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The education reform efforts of Michelle Rhee are finally getting attention in some media, and it is not always the glowing praise she is used to receiving.

The Empire Michelle Rhee Built

The author speaks of the problem with the education "reform" movement...."it is shot through root and branch with patent-medicine remedies pitched by for-profit grifters and hustlers."

They have their own genre of richly financed propaganda, like 2010's Waiting for Superman and this year's Won't Back Down. There are an awful lot of hedge-fund gunslingers involved in the movement toward charter schools, a phenomenon about which, to his eternal credit, Bob Somerby — who actually has taught in the public schools — has been banging his tin drum at The Daily Howler for some time now. (It should also be said that Somerby's knee does not jerk. He readily gives some reform programs, and even some of Rhee's work, the props he thinks they deserve.) Some of the hustlers, alas, have the ear of this administration, and one of those people is Michelle Rhee.

Rhee's entire (and very lucrative) career as a proponent of educational "reform" is based on her time as chancellor of the public schools in Washington, D.C. Between 2007 and 2010, she did everything that sends a thrill up the leg of the "reform" community. She bashed teachers, scapegoated principals, and shined up her own armor for public consumption every chance she got. She also instituted a system of standardized testing by which Michelle Rhee would be able to judge the awesome awesomeness of Michelle Rhee.

The article is very blunt about the standardized testing industry.
Standardized testing is a crack cocaine of education. It is rife with problems. It is also a multimillion industry without which might not exist, among other things, The Washington Post. A reliance on standardized testing as a metric for progress is generally a reliable "tell" that "reform" has ended and that the grift has begun. A reliance on standardized testing as a metric for progress — and, it should be said, as a Procrustean scoreboard to judge whether a teacher, an administrator, or a school system are doing their jobs properly — almost guarantees that some finagling with the numbers will take place. It is a sub rosa way to install a corporate model on public education and, since the corporate model for everything in this country right now is a moral and ethical quagmire, it encourages cheating on a massive scale. Hence, the very real possibility that the empire built by Michelle Rhee, tough-talking "reformer," may be built upon a  wilderness of crib sheets.
The Frontline report tonight is mentioned.  I have it set to record, and I hope they do a good job.  

The ending paragraph is so true to me as a retired teacher.

The current model for education "reform" in this country — a corporate model with transparency problems and severely decreased political accountability — is broken. Handing over "our" schools to hedge-fund managers, and to the people like Michelle Rhee who volunteer as well-remunerated middle managers, privatizes public education without having the basic cojones to admit that it's happening. This is not the way it's supposed to work.

Another of the "reformers" whose policies tend to be punitive toward teachers, had this to say in 2009 on Arne Duncan's appointment as Secretary of Education.

Eli Broad: "with election of Obama and his appointment of Duncan, the stars are aligned"

The election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as the U.S. secretary of education, marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform. In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned.

With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted.

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Comment Preferences

  •  for-profit grifters and hustlers have... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, chuckvw, Andrew F Cockburn

    cornered the market on our public education

  •  The push to privatize education blows my mind (8+ / 0-)

    We privatized health insurance - disaster.

    We privatized many prisons - disaster.

    We privatized much of our military operations - disaster.

    How exactly does anyone think that privatizing education is going to go so much better?

    I blog about my daughter with autism at her website

    by coquiero on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 10:48:08 AM PST

  •  Let me tell you a story about tests. (11+ / 0-)

    In Texas, where I grew up, they have a thing called the University Interscholastic League, and it runs various competitions among the schools: football, basketball, golf, and other sports, as well as academic competitions. One such is number sense, a contest in which you are asked to solve math problems in your head. In ten minutes you read problems, do calculations, and write down the answer, and only the answer. Other pencil marks get you disqualified. This contest was a big deal at our school and I participated. I was given class time and study hall time to drill and drill. These drills consisted of taking actual tests that had been used in previous competitions. I got better and better. I won district and region and went to state. I was a whiz at doing calculations in my head. My younger sister followed behind me and became a whiz as well.

    This drilling helped my brain. I have no doubt about it. Finally I went to college and took a psychology course. The professor noticed my computational abilities and asked me to take an IQ test. I asked if my sister, who was still in high school, could also take it. He said she could. So, one Saturday morning we took it and it was filled with simple math and similar problems. Our score was off the charts--literally. He was amazed. No one had ever scored so well and he had used the test for years. But my sister and I weren't amazed, we simply had practiced a skill that the test rewarded. We weren't especially smart, but that skill helped us in the SAT's, college placement tests, etc. because it gave us confidence. We were good at taking tests, and that is a very important skill.

    Now more than thirty years later I had retired and was teaching, as a substitute, in a large Texas high school. I was there when the state tests were being given. The kids were on edge. They had been drilled by their teachers on content, but they had not been drilled on how to take tests. That would have been more useful.

    At one time I developed a program for high school students who wanted to prepare for the SAT's and so forth. I drilled and drilled with speed reading, number sense type calculations, etc. I was drilling them on how to take tests. I had nothing to do with content. My students and I believed that their high scores were partially due to these drills.

    So, in my case, making a high score on a test did mean that I was smarter or knew more than those who made lower scores. It just meant that I had been trained to take tests. That is all.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 10:53:05 AM PST

  •  That author is very well known here - Pierce, Chas (4+ / 0-)
  •  Rhee is an opportunistic shill. Of course (3+ / 0-)

    if Arne goes (another do nothing failing upwards con artist) the rumor is Rhee may get the job. Wall Street Democrats love Michelle!! Good diary as always tipped and rec'ed!!

    •  Who is "rumoring" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Andrew F Cockburn, coquiero

      that Rhee might replace Arne? This seems farfetched, as much as we (and I include me) disagree strongly with the President's direction on education. It seems more like a horror story people are telling each other. I doubt President Obama is stupid enough to appoint someone THAT divisive with such heavy ethics questions hanging over her head.

      Jon Husted is a dick.

      by anastasia p on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 04:09:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  PBS Frontline tonight... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    coquiero, Andrew F Cockburn

    "Michelle Rhee: The Bee Eater"... Judging from the web site, it will be a pretty hagiographic portrayal. Hope I'm wrong.

    Perpetual crisis means never having to say you're sorry.

    by chuckvw on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 12:23:45 PM PST

  •  It goes further than our public schools. (4+ / 0-)

    There are tests that one must take to work in a chosen field.  My son's fiancee graduated with honors from a pricey private local callege.  She took a two year degree for occupational therapy with the idea that she would work and keep going for a four year degree.  She can't pass the test.  Cost $500 a pop.  They take it at Sylvan and it is computerized.  I have checked around and other two year degrees are way under that fee.  I have called my state rep, who says he is looking into it, my congressman, Mike Kelly, could care less about it.  I contacted the head of the department and she ignored me.  My next step is Senator Casey's office and I intend to badger Kelly some more.  I will contact the college again.  This is a scam through and through.  The students have to pass with an 80%, my future dil had a 79.8 and a 79.6.  The cost is ridiculous and I am certainly not in a mind to think the test company isn't cheating these kids by telling them don't pass when in reality they do.  The other part of the disaster is the college.  If they aren't preparing them then what the hell are they charging for?  

    Everyone! Arms akimbo!

    by tobendaro on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 12:58:09 PM PST

  •  part of the ongoing and intensifying war (4+ / 0-)

    of the private sphere upon the public sphere. Grover Norquist's dream of a fully privatized government where every public function is outsourced to private corporations, at a greatly increased cost to the taxpayer and a vast decline in quality control.

    Privatizing education is a central part of this project because education strongly influences how the next generation will think. There's billions in this project and no shortage of hacks like Rhee lining up to skim their cut in exchange for fronting for the privatizers.

    "In America, the law is king." --Thomas Paine

    by limpidglass on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 01:53:55 PM PST

  •  I can see a justification for using tests (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to determine whether an individual student has learned or mastered material. The test has to be a good one (which rules out most standardized tests), of course. Also, there are great differences in test-taking skills. But someone who aces an algebra test probably knows more algebra than someone who flunks the test.

    However, grading individual teachers based on their students' test scores isn't justifiable. There is too much variability in the student population to know whether a 85% pass rate is significantly different from a 95% pass rate in a class of twenty students.

    I would love to see a someone like Nate Silver take on Rhee's bullshit. Grading teachers is like grading baseball players- imagine deciding whether to trade a hitter based on 20 at bats.

  •  SO..Merrow was granted "unlimited access" to Rhee. (0+ / 0-)

    And that's a great honor because?

    I feel a puff piece coming on to make up for that access.

    Hope I am wrong.  I really do.

    "FRONTLINE correspondent John Merrow was granted unprecedented access to Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the Washington, DC public schools as she attempted to fix a broken school system. Rhee is one of the most admired — and reviled — school reformers. What legacy did she leave in D.C.? Can it help save the failing school system?"

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