Tag Archives: Michelle Rhee

“I’m Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) and Now, the Fake News.”

by Larry Sand of California Teachers Empowerment Network

Teachers union makes news with meaningless words and a misleading poll.

Norm MacDonald is famous for opening the comedic news segment on Saturday Night Live by introducing himself and telling the audience that it’s time for the “fake news.” I thought of this when, at the recent American Federation of Teachers convention, President Randi Weingarten essentially said that bad teachers should find new jobs. Her words were dutifully reported by a compliant press, but it didn’t take much to see that the comment was devoid of any conviction whatsoever.

Responding to Weingarten’s comment that “…if someone can’t teach after they’ve been prepared and supported, they shouldn’t be in our profession,” EAG’s Ben Velderman pointed out,

Notice the huge caveat in Weingarten’s comment: “after they’ve been prepared and supported.”

Weingarten is actually saying that incompetent and ineffective teachers should have lots of time and assistance to improve their classroom performance.

In fact, “lots of time” would be an eternity or so, with the teacher in question going through a battery of master teachers, on-site administrators, coaches, peer assistance review teams, and then various administrative panels, lawyers, endless appeals, all with a tree-killer paper trail. Hence, there is nothing but empty rhetoric here.

Mike Antonucci gives Weingarten’s comment an historical perspective, enumerating high- sounding teacher union leader’s past proclamations which did nothing to change the moribund status quo. He links Weingarten’s merit pay speech in 2008 in which she says she is “willing to discuss new approaches to issues like teacher tenure and merit pay.” Yet when the rubber hit the road in 2010, Weingarten fought DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee tooth and nail on these very issues. It was as if the union boss had forgotten that she made any noise about tenure and merit pay.

Antonucci goes back to 1997 when National Education Association president Bob Chase made a feel-good speech in which he acknowledged the existence of the “vast majority of Americans who support public education, but are clearly dissatisfied. They want higher quality public schools, and they want them now.”

Since his speech a full generation of children has passed through the entire pre-K to 12 public school system. What changes we have seen during that time have come with the teachers’ unions trailing behind, yelling “stop!” I have seen the future, and it is more of the same.

Just as fraudulent as Weingarten’s tough talk on bad teachers is a new AFT “poll,” the results of which were reported on solemnly by union cheerleaders like The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss. This push poll’s intentionally skewed results were used by Weingarten and the true believers in the press to hammer home the idea that parents are against education reform.

But the Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick wasn’t buying it, and wrote that the “Teachers Union Poll Is Not Credible.” One example of how the AFT phrased their questions:

With which approach for improving education do you agree more?

APPROACH A) We should focus on ensuring that every child has access to a good public school in their community. We need to make the investments needed to ensure all schools provide safe conditions, an enriching curriculum, support for students’ social and emotional development, and effective teachers.

APPROACH B) We should open more public charter schools and provide more vouchers that allow parents to send their children to private schools at public expense. Children will receive the best education if we give families the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs.

It’s no surprise that 77 percent agreed with the first approach and only 20 percent agreed with the second. Either “invest” in “good” public schools in your “community” and receive all sort of wonderful goodies (“enriching curriculum!” “effective teachers!”) or forgo all that so that some parents can send their kids to private school “at public expense.” Aside from the fact that this is a false choice (competition can actually improve public school performance and school choice programs can save money), the wording is blatantly designed to push respondents toward Approach A.

Bedrick then writes about a 2012 Harvard poll that was worded fairly. Its findings:

  • 54% of parents favor giving all families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
  • 46% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
  • When not given a neutral option, 50% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 50% opposed.
  • When the question omits the words “a wider choice” and only asks about using “government funds to pay the tuition of low-income students who choose to attend private schools,” 44% of parents are in favor with 32% opposed.

Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk also had problems with the AFT poll, reminding us to take it “with a grain of salt and examine the questions’ phraseology carefully.” (I would suggest adding an ample amount of Maalox to the salt.)

Take, for instance, a bunch of paired statements asking parents to select the one they most agree with. Unsurprisingly, they tend to favor the idea that it’s better to “treat teachers like professionals” than to “regularly remove poorly performing teachers.”

…  A few results appear contradictory. Nearly half surveyed had a negative impression of using test scores in teacher evaluation, but 68 percent approved of paying teachers more if their students show gains in academic achievement.

In another refutation of the biased AFT poll, The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke writes that “Unions Can’t Ignore Support for Choice in Education.”

PDK/Gallup poll released last summer found that, when asked nearly the same question—whether they supported allowing students to choose private schools at public expense—44 percent of Americans said yes. Gallup has asked respondents the same question for the past decade and found that support for school choice has jumped 10 percentage points in just the last year alone.

Something that may be of interest to Ms. Weingarten is the result of a Rasmussen poll in which we learn that “only 26% of Likely U.S. Voters rate the performance of public schools in America today as good or excellent.  Thirty-four percent (34%) rate public education as poor.” Unlike the AFT poll, Rasmussen used straightforward language:

Overall, how would you rate the performance of public schools in America today?

No deception here, unlike the AFT pedaled “fake news.” But then again, when you have nothing legitimate to sell, snake oil will do the trick.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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StudentsFirst does NOT represent School Choice

by Gretchen Logue of Missouri Education Watchdog

“Entrepreneurial investment in education technology has skyrocketed from $100 million in 2007 to $429 million in 2011. It’s peculiar that the huge increase in companies investing in digital classrooms and testing materials to eventually align with the Common Core State Standards’ requirements began the same year Rhee became Chancellor of DC Schools and Obama began his reign as president”. 

Potter Williams Report: War on Education 2013 exposes the federal takeover of education and Michelle Rhee’s involvement in the “choice” movement which in reality is not choice for parents.   It’s not much of a choice to go from one school to another that has the same Common Core mandates and the same educational blueprint.

THERE IS NO SCHOOL CHOICE, and if organizations both conservative and liberal tell you there is, they’re lying. Only the left has the playing field while conservatives grind their teeth on the sidelines. Hedge fund managers who control charter schools versus union-backed majorities on school boards? Where’s the choice? If you want to understand how the war is going, read about the battle for Bridgeport, Connecticut. This is the kind of education reform taking place across the country; and it’s not helping teachers, students, parents or principals who have skin in the game.

Recently StudentsFirst sent out a letter stating Missouri received a “D” ranking according to StudentsFirst’s measurements.  It had its recommendations on how:

  • teachers should be evaluated
  • parents should be empowered
  • the legislature should fund education

Why is Michelle Rhee’s organization dictating how districts should evaluate their employees, what choices parents/school boards should be making for children in their districts and how state government should be directing funding to educational programs?  Does StudentsFirst’s attempts to correct Missouri’s educational deficiencies (as it ranks them) reduce federal control and spending?  Do these attempts really create choice or just more public/private partnerships under the ruse of competition?  Ask yourself, what does this private organization have to gain from the changes it wants to see in Missouri….and other states?  Is it really “for the kids”?

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My Evening With @DianeRavitch and a Couple Thousand of Her Closest Friends

This was posted on a grea blog called Right on the Left Coast: Views From a Conservative Teacher. We wanted to cross-post it and share with our readers. We’re not endorsing everything the author says. We just wanted to put it out there to share.

On Friday night, January 20th, my friend and fellow conservative blogger Mr. Chandler of Buckhorn Road zipped down to the Sacramento Convention Center to hear a talk by noted “education historian” Diane Ravitch. I didn’t realize it was sponsored by a bunch of teachers unions; I thought it was going to be an intellectual talk by someone who used to agree with me but now has switched sides. I thought I was going to get some really good information that would “challenge my assumptions” and make me think. Instead, what I got was, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor, a liberal red-meat bacchanalia. As Mr. Chandler described it, we were “pilgrims in an unholy land”.

We entered the Convention Center, where a couple thousand seats had been set up. Interestingly enough, they were mostly filled by the time the talk started. Imagine, a couple thousand teachers coming to hear a talk by someone who used to support the No Child Left Behind Act! As we entered we were given the following playbill (click to enlarge):

Holy crap! Linda Darling-Hammond, one of the crazies of the “educational equity” movement, was going to be a speaker! At this point we had our first realization of what we were in for.

The first speaker didn’t make it a minute into his speech without launching an attack onMichelle Rhee, about whom I’ve written glowingly several times on this blog (type Rheeinto the search box at the bottom of this page). When he spoke later he mentioned the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento’s only remaining newspaper and one that is widely recognized to be somewhat left-leaning. He attacked the Bee, saying, “Without the News and Review, where would we be?” The News and Review is an alt-weekly paper; just to give you a sense of what it’s like, the vast majority of the ads in the back of it are for massage parlors, so-called medical marijuana dispensaries (which the feds started going after a couple weeks ago), and 1-900-SEX phone numbers. It’s sort of a counter-culture paper. I read it every once in awhile, but let’s not pretend for a moment that it’s “mainstream” or “balanced”. Anyway, for whatever reason, the Bee isn’t liberal enough or radical enough for this Knudson fellow! And to make matters worse, his question generated significant applause! I just cannot understand that. The Bee isn’t supportive of public schools? Really? (Incidentally, here’s the SN&R’s interview with Ravitch. It’s actually the type of reasonable, sober discussion that I expected at Friday’s talk from someone with Ravitch’s gravitas.)

The second speaker was Tom Torlakson, the CTA’s hand-picked Superintendent of Public Instruction. The first thing you need to know about Torlakson is that he’s a dork. Imagine a dork trying to be a cheerleader for the crowd: “Teaching is awesome, right? You guys love kids, right? These are some great speakers, right?” It seemed like he was just trying to generate applause and, like all the other speakers, slobbered all over himself to praise Ravitch–someone he and the others wouldn’t have touched with a 10-foot pole just a couple years ago.

Torlakson attacked standardized testing several times, even throwing out the new pejorative “bubble testers” to describe people who support standardized testing. News flash: Torlakson runs the department responsible for our state standardized testing program! He and other speakers talked down NCLB, but our state testing regimen is far more rigorous than anything NCLB requires! Torlakson talks about the stress of teaching, but so much of that stress comes from his department! The crowd clapped and cheered–like sheep cheering the butcher.

Sac State University is a fairly liberal school, and the teacher education program there even more so, so when I saw that the Dean of the College of Education was a speaker, I expected lunacy. Instead, she delivered a lot of pablum but didn’t say anything completely stupid. I will admit, I was suprised that while introducing Linda Darling-Hammond, Sheared mentioned that Linda was an advisor on President Obama’s transition team, and that mention got only tepid response. From a bunch of teachers. Wow.

I went into full-on battle preparation mode for Darling-Hammond, and was rewarded for doing so when the first thing she talked about was “marching and rallying for education”. She also blasted NCLB, which Ravitch at one time supported, but never mentioned who wrote that law (hint: he used to be known as the Lion of the Senate), a theme to which I’ll return when discussing Ravitch’s talk. Like the other speakers, she attacked NCLB without pointing out that if it went away tomorrow, our state testing regime would remain virtually untouched because of our state testing mandates, most of which predate NCLB, and that the person responsible for enforcing those mandates was sitting on the stage with her. Darling-Hammond came across as a “true believer”, but tempered her words enough so as not to across as batcrap insane.

No, that was left to Ravitch.

“You have the only governor in the nation who gives a damn about education.” Really, Diane? See, I expected a sober discussion from her, and she goes straight for the red meat. She followed that comment up with a dig at Michelle Rhee–not a discussion, not a “here’s where I disagree” comment, but just a dig. She did the same thing with Governor Scott Walker, saying “Let’s all hope that he is soon recalled.” Ravitch, who admits in the SN&R link above that there definitely are problems in American public schools, didn’t “go there” in her talk; no, she said that the only crisis in American education is that it’s under attack! And it’s under attack by “right wingers”, a phrase she used over and over again, whose hidden purpose is to privatize public schools. One of her repeated phrases was about the “corporate reform movement”.

At one point I leaned over to Mr. Chandler and said, “She’s an angry old biddy, isn’t she?” We weren’t getting reason from her, we were getting vituperation.

I was very disappointed in the logical fallacies, and the boogeymen, that she kept bringing up. “We must improve them (schools), not lose them.” She seems absolutely convinced that there is a movement afoot to destroy public schools and to privatize them. If you believe that’s so, then her statements make sense. If you don’t, and she offered no evidence that it’s so, then she’s insane. She piled on: There are two goals of the “corporate reform movement”, privatization and deprofessionalism.

Does this sound sane, or like a conspiracy theory?

Her bad statistics and bad logic could have been picked out by my first-year statistics students. At one point, when talking about how charter schools in Milwaukee haven’t improved education, she said that African-American charter students in Milwaukee score no better than African-American students in Mississippi. Uh, to determine if the schools are an improvement over Milwaukee’s public schools, shouldn’t those kids be compared to African-American students in Milwaukee public schools? She makes several of these types of errors. In another attack on Michelle Rhee she mentioned something, I didn’t write down what, that good teachers do, and then said that “Michelle Rhee certainly didn’t do that in DC.” Great applause line, but Michelle Rhee never taught in DC, she was the chancellor (superintendent) of the public schools there.

These types of logical errors detract from Ravitch’s credibility.

I had hoped to hear why she changed from being an NCLB supporter and school reformer to whatever it is she is today; I got that information from the SN&R article linked above, not from Ravitch’s talk. Every attack was against “right wing” something-or-others. Bottom line, she’s just another liberal hack. “Public schools are a public good.” But as I always say, “Universal public education is sacred, but public schools are not.” A convert is always the most zealous. She didn’t explain why she changed her mind, but she’s certainly a zealot now. She attacked US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a lot, but dared not mention his boss.

Near the end of her speech she was railing against some measures of school performance, and said, “I am not an economist, I am a historian. I don’t think these (measures) shouldever be used!” I leaned over to Mr. Chandler and said, “That’s why she’s not an economist.”

She confused “bonus pay” with “merit pay”, and concluded that merit pay doesn’t work. But Mike Miles in Colorado Springs shows that true merit pay does work, and the students in his district, not affluent by any measure, are better off because of it.

“Organize, agitate, demonstrate!” “Act up, silence equals complicity!” Do these sound like cries from a particular side of the political spectrum? Do they sound like the clarion call of a reasoned person, or of a zealot? To ask the questions is to answer them, and that’s how Ravitch closed her talk–to thunderous applause.

I didn’t expect a red meat feeding frenzy. From someone of Ravitch’s stature I expected much more intelligence, decency, and evidence. It’s not that I disagreed with her–I knew going in that that was the case–it’s just that I expected better. I was truly disappointed at the intellectual shallowness of her talk. This was the great Diane Ravitch? Really?

Sigh.

Update, 1/23/12: This EdWeek article discusses how a review of charter school studies shows many to be “flawed, problematic”.

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