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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yet Another Reason I Love Michelle Rhee

"I believe we can solve the problems of urban in education in our lifetimes and actualize education's power to reverse generational poverty. But I am learning that it is a radical concept to even suggest this.

Warren Buffett [the billionaire investor] framed the problem for me once in a way that clarified how basic our most stubborn obstacles are. He said it would be easy to solve today's problems in urban education. 'Make private schools illegal,' he said, 'and assign every child to a public school by random lottery.'"

How about that? Elitism as the most stubborn obstacle to school reform. Not teachers' unions, dysfunctional families, lazy students or black prejudice against a Korean-American chancellor, but reluctance by the city's haves to share classrooms with the have-nots.
Courtland Milloy, quoting and commentating on Chancellor of DC
Public School Michelle Rhee's words in a February 8th issue of

Spotlight on Poverty and Education, in yesterday's Washington Post

Now I don't exactly support the actual implementation of this plan, for reasons other than the one listed (namely religious freedom), but oh, my lands do I adore Michelle Rhee. Because she calls it like she sees it. Or, to be more accurate, like Warren Buffett sees it. So what do y'all think about this radical idea? For or against? Scared or intrigued? Ethical or trampling on the rights of others?

Discuss amongst yourselves.


Aus said...

To some extent it's been tried - it was called 'bussing' - and happened in the late 60's into the 70's....we bussed kids from both sides of the districts all over - and we discovered that what it did was 1) waste time - some kids were on a bus for a couple hours at a time, and 2) waste fuel! It was a noble experiment however. Now - in a district the size of NYC or DC you might get some different results - but that only accounts for a small subset of the school districts in the US....How may high schools are in your public school system district? In our area we have several different school districts - and with the exception of the City of Cincinnati school district - none of them have more than one high school or one middle school. The city district has like 5 high schools - maybe 6 (I haven't looked it up) but for the most part all our kids go to the same high school.

My older kids are products of the public school system and I have one PhD candidate, one teaching in the public high school system in Jefferson Co. KY with her Masters, and one undergrad at UC who has pitch and had the Dean accept a new degree program for a PhD in neuroscience (it would take a while to explain the details!). All of them are self motivated - and while I think they are pretty sharp - none of them are in the genius IQ range!

It's not the school districts or the have / have not issues - it's how bad do the students 'want it' - self motivation makes the difference!

But - I do have to agree that folks like Rhee are a breath of fresh air today!

hugs - aus and co.

Anonymous said...

But what happens once the students are inside of the school?

I went to public schools my whole life, in a fairly small area where everyone went to the same school. But, in high school especially (although this started somewhat as early as third grade), the "smarter," more "advanced" students were in different classes. So, though the school was reasonably diverse, both ethnically and in terms of income, the students I was in classes with were, with two exceptions, white. And, for the most part, they were more of the well-off students in our area.

Does the above assume that just by virtue of having access to the same teachers the "have" students do that they will receive the same quality of eduction?

Of course, we all hear that "education begins at home," and that students whose parents are involved in their education and value learning and reading in the home do better in school.

In light of this, does having students spread equally in schools solve the problem? I think it's more complex than that. Would it help? Probably.

epin said...

I like Michelle Rhee too, but unfortunately the DC mayoral primary results will mean the end of her tenure soon.

autumnesf said...

In a perfect world.

But public school = government interference. Please tell me what the government does well -- beyond taxing us.

Also the time involved in shipping kids all over. It makes no sense to ship kids from one side of town to the other when there is a perfectly good school right down the street. And if you are poor and have no car and your child gets sick and needs to be picked up, or has a doctor appointment in the middle of the day...etc. Now you have parents with no way to reach their children. Same when you have a blizzard coming in or snow that just wont quit...now you have all these kids traveling miles and miles in buses on dangerous roads. Not to mention the kids that would have to be up at 5 a.m. to catch the bus on time that has to travel 45 minutes (on the freeway, be still my heart) just to reach the school. These are actually all situations that I have seen when a child is accepted into a charter school that is not a neighborhood school. And transportation costs are one of the biggest (if not the biggest) expenses of a school district. The district we were a part of in NE paid over 2 million a year for buses and they only bused a couple of kids and not in a wide area -- most of the kids had to walk. I cant imagine paying for busing from all over town.

And we will never get very far with the unsupervised kids in single family homes where mom works more than one job to keep a roof over their heads cause dad pays no support. That percentage just keeps growing every year. The best teachers in the world will not help that child unless they have the desire to be helped.

I envy those that can afford private schools. And even though I can't afford that luxury, I sure wouldn't want to take it away from those that can. They should not be punished because we aren't in that income bracket.

Patricia/NYC said...

NYC is a totally different animal...too many kids, not enough space...not enough space within existing schools, not enough space to build new schools...we already have waitlists up the wazoo for public AND private schools. Some children here in my neighborhood alone could not get into a school for Kindergarten...they are still trying to place them. The space issue would have to be addressed first, at least here.

Wendy said...

I've taught in one of the lowest performing, urban school districts in our state located in the projects and I've taught in some of the most affluent schools as well. I love Michelle, too. She's got some awesome thoughts and ideas. But, I don't know if a glorified version of bussing (I agree with Aus here) is the answer. On the other hand, having taught in the inner city, I don't agree that "It's not the school districts or the have / have not issues - it's how bad do the students 'want it' - self motivation makes the difference!" I've taught in classrooms where kids couldn't stay awake because they were up all night listening to gunfire outside their bedroom windows, where police had been called in the middle of the night because mommy pulled a knife on daddy, where kids have 5 different siblings from 5 different daddies all being taken care of by a mom who is barely out of childhood herself. Many of these children are being raised by parents who certainly want the best for their kids but who fear the educational establishent because it failed them. As a result, they don't get involved and that translates into a viscious cycle of intimidation and apathy. Yes, there are a handful of kids who can rise above all this through "self-motivation," but when your reality is scrimping for the basic neccessities of life like food, shelter, clothing, and adequate sleep, it's pretty hard to focus on academics. Some of the best ideas that I've studied for combating the educational achievement gap are James Comer's from Yale. He advocates for building strong relationships among all the stakeholders within the school community and meeting the needs of the whole child through multiple intelligence theory and other methods. His ideas are built on the theory that by building strong relationships between schools and disenfranchised parents, kids can become more successful. Getting the most active parents involved first in creating a school development plan and then having them advocate to other less involved parents eventually creates a scaffolding effect whereby the entire school community is reached, which, in turn translates to more student success. I won't get into all the details here, but his book "No Child Left Behind" is a great read.

Wendy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tricia said...

Wendy said this well, "when your reality is scrimping for the basic necessities of life like food, shelter, clothing, and adequate sleep, it's pretty hard to focus on academics." I was that kid. Unless there is a way to address the social issues and create a utopian society, there will always be a problem with a government run school system. Until that time, the only answer it to take all of the responsibility for educating our children away from the government and put it back in the hands of the parents, whether that be by homeschooling or finding the teacher/school that is best for your child and putting them there.

Sandra & Steve said...

The reason the idea is scary at least in large part aside from eliminating free choice is that we all know about the inequities - that many schools are better funded than others - we would actually have to "play fair" with funding for all to insure our child was well taken care of in a school system. Frankly if all public schools were funded equally - had same resources and quality of facilities - that would go a long way. But you know how things go, a pothole on the wealthy side of town is more likely to be filled before the washed away road on the poor side of town.

Mom2Four said...

I don't think the problem is one of Elitism; the teachers' unions and adminitstrators are opposed to nearly anything that can truly help the kids. Just look at how many teachers unions have not bought into the "Race to the Top" proposals. Also consider charter schools. Most are actually really helping kids - and not just those with the most money (check out the KIPP schools). However, most school boards refuse to approve any more charter schools and find bogus reasons to shut down others. In our area we also have public schools of choice. Every one of them has a waiting list a mile long, but the school board won't open any others. Also, we just went through a major redistricting due to budget cuts. MANY parents (in even the poorest neighborhoods) wanted their kids closer to home rather than bussed to a better/farther school.
Our state also has a policy where kids that attend schools that fail two years in a row can choose to attend any other public school (with transportation provided) or have school funded tutoring - yet only about 25% of the kids actually take advantage of it.

There are lots of ways that school could be improved, but "the establishment" won't allow it. Just read some of John Taylor Gatto's books and you'll understand

Jennifer said...

IMHO, Elitism is not really the problem.

I taught in a rural school for 2 years where access to magnet programs, private schools, and charter schools were non-existent. That meant that the haves and the have nots had to go to school together. And let me tell you, there was so very old money in that community, so the haves had a lot. And the have nots... they were "other side of the tracks" kind of have nots.

And you know what happened... the students with involved parents who wanted an education for them did well. And the parents who were not involved had students (with rare exception) who performed poorly.

It would take a whole lot of dynamite to move my opinion that they key to a child's success in school is what happens at home. A great teacher can do a lot, but they can't possibly do it for every student.

Lisa said...

Did you know that one of the single biggest predictors of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is how often a child is read to?

Its not elite schools,wealth redistribution, bussing, Charter schools, flashcards, piano lessons, sports or even Head Start (though studies show those children do make significant gains).....its sitting down with Mom, Dad, an older sibling, a neighbor, Grandma, librarian or teacher and sharing a good book. Every single day. Multiple times a day.

Simplistic? Yes. A cure-all? Probably not. I'm not so naive to believe it will correct the waste and inequalities found in the school system at large.

Yet it remains one of the most significant precursors to academic success.

Patty O. said...

I see some validity to this. If some suburban kids were forced to attend the inner-city school at which I taught, you can bet we would have gotten some computers for our lab and actual textbooks.

That said, I hesitate to take away other people's rights, especially religious rights.

Also, I think the problem goes a little deeper. First off, if the government would actually quit wasting money on politicians' raises and give the money to schools and teachers, that might help a bit.

Rachel@just another day in paradise said...

wrong person to ask. . .small town, rural area=few choices for school (public or private) therefore, schools are only as good as the teachers/administrators and parents. . .my child does not attend the school district we live in, however. . .

Wendy said...

I am a reading teacher. Lisa is absolutely right about the influence of reading to a child on his/her success in school. After all, the ability to read is the cornerstone upon which all academic subjects are based. When kids hear adults read to them and see adults reading for pleasure themselves, they gain valuable language skills that translate into academic success. However, many kids I've taught don't have books in their homes, have parents who are illiterate or too stressed out from trying to make ends meet to take the time to read to their children. When I taught kindergarten in the inner city, most of my students didn't even know how to hold a book; they'd never seen one in their lives. So, part of helping close the achievement gap has to be about educating parents and making resources accessible to them so they can, in turn, be partners in their children's education.

A Beautiful Mess said...

As teachers we need empower our poor and disadvantaged children. We need to teach them the moment they enter our schools that they are in charge of their learning! I believe that a kindergarten student can learn to bring a pen and reading log to be signed. Even if that child interacts with the text on their own...with no help from grown ups. Would it be better if the adults in their worlds outside of school were invested in their learning...yep. But as a teacher I can't fix that....what I can do (and it damn near kills me every day/year) is empower my students to want more and recognize that have lots of power.

ps Michelle Rhee rocks!

Sharie said...

I went to K-8 in a very small private school - the haves and the have-nots were all mixed together because the church made sure every family could afford the education. When I got to High School there were many more of the "HAVES" I didn't even know we were poor until I got to High School. In grade school everyone worked in the lunch room for free lunch (then you got the leftovers), in high school those going for free lunch were obvious.
It was strange to me that the same kids I had gone to school with for 9 years were suddenly not my friends.

I don't know if it was age that made the difference, awareness of our economic situation, or if the kids we melded with from other schools helped to create the different dynamic. I just know being the "poor kid" stinks.

That said, our district drew new lines a few years ago and did a better job of melding the neighborhoods into the schools. We now only have 2 grade schools that are wealthy - the rest are a nice mix of all income levels. I think for younger students it's wonderful as teachers aren't stretched by having all lower income students, and the students all learn from one another!

윤선 said...

I haven't read everyone else's comments, but I think this "solution" is a bit too general. Having gone to a private school and taught in public schools, I believe (for Australia at least) that yes they are different, but people send their kids to private or public for their own reasons. I don't really see how getting rid of one would help solve any problems, really. Sure, it would mean that all kids are in the same system, but would it mean that education is suiting all parents? I doubt it. Don't parents have just as much right to be happy with their kids' education? What if they just don't agree with the way the public system's run, so choose private? Shouldn't they have that choice? I know that if I had kids, I'd want the choice to stay, not be isolated to the one way.

But like I said, I don't think problems in education lie solely in private VS public systems... I kinda think there's a lot more to it...

blackbelt said...

I'm withya. I <3 Michelle Rhee.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments! I don't think the answer is to get rid of private schools--I'm too American and independent for that. However, I do think we could learn something from France, which is the other school system I'm familiar with. They have a standardized curriculum, and although there are differences in schools, there is a lot more similarity across the board. Kids transfering across the country move into classes that have covered the same things at the same time. I think America could benefit from being a little more homogeneous. The whole subject of education is very convoluted though, and one component (i.e. schools) can't be entirely separated out from a child's home situation, upbringing, personal motivation, inate intelligence, etc.

elizabeth said...

Wendy, I just have to say that your comments are by far the best I've read on a blog in a long, long time! I could not agree more!