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Arne vs. Michelle


I'm just going to put it out there if it wasn't apparent already-- I'm a Rhee fan. I believe in focusing our time, resources and brains on teacher competency as our primary way of closing the dire achievement gap, and I believe in plucking the many incompetent teachers from schools and sweeping them far, far away from teaching our children. Anyone's who's worked in an under-performing school knows at least a handful of these teachers. I gladly forgo my own seniority and tenure as a teacher to know that those teachers-- the ones who ultimately make my and my children's work harder-- will be asked to leave by the end of the year at the latest.

And while I watch Rhee's disregard for "finesse" with shock and horror at times (C'mon, at least try to be a little more diplomatic. More diplomacy and tighter public appearances ARE in the best interest of kids. Really!), I am proud of her principles and the changes she's brought about in the district, as uncomfortable as they often are.

So with all that in mind, I read US News and World Report's Op-Ed piece on how Arne Duncan, the incoming education secretary, is going to have to grapple with Michelle Rhee and all the uncomfortable parts that she stands for.

"Rhee wants to take school reform where no other school chief, including Duncan in Chicago, has dared go: sweeping incompetent teachers from their jobs. That's a confrontation with the teachers' unions that Duncan, who aspires to get along with everyone, would undoubtedly prefer to duck."

"What Duncan and other school chiefs prefer to neglect, however, can't be sidestepped in Washington. While Rhee may ping in the lower registers of the emotional intelligence range (what was she thinking in agreeing to pose on a Time cover looking like the wicked witch of the East?), she's not an outlier. Rhee is the pointy tip of a revolution determined to take on what Duncan and other school chiefs ignore: basic teacher competency. For decades, too many teachers have arisen from the hindquarter of the SAT scale. In college, they were steered into flaccid undergraduate programs befitting their campus "cash cow" status (would-be teachers pay the same tuition as, say, physics students, but they don't need expensive labs). Once on the job, their promotions are based on often-pointless graduate degrees. This is the one education reform rock that's never truly been turned over."

Yowzers. Minus two points to Ms. Rhee for her cringe-worthy, very un-diplomatic one-liners and public appearances that pinch people in a really not-good way. But plus 10 points for taking uncomfortable, but critical issues head on and going where no one has yet successful gone before.


Yes, intensive and immediate punishment begets immediate results. It is not a teaching model and the results are temporary.

I do not support leaders who use punishment as role models for our students. We already have plenty of leaders who, like Rhee, use coercion. Rather, we need leaders who use positive reinforcement, not punishment, to create positive long term changes in our schools and in our world.

Finally, I would like to see an observable and measurable definition of "incompetence". I'm concerned that we are actually bullying out caring, competent teachers. And I want to see the research on how supposedly hard it is to terminate teachers. I feel just the opposite is likely to be the case. Research on systemic oppression and punishment based systems has consistently pointed to the competence of those who are targeted.

Respect and support are needed to change schools. I have found few smart, compassionate individuals who will continue to work in oppressive systems. In fact, many oppressors stay, protected by the hierarchy of abusers that surround them. What kind of message are we sending to our youth when we promote bullies? Not the one I want to be responsible for teaching!

Michelle Rhee is a self important autocrat who listens to no one and rules through fear and intimidation. She has fired hundreds of people, but always in a disturbingly secretive manner. When a high school student contacted her about problems at his school, she responded by abruptly firing his principal. When he protested that his principal had done an excellent job and was like a second mother to him, Rhee ignored the student. It would be nice to believe that Rhee is only interested in targeting ineffective teachers for termination, but the facts show otherwise. Rhee is quite open about her plan to fire teachers simply because they don't "fit", regardless of how effective they are in improving student achievement. Compare Rhee to Beverly Hall, the superintendent of the Atlanta schools. By any measure, Beverly Hall is one of the most spectacularly successful school superintendents in the country. Rhee may be media savvy, and she clearly loves the spotlight, but she has not produced any real results.

Funny that the writer--who seems incredibly attached to using the high-stakes test as the end-all-beat-all of assessment--uses the SAT as a litmus test for intelligence. After all, if you think the teaching profession is faltering, as Rhee seems to, wouldn't you think that might have some impact on SAT scores? And if SAT scores are an indicator of smarts, then why wouldn't state tests be as well? Why blame teachers, after all, if the kids are just dumb?

You know who I'd bet had excellent SAT scores? The few hundred Ivy League Masters of the Universe who have run our credit and banking systems into the ground. So there's that...

(A note for the cynic: I did fine on the ACT, thank you very much.)

Rhee has been excellent at appearing...what? grouchy? pushy? angry? I'm not sure. She has yet to show she can be effective.

I understand wanting to see incompetent teachers removed - I have seen more than a handful at my school who can also be classified as dogmatic, uninspired and even racist, and I'm often astounded they're allowed to teach. But my concern is who gets to decide, what standards do they use, and how do we maintain due process?

I was in journalism for nearly a decade before I became a teacher (this is only my second year as a teacher), so the idea of tenure is kind of an oddity to me anyway, so the bigger question to me is -- by what standards should these teachers be judged and sacked? I don't agree with the use of standardized tests, which Rhee seems to support.

Her lack of diplomacy is not her worst attribute, in my opinion.

I mean, yay for taking on critical issues head on but I can't say zeroing in on teachers (who, like in my school, are basically told, script in hand, what to teach by a bought administration) is particularly, "going where no one has yet successful gone before". Unless what Ms. Shyu means to say is that people have gone there before, though not successfully?

I will say, for every "bad" teacher I see, I see two who are dying to be passionate and work with ESL students (my specific field) using, yes, research-based approaches, but whose hands are tied by the administration. I know Rhee has fired principals (the one at her kids' school anyway), but is that the answer?

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Recent Comments

  • Flecha: I understand wanting to see incompetent teachers removed - I read more
  • nitpicker: Funny that the writer--who seems incredibly attached to using the read more
  • Judy: Michelle Rhee is a self important autocrat who listens to read more
  • Kim, Teacher: Yes, intensive and immediate punishment begets immediate results. It is read more




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