August 17th, 2009

Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC
Michelle Rhee in DC Series Podcast: Rhee on two years worth of mistakes

( Click here to download the podcast )

Michelle Rhee looks back on her two years in office, and considers mistakes along the way.

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I appreciated your coverage of Rhee’s efforts. I believe she is well intentioned but the premise is wrong, in my opinion: That the standardized test measures whether students/children will be successful beyond their years at school–that they will be lifelong learners and contributors to our democratic society. I do not believe the current standardized tests measure this.

Students need critical thinking skills and social skill development as well as a knowledge base. If the standards are flawed then so is the test and so is the focus of instruction. Is anyone really examining the validity and quality of the written standards?

In addition to making sure the content is on target, instructors then must make sure the process of learning is developmentally appropriate and conducive to fostering life long learning–who is measuring that?? I can guarantee that students who sit in rows day after day in sterile classrooms filling in bubbles are not engaged in a process that supports the types of citizens we need in our complex society!

As a high school teacher in a high ranking school, it is refreshing to see someone who is putting the students first. Implementing change is difficult, but trying the same things and expecting change is insane. The union needs to get on board and put the sudents of the Washington school system ahead of the “special” interest of maintaining the status quo of the teachwers and principles. I respect what Ms. Rhee is doing and feel that she cannot afford to fail.

I’ve been following this series for a while now on public schools. I teach in the Chicago Public Schools. I recommend all superintendents to read Larry Cuban’s, The Blackboard and the Bottom Line: Why schools Can’t be businesses if you really want students “to learn.” Further, the answer to all educational woes is a classroom ratio of 1:20, K-12, instead of math, reading, science coaches, additional APs, and Professional Development. 1:20 will go a lot father then all of these efforts.

The national media attention is no accident. She hired a PR firm in fall of /o8, which got her all those major magazine interviews.

And she may be being candid about never firing anyone for a mistake. She is known for firing people for no reason at all — because they don’t “fit” or for “private personnel reasons” that can’t be discussed - even with the person fired.

As disturbing as Rhee’s trust in growth models to drive evaluations is her 200+ page evaluation document. An effective teacher is only supposed to have five incidents of disruptions or time off task in thirty minutes?

Every year I have a class with five or more students with mental illness and/or extreme emotional disturbances along with the thirty or so other students. Of the remaining, about 1/2 are on IEPs, parole, 504s, or have similar challenges. Typically I have a class where more that one student has recently seen the murder/suicide of close family members or more than one have shot or stabbed by students in that class, or where more than one have psychotic episodes or potentially life-threatening episodes during class.

And worse, she has issued guidlines that will make it even tougher to maintain orderly classrooms.

Don’t get me wrong, if we were investing something comparable to the $30 million that Chicago will be investing in 1200 of its most vulnerable students, then I would support many of her ideas. But that’s why I smell a “bait and switch.” “Reformers” are investing huge amounts of money in D.C. schools that had already had “more money than God.” They can fund social and emotional interventions beyond the dreams of most schools. Look at Shaw Middle School, it gets everything that the Broader Bolder folks could desire. And yet Rhee attributes gains in student performance (when they occur) to instructional reforms. And “reformers” want the rest of the country to raise performance even though we don’t have a fraction of the capacity.

Getting back to “bait and switch,” if Rhee’s divide and conquer approach spread to other unions, and “reformers” destroy collective bargaining in other areas, would they continue to invest in education? Or would they just invest in busting other unions?

I watched 5 minutes of your show. In that short time I believe that Michelle hired extra teachers to replace the ones that she wanted eliminate. I also believe that this was the plan from the beginning. I know that there are teacher that need to go but you need to use the proper process to eliminate them.

you’re all excuses. the lack of basic knowledge that children k-12 have is appalling. whether in math, science, current events, geography, history,etc. better teachers from quality schools(not teachers colleges) are the answer. let her do her job and stop whining!

Please see the statistical analysis on Rhee’s new principals here:

It shows no increase in scores in schools where Rhee placed new principals, in contrast with what she said in this Podcast: “If you look at the gains, the academic gains that we’ve seen over the last two years, the data shows that our new principals are actually seeing better than average gains, which means we really have succeeded in bringing in some really, really strong new leaders who are making the difference in our schools.”

Rhee simply made that up, knowing that there were no easily accessible data to refute or prove it. Now someone has taken the considerable time necessary to prove her wrong.

[...] Rhee on two years worth of mistakes (8/17/09) [...]

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