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Today, A Reporter Asked Me What I Thought Of Michelle Rhee. This Is What I Told Him…

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A local magazine here in Sacramento is doing a big story on Michelle Rhee who, apart from Governor Jerry Brown, might be Sacramento’s most famous newest resident. Their writer asked if I would be willing to answer a few questions, and we arranged a time to talk. The article won’t come out until late March, and who knows if anything that I said will even make it into print, but I thought readers might be interested in a short summary what I told him when he asked what I thought of the policies she and her allies in the “school reform” movement are promoting.

I responded by saying that I had four main concerns:

1) She seemed primarily interested in doing “to” teachers and families instead of doing “with” them. This lack of willingness to work in partnership and to listen, symbolized by her TIME Magazine cover holding a broom in a classroom, showed a lack of understanding of the basic tenets of power — sharing it with others doesn’t mean you have less; in fact, it means that the pie gets bigger for everybody with the new possibilities that are created.

2) I was very concerned with her focus on using test scores as the most important tool to evaluate teacher and student success. I referenced the discovery last week that the test scores her own students supposedly achieved when she was a teacher were far lower than she had claimed (see The Best Posts About Michelle Rhee’s Exaggerated Test Scores). That doesn’t mean she wasn’t an excellent teacher — she might very have been. It does, however, point out that standardized test scores are easy to misinterpret and are probably not the best evaluation tool for teachers — or for students. At our school, we talk about being data-informed, not being data-driven. Test results are just one of many pieces of information that should be used when we reflect on our work.

3) I didn’t appreciate Ms. Rhee and her allies regularly portraying themselves as the “true” champions of children, while the rest of us were just “defenders of the status quo.” I believe that she and many of her allies truly do want to do what they think is best for children — I just don’t agree with their overall analysis of what needs to be done. That does not mean that I do not have the best interests of my students in my heart and mind everyday. I am wary of anyone, anywhere, in whatever policy or personal arena, feeling like they have a monopoly on the truth.

4) Plenty of research has shown that two-thirds of the factors that influence student achievement occur out of school. I don’t appreciate Ms. Rhee and her allies telling us that when we state that fact, we are just making “excuses.” That doesn’t mean that my colleagues and I don’t do everything within our power to push the boundary of that “one-third” area we can influence, including working with parents to try to combat some of those other factors. But saying that poverty doesn’t have a huge impact on our students doesn’t make it so.

What do you think about what I said?  Am I missing some things?  Might I be “off-base” somewhere?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

9 Comments

  1. Are you off base? Couldn’t be more “on” – and actually, quite charitable.

  2. Thoughtful responses.

  3. Perfect, and much more diplomatic than I’d have been.

  4. Nicely put, Larry. Clear, succinct and thoughtful. I hope they use part (or all) of your content. Cheers.

  5. Ah, diplomacy! This is one of the best posts I’ve seen. I am tired of reading about people berating Michelle Ree as equally as I am tired of reading about Ree berating people (teachers, the status quo, the tenured, et cetera). Nothing will be accomplished if we continue to point the finger at one another. Kudos to you for expressing your concerns while accentuating the positive, too.

  6. Thanks for the good summaries. Most of us don’t know what Rhee faced in her very public debut as (inexperienced) administrator of a large, urban district very much in the spotlight.

    But it’s not the infamous incidents–like exaggerating her own success as a teacher–that have earned Rhee so much enmity. It’s the aggregated comments that tell the public what Rhee actually believes. You’ve done a good job of identifying those.

  7. Well said and without the raving we so often see when others are speaking of Rhee.

  8. Let’s not forget Ms. Rhee’s self-proclaimed use of duct tape as a classroom teacher, a move she BRAGS about instead of reporting with deserved shame and regret. That speaks volumes about her lack of empathy, judgment, and fitness to teach, particularly young children. The notion that such a person would be in charge of a large urban district is sickening.

  9. Thanks Larry for yet another thoughtful post, and as others have said, not off the mark. Keep up your good work!

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