The Lies by Which Saint Michelle Built Her Brand

Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler and ‘Jersey Jazzman’ have some analyses of the lies peddled by my former chancellor, Michelle Rhee. I recommend reading (or re-reading) them. Disclosure: I was one of the ones who looked at the original UMBC study and found that Rhee absolutely did NOT bring a class of up to 70 students from below the 13th percentile to over the 90th percentile.

Somerby on Rhee’s fraudulent claims of success in Baltimore:

  1. part one  (at the bottom)
  2. part two (at the bottom)
  3. part three (at the bottom)
  4. part four (at the bottom)
  5. part five (as usual, at the bottom)

Jersey Jazzman on the same:

The fact that the Washington Post and other media and various billionaires continue promoting this serial liar (Rhee), and that interviewers like Jon Stewart don’t call her on those lies, is truly sad.

I’d like to quote the conclusion of Somerby’s part four:

In that telling of Rhee’s tale, you see the germ of the current idea of “educational reform” which has been pimped by our billionaire and “journalist” classes.

Note what Rhee said about the reason for her vast success. She didn’t engineer that miracle because she was super-smart. More specifically, she didn’t engineer that miracle because she was “a great teacher.” She didn’t succeed because “she found unconventional but effective ways to teach reading and math,” the explanation Jay Mathews offered when he told Rhee’s miracle tale one month later. Sorry! In the tale that was told to Thomas, Rhee had produced her astounding results because she was willing to work hard. The key to Rhee’s success was “sweat,” Thomas quoted her saying.

The inexperienced teacher had simply worked hard! She had stood in front of those children “every single day;” while there, she’d been willing to “teach them!” This of course implies the claim—the ugly, simple-minded, remarkable claim—which lies at the heart of Rhee’s “reform” ideas:

Why do lovely, deserving, low-income kids lag behind national norms in the classroom? It happens because their teachers are lazy—too lazy to stand up and teach them! Because their teachers—who are “shitty,” as Rhee told Mathews—refuse to do their jobs! (my emphasis – GFB)

Truly, that’s a remarkable claim, but the claim has a long provenance. For whatever reason, elites have always been drawn to this claim; this dates at least to the 1960s, when the nation’s movers and shakers began to wonder what could be done to improve inner-city schools. On Monday, we’ll offer a quick review of this history. For today, let’s reflect on the way this remarkable claim has affected ideas of “reform.”

Why don’t poverty children meet national norms? It’s because their teachers are lazy! This idea is remarkably simple-minded—but it makes life remarkably easy for a big public figure like Rhee. How sweet it is! As educational reformers, she and her colleagues don’t have to come up with “effective ways to teach reading and math;” they simply have to threaten the teachers! After all, those teachers would produce huge success if they’d simply get off their asses and teach, the way Rhee did, back in the day.

If public school teachers would just get to work, they’d produce miracles too!

What a life! Michelle Rhee’s simple-minded idea makes life easy for “educational experts” and for “education reformers.” The teachers already know what to do! All the “reformers” have to do is threaten them, fire and bribe them! This approach has lay at the heart of Rhee’s ministry, in which she has produced almost no ideas about how to succeed in the classroom.

America’s teachers just won’t do their jobs! Has a major movement ever been built on such a simple-minded idea? But Michelle Rhee’s simple-minded idea of reform has always been built on her miracle tale—a miracle tale in which she worked amazingly hard, a tale which never happened.

No, she didn’t produce those results. Why then have so many elites worked so hard to believe her?

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What about the 7 who didn’t score at the 90th percentile?
    By her “standards”, Rhee was “shitty” as well.

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    • I would be surprised if there was even a single child who scored at the 90th percentile.
      Note that just about every single claim Rhee made in her resume about that class is fraudulent.
      I wonder if she’s merely stupid (ie innumerate) — that she actually doesn’t know what scoring at the 90th percentile means?

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  2. Michelle Rhee is the Messiah of public education. Or not.

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