Monday, December 8, 2008

More on Rhee from DC

I posted themail's editor Gary Imhoff's insightful editorial on Rhee over at ed notes last week and there were some interesting comments. One of the insightful comments is from a parent activist in Oakland.

The Perimeter Primate said...

I have yet to meet, or read any commentary by, a "Skinner-type" who has been a classroom teacher for more than a few years.

People with that mentality seem to leave the classroom about the time that the Truth is starting to dawn on them.

Sometimes they leave it before that point because their two-year commitment has come to an end. Then they slink off and wash the challenges of those "nasty" children off their hands, feeling superior as they proceed into law school, educational-reform management, or administration.

It's too bad the usual TFA-type commitment for baby teachers isn't seven years because great insights would be gained. Of course, the organizationa probably know that few of those somewhat arrogant, but disillusioned, youngsters would be able to hack it.

Perimeter Primate doesn't post often, but when she does she brings an insightful parent perspective from the perimeter.

Here is some follow-up from at week's themail posted at Norms Notes
More on Rhee in DC from themail.

Ira Socol's (Who's Behind the Curtain?) makes some great points (see the ones on interest-based reading which are so similar to my thoughts in this morning's post) on why Rhee is being pushed and by whom. Here's an excerpt but go read the entire piece here.

Which brings us back to Michelle Rhee. Who's marketing her, and why?

Rhee is part of a broad push by America's true "old guard" to ensure that education doesn't really change. The same folks at Harvard and Penn who offer our minorities the lowest educational expectations possible through Teach for America and KIPP Academies, are selling you Rhee, and lowered expectations for all schools - except of course, for the schools attended by the children of those elites.

There is a reason the television networks and New York Times and Time-Warner love TFA and Rhee. These organizations are run by people with power, and by people who would rather not share power.

So they have adopted the ultimate in reductionist standards. "If we had even decent education - or even enough teachers of any kind - in most of the places it places its students, then [TFA] would be a step down," a commenter on this blog said yesterday. Right, so here's the standard: Teach for America, or Michelle Rhee's DC school system, is better than not having schools at all.

Rhee's own words: '"People say, 'Well, you know, test scores don't take into account creativity and the love of learning,'" she says with a drippy, grating voice, lowering her eyelids halfway. Then she snaps back to herself. "I'm like, 'You know what? I don't give a crap.' Don't get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don't know how to read, I don't care how creative you are. You're not doing your job."'

No, she doesn't give a crap. She wants her African-American students prepared for the lowest possible jobs on the economic ladder. That way (perhaps, in her unconscious thinking) they will not threaten the success of her small minority group - a group which has found itself accepted by the powers-that-be because it isn't big enough to be threatening.

Of course I have a different view of reading than Rhee, and of language itself. First, I know that there are lots of ways "to read," and second, I know that when children are inspired to learn about things, they tend to want to learn to read (in one form or another). As opposed to the Joel Klein-Michelle Rhee-KIPP Academy-George W. Bush notion that reading is a skill which should be learned outside of the context of interest-based education.

But then, my goal is opportunity, and my belief system - not being market-capitalist in nature - doesn't think an underclass is a good idea (to hold down upward pressure on wages).

Rhee is not important, of course. She's racist in her expectations and racist in her strategies, she's not an educator at all in the real meaning of that term, she talks a great deal but has little actual impact in her job. But Rhee being hailed as the educational messiah is important.

Like those who favor TFA solutions - the Rhee idea is to NOT change US society. Yes, we'll make impoverished minority groups marginally more competent - thus improving profits at the top and reducing the cost of the dole. But no, we will not empower those groups by empowering their children. Teaching them to be creative 'will have to wait' (forever). Teaching them to find their own learning styles - thus accepting cultural change instead of social reproduction - is dangerous (as it always is for those at the top).

We lower expectations. We test meaningless things (Time: "The ability to improve test scores is clearly not the only sign of a good teacher. But it is a relatively objective measure in an industry with precious few. And in schools where kids are struggling to read and subtract, it is a prerequisite for getting anything else done." Really? Anything? You can't teach the physics of a bouncing ball to a non-reader, or the love of literature?). We strip time away from what is precious to children and force them into chanting. We enforce white majority cultural norms and deny identity. We argue that teachers should be paid according to the "short term gain" rules that worked so well for traders at Citigroup and AIG.

And this is all brought to you by the wealthiest people, and the largest old-line corporations in the country. Because, I'll say it again, they have no incentive to allow those below them to succeed.



  1. In the fall of 2007, Katy Murphy, The Oakland Tribune's education reporter, enlisted five new Oakland teachers to chronicle their first year of teaching by posting entries on a blog. Readers should take a look at "My First Year" at

    After a few enthusiastic entries, it is very telling that the entries quickly dwindled and, at this point, have disappeared altogether.

    I don't think it is just because they are "just too busy."

    These smart and once-bright-eyed teachers are certainly now harboring a set of difficult feelings that they want to keep private. I wonder their stories and insights would be if they were willing to share.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts. I never argue that I approve of how teacher training is currently practiced, but I'm appalled that a group of elites thinks that the solution is either no training (TFA) or "merit pay" - which is simply "pay for short term test results." You can only think along those lines if you either (a) lack all respect for students and teachers, or (b) simply lack respect for students who don't look like your own children. Sorry, but I can't see any other possible answer.

    - Ira Socol

  3. Norm, what exactly are the illiteracy rates in DC?

    Maybe she is on to something. DC has one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the nation.

    Really, no other school district in the country even compares to the failures of the decades of poor quality academic achievement in the nation's capital.

    I don't agree with everything Ms. Rhee is doing in Washington, but who would you propose as a better alternative? Really, who would you propose for this position?

  4. Come on Anon 10:50, you've got to be our old buddy socrates with this cloying disingenuous comment.

    But how about Joel Klein? Hasn't he vastly improved grad rates and test scores in NYC according to the propoganda? He has had 7 years to do it. Give him Washington too.

    When the unions are gone in DC and Rhee can fire anyone at any time and the numbers haven't changed (oh, they will be manipulated for sure) then people might settle down and really try to solve the problems.

    Hey, to think about it, how about me instead of Rhee?

  5. Norm, I'd support you. Seriously, why not? You're definitely committed to education, and maybe you could make it work down there.

    But when we look at the destruction of the public schools of DC, one has to ask how one single district can lose 25% of their student body to charters. The WTU is actually dwindling in numbers, their membership has been dropping in numbers exponentially. Parents are making their choice - they want their kids in a school that just might be able to educate them despite staggering poverty and rampant illiteracy. And no, I'm not a fan of charters. I am a fan of districts where unions and districts collectively make sustainable change and improve student outcomes.

  6. Thanks for your support. And all I have to do is close every school, drive out the teachers and replace them with committed newbies and voila, it's a done deal. Loks easy to me. Sign me up.

  7. I'm actually seeking a real answer. What would you do to improve this district? If you were the chancellor, what reforms would you make to ensure better student outcomes with the current conditions of the DC district? And within a relatively short, time-bound manner?

  8. I don't believe that any response could be sensible unless it takes account of changes in administration since the previous Superintendent was hung up to dry, almost 2 years ago. Policies and demeanor aside, if Rhee has put in place an effective central administration to support educators; then such team is a secret to most of those educators.
    That's a long way of saying that until you know what you have to work with, you can't claim that some changes could take place.
    Professionals are taking care of their own --jobs, schools, careers. Whether they are career educators...or just the short-term consultants Rhee has on retainer. Read Pisani's recent "The Wisdom of Whores" on HIV control for an appreciation of how much government can do, and how little NGO's can.
    I am suggesting to you that morale in the communities that have mobilized over the last 25 years has never been lower, just as the assault on the service providers has never been greater.
    So what to do now? What to do in Zimbabwe?


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