Thursday, August 9, 2012

Diane Ravitch's and Michelle Rhee's Backlash

We have followed with enthusiasm the work of Diane Ravitch since appointed by George W. Bush as Assistant Secretary of Education she supported the ‘No child left behind’ policy instituted by Bush’s administration.   Ravitch became a sharp critique of holding non-performing schools punitively accountable after she’s left her public post. After reading the following comment a reader sent to me about in Response to ‘Digest on Michelle Rhee’, I felt compelled to post about Diane Ravitch’s changed views on Education Reform.  Here’s the reader’s response:

”Things are difficult, in an inner city school, and the reformers are just making it totally unbearable. It’s like being in an army at war - you're under fire, your buddies are becoming casualties, you're undermanned, you're outgunned, yet, you are still holding your position.  But the people back home say it’s entirely your fault.  You’re not on the offensive and over running the enemy country; the soldiers are lazy, incompetent, etc.  The solution is to fire everybody who hasn't gotten enough kill stats; cut salaries.  And especially, you must get rid of the most experienced soldiers.

Teachers are undermanned (giant class sizes), having inferior weapons (textbooks falling apart, AND, no kids can take textbooks home because the dropouts never bring the $125 books back, PLUS I have to buy my own laptop-projector, the 600$ projector dies every 3 years).

Like a teacher, Each soldiers kill statistics depend on situations outside of their control. Did you give me a machine gun with 5000 rounds and place me in a foxhole with miles of visibility, where there's nowhere for the enemy to hide? Did you put me in a tank? Or did you throw me from a boat like D-Day onto a heavily defended beach with no tanks and just said 'go get ‘em'?

And sure, there probably are incompetent soldiers.  They become casualties.  Teachers who get axed by admins not related to them, or quit within two of the worst years of their lives with classes they don’t know how to control and can't teach.  Think of all the middle class college graduates in an inner city classroom where neither side understands each other....and soon grows to loathe each other, and suddenly midyear, they have a sub or another rookie for the rest of the year. THAT happens ALL THE TIME. The incompetents weed themselves out.  Only the effective can survive.  A lot of crying twenty four year old women are involved in this process, miserable.”

The above comment makes the need for education reform even more forceful.  Again, that reinforces the need for a Michelle Rhee.  Diane Ravitch’s position on tolerating incompetent teachers especially hurts the future of those in inner city schools.  We are competing globally. Students and Teachers first please.

Jacques Moise Thimothee {Virginia and Maryland Commercial - Residential Real Estate}

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Digest on Michelle Rhee

I became fascinated with the work of Michelle Rhee shortly after I moved to Washington D.C, in December, 2007. At the time, I began dating the lady in my life who happens to not be so hot about Michelle Rhee in general and particularly disdained the changes made within D.C Public Schools by Michelle Rhee.

The criticism that I most vehemently defend against is that teachers under Rhee tend to be in a state of mind where they fear their job security and similarly, that teachers working under her that were duly effective were not recognized. To some, her takeover message painted an overall picture of ineffective teachers in a failing school district. In other words, Michelle lumped teachers in a group seemingly labeled as all ineffective. Examples include teachers who are highly effective and doing a wonderful job with kids but never acknowledged or rather, slandered in the media. Some say that Michelle Rhee’s public messaging painted the majority of DCPS teachers as ineffective thereby failing to honor the quality of the work and the positive differences that individual teachers were making. Others say her policies were economically unsustainable. For example, paying teachers very high salaries and giving teachers $20,000 bonuses were touted as unrealistic and doomed for failure because municipalities couldn’t reasonably bear the cost burden of retaining teachers at such high pay and bonus rates in the long-run. It didn’t help that Michelle Rhee did not make a habit of or give credit or even acknowledges the hard work of her predecessors, sending a seemingly arrogant message that the turn-around approach in schools would happen with her overnight, starting from her tenure going forward.

In all Michelle Rhee is believed to be boastful and over confident to the point where she projects the picture of corporate arrogance. She is unapologetic, seemingly disrespectful, foolishly daring and relentless – case in point, fired her children's principal, even though that school was known for outstanding results. Education is a matter of community affairs. The approach of dealing with teachers as they were working for a public company whose motto is performance, profit or get ousted did not seem to fit an educational model.

My position on Michelle Rhee’s approach to reforming education is as follows: teachers should indeed be highly rewarded for pushing children to learn at high levels. This form of reward should be exercised through both recognition and compensation. Sure that will require greater allocation from municipalities’ budgets however the investment in human capital would be well worth it.
A global reason to support this claim is that the U.S is lagging behind other nations in terms of pioneering in innovation and education. In the field of mathematics, science, and technology, our country is lagging behind China, Finland, and Sweden whose citizens’ students are outperforming their American counterparts.

Nationwide reason in support of greater investment in teacher rewards is the impact that urban education has on the rest of the country.

Urban education is probably the most critical issue in education in this country today. All Americans have a civil right to education. The idea is for every citizen to have access to all that America offers. That right to education needs to be in the form of good and effective schooling for all. In current day America, in urban jurisdictions, there is a huge gap in performance level between the haves and the have-nots. That is an injustice. A child by virtue of the city in which he or she was born or in which the parents choose to live in or by virtue of income should not be robbed of the education rights that were promised to him or her by this country. Statistically, it is clear that minority and children living in poverty are graduating high school at much lower rates than their affluent counterparts. For example, during the year 2006 only approximately 9% of children in D.C Public Schools graduated from four year colleges and universities (Washington Post Archives). Also, within the next 20 years, Blacks and Hispanics – a group that is typically underserved, will be the majority in this country. If the education system is failing the future majority in this country, what becomes of our mass population in the future?

At the individual level, if I am a minority living in a non-affluent area in this country, by virtue of the school district that my child attends, he or she might end up with either a strong likelihood of going to Princeton or going to prison. Many districts use the achievement rates of third graders on the state tests in determining how many prison cells to build. The reason they do that is that if a child is not reading at grade levels by third grade, it is unlikely that they will graduate from high school. Kids that do not graduate from high school are more likely to end up in prison. So the question of why teachers should be recognized and well compensated financially is perhaps not the right question. It may at this point be more appropriate to ask where this country will be if we do not make that necessary huge investment in education.

Investing in educational reform schools that are changing those above-mentioned statistics is well worth the money. In agreement with Michelle Rhee, effective teachers should be valued and compensated in alignment with traditionally honored and high paying professions such as doctors, lawyers, etc. Michelle Rhee believes that it is unjust to blindly protect teachers through unions but more importantly believes in the protection of children first. If unions protect the adults, who protects the children? Her approach is not only the correct approach, but one that is effective and promotes the accountability that is so needed at the school and district level. In sum, Michelle Rhee is about increased focus on outcomes for students and has a very no nonsense, no excuses approach. She sees urban education as a civil rights issue; the civil rights issue of the century. This passion for justice for children in the urban education arena drives tough decision-making, a sense of urgency that though it can be seen as cut-throat has brought the right kind of attention that this critical issue deserves. Michelle is daring, unapologetic, confident, committed. Those are the traits necessary to make lasting changes and thereby giving our little urban kids unlimited power through quality education for all. Michelle Rhee is a gem. She has the caliber of leadership skills that would win my vote. Go Michelle.

Now, might we need Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama to tackle the issue of Education Reform. We need the Youth Code for the good ones.

Virginia and Maryland Commercial & Residential Real Estate Jacques M.Thimothee

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