Michelle Rhee is 'Not Done Fighting' against public school teachers and unions

At an after school event, December 8, 2010, aimed at what former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee said was giving urban teachers voice in educational reform, educational data consulting firm Teach Plus hosted a by-invitation-only discussion with educational entrepreneur Michelle Rhee. Michelle Rhee on the cover of Newsweek (December 13, 2010) echoes the same corporate attack on veteran teachers that she made when she was on the cover of Time two years earlier. The Newsweek article by Rhee appears at the bottom of the Substance report here.

Teach Plus events utilize electronic audience-surveyed responses to presentation questions to generate discussions among participants. The surveyed group consisted of almost 90 teachers. More than half on them were from charter schools. The majority in the room had been teaching from 3-10 years, and their students are mostly high school aged.

All of this data was acquired with the first three survey questions, and was measured on various bar-graphs that the audience could see.

After an introduction that described Rhee as having “the most hits on the Internet regarding education,” Rhee took some time to describe the changes that she implemented as chancellor of Washington D.C. Public Schools. “What changed were the adults in the classroom, and that changed the academic trajectory,” she told the audience.

Rhee described what she said was her attempt to “sit-down at the table” with educational groups including various teachers unions, Rhee’s educational reform company The New Teacher Project, and others who have a stake in educational reform as being “difficult and unproductive.”

“[We] can’t have everyone in the room, or you won’t get anywhere. In the Civil Rights Movement, people weren’t sitting around saying ‘what can we do?’ they took to the streets,” she told the Chicago group.

Rhee admits that her policies and positions are controversial and hard for many to swallow. On the cover of the December 13th, 2010 Newsweek, Rhee declares that she’s “not done fighting.” Rhee left Washington DC after residents voted out Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had appointed Rhee D.C. schools chancellor even though her experience consisted of two controversial years as a Teach for American classroom teacher in Baltimore and running the New Teacher Project. Fenty's loss in the D.C. Democratic primary was attributed to the large discontent among organized teachers, at least 241of whom were fired from their teaching positions under what Rhee claimed was based on "failure." The overwhelming majority of the veteran teachers Rhee fired in D.C. were over the age of 30 and African-American.

Rhee recently launched her new organization, StudentsFirst to garner support for her position on education reform. While teachers, parents, students and “everyone else” are welcomed on the homepage, Rhee stands firm on her position towards teacher unions.

“The purpose of teachers unions is to protect the privileges, priorities, and pay of their members. And they're doing a good job of that,” she said.

Though it is clear from Rhee’s point that unions have no place in the educational reform discussion, participants at the Teach Plus event were very engaged in the question responses which focused on teacher tenure, merit pay, and changing teacher evaluation.

Teachers were concerned with the extent to which poverty affects their students’ learning. “When I go into my classroom I need to believe that I can fix anything, but I know the problems are greater than that,” said Andrew R. a teacher in a charter school who attended Rhee's December 8 Chicago event.

Aaron, a CPS teacher commented, “I see the purpose of tenure – a teacher needs academic freedom – but I don’t feel that in it’s present form it protects me. I was almost laid off for no other reason than seniority.”

In sum:

- 95% of participants Agreed or Strongly Agreed to the statement that “All children can achieve at the highest level regardless of socio-economic background.”

- 77% Disagree or Strongly Disagree that teacher tenure is helpful in the education system.

- 71% Agree or Strongly Agree that merit pay for teachers will can have a positive impact on education, and

- 74% Agree or Strongly Agree that the school day should be longer for students. 


December 11, 2010 at 3:09 PM

By: Jim Vail

Interesting Stuff

This is an interesting article about what the top wants in education reform. After the mayor of D.C. lost and out went Rhee, this did not result in a rejection of education reform. The new mayor said he will continue this so-called "reform" - which means attacking teacher unions, more standadardized testing, etc., albeit with a different face that is not so confrontational as Rhee.

In fact Rhee is a test balloon for the ruling class. How nasty and hard hitting can we at the top be against the pesky workers. And when enough people get pissed off, then just change tactics a bit, but since they're still in power, continue on course.

The fact is the Rhees and Hubermans are as expendable as the "tenured" teachers who were fired this past summer despite those protections that need to go. Rhee is as interested in promoting herself and how she can serve the ruling class interests, as a public school teacher is interested in acquiring a job in the classroom to help the city's children learn.

I have heard talk on Opray that a new Chicago mayor Emmanuel would put Rhee in to replace Huberman. Should that be the case - our city and all defenders of public education must rally in the streets - as Rhee said was the case during the civil rights movement - to oppose such an odious figure (who boasts about ducktaping her students) in Chicago education.

December 11, 2010 at 3:27 PM

By: XB

We need to educate...

So despite three decades of research, people still believe in merit pay?

In other news, 84% of those surveyed also did not believe in Jupiter and listed their best friend as "Santa Claus".

December 11, 2010 at 9:01 PM

By: J McKinzie

The current edition of Newsweek

In the same edition of Newsweek there is an article in which the successes in a Florida school district are briefly examined. This school district is different because the district and the union work together as partners for the best for the students. Frankly, I'm tired of the immediate feather rustling and defensiveness that characterizes talks about education reform, especially within CPS. What we're doing right now is not cutting it — we need to change — we won't be able to change if we just keep saying "No" to everything. Both sides are guilty of this and we need to stop because we are wasting the students' time. To clarify, before I am attacked, I do not necessarily agree with everything on Rhee's agenda. However, we've got to stop just having an opinion about everything — we need to act. Even if it does mean fighting and taking to the streets. Just be sure what you are fighting for. I question whether we know for sure what we are fighting for, other than the usual campaign slogans.

By the way, I did answer the equation to prove I'm not robot by purposefully giving the wrong answer. So much for proving I am not a robot and possess a mind of my own.

December 11, 2010 at 10:29 PM

By: Jim Vail

Good question

I think J McKinzie makes a very good point here. What do we stand for? We as supporters of public education. The Daleys and Rhees and Emmanuels can garner votes from the masses and attack public education under nifty slogans that are tough to dispute when not further examined. Teachers to be paid on the test results of their kids, not just automatic raises every year. Sounds appealing during these hard times. Charter schools that educate kids all year round with longer school days. Sounds so pro-child.

In fact, I remember meeting with Alderman Shiller who looked at me furiously with the same question McKinzie asked above. What is your solution? You cannot say public schools are not failing, she told me in a very agitated voice.

She became even more agitated when I told her her quick fix schools like the new Renaissance school in her ward was no answer or proof it was better than the public schools getting slammed in the corporate media.

And unions are complicit - making deals like getting Obama elected who has turned out to be very anti public education with Race to the Top as he keeps the whole Bush economic team intact to reward Wall Street and screw workers.

We need a big public education campaign to save public education, prove it is doing a great job, admit our mistakes, say no to corporate reforms that hurt the students (for example, closing schools that increases violence and further hurts the children's already fragile learning environment).

And that requires tons of people in the streets crying "Hell No - We won't Go!"

December 12, 2010 at 1:44 AM

By: Rhee does not dare go back to the classroom

Rhee who ducktapes the mouths of children

Rhee can't bring herself to go back to the classroom--she must create a job to get away from it. Ironic she really would not be able to teach in a K-12, because what district would hire someone who ducktaped students mouths which made their lips bleed? Parents would go nuts at the school she taught at and that BoE would have to DNH.

December 12, 2010 at 8:41 AM

By: Paul Thomas

Rhee and new reformers

Rhee and the other new reformers are promoting themselves by distorting messages about education that fit what people want to believe. . .

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