Michelle Rhee Shoulda Gotten An Education

Late last night, I stumbled across an ‘interview’ with Michelle Rhee (linked to by John Protevi on Facebook). (‘Michelle Rhee Gets an Education,’ New York Times Magazine, 2 February 2013). The comments section is absolutely priceless, and well worth a read. Here, I want to address a couple of her responses, because they offer us excellent insights into an extremely alarming person’s mind, one that has been appointed ‘reformer’ of ‘America’s schools’ but who instead, comes across as more of a destroyer than anything else.

Exhibit Numero Uno:

You write that you were offended by a sign in a Washington public school that read, “Teachers cannot make up for what parents and students will not do.” That didn’t make sense to you? 

As educators, we have to approach our job believing that anything is possible. It is incredibly important that we constantly communicate to kids that they can accomplish anything when they put their minds to it.

Translation: To me, that sign looked like an excuse made by lazy teachers.

Rhee does not like teachers, that much is clear. What she also revealed by her taking offense at the sign is that she lacks an understanding of the circumstances that may impinge on a student’s education. She forgets that schools are placed in very particular social and economic circumstances, as are their classrooms, and what takes place in them is not impervious to what happens outside. Her ‘anything is possible’ affirmation isn’t one; it’s an ostrich-like responses to material factors that affect school success. Unsurprisingly, she is fixated on test scores.

Exhibit Numero Dos:

You offered thousands of dollars to teachers and principals who brought up their schools’ test scores. Did you ever consider that it would encourage some to cheat? 

Teachers have integrity. And if money was the motivating factor, they wouldn’t be in education.

But money is enough of a motivating factor to get them to work toward your objectives? There is something more insidious at play here: Rhee wants to insist that teachers should work for the ‘love of it’ and shut up and put up about wages and working conditions. All those unions, asking for raises and better working hours. Shouldn’t you guys be working instead? As I’ve noted here before, the only Americans allowed to do the best for themselves are CEOs. The rest of us have to work for the love of it.

Exhibit Numero Tres:

Your reputation has been partly informed by the fact that you allowed a PBS news crew to film you firing a principal. Was that a terrible idea in retrospect? 

When I became chancellor, for the first two years of the job I was incredibly naïve about the press. I thought that my job was to run the school district, and that was what I was focused on. Now in retrospect I know how naïve it was.

At least Rhee is unapologetic. What she really wanted to say: ‘I quite enjoyed firing a principal on television; it let me show the teachers who’s boss.’

My sniping at Rhee here is inadequate; the real treat for the reader lies in the comments section of the interview. And in reading the always-wonderful Diane Ravitch on her.

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