Aug 08 2011

Rhee-ality Check

First watch the two minutes from 20:30 to 22:50 (up until the moderator asks Rhee if she is a ‘Tiger Mom’) of this excerpt from an interview Michelle Rhee did recently.

Now, the video really speaks for itself, so I’ll let readers make comments, but first let me write a bit myself.

This is such a bizarre and revealing story Rhee tells to show how out of touch she is, or how much she wants to distort reality.

Without even knowing this family, I can tell you that I believe that most of this story is just not true.  Parents, with very rare exceptions, are very willing to come in to have a conference with the school when the school demands.  Schools certainly have the right to demand a parent conference.  I’m sure that KIPP and other charters often do this.  It is part of family and school working together on an issue.  If, in this case, the parent is mentally ill, then the school would surely allow someone else in the family to come in.  They wouldn’t demand that it is the mother.

She says that it is not about blaming the teachers or the parents, but it is clear that she is blaming the school here since if they insist on having a parent (or other family member come in) it is equivalent to telling a 9 year old girl that she might as well drop out of school right now.

Anyway, I do think the video speaks for itself, so I’ll leave it to others to comment please.

8 Responses

  1. How did this person ever get into a position of influence? I agree with you; this story is a distortion used to make a point that it doesn’t illustrate. She always reminds me of someone you meet at a party who’s just an expert at everything and that nobody can stand. That school in the story? They probably have a different version of the story, informed by actually having been in the situation.

    Has anyone got the “research” behind the three-great-teachers-in-a-row? She uses that one all the time.

    • Melissa

      Hmm.

      Tim, I agree with you; the story Rhee shares is complicated, and it’s unlikely that she knows all the details surrounding the situation. That’s an issue with any third-party story.

      But I do think the question Rhee asks (“are we willing to subjugate children to lower expectations and a lower quality education over something that they can’t control?”) is sound, and an important one to ask given the debate surrounding education reform. Politicians, and even teachers, talk about the “family” circumstances of poor kids’ lives, and then ask: if the family circumstances of these children are so poor, why should we even bother with improving the quality of underperforming schools? Whether or not we know the specific details of this story, it is definitely not the case that Rhee is setting up a straw man here. Referring to the family/environmental circumstances of poor kids in order to argue against education reform has and will be done again and again.

  2. Melissa

    Hmm.

    Tim, I agree with you; the story Rhee shares is complicated, and it’s unlikely that she knows all the details surrounding the situation. That’s an issue with any third-party story.

    But I do think the question Rhee asks (“are we willing to subjugate children to lower expectations and a lower quality education over something that they can’t control?”) is sound, and an important one to ask given the debate surrounding education reform. Politicians, and even teachers, talk about the “family” circumstances of poor kids’ lives, and then ask: if the family circumstances of these children are so poor, why should we even bother with improving the quality of underperforming schools? Whether or not we know the specific details of this story, it is definitely not the case that Rhee is setting up a straw man here. Referring to the family/environmental circumstances of poor kids to argue against education reform has and will be done again and again.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Melissa,
      I don’t know of any teachers who ask “why should we even bother with improving the quality of underperforming schools?” Admitting that the task is extremely difficult, maybe impossible to ‘save’ everyone does not mean that we don’t try our best. I can’t stand when reformers try to make that criticism of anyone who says that poverty is the real issue.
      Also, the charter schools that Rhee is so fond of require a lot more than just parents coming in from time to time for conferences. The parents there have to sign a major contract and if they break that contract, the student is expelled from the school. How is that helping the kid despite his/her tough family life?
      And I don’t see it as arguing against education reform, but against the type of education reform, which includes shutting down public schools for not performing miracles and replacing them with charter schools that create the illusion of performing miracles.

    • It’s a straw man argument to say that the reason educators argue that we need to talk seriously about child poverty when we talk about educational outcomes is because they don’t want to improve schools.

      The reason we talk about child poverty is because we want to improve the lives of poor children. This means we want them attending well-resourced schools ready and able to meet their social-emotional and academic needs. We want them to get healthy, nutritious meals. We want their families to be housed in safe conditions and receiving the support they need.

      And we want education reformers to accept reality: you can’t “fix the schools” without accepting that child poverty is a moral failure, and that blaming educators for failing to end child poverty is intentional blindness.

      I have never in my life heard an educator argue that, since poor children are poor, we shouldn’t bother giving them a quality education. I do hear them accusing me of this “soft bigotry of low expectations” a lot, though.

      But the hard bigotry is knowing that there are children living in crushing poverty while refusing to fully fund schools because “we’ve tried money” (we sure haven’t). Hard bigotry is expecting teachers to somehow overcome classism and racism while providing no support. Hard bigotry is what Rhee represents.

  3. Johnson obviously buys into the narrative that “data” is the best way to assess a teacher’s worth. Herein lies the rub and going further to engage him in a meaningful way is difficult. Test scores data – by design and intent – provide ONE way to gauge individual student strengths and weaknesses. Rhee and Johnson HAVE to be able to do more with test data for their particular brand or vision of education to move forward. Furthermore – and at the risk of being seen as using a “chicken hawk” – both Rhee and Johnson sound like novices when it comes to understanding the dynamics of teaching and learning. Here they clearly seek to show a depth or understanding through anecdotes. Yet Johnson doesn’t realize that he contradicts himself through one he relates through his conversation with Clarence Thomas. The supreme court justice counseled Johnson to “stick to his principles, but give up his assumptions.” Neither Johnson nor Rhee can say they follow such wisdom. The movie they gloat over during the interview,”Waiting for Superman, ” is a propoganda film of their own asumptions.

  4. Karl

    This may be interesting

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/08/22/1009572/-Test-score-gains-under-Rhee-were-a-mirage,-not-a-miracle

    Headline:
    Test score gains under Rhee were a mirage, not a miracle

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