“Trust Me,” Says Michelle (Aphorism: When the Powerful Say Trust Me the Powerless Tend to Get Pregnant).

 

To some Michelle Rhee is a superstar, taking on teacher unions and creating a merit-based pay urban school system. For others she is a chimera, filled with fanciful ideas, with a bloated ego, out to destroy the lives of teachers and kids, to satisfy her lust for power.
 
The Washington DC public school system has been a disgrace for decades. A patronage pool for former Mayor Marion Berry it was mismanaged and ignored. Superintendents were powerless to make substantive change and the teacher union, active in DC politics, guarded their contract.
 
Charter schools and a voucher program siphoned students out of the public schools resulting in many underutilized school buildings and a shrinking, increasingly senior staff.
 
Mayor Fenty’s selection of Michelle Rhee was pretty shocking … but her resume appeared impressive. Only a three year career as a teacher, but, a glittering three years. The founder of the New Teacher Project which supports alternative paths to teaching.
 
A DC based blog describes her merit based plan,
 
Ms Rhee is thrashing out a deal with union leaders that would raise teachers’ wages dramatically. Starting 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.
 
A serious question is who is funding the plan, and, Rhee says, “trust me!”
 
She references a financial modeling study done by a secret consultant,
 
“When we engaged initially in this effort, we brought in a consulting firm to do some financial modeling for us, and basically what we’re able to show is after a five-year period we will be able to sustain this with city dollars,” Rhee said.

Rhee’s spokeswoman declined a request for a copy of the report, saying that documents related to the District’s talks with the teachers union on a new collective bargaining agreement are confidential.

The Washington Post reports that Rhee “… has declined to name prospective donors publicly,” and goes on to report that Gates says it has had no discussions with Rhee and other foundations are vague or noncommittal.

If the foundation contributions falter, or end, the City would be responsible for the costs, and the DC Chief Financial Officer muses how they could pay for the raises,

A collective bargaining agreement based on private funding would pose questions for the D.C. Council, which faces an $800 million revenue shortfall next year and an uncertain long-term budget outlook. The District’s chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, has told council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D-At Large) that the council would be obligated to assume the foundation commitments if private donors were unable to follow through.

A core question emerges: Is Rhee creditable? Has she lived up to her promises in the past? The best approach to answer this question is to look into her past.

Rhee’s official biography states,

OFFICIAL RHEE BIOGRAPHY: Michelle Rhee’s commitment to excellence in education began in 1992, when she joined Teach For America after earning her Bachelor’s degree in Government from Cornell University. Her teaching career started at Harlem Park Community School in Baltimore, MD, where her outstanding success in the classroom earned her acclaim on Good Morning America and The Home Show, as well as in the Wall Street Journal and the Hartford Courant.

Rhee frequently references her successes at one of the lowest achieving schools in Baltimore

RHEE: My career in education began as a classroom teacher at Harlem Park Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland. My experience there shaped the rest of my career. I saw that students who were performing far below grade level quickly achieve at the highest levels if they were exposed to a quality academic program.

Creds to Daily Howler, an investigation of Rhee’s claims, in July, 2007, found her claims wanting. No evidence of “outstanding success,” no evidence of acclaim on “Good Morning America, the “Home Show,” the Hartford Courant or the Wall Street Journal, and, no evidence of dramatic increases in achievement.

Recently Rhee has “downisized” her own achievements. A feature in Time Magazine  has quite a different story,

 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.

The second year, Rhee got better. She and another teacher started out with second-graders who were scoring in the bottom percentile on standardized tests. They held on to those kids for two years, and by the end of third grade, the majority were at or above grade level, she says.

As a job applicant Rhee claimed her students achieved “at the highest levels,” after she is ensconced in the DC supe job her memory brightens, ” … a major of her kids archived at or above grade level.”

“Trust me,” says Rhee, the funding will come, the plan is sound, nothing to worry about … but will her claims morph as quickly as her resume.

When the powerful say “trust me,” people tend to get pregnant.

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3 responses to ““Trust Me,” Says Michelle (Aphorism: When the Powerful Say Trust Me the Powerless Tend to Get Pregnant).

  1. perchance2dream

    Peter:

    I am glad you wrote about the Rhee expose. It punctures the bubble she has conveniently let build around her otherworldly resume, which as it turn out is, indeed, other worldly.

    Like

  2. Pingback: GFBrandenburg's Blog

  3. Following your blog over to Howler and the stories about Rhee helps my research a great deal. I am very skeptical of Rhee, her claims and methods. I find that the real experts are still in the classroom, and certainly spent more than 3 yrs. there prior to becoming experts. Thanks for the post.

    Like

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