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Update: Behind Frontline's Rhee Documentary

How fascinating to wake up and find out that Adell Cothorne (pictured), the Noyes Elementary School principal interviewed in tonight's PBS Frontline documentary (a) had never been on camera in all the previous previous PBS segments on Rhee that we've seen and (b) had filed a suit against DCPS that was only recently unsealed and dismissed.

ScreenHunter_06 Jan. 08 11.20

Cothorne's complaint (Cothorne v District of Columbia) makes for juicy reading but the federal government didn't think much of it. The USDE found that "cheating was limited to just one school, which it didn't specify," according to Greg Toppo's USA Today story.  Cothorn had filed the complaint under the False Claims Act and "sought a percentage of any potential financial proceeds had the case gone to trial," according to Emma Brown's Washington Post story from over the weekend. According to a statement just put out by Rhee, the latest findings "confirm what we've long believed, that the vast majority of educators would never compromise their personal or professional integrity to cheat on a test, thereby cheating children." 

Still, it it's a pretty big coincidence (?) that the Cothorne complaint and response popped up just as the Rhee documentary was about to air -- and that the Rhee, DCPS, and Frontline folks may not have known that was about to happen until it appeared.

Equally fascinating but much less complicated to figure out is why StudentsFirst put out its report card this week, knowing that the Frontline documentary was scheduled to air.  Whatever it merits or lack thereof, the report card shines a light on the current work of Rhee and her allies, and puts the pressure back on the education establishment she's fighting against, rather than letting the Frontline story about what happened way back in 2010 take front and center. So all of you writing about what an awful report card it is are actually helping Rhee out.  Keep it up.  (StudentsFirst has gathered up all the positive press for you -- see below the break).

Moving on:  Now having watched the show a second time now, I stand by the basic thrust of my original post (PBS Documentary Humanizes Rhee's Tenure,) that it generally favors Rhee, humanizing her with the story of her decision to join TFA (blame PBS!) showing snapshots of her as a young idealistic teacher, and giving her a chance to re-define her departure from DCPS as something she still laments.  She officially resigned, but I'm not sure anyone believed that -- and in any case she made some awkward remarks about her departure at the time. This time, she gets to say, "I lost the job that I loved."

There is some heart-wrenching, angry-making footage of a teacher describing being fired and escorted from her building, and video of some verbal sparring between Rhee and the City Council that is hard to watch, knowing what is soon to come.  But the Frontline piece omits the most dramatic and perhaps disturbing Rhee moments I've ever seen or watched: her 2008 argument with Randi Weingarten at NSVF, and Mayor-elect Gray's impromptu press conference in the hallways outside his offices, with a stressed-out Rhee standing in the background.  (Lady Michelle Flees The Castle Gray)

Last but not least, some of you may have noticed that on Morning Joe yesterday Rhee floated the idea of turning Title I and II -- the forumula-based federal funding streams through which most K-12 education moneys flow to schools -- into competitive and reform-minded grants, sort of like Race to the Top or i3.  Hey, NCLB is already blown up, accountabily-wise.  Why not blow up the funding stream, too?

What's next?  Who knows? Most likely, StudentsFirst will quickly move from rating states to putting out scorecards on individual legislators like Emily's List and the NRA and everyone else does.  It's also possible (though not likely) that Rhee will start wearing a Guy Fawkes mask to press conferences,  her allies will start calling themselves "Rheenonymous," and the threats, glitter bombs, and publishing of embarrassing information will begin. 

Previous Posts:  PBS Documentary Humanizes Rhee's TenureTest Security Company Responds To Rhee Claims


What They're Saying About... 

StudentsFirst Releases Its First State Policy Report Card

New York Times: “In just a few short years, state legislatures and education agencies across the country have sought to transform American public education by passing a series of laws and policies overhauling teacher tenure, introducing the use of standardized test scores in performance evaluations and expanding charter schools. Such policies are among those pushed by StudentsFirst, the advocacy group led by Michelle A. Rhee, the former schools chancellor in Washington…In a report issued Monday, StudentsFirst ranks states based on how closely they follow the group’s platform, looking at policies related not only to tenure and evaluations but also to pensions and the governance of school districts. The group uses the classic academic grading system, awarding states A to F ratings.” (New York Times: 12 States Get Failing Grades on Public School Policies From Advocacy Group; January 7, 2013)

Matthew Yglesias, Slate: “There’s A Lot to Like” With State Policy Report Card. “Michelle Rhee is a controversial figure and anything her advocacy organization, Students First, does is going to attract a lot of derision but having had the chance to play around with their "report card" on state policy I think there's a lot to like here…The Students First perspective more wisely dings states that make it too hard to open charters but also dings states (like, say, Arizona) that do much too little to hold charter schools accountable for performance.” (Matthew Yglesias, Slate: Michelle Rhee's Students First Says Education Policy Is Basically Horrible Everywhere; January 7, 2013)

Maine Gov. LePage: Report Card “Warrants Careful Consideration,” “Exactly the Type of Subjects We Should be Measuring and Improving.” “Maine Gov. Paul LePage was provided a preview of the StudentsFirst report card. He issued a statement Friday saying the study looked at "exactly the type of subjects we should be measuring and improving." LePage, who has pushed several educational reform proposals and has said private schools are superior to public schools, said the StudentsFirst report "warrants careful consideration. Until we put students first, we will continue to drown in status quo.” (Portland Press Herald: School policies ranking: Maine barely passes; January 7, 2013)

Iowa Gov. Branstad Spokesman: Iowa Will “Look at Best States” in Report Card to Determine Education Reforms to “Put Into Practice.” “Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said in an email that Iowa continues to seek ‘best practices’ on education reform. ‘Every critique makes us take a hard look at what we will consider in Iowa with regard to educational reform,’ he wrote. ‘So, in this regard, Iowa's educational reform efforts and research will look at the best states, like Florida, when it comes to their efforts on early literacy and what may or may not be put into practice here.’" (Sioux City Journal: Iowa schools get 'F' on national report; January 7, 2013)

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal: Report “Confirms” Louisiana’s “Commitment to Put a Great Teacher in Every Classroom.”  "This report confirms that Louisiana is now leading the nation in education reform because of our commitment to put a great teacher in every classroom and give every child the opportunity to get a great education.  Our reforms are working - parents finally have more choices, student scores are up, and teachers are being rewarded for their hard work.  Our work is not done yet, but we are in the midst of a great turnaround in Louisiana's education system that will ensure all of our sons and daughters have the skills to succeed in the 21st century workforce." (KNOE: Louisiana first in pro-student education policies; January 7, 2013)

Louisiana State Superintendent John White: Report “Findings Validate” Louisiana Policy, Show “Long Road Ahead.” "The report's findings validate the courage and boldness of Louisiana's policy makers, voters, and educators. Our schools are improving as a result, but we have a lot of work left to do until every child is on path to a college degree or a career.  This is the beginning of a long journey ahead." (KNOE: Louisiana first in pro-student education policies; January 7, 2013)

Nevada State Superintendent of Public Schools Jim Guthrie: “We Don’t Dispute” Report. "’We're sorry Nevada scores so low, but we don't dispute it,’ said Guthrie, speaking of himself and Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has advocated sweeping reforms to state education policies.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal: Nevada ranks 21st in new education report; January 7, 2013)

Michigan State Senate Education Committee Chair: Report Card “Important” to Show Whether “Right Policies” are in Place. “Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, said the report cards released today are important because it shows whether Michigan has the right policies in place ‘and it shows how we match up with other states,’ according to a press release from StudentsFirst. Pavlov chairs the Senate Education Committee.” (Detroit Free Press: Education group ranks Michigan 6th, C- grade in reform efforts among states; January 7, 2013)

Georgia State Sen. Fran Millar, Chair of Senate Education and Youth Committee: “It focuses on the right policies, such as those that give parents more information, reward good teachers and force government to spend tax dollars wisely.” (AJC: Georgia gets poor marks from school choice group; January 7, 2013)

Pennsylvania State Rep. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster: “Rep. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, who authored the educator evaluation system legislation, said he thinks the report card should be used as a map for education reform.” (Patriot News: Pennsylvania earns a D+ on national school reform group's report card; January 7, 2013)

Pennsylvania State Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Philadelphia: “Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Philadelphia, called it "a thoughtful, well-researched tool" that should help lawmakers "work toward creating policies that give parents more information, reward good teachers, and force government to spend tax dollars wisely."” (Patriot News: Pennsylvania earns a D+ on national school reform group's report card; January 7, 2013)

Minnesota State Rep. Branden Petersen, R-Andover: “State Rep. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, who won election to the state Senate last November, said that the report “shows that there are many issues we need to address in the interest of our kids. I will ask, and at times challenge, my colleagues to join this conversation.” (Star Tribune: Minnesota gets 'D' for its school reforms; January 7, 2013)

Fordham Institute: “Ohio remains an education reform leader, yet still has a ways to go to lead the country in school reform efforts. That’s the conclusion from today’s StudentsFirst’s inaugural State Policy Report Card.… For Ohio’s policymakers,StudentsFirst provides a very handy overview and evaluation of how Ohio stacks up to the nation’s top reformersand offers guidance for moving forward in coming months and years.” (Fordham Institute Blog: Ohio earns C minus on StudentsFirst inaugural education reform Report Card; January 7, 2013)

Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry Gene Barr: Report Card is “Instructive.” Likewise, Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said the report card for Pennsylvania and the other states shows "a significant amount of work lies ahead to make public education work for more kids."  He said it will prove instructive to the ongoing dialogue about school reform taking place in Pennsylvania. (Patriot News: Pennsylvania earns a D+ on national school reform group's report card; January 7, 2013)

William J. Canary, president and chief executive officers of the Business Council of Alabama: “William J. Canary, president and chief executive officers of the Business Council of Alabama, said the report is "crying out for education reform in Alabama." "Students attending schools where parents have options and empowerment help to create the optimum learning environment that positively challenges students and teachers alike," he said. "While the defenders of the status quo will continue to put up roadblocks to reform, the BCA is accelerating efforts to establish an expanded business/education alliance that will allow us to address these issues and make Alabama the nationwide leader in education reform."  (AL.com: Alabama gets failing grade on education policies from reform group; January 7, 2013)



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While I like Michelle, I still believe we need an alternative reform movement, and that mainstream reform has been off the rails for five years now. Steven Brill's "Class Warfare" really opened my eyes, as did Alexander's "Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors" (in which I play a lugubrious role). Brill's book highlights all of the "new" elements in education reform, which might be summarized as a New Vision for New Teachers and Leaders for New Venture-Funded Schools for New Orleans". While I might imagine hiring New Teacher Project teachers of mathematics, science, and English for remedial ninth grade classes, or seek scholarship support from New Schools Venture Fund philanthropists for its middle schools' graduates accepted into a magnet upper secondary school, I think the energies of those of us seeking a third way (since supporting the status quo is out of the question) are better devoted to establishing an alternative opposition to our out-of-date, traditional education system.

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