Former DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee was on the Daily Show last night to prop her new book “Radical.” I cannot hide my feelings toward the school reform movement – I think an anti-teacher education reform movement is inherently flawed. Despite Rhee’s claim to support teachers, her basic distrust of them makes me doubt her actual motives. But let’s bring it back to a more basic problem. Her book is titled “Radical”???? For a women who is promoting business-like practices in schools, I don’t think the term radical (albeit maybe definitionally appropriate) fits with her education philosophy because of its basic leftist and progressive connotations. She pays lip service to the effect of poverty on educational outcomes, but a real radical school movement would include teachers to attack the more serious social problems that are holding back our nation’s children.
It’s also important to recognize whether Rhee’s reforms actually fulfilled their goals. Matthew DiCarlo writes in the Washington Post about Michelle Rhee’s empty claims about her D.C. schools record. For example, the high school graduation rate remained unchanged after her reforms were implemented. Another more pro-Rhee article in the Washington Post, claiming vindication for her reforms, is still even unconvincing; noting that, “Problems remain. The report pulled no punches in detailing the continuing challenges that confront the city’s public schools, foremost being that top performers are less likely to teach in the struggling, less affluent schools that need them the most.” Education historian and expert Diane Ravitch is quick to remind us that we have been trying this business-model school reform for long enough now and it hasn’t produced the type of improvement that it claims it is able to. It’s time to try something else.
Teachers want changes in the school system too so that they can better educate students. They understand that education is one of the basic ways we can make students future livelihoods more fulfilling and the U.S. economy more robust. So I think the so-called education reform movement would be served well by including the millions of (most women, btw) workers who have devoted their lives to education.
The interview with Jon Stewart is really worth checking. He is hard hitting in this one. He brings up all the right questions, like the demoralization of teachers, and I, with my biases, find her responses largely unconvincing. But I’d love to hear other people’s receptions of the interview.