Michelle Rhee on vouchers, social promotion and putting kids first

Michelle Rhee speaks to Georgia lawmakers Thursday. Jason Getz jgetz@ajc.com

Michelle Rhee speaks to Georgia lawmakers Thursday. Jason Getz jgetz@ajc.com

Former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee appealed to both ends of the political spectrum today in her visit to the Georgia Capitol, touting vouchers to provide low-income children with options beyond failing neighborhood schools and a strong federal Department of Education to hold schools accountable.

Rhee’s theme throughout her comments was the need to put students first. “We have been putting the system first for 30 years and look where that has gotten us,” she said.

And her new education organization — created she says to counter the influence of teacher unions, textbook publishers and other special interests focused on adult agendas – is called StudentsFirst.

Her take-no-prisoners style of public school management, which left a wake of ill will in Washington and cost her ex boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, re-election last year,  struck a chord with Georgia lawmakers, many of whom believe that the entrenched education bureaucracy in Georgia has been an obstacle to real reform.

As to her own stormy tenure over DC schools where she says she was known as the “Dragon Lady” and “Teacher Terminator,” Rhee said she believed her tough policies would be accepted “if we just produced actual results…I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

The dysfunctions within public education are not an accident, she said. “There are people who benefit by that dysfunction.”

Rhee recalled her own staff’s dismay when she supported the takeover of low-performing traditional schools under her control by independent charter schools that the district would not control.  “My goal is not to protect and preserve the system,” she said. “My goal is to make sure every child gets a great education.”

That’s why, she told House members, she supported Washington’s voucher program. If parents did not win the lottery to enable their child to attend one of Washington’s high-achieving charter schools, Rhee says she didn’t feel it was fair to limit them to a failing public school, a school where she would never send her own two daughters. “Then who I am to deny them a $7,500 voucher to send their child to a great Catholic school,” she said.

Asked about social promotion, Rhee said it was a symptom of a culture too concerned about self-esteem. Showing her Tiger mom stripes, she said, “We have become soft in America.”

In South Korea, from where her family hails, Rhee said the 40 children even in a kindergarten class are ranked academically from first to last, and the No. 1 students are always looking over their shoulders to see if someone is gaining on them. That would never be allowed here, she noted.

Rhee said her two daughters “suck in soccer.” But you would never know it because their rooms are full of ribbons, medals and trophies.. “You would think I was raising the next Mia Hamms,” she said. “We are so busy making children feel good about themselves that we are not spending the time teaching them how to do good.”

(I am updating this blog as the day goes on. Check back for more of Rhee’s visit.)

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

162 comments Add your comment

ID-10-T Error

February 10th, 2011
3:16 pm

What are her ideas for holding PARENTS accountable?!?!

HS Public Teacher

February 10th, 2011
3:17 pm

So…. this woman fails in DC miserably and THAT qualifies her to help Georgia education?

In what crazy mixed up world does this make any sense at all? Oh, yeah – in the world of Georgia republicans!

Jackie T.

February 10th, 2011
3:26 pm

I guess the issue is what did she “fail” – to make peace with the established education bereaucracy or to make differences in students.

I might support a voucher program that includes a means test.

truth hurts

February 10th, 2011
3:29 pm

Then why did her results stink in DC? Tell her to pound sand.

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Mid Ga Retiree

February 10th, 2011
3:42 pm

Without hearing the other side of the story, I think Ms. Rhee brings up some mighty interesting points. I don’t doubt that the influence of teacher unions, textbook publishers and other special interests focused on adult agendas is a hinderance to education reform in Georgia. And before someone goes to screaming that we don’t have teacher unions in Georgia, I’ll concede that point. However, the “professional teacher organizations” sure swing a big stick when it comes to the debate on holding teachers more accountable for student success. If anyone has any ideas about how to hold parents accountable, I’m all for hearing it. In the meantime, just because we haven’t yet come up with a plan for parent accountability doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go forward with developing teacher accountability plans.

FormerChipmunk

February 10th, 2011
3:46 pm

Just a quick observation, but seems she should change the name of her organization to MichelleFirst. Ironic given all that she speaks of taking adult egos and agendas out of education.

Springdale Park Elementary Parent

February 10th, 2011
3:47 pm

She fought for the right things. ESPECIALLY charters and vouchers.

No parent should have to sacrifice their child’s future on the altar of public education–especially not when the field is overflowing with crooks and mediocre teachers. It’s a giant swamp and Rhee is trying to drain it. And what do some teachers on this blog want to focus on? Her lack of people skills. Hey, nice analysis!

Rhee didn’t “fail” in DC–she pissed people off. If she had indeed failed, nobody would by flying her Tiger Mom a$$ in today to give speeches. She made enemies in DC and wound up appropriately chastened. But in every room she entered in Georgia today, she was the smartest one there.

It’s time for professionals and grown-ups to grab the reins, and we are going to turn the public schools into the meritocracy they always should have been. Those of you who are upset and afraid: you should be. Your cheese is about to get MOVED.

catlady

February 10th, 2011
3:49 pm

“Rhee said she believed her tough policies would be accepted “if we just produced actual results…I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

What she was wrong about was claiming results THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN. Hard to get street cred if you don’t EARN it.

Rhee’s theme throughout her comments was the need to put students first. “We have been putting the system first for 30 years and look where that has gotten us,” she said.

Where it has gotten us is a person like her who is idolized like a rock star and is profiting even more egregiously than those she wishes to indict (such as the textbook editors).

“struck a chord with Georgia lawmakers, many of whom believe that the entrenched education bureaucracy in Georgia has been an obstacle to real reform.”

Which just shows how messed up the Georgia lawmakers are. But at least we can’t be microchipped against our will!

HS Public Teacher

February 10th, 2011
3:56 pm

@Sprindale Park Elementary Parent -

You REALLY need to educate yourself on what this woman did and did not do in DC. You REALLY need to find out the facts about what she claims to have accomplished. You REALLY need to stop with your steadfast position until you learn more.

By the way, who DID pay for her to come to Georgia? I’d like to know! And, I REALLY hope that it was none of my tax dollars!!!!

HS Public Teacher

February 10th, 2011
3:59 pm

Rhee fails in DC – Georgia needs her?

Vouchers fail in FL – Georgia needs vouchers?

… and people in Georgia wonder why the nation calls us backwards….

Top School

February 10th, 2011
4:00 pm

Georgia’s Public School Stockholm syndrome is a term used to describe a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein sane parents and teachers held as hostages express adulation and have positive feelings towards their political captors that appear irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, essentially mistaking a lack of abuse from their captors as an act of kindness.

The Criminal MENTALITY leading our public schools…HOLDING EVERY PARENT and TEACHER hostage.
http://www.TopPublicSchoolCorruptionAtlanta.com

Ed Johnson

February 10th, 2011
4:00 pm

There is a better way. For example,

Quality Learning Australia
http://www.qla.com.au/pages/AboutQL.html

old school doc

February 10th, 2011
4:00 pm

Public school money going to private schools is just wrong. Period. Do we stop paying for police just because we have crime in our area? Vouchers are not the answer. We are steadily asking teachers to be all things for all kids without asking anything of the family/community. I agree that rotten teachers ought to be fired, but there should also be massive financial incentives for “good” teachers to go to underperforming schools to teach. Otherwise, schools in the low SES schools get the dregs for teachers/administrators, and the community is just plain stuck.
Social promotion must end. It only sets up our kids for failure. Just my 2 cents…

Tonya C.

February 10th, 2011
4:06 pm

I can attest to the failure of vouchers as up until four years ago, I was a native Floridian. Most of the really good schools don’t except them, and the only kids able to take advantage of them mostly came from middle-class and up homes, not the low-income, low-performing kids they were trying to target.

And charter status doesn’t change the makeup of the school or feed its improvement. Up until last year, my son had only attended charter schools. The parents that took advantage of the programs were the ones who actually cared, period. the kids who were assigned to the school but whose parents could have cared less about charter status stayed the same, sorry parents they were.

Tonya C.

February 10th, 2011
4:08 pm

Old Doc:

They tried the auto-transfer system of moving teachers from good schools to bad in FL. It didn’t work. the schools that were failing when we left 4+ years ago are the same ones failing now.

PhillipMarlowe

February 10th, 2011
4:08 pm

“Rhee said her two daughters “suck in soccer.” But you never know it because their rooms are full of ribbons, medals and trophies.. ”

According to Rhee the teacher and admin this is the fault of the soccer coach/teacher.
According to Rhee the mom, this is because she herself isn’t athletic.

She’d like to have it both way, and Ms Downey is all too willing to assist.

Wilders Outdoor former employee

February 10th, 2011
4:15 pm

Did Rhee offer anyone in the Deal family or Ralston family a job today?

Top School

February 10th, 2011
4:16 pm

She needs to stop acting like she wants to be the next KOREAN comedian sensation ( SUCH, A CRUEL RACE ).

Her jokes and debbie snack cake stories are not needed in the chaos of corruption in our Georgia Public Schools. Actually…I think she SUCKS from most of what I’ve watched and read.

Maureen Downey

February 10th, 2011
4:21 pm

@HS Teacher, No tax dollars and she didn’t even eat the free lunch at the House session House members ate and she talked.
Maureen

Kat Mandu

February 10th, 2011
4:21 pm

I say let us keep on keepin on. Just because what we are doing is not working is no reason not to continue. Yes, we can, dig our way out of this hole. Put our shoulder to the wheel and support our teachers union, they know best. We need to spend more money per student. We don’t spend enough, we can afford to spend more.

Let’s all get together right now and support our schools. If poor kids have to attend terrible schools that Just can’t be helped. Maybe we could spend more money on the schools in underperforming areas so the children could be given more educational toys like a laptop, a Playstation, and maybe send them on some field trips to New York and Washington. We can take that money from areas where the kids are doing well, kinda even things up. We need equality in education, average schools for all. Run this women out of town, we know she has no answers. Our schools are doing fine, leave them alone.

Dr. John Trotter

February 10th, 2011
4:25 pm

Michelle Rhee is really not worth commenting on when it comes to public education. She doesn’t have a clue. Her ideas are what are dysfunctional. She was a complete failure in Washington, D. C., and yet our lawmakers are mesmerized by this educational failure. Go figure.

teacher&mom

February 10th, 2011
4:36 pm

Let’s address Ms. Rhee’s rhetoric point-by-point…

Rhee: “We have been putting the system first for 30 years and look where that has gotten us,”

Me: Well, while public education is not perfect, it has managed to educate a large number of Noble Prize winners, scientists, doctors, nurses, educators, artists, musicians, computer whizzes, astronauts, researchers, entrepreneurs, etc. Not so sure the last 30 years have been a complete disaster given the advances in computer technology, medical research, and the list could go on.

Rhee: “The dysfunctions within public education are not an accident, she said. “There are people who benefit by that dysfunction.”

Me: Of course, Rhee never personally experienced any benefits from the dysfunction. None at all….no magazine covers or donations of 100K to help improve her public image. She stayed above the fray and did not use her position to help the New Teachers Project (NTP is a revenue-generating nonprofit founded by Rhee. The majority of its revenue comes from contracts with districts and states to supply services; additional funding for new program development and research is provided by donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). No dysfunction noted here. *that’s sarcasm in case you missed it*

Rhee: “Rhee recalled her own staff’s dismay when she supported the takeover of low-performing traditional schools under her control by independent charter schools that she would not control.”

Me: Well I’ll just let Rhee speak for herself on this one: “I’m a fan of effective charter schools, but don’t think that a system of ALL charter schools will solve the problem. Specifically, now the DCPS elementary schools are outperforming the charter elementary schools. When the spread of achievement in charters is as broad as it is, that’s a problem. All charters are not successful and the failing ones water down the impact of great ones (like KIPP and EL Haynes). Therefore, I don’t think just chartering all of the schools are the answer.

Of course, independent chartering has a strong financial incentive for stockholders. Just ask Kaplan K12 and others who have realized that education is the next big thing for investors.

BTW… the soccer story has been repeated one time too many. Ms. Rhee may want to come up with another example. I think this is the fourth or fifth time I have read that her girls suck at soccer. Also, the using the word “suck” is really in poor taste. I tell my students that words like suck, or words that rhyme with suck, are sure signs of unimaginative minds.

Maureen Downey

February 10th, 2011
4:40 pm

@teacher, I am always surprised when speakers deliver the same memorable comments as I, too, have read her soccer comments. (They are clever comments.)
But she is not the only one. I have covered dozens of famed politician/orators only to hear them deliver the same speech I heard them deliver three years earlier.
Maureen

teacher&mom

February 10th, 2011
4:41 pm

Not to leave out our GA legislators:
“struck a chord with Georgia lawmakers, many of whom believe that the entrenched education bureaucracy in Georgia has been an obstacle to real reform.”

Seriously? Entrenched education bureaucracy? You’ve called the shots for 8 years. Kathy Cox was your puppet! Perdue owned the State Board of Education. I think you might want to point that finger at the Gold Dome….

teacher&mom

February 10th, 2011
4:47 pm

I’d like to start a fundraising campaign to invite Diane Ravitch and Yong Zhoa to speak at the Gold Dome. Any takers?

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/?intc=thed
http://zhaolearning.com/

Maureen Downey

February 10th, 2011
4:49 pm

Folks, I do think Michelle Rhee has a mythology around her that is not borne out by the facts. (See this Post blog today: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/michelle-rhee/missing-the-point-on-rhee.html)
However, I admire her willingness to speak out for students. One of my early years covering the Legislature, a teacher group gave me its goals. There wasn’t a single one on the list that had anything to do with student achievement. I recall being struck by that. (That has since changed dramatically and now the goals are all about student achievement.)
But Rhee has always made student achievement and students the focus. The question, at least to me, is did she really put students first when she alienated teachers? Can you talk about student needs without talking about what teachers need?
Rhee admits that she has a long list of mistakes. Her first, she says, was allowing her reforms to be framed as what to do about ineffective teachers rather than about how to keep and reward good teachers. And she did raise pay for teachers who were deemed highly effective.
Maureen

Top School

February 10th, 2011
4:52 pm

Also, the using the word “suck” is really in poor taste. I tell my students that words like suck, or words that rhyme with suck, are sure signs of unimaginative minds…

I agree…”She sucks” and quacks like a duck…

Veteran teacher, 2

February 10th, 2011
4:55 pm

So what real reforms are wanted by the Georgia lawmakers? Top-down legislation is not the way to win friends and influence people.

Top School

February 10th, 2011
4:58 pm

Isn’t she the one that put tape over the mouths of her students
or was she the one that put “ALL THE BROWN BABIES” in the basement of the school?

Reich? or Rhee?
http://www.youtube.com/user/TopSchoolAtlanta#p/u/5/0tCFMSuQBTQ

teacher&mom

February 10th, 2011
5:00 pm

@Maureen: I have no doubt that Rhee tends to stick with her “prepared” speeches.

In fact, I’d bet money that Anita Dunn insists Rhee repeat the same speech/rhetoric over and over….just like a good politician.

She’s not known for her stellar “off-the-cuff” comments which have a tendency to land her in hot water and expose the real Michelle Rhee.

Of course, 100K to fine tune your public image is always helpful…. :)

fed up in DCSS

February 10th, 2011
5:03 pm

@springdale park elementary parent — “in every room she entered in Georgia today, she was the smartest one there” doesn’t say much when the only people there were Georgia Republicans.
Can’t you people see what’s goin on. Both sides are pushing their own agendas and neither side really has the best interests of the kids at heart. The left is in bed with the teachers’ unions, protecting all the incompetent teachers and the right is only interested in pushing vouchers, school choice, and teacher accountability as the solutions to every problem in public education. Meanwhile the schools are being run by a bunch of idiots, with their phony balony phd’s from all the online diploma mills, who don’t have a clue what they are doing.
It is really sad. I used to really look forward to every day, going to school and working with my kids. Now I just want to retire. That is if the state of Georgia doesn’t file for bankruptcy in order to rid itself of its underfunded pension obligations.

Maureen Downey

February 10th, 2011
5:03 pm

@teacher. Not sure she sticks to prepared speeches and she takes a lot of questions from the audience, but I do think she is an accomplished speaker and knows what resonates. Off now to see her at Peachtree Hope Charter.
I will post later on her session there.
Maureen

Tony

February 10th, 2011
5:05 pm

One thing from your remarks with which I can agree – we have become too soft! This is NOT a symptom schools alone can fix. This problem begins at home and is frequently one that parents drag into the school house as they attempt to convince us we are being too hard on their child. Whether it is academic or discipline, too many adults have lowered the bar for their children.

Charters and vouchers are not solutions, either. Charter schools have no better track record. We have plenty of high performing public schools and they far outnumber high performing private schools or charter schools. The problem with the continual use of the charters as a solution links back to the fact that these schools DO NOT have to take all students.

The hard realities of public schools are being ignored by the focus on these two ideas. There are no miracles – hard work by all parties is required.

GA Teach

February 10th, 2011
5:06 pm

The teacher associations have no bargaining rights. It’s kinda like screaming at a deaf dog

MikeyD

February 10th, 2011
5:07 pm

@Maureen -

Why won’t the legislature open their doors to a meeting with those who care about education and don’t have the ulterior motive of talking up their new project? I’m talking about teachers. I’ve been trying for over a month to get a few words with my local senator and representative and also with Ed Lindsey. While Rep. Lindsey has answered emails with the promise of a conversation for over a month now, the actual conversation has yet to take place. From my own senator and representative, my messages have not been acknowledged or returned.
Our leaders could easily invite Teachers of the Year from different regions of the state and actually listen to what they say. Dr. Smogorinsky, who has had some incredible insights here on your blog, would be a wonderful resource for our government leaders. All of these people could give our legislators some real-world lessons and advice. Why hasn’t this happened? It sure seems like they have already identified the agenda (Rhee-Hames) and are now only interested in listening to those who would tell them how correct they are. Our “leaders” are willingly ignoring the other side of the debate.

Top School

February 10th, 2011
5:09 pm

Signs of APS Stockholm Syndrome…Maureen…

Rhee admits that she has a long list of mistakes.
However, I admire her willingness to speak out for students.
Michelle Rhee has a mythology around her that is not borne out by the facts.

There wasn’t a single one on the list that had anything to do with student achievement. I recall being struck by that.

But she is not the only one…
did she really put students first when she alienated teachers?

MAUREEN- How long will you be held hostage by these unethical educational leaders?
Most of what Rhee states in the first 15 minutes of speaking sums her up. She MAKES TOO TOO TOO MANY MISTAKES.
I would not leave this person in charge of collecting my mail while I was on vacation…let alone the education of my child.

Top School

February 10th, 2011
5:14 pm

Something is in the Georgia water….

Georgia’s Public School Stockholm syndrome is a term used to describe a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein sane parents and teachers held as hostages express adulation and have positive feelings towards their political captors that appear irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, essentially mistaking a lack of abuse from their captors as an act of kindness.

The Criminal MENTALITY leading our public schools…HOLDING EVERY PARENT and TEACHER hostage.

http://www.TopPublicSchoolCorruptionAtlanta.com

Top School

February 10th, 2011
5:16 pm

WOW…THIS MAKES AN IMPRESSION FOR ME…

Maureen Downey

February 10th, 2011
4:21 pm

@HS Teacher, No tax dollars and she didn’t even eat the free lunch at the House session House members ate and she talked.
Maureen

tar and feathers party

February 10th, 2011
5:17 pm

I luv it when the teachers start blaming the parents for Johnny’s failure to learn to read…..yo teach, that is your job, not mom and dad’s. Teachers are spoiled by the East Cobb Bubble, where all the kids are well above average, and go to school already knowing how to read, write, and compute. The Atlanta school teachers want the same from their inner city losers, but it ain’t a gonna happen. We are paying the teachers to teach reading, writing and computing – and they fail miserable at that simple job. Fire em all and start over, this time with smart teachers, not just the black ones.

What's Best for Kids?

February 10th, 2011
5:21 pm

Mikey D. Keep calling Lindsay. Keep emailing him.

CharterStarter

February 10th, 2011
5:32 pm

Tough crowd. I applaud Maureen for being open to Rhee’s positions, which Maureen has accurately recorded. I will open myself up as another target by saying I agree with Rhee – the system is broken and cannot be trusted to fix itself. We need external influence. Parents are an excellent influence on the system and should be given more of a voice. Choice (I support both charters and vouchers) will give them that voice. Legislators (of both parties) are the correct people to give more control to parents. After all, they write the laws and pass the budgets – both of which are necessary to govern and to fund public education. This is not about the GOP. It is about the students – the very thing Rhee is talking about. Change is hard. The messenger is seen as a threat. Don’t believe me? Read almost every comment above mine!

Go, Michelle!

sissyuga

February 10th, 2011
5:34 pm

Rhee is good at one thing: Making sound bites that generate talk. What makes her an expert? She was in one movie and the representatives under the gold dome are like flies on a rib roast. Why not ask professors in our colleges of education about reform? Another factor the representatives need to look at is fifty percent of our student population is black and hispanic. The black students are coming from one parent households and have a whole host of issues… I, as a teacher need more support in dealing with these students. First, lower class size and give me support personnel for small group teaching. Did you know that Rhee said that a way for systems to save money is to raise the class size bc “an effective teacher” could handle it. Really? I am sure that is just what the people under the gold dome wanted to hear (if she said that same BS to them).

Former Middle School Teacher

February 10th, 2011
5:35 pm

Teachers have not framed one minute of the educational process in this state. People should not confuse Central office personnel with front line teachers. We are told what to do and what to teach. I do agree on the social promotion, and the whole “self esteem” fiasco. I inform my students that they will feel good about them selves because of achievement, you get no prize for doing what is expected.

Former Middle School Teacher

February 10th, 2011
5:38 pm

I really don’t understand the clamor for vouchers? In many places there is no choice. I could see them working in large urban areas, but not in rural ones. Besides it would not help the low achievers, who would probably not take advantage of them do to transportation issues. I have yet to see a private school come out ask for vouchers, they don’t want all children.

WHAT IS

February 10th, 2011
5:42 pm

SHE SELLLING?

td

February 10th, 2011
5:47 pm

I have seen a great deal of complaining about what someone thinks we should do but, besides some parental responsibility, I have not seen many solutions offered.

Atlanta mom

February 10th, 2011
6:10 pm

Vouchers? All you voucher folks think you’re going to get your child into a good school and vouchers will pay for it? In DC over 80% of the students with vouchers went to a religious school. Is that where we want our money going?

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Toto: Exposing naked body scanners...

February 10th, 2011
6:24 pm

Want to fix public schools by fall semester?
Go Egyptian. Home school en masse.