Friday, April 19, 2013

Michelle Rhee: TIGER MOM… OR PAPER TIGER MOM …with kids in private school?

Education advocate Michelle Rhee fends off accusations

Head of a group that advocates using student test scores to evaluate teachers, fends off accusations that she failed to pursue evidence of cheating when she ran the D.C. school system.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

@John Merrow asks:  “Who Created Michelle Rhee?” – and @Diane Ravitch answers:

How did this woman with little experience and meager accomplishment and a penchant for braggadocio become a major media figure?

  • She did, by burnishing her resume.
  • The media did, by basking in her harshness.
  • Merrow did, by broadcasting 12 segments on national TV about her.
  • And unions did, by their intransigence.

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”  Julius Caesar, Act 1, scene 2

Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee heads StudentsFirst, a national lobbying, policy and campaign group based in Sacramento. Above, Rhee meets a Long Beach student in January. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times / January 31, 2013)

Times Readers Poll

Should California listen to Michelle Rhee on schools?

Yes - 17% (229 votes)

No - 83% (1,096 votes)

April 17, 2013, 8:32 p.m.  ::  Michelle Rhee, head of an influential education advocacy group that backs using student test scores to evaluate teachers, this week fended off accusations that she failed to pursue evidence of cheating when she ran the District of Columbia school system.

In an internal memo, a district consultant warned that about 190 teachers at 70 schools — more than half the system's campuses — may have cheated in 2008 by erasing wrong answers on student testing sheets and filling in correct ones. The four-page document was made public last week in a post by PBS journalist John Merrow, who had received the memo anonymously.

In an interview with The Times editorial board, Rhee said that although she "didn't see the memo" at the time, consultant Sandy Sanford "was just writing a memo based on something that we already broadly knew." She noted that the testing company had expressed reservations about the erasure analysis the memo relied on, and she added that later investigations found no widespread wrongdoing.

Rhee served as the D.C. schools chancellor for three years, leaving in 2010. She currently heads StudentsFirst, a national lobbying, policy and campaign group based in Sacramento. The organization has donated to key legislative races across the country and gave $250,000 to L.A. school board candidates endorsed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the March election.

Similar allegations about erasures that surfaced in Atlanta recently resulted in a grand jury indictment against former schools Supt. Beverly Hall and others. Authorities have alleged that Hall conspired to cheat or conceal cheating. The result was fraudulent bonuses for employees and a false read on student achievement, prosecutors said.

Some education activists and journalists have alleged serious flaws in the investigations cited by Rhee. They noted that early probes in Atlanta also turned up limited wrongdoing. At one point, Rhee hired a firm to conduct a narrow review in D.C. — the same company whose findings Atlanta officials cited in their defense.

There have been sharp drops in test scores at some D.C. schools that were flagged in the past for high erasure rates, according to the Washington Post. Such declines could indicate cheating, but are not proof of it. To date, no in-depth erasure analysis of the 2008 answer sheets has been conducted.

In the interview, Rhee also confirmed that one of her two daughters attends a private school in Tennessee, where the girls live with their father, that state's top education official. Rhee is now married to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

She has previously described herself as a "public-school parent." An aide repeated that phrase when The Times asked directly if Rhee's children were in public or private school.

"I try to maintain some level of privacy for my kids by not divulging too much information," Rhee said. "I say I'm a public-school parent when my kid goes to private school.

"I believe in parental choice," she said. "I think I should be able to choose … and every parent should have that option too."

Who Created “Michelle Rhee”?

by John Merrow  | Taking Note

18. Apr, 2013   ::  We know that the flesh and blood Michelle A. Rhee was born in Michigan 43 years ago, the second child of South Korean immigrants Shang Rhee, a physician, and Inza Rhee, a clothing store owner. She spent most of her childhood in Ohio, where she attended public and private schools.

My question is about the public phenomenon known as “Michelle Rhee.” The one that’s has become America’s most prominent education activist. She’s loved by some, hated and/or feared by others. To her admirers, she’s a shining symbol of all that’s right in school reform. Her opponents see her as the representative of the forces of greed, privatization and teacher-bashing in education.

Who created that character, that symbol? I can identify four possible parents: She created herself. We created her. “They” did. U did.

Michelle Rhee created “Michelle Rhee.” There’s some evidence for this line of thinking. Either accidentally or deliberately, she exaggerated her success as a teacher in Baltimore. She inflated her resumé to include an appearance on Good Morning America, which has no record of her being on the program. Her early resumé claims that she had been featured in the Wall Street Journal, but, again, we could find no record. She said (and still says) that she ‘founded’ The New Teacher Project, an assertion that is disputed by reliable sources familiar with Teach for America. A more likely story is that she was asked by its real founder, Wendy Kopp, to take it and run with it–and she did.

But lots of people puff up their resumés early in their career, without attaining Rhee-level success. She may have started the ball rolling, but she can’t claim most of the credit/blame for her own creation. We need to search further to find her principal creators.

We, the mainstream media, created “Michelle Rhee.” Good argument there. Rhee blew into Washington like a whirlwind, where she was a great story and an overdo gust of fresh air. DC schools were pretty bad, and she was candid, accessible, energetic, young, and attractive–everything reporters love. While I don’t think my reporting for the NewsHour was puffery, we did produce twelve (!) pieces about her efforts over the 40 months — about two hours of primetime coverage. That’s an awful lot of attention.

Did anyone else get that much air time from us? Well, yes, we also produced twelve reports about Paul Vallas in New Orleans. But Vallas never received the positive treatment (or even the coverage) from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Charlie Rose, et alia, that Rhee did back in 2007-2009.

Were we skeptical enough about the ‘miracle’ gains in her first year? Unfortunately not. So we certainly helped create the public phenomenon that is “Michelle Rhee.”

“They” created her. “They,” according to conspiracy theorists, are the Walton Foundation and other right-leaning organizations; ALEC; the Koch brothers, Eli Broad and other wealthy individuals; and influential power-brokers like Joel Klein. Without them, this explanation has it, she would be nothing.

But we don’t know for certain where the money behind Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst comes from. Moreover, it’s an insult to her to assume that she would fall in line and parrot whatever her wealthy backers want her to say. Seems more likely they liked what she was saying and decided to bankroll her efforts. So I guess one could say that “They” helped create her, just as the mainstream media did.

And finally U created her. “U” is my shorthand for teacher unions. This is simple physics: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The “Michelle Rhee” phenomenon is the inevitable product of, and reaction to, intransigent teacher union policies like the ones that produced New York City’s famous “rubber room,” where teachers who couldn’t be fired spent their days reading, napping, and doing crossword puzzles–on full salary and with the full support of the United Federation of Teachers, the local union. (See Steven Brill’s Class Warfare.) She’s the inevitable reaction to union leaders who devote their energy to preserving seniority at the expense of talented young teachers, not to mention children. She’s the product of the California Teachers Association, which I recall was willing to sacrifice librarians’ jobs in order to preserve salary increases for teachers. She’s a social reaction to union leaders like Vice President Jack Steinberg of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. In an interview that is burned into my memory, Steinberg asserted that teachers can never be held accountable for student results. No teacher! Not ever! Jack was muzzled when he said that on national television in 1996, but he and his union have stayed on message.

But let’s remember that union intransigence didn’t just spring up all of a sudden out of nowhere. It too was produced by that same law of physics. Teacher union militancy was a long time coming and was the reaction to administrative policies that infantilized and trivialized teaching.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that U(nions) also created the social phenomenon that is “Michelle Rhee”–and are now reaping that bitter fruit.

So ‘They,’ we and U created the social phenomenon that is “Michelle Rhee.” What happens next?

Rhee’s critics now openly mock her after the revelations about her failure to investigate widespread erasures while she was Chancellor in Washington. “Erase to the Top” is the clever new meme, and her famous Time Magazine cover has been altered. Will this mockery defeat her? Perhaps.

Even if that strategy is successful, it won’t do much for kids, who are generally forgotten in these nasty political fights.

Is it asking too much to expect strong leadership from Arne Duncan and President Obama on this? More words about ‘Race to the Top’ and ‘The Common Core’ are not enough, not now.

I have said this before, but we need to be measuring what we value, instead of valuing what we measure (usually cheaply). What do we value? That’s a more important question than “Who created “Michelle Rhee”?”

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