That’s Right Nate

Thoughts from a right thinker.

Posts Tagged ‘education reform

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.


Written by thatsrightnate

September 20, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Florida Legislature in a Quandry

with 4 comments

If the Florida state legislature had their way, which of these things would be legal?

A. Giving teacher’s tenure
B. Paying experienced teachers more than novices
C. Judging a teacher by first hand observation instead of test scores
D. Having sex with a dolphin

If you answered D. congratulations. You’re correct!  The Florida legislature has been unable to pass a law outlawing bestiality.  In 1971 a Florida Supreme Court ruling created a loophole by demanding proof that the animal was unwilling and traumatized by the event.  Since then, the legislature has not been able to come together to outlaw the practice.   This year, it was seemingly killed by an amendments dealing with fertilizer and gun rights.

Fortunately, while not being able to agree that sex with animals was unpleasant, the state legislature was able to find a common enemy in the state’s teachers.   Unfortunately, Charlie Crist vetoed the bill.   It was an eventful session for the Florida state legislatures, teachers, and lovers of dolphin porn.

Written by thatsrightnate

May 8, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Texas Races for Educational Excellence

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There is an old saying that winners write history.  Well nobody is a bigger winner than the state of Texas whose Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that will finally tell the conservative side of history.  A lot of internal debate has been splitting the Texas Board with those who question Darwin’s theories of evolution on one side and those that scream and throw things when Darwin’s name is mentioned on the other.

The new version of history in Texas shows a country guided by God’s divine light until the Obama administration and features such important historical figures as The National Rifle Association, Focus on the Family, and Tom Landry.   This is an American guided by God and inspired by Ronald Reagan to be the greatest country in the Earth.   We are the country that won the American revolution, provided hope to countless immigrant refugees, save the world from Axis tyranny, found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and continues to thrive despite the Obama recession today.

Now, I know some of you supposed “historians” will say that some of those things aren’t true.   Well, really who is to say.   Historical records are spotty at best.   How do we know what is happening in the world today? We watch Fox News.   Simply by being on Fox News, we know that something is news.  In much the same way, being in a text book will make things history.   We get irritated when madrases in the Middle East teach that the United States is a great Satan, but that’s because they aren’t winners.  They have no right to decide what is history.

Maybe a few small facts get changed.  Instead of Thomas Paine writing, “The Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the sun, in which they put a man called Christ in the place of the sun, and pay him the adoration originally payed to the sun,”  he now writes, “The Christian religion is worshiping the son of God.  I think it’s great.”   Sure, the meaning changes slightly, but which is the moral that you want your children to take away?   Will hip hop culture be as angry if black children can read that they were happier under slavery?  I think not.

The price of our unique greatness is that we must not only be great going forward, but we must accept the challenge of being great going backwards as well.   To do this we have to change a word here or a fact there, but it is a price I’m willing to pay and I’m glad to see Texas shares my vision.  I just hope they don’t secede before American textbook companies start printing to this curriculum.  As one of the largest states, Texas has a huge impact on what appears in books all over the country.

Written by thatsrightnate

March 13, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Catching Up With Michelle Rhee

with 9 comments

Yes, it’s one of those Michelle Rhee articles and I’m trying to figure out where to begin as we catch up with the single most destructive force in education today.   Michelle recently got engaged to former NBA star, Sacramento Mayor, and accused sexual predator Kevin Johnson.   This is rather big news as there is a scandal brewing in Washington involving Rhee, Johnson, and Johnson’s Charter School Saint Hope.

During the Summer of 1995, a 16 year old girl went to the police claiming that Johnson had fondled her.   During a phone conversation recorded by the Phoenix police, Johnson apologized to the girl.   The Sacramento Bee stated that they had received a copy of a proposed settlement agreement, under which Johnson would have paid the girl’s family $230,000.   After conducting an investigation, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, on the grounds that there was not a reasonable likelihood of conviction.  This sort of thing would have stopped Kevin Johnson from being hired as a principal.  Fortunately, for Mister Johnson it didn’t stop him from running a very large charter school.

With Michelle Rhee on the board, In 2003, Johnson  formed St. HOPE Public Schools, a pre-K-12 independent charter school system that provides education to nearly 2,000 students in seven small schools.  The allegations soon followed.   In 2007 another police report was filed by a student who also claimed that Johnson fondled her.   After allegations of intimidation, those charges were dropped when the student recanted her testimony.

Gerald Walpin, Inspector General of Americorps began an investigation of Johnson after he was charged by 3 young women employees of making inappropriate sexual advances towards them and it became known that Johnson had misused some of the $800,000 in federal Americorps money given to St. Hope.   Johnson had used the money to pay volunteers to engage in school-board political activities, run personal errands for Johnson and even wash his car.  He even offered one teacher $1,000 a month in hush money secretly transferred to her bank account.

So what was Michelle Rhee’s role in this scandal.   First, she was described as complainants as being the one in charge of damage control at St. Hope.  She approached the Inspector General to try to intervene for Johnson.  “The basic point of her meeting with me was to tell me what a great guy he was,” Walpin recalls, “and what wonderful work he has done, and that maybe he had made mistakes administratively, but that she thought I should give as much consideration as possible to his good work in deciding what to do.”

This is the same Michelle Rhee who has shown no such patience for the teachers who she has shown the door.   I wonder how she balanced the good that they had done.  The end result of the investigation was the Johnson agreed to pay back half the money from Americorps and to pay back the rest of it within the next 10 years.   Meanwhile, Inspector General Walpin was fired.

While parroting right wing talking points in my own satirical blog, I’ve learned that among the keys to a successful blog, nothing is more important than not backing down from your own opinion no matter how hard it slams into the windshield of fact.  Andrew Wolk has learned that lesson well.   In his blog posting on Michelle Rhee, he holds her up as an example of a public innovator while completely leaving any specifics out of his glowing report.   I had a brief chuckle at reading it, but when I read E Favorite’s response, I found something interesting—the growing number of public figures who have quoted Michelle Rhee, who have had to issue apologies.  E Favorite found three, “Specifically, they are John Merrow of PBS… , Jay Mathews of the Washington Post… and Michael Petrilli of Education Next and the Fordham Foundation…”

Mayor Fenty is not doing well in opinion polls and it looks like he may be on his way out as DC’s mayor.   Michelle Rhee has clearly hurt him.   Unfortunately, when she goes off to save somebody else she will have left a lot of destruction in her wake.   If you’re coming in late, please check out my 4 part report on Michelle Rhee from last month here .

Written by thatsrightnate

November 24, 2009 at 8:27 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 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