Rhee Puts Ideology First, Students Last

I’m not a big fan of self-appointed education “reform” guru Michelle Rhee. Her three-year stint as chancellor of the Washington D.C. schools was marked by controversy, as she adopted a bullying, I-know-best attitude that alienated teachers, principals, parents, and much of the community. Since she left in October 2010, charges have emerged — documented in USA Today — that any gains in achievement were tainted by the possibility of cheating.


Since leaving, she’s formed an organization called Students First that claims to care about kids so much more than those lousy, lazy, progress-blocking teachers who won’t knuckle under to her ideas. While she says she’s nonpartisan, she’s mostly been embraced by right-wing Republicans such as Governor John Kasich, who don’t seem to mind associating with an ethically tainted, dishonest individual — as long as she furthers the inroads of their ideology on education.

Last week, Rhee exposed just how absolutely she is driven by a rigid ideology and not by practical real-world reforms that have been proven to get results i.e. educating kids. Students First released education “grades” for each state.


Most states did very poorly with none getting an A.

Sounds alarming, eh?

Don’t worry. It’s not. Rhee’s group wasn’t grading the states on how well their schools educated kids. It wasn’t looking at things like dropout rates, or how many kids go on to college, or even standardized test scores.

It was looking at whether the states had adopted a set of right-wing education policies — many of them unproven or even proven to be ineffective or downright bad. They included the proliferation of charter schools and vouchers, allowing minimally trained amateurs from groups like Teach for America to replace trained and/or experienced teachers, merit pay for teachers (a proven failure and who is going to increase funding for teacher pay to cover it?), and the controversial “parent trigger,” which in real life has often turned out to be a trojan horse for greedy charter school interests.

Her top ranked states were Louisiana, known for the terrible quality of its schools, and Florida, not much better, both ranked B minus, the highest grade (Not enough states enacted these regressive, punitive policies to suit Ms. Rhee.) Louisiana enacted an expansive voucher program, which earned it an approving pat from Rhee. Never mind that vouchers were being used at “Christian” teaching that Earth is less than 10,000 years old. You’ve got some real quality education there!

States known for having large numbers of excellent school systems, like Connecticut, didn’t rate very well with Rhee. Ohio got a C minus, kind of surprising considering that Rhee BFF Kasich seems prepared to hand over the store to his for-profit charter school buddies.

You can see her whole phony “report card” here if you have the stomach.


It leaves little doubt that Rhee isn’t an education reformer but a right-wing ideologue, primarily concerned with shaming states that don’t adopt her preferred policies. And like Republican teabaggers in Congress who cling to “small government, lower taxes” as an article of faith without critically examining the real-world impact of these policies, Rhee isn’t attempting to improve education so much as to impose an inflexible world view of what education should be.

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