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…

Latest NAEP Results

The NAEP is our only nation-wide, systematic, long-term test of what students in elementary, middle, and high school know how to do. The 2013 NAEP results were released yesterday. I have begun to do a bit of number-crunching and would like to share what I’ve found.

First of all, the increases in some of the scores in DC (my home town) are a continuation of a trend that has been going on since about 2000. As a result of those increases, DC’s fourth grade math students, while still dead last in the nation, have nearly caught up with MISSISSIPPI, the lowest-scoring state in the US.

You will have to strain your imagination to see any huge differences between the trends pre-Rhee and post-Rhee. (She was installed after testing was over in 2007.)

average scores in NAEP math 4th grade national by jurisdictions 1992-2013

Another important point is that we don’t know how much of these increases are due to improvements in regular public schools, in the charter schools, or in the private schools — data from all three groups of students are included.

And Gary Rubenstein does his usual excellent job, which you can see here

He looked at 4th grade AND 8th grade math and reading for DC and elsewhere. DC is still dead last in just about every respect, and has BY FAR the largest gap between the poor and the non-poor.

So, the Educational DEforms instituted by Rhee, Henderson, and their corporate masters have not produced the promised miracles.

Published in: on November 8, 2013 at 7:04 am  Comments (7)  
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What it was like at the Super Rhee Go Love Fest in Los Angeles

Gary Rubenstein has an excellent analysis of the heavily-orchestrated love-fest for Michelle Rhee and her friends in Los Angeles. Lot to read, but it’s better than wasting your time suffering through their propaganda.

Published in: on October 11, 2013 at 10:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ravitch Critiques the Current Education Privatization Movement and Offers Suggestions for a Different Way

For a clear summary of the evidence showing that not a single one of the currently fashionable methods of ‘reforming’ public education has worked, then read the first twenty chapters of the latest book by Diane Ravitch, “Reign of Error”, published today by A.A. Knopf.

This book gratifies me because it lays out in a concise and organized manner much of what I and a number of other education bloggers have been trying to point out for the last four or five years. Ravitch’s clear prose is a masterful summary of the evidence that the bipartisan “reforms” being committed against public education are not only ineffective by the yardsticks held up by these ‘reformers’, but are also resegregating our schools and foisting an inferior education onto our poorest kids.

On the other hand, if you prefer to see a clearly-laid out set of suggestions for a more sensible way to fix our school system, then this is still the right book to read! In chapters 21 through 33, she lays out a logical and sensible way to really fix our schools.

Keep in mind, as you read the book, that the “reformers” of public education have been in charge in some of our largest cities for about 20 years now. For example, Paul Vallas ran Chicago Public Schools from 1995-2001, and Arne Duncan ran them from 2001-2009; since then they are under the control of mayor Rahm Emanuel. They did such a WONDERFUL job that Chicago just found it necessary to close down dozens of schools and fire thousands of teachers and other employees. Joel Klein ran New York City’s public schools from 2002 to his departure to head Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. Michelle Rhee and her crony Kaya Henderson have run DC Public Schools since 2007.

Those school systems remain in crisis, despite the claims of our wealthiest citizens (Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, the Walton family and a bevy of hedge fund managers) that those leaders were producing piles of ‘excellence’ while having almost no teaching experience or school leadership credentials.

If you doubt my claims, all you need to do is look at the graphs and tables in Ravitch’s appendices.

It stokes by own vanity to find a couple of my own blog columns cited on pages 150-151, wherein I had delved into the data on Michelle Rhee’s mythical successes in Baltimore from 1992-1995.

(Rhee has since admitted making the numbers up, but chuckled that they didn’t matter. She has no shame! I also discovered that a possible reason for the increases that were noted at her school and grade level may have been due to two facts: (1) Her school and her grade had one of the greatest attrition rates over those two years of any of the schools in the study; and (2) her grade at her school also had one of the largest percentages of students who scored so low on the CTBS that their scores weren’t even counted!)

Here are the headings and summaries for chapters 5 – 20 of Reign of Error:

5: The Facts About Test Scores

Claim: Test scores are falling, and the educational system is broken and obsolete.

Reality: Test scores are a their highest point ever recorded.

6: The Facts About the Achievement Gap

Claim: The achievement gaps are large and getting worse.

Reality: We have made genuine progress in narrowing the achievement gap, but they will remain large if we do nothing about the causes of the gaps.

7. The Facts About the International Test Scores

Claim: We are falling behind other nations, putting our economy and our national economy at risk.

Reality: An old lament, not true then, not true now.

8. The Facts About High School Graduation Rates

Claim: The nation has a dropout crisis, and high school graduation rates are falling.

Reality: High school dropouts are at an all-time low, and high school graduation rates are at an all-time high.

9. The Facts About College Graduation Rates

Claim: Our economy will suffer unless we have the highest college graduation rates in the world.

Reality: There is no basis for this claim.

10. How Poverty Affects Academic Achievement

Claim: Poverty is an excuse for ineffective teaching and failing schools.

Reality: Poverty is highly correlated with low academic achievement.

11. The Facts About Teachers and Test Scores

Claim: Teachers determine student test scores, and test scores may be used to identify and reward effective teachers and to fire those who are not effective.

Reality: Test scores are not the best way to identify the best teachers.

12. Why Merit Pay Fails

Claim: Merit pay will improve achievement.

Reality: Merit pay has never improved achievement.

13. Do Teachers Need Tenure and Seniority?

Claim: Schools will improve if tenure and seniority are abolished.

Reality: There is no basis for this claim.

14. The Problem with Teach for America

Claim: Teach for America recruits teachers and leaders whose high expectations will one day ensure that every child has an excellent education.

Reality: Teach for America sends bright young people into tough classrooms where they get about the same results as other bright young people in similar classrooms but leave the profession sooner.

15. The Mystery of Michelle Rhee

(no sub-headings for this chapter)

16. The Contradictions of Charters

Claim: Charter schools will revolutionize American education by thei freedom to innovate and produce dramatically better results.

Reality: Charter schools run the gamut from excellent to awful and are, on average, no more innovative or successful than public schools.

17. Trouble in E-Land

Claim: Virtual schools will the promise of personalized, customized learning to every student and usher in an age of educational excellence for all.

Reality: Virtual schools are cash cows for their owners but poor substitutes for real teachers and real schools.

18. Parent Trigger, Parent Tricker

Claim: If parents seize control of their school, they can make it better.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

19. The Failure of Vouchers

Claim: Students who receive vouchers for private and religious schools will experience dramatic success.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

20. Schools Don’t Improve if They Are Closed

Claim: Schools can be dramatically improved by firing the principal, firing half or all of the teaches, or closing the school and starting fresh.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

Next, I’ll give the headings of the chapters laying out solutions.

You had to pay to be part of Michelle Rhee’s Philadelphia Book Tour, not her “Conversation”

I messed up big time. The ad I cited was from a book tour in January.

Your Pre-written question had to make it past the moderators in which case you get 60 seconds.

I see no provision for actual classroom teachers (current union officers or not) to share the stage and to have an equal voice. From what i understand from a report by the student in LA who did manage to sneak in a sign denouncing Rhee and her deforms, Rhee and her pundit friends spoke about 95% of the time as it was all tightly scripted to give the appearance of openness and no real dialog at all.

Am I missing something?

It will happen again in Philly on 9-16.

The following link was from an event in January. Mea culpa.

Published in: on September 14, 2013 at 10:26 am  Comments (19)  
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Facebook page “Remove Kevin Huffman”

I heartily recommend this page calling for the removal of Kevin Huffman as education honcho in the state of Tennessee.

(He’s the former husband of Michelle Rhee and was at one point anointed the “Education Pundit of the Year” by none other than the Washington Post; he’s a billionaire-friendly, anti-teacher and anti-parent and anti-student educational DEformer.)


how do parents feel

remove kevin huffman



Published in: on August 1, 2013 at 9:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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EduDEformistas are all about data — how to “massage” it until it looks good to their wealthy backers

Educational Deformers like Tony Bennett, Michelle Rhee, and others proclaim that they are “data-driven“.

They don’t tell you the rest of that slogan, however. It goes like this:

“…unless the data contradict what we keep claiming; in that case, then we  fake or alter the data!

In a secondary-school science project where a student fakes their measurements to get the “right” answer in  their expeiment, it’s not so serious, though it’s not good there, either, because some of those dishonest students end up being dishonest researchers or scientists claiming breakthroughs that don’t exist. Many studies have shown that high-achieving college students admit quite readily to all sorts of cheating while they were students at the university.  We see quite clearly many of them are making a mint continuing to do so as traders or bankers on Wall Street, as businessmen, as politicians, as bankers, and now as educational deformers.

This is a just as serious as a medical researcher lying and physically harming patients they’ve never met. These DEformistas are in fact playing with people’s lives and are in my view using their power to  create an increasingly segregated, unjust, and unequal national, state, and local school system here in America – and justifying it with utterly bogus data. Or data that they just make up because they don’t know how to do it properly.*

Here is one example: in Washington, DC, we have had data chiefs like Erin McGoldrick who apparently knew very little math and even less statistics. Remember: over a two-year period, while her boss (Rhee) was pressing principals to come up with fraudulent test scores, McGoldrick had to pay someone else over $218 THOUSAND to do all the statistics and data for her, because she didn’t know how?

But she was Michelle Rhee’s “data chief”.

McGoldrick’s successor, according to my sources, appears to be even more clueless about basic math or stats than EMcG.

Nothing Michelle Rhee ever said  convinced me that she knew any statistics, either. However, she has a singular ability to find some unconnected facts, distort them, and come out with a plausible-sounding story without a whiff of truth behind it.

(You remember the often-repeated story that she had taken a class with over 90% of its kids being below the thirteenth percentile to having over 90% of them being ABOVE the 90th percentile? Finally she admitted to me when I grilled her on this on the Kojo Nnamdi show, that none of that happened; she giggled at me to show what an idiot *I* was for insisting on actual data — which I actually found when somebody told me where they were! But Rhee insisted that her kids did make some sort of progress  {which she can’t quantify, because she and her principal claimed they kept no records.} )

The latest example of this kind of fraud – because that’s what it is – comes from Indiana

There, Tony Bennett and his underlings worked very hard to manipulate their state’s entire school-grading methodology so that a single charter school would get a grade of “A”, instead of a “C”.

I’m not making this up.

An Associated Press reporter got hold of the emails and other documents related to this, and gives you quotes showing that this deception was quite deliberate, and was primarily aimed at making this one charter school look good.

Why did they work so hard to save the reputation of this particular charter school?

Because that particular charter school was owned by a time-share profiteer who liked giving money to foundations and causes run by people like Rhee, Bennett, and so on.

Don’t believe me? Read on.

Tom LoBianco | Associated Press

Tony Bennett

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold “failing” schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature “A-F” school grading system to improve the school’s marks.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an “A,” despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a “C.”

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.

The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan’s grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive.

A low grade also can detract from a neighborhood and drive homebuyers elsewhere.

Bennett, who now is reworking Florida’s grading system as that state’s education commissioner, reviewed the emails Monday morning and denied that DeHaan’s school received special treatment. He said discovering that the charter would receive a low grade raised broader concerns with grades for other “combined” schools — those that included multiple grade levels — across the state.

“There was not a secret about this,” he said. “This wasn’t just to give Christel House an A. It was to make sure the system was right to make sure the system was face valid.”

However, the emails clearly show Bennett’s staff was intensely focused on Christel House, whose founder has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders.

Other schools saw their grades change, but the emails show DeHaan’s charter was the catalyst for any changes.

Bennett rocketed to prominence with the help of former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and a national network of Republican leaders and donors, such as DeHaan. Bennett is a co-founder of Bush’s Chiefs for Change, a group consisting mostly of Republican state school superintendents pushing school vouchers, teacher merit pay and many other policies enacted by Bennett in Indiana.

Though Indiana had had a school ranking system since 1999, Bennett switched to the A-F system and made it a signature item of his education agenda, raising the stakes for schools statewide.

Bennett consistently cited Christel House as a top-performing school as he secured support for the measure from business groups and lawmakers, including House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long.

But trouble loomed when Indiana’s then-grading director, Jon Gubera, first alerted Bennett on Sept. 12 that the Christel House Academy had scored less than an A.

“This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012, email to Neal.

Neal fired back a few minutes later, “Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved.”

By Sept. 13, Gubera unveiled it was a 2.9, or a “C.”

A weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued among Bennett, assistant superintendent Dale Chu, Gubera, Neal and other top staff at the Indiana Department of Education. They examined ways to lift Christel House from a “C” to an “A,” including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high “B” look like an “A” and changing the grade just for Christel House.

It’s not clear from the emails exactly how Gubera changed the grading formula, but they do show DeHaan’s grade jumping twice.

“That’s like parting the Red Sea to get numbers to move that significantly,” Jeff Butts, superintendent of Wayne Township schools in Indianapolis, said in an interview with The Associated Press.



WaPo Editorial Board Denounces Democracy in WTU Election, Again

As could be expected, the Washington Post’s editorial writers have denounced Elizabeth Davis, the newly elected leader of the Washington Teachers Union, because they believe she won’t sell out like George Parker or Nathan Saunders did.

The writer of the editorial was probably Jo-Ann Armao, semi-official DC representative of the Billionaires Boys Club who run public education these days with help from ALEC, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, various educational entrepreneurs, millionaire hedge fund managers, Wendy Kopp, Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and so on.

I will reprint the editorial in its entirety and follow it by the comment I wrote. You may want to add your own comments.


D.C. teachers cast a vote against teamwork

By Editorial Board, Published: July 16

RECENT DEBATE about the future of school reform in the District has focused on a series of legislative proposals being championed by the chairman of the D.C. Council’s education committee. Getting less attention, but having perhaps as much potential to impact education, is the change in leadership of the union that represents D.C. school teachers. It’s not a good sign that the new leadership won on a platform that painted the incumbent as too compliant with reform initiatives being pushed by Chancellor Kaya Henderson.


Washington Teachers Union President Nathan Saunders was defeated in a July 1 runoff election by a veteran teacher and union activist who promised to push more effectively against school system management. Elizabeth Davis, who received 459 votes to the 380 cast for Mr. Saunders, takes over Aug. 1 as head of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate, which represents about 4,000 public school teachers.


There’s some irony in Mr. Saunders’s defeat. He won election in 2010 by fiercely criticizing then-incumbent president George Parker for too easily going along with reforms — notably changes in how teachers are assigned and evaluated — instituted by former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. Once in office, though, Mr. Saunders forged a cooperative working relationship with Ms. Henderson, and the two were reportedly close to finalizing a new contract proposal that Mr. Saunders called “groundbreaking,” with provisions for a longer school day and school year. What helped influence his thinking, Mr. Saunders said, was the 43 percent of public school students in charter schools and the growing numbers clamoring to get in. “No kids in [traditional] public schools means no teachers,” he told us. Mr. Saunders’s cooperation became a liability in his bid for another term, calling to mind Mr. Parker’s verdict about his own defeat in 2010: “I think any union president that is pushing and getting in front of reform, you take a risk.”


Ms. Davis rejected that notion. “I am not playing to the stereotype of what unions are supposed to be about. . . . I won’t have us boxed in as anti-reform,” she told us, stressing that reform needs to be done right and teacher input is important. She wouldn’t comment about contract talks, saying she needs to read the pending contract language. She expressed some skepticism about the effectiveness of a longer school day in boosting student achievement and opposition to Ms. Henderson’s push to get chartering authority for system schools; she also supports a cap on charter schools. Most troubling is her belief that teachers at charter schools should be unionized, a move that would threaten the flexibility that has allowed these independent schools to create new ways of getting disadvantaged students to achieve.


This was an election decided by a small percentage of those eligible to vote and an even smaller proportion of those who are purported to be represented. The question that now confronts Ms. Davis and the new leadership team is whether to stick with what makes for an effective campaign — what Mr. Saunders called the “fire and brimstone stuff that looks good, sounds good” — but fails to bring about improvements in the city’s schools.


My comment (one of many, most of the comments more or less agreed with me, but there are a few writers who feel the need to demonize teachers at every turn).

9:43 AM EDT
That’s garbage. Teachers in DC have been doing their best to teach in difficult circumstances for many decades. They continue to be demonized by the wealthy few who profit from the de-facto segregation of our school system. I worked at the same school as Liz Davis for one year and have followed her advocacy work in the classroom, getting students to do outstanding writing and agitation for better schools and other reforms as part of the curriculum. 
We need leaders like that, not active sellouts and thieves like George Parker or Barbara Bullock, or leaders who simply ‘went along to get along’ like Saunders ended up as. 
Hopefully, she’ll be able to enlist more teachers to take an active part in union affairs and to get parent organizations to resist the idiotic mandates loved by WaPo management, the Walton family, Rhee/Henderson, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates, the Koch Brothers, ALEC and all the rest of the destroyers of public education. 
Charter school teachers could certainly use a voice in setting policy at their schools — where the vast majority of teachers are gone after three years, not five, because they are burned out by impossible, conflicting demands, even worse than in the regular public schools. (And let’s remember that the main reason the DC charter schools have slightly higher scores than the regular public schools is because of the enormous attrition – pushouts and dropouts of low-achieving and hard-to-discipline students, who are sent back to their neighborhood schools!) 
I certainly hope the Davis administration actually follows through on organizing the charter schools. It’s a measure that has been repeatedly approved by votes of the union membership, year after year, but neither the Bullock, Parker, or Saunders administrations ever took up that mandate.

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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