Posted tagged ‘Michelle Rhee’

Lex Luthor is Waiting for Superman

September 20, 2010

I never really cared for comic book revisionism.  When they replaced Hal Jordan as Green Lantern I screamed bloody murder.  However, when John Byrne took bumbling mad scientist Lex Luthor and turned him into a corporate fiend, it was a brilliant move.  In the past, Luthor had build giant robots, death rays, a green and purple armored suit, but none of these posed a threat to the Man of Steel.  As a reader I knew this.   What John Byrne did in 1986 was to find a foe that Superman couldn’t face in a fair fight—a corporate executive.   Superman couldn’t just fly into a board room and haul Luthor off to prison, he had to catch Luthor in the act and to the public Luthor was corporate hero.  He hid his crimes behind a facade of good works.

For me, the new movie Waiting for Superman is very aptly titled for the movie is little more than propaganda designed to be  a happy face on those who seek to profit at our children’s expense.  To truly appreciate the movie you must accept three claims:

1. Public teacher unions are so powerful people like Bill Gates and the folks who run Walmart can’t figure out a way around them.

2. Countries like Finland and Sweden that have much more powerful teachers unions than we do and are considered the world’s top school systems have nothing we can learn from

3. Schools in the South are a utopia since they do not have teacher’s unions or have right to work laws that make them useless.

4. Public school teachers don’t care about kids, only corporations do.

5. The people pushing education reform based on standardized tests and strict discipline like KIPP seek education opportunities for their own children directly opposite the KIPP philosophy by mere coincidence

6. That a failed teacher like Michelle Rhee after 2 years of struggling to control her own classroom suddenly found the magic formula for teaching and abruptly left the classroom to recruit teachers.  She now is capable of running a big city school district despite the parents that live there seeing her as one of the main reasons to vote against the mayor that hired her.

I could go on, but really if you can look at those 6 and tell me that the movie still makes a lot of good points, there really is no reason to continue.   We want a first world education system and we should have it, but we do not have first world health care for children, we have third world levels of childhood poverty, we are no longer a country that values our lower class or most of our middle class.   Our poverty numbers exceed what they were in the 1960s when Lyndon Johnson declared his war on poverty.   Jim Horn has some wonderful information here on just why this movie is so blatantly propaganda most vile.  I would also recommend checking out Charter School Scandals before holding them  as the panacea that the movie makers want you to.

It’s sad when children don’t make the lottery to get into the school they want or when they are called into the office to be told that they are a discipline problem, have special needs, or just are too low to remain at the charter school.   Fortunately, they can always go to the public school.   They take everybody.


Michelle Rhee and the Death of the Washington Post

January 28, 2010

"Nixon vows to restore faith in government" -- The New Washington Post

There was a time when the Washington Post was breaking new ground in journalism.  Today, it seems that the Washington Post is instead breaking new ground in journalistic ethics.   The Post made news this past summer when publisher Katharine Weymouth announced plans to hold  policy dinners at her home and produced marketing fliers that offered corporate underwriters access to Post journalists, Obama administration officials and members of Congress in exchange for payments as high as $250,000.  Weymouth eventually backed down when she realized the notion that people could buy access to Washington Post reporters was damaging the paper’s image.

Earlier this week, I reported on Michelle Rhee’s accusations that some of the teachers she had laid off this year had sex with their students. When the public outcry did not go away on it’s own and people demanded answers, Michelle Rhee chose to go to the Washington Post editorial board to give her non-apology.   As always, Rhee has been able to count on the good old Washington Post to provide her with a soft landing.   When metro education reporter Bill Turque wrote a post that was critical of the Post and its coddling of Rhee, the post was promptly pulled from the newspaper”s blog only to be returned edited into a much kinder story.  In the original article Turque had said, “the chancellor’s obvious rapport with Jo-Ann, also means that DCPS has a guaranteed soft landing spot for uncomfortable or inconvenient disclosures–kind of a print version of the Larry King Show.”  It was changed to read, “the chancellor’s rapport with Jo-Ann, means that DCPS may prefer to talk to her than me.”

It is amazing how positive the Washington Post has managed to be about Michelle Rhee even in the face of the most damming evidence against her.   Jay Mathews is perhaps the most egregious example.   You could actually feel the tears softly falling on his keyboard today as he beseeched Michelle Rhee, “So please, Ms. Chancellor, say whatever you have to say to get us past this rough spot. I can see why national political leaders are afraid to apologize for things they did. Their opponents just use their words to beat them over the head harder. But you are in a very strong position. Test scores are improving.”

Aside from the fallacy of the test scores which has been well documented elsewhere, this is the kind of journalism that the Washington Post has sunk to?   As a fan of movies like The Front Page, I’m as sad as anybody to see the day of the newspaper over, but the Washington Post is dying of self-inflicted wounds if this is what passes for journalism today.   Today’s Washington Post would have Woodward and Bernstein would be praising Nixon for opening China and asking him to distance himself from G. Gordon Liddy.

Michelle Rhee’s Double Standard on Sex with Children

January 24, 2010

In the February issue of Fast Company magazine, Michelle Rhee was asked about the 266 teachers that she laid off this past October.   Her jaw dropping response was, “I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school,” Rhee says. “Why wouldn’t we take those things into consideration?”

Since the layoffs teachers, parents, and students have been complaining about quality teachers being laid off, but Michelle Rhee’s statement opens up a whole new can of worms for the district.  Michelle Rhee’s comment leads one to only three conclusions:

1. There were known pedophiles teaching in the DC schools and rather than going after them in court or at the least firing them for inappropriate contact with students, the disrtict merely let these people go merrily on their way to other schools and other school districts where they can again be around children.   Even if the district won’t hire them back, there are plenty of private and charter schools that will.  Plus they would be free to get other jobs that keep them in the proximity of schools.  She has done exactly the sort of thing that people have rightly complained about Catholic bishops doing–taking known pedophiles and instead of doing something about the problem moving them on to a new parish.

2. Michelle Rhee has slandered the names of the vast majority of the teachers who were let go.   She has said in the past that many were excellent teachers.  However, if you are hiring a teacher and you have two candidates.   One of them is good, but the other one is slightly better.   However, the one that is slightly better has a 2% chance of sexually abusing his students–are you really going to take that chance?  She has done irreparable harm to many good people and good educators.

3. On the other hand, it may simply be that Michelle Rhee doesn’t think sexual abusing minors is a big deal.  This is an appalling thing to say and perhaps an unfair accusation.  However, I do feel the need to bring it up because of her recent engagement to Kevin Johnson who has not only been accused of sex with minors, but records show that he paid one girl who filed a complaint against him $230,000.   Rhee has been accused of helping to kill investigations into the charges against Johnson.  Now, if I’m wrong here and Rhee believes that it is wrong and her future husband was wrongly accused, how dare she wrongly accuse others.

At worst this woman is aiding and abetting the sexual abuse of minors.  At best she is slandering the name of good people in a way that ultimately will destroy their career and their lives.   A woman like this should not be making decisions that affect our children.  A woman like this should not be allowed around children.

Catching Up With Michelle Rhee

November 26, 2009

Reprinted from – November 24, 2009

Yes, it’s one of those Michelle Rhee articles and I’m trying to figure out where to begin as we catch up with the single most destructive force in education today.   Michelle recently got engaged to former NBA star, Sacramento Mayor, and accused sexual predator Kevin Johnson.   This is rather big news as there is a scandal brewing in Washington involving Rhee, Johnson, and Johnson’s Charter School Saint Hope.

During the Summer of 1995, a 16 year old girl went to the police claiming that Johnson had fondled her.   During a phone conversation recorded by the Phoenix police, Johnson apologized to the girl.   The Sacramento Bee stated that they had received a copy of a proposed settlement agreement, under which Johnson would have paid the girl’s family $230,000.   After conducting an investigation, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, on the grounds that there was not a reasonable likelihood of conviction.  This sort of thing would have stopped Kevin Johnson from being hired as a principal.  Fortunately, for Mister Johnson it didn’t stop him from running a very large charter school.

With Michelle Rhee on the board, In 2003, Johnson  formed St. HOPE Public Schools, a pre-K-12 independent charter school system that provides education to nearly 2,000 students in seven small schools.  The allegations soon followed.   In 2007 another police report was filed by a student who also claimed that Johnson fondled her.   After allegations of intimidation, those charges were dropped when the student recanted her testimony.

Gerald Walpin, Inspector General of Americorps began an investigation of Johnson after he was charged by 3 young women employees of making inappropriate sexual advances towards them and it became known that Johnson had misused some of the $800,000 in federal Americorps money given to St. Hope.   Johnson had used the money to pay volunteers to engage in school-board political activities, run personal errands for Johnson and even wash his car.  He even offered one teacher $1,000 a month in hush money secretly transferred to her bank account.

So what was Michelle Rhee’s role in this scandal.   First, she was described as complainants as being the one in charge of damage control at St. Hope.  She approached the Inspector General to try to intervene for Johnson.  “The basic point of her meeting with me was to tell me what a great guy he was,” Walpin recalls, “and what wonderful work he has done, and that maybe he had made mistakes administratively, but that she thought I should give as much consideration as possible to his good work in deciding what to do.”

This is the same Michelle Rhee who has shown no such patience for the teachers who she has shown the door.   I wonder how she balanced the good that they had done.  The end result of the investigation was the Johnson agreed to pay back half the money from Americorps and to pay back the rest of it within the next 10 years.   Meanwhile, Inspector General Walpin was fired.

While parroting right wing talking points in my own satirical blog, I’ve learned that among the keys to a successful blog, nothing is more important than not backing down from your own opinion no matter how hard it slams into the windshield of fact.  Andrew Wolk has learned that lesson well.   In his blog posting on Michelle Rhee, he holds her up as an example of a public innovator while completely leaving any specifics out of his glowing report.   I had a brief chuckle at reading it, but when I read E Favorite’s response, I found something interesting—the growing number of public figures who have quoted Michelle Rhee, who have had to issue apologies.  E Favorite found three, “Specifically, they are John Merrow of PBS… , Jay Mathews of the Washington Post… and Michael Petrilli of Education Next and the Fordham Foundation…”

Mayor Fenty is not doing well in opinion polls and it looks like he may be on his way out as DC’s mayor.   Michelle Rhee has clearly hurt him.   Unfortunately, when she goes off to save somebody else she will have left a lot of destruction in her wake.   If you’re coming in late, please check out my 4 part report on Michelle Rhee from last month here .

Michelle Rhee and the Washington Education Miracle Part IV

November 26, 2009

And now gentle reader, we find ourselves at the penultimate act of our little drama.   Throughout the summer of 2009, the DC Public Schools recruited like a drunken frat boy collecting phone numbers at a kegger.  By the end of the summer, there were a whole host of new, young, and energetic students ready to take their places as teachers in the system.   Then calamity struck.

The schools had a $40,000,000 budget shortfall and the only way to close it was to cut staff.   There is nothing harder for an administrator than when you suddenly reallize that you don’t have $40 million that you thought you had.  I still get embarrassed over the time I was 8 and went to the local convenience store for chips and pop and didn’t have enough money because I didn’t know about sales tax.   The Chinese word for crisis is the same as their world for self-serving and manipulative stunt.  Knowing this Michelle Rhee made lemons out of lemonade by getting rid of some of those tired and worn out teachers I mentioned in part 2.

Over 200 teachers were let go and the day was saved.   Police were dispatched to classrooms and the older incompetent teachers were forcibly evicted.  This provided an excellent lesson for students who witnessed their teachers’ removal about not getting old and lazy. Much fat was trimmed.  A few examples I found using this internet machine of mine:

  • Students at McKinley Tech told NBC4 that their French 3 class became an introductory Spanish class when the French teacher was fired.
  • Jodie Gittleson, a teacher at Shaed Elementary School who was laid off, told the Washington Post that her students were being mixed among the second and fourth grade classes.
  • Students related a host of problems to WAMU-FM Dana Downs from Alice Deal Middle School says she was in the middle of a science project she was excited about. Now a different teacher has come in and abruptly changed course. Downs says students are also acting out in class, taking advantage of their new teacher. She says “they will talk really loud and won’t listen to her and throw things.”
  • Many of the district’s councilors received layoff notices just as students are getting their applications together to submit to colleges.
  • Taesha Hines from Ballou Senior High School complained that gym is required for graduation, but the cuts have left her school with only one gym teacher

Many of the teachers who were laid off had excellent performance evaluations.  These are exactly the kind of deadwood that are so difficult to trim because at a due process hearing they will simply use the superior rating the principal had given them to cast doubt on that principal’s claims of their incompetence.   Fortunately for Washington, DC, this budget shortfall provided a nice route around those kind of regulations.

There have been other moments of note in Rhee’s tenure.   Standardized test scored did improve, which is usually a good sign that the district is becoming more conscious of standardized tests.  Rhee also dropped support for National Board Certification–a highly valued national program for improving classroom instruction.  She has charged straight ahead with her vaunted IMPACT program which was piloted in Fairfax County in 1987 much to the amusement to one of the guinea pigs, Erica Jacobs.  Unfortunately, the union contract still seems stalled.  For some reason, the union is having trouble trusting Michelle Rhee to bargain in good faith.

I’m not from Washington, DC.  I’m from Chicago where we have had our own miracle worker Arne Duncan chosen for better things.   I won’t tell DC parents how to feel about their own child’s education prospects from hundreds of miles away.   However, in my previous entry, EFavorite posted the link to a comment by a Washington Post reader claiming that Michelle Rhee’s administration has fascist tendencies.   I can’t really speak to that, but I wonder if the sight of police leading teachers away in front of stunned students might answer the question for me.

This blog is satirical and my regular readers must be hating the last 4 articles which have gradually become less and less of my usual style.   However, some things are quite difficult to joke about–the future of our children is one of them.   A lot of well meaning liberals have gotten behind this new generation of education reformers who believe the two best ways to improve education are to bust unions and replace older largely African-American career teachers with young privileged white teachers who will spend 2 or 3 years in the classroom before moving on to bigger and better things.   These people believe that experience is a detriment and not an asset.  I wonder how these became liberal values.   Yes, the Bush family have embraced Michelle Rhee, but so have the Obamas and Oprah.

School reform has always been something that has been done to teachers, not by teachers, or with teachers.   Parents have rarely had a say either and of course children don’t know what’s good for them.   You can’t reform anything that way.   When the largest stakeholders in any endeavor are seen as the opposition you will fail.   There is another type of education reform you don’t hear much about.  If people gave it a chance, it might have a hope of accomplishing something substantial.   I don’t agree with everything that these people want, but a lot of it sure looks worth looking into.  The idea of a free, equal, and quality education is an ideal that binds us as a nation.   It has sadly never been a reality in the United States.

[As always, I appreciate feedback and comment whether you are in DC or not.  If you missed the other 3 parts of this story, please go to part 1.]

Michelle Rhee and the Washington Education Miracle Part 3

November 26, 2009

Michelle Rhee needed a way to get rid of bad teachers.   In June of this year she dismissed about 80 tenured teachers for poor performance in June, after giving them 90 days’ notice and a chance to improve and there was barely any public protest, but this process was too slow.   Tenure was her biggest enemy because it is tenure that grants teachers the right to due process when terminated.   She finally decided to make the teachers an offer that they couldn’t refuse.

tarting salaries would leap from about $40,000 to $78,000, and wages for the best performers would double to about $130,000 a year. In return, teachers would lose tenure and be paid according to merit, measured in part by their students’ results. Current teachers would have a choice: they could join the new system or stay in the old one. New hires would have to join the new system.  And where would the DC schools get the money from?   According to Rhee, they would get it from sources.   According to Rhee, financial modeling done by a an unnamed firm shows that donations by unnamed donors would be sufficient to pay for the unknown costs of this plan. What more could anybody ask for?

Unfortunately, the teachers balked.   They wanted some kind of guarantee that the money would be there to pay them before they gave up anything.  They felt that once they lost tenure, it was gone while the private funds could dry up at any time.  There are no guarantees in life.  What makes these teachers so unwilling to trust these anonymous donors to make good on the funding?  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only problem Rhee had with donors.

Rhee was just forced to let go 200 some teachers because of a $12 million budget shortfall, but many local philanthropy groups who have supported the DC schools through the years no longer have any relationship with the school system.  They complain that Rhee won’t tell them how the money would be spent and has shown little interest in building a partnership with them.

“I don’t think she has been as open to partnerships as our foundation community would have liked,” Terri Freeman, president of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, told the Washington Post, “Everybody wants to be of assistance. . . . The only way we’re going to find out if we can help is to have a little bit more of an open relationship.”

According to Robert McCartney of the Post, “A key moment occurred in July 2008 when Rhee met at the World Bank with dozens of top donors who belong to the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers. She asked for donations of about $40 million, which she hoped to combine with grants from national foundations to give her a total of $70 million, according to several people who attended the meeting. The donors were disappointed when Rhee said she would provide little detail about what the money would pay for.”  Some people just want guarantees for everything.

[In the next and final installment, Michelle takes lemons and makes lemonade.   Thrill as she takes a $12 million budget shortfall and uses it to get rid of 200 experienced school teachers after the first month of school.  If you haven’t read the other parts of this exciting tale, please start with part I and if you still have the stomach to push on for the last part, click here to link to part 4.]

Michelle Rhee and The Washington Education Miracle Part 2

November 26, 2009

I think if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months it’s that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated,” Michelle Rhee at the Aspen Institute’s education summit at the Mayflower Hotel.

Since being appointed as Chancellor of the DC Public Schools, Michelle Rhee has fought a battle with the city’s teacher union.   Her main complaint has been teacher tenure which grants teachers who have been teaching for 3 or 4 years and proven themselves to be competent due process if they are terminated.   I wonder if it is possible that tenure is the reason Michelle chose to end her teaching career after only 3 years.  The misguided principle behind tenure is that teachers should be protected if they have to fail the child of a school board member or rebuff a principal’s advances or wear a Philadelphia Eagles jersey to an institute day.

The problem is this procedure protects older teachers.   The new trend in education reform is for very privileged children from the best schools to come into the schools and teach for 2 or 3 years like Michelle did.   President Obama is fond of some of these organizations like the AUSL and Michelle’s Rhee’s  own The New Teacher Project.  These teachers are so excited to go make a difference that they don’t even have time to go through a traditional teacher certification program.  Instead, they are put into a classroom with much haste through an alternative program.  They leave after 3 years or so before they start to cost the district real money.   Experienced teachers can make as much as $70,000 and these Teach for America types never stay long enough to earn the big bucks.

For Michelle Rhee to work her magic, she needed a way to get rid of the deadwood.   She caught a lucky break in June of 2008 when Woodrow Wilson High School was reorganized after failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress for 5 years under No Child Left Behind.   This gave Michelle’s energetic young choice for principal Peter Cahall a chance to clear out all the old lazy clock punching teachers at the school and replace them with new younger more energetic teachers.    One of those lazy teachers was Dr. Art Siebens who was politely told, “you don’t fit in” as he was shown the door.  Rhee had recruited Cahall very heavily from Montgomery County and he was clearly chosen for a task such as this.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough for Dr. Art Siebens.   It seems he felt that his 18 years of experience teaching weren’t a liability, but something to be proud of.   Siebens is the type of teacher that some misguided educators might think of as innovative.  Using hippie folk music to teach AP biology, Dr. Siebens had some minimal success.  According to the reinstate Dr. Art website, “on the 2007 AP Biology exam, 41 of the 43 students (95.3%) with scores of 3 – 5 throughout the District of Columbia Public Schools had taken Dr. Siebens’ class, and of the seventeen students who received a score of 5 out of 5 on the AP Biology exam, all of them had taken his class. And on the 2008 AP Biology exam, every single student who received a score of 2 or above in the all of DCPS were students of Dr. Siebens. Minority students in Dr. Siebens’ AP classes achieved scores of 3-5 (50%) at a rate twice the average of all Wilson’s other AP courses (23%). Over 64% of Dr. Siebens’ students over the past five years were in classes other than his AP classes.”

Neither this website nor the many former students who have written testimonials or created the Save Dr. Art petition address the fact that Dr. Siebens is old.   He really doesn’t fit the mold of the dynamic young alternatively certified professionals that an urban school system really needs.   Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to get rid of all the old teachers in one fell swoop?   But wait, there is.

[In Part 3, Michelle Rhee uncovers a way to get rid of teachers by the hundreds and moves towards her ultimate goal of a school district where teachers won’t stand in the way of education.   I really appreciate the comments from all the Washingtonians.   This is a national blog and while I’ve tried to research the DC schools very thoroughly, there is no substitute for your first hand comments.  If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.  Be sure to click this link to go to part 3.]