Adell Cothorne, the former DC principal who appears in our Frontline film, “The Education of Michelle Rhee,” was one of the few educators willing to speak on the record about the widespread erasures during Michelle Rhee’s tenure – and what she has to say is important.
How should we be thinking about the recent cheating scandals?
John investigates the new turn towards “value-added” measures in education.
The sudden resignation of Michelle Rhee actually makes perfect sense. It was inevitable, so why wait around? It’s easy to imagine Ms. Rhee coming to that conclusion once she recognized that she and the next Mayor, Vincent Gray, would not be able to work together the way she did with the current Mayor, Adrian Fenty.
What happens next in Washington is the big story, although most of the attention will be on Ms. Rhee. She’s a national figure, subject of much speculation. Will she go to California if Meg Whitman wins the gubernatorial race? What about New Jersey? Iowa? Funny how the Republicans love her to death now, even though she was chosen by an ardent Democrat and has been praised to the skies by President Obama.
We’ve followed Ms. Rhee closely during the three plus years she’s been in Washington, airing a total of 12 segments about the changes she’s made there. Scores and enrollment are up locally, but, make no mistake about it, she has altered the national conversation about how teachers are paid and evaluated. No one can defend the current system, which bases everything on years in the classroom and number of graduate credits, as appropriate or rational. That’s history, even though it may take years for it to be removed for good.
What is going to replace the old way is now the question.
A few years ago, people were singing “Michelle, My belle, these are words that go together well.”
Today people are singing a different tune, “Should she stay, or should she go?”
Now that Adrian Fenty has lost his bid for a second term, the education world is buzzing about the fate of Michelle Rhee, his outspoken schools chancellor. Ms. Rhee has become a national figure, much beloved by many outside the district. At home, however, she is a lightning rod and a polarizing personality. In her 3+ years she has closed nearly two-dozen schools, fired more than 15% of her central office staff, and let over 100 teachers go for inadequate performance.
While many say that Ms. Rhee has made long overdue changes in a dysfunctional system, others—including both the local and national teachers unions—have campaigned to get rid of her and, by extension, some of the changes she has made. By some reports, the unions spent over $100,000 to defeat Mr. Fenty and, by extension, Ms. Rhee and her policies.
What about Michelle Rhee herself? Would she want to stay on and report to Fenty’s probable successor, City Council Chairman Vincent Gray?
Note: I hesitated to review Waiting for Superman because of our dispute with Mr. Guggenheim about our PBS NewsHour footage, but that dispute was resolved (there’s no truth to the rumor that I threatened to picket the Hollywood opening in my skivvies). It’s an important film about education, a subject I have been reporting on for 35 years, and those two facts outweigh the other consideration.
There’s much to admire about Waiting for Superman, Davis Guggenheim’s new film about public education. He and his colleagues know how to tell a story, the graphics are sensational, and some of the characters—notably Geoff Canada—just jump off the screen.
And I hope it does well at the box office, because that would demonstrate that a significant number of us care enough about education to spend a few bucks to see a documentary about it.
That said, the film strikes me as a mishmash of contradictions and unsupportable generalizations, even half-truths. And while it may make for box office, its message is oversimplified to the point of being insulting.
I realize that I am swimming against the stream on this, given that the movie has been glowingly reviewed by Tom Friedman in the New York Times and others, but please hear me out.
What are the emerging education stories in the months ahead? What continuing stories should we be tracking? What issues aren’t being covered in the proper depth?
What’s next?I know it’s the dog days of summer, hardly the best time for jumping up and down with intellectual energy, but I hope you will give us a hand, because Learning Matters is at another crossroads, another decision point.
I hope you have noticed that we have devoted lots of time, resources and energy over the past three years to two important school reform stories: the efforts to bring about change in Washington, DC and New Orleans, LA, two of the lowest performing school systems in the nation, by Michelle Rhee and Paul Vallas, respectively. In a few weeks the final episode of this series will air on PBS NewsHour. In total we will have produced twelve stories about NOLA and twelve about DC. That’s unprecedented reporting, particularly for television, and it’s been worthwhile.
Now, however, we have the opportunity to cover other stories.