Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Sarah Palin of Education?

With all the brouhaha about Michelle Rhee's "second act," I just had to read her whole new site at Students First, a great big, expensive, business-sponsored paean to the worth of school that is all about kids.  Well, what's to argue about, right?  Who doesn't want school that's for kids first?  Oprah loves Michelle, "the warrior woman."  Who doesn't love Oprah?  So, let's just all sign up now, donate money and let Michelle re-create education in her own image, yes?

It all sounds good, it's all about the right stuff, at least on the surface, and then we get to the part that just, well, sticks in my throat.  Are we really all going to follow a woman who says things like "collaboration and consensus-building are over-rated"?  Are we all going to let her corporate backers--the CEOs of Gatesian proportion who want to run the world--take over schools, too?   Are we going to continue allowing beginners in education to run the show, telling those of us who have been doing things for kids for decades just how it's done?  
The scariest part is Michelle telling the world that she is going to amass $1 billion to influence elections--and don't think she can't.  If we snooze a moment longer, our public education system is going to be only a fond memory, given away without even a whimper, much less a bang, to private interests who really believe, like the new governor of Florida (bless his pointed little head) that giving everyone money to buy their way into private schools is somehow going to solve the problem.

There is something just evil about parents having to sit on benches in the hallways of popular charter schools, crying and begging for their children to be "let in."  There is something unAmerican about lotteries for spots in "high-performing" schools, so all the rest of the kids are left out.  There is something just plain ugly about beating up teachers and blaming them for the failure of a thirty-year experiment in terror called "trickle-down economics."  

Now we've got the school version of that same philosophy: "trickle-down education," otherwise known as the finale of the world's most polarizing political "theory."  Haves vs. have-nots?  We're making more of them every day.  We've now subjected the nation to the corollary--"back to basics"--to an absurd degree and discovered that--what?--we're all just plain dumber?  No surprise!  We've been forced to "teach to the test" for years.  That's what high-stakes testing is all about, and there's nothing "standardized" about it.   That would imply that the testing meets certain standards of learning, but that's not it at all.  It's only about numerical standards in a self-reflecting, recursive world that operates solely within a box of statistics--and we accept those scores as the gospel truth.

The whole system is a little like being locked in an unrestored Volkswagen van from the '60s, never opening the rusty doors, never looking out the mold-encrusted windows, and imagining that only what happens within that van is the entire universe.  Limited and narrow?  I'll say!  Backward and stubborn?  You bet!   No wonder kids are dropping out in droves, involved parents have decided to do school themselves, and teachers are wondering what happened to their dreams of making a difference . . . .

So, imagine my surprise and delight at finding comments on Michelle's website that did more than congratulate her for being brave and standing up to the big, bad establishment.  One writer, in particular, made me laugh out loud, and this is no laughing matter.  Calling himself Rhee + Gates = Fail, he (or she) said "What do I think about education reform?  I personally am still waiting for it to start.  Until NCLB is repealed or significantly altered to do away with high-stakes standardized testing . . . there will be no true reform."  Hear, hear!!

But the LOL part followed:  "Michelle is out there working for herself.  She is basically the Sarah Palin of education--came out of nowhere, did nothing and is now famous for being famous.  Like Palin, she is trying to cash in on this fame while it lasts by starting a private corporation run on donations from suckers who buy her message."

Well, there's nothing more to add to that!  Thanks, Fail.  Good Night, Gracie, wherever you are . . .


  1. "There is something just evil about parents having to sit on benches in the hallways of popular charter schools, crying and begging for their children to be "let in."

    Yes, but what's not just ugly but downright evil are the people who want to keep all of those kids from having the option to choose a different school.

  2. Oh, my bad . . . I now see that you are indeed labeling as "evil" the charter opponents who limit the number of charter seats.

  3. It's even deeper than that. We could be restructuring whole districts and investing in education for all kids, instead of fooling around with one school at a time. Charter schools are serving the important purpose of demonstrating the effectiveness of personalized schooling, and now that model needs to be extrapolated into larger change, faster change, deeper change for all kids, and their parents and teachers, too!

  4. The term "trickle-down education" really points to how we will not get anywhere if we, as public educators, continue to wait for some magic policy to change our educational system. I continue to read about Gates, Rhee, and Ravitch and how we can improve student achievement; one thing for sure, it won't come from trickle-down education, but rather from change agents and edupreneurs within the classrooms of our schools. We have the tools in place to make change. We have a set of rigorous standards, The Common Core State Standards, that will better prepare our students for the 21st century workplace. We know we must develop sound common formative assessments to measure proficiency of skills. It is 2011, and we are beyond the information age. It is time to provide students with relevant and engaging multi-modal content and teach students to understand, analyze, apply, critique, question, and create. Finally, we have years of research from Marzano and Hattie regarding what instructional strategies are proven to work. I have been in education for 21 years and finally realized that we need to do things differently. I am a change agent. I am a edupreneur. I am helping my students become the leaders of tomorrow.

  5. Nice website, Alan, and thanks for posting. I especially like your comment, "It is time to provide students with relevant and engaging multi-modal content and teach students to understand, analyze, apply, critique, question, and create." I couldn't agree with you more, and I'm delighted to see that you are hard at work engaging teachers in designing classwork to accomplish those goals. Take a look at my most recent post "The Future Starts . . ." about the potential for portfolios to capture the depth and quality of what you are proposing. I hope you and your colleagues will join us on Facebook (see link at right).