That’s Right Nate

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Archive for the ‘education reform’ Category

Is Waiting for Superman Birth of Nation or Merely Triumph of the Will?

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I’m sorry I haven’t been posting, I’ve been extremely busy with Jack Kimble’s campaign.  If you google Jack Kimble and Jonathan Capehart you will see that we’ve been extremely busy.  I’m especially fond of the Christian Science Monitor article entitled Stephen Colbert, meet the heir to your crown as a comedic ‘candidate’.   OK, comedy isn’t quite what we were going for, but it’s a start.   Be sure to check out the Jack Kimble Store because we’re going commercial baby!

What finally drew me back was the movie Waiting for Superman.  Now as you know I’m quite fond of reviewing movies, but movies can be loud and crowded so I frequently find myself forced to review them before I’ve seen them.  Waiting for Superman is no different.  Every generation has a movie that shakes our conscious and I believe Waiting for Superman is ours.   In the hands of a skilled movie maker like a D.W. Griffith or a Leni Riefenstahl, movies can challenge us to question our beliefs and accept new ones like The KKK was only formed to protect the South from freed slaves, or the German people were a race of supermen, or that teachers were lazy clock punchers and the only people who truly care about education were a small group of union busters and mega corporations determined to look out for the best interests of our kids?

Who is it that challenges underdogs like the Walton Family and the Gates Foundation?  Why it’s none other than those powerful teacher unions that control so much of this country.  This is movie making at it’s finest–the kind of movies they used to make.  As I listen in the background I can almost hear the students marching to class now, ready to be illuminated by corporations with heart.   One of the big stars of this movie is Michelle Rhee who I wrote a 4 part series on previously.  You’ll find it here.

I give Waiting for Superman four stars.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the movie “a Rosa Parks moment” and I for one think it’s about time that the  Gateses, Waltsons, and Broads refused to sit on the back of the bus.

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Written by thatsrightnate

September 20, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Michelle Rhee and the Washington Education Miracle Part IV

with 20 comments

And now gentle reader, we find ourselves at the penultimate act of our little drama.   Throughout the summer of 2009, the DC Public Schools recruited like a drunken frat boy collecting phone numbers at a kegger.  By the end of the summer, there were a whole host of new, young, and energetic students ready to take their places as teachers in the system.   Then calamity struck.

The schools had a $40,000,000 budget shortfall and the only way to close it was to cut staff.   There is nothing harder for an administrator than when you suddenly reallize that you don’t have $40 million that you thought you had.  I still get embarrassed over the time I was 8 and went to the local convenience store for chips and pop and didn’t have enough money because I didn’t know about sales tax.   The Chinese word for crisis is the same as their world for self-serving and manipulative stunt.  Knowing this Michelle Rhee made lemons out of lemonade by getting rid of some of those tired and worn out teachers I mentioned in part 2.

Over 200 teachers were let go and the day was saved.   Police were dispatched to classrooms and the older incompetent teachers were forcibly evicted.  This provided an excellent lesson for students who witnessed their teachers’ removal about not getting old and lazy. Much fat was trimmed.  A few examples I found using this internet machine of mine:

  • Students at McKinley Tech told NBC4 that their French 3 class became an introductory Spanish class when the French teacher was fired.
  • Jodie Gittleson, a teacher at Shaed Elementary School who was laid off, told the Washington Post that her students were being mixed among the second and fourth grade classes.
  • Students related a host of problems to WAMU-FM Dana Downs from Alice Deal Middle School says she was in the middle of a science project she was excited about. Now a different teacher has come in and abruptly changed course. Downs says students are also acting out in class, taking advantage of their new teacher. She says “they will talk really loud and won’t listen to her and throw things.”
  • Many of the district’s councilors received layoff notices just as students are getting their applications together to submit to colleges.
  • Taesha Hines from Ballou Senior High School complained that gym is required for graduation, but the cuts have left her school with only one gym teacher

Many of the teachers who were laid off had excellent performance evaluations.  These are exactly the kind of deadwood that are so difficult to trim because at a due process hearing they will simply use the superior rating the principal had given them to cast doubt on that principal’s claims of their incompetence.   Fortunately for Washington, DC, this budget shortfall provided a nice route around those kind of regulations.

There have been other moments of note in Rhee’s tenure.   Standardized test scored did improve, which is usually a good sign that the district is becoming more conscious of standardized tests.  Rhee also dropped support for National Board Certification–a highly valued national program for improving classroom instruction.  She has charged straight ahead with her vaunted IMPACT program which was piloted in Fairfax County in 1987 much to the amusement to one of the guinea pigs, Erica Jacobs.  Unfortunately, the union contract still seems stalled.  For some reason, the union is having trouble trusting Michelle Rhee to bargain in good faith.

I’m not from Washington, DC.  I’m from Chicago where we have had our own miracle worker Arne Duncan chosen for better things.   I won’t tell DC parents how to feel about their own child’s education prospects from hundreds of miles away.   However, in my previous entry, EFavorite posted the link to a comment by a Washington Post reader claiming that Michelle Rhee’s administration has fascist tendencies.   I can’t really speak to that, but I wonder if the sight of police leading teachers away in front of stunned students might answer the question for me.

This blog is satirical and my regular readers must be hating the last 4 articles which have gradually become less and less of my usual style.   However, some things are quite difficult to joke about–the future of our children is one of them.   A lot of well meaning liberals have gotten behind this new generation of education reformers who believe the two best ways to improve education are to bust unions and replace older largely African-American career teachers with young privileged white teachers who will spend 2 or 3 years in the classroom before moving on to bigger and better things.   These people believe that experience is a detriment and not an asset.  I wonder how these became liberal values.   Yes, the Bush family have embraced Michelle Rhee, but so have the Obamas and Oprah.

School reform has always been something that has been done to teachers, not by teachers, or with teachers.   Parents have rarely had a say either and of course children don’t know what’s good for them.   You can’t reform anything that way.   When the largest stakeholders in any endeavor are seen as the opposition you will fail.   There is another type of education reform you don’t hear much about.  If people gave it a chance, it might have a hope of accomplishing something substantial.   I don’t agree with everything that these people want, but a lot of it sure looks worth looking into.  The idea of a free, equal, and quality education is an ideal that binds us as a nation.   It has sadly never been a reality in the United States.

[As always, I appreciate feedback and comment whether you are in DC or not.  If you missed the other 3 parts of this story, please go to part 1.]

Written by thatsrightnate

October 24, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Michelle Rhee and the Washington Education Miracle Part III

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Michelle Rhee needed a way to get rid of bad teachers.   In June of this year she dismissed about 80 tenured teachers for poor performance in June, after giving them 90 days’ notice and a chance to improve and there was barely any public protest, but this process was too slow.   Tenure was her biggest enemy because it is tenure that grants teachers the right to due process when terminated.   She finally decided to make the teachers an offer that they couldn’t refuse.

tarting salaries would leap from about $40,000 to $78,000, and wages for the best performers would double to about $130,000 a year. In return, teachers would lose tenure and be paid according to merit, measured in part by their students’ results. Current teachers would have a choice: they could join the new system or stay in the old one. New hires would have to join the new system.  And where would the DC schools get the money from?   According to Rhee, they would get it from sources.   According to Rhee, financial modeling done by a an unnamed firm shows that donations by unnamed donors would be sufficient to pay for the unknown costs of this plan. What more could anybody ask for?

Unfortunately, the teachers balked.   They wanted some kind of guarantee that the money would be there to pay them before they gave up anything.  They felt that once they lost tenure, it was gone while the private funds could dry up at any time.  There are no guarantees in life.  What makes these teachers so unwilling to trust these anonymous donors to make good on the funding?  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only problem Rhee had with donors.

Rhee was just forced to let go 200 some teachers because of a $12 million budget shortfall, but many local philanthropy groups who have supported the DC schools through the years no longer have any relationship with the school system.  They complain that Rhee won’t tell them how the money would be spent and has shown little interest in building a partnership with them.

“I don’t think she has been as open to partnerships as our foundation community would have liked,” Terri Freeman, president of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, told the Washington Post, “Everybody wants to be of assistance. . . . The only way we’re going to find out if we can help is to have a little bit more of an open relationship.”

According to Robert McCartney of the Post, “A key moment occurred in July 2008 when Rhee met at the World Bank with dozens of top donors who belong to the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers. She asked for donations of about $40 million, which she hoped to combine with grants from national foundations to give her a total of $70 million, according to several people who attended the meeting. The donors were disappointed when Rhee said she would provide little detail about what the money would pay for.”  Some people just want guarantees for everything.

[In the next and final installment, Michelle takes lemons and makes lemonade.   Thrill as she takes a $12 million budget shortfall and uses it to get rid of 200 experienced school teachers after the first month of school.  If you haven’t read the other parts of this exciting tale, please start with part I and if you still have the stomach to push on for the last part, click here to link to part 4.]

Written by thatsrightnate

October 23, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Michelle Rhee and the Washington Education Miracle Part II

with 9 comments

“I think if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months it’s that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated,” Michelle Rhee at the Aspen Institute’s education summit at the Mayflower Hotel.

Since being appointed as Chancellor of the DC Public Schools, Michelle Rhee has fought a battle with the city’s teacher union.   Her main complaint has been teacher tenure which grants teachers who have been teaching for 3 or 4 years and proven themselves to be competent due process if they are terminated.   I wonder if it is possible that tenure is the reason Michelle chose to end her teaching career after only 3 years.  The misguided principle behind tenure is that teachers should be protected if they have to fail the child of a school board member or rebuff a principal’s advances or wear a Philadelphia Eagles jersey to an institute day.

The problem is this procedure protects older teachers.   The new trend in education reform is for very privileged children from the best schools to come into the schools and teach for 2 or 3 years like Michelle did.   President Obama is fond of some of these organizations like the AUSL and Michelle’s Rhee’s  own The New Teacher Project.  These teachers are so excited to go make a difference that they don’t even have time to go through a traditional teacher certification program.  Instead, they are put into a classroom with much haste through an alternative program.  They leave after 3 years or so before they start to cost the district real money.   Experienced teachers can make as much as $70,000 and these Teach for America types never stay long enough to earn the big bucks.

For Michelle Rhee to work her magic, she needed a way to get rid of the deadwood.   She caught a lucky break in June of 2008 when Woodrow Wilson High School was reorganized after failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress for 5 years under No Child Left Behind.   This gave Michelle’s energetic young choice for principal Peter Cahall a chance to clear out all the old lazy clock punching teachers at the school and replace them with new younger more energetic teachers.    One of those lazy teachers was Dr. Art Siebens who was politely told, “you don’t fit in” as he was shown the door.  Rhee had recruited Cahall very heavily from Montgomery County and he was clearly chosen for a task such as this.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough for Dr. Art Siebens.   It seems he felt that his 18 years of experience teaching weren’t a liability, but something to be proud of.   Siebens is the type of teacher that some misguided educators might think of as innovative.  Using hippie folk music to teach AP biology, Dr. Siebens had some minimal success.  According to the reinstate Dr. Art website, “on the 2007 AP Biology exam, 41 of the 43 students (95.3%) with scores of 3 – 5 throughout the District of Columbia Public Schools had taken Dr. Siebens’ class, and of the seventeen students who received a score of 5 out of 5 on the AP Biology exam, all of them had taken his class. And on the 2008 AP Biology exam, every single student who received a score of 2 or above in the all of DCPS were students of Dr. Siebens. Minority students in Dr. Siebens’ AP classes achieved scores of 3-5 (50%) at a rate twice the average of all Wilson’s other AP courses (23%). Over 64% of Dr. Siebens’ students over the past five years were in classes other than his AP classes.”

Neither this website nor the many former students who have written testimonials or created the Save Dr. Art petition address the fact that Dr. Siebens is old.   He really doesn’t fit the mold of the dynamic young alternatively certified professionals that an urban school system really needs.   Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to get rid of all the old teachers in one fell swoop?   But wait, there is.

[In Part 3, Michelle Rhee uncovers a way to get rid of teachers by the hundreds and moves towards her ultimate goal of a school district where teachers won’t stand in the way of education.   I really appreciate the comments from all the Washingtonians.   This is a national blog and while I’ve tried to research the DC schools very thoroughly, there is no substitute for your first hand comments.  If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.  Be sure to click this link to go to part 3.]

Written by thatsrightnate

October 22, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Michelle Rhee and the Washington Education Miracle Part I

with 19 comments

Previously, I have posted about the wonderful work done by basketball player turned educator Arne Duncan in Chicago.   Tonight, we  look at the dynamic young go getter who is  saving the Washington DC public schools.  Her accolades are many with education luminaries like Oprah and George W. Bush singling her out for praise.

Michelle Rhee began her teaching career where it ended at Harlem Park Community School in Baltimore from 1992-1995.  According to her official biography, Rhee was praised in the Wall Street Journal and on Good Morning America for her success as a classroom teacher.   Unfortunately, when the Daily Howler did a search they could find no record of any Good Morning America appearance or writeup in the Wall Street Jorunal.   This is a shame as I am sure they were amazing.  Her claims of huge gains among her students also couldn’t be substantiated, but I’m sure they were likewise amazing.  We were able to find one newspaper article that praised the cleaner hallways at the school, but I am not sure if she actually had anything to do with the cleaning detail.

Michelle Rhee’s recent comments on her teaching career are even more inspiring.   Rather than being the educational wunderkind of her official biography, Rhee struggled in the classroom at least  initially.   In the recent article on her in Time Magazine, it states, “Rhee suffered during that first year [of teaching], and so did her students. She could not control the class. Her father remembers her returning home to visit and telling him she didn’t want to go back.  She had hives on her face from the stress.”

That really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that somewhere in her second two years of teaching, Michelle found the secret to being an outstanding teacher and immediately left the classroom.   It’s a very good thing she did  because had she stuck around in the classroom, her teaching experience would have disqualified her from most positions in education reform leadership.  After leaving the classroom, Rhee went into teacher recruitment before being hired in 2007 to be Superintendent [Chancellor–see comments] of DC Public Schools.

Rhee represents the new thinking in education reform that believes that the biggest impediment to education is teachers who have different concepts of how a classroom actually works than business people and politicians do.   These people believe that the main reason companies outsource production overseas is not because they can pay employees 17 cents an hour, but because our schools are not as good as Haiti’s or Sri Lanka’s.

In the second part, I’m going to look at the way Michelle Rhee has found to get rid of older teachers and replace them with more energetic new teachers who as a bonus also cost the district less money.

[Click here to read part 2]

Written by thatsrightnate

October 21, 2009 at 7:08 pm

Arne Duncan Clears Himself in Student Death

with 9 comments

Today, Arne Duncan came to Chicago for a summit on youth violence with Mayor Daley.   I’m not actually, sure what made it a summit as community leaders were shut out from the event at Chicago’s posh Four Seasons Hotel, but Arne Duncan was able to proudly proclaim that the school reform he helped to implement was not part of the issue.

I am reminded of the great scene in Casablanca where Claude Raines as Major Renault announces he is shocked and appalled to find gambling going on at Rick’s place just as he’s being handed his gambling winnings.   It was with the same condescending arrogance that Duncan was able to declare himself innocent on all charges, but the spike in Chicago’s violence among teenagers since the beginning of Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 can’t be denied.  Through every step of the process of closing down the other schools around Fenger, parents warned Duncan that violence would happen if charters were allowed to open which would force the neighborhood kids to cross multiple gang territories.

It didn’t just happen at Fenger either.   All throughout Chicago, parents and community leaders have come out to warn about the dangers of this sort of school reform and at each school and each community they were ignored.   Daley then compounded matters this year by replacing the faculty and administration at Fenger in a wholesale house cleaning in the name of education reform.   Even the lunch ladies and janitorial staff were replaced.   The adults who had relationships with the students and could help keep tensions from boiling over were put out on the street.  The amazing thing about Renaissance 2010 isn’t that there has been a spike in violence, but that the spike hasn’t been even bigger.

The Obama administration’s big new Race to the Top education initiative, rewards states for opening more charter schools. Innovative charters have a place, but much of the charter movement has not been innovative nor successful.  Instead, public education has been privatized and the result is a two tiered system.  Whether they are allowed to or not, charters do not educate the most difficult students.  Those students wind up in the public schools.   As a country, we need to make sure that we do not have two educations systems–one for the privileged and one for everybody else.  Our country should be better than that.

Written by thatsrightnate

October 7, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Chicago Student Killing & Turnaround Schools

with 8 comments

Arne Duncan and Mayor Daley designed many of the policies responsible for increased violence at Fenger High School

[First, I’d like to let my regular readers know that this will be a very different type of post from me. This is a serious issue that any real reporter should have been able to unravel in about 5 minutes.  Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of journalism in many places in Chicago.  I felt compelled to write about it and I can’t see how to make this pithy or humorous.   Somethings do need to be serious I guess.  It’s taken me 880+ posts to get to a serious story and I really hope it is at least 10 times that many before I get to another one.]

Last week a 16 year old high school student named Derrion Alberts was brutally killed during a violent battle between rival students from Fenger High School.   Nothing can possibly absolve his attackers from their responsibility in this tragic death.   However, there are explanations for what happened and how a public became a war zone that I think deserve a second look.

Fenger High School is located on Chicago’s Far South Side at 116th and Michigan.  The neighborhood has been a pretty tough neighborhood for a long time, but it was in the early 1980s when a lot of area’s jobs went away never to return.   At one time Fenger had been a pretty solid school.  It had outstanding shop programs that were designed to help students make their way into the work force, but of c0urse those classes eventually got phased out in favor of a 100% college preparatory curriculum.  This one size fits all education has been a mainstay of high school in Chicago since the 1990s.

Located at 131st and Doty, Carver High School was a neighbor and rival of Fenger.   The children of Altgeld Gardens Housing Project went to Carver High while the children of a neighborhood nicknamed “The Ville” went to Fenger.   Five years ago, as part of Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 program, Carver High School became Carver Military Academy and the students from Carver High School were displaced to Fenger.   Immediately, trouble began between the kids from Altgeld and the kids from “The Ville”.   This unfortunately has become an all too common problem with education reform as practiced by Mayor Daley and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  In one of the most gang ridden cities in the United States, the constant closing of schools has frequently forced kids to cross into different gang territories to go to high school.   The result has been a skyrocketing youth homicide rate.

Fenger High School was a powder keg, but the one thing that seemed to keep the situation under control was a dedicated faculty.    One by  one the schools around Fenger were replaced by charter schools.  Calumet became a campus of Perspectives charter school and Englewood became the Urban Prep charter school and a small school with admission by lottery.  Fenger sadly received all the students that the other schools wouldn’t take.   Then the inevitable happened.   Because of poor test scores, the Chicago Public Schools announced that they would make Fenger a turnaround school for the 2009 school year.

There is an excellent writeup of the hearings by Kristine Mayle at Substancenews.net. The community came out to argue against doing so, but the board went ahead with their plans.  If you aren’t familiar with the term turnaround school-it is being pushed by President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan nationwide.  In a turnaround school, the faculty and principal of a school are removed and replaced by new teachers.   Sometimes, the schools close for a year and a lot of money is spent of rehabbing the school.  Unfortunately, by doing this, the CPS got rid of almost everybody in Fenger High School who knew the students and new the neighborhood.  The result was a dramatic increase in gang related violence both inside and outside the school.

On the day of the shooting, shots were reportedly fired at Fenger High School and a call was made to the police, but apparently nothing was done to deal with the trouble bubbling just below the surface of a normal Thursday at the high school.  Would a more experienced faculty and administration who were familiar with the students and the neighborhood have been able to act to stop the violence from escalating?  It’s impossible to say.   However, it is schools just like Fenger nationwide that are targeted for these kind of changes as part of education reform.  Parents, faculty, and community leaders warned of escalating violence that could happen, but they were ignored.   A 16 year old honor student was killed.   Sadly, he was not the first victim of school reform and he probably will not be the last.