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Rhee Gets Pushback at Alma Mater

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee didn't leave student protests over teacher layoffs and budget cuts completely behind her while she was at Cornell University Monday for a lecture.

According to The Cornell Daily Sun, a group called the Cornell Organization for Labor Action (COLA) distributed cards at the site of Rhee's talk, which was entitled "Reforming Public Education: How to Change the Conversation."

COLA members told the paper that they wanted to make sure students got both sides of the story.

"I think she might not have the best interest of the teachers and the actual value of education in D.C. at heart," said Stephanie Knight.

Senior Andrew Wolf said COLA wanted to encourage Rhee to work more with the teachers' unions instead of bashing them. Although when the paper asked COLA members how they decided their position, they said that they spent 20 minutes brainstorming in their last meeting.

Rhee, a 1992 graduate, whose talk was sponsored by the Iscol Family Program for Leadership Development in Public Service, touched on familiar themes, including the importance of teacher quality. She said, as she often has, that she would rather see highly motivated teachers in the classroom for two years than mediocre educators who put in twenty years.

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  October 6, 2009; 1:48 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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How about highly motivated teachers who put in 20 years? Long term doesn't automatically equal burn-out.

Posted by: chelita | October 6, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

or what about a two year teacher who is highly motivated but not nearly as good as he or she will be after 5 years?

Why does Rhee only offer a choice between a good newcomer and a bad vet? Perhaps because Rhee's main interest is in the teacher recruiting firm she used to operate.

Thanks, Bill for reporting the push back in Ithaca. In the Ithaca Journal, she came off sounding like a hero.

Posted by: efavorite | October 6, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

There are probably like 4 people in COLA and this about says it all...

"20 minutes brainstorming"

Good job kids. Got your name in the paper with Michelle Rhee. Put that on your resume. That is all you wanted anyway

Posted by: makplan20002 | October 6, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

And Chelita, of course she would like a highly motivated teacher for 20 years. That goes without saying. Why would you even bother entertaining the questions "highly motivated for 20 years or mediocre for 20 years?" and "highly motivated for 20 years or higly motivated for 2 years?". Those answers are obvious and dont need to be stated. Stop trying to twist Rhee's words.

Posted by: makplan20002 | October 6, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

The Cornell Sun article also said this:

"According to Rhee, he [Mayor Fenty] also refused to cut the budget of DCPS, asking that other departments shoulder more of the burden so that the children did not have to pay for the mistakes of adults."

But no mention of the 900 new hires and the RIF in October.

Posted by: efavorite | October 6, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps she has played her last trump card and the gig is up! She's still using the same tired rhetoric because that's all she has. Even if COLA is a small organization, one or four people said not so fast, it might not be so. It won't take long for that to spread. I hope it catches on and spreads like poison ivy. The 20 minutes they brainstormed has made more sense than the actual plan Rhee has to destroy.

Posted by: candycane1 | October 6, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Any study in teacher education shows that it takes about 5 years to become really effective as an educator. I've been teaching for 7. When I look back, I was pathetic my first 2 years. Sure, I was enthusiastic and motivated but the quality of my instruction left a lot to be desired. I see the same thing in the young, idealistic Teach for America and DC Teaching Fellows that Michelle Rhee is stacking the system with. They are pathetic as instructors--most of them. The sad reality is that most of them will not stay in DCPS. After 7 years, I'm still motivated, still enthusiastic but now am delivering real quality instruction. In addition, the relationships I've built with students and teachers over the 7 years have been fantastic. There's something to be said for career teachers. I'd much rather have my child in a class with a 20 year veteran teacher who knows instruction than an idealistic, enthusiastic young Teach for America or DC Teaching Fellow teacher any day. Over the years I've been able to differentiate my instruction based on how my students learn. That only comes with experience. Teaching cannot be learned in a classroom. It's something you have to do and constantly reflect on your instructional delivery and improve on it. You also have to watch veteran teachers and talk to them and solicit their advice. They are the experts. With only 3 years of teaching experience, Michelle Rhee is hardly an expert. She's only made a mess of things.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | October 6, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

UrbanDweller: nicely stated! You are so right and on point with your observations and experiences within DCPS.

Posted by: shank2sb | October 6, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Another pro union group complains about Rhee. That's a good enough endorsement for me. Go Michelle! Don't let the you know whats get you down.

Posted by: jy151310 | October 6, 2009 8:11 PM | Report abuse

Rhee continues to parade around the country sharing anecdotes and stories about DCPS that are inaccurate and misleading. She relies on the fact that people have no idea what is really happening here and fills their ears with a lot of teacher and union bashing.

She sounds bold and innovative to outsiders yet her rhetoric is falling flat in DC more and more these days. No longer can she count on the TFAs and the Teaching fellows to blindly follow her cheering along the way. For the most part they now see the light!

The truth always comes out eventually and more people are getting it. All Rhee can do now is continue to cast anyone that opposes her ideas into the pro-union/pro-bad teacher group in attempts to discredit them.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | October 6, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm waiting for the TFA's and teaching fellows to use their youthful energy, high motivation and deep concern about urban education to stand up as a group and say how disgusted they are by what they've seen at their schools during this RIF.

Posted by: efavorite | October 7, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget the rally on October 8th at 4:30, Freedom plaza. If your child has lost a teacher and opportunity, then SHOW UP! If you are tired of your tax dollars being wasted on those who are here to destroy, then SHOW UP! If you are tired of a city gevernment that is waging war on the workforce, then SHOW UP! KEEP SHOWING UP UNTIL THEY ARE GONE!!!! I will see you there!!!

Posted by: candycane1 | October 7, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Why is she always speaking somewhere instead of working? Between speaking engagements and the trips to see Kevin Johnson, when is she here? Does she ever have to use leave? Abuse of leave is also grounds for dismissal. Bill, please look into that. Leave slips can be attained through a FOIA!

Posted by: southyrndiva | October 7, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

southryndiva: You are right but I'm thinking about that article in last week's Post magazine. The part about her not being a touchy feely kind of person. When does she see her own children? I might even be wrong in saying that, but this is a woman who is always away somewhere, claims she works long hours and look what she's doing to our children? Just something to say hmmmm.

Posted by: candycane1 | October 7, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee has taken the reins of a school district that has failed its children. The scores are among the lowest in the nation...if you keep the teachers who are not reaching will continue to have a failing school system. This is not about tenure...this should be about results and what is best for children. A teacher who is not producing results impacts hundreds and hundreds of lives...move on...hire teachers who are capable of working in an urban environment. I predict that Michelle will prevail and succeed.

Posted by: atticus1 | October 7, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

UrbanDweller: You wrote, "Any study in teacher education shows that it takes about 5 years to become really effective as an educator"

Quick question - could you provide some of the names of those studies? I'm asking because the studies I've seen have found that while the differences between a first and second year teacher are significant, there's not much of a difference between a second and third year teacher in terms of student achievement. And after the third year, student performance is statistically identical at all levels of teacher experience. So if you have seen studies that say otherwise, I'd love to take a look. Thanks!

Posted by: proxy_knock | October 7, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

"And after the third year, student performance is statistically identical at all levels of teacher experience"

Interesting, Proxy knocks. If this is so, it means that young teachers are not superior to veterans (as Rhee suggests) and that excellent teachers alone (as Rhee believes) are not the answer to high student achievement.

Posted by: efavorite | October 7, 2009 8:32 PM | Report abuse

efavorite - Yes, it's safe to say that young teachers are NOT superior to veteran teachers on average. At least according to the studies I've seen. And in fact, that gap between first year teachers and the rest of the teaching force is pretty significant.

However, I don't quite agree with your other conclusion, that excellent teachers alone are the not the answer. In fact, I've seen studies that say something very different, that teacher quality is more important than student race, class, previous academic record, etc.

Posted by: proxy_knock | October 7, 2009 9:51 PM | Report abuse

Proxy knock - please reference those studies - I'd like to see them.

Meanwhile, I do think we're talking about apples and oranges - my "excellent teachers alone are not the answer to high student achievement" is not quite the same as your "teacher quality is more important than student race, class, previous academic record."

Posted by: efavorite | October 7, 2009 10:00 PM | Report abuse

efavorite - You're right, my statement about teacher quality vis-a-vis various other factors is a bit of a non sequitor given your statement. My bad. I was just trying to make the point that teacher quality is hugely, hugely important.

As for the studies, I'll try to do a search this weekend for them. I'm now curious to re-read them myself!

Posted by: proxy_knock | October 7, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

Before writing off the members of COLA as kids who just want to get their names in the paper, I would recommend reading up a bit on Cornell's School of Industrial Labor Relations. (

The majority of the students in COLA (whose membership, for the record, exceeds 4 students) are ILR students whose pro-labor beliefs have been drawn from their 4 years of college education, and aren't COLA members simply because they are looking for a cause to support or a club to join. The ILR school turns out both pro-labor and pro-management activists, and while you may disagree with the members of COLA, it would be incorrect to label them all as a bunch of pedantic uninformed youths looking to get their names in the paper.

Disagree all you like with COLA's position, but please don't make sweeping assumptions.

Posted by: mh2222 | October 7, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

proxy-knock - thanks - I'll come back here to look for your references.

I agree that teacher quality is very important and doubt many would try to make an argument against that. My concern is that Rhee seems to have determined that high quality teachers are young people right out of elite schools without specific teacher training (like she was back in the 90's). Before coming to DC she ran a teacher recruitment firm (the New Teacher Project) specializing in those kinds of teachers and my understanding is that the 900 teacher recruited this summer fit that category.

Posted by: efavorite | October 8, 2009 7:56 AM | Report abuse

Would Rhee hire me or fire me? Like Rhee, I have an undergraduate degree from Cornell in a liberal arts field. I received my education degree from a program akin to Teach for America (U.Md. Masters Certification). I have now taught in Montgomery County Public Schools for over 20 years, and I would not trade my hard-won pragmatism for the idealism of my early years. While I agree that teacher quality is vital, I believe that teachers are being blamed for many variables beyond their control. Rhee's style exemplifies the top-down management that has created most of the current problems in education; her recent firings are nothing short of a witch hunt. It saddens me that the profession has become so punitive.

Posted by: veteranteacher | October 8, 2009 9:44 PM | Report abuse

efavorite - My apologies, but I could only find one of the studies that I had in mind. The study is:

Study Name: "Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement"
Authors: Steven Rivkin, Eric Hanushek, John Kain
Publication: Econometrica
Date: March 2005

Posted by: proxy_knock | October 13, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

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