Kristoff on Rhee

Nick Kristoff's piece on DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee was in today's Times. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but for now a few quick thoughts:

Kristoff quotes Rhee as saying, "We will take away from all the other school districts and schools across the country the excuse that because the kids are poor, minority, whatever it might be, that they can’t achieve at the same high levels.” This is a straw man argument I hear perpetuated in countless conversations about education. I don't know anyone working in education who is using their students' racial or economic background as an excuse for their test scores. I'm sure this argument is out there, but it's not coming from anyone actually teaching or running a school in places Philly, New York or Baltimore.

In the next line, Kristoff drops the understatement of the year, "Rhee's weakness is her bedside manner." As someone who agrees with at least 75% of Rhee's ideas, she still doesn't inspire total confidence in me, because of her attempts to cram those ideas down the throats of principals, teachers and parents. Lately she's tried to extend an olive branch to the people's she's alienated, but when she follows up the conciliatory rhetoric with lines like, "If we come to an impasse, we're going to move forward with our reforms anyway," it shows her true motives and continues her simplistic characterization of her opponents as part of the problem.

I hope that Michelle Rhee succeeds, because her success means closing the achievement gap for D.C.'s poorest children and by extension America's poorest children. However, moving forward, there are legitimate concerns about some of her ideas: "Teachers worry, not unreasonably, that their performance is difficult to measure, that they will be judged by incompetent principals, and that promised bonuses may later dry up." These worries need to be addressed more seriously than passing lip service in the numerous op-eds and speeches about education reform. Rhee and the reform movement seem to be an unstoppable force, but by ignoring valid criticisms and listening to different ideas, they run the risk of turning disgruntled teachers, principals and parents into an immoveable object

Comments

Brie said…
"...but by ignoring valid criticisms and listening to different ideas, they run the risk of turning disgruntled teachers, principals and parents into an immoveable object."

Very nicely said. I think that thought is something many people don't consider as a possibility. Can you imagine the impact we could have if allowed ourselves to become that immovable object? Because we are "underpaid, under-appreciated", etc., teachers drown in the thought that they don't have as much power in "the system" so they don't try. Or one tries, but no one can change something this big by themselves. This has the potential be ridiculously incredible movement, in my opinion. My spidey senses are tingling...

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