Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

March 9, 2013

Michelle Rhee: Wrong again

Filed under: Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 6:01 am

Tuesday, Feb 26, 2013 By David Sirota

Her education “reform” movement sends the lovely message that communities should stay out of their schools

Most who are reading these words will probably agree that our country is facing a democracy crisis, thanks, in part, to the dominance of money in our political process. Many who read these words will also probably insist that our country is facing an education crisis (though many try to deny the actual cause of that crisis).

Getting past the denial stage and acknowledging both of these problems is certainly a step toward one day fixing them. However, there’s another more subtle and self-reinforcing form of denial that makes getting to those solutions more difficult. That denial — or perhaps cognitive dissonance — evinces itself in an American psyche that tends to perceive the democracy and education emergencies as separate and distinct.

Essentially, we see the cause of voting-rights activists, get-out-the-vote pushes and same-day registration crusades (among others) as divorced from the concurrent education policy fight between public school advocates, teachers’ unions and corporate education “reformers.” We see them as disconnected from one another even though the two battles are fundamentally fused by a simple truism: Basically, you can never hope to have a functioning democracy over the long haul if your education system is trying to convince students and parents to abhor democracy.

That, of course, is exactly what is happening right now thanks to a scorched-earth campaign by the corporate interests that see big potential profits in privatizing public schools.

Like so many other industries currently waging a war on democratic institutions that get in the way of bottom-line concerns, this Wall Street-backed education industry sees democratic forces — elections, collective bargaining, local control, etc.— as obstacles to private profit. Thus, the industry, through financing the crusades of education “reform” advocates, is trying to maximize its bottom line by reducing democratic control of the most local of local institutions: the schoolhouse. In the process, the “reform” movement is forwarding an extremist message to kids and parents that runs counter to the most foundational ideals of American democracy and self-governance.

You can see that message in myriad actions over the last few years.

For instance, at the behest of corporate education “reformers,” more and more cities are moving to eliminate the democratic process of electing school boards, effectively telling students, parents and the larger community that republican democracy cannot be trusted to manage fundamentally public institutions. Similarly, corporate “reformers” are constantly demonizing teachers’ unions, effectively telling students and parents that the major vestige of workplace democracy in schools must be crushed.

Then there is corporate “reformers’” push to replace publicly run schools with privately run charter schools, even though the charter schools typically perform worse than the public ones. That tells students that a public institution with some modicum of democratic control is inherently less ideal than a private, undemocratic tyranny.

Likewise, as shown most recently in this recent Reuters investigation, those charter schools often “screen student applicants, assessing their academic records, parental support, disciplinary history, motivation, special needs and even their citizenship” — and then hand-pick only the students the school administrators want. That tells students and the community at large that the core democratic notion of equal opportunity for all shouldn’t be honored even in public education. Just as problematic, as Andrew Hartman noted in his incisive Jacobin magazine report on Teach for America, many of the most hyped charter schools force families to “sign contracts committing (their children) to a rigorous program of surveillance,” thus sending the additional message to low-income kids that to succeed in America, they must be willing to submit to “institutionalization” and give up their most personal democratic freedoms.

Taken together, the education “reform” movement is waging a comprehensive war on the most basic notions of democracy — and not a secret war, either. It is quite explicit, as evidenced by the comments of the most famous and politically renowned leader of that movement, Michelle Rhee.

During her tenure as the head of the Washington, D.C., public schools, Rhee engaged in mass firings and school closings; helped private testing companies impose a strict standardized testing regime on students; did nothing about a massive cheating scandal in her midst; and, as PBS Frontline notes, produced an academic achievement record that leaves “Washington still among the worst in the nation and D.C.’s high school graduation rate dead last.”

That’s where Rhee’s little-noticed but incredibly revealing comments come in. As grass-roots opposition in the local community understandably rose up to oppose her destructive policies, Rhee made quite clear what she and her movement thinks of the notion of local control of schools and community involvement in education policy:

MICHELLE RHEE: People said, “Well, you didn’t listen to us.” And I said, “No, I listened to you. I’m not running this district by consensus or by committee. We’re not running this school district through the democratic process.”

FRONTLINE: [on camera] It’s not a democracy.

MICHELLE RHEE: No, it’s not a democracy.

If a statement like that about public schools isn’t offensive enough unto itself, remember that Rhee made it not as some outside observer. She made it while she was holding public office. Yes, that’s right: A person who held a democratically accountable office was making clear that the national “reform” movement she leads believes that schools are no longer and should no longer be controlled by any kind of democracy.

In one sense, Rhee subsequently became an encouraging lesson in the resilience of democracy: In a 2011 election that became a direct referendum on Rhee’s policies, D.C. voters took the extraordinary step of tossing her and her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, out of office after just one term.

However, in another sense, Rhee has also become a discouraging lesson in the persistence of the corporate crusade against democracy. Rather than being ostracized for her obvious failure she has been rewarded. Indeed, for coupling both education policy failure with such a brazen assault on democratic ideals, Rhee has been employed as an education expert by political leaders of both parties, seen the coffers of her book-hawking political front group expand and been rewarded with fawning coverage from the political and media elite.

That’s, in part, because that elite genuflects to the same corporate forces that see profit potential both specifically in education “reform” and generally in the larger effort to curtail democratic power. It is an elite that openly praises the “great advantages” of China’s dictatorial government and derides the concept of local control if it gets in the way of profit. In similar fashion, that same elite so loyally supports ever more extreme efforts to corporatize schools that it is willing to try to portray a failed extremist like Rhee as a national hero.

Considering the breadth and scope of this whole education “reform” propaganda campaign, it is a good bet that at both the media and the local schoolhouse level, parents are being stealthily influenced to see democracy as at least unnecessary and more likely altogether negative. Even worse, so are kids.

As anyone with a child well knows, young people — and especially teenagers — absorb what’s happening around them, and that obviously goes for the schools in which they are spending much of their days. They may not know the granular details of education policy, but they absorb the meta messages in which we are all immersed. And right now, that means that at some level, many are no doubt absorbing the education agitprop’s anti-democratic messages. Sure, they may be taught in civics class about the supposed supremacy of democracy in the Greatest Country on Earth, but increasingly, those civics lessons are being contradicted by far more powerful messages they see emanating from the concrete actions of the adults running their schools.

In a perverse way, that means our education system is actually starting to live up to the dream of so many American politicians, business leaders and pundits who want America’s schools to emulate China’s.

In that Asian nation, a dictatorial government — motivated by obvious self-interest — has rigged its education system to downplay the whole concept of democratic control and democratic freedom so as to create a culture that disdains the very notion of self determination. While more subtle in its tactics, America’s education system is working to create much the same thing. In doing so, the plutocrats and apparatchiks who run the education “reform” movement understand exactly what the Chinese dictators understand: that school policy and democratic ideals cannot be separated, and that the best way for a cadre of elites to squelch those ideals in the future is to eliminate them from the schoolhouse as quickly as possible.

David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and the best-selling author of the books “Hostile Takeover,” “The Uprising” and “Back to Our Future.” E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website

 

August 22, 2011

Was Michelle Rhee’s Data Success at D.C. Schools the Result of Cheating?

Filed under: Data driven education reform,Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 9:59 am

Eager for Spotlight, but Not if It Is on a Testing Scandal

By Published: August 21, 2011 nyTIMES

WASHINGTON — Why won’t Michelle Rhee talk to USA Today?

Michelle Rhee has refused to talk to USA Today reporters about a schools scandal.

Ms. Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington public schools from 2007 to 2010, is the national symbol of the data-driven, take-no-prisoners education reform movement.

It’s hard to find a media outlet, big or small, that she hasn’t talked to. She’s been interviewed by Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw and Oprah Winfrey. She’s been featured on a Time magazine cover holding a broom (to sweep away bad teachers). She was one of the stars of the documentary “Waiting for Superman.”

These days, as director of an advocacy group she founded, StudentsFirst, she crisscrosses the country pushing her education politics: she’s for vouchers and charter schools, against tenure, for teachers, but against their unions.

Always, she preens for the cameras. Early in her chancellorship, she was trailed for a story by the education correspondent of “PBS NewsHour,” John Merrow.

At one point, Ms. Rhee asked if his crew wanted to watch her fire a principal. “We were totally stunned,” Mr. Merrow said.

She let them set up the camera behind the principal and videotape the entire firing. “The principal seemed dazed,” said Mr. Merrow. “I’ve been reporting 35 years and never seen anything like it.”

And yet, as voracious as she is for the media spotlight, Ms. Rhee will not talk to USA Today.

(more…)

March 30, 2011

Cheating on High-Stakes Tests: Michelle Rhee, have You No Shame?

Filed under: Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 1:39 pm

When standardized test scores soared in D.C., were the gains real?

By Jack Gillum and Marisol Bello, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — In just two years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus went from a school deemed in need of improvement to a place that the District of Columbia Public Schools called one of its “shining stars.”

Marvin Tucker raised questions about high test scores of daughter Marlana, right, now 16, that showed math proficiency despite her struggle with the basics when she attended D.C.’s Noyes.

Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes’ students scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

Because of the remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Education named the school in northeast Washington a National Blue Ribbon School. Noyes was one of 264 public schools nationwide given that award in 2009.

Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes’ staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.

A closer look at Noyes, however, raises questions about its test scores from 2006 to 2010. Its proficiency rates rose at a much faster rate than the average for D.C. schools. Then, in 2010, when scores dipped for most of the district’s elementary schools, Noyes’ proficiency rates fell further than average.

December 16, 2010

Glaring Example of Rhee’s Reform

Filed under: Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 9:03 am

Private contractor failed Dunbar High’s students, D.C. says

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 10:52 PM

More than two years after an outside contractor was hired to run one of the city’s most venerable schools, D.C. officials said Tuesday that Dunbar High remains plagued by a litany of troubles: Nearly half the senior class is not on track to graduate, more than 100 students are taking courses they’ve already passed and the campus is growing increasingly unsafe.

Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson made those findings and others public to justify her decision last week to oust Friends of Bedford, the New York-based contractor that former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee retained to turn around the 822-student school.

“In general, the building seems to be in turmoil at all times,” Henderson wrote in a termination letter made public this week. “Well after the school day begins, many students are wandering around the building, strolling to class with absolutely no sense of urgency.”

While problems at Dunbar have festered for months, the situation has turned into an early test of how Henderson and Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (D) will respond to school reform efforts that appear to go awry. On Tuesday, after a week of news describing disorder and disarray at the school several months into the academic year, Gray and Henderson joined Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in an attempt to turn the page. They gathered at the school on New Jersey Avenue NW to unveil the design for a long-planned $100 million new Dunbar to open in fall 2013.

(more…)

November 9, 2010

On Adrian Fenty on the Bill Maher Show

Filed under: Elections,Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 10:02 am

How Bill Maher got D.C. school reform wrong

Washington Post, November 6, 2010 By Valerie Strauss

The myth-making about the course of D.C. school reform and why Mayor Adrian Fenty was voted out of office in the nation’s capital continued last night, this time on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher.”

Maher invited on as a special guest the ousted mayor, who has been busy writing his own political epitaph so that it sounds just the way he wants it.

He and his former schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, have recently co-authored some opinion pieces — The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have published them — presenting essentially this narrative:

They pushed excellent school reform in the District. They weren’t nice about it, but they were doing the right thing and helped the schools. It’s just that too many recalcitrant folks in the city didn’t want to go along, either because the work was too hard or because they had vested interests in a different agenda.

Last night Fenty said more of the same.

Bill, did you know that there is a big back story as to why Fenty’s lost and it wasn’t that people didn’t want to do the hard work of school reform?

Did you know that a lot of people in the city don’t think Fenty and Rhee were the saviors of the school system? That the rising test scores for which they claim credit were in large part a result of reforms put in place before they took over the schools? That Rhee instituted a teacher-evaluation system that doesn’t work as advertised?

Did you know that Fenty had won every district in the city four years ago but turned off his majority black constituents in part by appointing non-blacks to arguably the 10 most influential positions in the city besides the mayor?

Bill, you should have done a little more homework on this one.

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October 29, 2010

Rethinking Schools on Michelle Rhee

Filed under: Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 3:52 pm

Proving Grounds • School “Rheeform” in Washington, D.C.

Subscribe Online & Save Current issue pdf just $4.95. Subscribe

Fall 2010By Leigh Dingerson

Washington, D.C., is leading the transformation of urban public education across the country—at least according to Time magazine, which featured D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee on its cover, wearing black and holding a broom. Or perhaps you read it in Newsweek or heard it from Oprah, who named Rhee to her “power list” of “remarkable visionaries.”

But there’s nothing remarkably visionary going on in Washington. The model of school reform that’s being implemented here is popping up around the country, heavily promoted by the same network of conservative think tanks and philanthropists like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton Family Foundation that has been driving the school reform debate for the past decade. It is reform based on the corporate practices of Wall Street, not on education research or theory. Indications so far are that, on top of the upheaval and distress Rhee leaves in her wake, the persistent racial gaps that plague D.C. student outcomes are only increasing.

Chancellor Rhee helicoptered into Washington in 2007 promising to change the culture of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Many cheered. But we weren’t counting on the new culture coming straight out of Goldman Sachs. Suddenly, decisions were being made at the top and carried out with atomic force. Parents have been treated like consumers—informed about options and outcomes but denied a seat at the table. The district’s teachers have been insulted in the national media, fired or laid off in record numbers, and replaced by less credentialed and less experienced newcomers. The model views teachers as a delivery system, not as professionals. High turnover is not just the result—it’s the goal. Principals, too, are isolated and expendable. The district lauds the educational mavericks—principals whose “crusades” are described as “relentless” and “methodical”—those who see themselves as an army of one. We are becoming a district where the frontline workers are demoralized, people are looking out for themselves, and trust is all but gone.

(more…)

October 17, 2010

Quotes From Michelle Rhee

Filed under: Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 4:41 pm

Michelle Rhee’s greatest hits

Washington Post-October 14, 2010 Valerie Strauss

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee gave us many reasons to remember her when she is gone.

There’s the schools she closed. The teachers she fired. The contract she signed with the Washington Teachers Union. Her frequent use of the word “crap.”

Here’s some quintessential statements that Rhee made as chancellor. Thanks for many of these to my colleague, Bill Turque, who often stood alone in his strong coverage of Rhee’s tenure.

I think my favorite is the one about taping students’ mouths shut.

Let me know what I’ve missed.

We will no longer describe failure as the result of vast impersonal forces like poverty or a broken bureaucracy.”
July 2007 confirmation hearing

“My job is to hear all the input, and then as the leader, then decide which are the things that I think are going to move student achievement forward in this district. And I have to make those decisions. That doesn’t mean that I’m not listening. It just means I have to choose to take into consideration all of that input.”
During an interview with The Washington Post’s editorial board in January 2008

“I’m a serial monogamist, not a job hopper,” she said in a June 2008 interview, adding that she was prepared to stay for two full terms of Mayor Adrian Fenty. That plan went awry when he lost last month in the Democratic primary to Vincent Gray, chairman of the D.C. Council.

Addressing teachers at an August 2008 back-to-school rally at the D.C. Convention Center, she said the following, referring to the closing of 23 schools that uprooted hundreds of teachers, buyouts and relentless pressure put on teachers to raise standardized test scores.

“I know I haven’t made your jobs easier this last year. I’ve heard all the rumors. ‘Rhee is trying to get rid of the veteran teachers. Rhee is trying to get rid of the black teachers.’ … I understand the anxiety.”

“What I need is for you to have trust, in me and in the school district. I know that trust doesn’t come overnight, and I have to earn that trust.”

“I think if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months, it’s that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated.”
September 2008 Aspen Institute’s education summit at the Mayflower Hotel

“People often say to me the teachers unions are here to stay, that they are big players, that I have to find a way to get along. I actually disagree with that. It’s important for us to lay out on the table what we’re willing to do, but what our bottom line is for kids. The bottom line is that if you can’t come to agreement then you have to push your agenda in a different way, and we’re absolutely going to do that.”
September 2008 Aspen Institute’s education summit at the Mayflower Hotel

“People tell me the unions are an inevitable part of this [school reform]. My thing is, what has that gotten us so far? All the collaboration and holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’?”
2008 round table at the Fordham Institute.

“The reality in Washington D.C. is if you live in Tenleytown versus if you live in Anacostia, you get two wildly different educational experiences. It’s the biggest social injustice imaginable. What we are allowing to happen in this day and age, we are still allowing the color of a child’s skin and the Zip code they live in to dictate their educational outcome, and therefore their life outcome. … We are robbing them every single day of their futures. And everybody in this country should be infuriated by that.”
In a speech at a D.C. restaurant in May 2008

“Korean people are not the most tactful. I grew up with Korean ladies who’d say, ‘Gee, you’ve put on some weight.’ It has for as long as I can remember driven me crazy when people beat around the bush instead of saying, ‘Look, I need you to do this.’ ”
Quoted in a Washington Post Magazine profile by Marc Fisher, September 2009

Rhee was pictured on the cover of the Nov. 26, 2008, edition of Time magazine, holding a broom while standing in a classroom, a symbol of her determination to sweep out the old and bring in the new. From that cover story by Amanda Ripley:

Then she raises her chin and does what I come to recognize as her standard imitation of people she doesn’t respect. Sometimes she uses this voice to imitate teachers; other times, politicians or parents. Never students. “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.

“I have talked with too many teachers to believe this is their fault. I know they are working furiously in a system that for many years has not appreciated them — sometimes not even paying them on time or providing textbooks. Those who categorically blame teachers for the failures of our system are simply wrong. ”
Rhee wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post published Feb. 9, 2009.

“I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. Why wouldn’t we take those things into consideration?”
Feb. 9, 2010, to Fast Company magazine.

She sent a report to D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray in February 2010 saying that she had fired 10 D.C. teachers for administering corporal punishment and two for sexual misconduct since July 2007. This was different from an account she gave after the Fast Company interview, in which she said that five had been suspended for corporal punishment and one was under investigation for sexual misconduct.

“When you cut our budget by $20 million, you didn’t call me to ask me if it was okay to cut summer school or not.”
Said to the D.C. Council on Oct. 29, 2009, in a hearing after she laid off 266 teachers Oct. 2, saying she had just discovered a $43.9 million shortfall in the 2010 budget. The panel was angry because it had cut the school budget $20.7 million July 31, 2009, as part of a citywide belt-tightening, but at the time, Rhee kept hiring new teachers. She actually hired more than 900 teachers in the spring and summer of 2009.

Then, last April, it became public that Rhee had found that there really was a $34 million surplus in the school system budget back in February. Why didn’t she reveal the surplus earlier? She said:

“We got this information very late in the game. The most important thing is for people to look forward.”

In August 2010, she offered two anecdotes to a group of new teachers, both of them describing her struggles 18 years ago as a fledgling second-grade teacher at Baltimore’s Harlem Park Elementary, which she said was “the worst and in many ways definitely the toughest year of my entire life.” Reported by Bill Turque on his D.C. Schools Insider blog.

The first:

Rhee said she had poor class-management skills, recalling that her class “was very well known in the school because you could hear them traveling anywhere because they were so out of control.”

On one particularly rowdy day, she said she decided to place little pieces of masking tape on their lips for the trip to the school cafeteria for lunch.

“OK kids, we’re going to do something special today!” she said she told them.

Rhee said it worked well until they actually arrived at the cafeteria. “I was like, ‘OK, take the tape off. I realized I had not told the kids to lick their lips beforehand. …The skin is coming off their lips and they’re bleeding. Thirty-five kids were crying.”

Later, Rhee tried to clarify in an e-mail, saying that the students’ mouths weren’t covered. “I was trying to express how difficult the first year of teaching can be with some humor. My hope is that our new teachers will bring great creativity and passion to their craft while also learning from my own challenges.”

The second:

This involved an after-school trip to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor that Rhee took with four students as a reward for good behavior.

As she drove them home, she asked where each of them lived. Three gave their addresses, but despite repeated attempts, the fourth would not respond. It was early evening and the school was locked, meaning she did not have access to their emergency contact information.

“I start to panic … my heart is beating 100 miles a minute,” she said. Then the other three children, sensing her worry, chimed in. She recalled one little boy saying:

“Lawwwd Ms. Rhee, whatchu gonna do!!!!??” Rhee boomed, drawing a big laugh. “Lawwwd Ms. Rhee, whatchu gonna do!!!!??”

Rhee said she eventually found a neighbor who was able to take the girl home.

Asked by Turque about what the teachers thought about her anecdotes, she said:

“The feedback that I got was positive and folks said my stories were humorous and helpful.”

You can listen to Rhee’s address to the teachers here.

“Yesterday’s election results were devastating, devastating. … Not for me, because I’ll be fine, and not even for [Mayor Adrian] Fenty, because he’ll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C.”
Sept. 15, 2010, a day after Fenty lost the Democratic primary to Gray

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October 13, 2010

What Will Happen to Michelle Rhee’s “Reforms”?

Filed under: Michelle Rhee,School Reform — millerlf @ 12:30 pm

Michelle Rhee will leave plenty of unfinished business in D.C.

By Bill Turque

Washington Post Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee often said that she viewed the overhaul of the D.C. public schools as a task that would stretch across two four-year mayoral terms and that she was prepared to see it through.

I’m a serial monogamist, not a job hopper,” she said over breakfast in June 2008, citing the 10 years she spent running the New Teacher Project, the nonprofit group she founded before coming to the District.

The defeat of Rhee’s political benefactor, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), abruptly curtailed that scenario. But embedded in planning documents, speeches and D.C. Council testimony is the unfinished business of the Fenty-Rhee era. Some of it remains obvious and beyond dispute.

Like Fenty and Rhee, presumptive mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray and interim chancellor Kaya Henderson want rising test scores, a narrowing achievement gap, improved teacher quality, expanding enrollment and higher graduation rates.

But some of the key strategies for reaching those goals are now in limbo. Whether Gray will allow Henderson – a top Rhee deputy – to pursue the unfinished business with complete fidelity remains to be seen.

Here are some key issues to watch:

(more…)

Rhee Resigns

Filed under: Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 12:26 pm

Michelle Rhee resigns as D.C. schools chancellor

By Tim Craig and Bill Turque Washington Post Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Presumptive mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray introduced Kaya Henderson on Wednesday as the interim chancellor of D.C. public schools and vowed that reforms launched under Michelle A. Rhee would continue when he takes office in January.

“We cannot and will not return to the days of incrementalism,” said Gray, who appeared at a mid-morning news conference with Rhee, Henderson and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who will formally appoint Henderson at Gray’s request. Gray, the D.C. Council chairman, beat Fenty in the Democratic primary election last month.

Gray also said that while he has “no intention of micromanaging DCPS,” he asked Henderson to keep the school system’s senior leadership in place until at least the end of the current school year. Henderson is regarded within the Gray camp as a potential permanent successor to Rhee.

The group took only a handful of questions from a hotel conference room packed with journalists, and neither Gray nor Rhee shed light on what they called a “mutual decision” to part ways.

In a prepared statement, Rhee said that leaving after nearly 31/2 turbulent years was “heartbreaking,” but she said Gray “deserves the opportunity to work toward his goal of ‘One City’ with a team that shares his vision, can keep progress going and help bridge the divide.”

“In short, we have agreed – together – that the best way to keep the reforms going is for this reformer to step aside.”

In brief remarks of her own, Henderson told reporters, “I’m excited about where we are, and I’m thrilled that the management team has agreed to stay on to continue this process.”

Rhee survived three contentious years that made her a superstar of the education reform movement and one of the longest-serving school leaders in the city in two decades. Student test scores rose, decades of enrollment decline stopped and the teachers union accepted a contract that gave the chancellor, in tandem with a rigorous new evaluation system, sweeping new powers to fire low-performing educators.

But Rhee will leave with considerable unfinished business in her quest to improve teaching, close the worst schools and infuse a culture of excellence in a system that has been one of the nation’s least effective at educating students.

Fenty, who opened the news conference and introduced the outgoing chancellor, praised Rhee for taking on what he called “the thankless job” of running D.C. schools. He said she had exceeded his highest expectations during her tumultuous tenure. “It’s not just the results all of you know so well … but it’s the excitement that she brought to the school system.”

Fenty also lauded Henderson, saying, “I have had the opportunity to work with her, and I have as much confidence in Kaya’s ability to run the school system as anyone who has ever known her.”

The move won immediate support from the Washington Teachers’ Union, which has long battled Rhee. “I think leaving sooner is better than later, so there will not be all this speculation,” said union head George Parker. “Making a decision will relieve the tension.”

(more…)

October 9, 2010

Response to Superintendents’ Manifesto: The bankrupt ‘school reform manifesto’ of Rhee, Klein

Filed under: Education Policy,Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 3:23 pm

The bankrupt ‘school reform manifesto’ of Rhee, Klein, etc.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 9, 2010

There are so many things wrong with the new “school reform manifesto” signed by 16 school district chiefs — including New York’s Joel Klein and Washington’s Michelle Rhee — and published in The Washington Post that it is hard to know where to start.

There’s the intellectual dishonesty and scapegoating: It starts by saying that everybody is responsible for improving schools but then proceeds to bash teachers, and doesn’t say a single thing about the responsibility of superintendents.

After eight years as the czar of New York City’s public schools, Klein might want to stop blaming other people for his failures.

There’s historical myopia: The document says kids are just sitting around waiting for adults to do something, without noting that adults have been pushing eight years for test-centric reform favored by many of these superintendents with disastrous results.

There’s misinformation:

As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.

Wrong. Research actually shows that the home life of students is the single biggest determinant of school achievement. School chiefs can ignore it all they want, but that doesn’t change the facts. (Of course this is no excuse for leaving lousy teachers in schools, but there is equally no excuse for ignoring outside factors and blaming good teachers for things beyond their control.)

The document, published in The Post’s Outlook section and available here, makes the same tired call for more charter schools, the end of teacher tenure, etc., etc. — all change initiatives guaranteed not to work.

We’ve heard it before, but, apparently, these superintendents felt the need to repeat it now, apparently to piggyback on the publicity of the wrong-headed education film “Waiting for Superman,” and the defeat in D.C.’s primary of Rhee’s political patron, Mayor Adrian Fenty.

The manifesto was initiated by Klein and Rhee, who gave it to Michael Casserly, executive director of the nonprofit Council of the Great City Schools. He then worked to persuade other schools bosses to sign on, according to a knowledgeable source.

The Washington-based council is a coalition of 65 of the nation’s largest urban public school systems and the only national organization exclusively representing the needs of these schools. Its mission, according to the Web site, is to promote the cause of urban schools and to advocate for inner-city students through legislation, research and media relations.

The organization also provides a network for school districts sharing common problems to exchange information, and to collectively address new challenges as they emerge in order to deliver the best possible education for urban youths.

Casserly, who has led the organization since 1992, is well-known in school reform circles, if not to the general public. I asked Casserly why he helped Klein win support for the document, and he responded by e-mail: “Part of the job.”

The document uses jargon that effectively calls for linking standardized test scores to teacher evaluation, a scheme that several recent studies concluded is ineffective in improving student achievement.

That doesn’t stop today’s reformers, who are obsessed with “data” and with using business practices to run schools, which are really civic institutions that should be operated on a civic model. Says the document:

“Let’s stop ignoring basic economic principles of supply and demand and focus on how we can establish a performance-driven culture in every American school.”

Um, don’t most businesses fail?

One of the signatories, Andres Alonso, the chief executive of the Baltimore City Public Schools, just signed an important agreement with the teachers union that calls for multiple measures to evaluate teachers, though this wasn’t acknowledged in the manifesto, leaving it a mystery as to why Alonso signed on.

You can read the rest of the nonsense here and come to your own conclusion.

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By Valerie Strauss  | October 9, 2010; 2:55 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools, School turnarounds/reform | Tags:  baltimore contract, baltimore schools, council of great city schools, joel klein, klein and rhee, michael casserly, michelle rhee, reform document, reform manifesto, school manifesto, teachers, teachers and assessment, washington post

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