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Posted at 7:09 PM ET, 01/31/2011

'Michelle Lite' isn't the answer

By Lynn Bergfalk, Washington

Is there really anyone (parents, teachers, unions, D.C. residents) opposed to school reform? Critics of former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee are not opposed to reform, and their concerns go far beyond methods or style.

Richard Whitmire [“Rhee’s necessary toughness,” op-ed, Jan. 22] fundamentally misread both facts and context in suggesting that people think Ms. Rhee “had the right idea but the wrong approach.” This mistaken premise led him to characterize her critics as wanting “Michelle Lite,” the same stuff in a different bottle (gentler politics, more communication, better marketing).

Wrong. Her problem was neither doing the right thing in the wrong way nor enacting unpopular things “with necessary toughness.” Of course reform is the “right idea,” but it cannot be separated from strategy and educational philosophy, with results rigorously and objectively assessed.

Talk of “data-driven” reform is meaningless if data analysis is driven by public relations, or if grass-roots creativity and freedom are suppressed by autocratic leadership.

Ms. Rhee’s “reform” deserves a full and fair critique to separate reality from rhetoric, to identify what positive results were achieved, and to acknowledge and correct systemic flaws and failures in her approach. Nothing less will do if we are committed to providing children in the District of Columbia with the education they need and deserve.

By Lynn Bergfalk, Washington  | January 31, 2011; 7:09 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic, education, schools  
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Comments

DC deserves education audits on the entire system, and on at least a random sample of schools, but preferably on a 100% sample. Just as has been done by the Joint Accreditation Board for Hospitals for over fify years.
The only audits we have been made public are the ones of the buildings. www.ofsted.gov.uk

Posted by: incredulous | January 31, 2011 8:06 PM | Report abuse

If the history of education reform movements shows anything, it shows that excluding teachers from providing input, fearing their input, will not lead to positive results. This is not to say teachers' writ must be adopted in toto, but it hard to see how quashing any critical thinking by teachers will lead to critical thinking by students. Ms. Rhee's biggest mistake lay in thinking teachers the enemy. They are the ones whose most important constituency is the students. Superintendents and politicians have different constituencies, and students are the last in the list of their constitutencies.

Posted by: sailhardy | February 1, 2011 10:24 AM | Report abuse

If the history of education reform movements shows anything, it shows that excluding teachers from providing input, fearing their input, will not lead to positive results. This is not to say teachers' writ must be adopted in toto, but it hard to see how quashing any critical thinking by teachers will lead to critical thinking by students. Ms. Rhee's biggest mistake lay in thinking teachers the enemy. They are the ones whose most important constituency is the students. Superintendents and politicians have different constituencies, and students are the last in the list of their constitutencies.

Posted by: sailhardy | February 1, 2011 10:26 AM | Report abuse

This is the most vacuous letter I've ever seen published by the Post. What specific criticism is being levied? What solutions are being suggested? There's nothing more here than a vague sense of hurt feelings. I plan to use this letter as an example to my classes of ineffective writing.

One hopes that the letter-writer has nothing to do with educating children. Utterly content-free criticism like this is part of the problem in modern education.

This writer may be the same Lynn Bergfalk who runs City Gate urban ministry (http://city-gate.org). But with such a poor example of writing, let us hope not.

Posted by: rowerinva | February 1, 2011 10:36 AM | Report abuse

The real enemy of successful education is the teachers' union! Studies in California conducted in 2007 showed that collective bargain contracts resulted in higher costs and lower academic performance among groups of very bright and struggling kids. There was only slight improvement in average students. If this is what Washington wants to return to, then have at it. I'll laugh when my kid runs rings around DC public school kids in the job market and in life in general.

Posted by: panamajack | February 1, 2011 1:46 PM | Report abuse

panamajack's reasong would have us finding the best schools to be in right to work states.
Can you provide support, jack?

Posted by: edlharris | February 1, 2011 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Its so sad to see folks like Lynn Berfalk and "edlharris" use confused reasoning and tortured logic to defend a horrible education of our youth. The main reason Michele Rhee was put out (via voting for Gray) was due to the teacher's unions. These unions care more about the unions than they do for education, or for TEACHERS, for that matter! Ms. Berfalk ignores the REALITY that schools in D.C. provide educations that are inferior to other school districts. You can't say anything more than that! PERIOD. Poor edlharris, somehow he crossed over from an alternate reality that seems to think this is a "right to work" vs. union issue. Pretty crazy. Nobody is saying Teacher's don't have a right to organize. What Ms. Rhee and everyone else with common sense has been saying is that organization cannot interfer with school children's right to a good education.

Posted by: shred11 | February 1, 2011 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee is out because
a) She didn't allow social promotion of students -- the automatic advancement in grade which is the common method used by our educators today. She demanded performance based promotions, which is the common method used by businesses today.
b) She didn't allow social promotion of teachers -- and the teachers union -- an organization which claims to be in favor of education but is in favor only of continued employment of its members -- became her enemy.
c) She was in favor of allowing kids to take their educational money to schools which will really teach them [vouchers] -- and that was another position counter to that associated with teachers' unions -- because if the money leaves, the badly performing teachers might not get paid or might even be laid off.

It wasn't style which sent Rhee packing -- it was the substance of her reforms.

Given what DC voters have done, they entirely deserve the school district they get.

Posted by: unclesmrgol | February 1, 2011 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Some folks are truly stuck on stupid.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | February 1, 2011 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Shred11 is projecting with her ramblings about alternate reality.
Today her reality is:"Nobody is saying Teacher's don't have a right to organize. "

16 days ago Shred11's reality went like this:
"the destruction of the Teacher's Unions.. is the only way forward. "
(http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/guest-bloggers/education-inception-and-michel.html)

But is everyone else's reality about Shred11:

"shred11,

Yes, they can clone stupidity. Proof of it can be seen in shred11's post. Another exaggerated, off-topic argument, suspiciously similar in structure and style to phoss1's. Yes, it would appear that your cognitive abilities went bankrupt year ago. But no worries. I'm here to bail you out:

Just because people disagree with your point, it doesn't mean that they will "forget about the kids." People and their opinions are so much more than all or nothing. They obviously have a different opinion of what they think is best for kids. Grow up and experience the kaleidoscope of opinions and differences that this world has to offer. But, even more importantly, learn how to effectively use sarcasm in a post without making yourself look like a donkey's backside in the process.

Posted by: DHume1 | January 19, 2011 4:33 PM"

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/dc-schools/is-michelle-rhees-signature-re.html

Posted by: edlharris | February 2, 2011 12:21 AM | Report abuse

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