A reader writes:
That clip of Michelle Rhee is definitely inspiring. Her students' success is, without a doubt, a credit to the time she invested as a teacher. That said, being straight out of school herself, my guess is that she was unmarried at the time or had yet to have her own children. What happens when the teacher has a family of her own? Must a teacher be expected to dedicate so much time when she has to care for her own family (as well as help them with their own homework)?
I must admit I didn't know who Michelle Rhee was until this evening. When I watched the video, my first instinct was that she must be lying. What she claims she did as a teacher sounded improbable (90% of the children went from 13% to 90%? It just doesn't sound plausible). I googled around and found a well-researched post from two years ago at Daily Kos about Rhee's claims, and it doesn't look good.
I do agree with her on one thing. Spending time more time with students before and after school makes a huge difference. I have held after-school tutoring in the past and it has helped many of my students improve. But her explanation of how 90% of her students came before and after school, and on Saturdays, for two years, seems a bit embellished.
Clay Risen wrote an excellent profile of Rhee for The Atlantic ("The Lightning Rod," November 2008). The piece is also, in part, a profile of Marion Barry, who serves as a foil for Rhee (and her closest ally, Mayor Fenty). The two intersect in this passage:
In one particularly testy exchange at an all-day meeting in April, Marion Barry, now the representative for the city’s poorest ward, lectured Rhee on the political realities of her job. “Whether or not you and the mayor want to take it out of the political arena, you cannot, because education all over America has political implications,” he told her. “Parents are also voters.”
Rhee would have none of it.
“I think part of the problem of how the district has been run in the past is that decisions have been made for political reasons, and based on what was going to placate and satisfy adults instead of what was in the best interests of children.”
“Let me be succinct, because my time is running out,” Barry retorted. “Talk to other people on this, because I think you’re absolutely wrong … I know you want to do it the right way, but I think that’s causing us more problems than we need to have.”
The comment was a warning, but it was also a reflection of the very political nature of education in the American inner city, and particularly in Washington.
Continued here. Another writes:
The commenter you quoted showed the usual misrepresentation about DC school expenses. The District does not spend huge amounts more on instruction for its regular students. You cannot simply take the total school system expenditures and divide them by the number of students.
For one thing, DC has traditionally lacked the ability to provide appropriate instruction for many identified special-ed students, so they send them out to private placements, often at costs of $30,000. Second, DC was spending a lot of many on half-vacant buildings. One good thing Rhee did - and I am NOT a Rhee fan - was to close down underutilized buildings and consolidate. Third, DC spends a lot of money on security, more per student than most other districts. Fourth, DC had way too many central office staffers, many of whom got their jobs during the Barry era and who managed to stay there without contributing anything to the education of children. Again, to her credit, Rhee got rid of a lot of the dead weight (though the way she went about it was unnecessarily antagonistic).
Thus, when controlling for these other factors, DC costs are not way out of line as people like to argue.