Michelle Rhee, Wisconsin, and the Attack on Teachers

In Current Events, Education on February 27, 2011 at 21:47

Michelle Rhee has proven she is willing to fire people. Her short but impactful  (3.5 year) stint as Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools, where she earned $357,000 a year, proves that. I too could fire 300 teachers as Rhee did for that much money. If I could only fire 300 politicians who blindly support the latest in educational “reform”, we would get somewhere. I would start with Obama’s Education Secretary Arnie Duncan.

The voters in Washington, D.C. did in essence fire Rhee by voting out the man who had hired her, Mayor Adrian Fenty. Moreover, Rhee and her policies were cited by voters and analysts as one of the reasons Fenty lost his reelection bid. http://markganzersblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/special-report-michelle-rhees-miracle.html

I commend D.C. residents who defend teachers with their vote while the White House and Congress continue their assault on the teaching profession with “Race to the Top.” Read more about Race to the Top here: https://texshelters.wordpress.com/2011/01/08/stop-the-race-to-national-standards-and-race-to-the-top/ .

When she started her tenure in D.C, Rhee had never run a school district. She taught in Baltimore and falsely claimed that in three years she raised test scores of her low ranking students to the top 10 percentile.  Even if her claims were true, Watson the Jeopardy winning computer could have taught kids to regurgitate the answers to a standardized test.

In a February 26, 2011 interview on NPR, Democrat Michelle Rhee further attacks the unions.

Here’s how clearly misguided Michelle Rhee is in regards to teachers unions. She states in her NPR interview that, “…there is no organized national interest group that has the heft that the unions and other groups do who are advocating on behalf of children.”

It doesn’t take much knowledge of teaching to know that teachers and their unions are interest groups that have always worked on behalf of students. That is why people become teachers. They want to help students. So to state that there are no national groups working on behalf of children is to ignore reality and once again blame teachers and their unions for the perceived failing of our public schools. Rhee’s limited analysis also excludes the obvious economic and social factors that affect a child’s capacity to learn.

I understand that education is a complex issue and that there are many factors that hamper classroom learning. I also understand that Michelle Rhee seems incapable of looking at a complex issue, seeing the multitude of factors, and developing comprehensive solutions. What she is good at is firing teachers and laying the blame on them.

Alfie Kohn explains how the desire to fire and blame teachers has developed in our nation and how Michelle Rhee and other “experts” take political advantage of this framing.

They emerge from a specific cultural context. Specifically, this double-barreled strategy seems to reflect:

* an arrogance on the part of decision makers that expresses itself in a predilection for top-down control — doing things to people rather than working with them;

* the low esteem in which the profession of teaching is held. (It would seem outrageous for professionals in most other fields to be told how to do their jobs, particularly by people who aren’t even in their field);

* a widespread tendency to blame individuals rather than examining the structural causes of problems — something that distorts our understanding of such varied topics as cheating, self-discipline, competition, character education, and classroom management;

* the outsize influence on education of business-oriented models, with a particular emphasis on quantification and standardization; and

* the assumption that teaching consists of filling up little pails with information. If learning were understood instead as the active construction of ideas, it would seem odd, to say the least, to mandate certain teaching styles or a single curriculum for all students at a given grade level.

While there’s no official name for the dual strategy of micromanaging teachers and trying to root out the bad ones, it might as well be called ‘Operation Discourage Bright People from Wanting to Teach’.

Can you imagine someone going into a hospital, looking at a few charts and then firing half the doctors because they weren’t performing to a set of medical testing data? Most members of Congress would lose their jobs if they had to perform to criteria many of them want to impose on teachers, and they would not put up with it.

Teachers are an easy target in our society that looks for simple solutions. They will be easier to control if Governors like Walker of Wisconsin and others can eliminate the collective bargaining power of teachers’ unions.

Clearly, Rhee wants to join in the chorus of lazy “experts” who want to blame the unions and ignore the actual factors involved in classroom education.

Rhee also discounts experience in her analysis of educational “problems” and attacks “LIFO” (last in first out) policies in many schools. Her lack of experience and over-inflated evaluation of her Baltimore success explains why she would go after experienced teachers. Firing tenured teachers is a way to save money in budget conscious schools and a way to go after unions. Like any other job, experience counts in teaching. The problem school “reformers” have with experienced teachers is that they will more likely question the top down, test dependant methods that are being forced on schools. They are a source of resistance to the high-stakes testing that has been promoted by our last two presidents and accepted as the norm in most states.

“Reformers” like Rhee and Arnie Duncan can’t put up with their authority being challenged. Thus, they must create reasons to fire long-time teachers that have good records and few if any complaints against them. Certainly, we have all had teachers in school that taught too long and lost their edge. However, that is no reason to fire experienced teachers.

Teacher evaluation in the states is heavily or exclusively weighted on high-stakes tests. At best, these tests score memory and how well students handle stress. Teaching originality, creativity, problem solving and cognitive reasoning are not valued nor evaluated when scoring teachers under this new testing obsessed regimen.


More on Rhee’s  not so stellar performance in D.C.

Lies about Students First

Recall Walker:

Read more about Race to the Top:

Tex Shelters

  1. i’ve seen where she’s down here in flori-duh with our new guv’ner, rick “run the state like a bidness” scott.

  2. UJ,

    You got that right padna. After they get rid of the teachers unions, we won’t need school inspections. Heck, we don’t need background checks for guns; they just cost money. Stop the background check for teachers. In fact, just hire cons on work furlough to teach to some test. Heck, anyone can do that.

    Tex Shelters

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