Education Opinion

Arne vs. Michelle

By Jessica Shyu — December 22, 2008 2 min read
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I’m just going to put it out there if it wasn’t apparent already-- I’m a Rhee fan. I believe in focusing our time, resources and brains on teacher competency as our primary way of closing the dire achievement gap, and I believe in plucking the many incompetent teachers from schools and sweeping them far, far away from teaching our children. Anyone’s who’s worked in an under-performing school knows at least a handful of these teachers. I gladly forgo my own seniority and tenure as a teacher to know that those teachers-- the ones who ultimately make my and my children’s work harder-- will be asked to leave by the end of the year at the latest.

And while I watch Rhee’s disregard for “finesse” with shock and horror at times (C’mon, at least try to be a little more diplomatic. More diplomacy and tighter public appearances ARE in the best interest of kids. Really!), I am proud of her principles and the changes she’s brought about in the district, as uncomfortable as they often are.

So with all that in mind, I read US News and World Report’s Op-Ed piece on how Arne Duncan, the incoming education secretary, is going to have to grapple with Michelle Rhee and all the uncomfortable parts that she stands for.

“Rhee wants to take school reform where no other school chief, including Duncan in Chicago, has dared go: sweeping incompetent teachers from their jobs. That’s a confrontation with the teachers’ unions that Duncan, who aspires to get along with everyone, would undoubtedly prefer to duck.”

“What Duncan and other school chiefs prefer to neglect, however, can’t be sidestepped in Washington. While Rhee may ping in the lower registers of the emotional intelligence range (what was she thinking in agreeing to pose on a Time cover looking like the wicked witch of the East?), she’s not an outlier. Rhee is the pointy tip of a revolution determined to take on what Duncan and other school chiefs ignore: basic teacher competency. For decades, too many teachers have arisen from the hindquarter of the SAT scale. In college, they were steered into flaccid undergraduate programs befitting their campus “cash cow” status (would-be teachers pay the same tuition as, say, physics students, but they don’t need expensive labs). Once on the job, their promotions are based on often-pointless graduate degrees. This is the one education reform rock that’s never truly been turned over.”

Yowzers. Minus two points to Ms. Rhee for her cringe-worthy, very un-diplomatic one-liners and public appearances that pinch people in a really not-good way. But plus 10 points for taking uncomfortable, but critical issues head on and going where no one has yet successful gone before.

The opinions expressed in New Terrain are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.