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Michelle Rhee and 'StudentsFirst' - what do you think?I am wondering what the other...

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mrs-nelson | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted March 28, 2011 at 8:57 PM via web

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Michelle Rhee and 'StudentsFirst' - what do you think?

I am wondering what the other teachers think of Michelle Rhee's philosophy and her agenda for StudentsFirst.  Here is a request on her site:

The fight to transform education in America requires your voice, your energy, and your financial support. When you donate and become a member of StudentsFirst, you will give us the capacity to support failing districts throughout the country, combat special interest groups and bureaucracy that stand in the way of progress, and help ensure the stability and growth of StudentsFirst in the years to come.

She is, of course, talking to big business and political funding.  But she is also talking to us - teachers, asking for as little as $5 per month.  I want to know if you would donate - if you agree with the cause and you know what its gonna take to get it done....

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 28, 2011 at 9:35 PM (Answer #2)

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I am somewhat conflicted about Michelle Rhee.  On the one hand, I really think that schools need to be radically reformed.  I like how she didn't just go after teachers.  She cut front office staff and she went after principals who stood in the way of progress.  I like that a lot.  I also support the idea that we should be paid based on effectiveness, so long as that can be measured in a fair way.

But here's the part that worries me -- this is from a Newsweek article from 2008.  In it, there is talk of how Rhee believes that all teachers should be like KIPP teachers who work 7 to 7 and on Saturday (I don't know if that includes their prep and grading time... I sure hope so) and carry cell phones so kids can reach them at all times.  Someone else (not Rhee, but the implication is that Rhee would agree) says:

"But what we need to do is change the idea that education is the only career that needs to be done for life. There are a lot of smart people who change careers every six or seven years, while education ends up with a bunch of people on the low end of the pile who don't want to compete in the job market."

I am not at all sure that I think teachers should work themselves to the bone for 6 or 7 years, burn out, and then quit.  If that's her vision of where education needs to go, I am not for it.

So as I say, I'm conflicted.  I would need to know whether that quote really summarizes her vision of what a teacher's life should be.  If it is, I would not donate or support her.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 29, 2011 at 1:40 AM (Answer #3)

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I would not send this woman money. The phrase "combat special interest groups and bureaucracy that stand in the way of progress" is private-sector code for teachers and teachers' unions, or so it seems to me.

The quotation from Newsweek burns me up; the ignorance and contempt are appalling. So, teaching is the only lifetime career? Really? How many doctors, lawyers, engineers, and architects change professions every six or seven years?

Education ends up with a bunch of people on the low end of the pile who don't want to compete in the job market. And there you have a public expression of the attitude that many hold privately about teachers: We are low achievers who are too lazy or untalented to compete for a "real job." Why someone would work hard for a college education and then dedicate a lifetime to teaching kids is beyond the comprehension of these people.

As for working 7 to 7 and Saturdays, that could be good. Then we would actually have evenings and Sunday off. I do give my cell phone number to my students for emergencies, and they always have a couple of email addresses. Strangely, though, my doctor has yet to give me his cell number.

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kapokkid | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 29, 2011 at 3:31 AM (Answer #4)

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Michelle Rhee scares me a little bit because she appears to be unwilling to accept certain realities.  She and her successor in DC want to believe that a good teacher can overcome any obstacle and should in fact be expected to.  A teacher that teaches a room full of kids that all grew up in wealthy homes with hundreds if not thousands of books read to them has a huge advantage when it comes to teaching reading skills etc., when compared to a teacher teaching a room full of students who've had at best 10-20 books read to them in their lifetime.  But she refuses to acknowledge this.  If she were honestly really concerned about "students first," she never would have left the classroom.

So no, I wouldn't send her money.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 29, 2011 at 4:15 AM (Answer #5)

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I agree with #4. I personally would not want to send money. I don't think her agenda is practical or achievable and it overlooks certain realities that many teachers have to face day by day. Whilst her rhetoric at surface level appears to be laudable, it is highly doubtful whether her campaign will actually achieve any lasting educational reform that is beneficial to the nation as a whole.

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 29, 2011 at 10:09 AM (Answer #6)

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I try to take care not to fall into the trap of lunging for the "silver bullet" of education reform, or putting too much credence in anyone who claims to have it.  We can beat our heads against the reform wall for another generation, expect the latest politician or educational reform fad to "save" us, or we can work at the grassroots level at each district to foster good teaching, time tested learning practices and collegial discussions about curriculum and cooperation between teachers and subjects.

That is to say, reform can't be achieved on a national level.  It has to come from the bottom up, and the experts who know how to do it are in the classroom, and in this conversation.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 29, 2011 at 1:21 PM (Answer #7)

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brettd, very well said and very right on. So how might grassroots, from the bottom up educational reform begin? How might teachers across the country organize, mobilize, and force their way into the public discussion without being formally invited by those running the show? Is it possible? Would anyone listen?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:12 PM (Answer #8)

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There is no way I would contribute to a national program for educational reform. I will lend my voice to a few proposals and ideas, but my primary focus is my classroom, my school, and my educational community. That's where my time, money, and energy can do the most good.

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rskardal | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted March 31, 2011 at 8:30 AM (Answer #9)

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I would not donate, particularly in light of the scandals that she has been associated with. She has lied on her resume about her achievements. Now USA Today has found that the progress she claims to have made in Washington, D.C. is based on fraud as well. The Washington Post blog, "The Answer Sheet," has quite a bit on Rhee for those that are interested. From a more general perspective, I prefer to see progress in education come through teachers cooperating (for example, The English Companion Ning site), rather than through the divisive market-based reforms that Rhee is associated with.

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 2, 2011 at 7:22 PM (Answer #10)

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While I do agree with Rhee on some of the reform methods she proposes, I would not send her organization money, because I can use that money better in my own classroom. Moreover, I've always been troubled by some of the KIPP program's methods. I usually work at least 12 hours over the weekend (for which I'm not paid) and am available to my students and their parents by phone and e-mail. The problem, however, lies not in my lack of availability--it's in the abundance of apathy on students' and parents' parts. Post 4 notes that Rhee's agenda promotes the same old idea that has been around for years--teachers can solve all problems--which is obviously untrue. I do my best as a teacher. I love my students. I'm concerned about them. I want them to be successful. However, I cannot prevent all of them (or their parents for that matter!) from making poor choices--no matter how much I work.

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sfwriter | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted April 5, 2011 at 4:04 PM (Answer #11)

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This problem of blaming the teacher happens in the post-secondary world as well.  With budget cuts the number of students in our classrooms (here in CA) keeps rising, but there is no subsequent rise in pay (ha ha!) for teachers or lowered expectations for the "results" (I dislike that word when it applies to students' learning) which we are to achieve with larger classes.  I know this matters a lot in K-12, but it also matters a great deal in community-college English composition and literature seminar classes (especially seminar, which depends so much on class discussion).

I worry a lot about how people are perceiving the main problem in education as teachers.  There are some bad ones, but by far the biggest problem, in my opinion, is the change from treating education as an activity that benefits everyone to a measurable commodity that directly correlates to job growth and GDP (which it does not, at least not as much as other market forces).  If it is looked at more as a fundamental right of our society, such as the justice system, and outside of the forces of the market and politics, there would be more of a chance where we could create temples of learning rather than diploma mills.  I am not saying don't measure teachers, and don't measure students.  There must be standards, of course, and high standards that are achievable benefit everyone (which means there must be commitment from teachers, parents, students, and school districts) But I am shocked at how little is done to place responsibility on students and parents and school districts.  

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lhc | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted April 30, 2011 at 8:10 AM (Answer #12)

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I would not send this woman money. The phrase "combat special interest groups and bureaucracy that stand in the way of progress" is private-sector code for teachers and teachers' unions, or so it seems to me.

The quotation from Newsweek burns me up; the ignorance and contempt are appalling. So, teaching is the only lifetime career? Really? How many doctors, lawyers, engineers, and architects change professions every six or seven years?

Education ends up with a bunch of people on the low end of the pile who don't want to compete in the job market. And there you have a public expression of the attitude that many hold privately about teachers: We are low achievers who are too lazy or untalented to compete for a "real job." Why someone would work hard for a college education and then dedicate a lifetime to teaching kids is beyond the comprehension of these people.

As for working 7 to 7 and Saturdays, that could be good. Then we would actually have evenings and Sunday off. I do give my cell phone number to my students for emergencies, and they always have a couple of email addresses. Strangely, though, my doctor has yet to give me his cell number.

  I am more than a little sick of hearing how teachers are to blame for all of society's ills.  I do agree that there are plenty of people in teaching that probably shouldn't be, but there are far more who are knowledgeable and extremely dedicated.  I suspect this is not terribly different from the corporate world, although critics of education would have us believe that every corporate employee in America is hard-working, competent, and would never be kept on when they weren't getting the job done.  I would like someone to begin a national discussion on the effect of weak/incompetent administrators on education, because these are the people that are hiring teachers, and if necessary, should be letting teachers go.  Why administrators are given a free pass in this debate is beyond me; in no other profession I'm aware of are the middle managers ignored in debates on a company's effectiveness and profits.  The really wild thing is that many if not most administrators were not in the classroom very long and weren't terribly effective while they were there; however, they present themselves as "instructional leaders" who are crucial to the education process--until it's time to determine why education is failing, and then it all becomes the teachers' fault. 

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 23, 2011 at 2:25 AM (Answer #13)

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I admit that I am suspicious. I am suspicious of many school reforms, based on the track record we have. However, Rhea is getting results. The elimination of LIFO laws for teacher layoffs is a huge victory. The idea that the last teachers hired are the first laid off, regardless of qualifications or competence, is atrocious. Rhea has been instrumental in helping lawmakers see this, and ended a lot of heartbreak, or at least given some people hope.

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