Michelle Rhee, the former DC Chancellor and 3 year TFA teacher was a guest on the Daily Show last night to plug her new book, Radical (see the interview in 3 parts, below). “Effective teachers” and “Failing Schools” were her go to buzz words. Beginning sentences with “So…” (a pet peeve of mine) happened frequently, too.
Rhee’s definition of “effective teacher” however wasn’t apparent as she waffled back and forth between “must have a way to measure student achievement” and “teachers are disrespected.” She never answered the objection that the tests weren’t appropriate to evaluate teachers — or maybe it never got asked. The point is, though, that standardized tests for students are NOT valid measures to evaluate teachers. Just because we may not have something which is better (which I don’t believe is true) doesn’t mean we should use something invalid.
[NOTE: Maryland has just forced Montgomery County Schools to quit using their effective evaluation plan because it doesn’t include evaluating teachers using student test scores. Read about the excellent plan they had in this article by Michael Winrip, Helping Teachers Help Themselves. The plan can be found HERE.]
Failing schools was another phrase that she kept repeating. No matter how good a teacher is, they can’t make up for students who are suffering from the effects of poverty — lead poisoning, community violence, poor nutrition and health care, lack of access to books. A good teacher is the most important IN-SCHOOL factor in achievement. Out of school factors, however, account for a larger percentage of a child’s achievement. See Poverty and Potential by David Berliner.
In addition, she mentioned that it was “common sense” to close “failing” schools. No, it’s not. If we were using common sense we would improve the schools in which children were struggling by providing them with MORE resources and MORE support.
Jon Stewart was too polite, I think (though she might have not stayed if he wasn’t). Rhee has very little experience in education and she wasn’t all that successful at what little she had. Like many TFA teachers she wasn’t prepared for what greeted her in a real classroom…she quit after 3 years. As chancellor, she threw the DC Public Schools into chaos and the voters couldn’t get rid of her and the mayor who appointed her fast enough.
I don’t know what her motivation is…money, glory, whatever…but her participation in the privatization movement is not in the best interest of students.