Michelle Rhee: Be Careful What You Wish For

Change is hard. As someone who battles daily to teach future adults-in-training, not assemble some internationally-competitive, global workforce, I’m no stranger to fighting against well-funded, well-connected, but naïve reformers.

Sadly, Michelle Rhee, former Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor and proponent of untried, untested reforms, has once again waded into the murky waters of reforms. She and her ilk continue to exploit a famous Mark Twain maxim about the three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Reformers will twist international test scores in extremely selective ways to support their questionable improvements.

Michelle Rhee’s article was titled “How America Is Failing Its Kids.” The only people failing the kids are these so-called education reformists.

Last week, the United States got a painful reminder that international tests are relatively useless for comparing countries. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) provides yearly rankings of industrialized nations, and the US apparently is still on that same horrific decline that “A Nation at Risk” declared some thirty years ago. Presently Mercedes Schneider has written a piercing piece on those latest PISA scores (http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/anti-union-nonprofit-shill-attacks-aft/), pointing out that since Latvia, Estonia, and Vietnam scored higher than we did, they therefore must signal a new global triumvirate that will replace the United States as a Superpower.

Frankly it’s ridiculous to use this test to compare countries. China, for example, doesn’t test their entire population, just the city of Shanghai. Wouldn’t the US scores be wonderful if we only tested, say, Boston, with its top-notch, educational standards? Comparing Finland, which has a poverty rate of less than 5% and the United States, with higher than 20%, reminds one of oranges and apples, and does not represent the fine qualities for which the United States stands.

Michelle Rhee, o astute analyst of information, thank you for your incredible diagnostic skills. Your breakdown of numbers in Massachusetts pointed out a disparity of scores between white students and “children of color.” Ms. Rhee claims that Common Core will miraculously solve this unacceptable disparity. How exactly does making all students meet the same standards suddenly close the gap between the two groups, white and colored, to use her phrase? It doesn’t, and apparently with the recent first rounds of scores from states engaging in the Common Core testing debacle, all it has done is widen the gap between these two groups and set all students up for failure against incredibly high benchmarks.

Michelle Rhee, o sensible sage of perspicacity, your perception of the Constitution is woefully lacking. Education is a state issue. Encouraging a common set of standards for all states through bribery–liberal doses of federal money (Race to the Top Grants)—is tantamount to creating a federal curriculum. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 specifically forbids this, a most inconvenient fact for education reform proponents. Their disingenuous claims that no state was forced to apply for grant money doesn’t disguise the naked fact that states desperately need money for education, and the strings attached were adoption of the same standards for some 45 states. When 90% of a country is trying to meet the same standards, you have a federally-aligned system. States have the right to set their own curricula that match nobody else’s, and if one state is higher than the other, well, that’s the cost of federalism. It’s useful to know those definitions.

Michelle Rhee, o crafty architect of anecdotes, that story about students transferring states, while lamentable, is the price of federalism inherent in our constitutional republic. That same republic allows us to speak against these ill-designed, unverified reforms and even chase out educational leaders who lack the skills and prerequisite educational background to guide educational systems. How can a woman whose failed educational career of three years’ in the classroom be trusted to run an intricate system with thousands of employees? How can a man who too lasted just three years in the classroom be trusted, after six weekend seminars, to become an education leader in New York, a Superintendent of a Recovery School District, and then get elevated to the top educational job in the State of Louisiana? (Think John White.) How can a man who could not get hired as a teacher, much less a principal, and has little standard-writing experience get cherry-picked to rewrite all the standards for Common Core? (Think David Coleman.)

Michelle Rhee, o failed former firer of principals and teachers, be careful what you wish for. Your words were “The United States made no improvement from previous years, while other countries leapfrogged us by dramatically improving their students’ proficiency levels.” What better proof that this stunning package of reforms aren’t working? Ten years of No Child Left Behind, ten years of claiming market-based theories will fix education’s woes, ten years of denigrating teachers and principals as the enemy, apparently hasn’t worked. So what’s my favorite definition of insanity? Oh, that’s right, it’s Albert Einstein’s: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Michelle Rhee’s article was titled “How America Is Failing Its Kids.” The only people failing the kids are these so-called education reformists.



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