people does not have such members?

A sustained effort to improve and reform our schools will not only require the commitment of the labor force in the here and now, it will require the long-term commitment of teachers both in the field now  and those who will come later. Some portions of our education system may need to be reformed, this is very true. Reform should never stop. Progress doesn’t magically happen whilst we twiddle our collective thumbs. But without teacher buy-in no reforms will stick.

Furthermore, without the participation of teachers in the reform process, we risk sacrificing . An even lower-paid teaching force, with fewer benefits and less job security, is what the neoliberal approach to education reform actually offers. It’s not what’s promised: reformers often honestly want to make a grand bargain between job security and teacher pay, offering more of the latter for less of the former. But we know how these things work. Once they take away job security and collective bargaining rights, what’s to stop them from taking away pay, benefits, and everything else?

Democracy in Education

The teachers unions are not always right. No group is. But they represent a democratic approach to our public education system, and if we push them out and usher in an age of for-profit online schools, cheaper labor, and funnel all those saved tax dollars back in the pockets of the wealthiest Americans, we may as well kiss our public schools goodbye.
I support teachers unions not because they are a model of efficiency or because they are always right or because I think there is no need for reform – I believe that the unions can be inefficient, they can be wrongheaded, they can oppose change unnecessarily.

No, I support teachers unions because they are the best chance this country has to improve and strengthen public e ducation for the long haul. No other organization will step in to protect teachers from political blowback and the reform-trend-of-the-moment. The Gates Foundation may have its heart in the right place, but the big foundations can’t protect teachers from slashed budgets or political retribution. Charity-propelled education reform may very well be a sincere effort, but in the process its leaders have offered up a lot of bad choices for teachers. Too often charity reform translates into little more than corporate reform.

Teachers are on the front lines of the fight to keep America’s egalitarian system of public education public. Faux privatization schemes and for-profit schools threaten to undermine the system itself in the name of choice. But what about democracy? What about a system built around the ethic of society rather  than that of the individual?

Certainly our public school system could be better. Nobody is suggesting otherwise. Maybe there are radical ideas out there that really would work if given the chance, and I do support experimentation which was the original purpose of charter schools. Let’s keep trying things. Let’s keep experimenting, innovating, and learning from our mistakes. But let’s not do this on the backs of our teaching workforce without bothering to include them in the process.

Teachers are one of the last bastions of workplace democracy left in the country, and once they’re out of the picture anything goes. Including public education.Even if you believe that public education itself is wrong and would prefer a voluntary education system, or a system of teacher/parent cooperatives, or an entirely private or voucher-based system, you still need teachers. In any of these systems teachers should still have the right to form a union, to bargain and negotiate for wages and working conditions, and to find voice and agency in the in the loud cacophony of common cause.

What’s Wrong with the Obama-Duncan Approach to Education

You must read this article by a DCPS grad and former DCPS teacher. It’s an outstanding explanation of what is wrong with the approach to ‘fixing’ education promoted by Obama, Duncan, Rhee, Gates, and the other Educational Deformers. She expresses very, very clearly many of the things that I have been trying to say — but haven’t quite been able to.

Here is the link:

http://www.truth-out.org/mr-president-we-want-your-childrens-education-too66425

Published in: on January 16, 2011 at 9:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A transcription of Michelle Rhee’s interview with Steven Colbert

How many lies and evasions can you find in Michelle Rhee’s performance on the Steven Colbert show? I did my level best to transcribe the interview.

STEVEN COLBERT: My guest tonight is the former chancellor of DC Public Schools. So my security team’s pat downs and metal detectors will be familiar to her. Please welcome Michelle Rhee!

[APPLAUSE]

Hey, Ms. Rhee, thanks so much coming on. Now, uh, young lady, you’ve got quite a… a storied history when it comes to reforming education. You were, uh, let’s see, this is a photo we have a, we got a shot of that maybe here on [camera] two. That’s a photo of you on the cover, uh, that’s Time magazine, uh, about two years ago.

MICHELLE RHEE: Yes.

SC: This time it says, “How to fix America’s Schools”.

MR: Yeah.

SC: You, you were the king of Reform School Mountain, and, and now you’ve just lost your job…

MR: Yes.

SC: … as the head of DC’s schools.

MR: I did.

SC: What gives? Who did you cross?

MR: Well, my boss, Adrian Fenty (laughs) …

SC: Yes.

MR: … who was the mayor of DC, uh, lost his election, so that means that I lost my job.

SC: So you lost your job and now the kids get left behind?

MR: Uh, well no, hopefully they don’t…

SC: Are you a fan of [the] No Child Left Behind [act] by the way?

MR: Actually, I am uh, a fan of No Child Left Behind.

SC: Thank you for saying that George Bush was our greatest president!

[LAUGHTER]

SC: That’s kind of what you are saying, then, because that was his thing, right?

MR: It was his thing and I actually think that you should give credit where credit is due, and this is one area that President Bush actually did a very good job in because he brought, he brought accountability to the public schools.

SC: Now as, as an educator, or as someone who was reforming education, what was the biggest challenge that you have faced?

MR: I think the biggest challenge was, was changing the culture of the school districts. I think that people were not used to being held responsible for, for what our jobs were, which was educating children.

SC: You talking [indistinct], you talking teachers’ union?

MR: I’m, I’m talking about the teachers’ union.

SC: Unions? You know we had a strike around here, you should do what I did. You know I sent out hooligans armed with truncheons, and I beat my writers until they came back here and they started to tippety-tappety again. Why didn’t you do that? Why didn’t you crack a few skulls?

MR: Well, we thought that, that, that we should use, you know, a carrot instead of a stick. And so what we wanted to do was, actually, set up a, a system where we  could pay the best teachers a six-figure salary and give them what they deserve, and also ensure that we, you know, hold them responsible for doing a good job that if they were ineffective we could quickly remove them from their duties.

SC: So let me take you to task for a second here. What is the big deal on education? Sell me on educating children. Why?

[LAUGHTER]

SC: Right? Because, because, why should I care? Let me put this delicately. Why should I care about the kids at George Washington Carver High School when my kids are doing fine at Ed Begley Junior Prep?

[LAUGHTER]

MR. Well, actually, a lot of people think that their kids are doing well at Begley Junior [indistinct] …

SC: My children are the smartest kids in the world!

MR: … however …

SC: My children are the most brilliant, beautiful, perfect children in the world!

MR: You may think so, but what the data says is that if you look at the top five per cent of American students they are actually 25th ouf of 30 developed nations in terms of the, the global …

SC Yes, but if I refuse to learn math, then I wont know that

[Indistinct, competing voices talking at the same time]

SC: You say, you say you want us to be number one again?

MR: Yes, that’s right.

SC: When were we number one? Is this not a myth? Were we ever ahead of Germany?

MR: Nyahs. [I think she was trying to say “yes’ - GFB]

SCL Really? They had jets in World War Two!

MR: America was number one in the 1950s. America, we were number one in graduation rates, we were number one in rates of going to college, and our proficiency rates were a lot higher than most developed nations.

SC: What happened? What happened? What has happened to our schools that you are trying to reverse?

MR: So I think that what happened is that we have a lot of special interests who are driving the agenda in public schools. You have, you know, textbook manufacturers, you have teacher unions, you have, you know, food service people, and the problem is that there is no organized interest group that represents children.

SC: What about the kids? Did you ask the kids how they think schools should be changed? Did you try 7-Up in the water fountains?

[LAUGHTER]

SC: Donut day?

MR: You know it’s interesting because I actually did talk to the kids all the time and I asked them if I could do one thing that would really improve your experience in school what would it be. And they didn’t ask for Sprite in the water fountain. They asked for great teachers. They said, if you bring us great teachers, that makes everything worthwhile.

SC: Well, what, now that you’re no longer the head of the DC public Schools, what is next for you? What job will you be forced out of next?

[LAUGHTER]

MR: Well, hopefully I won’t be, be forced out of any job, but I’m trying to figure out right now what makes sense of a, of a, a, next job.

SC: You ever thought of being a correspondent?

MR: Well, I’d be interested in joining the team.

SC: Do you have a resumé?

MR: Uh, no, I don’t.

SC: Ah, well, then we’ll need to see some references.

Well, thank you so much.

Michelle Rhee, former head of the DC Public Schools!

We’ll be right back!

[BREAK FOR COMMERCIAL]

Between the covers of The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Interesting article in a Louisiana newspaper on how “reform” is helping to destroy public education in New Orleans (as in other places). Here is the link:

http://www.louisianaweekly.com/news.php?viewStory=3464

Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 1:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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