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RHEE: "The Thing That Kills Me About Education Is That It's So Touchy-Feely."

1101081208_400 It's hard to say anything new about DC's Michelle Rhee, and folks are going to have a field day with the TIME cover picture of Rhee using (on?) a broom (Can She Save Our Schools?). 

But there  there are in fact some things worth noting in this profile, including several lively anecdotes, the increasing involvement of Randi Weingarten in the DC negotiations, and Rhee's questions about Obama.  And there are some great flame-thrower quotes from Rhee, of course:

"The thing that kills me about education is that it's so touchy-feely.  People say, 'Well, you know, test scores don't take into account creativity and the love of learning.'  I'm like, 'You know what? I don't give a crap.' Don't get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don't know how to read, I don't care how creative you are. You're not doing your job."

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Now that Rhee is getting balanced coverage, curiosity will shift to her second act. Her behavior is not unusual for a celebrity like Madonna, but she shouldn’t compare herself to another person who can act like a jerk, Lawrence Summers. Compare Summers' vast knowledge of economics to Rhee’s thin knowledge of the actual process world of schools and learning. Had she spent less time on her Blackberry, read more deeply, listened, and learned about education, she would not have set herself up for such a fall.

The watchdog that didn’t bark in the Time article is interesting. Why didn’t Rhee push the issue of her pre-election goof when she was apparently on the verge of calling a press conference which would have been very harmful to Obama. Pretending that words are like test score numbers and have no real meaning, she was apparently going to ask for a state of emergency, and ask Congress to suspend constitutional, property, democratic, and contract rights in the District of Columbia. How many allies did she loose when people realized that she would even contemplate such a thing? Doesn’t she realize that we are a “nation of laws not men.” But perhaps she’s right. When George Washington set his wimpy precedent and stepped down afer two terms, it showed a lack of High Expectations. The entrepreneurial zeal of Aaron Burr would have attracted far more talent.


Alexander, you may have answered the question before it was asked. There probably is more of a market for video of cute puppies growing into mean dogs. Rhee the human attack dog could host/train/educate the dogs. No danger of her getting too touchy feely.

Glad to hear her quote about test scores and kids not knowing how to read Now how about addressing the poor math textbooks (Everyday Math and Connected Math Program) that DC public schools are forced to use?

How about being creative along with the "touchy-feely" that Rhee derides? There are ways and there are ways to learn--reading and everything else. You can be creative and use tests as diagnostic tools, and not something kids pass or fail. As far as I know, there's no one time, or year, when all kids are ready to learn how to read. And sometimes, teaching them when they're not ready can turn them into kids who can read but don't like to. Yes, some screwy things have also been done in the touchy-feely mode.

Here's another angle, from a true story: Some grade school kids in L.A. returned to their school on a Monday to discover their classrooms had been trashed. One boy pointed to his desk and said, "Look, it says 'fuck'!!" And his teacher responded, "You can read!"

Isnt it also a problem if studnets graduate high school capable of reading but not able to think on their feet or innovate or create? Granted, without the ability to read, one's future is greatly limited. But I would posit, that without the ability to think critically and quickly, creatively attack problems and innovate solutions, that student's future is jsut as bleak. Jobs that require you to only be able to read simply dont exist anymore. We need to teach reading along with this "touchy-feely" skills.

The best thing Michelle Rhee could do to improve education is to do something about teacher evaluation. The current system is lousy because principals devote very little time to the evaluation process. Closing and/or reconstituting schools is a dull scalpel and does little to motivate teachers to improve their methods. Simply giving principals unfettered power to fire teachers would lead to a lot of favoritism. Schools should be run more like businesses, rather than have schools where the teacher to administrator ratio is over 30 to 1. Unfortunately, better evaluation costs money, but that money would be well spent if teachers got feedback they could use and that would have real consequences.

Unfortunately Michelle Rhee couches her teacher quality reforms in stark "either-or" terms. Mastering the basics of math does not preclude learning how to use and create knowledge;paying teachers for performance does not mean that student test scores should be the sole measure; and eliminating rigid tenure rules might be more acceptable if teachers trusted administrators to be fair or even knowledgeable of good teaching. For a more nuanced assessment of how to advance the teaching profession and Rhee's efforts to improve teacher quality surface -check out www.teachingquality.org. School reform can be "and/both."

I am officially in love with Michelle Rhee.

I have the exact same thoughts every time one of my kids brings home some stupid "project" that is meant to display their creativity... but really only wastes time and crayon wax.

She is super fucking hot. I want to be a Rhee-bot to get inside her Rhee-panties.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.