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

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Crib Sheet for the Rhee/Perry Tour

Looks like someone is desperately trying to become relevant again:
Michelle Rhee wants to have a candid conversation with her fiercest critics.
And she’s asking local teachers union leaders and activists — long her most vocal opponents — to be a part of each event.
According to the invitations sent Wednesday, Rhee’s goal is to bring teachers and their union representatives into the wider conversation about American education reform.

The outspoken education reformer will host a series of national town hall meetings beginning in September, according to invitations obtained by POLITICO.
“Teachers’ voices are vital to the conversation about how to improve our national education system,” Rhee wrote to supporters. “Unfortunately, the dialogue around public education has become too often polarized, with extreme rhetoric and personal attacks overshadowing what’s important: getting all of our country’s kids into great schools with great teachers.”

Rhee will have company on her cross-country tour, which includes stops in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Birmingham, Ala., Steve Perry, who founded and runs the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Connecticut and former Washington Teachers’ Union President George Parker will both join her at each event. [emphasis mine]
After the spectacular failure of her book, Radical, and the woeful failure of her group, StudentsFirst, to meet her fundraising goals, Rhee is obviously trying to get her name out there once again before her wealthy backers figure out that they're wasting their money. Look for more publicity stunts like this in the future, each more dreadful than the last.

Of course, it's particuarly hypocritcal that Rhee worries so much about "extreme rhetoric" when she's going to pal around with a guy like Steve Perry:
Perry himself has not been without controversy. In a recent speech in Minneapolis, he drew the ire of local teachers unions when they say he referred to unions as “roaches” and said they were responsible for the “literal” death of children.
Lovely. Mind you, these phony "town halls" will be so scripted that no one will be allowed to actually bring this up, let alone the actual track record of Rhee and Perry. But, just in case you happen to go, take along this handy crib sheet, documenting the careers of these two "reformers":

Michelle Rhee's ACTUAL Record:

Rhee as a Teacher: As Jay Matthews reported in the Washington Post, Rhee dissembled badly about her own three-year career as a teacher in Baltimore (it's important to note that Matthews now questions Rhee's record as a teacher, as he himself had reported early in her tenure in Washington, D.C. that she had been a great teacher). Blogger G.F. Brandenburg lays out all the facts, and opines: "If Tesseract/Edison had been using the IMPACT evaluation system she foisted on DCPS teachers, she [Rhee] would have probably been fired after the first year!"

Oh, and Rhee taped her students' mouths closed and made them bleed.

Rhee as Washington, D.C. Schools Chancellor: Rhee pursued policies of test-based teacher evaluations, merit pay, charter school proliferation, and school closures while chancellor of Washington's schools. A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute, however, shows that her "reforms" led to decreases in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for many student subgroups:
Between 2005 and 2011, in large, urban districts, Hispanic eighth-graders gained six points in reading (from 243 to 249), black eighth-graders gained 5 points (from 240 to 245), and white eighth-graders gained 3 points (from 270 to 273).1 In District of Columbia Public Schools, however, Hispanic eighth-graders’ scores fell 15 points (from 247 to 232), black eighth-graders’ scores fell 2 points (from 233 to 231), and white eighth-graders’ scores fell 13 points (from 303 to 290).2 [emphasis mine]
What's worse is that Rhee once again inflated the claims of her own success:
As Washington, D.C., schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee announced that all subgroups of students had improved their reading and math scores between 2007 and 2010, with low-income and minority high school students posting double-digit gains in “proficiency.”6 But those gains, based on an arbitrary DC Comprehensive Assessment System “proficiency” level, were illusory. NAEP scores showed minimal-to-no improvement for low-income and minority students, and some losses. Moreover, higher scores were due in most cases not to actual improvements for any group, but to an influx of wealthier students. For example, average fourth-grade NAEP reading scores rose from 198 to 201, or by 1.5 percent, from 2007 to 2011. But during that period, scores for white and Hispanic students fell by 3 points, and black students’ scores stagnated, so only new students who brought higher scores to the pool could account for the small overall gain.7
During Rhee's tenure, teachers fled the district, costs for closing schools soared, outside funders made promises they never followed through on, she implemented an innumerate teacher evaluation system, and the "achievement gap" - her own vaunted method of demonstrating "success" - actually increased.

Perhaps most damning of all is the cheating scandal that started under Rhee and has rocked Washington, D.C. The cheating was bad enough, but Rhee's apparent cover up made things far worse:

Michelle A. Rhee, America’s most famous school reformer, was fully aware of the extent of the problem when she glossed over what appeared to be widespread cheating during her first year as Schools Chancellor in Washington, DC. A long-buried confidential memo from her outside data consultant suggests that the problem was far more serious than kids copying off other kids’ answer sheets. (“191 teachers representing 70 schools”). Twice in just four pages the consultant suggests that Rhee’s own principals, some of whom she had hired, may have been responsible (“Could the erasures in some cases have been done by someone other than the students and the teachers?”).
Rhee has publicly maintained that, if bureaucratic red tape hadn’t gotten in the way, she would have investigated the erasures. For example, in an interview[1] conducted for PBS’ “Frontline” before I learned about the confidential memo, Rhee told me, “We kept saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this; we just need to have more information.’ And by the time the information was trickling in back and forth, we were about to take the next year’s test. And there was a new superintendent of education that came in at the time. And she said, ‘Okay, well, we’re about to take the next test anyway so let’s just make sure that the proper protocols are in place for next time.’”
At best, that story is misleading. [emphasis mine]
As veteran education report John Merrow states:
Six years after Michelle Rhee rode into town, the public schools seem to be worse off by almost every conceivable measure.

Rhee as a Policy Advocate:

After leaving teaching, Rhee founded The New Teacher Project, an education policy outfit. TNTP's best known report, The Widget Effectpresented faulty data to back up its conclusions. The report has major omissions that hamper its generalizability. TNTP also misstated the facts regarding New York City's Absent Teacher Reserve.

Rhee's current group, StudentsFirst, has largely become a money funnel to politicians and political consultants. Although Rhee claims SF is bipartisan, the vast majority of their support goes to Republicans. As Salon reports:
Rhee makes a point of applauding “leaders in both parties and across the ideological spectrum” because her own political success — and the success of school reform — depends upon the bipartisan reputation she has fashioned. But 90 of the 105 candidates backed by StudentsFirst were Republicans, including Tea Party enthusiasts and staunch abortion opponents. And Rhee’s above-the-fray bona fides have come under heavy fire as progressives and teachers unions increasingly cast the school reform movement, which has become virtually synonymous with Rhee’s name, as politically conservative and corporate-funded. [emphasis mine]
Rhee attempts to divert attention from SF's partisan leanings by engaging in astroturfing activities that artificially inflate SF's membership numbers.

StudentsFirst does still engage in policy work. Their "report card," grading states on education policies, actually has a negative correlation to NAEP scores. Their policy work routinely ignores education spending and its effect on student achievement, and calls for changes in education systems that would actually decrease transparency and accountability.

Rhee herself has misrepresented research on drill-and-kill teaching (it does improve student performance on tests), the effects of teachers on student learning (the most important in-school factor for student success is the student), and the consequences of inequality (if we lag behind the rest of the developed world on test scores, most of the lag is explained by our growing economic inequity; our wealthiest students do as well as any in the world).

Steve Perry's ACTUAL Record:

I debunked Perry's record as an educator earlier this year. Here's a quick overview:
1) Capital Prep serves far fewer students in extreme poverty, with disabilities, and who are English Language Learners than the other high schools in Hartford.

As all three graphs show, Perry's school has fewer students who qualify for Free Lunch, fewer kids with disabilities, and fewer kids who are ELL than neighboring high schools in Hartford. [...]

Simply put: Capital Prep does not serve the children of Hartford who are the most difficult and expensive to educate.

2) Capital Prep has high attrition rates between its freshman and senior classes.

In the last two years for which we have data, one in three incoming freshman at Capital Prep will not make it to their senior year.

3) Despite its segregated student population and high attrition rate, Capital Prep's academic outcomes are not superior.

Here are the average composite SAT scores for every school that reported them in Connecticut, plotted against the percentage of the student population at each school that qualifies for Free or Reduced Price Lunch. Unsurprisingly, the correlation between poverty and SAT scores is very high (if R-squared was 1.0, the correlation would be perfect, so 0.79 is very strong). Notice that Capital Prep falls below the trendline; if Perry was "beating the odds," his academic outcomes would be much better.

4) Capital Prep's staff is relatively inexperienced compared to other schools in Hartford, and has a higher rate of turnover.

Capital Prep has fewer experienced teachers than the other Hartford public schools.

Many more teachers resign from Capital Prep. Perhaps they leave the profession, but they may also leave for other teaching positions. Which would mean that the students at Capital Prep do not get to enjoy the benefits of seasoned teachers who gained experience at their school.

So, there you have it: the real record of Michelle Rhee and Steve Perry. I respectfully suggest that unless and until both of these "reformers" answer for their own track records as educators, no teacher or teachers union representative should listen to anything they have to say.

My record is none of your business!

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