A few days ago, I posted a letter from Hari Sevugan on this site, in which he defended Michelle Rhee’s agenda of privatization and high-stakes testing. Sevugan was (according to Wikipedia) the former national press secretary for the Democratic National Committee and was the senior spokesman for the Obama campaign in 2008. In June, 2011, he became vice-president of communications for Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.
I invited him to post again. I wrote:
“I hope he will write again to explain why he thinks that Rhee’s support for for-profit charters, for vouchers, and for the agenda of rightwing governors helps our society’s most vulnerable children.”
Rhee has worked closely with Governor Scott Walker, Governor John Kasich, Governor Rick Scott, and other Republicans who want to privatize education, curtail collective bargaining rights, and take away any job protections for teachers.
Many readers of the blog wrote responses to Sevugan. He responded with a letter this morning (I confess I missed it and read it first on the Huffington Post). He did not answer my questions, but he did respond to a letter from a Florida teacher and parent. I am updating this post because I did not see his comment on the blog (unlike Rhee, who has a large staff, I have no staff, not even a secretary; I read all comments myself, and I write all the responses myself, I write all my own tweets, all my own articles, all my own books, no ghostwriters).
In his comments to Huffington Post, Sevugan scoffs at the success of Massachusetts and Maryland because “only 40-50%” of students in those states are proficient on NAEP. I don’t think he knows much about NAEP’s achievement levels. “Proficient” on NAEP is not above average. It represents solid achievement. I spent seven years as a member of the NAEP governing board. Proficient on NAEP is like getting a B+ or an A. Massachusetts can be proud that half its students have such outstanding performance.
Sevugan fawns all over Florida, because Rhee gave Florida and Louisiana her highest grades. (He doesn’t even try to defend Louisiana, one of the nation’s lowest performing states on NAEP.)
But why is he so admiring of Florida? True, it is overrun with charters, both nonprofit and for-profit. But it doesn’t come close to Massachusetts (or Maryland) on NAEP.
Florida (whose education policies are tightly controlled by Jeb Bush) is far behind Massachusetts on NAEP. In fourth grade math, for example, an astonishing 59% of students in Massachusetts rank proficient (which is outstanding), as compared to 37% in Florida (slightly below the national average of 39%).
In eighth grade math, an impressive 51% in Massachusetts are proficient, compared to 28% in Florida (well below the national average of 34% proficient).
In reading, the story is the same. Massachusetts students far outperform those in Florida. In fourth grade, 51% of Massachusetts students are proficient, as compared to 35% in Florida (the national average is 32%). In eighth grade reading, 46% of students in Massachusetts are proficient, compared to only 29% in Florida.
Michelle Rhee gave one of her highest grades on her report card to the D.C. schools, despite their low test scores, low graduation rates, and scandalous achievement gaps. Michelle Rhee and her successor have been in charge of the D.C. public schools since 2007, yet the black-white achievement gap and the Hispanic-white achievement gap there are the largest of any city or state in the nation and they are even larger now than when Rhee took over.
If Michelle Rhee knows how to reform schools, why did she fail to do so in D.C.?
Sevugan’s letter is just more of the public school-bashing and teacher-bashing that StudentsFirst has perfected. He thinks our nation and our schools are failing. He is wrong. Our nation is the most powerful, most creative, most innovative in the world, and 90% of Americans were educated in public schools.
Sevugan obviously has never looked at NAEP scores. If he had, he would know that the scores for black students, white students, Hispanic students, and Asian students in 2011 (the latest NAEP) were at their highest point in history.
Sevugan has a lot to learn about education. I’ll be happy to help him. The first thing he needs to learn is that the doom-and-gloom narrative of the corporate reformers is wrong. It is factually untrue, and I’ll demonstrate how wrong it is in my next book.
We have heard the same doleful complaints since the 1950s, and the peddlers of decline have been wrong every time. They are wrong now too.