Friday, July 18, 2008

Michelle Rhee: All Kids Deserve Equal Shot at Education

Retired ASD Teacher, Mrs. Dottie and AJ are the local blogosphere's education experts. I wish they were with me earlier this week when Charlie Rose interviewed Michelle Rhee, the innovative chancellor of D.C. schools. To some, she's a union assassin. To others, she represents educational reform. To me, Rhee is a complex combination of different ideas. All week, that interview has been churning in my mind, and I thought I'd share a few snippets with you. Would her ideas work in the Lehigh Valley?

How do we fix our educational system?

"[W]hen you have a great teacher, all of those barriers can be overcome. And they literally are sort of, you know, put on the sideline if you have a wonderful teacher. And it can make up for any achievement gap. Wonderful things, if you have the right educators. That's where our focus has to be 100 percent."

Standardized tests?

"I would say it`s unfair to children to do anything but, because when you are basing, you know, the effectiveness of teachers on lots of softer things, whether the kids feel good, whether the classroom is happy, whether we're creative -- don't get me wrong, those things are important. But if the kids can't read and if only nine percent of them are at grade level or above, that's not acceptable. You might have a happy classroom. It's not the classroom we're going to have in this district."

School boards?

"I never would have taken this job if it was a school board structure. This is a strong statement. I don't believe that really significant education reform is possible with the school board structure. I don't think it's possible."

How about equality in schools?

"That's the biggest social injustice imaginable, because it basically says that we're allowing the color of a child's skin, and the zip code that they live in to dictate their educational attainment levels and their life chances and their life outcome. That is counter to what this country is supposed to be, the land of equal opportunity. We're not making our good our promise to the children of this nation. That should be the number one priority. In my mind, that should be the only thing that we're talking about in these presidential debates. How are we going to ensure we're giving every single kid an equal shot in life.The fact that it's almost absent from all of these political debates -- and we get into this jargon about whether NCLB is good or not --"

(A complete transcript of the Charlie Rose interview is here.)

29 comments:

A.J.C. said...

I'm more an expert in training Bern-O!

Anonymous said...

Wow. It's refreshing to hear someone in today's educational hierarchy place the crazy notion of kids' advancement in the three Rs at the beginning of each answer. She must be new around here.

Anonymous said...

Retired ASD teacher here.

Frankly, I don't totally understand some of her remarks.

She seems to say (above all else) that a great teacher will make any barriers creating an achievement gap go away. It's not quite that simple.

Our country has plenty of great doctors, yet we still have cancer. In both examples, we are talking about the path a human body takes, not the success or failure of a light switch.

I believe the enterprise of education is a three-legged stool. The teacher, the parent, and the child. If one of those legs doesn't hold up its end of the weight, it doesn't matter how strong the other two pieces are.

First priority needs to be reducing class size.

Today, in addition to providing information and resourses, teachers are expected to replace many parts of the family unit. To also be Mom or Dad, maybe both. That kind of relationship requires more one-on-one contact. In the case of Allentown, some class sizes are outrageously high, damaging the effectiveness of ALL teachers (good and bad).

Critics of public education often say "that's ridiculous. When I went to school we had 40 kids in a class." Maybe you did, but it's not 1955 anymore. The entire landscape of education, including teachers, parents, and children, has changed. Not all for the better.

Institutions like Harvard, Yale, even Swain School, place emphasis on small classes. That's a big part of their appeal and success.

Allentown needs many more responsible adults interacting with its students.

The additional adults DO NOT need to be certified teachers with college degrees. A solution could come from developing more hourly-wage (say $15 per hour) assistants in EVERY classroom. The student doesn't care if the adult they interact with has a B.A., or M.S. degree.

When a child calls out for help, for attention, for guidance, for sympathy, etc. that call needs to be answered.

Thanks for reading.

Mrs. Dottie said...

I agree with reitired ASD teacher, we have both been there. Maybe there are some bad teachers, but how about putting some responsibility on the students and parents? Inner city teachers have to worry about whether the young students are fed,rested,healthy, properly clothed. If these basic needs are not being met, the kids are not ready to learn. Poverty is a factor. Lack of parental involvement too.
I'm so tired of talking about NCLB.
Yes, it's important to test to make sure the kids know the three "r's" but teaching to the test is wrong. I suggest people who are critical of teachers to spend some time in an Allentown classroom where there are 35 kids, many with special learning needs and some with severe behavior problems and some that don't speak English. See the real challenges teachers face today. Kids in general, not just inner city kids, need more positive adult role models.

Anonymous said...

I believe Ms. Rhee and Retired School Person are both correct. Everyday I interact with kids and young adults who have no idea what the REAL world is about to put them through. They think school is just something for them to get through until they are 18 and can quit. It's unfortunate that many in A-town think a high school diploma is the ultimate achievement when in reality, MOST know it is ONLY the beginning. I like the idea of having non-teachers in the education system to assist with the students. It seems like a great idea !

Alfonso

Michael Donovan said...

Thanks, Mr. O'Hare, for posting remarks about education, perhaps one of the most pressing matters in modern civilization. Just how does a society simultaneously develop new knowledge while creating a seamless transition from one generation to the next so that our an ability to live together is not destroyed?

Retired ASD correctly identifies the interrelationship among critical parties in the system. There is the need for self-reliance in all parties -- including students, and that characteristic is very difficult to develop. It does not "just happen." I wish I could understand completely where my love of learning became established, and who was responsible for its start. I have some ideas, but I always come back to fuzzy memories.

I tell my students that my most important challenge is to make sure they do not wake up at age 40 and not know how to learn. I want them to know that learning never stops. It takes trust and patience.

Finally, there is nothing more important to me then the development of talent. This means deep and permenant appreciation for the fundamentals of knowledge -- the ability to read, the ability to write, and the ability to compute. Those fundamentals drive all other attempts at learning.

Great teachers cannot instill this knowledge without some form of co-production on the part of students and parents. If it takes having more staff in the classrom, as suggested by Retired ASD teacher, so be it. We just have to be committed to absorbing the cost. On that last point, I worry, because so many people appear unwilling those who need the most help.

Best regards,

Michael Donovan

Anonymous said...

"Retired ASD correctly identifies the interrelationship among critical parties in the system." -Michael Donovan

So does Mrs. Dottie ..

Joe Hilliard said...

Education is a failed public monopoly. We need competitiveness, not more government control (or spending).

School Choice - allowing non government monopoly entities to educate children - is a very important component to fix our education system.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Retired ASD Teach, Ms. Dottie, AJ, Mt. Donovan,

I did not expect to hear you all, but that's teachers. They care. I have an immense amount of respect for teachers. I wish I had the answers. I don't.

Anonymous said...

I fail to see the smaller class size argument. Public schools in days past had larger class sizes than many of today's. NYC Public Schools had larger class sizes throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s and delivered one of the finest educations in the world. Smaller class sizes guarantee a requirement for more teaching positions, but little else in terms of results.

Teachers and unions with a priority of proliferating the union over students' education is part of the problem. The main issue, however, is rotten parents who put teachers in an impossible, adversarial position.

I find Ms. Rhee's changing of the tired, old dialog to be a refreshing start.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Rhee and the teachers I mention have one important thing in common - they're in it for the kids.

A.J.C. said...

Reducing class size is needed in many places, but I've been to schools where the size is not an issue. Also, hiring teacher aides is usually a positive thing. Kids that suffer from learning disabilities and also struggle at home, or both, could always use some extra attention.

Simply put, the teacher is not always readily available with a class of 25 or more students. Always available, yes, but it's not easy when the student has to wait a long time for simple assistance.

This is why Retired ASD Teacher, Michael Donovan and Mrs. Dottie are the experts. They have experienced all the issues personally. I've experienced some, but I'm still learning. Then again, a teacher is always learning

Something I would like to see change is standardized testing. It's not fair, especially when regarding NCLB, for all students to take the same test. Students learn on different levels. Why test them all the same and punish those who need the extra help? To summarize, standardized testing is needed; standardized testing methods are bad.

Michael Donovan said...

Greetings, again.

First, my apologies to Mrs. Dottie. In my own post, I was referring specifically to what "retired" said, but that did not mean any disrespect to Mrs. Dottie. Indeed, I reiterated her point about fundamentals.

I will take issue with the claim that small classes do not make a difference.

One, the situation is important. Just looking at the variable of class size is insufficient.

Second, in my experience, both as a student and as a teacher for 24 years (10 part-time, 14 full-time), I have seen how smaller class sizes do make a difference. I am not making that argument to get more teachers -- that is a separate question of economics -- I have been fortunate to attend small classes and to succeed in large classes. There is a difference. A lecture produces different results than discussion, and discussion is often the real measure of learning. A recent comment on my blog asked for research about the role of teachers and classroom environments. One of the leading sociologists of our time -- Arthur Stinchcomb -- has noted that seminar experiences, discussion, experimentation, and opportunities to develop critiques seem to promote far more creativity and the expansion of knowledge than do lectures. At the same time, lectures and standardized tests, while useful for transmitting knowledge, have their place. Again, the answer is, "it depends."

Third, in my experience, I have found that more learning often occurs when tutoring one on one. This is obviously impossible to offer everyone because of cost, but there may be a reason why parents clamor on behalf of their children for small classes. We see the finest private and public schools in the country sell their services based on class size. I know that once I get far beyond 25 students in my class, the dynamics change, and it becomes increasingly diffiult to achieve desired results (with the exception of the finest and brightest students who are capable of self-learning.) The largest class I ever taught was 35.

Fourth, we must acknowledge that not everyone learns in the same way, nor are they equally capable of learning. I don't have a crystal clear answer to this dilemma. Some will argue that society has a responsibility to serve everyone. Others will demand that only the best be served. I think those who spend time with my writings might conclude that I try to balance both, but in the end I constantly wonder if that means I fail at both.

Fifth, as with politics, sex, and religion, I'm not sure if there can be a rational discussion about education. Everyone is an expert. Almost all of us has gone to school, and thus have an opinion. Unfortunately, our experiences in the classroom really do not count because my children and those of others are different people. We must be aware that education is one of those social responsibilities that will always be difficult to implement. They key to success, I strongly believe, is a commitment to civil life and collaborative experiences.

Best regards,

Michael

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

Michelle Rhee is a "blame the teacher" chancellor. She is very bright and accomplished, and has strong feelings about the rest of us who are not as smart or accomplished (in her eyes). She clearly states that school boards are a hindrance, and she wants to remake education based on a business model. Like I said over at my blog, she is a union assassin!

Folks like her believe every child can learn regardless of their circumstances. We know that circumstances play a huge role in the education of children, especially young children. Taking circumstances out of the equation leaves out a rather important variable when trying to solve the problem, no?

My hope is that we will put in place early childhood education, fund remediation programs and resource staff, and stop targeting the "barely proficient" for intervention, and start targeting the "far below basic" for intervention.

Oh, and how 'bout we fund GATE?

Michael Donovan said...

Dear Mr. Hilliard:

If you have read much of Adam Smith, and not just his "Wealth of Nations," but also his "Theory of Moral Sentiments," you might change your mind about the perfection of markets.

Then, perhaps you have Von Hayek, who has argued that the market at least controls the worst behavior of humans, and to his argument I find some validity. Still, I see a role for government that is impossible to achieve within markets.

The idea that markets solve all problems or that everyone is capable of obtaining necessary services within markets is a socially constructed argument that simply does not always pass muster, even though we might wish it were true. Believing so, allows us to ignore the horrors of excessive power and manipulation.

Indeed, to think that providing vouchers somehow represents a suitable market is wrong. Let's carry the voucher concept to the extreme -- only one school in the country has outstanding educational experiences. All others pale in comparison. They are horrible. Do you mean to say that the voucher system solves this problem? Who gets accepted? who gets rejected? And does that just put us back to the fundamental challenge of capitalism -- namely, that some services are only available to the best, brightest, or richest? I would suggest that vouchers end up only favoring a select few.

Education, health care, food, housing, among some other items, are fundamental needs in a civilized society. Yes, people have to work for those, but I do not accept the premise that if you are poor (through no fault of your own effort) you should be denied those services. Especially, those services that have tremendous economic inelasticity.

Study a classic demand and supply curve and provide me an ethical analysis of how to compare the demand/supply equalibrium point for a HD TV with one that might exist for education. What do you do about everyone to the right and down the demand curve underneath the equalibrium pont? What do you do? If you say, "well they just can't get those services," I will say that our capitalistic system has faults. That does not make me a socialist, as you have publically claimed my arguments might be. Instead, it makes me merely an analyst, who does not filter the world to fit my ideology.

As always, I enjoy debating with you.

Best regards,

Michael Donovan

Anonymous said...

Joe said..

"Education is a failed public monopoly. We need competitiveness, not more government control (or spending).

School Choice - allowing non government monopoly entities to educate children - is a very important component to fix our education system."

Let's see - there are a huge number of private and parochial schools in this country. Education is most assuredly not a public monopoly.

Anonymous said...

re class size - a teacher's primary responsibility is to establish an environment where learning can take place. Nobody - parents, teachers, administrators,or well-meaning but ill-informed community blowhards - can FORCE anybody to "learn".

A class of 30-40-50- or whatever number you mention in your trip through yesteryear - is virtually impossible to manage without losing some, many, or ALL of the students at one time or another.

The idea that education works best with smaller class size is a ploy of teachers to get more teachers employed is absurd.

Anonymous said...

"A class of 30-40-50- or whatever number you mention in your trip through yesteryear - is virtually impossible to manage without losing some, many, or ALL of the students at one time or another.

The idea that education works best with smaller class size is a ploy of teachers to get more teachers employed is absurd."

A defense that offers no defense. Why are smaller class sizes needed today vs. yesterday? The logic behind creating teaching jobs and smaller class sizes is one of simple math. You have not supported your position. I'm willing to read it if you do.

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

anonymous 5:42,

You said:

"A class of 30-40-50- or whatever number you mention in your trip through yesteryear - is virtually impossible to manage without losing some, many, or ALL of the students at one time or another.

The idea that education works best with smaller class size is a ploy of teachers to get more teachers employed is absurd."

A defense that offers no defense. Why are smaller class sizes needed today vs. yesterday? The logic behind creating teaching jobs and smaller class sizes is one of simple math. You have not supported your position. I'm willing to read it if you do.


Try these on.

1)Classrooms are far more diverse than yesteryear. Students speaking myriad languages end up in classrooms taught by English-speaking teachers.

2)Populations are growing, requiring more classrooms and teachers, adding to the teacher-need, especially in California.

3)Yesteryear included tracking, segregation, and no "equality" laws, creating more homogeneous classrooms that required less differentiated instruction.

4)There are few funds to help kids who require resources, so teachers must do special ed and remediation in the same room with students who may be advanced or on target.

5)You think teachers are behind the hiring of more teachers, based on math? That is some tortured logic!

Anonymous said...

"1)Classrooms are far more diverse than yesteryear. Students speaking myriad languages end up in classrooms taught by English-speaking teachers."

Ever heard of Ellis Island? It was in all the papers - yesteryear.

"2)Populations are growing, requiring more classrooms and teachers, adding to the teacher-need, especially in California."

Great logic to support more schools and teachers; don't see a justification for smaller class sizes here.

"3)Yesteryear included tracking, segregation, and no "equality" laws, creating more homogeneous classrooms that required less differentiated instruction."

Granted. The need for more "differentiated" instruction, however, is absurd.

"4)There are few funds to help kids who require resources, so teachers must do special ed and remediation in the same room with students who may be advanced or on target."

I remember this being the case in the 60s (instruction in the same room) in my school.

"5)You think teachers are behind the hiring of more teachers, based on math? That is some tortured logic!"

Smaller class sizes = more classes = more teachers. I concede that some consider simple math torturous, however.

I believe one may oppose the popular orthodoxy of a push for smaller class sizes and not be anti-teacher. I love and respect teachers and have raised and educated a tremendous one. Their positive influence on my life has been immeasurable. I just think we need some new ideas.

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

"Smaller class sizes = more classes = more teachers. I concede that some consider simple math torturous, however."

But you said teachers are pushing this. Where in your equation is that variable?

You don't include it because it can't be included!

You have no reason to believe that we require more teachers because teachers want smaller classes so there can be more teachers--but that is basically what you are saying, no?

Yes, math and logic can be tough!

Anonymous said...

Just to add to the classroom size/teacher equation:

Most professions like to limit their numbers (barbar shop license, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, you name it). So I suppose that teachers would like to add to their numbers and their drive down their wages?

Ummmmmm.....

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

anon said:

"4)There are few funds to help kids who require resources, so teachers must do special ed and remediation in the same room with students who may be advanced or on target."

I remember this being the case in the 60s (instruction in the same room) in my school.


Too easy.

Anonymous said...

The best educators are parents. I wish more people would think of this before they have kids, or, more specifically, engage in acts that are likely to conceive kids.

Anonymous said...

"But you said teachers are pushing this. Where in your equation is that variable?"

Several posters claiming to be teachers have stated the need for smaller class sizes - almost unanimously. Please refer to several previous posts - including your own.

Anonymous said...

R.I.F.

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

"But you said teachers are pushing this. Where in your equation is that variable?"

Several posters claiming to be teachers have stated the need for smaller class sizes - almost unanimously. Please refer to several previous posts - including your own.


Smaller class size is important, but you said teachers were pushing for it for a different reason. You are justifying your premise by saying that teachers want smaller classes, so we are advocating hiring more teachers, as if that is our motivation for smaller classes. We need smaller classes for the reasons I gave earlier, to mention a few. Oy vey!

Chris Miller said...

Bernie
I have to get in on this conversation. I did retire from teaching in the Betlehem District after 32 years.
I scanned the comments and I did not come across the word discipline one time. Discipline is gone from our schools. Yet you cannot teach without it. Last week the Express-Times carried a story that Bethlehhem is not enforcing its discipline code.
Our schools are not educating our kids. School is a place where children should learn the basis, English grammar and literature, math, history/civics/government, science and math. Instead they are being prepared for jobs. If that is our objective I think we need to send all to Vocational school and close the others. They are becoming worker bees. Employers should be responsilbe for on the job training while schools should turn out thinking and educated individuals.
Teachers need to be content oriented. This means they hold a degree in their major not an education degree. When I entered the Bethlehem district I had some 70 credits in history, government and political science courses, as well as 21 hours in English. This is a combination of credits from undergraduate and graduate school. Too many people with education degress are becoming teachers and thus know little about their core subject. We read constantly that people are teaching subjects they are not qualified to teach.
Special needs students need to be investigated. Normally we think of handicapped children here and many are but are you aware of the fact that honor students are noted as Special needs students. Keep in mind that the districts get more money for special needs kids. Let's keep in mind that some special needs kids should not be mainstreamed. We had a child in a wheel chair my last year in teaching who was unabel to speak and bleated like a sheep in her attempt to communicated. She had her own nanny at school provided by the district. On top of that mom thought we should be preparing her for Harvard. Don't misunderstand,this child was a lovely child and the other kids were very kind to her as was all of the staff. But the fact of the matter was that this child was never going to be mainstreamed into the school environment.
Administrators are the plague of school districts. They are constantly making policy and fixing something that doesn't need fixing in many cases. This is how they justify their positions and salaries. These guys were responsible for a policy that put the teacher on the carpet for handing out more the 10 mid-quarter failing notices in a quarter. I was one of those teachers from time to time. Despite the fact that you could support everyone of those failing notices, no homework, failing grades, excessive abscenses, you were still called on the carpet. How long before grades are inflated and it was done all the time. In fact, I can tell you that it started in Bethlehem in 1969 when we were told by principals that if we failed a child we could expect to see that child back in our class the following year. I would venture that if we looked at test scores, SAT, PSSA, Advanced Placement, and Merit Scholars, and compared those items and scores to the per capita spending by the district we would discover that we are not getiing our money's worth.
Unions are a problem in education. They prohibit merit pay. They attack voucher competition. They get involved in non-educational matters like judges on the Supreme Court, the homosexual agenda, and my favorite abortion. Nothing like killing off the product that you teach.
The smaller class sizes is a joke. I taught class that had 35 students and had less of a problem then when I had 20 students in class. I never had a class less then 20 kids.
What will work? Content oriented teachers who will be given merit pay for a good job. Discipline put back in the hands of the teachers. A curriculum that will educate our children. And yes, it takes all of us, parents, teachers, administrators on the same page to get the job done. Don't hold your breath.

hayshaker said...


School Choice - allowing non government monopoly entities to educate children - is a very important component to fix our education system.


We currently have school choice. You are free to send your child to any private school you wish. Your school tax must stay in the public system however.

Now allowing school choice within the public system I agree with and is currently available in local districts.