6th 2010
The War on Teachers: What has Michelle Rhee learned about education politics?

Posted under: American history, childhood, students, unhappy endings, wankers

How to cash in on her educrat celebrity!  From a lengthy, self-serving analysis of her time as Washington, D.C. school chancellor:

There are enough people out there who understand and believe that kids deserve better, but until now, there has been no organization for them. We’ll ask people across the country to join StudentsFirst—we’re hoping to sign up 1 million members and raise $1 billion in our first year.

.       .       .       .       .       .      

Though we’ll be nonpartisan, we can’t pretend that education reform isn’t political. So we’ll put pressure on elected officials and press for changes in legislation to make things better for kids. And we’ll support and endorse school-board candidates and politicians—in city halls, statehouses, and the U.S. Congress—who want to enact policies around our legislative agenda. We’ll support any candidate who’s reform-minded, regardless of political party, so reform won’t just be a few courageous politicians experimenting in isolated locations; it’ll be a powerful, nationwide movement.

Great!  Just what Washington needs:  another billion-dollar “nonprofit” lobbying firm!  Yeah, I bet that will change everything–for the children, of course.  (It will change everything for Michelle Rhee, anyway–I’m sure she’s looking at a major salary bump!)

Rhee can cry publicly about those meanie teachers in Washington, but she should be sending them a big thank-you note.  In defeating Mayor Adrian Fenty’s bid for re-election and ousting Rhee, the biggest winner in all of this is Rhee herself.  See, the number one lesson of being an educrat is that you never stay in one job long enough for the conclusive test results to come in assessing your tenure.  It’s much better to be driven out after just a few years and complain that you didn’t have time to implement your brilliant ideas.  That way, there’s never accountability for educrats, who can continue to claim to be working on behalf of the children, but who are never asked to show any proof that what they’ve done is working.  Certainly they’d never subject themselves to the same pay-for-performance that they claim is the only way to go with teachers earning $40,000 a year!  After three or four years, they’re off to superintend or chancellorize yet another big city school system, or (better yet!) to enter the super-lucrative revolving door of lobbying and “public service” in the nation’s capital.

Rhee’s false apology more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger to those dumba$$ teachers in Washington is pretty rich:

Still, I could have done a better job of communicating. I did a particularly bad job letting the many good teachers know that I considered them to be the most important part of the equation. I should have said to the effective teachers, “You don’t have anything to worry about. My job is to make your life better, offer you more support, and pay you more.” I totally fell down on doing that. As a result, my comments about ineffective teachers were often perceived as an attack on all teachers. I also underestimated how much teachers would be relying on the blogs, random rumors, and innuendo.

Yeah, well–I hear you on the blog issue.  (As we like to say here, you get what you pay for, friends!)  This part of her article reminds me of some post-breakup speeches I’ve heard:  “Don’t feel sorry for me!  On the contrary, I feel sorry for you, because I’ve already forgotten your name, and the name of your stupid blog.  You’ll be sorry one day, but then it will be too late!!!”

Rhee’s rhetoric has been pretty dopey all along, but what I find really comical is her suggestion that teachers and school districts are only serving adults–as though it’s inappropriate for adults to be in charge of education, and as though they’re not running complicated institutions with thousands of employees which therefore must think about things like contracts, collective bargaining, health insurance, and the like.  She writes as though it’s somehow unique that people with university educations should run things, like they do in hospitals, factories, and most businesses, instead of children.  She recycles this talking point again in this article:

Policymakers, school-district administrators, and school boards who are beholden to special interests have created a bureaucracy that is focused on the adults instead of the students. Go to any public-school-board meeting in the country and you’ll rarely hear the words “children,” “students,” or “kids” uttered. Instead, the focus remains on what jobs, contracts, and departments are getting which cuts, additions, or changes. The rationale for the decisions mostly rests on which grown-ups will be affected, instead of what will benefit or harm children.

This is about as silly as it gets.  So what’s her solution:  will StudentsFirst actually be run and staffed by grade schoolers?  What guarantees will private donors to StudentsFirst have that the adults who staff and direct the organization will in fact be guided by “what will benefit or harm children?”  Or is this just a front that will be funded by big corporations (like the for-profit education industry and testing companies) to go after the teacher’s unions? 

So, to summarize:  Michelle Rhee is the victim of vicious politics driven by teacher’s unions and stupid voters in Washington, D.C. who don’t know what’s good for them, so she’s starting a new lobbying firm to go after organized labor and the teachers’ unions in particular.  Now, that’s what I’d call sweet Rhee-venge! 


53 Responses to “The War on Teachers: What has Michelle Rhee learned about education politics?”

  1. Bardiac on 06 Dec 2010 at 10:51 pm #

    Zing! Love the last sentence.

    I’m obviously in the wrong end of the ed biz.

  2. Indyanna on 06 Dec 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    Yeah, a million-kid march on Washington to demand more standardization, more “accountability,” more transparency, more acronyms, more vision statements, more mission statements, more customer bills of rights, more webinars, more metric-based compensation systems, the whole package of K-Street fluff. Check the piece in the New York Times on Friday on the Bill Gates-driven project to put a seeing-eye camera in every classroom. It starts out with the basic mantra about “value added” ratings for teachers, then quickly gets to the money shot: cushy jobs for “retired principals,” sitting in dark rooms at the Microplex coding and scoring film. It always ends up being about gigs for double-dipping “retired” educrats, flying around the country to give good Power Point ™. I’m glad I dropped out of school years ago before this stuff got started.

  3. LadyProf on 07 Dec 2010 at 12:26 am #

    Thanks, Historiann. We in higher ed should remember to keep an eye on K-12, our feeder. I for one don’t keep it in mind enough.

    For me the creepiest part of Rhee’s longlonglong screed was her declaration that good teachers never had anything to worry about under her leadership. Nooo, the only people who need fear lobby-funded educrat bean-counting and webinars and metric-based reward schemes are those with something to be ashamed of.

  4. Tony Grafton on 07 Dec 2010 at 6:55 am #

    Heartfelt thanks, Historiann, you called this one exactly as it is.

    This is a big deal. Our governor in NJ also believes that teachers’ unions are the root of every problem this country has. I’m really afraid that protections for teachers may go the way of the air traffic controllers’ union. My mom taught in an inner city school in Philadelphia before the union existed (she helped to found it). Principals had absolute power, and working for bad ones was a nightmare.

  5. Historiann on 07 Dec 2010 at 6:59 am #

    The scale of Rhee’s ambitions–say it like Dr. Evil, “one billion dollars!”–is pretty amazing. I’m sure she’ll make her goal, too–there are plenty of corporations with deep pockets to fight the unions, and her educratic celebrity will draw in enough regular folks to put a grassroots cover on the astroturf.

    I’m with Bardiac. We missed the boat in thinking that education was about becoming an educator. Education is far too important to be left to the educators.

  6. ntbw on 07 Dec 2010 at 7:11 am #

    I was so excited when Rhee got booted out in Washington, but I should have known better. I didn’t even think to worry about this, but word is, she’s coming here to the Sunshine State to work with our newly elected governor (you know, the guy of HCA infamy). So, now we have the legacy of the Bush double whammy years, where we were the poster children for all the No Child Left Behind crapola, and now we get Rhee. An outstanding high school teacher whom I know well is seriously looking into other career options. Luckily, this person teaches a subject for which there are other options.

    Oh yes, and making $40,000 a year? That sounds pretty great, for a teacher in my part of the Sunshine State. The teacher I mention above makes less than that now, and this person has a graduate degree (in the subject the person teaches, not an ed degree), great merit ratings, and 8 years experience in the system. This person made more 8 years ago teaching in a western state, and not in a western state known for its princely pay for educators.

  7. Tenured Radical on 07 Dec 2010 at 7:45 am #

    I would like to see children rise up one day and rebel against all forms of privatization and conservative culture war performed in their name.

  8. Perpetua on 07 Dec 2010 at 8:01 am #

    Anytime someone says “What about the children?!” all you need to do is scratch under the surface of the sentimentality to find contempt. I’m always surprised by the persistence of the sentimentality-contempt binary in US cultural politics, especially as it is levied against children. Anytime you want to deny a group its rights, wrap it up in a beautiful bow of sticky sweet nothingness (I learned how that works from Dickens and all that gross Victorian angel-in-the-house garbage).

    I love the image of the school district being run by grade schoolers, H. Well, they couldn’t do much worse in some districts! At least they’d have recess. They could have a game show – the Board of Ed version of “Are you smarter than a fifth grader?”

  9. JackDanielsBlack on 07 Dec 2010 at 8:26 am #

    For my money, Christie and Rhee would make a great pair to lead the Republican ticket in 2012 (or maybe the Palin-Christie ticket could make Ms. Rhee secretary of education). I love those YouTube clips of Christie striking back against the education establishment!

  10. Ellie on 07 Dec 2010 at 10:41 am #

    “See, the number one lesson of being an educrat is that you never stay in one job long enough for the conclusive test results to come in assessing your tenure. […] That way, there’s never accountability for educrats, who can continue to claim to be working on behalf of the children, but who are never asked to show any proof that what they’ve done is working. […] After three or four years, they’re off to superintend or chancellorize yet another big city school system.”

    Hear, hear!

    Also applies to university provosts/presidents.

  11. JackDanielsBlack on 07 Dec 2010 at 11:08 am #

    It seems to me to be a bit of a leap to go from saying that educators should focus on children (which is what Rhee is actually saying in the quote above) to saying that we should put children in charge, which is what Historiann speculates Rhee’s “solution” is. Far more likely that Rhee’s solution to this problem is — for educators to focus on children instead of their own well being. Sounds reasonable to me, but then I haven’t been educated in a school of education.

  12. truffula on 07 Dec 2010 at 11:59 am #

    olution to this problem is — for educators to focus on children instead of their own well being.

    Hey! Maybe medical “insurance” companies should follow that model too!

  13. Historiann on 07 Dec 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Great idea, truffula! After all, it’s for the children.

    Remember Excellence without Money? Remember when I asked why it was only educators who were asked to provide “excellence” without money? What a great idea, if everyone would pitch in! As I wrote two years ago:

    Hey, kids, let’s rent a barn (without money!) and put on a show (for no money)! Historiann has even developed this generic university seal to symbolize this movement with the Seal Generator at You can make your own seal–say it with me now–for no money! Can you feel the excellence, my darlings? Let’s see if the copier company will be happy to to fix our copier–for no money! How about serving up lunch in the student center to us–for no money! Maybe Shell Oil will donate gasoline for staff and faculty vehicles so that we can get to campus–for no money! I wonder if banks and landlords will forgive mortgages and rents for everyone employed in higher education, so that we can house ourselves for no money! This no money thing could work, just so long as it’s not just people in higher education who are doing it for no money!

  14. Western Dave on 07 Dec 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    Shorter version of most educational reform in the current context: “We expect schools to preform like corporations, except when we don’t.”

    Education reformers need to make up their mind, either open up competition via charter schools (but also open up teaching opportunities, curriculum innovation etc.) in a massive decentralization of education that would kill standardized testing forever


    Go whole hog on the national standardized curricula, massive tracking on a national scale, youtubization of education as content only etc. etc..

    The current attempts to do both both show both the incoherence of the “school reform movement” and the fact that for many actors in this particular social drama it is not about “teh children” at all but the money.

    And JackDanielsBlack, if you don’t understand how a teacher’s health care package impacts “teh children” you need to go back to high school and re-learn your 19th century social reform movements or your Progressive Era social movements, or your New Deal social movements or…

  15. Historiann on 07 Dec 2010 at 2:12 pm #

    Western Dave: that’s about as succinct and coherent an explanation for the problems with the rhetoric on educational reform as I’ve ever heard. I think you’re right: either “unleash the power of the free market” of teachers and their educational capital and accept that letting a thousand flowers bloom is not ultimately controllable–

    (how’s that for using phrases from Mao’s Little Red Book and the Reason foundation?)

    –or turn teachers into testamatronic robot cogs. But don’t expect teachers to offer “excellence” (the former model) AND hound them and their students with the bloody tests.

  16. JackDanielsBlack on 07 Dec 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Western Dave, why not open up competition via funding of charter schools, parochial schools, etc., but still require standardized testing to gauge the results of all these different experiments? I can let a thousand flowers bloom but still judge which are the most beautiful and only continue to fund the ones that pass muster. Tell the educators they can teach however they want, but if students don’t learn, their teachers are toast.

    By the way, telling me to “go back to high school” and learn the joys of social reform is not an effective mode of argument.

  17. Western Dave on 07 Dec 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    @JackDanielsBlack Okay, rather than let you discover the truth on your own, I’ll spell it out for you. Teachers can’t teach if they aren’t in school because they are either sick, or home taking care of sick relatives. Thus, having access to decent health care is about the kids. And I’m sorry that you needed that explained to you and couldn’t figure out for yourself. But, you know, being willfully obstinate by saying “how are board meetings about what the teachers’ health care package contains relevant to educating kids?” is pretty much an invitation to be called stupid in public.

    Because the other option is the Board deciding the actual classroom content. And yeah, I really want an elected board deciding which math program my school uses.

  18. Janice on 07 Dec 2010 at 9:03 pm #

    I saw her speaking on CNN this morning (this is what I get for flipping channels away from the fabulous Toronto morning show). I think I scared my family ranting right back through all of her talking points.

    Amazing how quickly she landed on her feet after getting pretty much nothing done in D.C., as far as I could see. But it’s not competence that’s rewarded in educational administration, it’s profile!

  19. Indyanna on 07 Dec 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    The option of getting pretty much nothing done in New York City has recently been filled, so I guess she had to land somewhere.

    It’s amazing to me how “standardized tests” are considered the default-unproblematic thing in these debates, sometimes even by opponents of too much reflexive testing. Where’s the eduspheric equivalent of the longitudinal Framingham Heart Study, showing that doing well in the test Xt2 weeks after ingesting the content highly predicts making effective and informed decisions twenty years later when they call you up in the middle of the night from Precinct 12 and say “we’re holding your kid here and we need you to come down and…,” or the internist says “sure, you can get a second opinion, but this is what we think your basic options are” ? Because, isn’t that what the actual desired “outcomes” of the education process are supposed to be? Is there a doctor in the house? ….

  20. JackDanielsBlack on 08 Dec 2010 at 7:11 am #

    Western Dave, if you can point to where I said, as you claim, that “how are board meetings about what the teachers’ health care package contains relevant to educating kids?” (in quotation marks, yet,) I will award you a big gold star. If you can’t do this, then aren’t you just constructing a straw man to knock down? It’s sort of like me saying “Dave said ‘Ignore the kids so we can get good benefits.’” Not helpful, and not honest as discussion or argument.

    And you didn’t even address my suggestion that we open up competition to include charter, parochial and private schools by giving them funding, then assess the results in a standardized way and reward those who do well.

  21. truffula on 08 Dec 2010 at 9:42 am #


    The experiment has already been run, Jack, and charter schools didn’t come out ahead.

  22. JackDanielsBlack on 08 Dec 2010 at 9:53 am #

    Truffula, I think we need to run a nation-wide experiment with vouchers and put a little competition into the game. Let’s include vouchers that can be used for tuition at any school — public, parochial, private. In order to help the most disadvantaged kids, we could give higher voucher values for lower income kids. And we could bar schools which did not demonstrate success. I am tired of having my taxpayer money being used to fund substandard monopolistic schools, teachers, and administrators. If you want to cut off charter schools that fail, that is fine with me — but lets apply the same standard to public schools as well, and give dissatisfied students and parents another chance at hope and success by instilling competition. I would also like to see national standards that ensure that every teacher has at least a Masters degree in the subject(s) they propose to teach, and that the teachers also pass regularly-scheduled standardized tests in tehir subject matter. I am willing to see higher salaries paid to teachers who can demonstrate subject-matter mastery themselves. As it is, many of our public schools are essentially a form of welfare for hapless teachers — and God help the kids who go to these schools.

  23. Historiann on 08 Dec 2010 at 10:04 am #

    One of the things I’ve noticed about the discourse around public schools is how much it resembles conversations about congress: everyone agrees that they’re awful and they’re failing OMG, but no one thinks that their local school, their kids’ school, their grandkids’ school is failing. (Just as everyone thinks everyone in congress is a bum and an idiot except hir congressperson.)

    Rhee clearly underestimated the degree of loyalty and appreciation neighborhoods have to their neighborhood schools which–although many of them could be doing a better job–for the most part function well as community anchors. There’s a lot of loyalty out there for the majority of teachers who serve their communities well.

    Everyone thinks it sounds good to talk about shuttering “failing schools,” but few people in the end support the shuttering of their neighborhood schools. I can understand why, especially in high poverty places, communities are reluctant to lose their only functioning public institution.

    This is why I support charter school experiments, but I see them as only one partial solution to a multivalent and complex problem. All public schools deserve good funding and good teachers.

  24. NTBW on 08 Dec 2010 at 10:58 am #

    The latest from Rhee on the radio here in Sunshine State this morning: “We need to scrutinize the laws that protect the adults, like seniority based placement and pay and tenure, and eradicate them.”

    Because, you know, that’s so good for the kids–getting rid of rewards for experienced teachers, and making teachers’ lives more precarious, even as teachers’ and students’ lived get dominated even more by standardized test results.

    We already have a public school curriculum here in which kids are tested non-stop, and just about every bit of the primary school curriculum is test-oriented. Because of concerns for how well students will perform on the first grade FCAT writing portion, the expectation is now that students will ENTER kindergarten knowing how to write. Seriously, when I learned that at my older son’s kindergarten orientation meeting, I ran, not walked, to see what private school options were available! And early elementary kids get minimal time out of doors, or in music and art, because they have to be in their little desks drilling for those tests.

    And, once tenure is “eradicated” for K-12, guess who is next?

  25. Historiann on 08 Dec 2010 at 11:04 am #

    NTBW–your comments about literacy before K jibe with what I see in Colorado. I don’t think we’re at the point of testing FIRST GRADERS (good lord!!!), but I agree that the pressure is on. Kindergarten is like first grade used to be–they want kindergarteners who are fully 5 and even pushing 6 or already 6 on day one. This seems clearly linked to the pressure of testing in the later elementary grades.

    The backlash against the testing regime can’t come soon enough, especially (in my opinion) for people who already have children, even if they’re not enrolled in school yet.

  26. Historiann on 08 Dec 2010 at 11:07 am #

    And, hells to the yes on the importance of recess and the arts for young children. My goodness! It all seems so obvious! But, here’s my bet: art and music curricula aren’t as easy to standardize as math and reading, which is why they’re no longer valued by the testing regime.

    To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson (I think), the ABSENCE of “fresh air and sunshine” will “put the zap on [their] brain[s].”

  27. Tom on 08 Dec 2010 at 11:53 am #

    I wish to just weigh in against funding any kind of education via vouchers. Public school is funded by the whole public; no parent should be able to pull funding from the public school to support his or her child’s non-public education.

    I’ll confess that I have no children: but certainly, I doubt anyone would think that I deserve to be able to pull a chunk of money out of the public schools and use it for my personal uses. So why should a parent have access to a voucher? It’s not like only parents pay the taxes that support the schools.

    Or, if I think the federal, state, or local government is failing at anything else, can I also choose to get part of my taxes refunded? I think the roads are crap, so give me a road voucher to pay for my four-wheel drive vehicle, that does well on crap roads? Or just a cash bonus, since I walk to work?

    Vouchers allow individuals to limit their support for public institutions. But if that’s allowed, why shouldn’t I want my chunk of the school money, too, whether I’ve got kids or not?

  28. JackDanielsBlack on 08 Dec 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    Testing is good. Testing makes teachers accountable, and ensures that kids will be able to perform when they graduate. Yes, testing is imperfect, but the way to fix that is to improve the tests, not throw them out. And music and art appreciation are important, and they can be tested too — I took both in college and believe me, tests were administered!

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet in this thread is the importance of classroom discipline. It only takes one or two disruptive kids to ruin a classroom for everybody else. Teachers must be enabled to deal with this and special schools must be available for those who refuse to restrain themselves in the classroom (we used to call them “reform schools” when I was coming up, but I am sure we can find a better euphemism today.) The many should not suffer for the sins of the few.

  29. NTBW on 08 Dec 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    Re “Testing is Important”

    Testing is important when it is done well and the results are used appropriately. In the private school my older son attends, beginning in third grade (not in first grade as is the case with the state’s standardized test in public schools), students take the Iowa Basic Skill test. The results are used as a snapshot of individual performance / progress and as overall class performance / progress.

    The school’s curriculum is not designed around teaching to the test, teachers’ pay is not tied to test results, a kid’s overall academic performance is not assessed through the test result. This, to my mind, is exactly how standardized tests should be used.

    And, while I only know my own child’s results and the overall aggregate profile for his class, those results show he is dramatically above grade level in all core academic areas, as are a majority of the members of his class. So NOT teaching to the test, and NOT making the test results high stakes, seems to work quite well.

    Now, this is a private school. However, it is, by its core mission, not a socially elite school. Kids in my son’s class come from a wide range of racial and socio-economic backgrounds, including one who lives in the local Boys’ Town. So it’s not like the kids there are all like mine, from a white, upper middle class, academically focused background.

    And honestly, I am not at all interested in my sons’ being tested in music, art, physical education, and drama, all of which have important places in their schools’ curricula. I want them to participate in these things, enjoy them, and appreciate them that way, not just to learn testable “facts” about them. Plenty of time for that once they reach double digits in age, thanks!

  30. Historiann on 08 Dec 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    No one bit last week on my “modest proposal” to revoke parental tenure, but I think that would be an interesting thought experiment w/r/t the uses of testing data. Let’s imagine a world in which we remove children from their homes and from parental custody because of low test scores.

    Does it make sense? Is it fair? Is it in the best interests of the children? In some cases it probably would be–but do we want to live in that kind of nation?

  31. Fratguy on 08 Dec 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    Funny how testing is real important until it fails to measure progress and then the data gets massaged (Howler catalogues this extremely well with Rhee) I guess it is a choice of endpoints, will you look at scores, or graduation rates, or success in later life, or college, or job, or not pregnant, etc? Those end points are a lot harder to achieve and require a serious look at the built environment, the exdodus of middle clas blue collar jobs from our shores, lack of affordable daycare, excessive commute times for gainful employment, you know, the myriad of things that make raising a child if you are not of means so difficult. The emphasis on turning around test scores in a span of 3-4 years strikes me as typical for the corporate mgt style for the zeitgeist. Pump up your share value with some short term profits or meaningless metric at the expense of long term goals and cash out.

  32. JackDanielsBlack on 08 Dec 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    NTBW, sounds like your kid goes to a good school. Wouldn’t it be great if ambitious poor kids in America could also have access to such schools, via vouchers, when their own schools are failing them? And I think the reason for testing in music, arts, phys ed, etc., is to gauge the effectiveness of the teacher. Again, I am all for this if it is done properly. You may not be interested in your kid being tested in music, but aren’t you interested in whether your kid is being effectively taught music?

    Historiann, the state already revokes parental tenure, particularly for poor families who either cannot or will not properly care for their kids. We need to provide a safety net for poor families who want to do right by their kids, and I think we can afford to and that it is a scandal that we do not do this. I think the best way to do this would be via the negative income tax proposed by Daniel Patrick Moynihan and others, where the state would automatically send checks to low-earning families up to a living wage. This eliminates the welfare bureaucracy and some of the “shame” of welfare. It also does away with onerous welfare requirements like no man in the home, etc. As far as I am concerned, we could fund it by cutting back on the defense budget until we only spend as much as the rest of the world combined. Folks who will not try are one thing, but folks who try their best and still fail deserve the help and support of our society. Every American family deserves enough income to live on, and it is a disgrace that they do not get it today. And if we did this, I’ll bet kids would do better in school — provided of course that they had effective teachers!

  33. ntbw on 08 Dec 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    This is Historiann’s blog, not mine, so I’ll keep this short. If you read my earlier response, you will know that there ARE ambitious poor kids at my son’s private school. Not thanks to state vouchers. Thanks to the school’s offering generous financial aid, and thanks to parents who do a good deal of fundraising work to make such aid possible.

    And if my young sons sing in the backseat of the car, tap out beats, and, most of all, love music and seek out new forms, all of which they do, I’m convinced they are being taught it properly. No testing needed.

  34. truffula on 08 Dec 2010 at 9:30 pm #

    Testing is good

    Testing is only necessary because out society values binning individuals into groups for easy sorting.

    Neither of my children are tested at school and yet both are learning to read, write, and do their sums. One of them (first grade) just composed a booklet about the Deepwater Horizon disaster because he looked for a book about it in the classroom library and found none. We did the research at home, I was the research assistant. The other (also first grade) gave me a great tutorial about division during dinner a month or so ago and can tell you all about resolving conflict without calling in an authority figure.

    They don’t have tests but they do have work journals which are monitored closely and weekly conferences with their teachers, during which they appraise what work is going well and where more attention is needed. I know this system works because I know students at all ages along the path. They are equal to or ahead of peers whenever they enter the mainstream education realm (although sometimes shocked at the student behaviors they encounter when they do).

    The teachers, in turn, have a conferencing system with parents and with the school director. Everybody is mindful of everybody else. This is what it takes. Testing and carrot/stick treatment of teachers are the lazy way to approach education.

  35. Western Dave on 08 Dec 2010 at 10:29 pm #

    @Jack Ok, I was putting words in your mouth, like you’ve never done that to anybody before or even to me in this thread. Your quoting Rhee, who said that BoE meetings aren’t about kids. I’m saying if she thinks they aren’t about kids she’s too stupid to understand what happens at a BoE meeting or willfully misrepresenting them

    Now onto competition. I work in a private school. All girls k-12. We are about to drop the AP program in the department I teach in. Why? Because the grading is crap. They did not give a students the point for the thesis if they wrote “From 1450 on” instead of “From 1450 to the present.” Now do you know why I don’t want my pay tied to standardized test scores? Who do you think writes and grades this crap? Most of the parent population at my school wants recess, music, arts, and in depth awesome programs taught be expert faculty who experiment constantly with new types of assignments, course overhauls etc.. There is no way in hell my school would take public money if it means public oversight of the curriculum. I am not having some paper pusher in Harrisburg demanding that I stop teaching the social construction of sexuality to 9th graders, in favor of them memorizing the Presidents in order. It’s not what my parents want, it’s not why I work in public schools, and it’s not why our enrollment is at record levels IN A RECESSION! In short, only a private school that was losing in the marketplace would take the state funds. Any new start-ups wouldn’t be able to replicate private school success because of the restrictions state funds impose.

    PS. No love for portfolio grading? Project-based learning? Testing is the only possible measure?

  36. JackDanielsBlack on 09 Dec 2010 at 5:11 am #

    Truffula, sounds like your kids go to a good private school (sounds kind of like Friends School, where my kid went.) Western Dave, sounds like you teach in a good private school. So surely the both of you would support vouchers that would enable poor kids who want a good education to go to your schools, instead of the crummy schools they are currently trapped in?

    Given the current overall state of public education in America, I still believe that standardized teacher assessment is necessary if we are to regain our competitive role in the world. Relatively well-off folks who send their kids to exclusive private schools can easily send their kids to another school if they think they are not learning well; unfortunately, most parents in America do not have this option, and we desperately need to improve the schools that they have to send their kids to. I think this is a matter of social justice, and we need testing to identify the problems, assess their scope, and solve them. A significant and meaningful voucher system would also help empower these parents and their kids.

  37. Western Dave on 09 Dec 2010 at 7:52 am #

    I would support for vouchers for my school if there were no strings attached. But that can’t be policy because you would have all kinds of crap schools springing up that would just take the money and run. In Philadelphia, our experience has been that for every decent charter that opens, there are two or three crappy ones. I’m talking embezzlement, self-dealing, screwing the kids to get the money kind of stuff. Now some of this has to do with the incredibly corrupt political culture of Philadelphia where the Republicans gave up on trying to win elections in exchange for the receipts and patronage of the Parking Authority and the reform mayor (a democrat who won with the help of state Republicans although not city ones) is stymied by a devil’s bargain coalition of Republicans and Democrats in city council who all have their own mayoral aspirations. It’s not unheard of, for example, for a Republican city councilperson to switch parties and run in the Democratic primary. More typically, it was the other way around. Anyway, that’s a roundabout way of saying that real school reform is unlikely to happen through political meddling, that accountability is way more difficult than people make it out to be.

  38. Western Dave on 09 Dec 2010 at 8:05 am #

    I’ve already laid out one contradiction in school reform movements, but there is another one. School reformers can’t agree what they want out of schools. Look at the conflict over math programs. Do you want everyday math or one of it’s variants: where kids will learn principals of mathematics as they learn math facts? But it’s time consuming and involves a lot of teacher training to do well? Or do you want kids to do drill and kill math facts, which can be done relatively cheaply but doesn’t lay the groundwork for every kid to calculus the way everyday math does? But just as the push for every kid should take calculus is cresting, there is a new push that says most people will never use calculus and everybody should take stats because it’s necessary to understand science and policy debates, etc.. Want students to take both? And cut what? Face it, as long as most Americans measure the success of their schools by the football team’s record (or in my hometown, the lacrosse team’s record), school reform is mostly a shill for “we want to pay less taxes but the same amount of services.”

  39. truffula on 09 Dec 2010 at 9:49 am #

    County school, Jack, not private.

  40. JackDanielsBlack on 09 Dec 2010 at 10:02 am #

    Truffula, if your kids are going to a public school, how do they avoid being achievement-tested? I thought No Child Left Behind mandated testing for all public schools that receive Federal funding. Am I wrong?

  41. Z on 09 Dec 2010 at 10:13 pm #

    @Tom, GRACIAS re no vouchers.

    I went to good public schools years ago. There were different kinds of standardized tests for purposes of studying US, but not for the (destructive) uses to which they are put now.

    I like tests for pedagogical purposes, that is, I liked them at one time and still do in theory, if they are well constructed. But now, at the university, I would prefer not to give any until at least the junior level because of the way the students have been geared exclusively toward test preparation which they see as a completely different activity than learning. After seeing performance on a final exam today, and the amount of plagiarism in the papers, I am thinking of doing 100% project based courses, with oral midterms and final (no cheating possible then) whose grades are given to the students as information (on what level of achievement they have actually attained; I’d give comments and recommendations but not count the grades unless they raised the individual students’ average, because otherwise too many would fail). That way they might get real feedback and in the meantime learn how to study via the projects, but not be led to focus on test survival as they have been taught to do pretty much exclusively by now.

  42. Z on 09 Dec 2010 at 10:22 pm #

    P.S. by which I mean — what about refunding public schools, instead of impoverishing them and then complaining they are “failing”?


    Meanwhile: does anyone have recommendations on where to start to find out to what extent it is true American students are less well educated now than 30 or 60 or 150 years ago … and whether at all points we were less well educated than the countries we’d like to compare ourselves to (or that we consider to be in our “tier”)? Are students really worse or just differently bad? Isn’t it really all about funding? Isn’t it true that Western Dave’s school is that good because it can afford to be?

    Really and truly, re teachers: are they really that bad? I mean, we educate a lot of high school teachers at my place and it is true, many aren’t our top graduates; some just squeak through the Praxis exam in their subject areas. Yet when I visit their classes later on, and those of their colleagues, I am always impressed. What is with this anti teacher war, really?

  43. Western Dave on 10 Dec 2010 at 8:48 am #

    @Z. Historical data is tough to find because of apples and oranges comparisons but…, Drop out rates overall have had held steady since the 1970s even as graduation requirements have gotten significantly tougher. This could be interpreted to mean that schools are actually getting better. Re: funding: my school funding doesn’t differ that significantly from a public school (and if you took out some of the more expensive sports programs it might come out lower). However, we have a more limited mission. Every kid in this school is at least in a college prep track and has at least average IQ or close to it. We offer significantly fewer choices than a big public school does. We spend more on materials and less on salary (but more on benefits). Our tuition is all inclusive except meals (snack is included for lower school kids but not lunch). The biggest difference is the autonomy of teachers to develop and implement their own curricula. I can’t stress enough what a difference that makes.

  44. Z on 10 Dec 2010 at 10:06 pm #

    @Western Dave. This is fascinating. Own curricula, yes, I get it. For that, though, they have to trust you and it seems that the refusal to trust teachers is the key problem.

    From further up, on standardized tests, “Who do you think writes and grades this crap?” This is the other thing I wish the public realized. I wonder whether it’s actually crappy testing that has people angry at education in the first place.

  45. JackDanielsBlack on 12 Dec 2010 at 5:31 am #

    I saw a news article saying that Governor-elect Rick Scott of Florida may propose school vouchers for all Florida public school students that would assign a certain amount of money to each student and follow that student to whatever school, public or private, he or she chose to attend. See
    for details.

    If this proposal is enacted, it will be very interesting to see the results. Perhaps we are finally starting to see some state-initiated real reform of our broken school system.

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