Archives for category: Rhee, Michelle

Mercedes Schneider reviews Michelle Rhee’s time in office as chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools. She concludes that Rhee was a failure. She wanted principals and teachers to be accountable to her while she was accountable to no one.

Schneider concludes that Amanda Ripley’s adulatory TIME cover story about Rhee as the person who would “fix” D.C. Schools and show the rest of the nation what to do was the basis of Rhee’s rise to national prominence. Schneider challenges both Rhee’s record and Ripley’s undeserved praise.

Schneider ends by challenging Ripley to write another story ifor TIME about how Rhee failed to accomplish her goals in D.C. and as CEO of StudentsFirst. Time for a correction. Will Ripley do it?

In 2011, soon after his election, Florida’s new Governor Rick Scott took Michelle Rhee on a tour to show off what Florida was doing in education. He took her to visit a charter school in Miami/Dade County, a middle school called Florida International Academy.

“We have to make sure our system does exactly what you are doing here at Florida International Academy,” Scott said.

Sad news. The elementary school attached to Florida International Academy was just starting. It shared the same campus and administration. There, things went from bad to worse.

“The elementary school earned an F in its first year. It improved to a D in 2012, but earned failing grades in 2013 and 2014.

“State law requires the closure of any charter school that receives consecutive Fs.”

The state is closing the elementary school. The middle school that Scott considers a model for the state earned a C.

Stephanie Simon of politico.com reports on the story behind Michelle Rhee-Johnson’s decision to step down as leader of StudentsFirst, the organization she founded in 2010.

Although she managed to raise some millions from big donors like the Eli and Edythe BroadFoundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Michael Bloomberg Foundation for her efforts to curb collective bargaining, eliminate tenure and promote vouchers and charters, she fell far short of her announced goal of $1 billion.

But even more important, Rhee-Johnson alienated some of her allies in the movement.

“As she prepares to step down as CEO, she leaves a trail of disappointment and disillusionment. Reform activists who shared her vision say she never built an effective national organization and never found a way to use her celebrity status to drive real change.

“StudentsFirst was hobbled by a high staff turnover rate, embarrassing PR blunders and a lack of focus. But several leading education reformers say Rhee’s biggest weakness was her failure to build coalitions; instead, she alienated activists who should have been her natural allies with tactics they perceived as imperious, inflexible and often illogical. Several said her biggest contribution to the cause was drawing fire away from them as she positioned herself as the face of the national education reform movement.

““There was a growing consensus in the education reform community that she didn’t play well in the sandbox,” one reform leader said.

Rhee-Johnson says she intends to devote more time to her family, which some assume means that her husband Kevin Johnson may run for governor or senator of California. Whether Rhee-Johnson will spend more time with her two daughters who live in Tennessee is unclear.

She recently announced her decision to become chairman of her husband’s charter schools. In some states, that would be considered nepotism, but apparently not in California.

The growing recognition of the failure of her style of high-stakes testing and test-based teacher evaluation did not seem to have played a role in her decision to step aside. Probably, living in the corporate reform echo chamber, she was unaware that her prize policies are on the ropes, as parents and teachers join to fight the reign of standardized testing.

Peter Greene writes a farewell letter to Michelle and dissects Campbell Brown’s talking points.

Peter speculates on Michelle’s departure and hopes she understands why she provoked the reactions she did::

“Maybe education was providing too few rewards and too much tempest. People have called you some awful names and said some terrible personal things about you, and though I have called you the Kim Kardashian of education, I don’t condone or support the ugly personal attacks that are following you out the door. But I understand them– you have done some awful, awful things, and I’m not sure that it’s ever seemed, from out here in the cheap seats, that you understand that teachers and students are real, live human beings and not simply props for whatever publicity moment you are staging. I’m not saying that you deserve the invective being hurled at you; I am saying that when you poke a bear in the face repeatedly, it eventually gets up and takes a bite out of you.”

As Michelle leaves, stage right, she hands off the baton as leader of the campaign against “bad teachers” to Campbell Brown, who explained her goals in an opinion piece. Since she is not an educator, he feels he must explain that her effort to take away tenure from “bad teachers” will take away tenure for ALL teachers. He asks how she will judge the quality of teachers. If she really wants to protect those who are caring, dependable, and inspiring, how can she be sure that these are the same teachers whose students get higher scores?

Ultimately, he wants know how removing employment protections will attract more “great” teachers to the classroom.

Campbell would do well to listen to Peter.

Joy Resmovits of Huffington Post reports that Michelle Rhee is stepping down as leader of StudentsFirst, a group she founded in 2010. She is likely to remain a board member. She recently changed her name to Michelle Johnson.

“StudentsFirst was launched on Oprah’s TV talk show in late 2010 and immediately set ambitious goals, such as amassing $1 billion in its first year and becoming education’s lobbying equivalent to the National Rifle Association. Its policy goals focused on teacher quality, teacher evaluations, school accountability and the expansion of charter schools. But the group has failed to achieve some of its major goals. After revising its fundraising goal to $1 billion over five years, the group only netted $62.8 million in total: $7.6 million in its first year, $28.5 million in its second year and $26.7 million between August 2012 and July 2013. The group also has seen much staff turnover, cycling through at least five prominent spokespeople since 2010.

“After the group began, it saw some legislative and electoral successes. It claims credit for changing more than 130 education laws in many states. It has released report cards ranking states on their education policies, supported candidates through political action committees, and lobbied state legislatures and governors on reform issues.”

Although Rhee always claimed to be a Democrat, most of her group’s campaign contributions went to conservative Republicans. Last year, StudentsFirst honored Tennessee State Representative John Ragan as “education reformer of the year,” despite the fact that he was co-sponsor of the infamous “don’t say gay” bill). She opposed unions, tenure, and seniority, and she supported vouchers and charters. She was a leader of the privatization movement as well as the movement to evaluate teachers by test scores. Ironically, her successor in the District of Columbia announced yesterday the suspension of test-based evaluation of teachers, a move supported by the Gates Foundation.

Resmovits speculates that former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown will become the face of the movement to strip due process rights from teachers. StudentsFirst, however, is unlikely to have the national visibility that it had under Rhee’s controversial leadership.

District of Columbia Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced the suspension of the practice of evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores. This practice was considered the signal policy initiative of Henderson’s predecessor Michelle Rhee.

Henderson described the move “as necessary in order to allow students to acclimate themselves to new tests built around the standards established by the Common Core.”

The Gates Foundation applauded the retreat on test-based evaluation, as did Randi Weingarten of the AFT. The U.S. Department of Education released a statement expressing its disappointment. It said: “Although we applaud District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) for their continued commitment to rigorous evaluation and support for their teachers, we know there are many who looked to DCPS as a pacesetter who will be disappointed with their desire to slow down.” Since test-based evaluation is the centerpiece of Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top, this is surely a setback for Duncan and his theory of change. On the other hand, D.C.’s test scores have been stagnant since 2009, which does not speak well of test-based evaluation, whether pushed by Michelle Rhee or Arne Duncan.

By the way, Michelle Rhee has apparently changed her name to Michelle (Rhee) Johnson.

Valerie Strauss shows in this post that there were NO gains in reading in the District of Columbia Public Schools during the tenure of Michelle Rhee and her successor Kaya Henderson. G.F. Brandenburg noted these facts on his blog on July 31. Brandenburg asks: “So where are all those increases that Michelle Rhee promised in writing?”

Strauss writes that this is more than just a personal failure. This is a failure of the entire reform strategy.

Bernie Horn of the Public Leadership Institute writes:

“If this isn’t failure, what is?

“The latest results of the DC-CAS, the District of Columbia’s high-stakes standardized test, show that the percentage of public school students judged “proficient” or better in reading has declined over the past five years in every significant subcategory except “white.”

“This is important, and not just for Washington, D.C. It is an indictment of the whole corporatized education movement. During these five years, first Michelle Rhee and then her assistant/successor Kaya Henderson controlled DCPS and they did everything that the so-called “reformers” recommend: relying on standardized tests to rate schools, principals and teachers; closing dozens of schools; firing hundreds of teachers and principals; encouraging the unchecked growth of charters; replacing fully-qualified teachers with Teach For America and other non-professionals; adopting teach-to-the-test curricula; introducing computer-assisted “blended learning”; increasing the length of the school day; requiring an hour of tutoring before after-school activities; increasing hours spent on tested subjects and decreasing the availability of subjects that aren’t tested. Based on the city’s own system of evaluation, none of it has worked.”

There were no gains, no miracles. Except for a very small improvement in the proficiency rates of white students, every other category declined: low-income students declined; black students declined; Hispanic students declined; Special education students declined. Whites saw a small uptick of 1.6% from 2009-2014.

Horn writes:

“In truly Orwellian fashion, DCPS presents these disastrous numbers under the heading “Long-term progress in Reading has been maintained.” The Mayor, the DCPS Chancellor, and the powers-that-be all act like there’s nothing wrong.

“But clearly, this is what failure looks like. If a school had scores like this over the past five years, it would be targeted for closure. If principals or teachers had scores like this, they would be fired. If a student had scores like this, s/he would be made to feel like a failure. Where is the accountability in this supposedly “data-driven” system?”

Yet remember that TIME magazine had a cover story on December 8, 2008, about Michelle Rhee (written by Amanda Ripley) saying that this was the woman who knew how to “fix” America’s schools?

Does Michelle Rhee know how to “fix” America’s schools? There is no evidence that she does. She didn’t do it in D.C. She is still collecting millions of dollars from unnamed donors to persuade legislators to follow her disastrous strategies.

We should know by now that the data-driven, test-driven approach doesn’t work. We should know by now that schools need experienced teachers and leaders to help children and new teachers. We should know by now that schools need stability and constancy of purpose, not disruption and high teacher turnover. We should immediately end the war on public schools and teachers and give our schools the resources they need and give our professionals the respect they deserve.

A reader whoe nom de plume is Democracy posted this comment:

“TIME magazine infamously posted Michelle Rhee on its cover, with a broom, with the title, “How To Fix America’s Schools.”

The subtitle of that cover story stated that Rhee was engaged in a “battle against bad teachers” that could “transform public education.”

The cover story was written by the oh-so-talented (wink) Amanda Ripley, who is as much a charlatan as Wendy Kopp (and Michelle Rhee) and Arne Duncan.

To the best of my knowledge, TIMEi has not published any retraction of that terrible cover story, nor has it published any cover story about the huge cheating scandal in the D.C. schools under Rhee’s “leadership.”

Such is the (sorry) state of mainstream media reports on public education.”

Jeff Bryant wonders whether Campbell Brown will replace Michelle Rhee as the public face of “reform”? Bryant describes the movement as “Blame Teachers First.”

Bryant suspects that Rhee’s star is fading fast. Bryant describes her as “education’s Ann Coulter.” The lingering doubts about the Washington, D.C. cheating scandal never dissipate, and John Merrow’s latest blog about the millions that Rhee has paid to protect her image have not been enough to stop the slide. He notes that she never collected the $1 billion she predicted and that her organization is retreating from several states. Her biography bombed. She was unable to draw a crowd in many of the states where she claimed to have thousands of supporters. Bryant says she is yesterday’s news.

Campbell Brown is thus next in line to inherit the role as leader of the “Blame Teachers First” movement.

Bryant writes:

“With Rhee and StudentsFirst sinking under the weight of over-promises, under-performance, and unproven practices, the Blame Teachers First crowd is now eagerly promoting Campbell Brown.

“According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Brown launched the group Partnership for Educational Justice, with a Veraga-inspired lawsuit in New York State to once again dilute teachers’ job protections, commonly called “tenure.” The suit clams students suffer from laws “making it too expensive, time-consuming and burdensome to fire bad teachers.”

“An article in The Washington Post noted, “Brown has raised the issue of tenure in op-eds and on TV programs such as ‘Morning Joe.’ But she may be just getting warmed up.”

“Actually, Brown has already been warmed up and is plenty ready to take the mound and pitch. As the very same article noted, Brown started her campaign against teachers some time ago, claiming that the New York City teachers’ union was obstructing efforts to fire teachers for sexual misconduct. Unfortunately for Brown, the ad campaign conducted by her organization Parents Transparency Project failed to note that, as The Post article recalled, at least 33 teachers had indeed been fired. “The balance were either fined, suspended or transferred for minor, non-criminal complaints.” Oops.

“Further, as my colleague Dave Johnson recalled at the time, Brown penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal accusing the teachers’ union of “trying to block a bill to keep sexual predators out of schools.” It turned out, the union wanted to strengthen the bill, not stop it. Double oops.

“Nevertheless – or as The Post reporter put it, “undaunted” – Brown has now decided to take on teacher personnel policies on behalf of, she claims, “millions of schoolchildren being denied a decent education.”

Who is funding the new anti-teacher drive? Bryant describes the familiar organizations that promoted Rhee, such as TNTP, which Rhee founded, as well as Republican operatives.

He writes:

“What emerges from these interwoven relationships, then, is a big-money effort led by a small number of people who are intent on the singular goal of reducing the ability of teachers to have control of their work environments. But to what end?

“Regardless of how you feel about the machinations behind the Rhee-Brown campaign, what’s clear is that it is hell-bent on imposing new policies that have little to no prospect of addressing the problem they are purported to resolve, which is to ensure students who need the best teachers are more apt to get them.

“Research generally has found that experienced teachers – the targets for these new lawsuits – make a positive difference in students’ academic trajectory. A review of that research on the website for the grassroots group Parents Across America concluded, “Every single study shows teaching experience matters. In fact, the only two observable factors that have been found consistently to lead to higher student achievement are class size and teacher experience.”

The new campaign looks very much like the old campaign, with only this difference. Brown does not pretend to be a Democrat.

This is a must-read column by John Merrow.

In it, he says that Michelle Rhee paid $2 million to a politically connected public relations firm (Anita Dunn and SKDKnickerbocker) in D.C. in a one-year period. (Anita Dunn was communications director for the Obama administration from April to November 2009.)

He writes:

“In just one year[1] Michelle Rhee spent about $2 million to buy the public relations services of Anita Dunn [2] and SKDKnickerbocker. It’s a continuing relationship that goes back to early in Rhee’s Chancellorship in Washington, and it’s probably the best money Rhee has ever spent (especially because it was contributed by her supporters).

“Just consider the challenge facing the PR team: The former Chancellor of the Washington, DC public schools ignored clear evidence [3] of cheating by adults [4] on the District’s standardized exams, as Linda Mathews, Jay Mathews, Jack Gillum, Michael Joseloff and I documented in “Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error.”

“But Rhee went beyond covering up the misdeeds. Instead of making a sincere effort to root out the cheaters, Rhee stage-managed four ‘investigations’ so that they cleared her. All the while, a feckless Mayor and the local newspaper averted their eyes, in sharp contrast to the vigorous investigation of a comparable cheating scandal in Atlanta.

“With her test-based accountability schemes discredited and her reputation as a fearless, tough-minded leader severely damaged, Ms. Rhee might have been expected to disappear from the scene. However, that has not happened. Instead, she remains in the public eye, writing op-eds [5] and offering analysis of educational developments. This fall she will be a presenter in the annual “Schools of Tomorrow” education symposium sponsored by The New York Times–even though the subject is higher education.”

He wonders why the District of Columbia was not included in the New Yorker article about cheating scandals.

(Read the original to follow the links.)

Most interesting is his description of an effort to smear him while he was preparing a documentary about Rhee for PBS. Even for a veteran reporter like Merrow, it was intimidating to be confronted with a long list of accusations, intended to undermine his credibility as a journalist.

He deals also with Rhee’s efforts to call herself a Democrat even though her organization, StudentsFirst, funds many conservative Republicans. According to this article in Salon in 2012,

“Rhee makes a point of applauding “leaders in both parties and across the ideological spectrum” because her own political success — and the success of school reform — depends upon the bipartisan reputation she has fashioned. But 90 of the 105 candidates backed by StudentsFirst were Republicans, including Tea Party enthusiasts and staunch abortion opponents.”

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