NCTQ Letter Grades and the Reformer Agenda–Part VIII
UPDATE 05-22-13: Looks like NCTQ has rhee-moved Michelle Rhee from its advisory board. Check it out: http://www.nctq.org/p/about/advisory.jsp
As you read, know that her NCTQ membership is now history.
One of my favorite pasttimes involves reading true crime. I enjoy everything about forensics, from interpreting the crime scene, to determining motives and personality quirks of the perpetrators, to learning of the seemingly insignificant bit of information that finally broke the case. And as I consider what I know about NCTQ advisory board member Michelle Rhee, I realize that I will likely be unshelving some book about her from the true crime section of a bookstore in the years to come.
For now, here she is, complete with self-promoting NCTQ bio: Michelle Rhee.
Michelle Rhee CEO of StudentsFirst, formerly served as Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. Ms. Rhee is a change agent who had already transformed many urban public school systems through her work with The New Teacher Project (TNTP) which she founded in 1997, and is now a nationally recognized leader in understanding and developing innovative solutions to the challenges of new teacher hiring. As Chief Executive Officer and President, she partnered with school districts, state education agencies, non-profit organizations, and unions, to transform the way schools and other implemented widespread reform in teacher hiring, improving teacher hiring in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, New York, Oakland, and Philadelphia. Thanks to TNTP, 23,000 new, high-quality teachers were placed in these schools across the country. Ms. Rhee’s commitment to excellence in education began in a Baltimore classroom in 1992, as a Teach For America teacher. the right teacher, students in urban classrooms can meet teachers’ high expectations for achievement, and the driving force behind that achievement is the quality of the Educator who works inside it. Chancellor Rhee currently serves on the Advisory Boards for the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ); the National Center for Alternative Certification (NCAC); Project REACH of the University of Phoenix’s School of Education. She is an Ex-Officio Member of the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees. Chancellor Rhee’s expertise on education is also informed by a Bachelor’s degree in Government from Cornell University, and a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
If corporate reform bred with sociopathy, it would produce the likes of Michelle Rhee.
Given her list of corporate education “accomplishments,” it should come as no surprise that Rhee is the quintessential TFA product:
No organization has been more complicit than TFA in the demonization of teachers and teachers’ unions, and no organization has provided more “shock troops” for education reform strategies which emphasize privatization and high-stakes testing. Michelle Rhee, a TFA recruit, is the poster child for such policies….
Rhee joined TFA in 1992 and did her token teaching service in Baltimore, as her NCTQ bio states. However, it was hardly the “commitment to excellence in the classroom” also stated in that bio. Rhee has become known for not only her cruelty to others, but also for the twisted ease with which she discusses such cruelty. Consider these stories Rhee openly recounts to a group of new DC teachers::
“[My first year of teaching was] the worst and in many ways definitely the toughest year of my entire life,” she said.
So, let’s get this straight: Potentially one half of the time a TFA/TNTP recruit spends in the classroom could be “the worst in one’s life?” Forget the teacher recruits: What does that say about the quality of the experience for their students? Rhee speaks to this “quality” as she admits perpetrating an abuse on her students and then attempts to excuse herself because of her ignorance:
Rhee had poor class management skills, she said, recalling that her class “was very well known in the school because you could hear them traveling anywhere because they were so out of control.” On one particularly rowdy day, she said she decided to place little pieces of masking tape on their lips for the trip to the school cafeteria for lunch.
“OK kids, we’re going to do something special today!” she said she told them.
Rhee said it worked well until they actually arrived at the cafeteria. “I was like, ‘OK, take the tape off. I realized I had not told the kids to lick their lips beforehand…The skin is coming off their lips and they’re bleeding. Thirty-five kids were crying.“
Rhee said in an e-mail Friday that the students’ mouths weren’t covered. “I was trying to express how difficult the first year of teaching can be with some humor. My hope is that our new teachers will bring great creativity and passion to their craft while also learning from my own challenges.” Still, it’s difficult to imagine a DCPS instructor, first-year or tenth-year, surviving the masking tape stunt without suspension at a minimum. (Emphasis added.)
Here’s a hard-hitting thought: Are the TNTP “23,000 new, high quality teachers” of the same fine calibre as their founder? The memory of children with bleeding lips is humorous to Rhee, nothing more than a light story on which to happily reminisce, a mere ”challenge” in her past. “Twisted” doesn’t begin to describe such a response to the pain of others.
And Rhee doesn’t stop with callous perverseness in harming children. Rhee is versatile and can even take pleasure in harming adults, as well. As reporter John Merrow notes:
“We were totally stunned [when Rhee asked if his crew wanted to watch her fire a principal],” Mr. Merrow said. She let them set up the camera behind the principal and videotape the entire firing. “The principal seemed dazed,” said Mr. Merrow. “I’ve been reporting 35 years and never seen anything like it.”
Rhee describes herself as a “change agent.”
Hydrochloric acid is also a change agent.
According to her NCTQ bio, Rhee sees herself as “improving teacher hiring.” I wonder, would she hire herself? More importantly, does she hire people like herself and use her corporate influence to move them into the classroom?
The second story Rhee decided to tell a group of new teachers involves Rhee’s not having emergency contact information on a field trip and thereby her being unable to verify that she actually sent a child home, to the correct home, with an approved guardian:
“I start to panic…my heart is beating 100 miles a minute,” she said. Then the other three children, sensing her worry, chimed in. She recalled one little boy saying:
“Lawwwd Ms.Rhee whatchu gonna do!!!!??” Rhee boomed, drawing a big laugh. “Lawwwd Ms. Rhee whatchu gonna do!!!!??”
Rhee said she eventually found a neighbor who was able to take the girl home.
Let’s just take a moment to digest: Rhee ignorantly handed a child over to potential danger. That child could have been harmed. And all Rhee could do many years later in her role as chancellor (!!) is make light of the incident and not even realize her own emotional disconnect.
And now, as an NCTQ advisory board member, this woman is advising in the evaluation of teacher training programs when it is clear that she cannot even properly evaluate her own potentially dangerous and damaging behavior.
Ahh, but Rhee is a change agent. She creates corporate reform vehicles such as TNTP and StudentsFirst to carry out her reformer wishes.
Rhee’s TNTP is a parallel to Kopp’s TFA. Gary Rubinstein notes that TNTP used to stand for The New Teacher Project; however, like TFA, TNTP has “branched out”:
TNTP is short for The New Teacher Project, though the TNTP doesn’t officially stand for that anymore. It is just TNTP. It is like when Kentucky Fried Chicken changed their name to just KFC. I guess that they are now so much more than just new teachers. They have gotten into research and policy advising, beginning with their report ‘The Widget Effect’ a few years ago which is often quoted when reformers discuss the potential of merit pay and of ending LIFO ["last in, first out"]. Then they wrote something recently called ‘The Irreplaceables’ about how schools are retaining their bad teachers and losing their good ones. A few days ago they came out with a new report called ‘Keeping Irreplaceables in D.C. Public Schools.’
Wonder who funds TNTP?
TNTP calls itself a “revenue-generating non-profit.” TFA also generates revenue by charging school districts a per-recruit fee; however, TFA doesn’t call itself “revenue-generating.” As for grants and private monies, here’s what TNTP has to say:
Some TNTP initiatives also benefit from the support of federal grant programs and/or private funding. In 2010, TNTP was one of 49 organizations and institutions nationwide to win a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant. Approximately 30 percent of TNTP’s annual revenue comes from the generous support of a diverse group of leading philanthropies. With philanthropic support, TNTP is able to expand its impact, develop a top-quality staff and play an unbiased, active role in policy and research. (Emphasis added.)
Note the now-familiar reformer-esque language in the Investing in Innovation grant:
The purpose of this program is to provide competitive grants to applicants with a record of improving student achievement and attainment in order to expand the implementation of, and investment in, innovative practices that are demonstrated to have an impact on improving student achievement or student growth, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates, or increasing college enrollment and completion rates. (Emphasis added.)
For reformers, it’s all about the numbers, not the people. “Improving student achievement” = higher test scores. “Closing the achievement gap” = again, higher test scores, but higher scores for everyone despite the impossibility of all being “above average” on normed tests. “Decreasing dropout rates” = traditionally graduate in four years with your “cohort” or you don’t count (and no GEDs, please). “Increasing college enrollment” = numbers of graduates enrolled in college is all that matters, not trade apprenticeships or specialized training programs. Only losers fail to attend college, and only loser teachers and schools “settle” for “second-rate,” “non-college” program completion as evidence of human success.
Now to those TNTP “private funders”:
Let’s consider the funding behind the “unbiased” “Widget Effect,” otherwise known as, “We Really Need to Fire More Teachers”:
…Provided by the Robertson Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation. Additional funding was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. We thank all of our funders for their generous support; however…
And now for a great irony:
…we acknowledge that the findings and recommendations presented in this report are those of the The New Teacher Project alone and do not
necessarily reflect our funders’ opinions or positions. (Emphasis added.)
Translation: “You rich people bent on corporate reform funded a project biased towards corporate reform with an outcome that lauds corporate reform, but we just wanted to say that your corporate-reform bent and the associated corporate-reform big money you gave us had nothing to do with our finding in favor of corporate reform.”
How about Rhee’s StudentsFirst? In her link for StudentsFirst support, Rhee cuts to the chase:
Some of the country’s key education activists and public officials are standing with StudentsFirst. They have endorsed our policy agenda and will speak on our behalf. (Emphasis added.) Then, Rhee lists names like New York Mayor Bloomberg, former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty (he appointed Rhee as DC chancellor), former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein, and Colorado Governor Barbara O’Brien.
And what is “our policy agenda”?
Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools, launched StudentsFirst in the fall of 2010 with the stated goal of raising $1 billion over five years. Among the reforms it advocates: abolishing teacher tenure; permitting more teachers without formal education training to take charge of classrooms; evaluating teachers in large measure by their students’ growth on standardized tests; and expanding charter schools, which are publicly funded but typically run by private corporations, including for-profit management firms. (Emphasis added.)
How about that “one billion over five years”? Who is buying in?
…Recent donors include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund managers David Tepper and Alan Fournier, who have pledged substantial resources to a StudentsFirst partner organization in New Jersey. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation, funded by hedge fund manager John Arnold [also a former Enron trader], has also pledged $20 million to Rhee’s organization over five years, a donation that does not appear to be reflected in the IRS forms released on Monday.
Funny how interesting education has become to hedge fund managers.
No corporate reform machine would truly be transformed from velveteen to flesh without Broad money (as in TFA, Broad Superintendents Academy, and Harvard Graduate School of Education funders Eli and Edythe Broad):
An additional donor to StudentsFirst is The Broad Foundation, the philanthropy run by Eli and Edythe Broad that puts billions into education reform causes such as charter schools and parent unions. Erica Lepping, a Broad spokesperson, confirmed that one year ago, the foundation contributed $500,000 in startup costs to StudentsFirst. “We’ve been in discussions with them since, regarding how we may be further able to support their work,” Lepping added in an email.
Ain’t that sweet? The Broads see a future in supporting StudentsFirst. And why wouldn’t they? StudentsFirst is everything that good, true, and forthright education is not.
Forthright. As in “up front.” No deceit. No guile.
As in no lying about test scores.
Michelle Rhee is a reformer in the hot seat. For all of the money and power backing she has, Rhee just can’t seem to shake that nagging DC cheating scandal. All those erasures. Sure, she said she looked into it. After all, that’s the responsible action to take as DC chancellor. And Rhee reports that there’s nothing to see. Case closed.
Except that all of those lovely score gains made while she was chancellor were not stabilized gains (you know, the kind of gains one makes honestly). That reporter John Merrow just won’t let it go. And Rhee, well, she’s innocent, right, but she just happened to retain well-known criminal attorney Reid Weingarten.
So much intriguing information on this self-titled “nationally recognized leader in understanding and developing innovative solutions”!
I think we need us a quick recap:
Michelle Rhee demonstrates poor judgment in not only in the manner in which she supervises children, but also in the manner in which she sociopathically carries herself in discussions of her mishandlings. Furthermore, Rhee is twisted-proud enough to film herself destroying the professional careers of adults. In addition, she unabashedly represents all that is the corporate reform movement, including openly declaring war on traditional education. Also, Rhee advocates results, and she believes she should be able to purchase those results with six-figure-and-beyond financial backing. Finally, like many so-called reformers, Rhee is willing to fabricate results and expects to be believed even though her words contradict both evidence and common sense.
Is Rhee suited for NCTQ?
Absolutely no way, no how.
I wouldn’t even allow her a supervised visit to my own classroom.
Previous posts in this series:
Part I: NCTQ 2012 Letter Grades and Louisiana; reformer use of the op/ed
Part II: NCTQ Alternative Certification publication
Part III: NCTQ Adivisory Board members Steven Adamowski, Michael Barber, Roy Barnes, and McKinley Broome
Part IV: NCTQ Advisory Board members Cynthia Brown, David Chard, Andrew Chen, and Celine Coggins
Part V: NCTQ Advisory Board members Pattie Davis, Michael Feinberg, Michael Goldstein, and Erik Hanushek
Part VI: NCTQ Advisory Board members Joseph Hawkins, Frederick Hess, Paul Hill, and E. D. Hirsch
Part VII: NCTQ Advisory Board member Wendy Kopp