I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Rhee on Stewart: A Breakdown, Part I

UPDATE: I forgot to post the link to the table below, and now everyone is rightly asking "Who made that excellent table?"

Who else?

The very shy Michelle Rhee swallowed her fears of public speaking and did The Daily Show last night - you know, for the kids...

As is usual for Jon Stewart, the best part of the interview was not aired:


Let's break this down:

- I know that some of you were looking for a show where Rhee is finally confronted directly for her mendacity and is called out for having ulterior motives. But everyone knows that Stewart doesn't do that: his m.o. is to kill with kindness. He knows he wouldn't get guests like Donald Rumsfeld if he gained the reputation of someone who goes for the throat - and I'm fine with that.

Because (like in his interview with Rumsfeld), Stewart gives Rhee the first real challenge to her nonsense that the mainstream media has seen in a good long while. Yes, I wish he had brought up the cheating scandal. Yes, I wish someone would straight up confront Rhee about her obvious resume padding from her short teaching stint in Baltimore. Yes, it's time she was held to account for her legacy in Washington, D.C.

But this is the first time I can think of since Rhee was humiliated on the BBC by the head of the British teachers union that she has actually had to defend her agenda beyond simple and stupid platitudes. Stewart, unlike the vast majority of the media, understands that Rhee has doubters, and those people have serious concerns that should be addressed. Further, in this segment Stewart does lay bare the truth that Rhee really has nothing meaningful to say about education - even if he neglects to point that out directly.

What do I mean? Well...

- Stewart asks Rhee about test scores and their use in teacher evaluation, questioning the accuracy of this metric for evaluating teachers. Here's Rhee's immediate response:

(Part 1, 2:25) When I got to D.C., I was leading a system where 8% of the 8th Graders in the city schools were operating on grade level in mathematics when I got there, and yet when I looked at the performance evaluations of the adults at the same time, 98% of them were being rated as doing an excellent job. 

So when confronted with the notion that test scores may be an inaccurate way to judge teachers, Rhee immediately cites those very scores to contend that teachers must be doing a poor job.

This lack of logic speaks for itself.

- Immediately afterward, Stewart tries again: teachers are concerned that all of the stuff Rhee promotes will lead to teaching to an inaccurate test. Rhee, in answer, pulls the classic reformy dodge:

(Part 1, 4:10) Well, what I'm saying is that there has to be a balance. You don't want an overemphasis on the test, where that's the only thing that people are concerned about, and yet you can't have no accountability, right? Because we for a very long time in cities like Washington D.C. and places across the country we were producing generations of kids who were graduating from high school but they didn't know how to read and write and do math on grade level. So there's got to be a balance in there, and sort of fairness in there about it.

Glad to see we're shooting for "a sort of fairness" in teacher evaluations...

It is a long-standing myth, backed by little empirical evidence, that America has been producing generation after generation of dummies in our failing public schools. Certainly, we've had inequitable outcomes, but it's sheer lunacy to suggest that this has been caused by a lack of accountability for educators or the structure of our public schools:
The American public school districts that are among the best in the world have tenured teachers, seniority, and step-guides; they lack merit pay, "choice," and test-based teacher evaluation. The primary difference between these "successful" systems and "failing" school districts are the characteristics of the students.

Listen to Michelle Rhee, and you will hear a woman who does everything within her power to avoid discussing this very obvious truth.

- Rhee continues:

(Part 1, 4:40) I think the bottom line is that there is no one in the country that I know of who is advocating that we evaluate teachers solely on the basis of test scores. I think the vast majority of people who are reformers are saying we have to look at student achievement growth but we also have to look at other metrics and measures like observations of their classroom practice, surveys of kids in their classroom and the parents who send their kids to that classroom every day.

I notice that Rhee almost never acknowledges the enormous error rates found in test-based teacher evaluation, because that would undermine her entire call for "fairness." The truth is that the debate is over: VAM is "junk science," and everyone - including the reformers themselves - knows it is riddled with errors.

The best case Rhee can make is to say: "Well, it's only part of the evaluation, so the errors don't matter." Except when you have a highly variable metric like test scores, it may be part of the evaluation but it becomes all of the decision.

(I'll be honest folks - I've found this is the hardest thing to explain to lay people about why any use of tests to evaluate teachers is problematic. We have some real framing work to do here.)

- This next part made me absolutely crazy:

(Part 1, 5:40) So I remember talking to a teacher when I was in D.C. once, and she said, "You know what, I'm a good soldier. I'm not a rabble rouser. I just want to do the right thing for you, for the kids, for the district." She's like, "Can you just tell me what you want me to do?" She said, "Because I have this huge state curriculum, and I have all these learning standards. And then I have the standardized tests that we have to take, and these benchmark assessments, and the teachers guide, and the Everyday Math.,." You know, she's like, "All these things! Just tell me what you want me to do and I'll do it. But right now, there's just so much stuff." And I think that is absolutely is a frustration.

So part of what we have to do is be very clear with our educators about what great teaching to learning looks like, what do we expect to see when we walk into their classroom, what we're prioritizing, what's most important."

Got that, teachers? If you want to be a good soldier, then just do what Michelle Rhee - or whomever happens to be running your school district at the moment - tells you to do. Be compliant. Follow orders. Michelle admits that maybe we're giving you too many contradictory directions right now, but don't you worry your pretty little heads about that.

(By the way: am I the only one detecting more than a whiff of sexism here? This poor, flustered, overwhelmed teacher just "wants to be told what to do"? Golly, we'd better save her from herself; here, I've got some Pamprin for you, honey - just take it and do what we tell you, OK?

To put it another way: do you ever hear "reformers" talk about cops like this?)

There's no hint here that maybe the curriculum and the standards and the learning objectives should be generated from the ground up. No, what we need is better "leadership" from the top down. Don't worry, teachers, Michelle's good buddy and patron, old Uncle Eli, is working on that...

This is yet another symptom of the patronizing attitude toward teachers that permeates Michelle Rhee's worldview. Good teachers follow orders like good soldiers: that's what makes them good. Those awful "rabble rousers" are ruining things for everyone...

And let's take more of the actual decision making out of the hands of teachers, because the poor darlings are just so... you know... hysterical.

More in a bit.

Two of my favorite "rabble rousers."


Leonie Haimson said...

where is the table from?

Anonymous said...

This is the most accurate critique of the Daily Show interview I've seen yet. People criticizing Stewart for not calling Rhee a bald-faced liar must not regularly watch his show. I too thought of the Rumsfield interview last night when watching. He didn't let her off the hook. He made her aware when he caught an inconsistency. And he was polite.

I haven't watched the rest of her media blitz, but I doubt she'll have a segment as tough as that the rest of the way.

Anonymous said...

It may not happen frequently, but Jon Stewart can eviscerate his guests when he wants to. Check out his flaying of Jim Cramer on 3/9/09, especially part 2.

Teacher Mom said...

Jon was definitely being nice, but he made some killer points that she just refused to address. He was clowning as usual, but then he would pull the switch and say something so profound. "Teachers may be the biggest in school factor, but is school the biggest factor for kids". You have to admire her ability to stay on script.

Oh, and I'm back. Here is a prime example of what happens when they change the metric i.e. the test

Yastreblyansky said...

Great post--should be required reading for anybody who watches the video. I saw the on-air portion and was disappointed but now I see what I was seeing. That poor non-rabble-rouser teacher in the story must have been close to a nervous breakdown from bad supervision: "just tell me what you want me to do" is something I have often wanted to say to an irrational boss. I'll let women decide on the sexism issue but I would think yes.

Jose Vilson said...

First, thank you for this post. Amazing that people who watch the Daily Show don't understanding his real approach.

May I help with the framing on VAM a bit?


Also, what Rhee probably misses about the comment told to her re "Just tell me what to do" is that it's not just a frustration from teaching, but a frustration from having to deal with nonsense from people like HER. If we had a system that devalued high-stakes tests and focused on preparing teachers to be the best teachers possible, you'd see less and less of these ridiculous (and uncanny) stories coming from reformers.

Students Last said...

Stewart did a great job. I don't think you can fault him for being polite. Most importantly he clearly understood and articulated many of the foundations of educator complaints about the "reform" movement. eg. effects of poverty, too much emphasis on testing, testing being high-stakes, handicapping public schools by sending funding to charters that aren't bound by the same rules. We say, "Thank you, Jon... and to you Mrs. Stewart (teacher for decades) .... you raised a nice boy."

Unknown said...

Where can I find the original source of that chart?
TN Dept of Ed presented the results of an in-house "study" that shows teaching experience and advanced degrees do not improve the TVAAS (our VAM).
TN Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, is Rhee's ex husband and a TfA cult member.

If you want to see the powerpoint Huffman presented to the TN school board and the lege, I'll send it to you so you can prepare for a similar assault in NJ. Passing around the same crappy data that show the same outcomes seems to be reformy standard practice.

Kids First FOR REAL said...

Thanks for all you do. I don't feel so alone.

Mrs. King's music students said...

"Just tell me what YOU want me to do and I'll do it..." so you can go back to your office and I can get back to what really needs to be done here.
There's no getting around the economic factor where finding your next meal and having a coat to wear takes priority over lifelong learning and definitely over meeting AYP.
Finally, as a music teacher in two urban districts (and 1 mediocre one), I have heard many educational leaders tell kids that the arts would be taken away till THEY passed AYP. But in the 2 schools where the kids managed to bring their scores up, the arts were not reinstituted. Does anyone here know of a story like this where the kids kept their end of the bargain and their ed leaders kept their promise?

Mother Crusader said...

I couldn't help but think of Madison Superintendent Dr. Michael A. Rossi's letter to the NJ State Board of Education when Rhee was talking about that teacher who wanted to be a "good soldier."


"I know how difficult it is to effectuate change even in one district and cannot imagine how challenging your task must be. Accordingly, I seek not to complain but simply to point out stark realities. In Madison, we have faculty and staff with multiple advanced degrees, savvy and seasoned administrators, parents that support everything we do both philosophically and financially, and most importantly, determined, bright and wonderful students. All of this combined, and even with umpteen awards in all walks of education, and we are, to a person, confused, overwhelmed and altogether concerned about trying to roll out several initiatives at once.

It is not that we do not support you, are resistant to change, nor are we unwilling to spend money (to date we have had to allocate close to a half million dollars) trying to get ready for EE4NJ, Common Core, PARCC, Principal Evaluation, etc.). Our teachers and administrators want to do a good job and want to help you achieve your goals, but simply put, it is far too much too fast."

That should be the slogan for the reform movement. "Education Reform: Far Too Much Too Fast!"

Marie said...

Great post, Duke! Unfortunately there are too many teachers who really do want to 'just be told what to do'. That mindset is equally responsible for the mess we're in right now.

Anonymous said...

(I'll be honest folks - I've found this is the hardest thing to explain to lay people about why any use of tests to evaluate teachers is problematic. We have some real framing work to do here.)
You are so right. To the general public, it is perfectly reasonable to measure us according to our "products." I wrote a blog recently attempting to explain VAM in layman's terms by comparing it snake oil. It seems to be resonating with some. See at http://lisamyers.org.