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Education Opinion

Let’s Rhee-view...

By Sara Mead — February 10, 2011 1 min read

Ok, so I admit to being somewhat perplexed yesterday about what all these breathless blog posts about Michelle Rhee were about, and I have to admit I still don’t quite get it. So I’m quite grateful to Rick Hess for providing a clear explanation for what the heck people were going on about as well as a why it’s a load of dookey. Helpful. Alexander Russo has been helping keep this ball spinning, but he does make a point worth considering:

And yet, puffed-up preliminary results and ridgid adherence to a starting idea have become some sort of entry requirement to get funding and attention. It's as if reformers feel they have to be heroic and perfect and -- at least publicly -- avoid setbacks, failures, lessons, reflections, and changes of course. But that just doesn't work, at least not for very long. Michelle Rhee shouldn't have -- and shouldn't have had to -- claim to have raised student test scores astronomically in order to be considered for DC schools chancellor. Tim King shouldn't have -- and shouldn't have to -- claim 100 percent graduation rates to promote Urban Prep's all-boys education. Geoff Canada shouldn't have - and shouldn't have to -- claim to have helped tens of thousands of Harlem residents when only a few hundred have gotten the full range of HCZ services. President Obama shouldn't have -- and shouldn't have to -- claim that Race To The Top is the most transformative education law to push for better teacher evaluations.

But it’s important to remember that reformers aren’t the ones who created this dynamic. Education is an incredibly status quo-biased field and it seems like any time any one wants to do things differently, there’s incredible pressure on that person or organization to demonstrate that the new/different approach is--if not perfect--then at least radically better in every possible respect than the status quo. We see this in the debates over charter schools, over teacher performance, in the “every dollar spent saves $10" claims of pre-k advocates. It all reminds me a bit of talking to older women who were among the first generation to enter certain professional fields about how when they started they had to do everything three times as well as their male colleagues and look pretty doing it, too. I agree it would be better for everyone if this weren’t the dynamic in play, but it is what it is and only time and the normalizing of the new approaches will change that.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook 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.