Saturday, December 06, 2008

Michelle Rhee In Sacramento

Michelle Rhee
The Sacramento Bee on Sat. Dec.6 has an important education story on B1 concerning the role of Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools and her role in advising and staff selection for new Mayor Kevin Johnson. It is a valuable piece, however it tells less than half of the story. What makes Michelle Rhee a story is that she is the leader of the Washington D.C. public schools, one of two or three school systems which regularly score below those of California if reading, math, high school graduation and other basics.

As noted, Ms. Rhee came to the job of Chancellor from leading the New Teacher Project which has placed lots of teachers in urban districts. However, these teachers have not improved student achievement because the new teachers are minimally prepared to teach and they leave their positions at a very high rate before they learn to teach well.

From this position Michelle Rhee was selected to run the Washington D.C. schools. The article by Mary Lynne Vellinga describes some of the major issues there. It is correct and useful to say that these are difficult schools traditionally failing students. This is a tough job.
Chancellor Rhee uses a management style currently advocated by a number of school business managers including Joel Klien of New York City and others. ( see previous posts)
The administration of Michelle Rhee as Chancellor of Schools in is representative of a particular rigid approach to school change promoted by NCLB which I oppose because it assaults teachers and does not improve schools. Rather than take the advice of educators, Chancellor Rhee repeatedly championed and implemented policies that support corporate interests as opposed to children. The Department of Education under Rhee has been run like a ruthless dictatorship – with no input from parents or educators. Teachers have not been respected, consulted, nor listened to. You can not improve schools without working with – not against the teachers.
The bottom line is that this form of arbitrary management has not worked to improve student achievement. Yes, she has closed schools and fired teachers, but have the students scores have not improved? This brand of drive by school reform produces headlines but has not improved the schools. The pattern is clear, generate a lot of controversy, impose harsh conditions, make claims based upon one or two years data, and then move on quickly before the data from several years of failed efforts catches up with you. A new “leader” is brought in and the process starts all over again.
Sacramento has had several years of this kind of faux “reform” not only at Sacramento High ( with Rhee’s participation) but in the reform cycles of Terry Greer ( currently in San Diego), John Sweeney, and others. This “business approach” was also the driving force behind Alan Bersin in San Diego before he left and became Secretary of Education for the entire state of California. And, is the current mantra of the failing Superintendent in Los Angeles Unified.
The press should look at the data. These management approaches have not worked.
So now, according to the story, Michelle Rhee is consulting in Sacramento to the new Kevin Johnson Administration. She has worked here before as a hands-on advisor in the transition of Sacramento High to a Charter School. Look at the data.
By the way, while Michelle Rhee consults in Sacramento the Washington D.C. schools have not improved achievement for the students. Perhaps she hopes to bring the achievement scores of all of Sacramento students down to the level of those of Washington D.C.
If I were her boss, I would counsel that it is time for her to pay attention to her day job.
Duane Campbell


Kel Tech said...

Hi Duane. Can you really say that she has failed already? She's only been in the position for a year and a half. Would YOU be able to make that drastic of a change in that short of time frame? The DC school system is in rough shape and I think your comments are a little too harsh. It almost sounds like you expected her to wave a wand and test scores would rise. What are your views and ideas for increasing student performance in such a large school district?

marusi said...

Rhee and others like her will fail because teachers and their unions are not the problem. They depend on test scores as the only "objective" measure of success. Objective?? Standardized tests - developed and popularized in Nazi Germany - slavishly reproduce socioeconomic status, year after year. Why do supposedly "poor" teachers who work in working class and ghetto schools suddenly become "good" teacher when they transfer to more affluent schools? Rhee and others simply raise a dust storm- and a lot of people's hopes with all their noise about "reform." It's not reform at all to blame teachers and their unions for endemic poverty, class privilege and racism. Americans still think that a ruthless, get tough, simplistic approach to education can get the job done. It didn't work in foreign policy and it won't work in education. I'm sorry KJ has seen fit to consult with someone who only taught for three years, and who probably would've fired herself after the first year anyway.