Sunday, January 04, 2009

Reformer Without Results...

Finally the words that shall never be spoken have been declared. Michelle Rhee may have been duping educational elites, full of sound and fury which when measured against nothing will signify the same.

From her tender days in Baltimore as a budding educator where legend has it that she singlehandedly raised her right hand, parted the seas and willed children to learn to today where she's the media darling after firing principals, teachers, secretaries, hell, maybe even a maintenance guy or two just to prove to anyone who might've doubted that she means business; that is, accountability for ALL (well, nearly all, as we shall later see), Rhee is on a quest to educate our little ones.

She is the latest educational guru to come down the pike to try to close the achievement gap between suburban and inner-city schools. And to hear Rhee and her supporters tell it, she's just the one to do it. All educators have to do is listen to her, remain focused, make a few discipline marks on the board, change a seating arrangement or two and voila, students suddenly become "calm and engaged" and thank educators in the process.

The story goes that everything was going swimmingly swell for Rhee, too. That is until those lazy, clueless unionized teachers ignored her teaching methodology and ruined every student gain by adopting their own personal pedagogical style.

Since Rhee's fabled days of teaching in Baltimore, she has gone on to earn a master's degree in public policy at Harvard and run a teaching recruiting firm. In June 2008, serendipity smiled when Mayor Adrian Fenty selected her to run the public school system in the District of Columbia.

Canny Rhee has had almost two years to whip the school system into shape. And she certainly has done so, right...? After all, she's been on the cover of Time magazine, featured in Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, CNN and PBS's "NewsHour."

Well, not so fast, Tonto. Equal to any paper trail from Rhee's days in Baltimore, lady luck has divined no documentation for Rhee to date. Let Bob Somerby explain about her early storied career:
[H]er official resume had long asserted this: “Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.” At best, it’s extremely irresponsible to make such detailed claims on the basis of “informal chit-chat.”
You see, when Jay Matthews of Washington Post wrote Rhee's hagiography, er, article, two months ago, Somerby decided to follow up and ask him how he could be so darn sure that Rhee's students had indeed performed as she'd claimed. Matthews assured Somerby that everything was absolutely true because Rhee had told him she'd had some informal chit-chat with central office and well, they'd told her so.

Oops...just Rhee's self-serving assurances about some "informal chit-chat." Not exactly an airtight source.

As to the sure-fire astronomical progress in DC test scores, they've been rigidly documented, such documentation exists. In fact, the good mayor who fully believes in teacher accountability has "proposed a privately funded study to be conducted by researchers known to be favorable toward a mayoral takeover of schools" to vouch for Rhee and her unconventional dogma.

Well, thank the sweet lord that not everyone in the District is on the Rhee Express. According to Colbert King of Washington Post, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray "has decided that the council must do more than just appropriate funds for schools, leaving Rhee free to run the system as she sees fit."
He said he will propose this month that the council select an independent evaluator to examine the impact of changes initiated by Rhee on teacher and student performance, school system operations, and the school governance structure itself.
Sounds like some really good news; and long overdue. Let's see how those pesky scores come out. Enough with the mythic stories that can't be verified; let's hold the educational bean counters accountable. And may the beans fall where they will...

Beans are about all that can count. Never, ever trust a methodology that purports to measure student achievement over time. It's a moving, fluid target because one term a student can be genius and the next an idiot, depending on what is going on in his/her life. Bah, humbug on testing.
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