Mike Klein Online

Michelle Rhee: No Child Left Behind “Not Perfect” but not a Total Bust

Mike Klein

Michelle Rhee, the innovative founder of StudentsFirst and former chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools, spoke about the new Obama administration No Child Left Behind waivers when she appeared on CNN on Wednesday morning.  “American Morning” host Christine Romans asked, has NCLB been a bust?

“I don’t think so at all.  Let me be clear that the law is not perfect.  I think everyone knows there are some changes and modifications that need to be made, but I don’t think that anyone can doubt that it has brought a new level of accountability to American schools,” Rhee said.

“We are looking at data in a way that we never have before, we are paying attention to sub-groups of kids and saying that it’s not okay for certain groups of kids in your school or school district to be failing and in those ways, it’s incredibly important.”

On Monday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan used the White House briefing room to announce that all 50 states could apply for waivers from the No Child Left Behind requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.  Georgia will apply.

StudentsFirst Founder Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee again on CNN: “We want kids to meet the standards.  Now, is that all that should be happening?  No.  One of the things you see is tests only test certain subjects, often mat and reading, and sometimes what schools do is go overboard and they just try to jam reading and math down the kids’ throats.  That’s not the answer.

“The research shows that kids who have access to a broad-based curriculum are the ones who do better academically.  But also, we shouldn’t go to the other direction to say testing is evil, testing is bad.  We have to be able to, in a very objective and consistent way, know whether or not kids are learning and meeting the standards.  The way to do that is a standardized test.

“One of the things that drive people nuts about No Child Left Behind is that it sets certain benchmarks for proficiency.  X percent of your kids have to be at proficiency and it goes up every year until 2014 when 100 percent of your kids are supposed to be proficient.  People look at that and say, it’s not realistic.

“We have to be able to look at growth.  Is the school moving student achievement in the right direction?  Are the students growing to meet certain targets?  Instead of having a binary distinction of either met Adequate Yearly Progress or you have not, what has the growth looked like?  We have to modify the system so that achievement and growth can be taken into account without there being this strict binary yes and no.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Michelle Rhee: “We Need a New Voice” to Advocate for Students

Michelle Rhee is education reform’s rock star.   She’s Madonna, never afraid to be out front, never afraid to speak her mind, never afraid to confront status quo, never afraid to be forced out of her job as Washington, DC schools chancellor because she did the right thing: She advocated for students first.

Technically, Rhee was not forced out.  She resigned in October after Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty was defeated by voters.   Fenty put Rhee in charge of the city’s schools three years ago and with her benefactor and protector gone, Rhee saw the writing on the blackboard.  (Or the iPad?)

Rhee’s volatile term included battles over teacher tenure and pay raises, school closures, accountability fights and large reductions to central office personnel.  There was also a perception that Rhee did not listen well.  On the plus side, Washington, DC public school students made dramatic gains in fourth and eighth grade reading and math, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress examination.

The one-time Teach for America recruit who founded the New Teacher Project non-profit in 1997 has already moved on; she turned down traditional job offers to launch StudentsFirst with a typical Michelle Rhee goal:  Raise $1 billion and recruit 1 million members during the first year.

“We need a new voice to change the balance of power in public education,” Rhee wrote in Newsweek magazine’s December 13 issue cover story.  “Our mission is to defend and promote the interests of children so that America has the best education system in the world.”

Michelle Rhee

Rhee is succinct about her Washington tenure.  “Some people believed I had disdain for the public,” she wrote.  “I read a quote where a woman said it seemed like I was listening but I didn’t do what she told me to do.  There’s a big difference there.  It’s not that I wasn’t listening; I just didn’t agree and went in a different direction.  There’s no way you can please everyone.”

Nearly 1,000 system under-performing or unqualified teachers were fired or placed on probation during Rhee’s tenure.   There was a very public battle two years ago over the new teachers’ union contract.  Rhee was portrayed as being anti – teacher in a union-dominated city.  Status quo supporters including some inside the school system worked to discredit her work.  She does not apologize for her goals – students first – but Rhee admits she could have handled it better.

“I did a particularly bad job letting the many good teachers know that I considered them to be the most important part of the equation,” Rhee wrote in Newsweek.  “I should have said to the effective teachers, ‘You don’t have anything to worry about.  My job is to make your life better, offer you more support, and pay you more.’  I totally fell down on that.”

Several studies have reported U.S. public school students are falling behind others worldwide.  Rhee wrote that U.S. students are currently 21st, 23rd and 25th among the 30 developed nations in science, reading and math.  “The children in our schools today will be the first generation of Americans who will be less educated than the previous generation,” Rhee wrote.

“I was at Harvard the other day, and someone asked about a statement that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and others have made that public-school reform is the civil-rights issue of our generation.  Well, during the civil-rights movement they didn’t work everything out by sitting down collaborating and compromising.   Conflict was necessary in order to move the agenda forward.

“There are some fundamental disagreements that exist right now about what kind of progress is possible and what strategies will be most effective.  Right now, what we need to do is fight.   We can be respectful about it.  But this is the time to stand up and say what you believe, not sweep the issues under the rug so that we can feel good about getting along.”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.


December 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment