A Review of the New Book about Michelle Rhee

This review of Richard Whitmire’s biography of Michelle Rhee, The Bee Eater, was in Slate a few weeks ago. It’s an interesting read. To wit:

Rhee’s message about education reform is very seductive because it’s simple and optimistic. Childhood poverty and economic school segregation, in Rhee’s world, are just “excuses” for teacher failure. If we could just get the unions to agree to stop protecting bad teachers and allow great teachers to be paid more, she says, we could make all the difference in education. The narrative is attractive because it indeed would be wonderful if poverty and segregation didn’t matter, and if heroic teachers could consistently overcome the odds for students whom everyone agrees deserve a better shot in life.

The fact that Rhee is a hard-working Ivy League graduate makes the elite press respect her as one of their own. And Rhee’s flair for the dramatic makes her irresistible…

Most education researchers, though, recognize that Rhee’s simple vision of heroic teachers saving American education is a fantasy, and that her dramatic, often authoritarian, style is ill-suited for education.

Read the rest HERE.

6 thoughts on “A Review of the New Book about Michelle Rhee

  1. Baltimore is going to be an interesting city to watch in the coming years. My brother, his wife, and most of their friends, are BPS veterans. Recently, the teachers there voted to do something that Rhee was attempting to get DC teachers to do: give up their tenure in exchange for much higher pay. As a result, BPS teachers will be making around 85K starting this fall. My brother and his friends describe their Chancellor as having similar goals as Rhee, but with far more tact and diplomacy.

  2. Without comments:

    “I don’t know Michelle Rhee. I don’t know what she’s like personally, off-stage. So what I’m going to write here concerns the public Michelle Rhee, the persona she offers to the world with, one can assume, forethought and strategy. There have been two recent events that have been much discussed and that might tarnish this persona and that I think are revelatory about some of the features of contemporary school reform – for which Ms. Rhee is a powerful symbol.
    The first event. An independent arbitrator ruled that the District of Columbia must rehire 75 teachers who Chancellor Rhee fired during their probationary period in 2008. The dismissals were improper, said the arbitrator, because Rhee did not provide a reason for the terminations. The teachers had “no opportunity to provide their side of the story.”

    There is much to say here: the violation of due process, the hardship these teachers endured, the significant burden the ruling places on the already burdened district. But I can’t help but think as well of the irony that teachers in D.C. never felt they were heard by Chancellor Rhee (or, for that fact, by Mayor Fenty), and that the arbitrator cites Rhee’s not giving teachers a chance to speak on their own behalf as the “glaring and fatal flaw” in her action. So the broom that sweeps clean – the brash and decisive kick-ass-and-take-names persona that the media celebrated – in fact operated improperly and ended up causing her successor a whole heap of trouble.

    Here’s the second event, and it has gotten a lot of attention in the blogosphere. When Michelle Rhee was applying for her chancellor’s post in D.C. she stated on her resume that when she taught in Baltimore, she raised her students’ test scores in two years from the 13th percentile to the 90th percentile. It is a sign of her appeal that Mayor Fenty and then the media didn’t balk.

    r was it just that they know so pitifully little about education? That kind of gain, even if Mother Theresa were teaching the class, is not credible. But it passed, and it resurfaced here and there as part of the developing mythology surrounding the dynamic Chancellor.



  3. Interesting and evidence based article:

    “Study: $75M teacher pay initiative did not improve achievement
    by Elizabeth Green

    New York City’s heralded $75 million experiment in teacher incentive pay — deemed “transcendent” when it was announced in 2007 — did not increase student achievement at all, a new study by the Harvard economist Roland Fryer concludes.

    “If anything,” Fryer writes of schools that participated in the program, “student achievement declined.” Fryer and his team used state math and English test scores as the main indicator of academic achievement.

    Schools could distribute the bonus money based on individual teachers’ results, but most did not. Most teachers received the average bonus of $3,000.

    The program, which was first funded by private foundations and then by taxpayer dollars, also had no impact on teacher behaviors that researchers measured. These included whether teachers stayed at their schools or in the city school district and how teachers described their job satisfaction and school quality in a survey.

    The program had only a “negligible” effect on a list of other measures that includes student attendance, behavioral problems, Regents exam scores, and high school graduation rates, the study found.”



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