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Thompson: Rhee Defenders Increasingly Desperate

Michelle_rheeI can't deny my enjoyment of Michelle Rhee's fall from grace.  It is also fun to witness the convoluted spin of her defenders, as her duplicity is further documented. 

Despite what he says in "More Rhee!," Andrew Rotherham must realize that Richard Kahlenberg is correct and we have two ways of testing whether Rhee's theories could work.  Schools in the American South, where unions are not powerful, have lower student performance.  Surely, Rotherham knows that his next argument strengthens Kahlenberg's case.  If we were to "blind taste test schools between different labor contexts (eg Maryland and Virginia for instance)," he writes," you’d have a hard time knowing what state you’re in."

Rotherham correctly questions many of the  "various rules, regulations, and practices [that] are codified in state law."  Those frustrating regulations are legacies of complicated dilemmas created by a range of maddeningly complex problems.  Unions are just a small part of the issue. In other words, Rhee's vendetta against teachers and unions was doomed because she laid the blame on one part of the system.  She failed for the same reason why all simplistic quick fixes of interconnected problems fail. 

Rotherham then makes the curious argument against Kahlenberg's second test - which shows that the shortcut of nonunion charters has not worked.

Rotherham makes the seemingly weird claim that "clusters" of high performing charters have shown the potential for Rhee's opinions to have helped systemic reform.  But, Rotherham is using the word "cluster" in a misleading way.  He seems to mean that there is a cluster of data on charter schools that are spread across the nation.  If those high-performing schools were clustered in a single district, so that they served all students in poor neighborhoods, then that would have offered support for the idea that they could have been scaled up. Charters, however, refuse to take that test.

So, why do I say that Rotherham knows better, but that he's playing word games?  After his fervent defense of Rhee, he links to an article which documents the modest record of charters.  He then acknowledges in regard to charters that "reasonable people can disagree on how replicable those elements are and what they mean for public policy." Can anyone imagine Rhee sincerely making such a statement? And, why would her allies gamble so much on charters that have had such a modest record?

Rotherham is a reformer who defends his allies, even though he says they are "sitting in the 'Green Zone'" and they "talk about their savvy while most of the country is untouched or has resistors blowing things up at every opportunity." Follow Rotherham's link, and you will read his conclusion, "But the real education story of the 2012 election is the fragility of the reform consensus and the high-wire act the President and Republican reformers have ahead of them."  He must know that Rhee's bombast is the last thing his movement needs if they really have a goal other than scapegoating teachers.

Rotherham concludes with a truism.  Yes, it is easier to blow things up than to build. Undoubtedly, that explains why Rhee's political spin has been much more successful than her education record.  To improve schools, Rotherham should distance himself from Rhee-style  "reformers," stop denying that unions have been unfairly targeted by them, and work with the educators, and scholars like Kahlenberg, who want to tackle the challenge of improving poor schools.- JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.


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Why would Rhee's allies gamble so much on charters?

That's easy - because there is a lot of money to be made.

Actually there are a number of terrific charters (as well as terrific district public schools ) from which we could learn a lot.
Here in Minneapolis St. Paul, 9 of the 10 "beat the odds" schools identified by Minnesota's largest daily newspaper, the Star Tribune, are charters. Both Mpls and ST. Paul districts have asked for help from some of these outstanding charters. And, as noted, there are some some terrific district public schools too.

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