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Finding Real Solutions for Our Schools

May 03, 2011

Anti-union governors across the country are jeopardizing the education of children by taking advice from a bully who exaggerates her abilities and clings to false hope that her radical agenda to revamp schools will improve student learning. Former Washington, DC, school superintendent Michelle Rhee has become a school reform celebrity, giving advice to governors such as Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio and Rick Scott in Florida.

Rhee has the support of corporate CEOs who want to drain taxpayer funds into their bank accounts. But as education expert Diane Ravitch recently noted, her record produces “cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum.”

When Rhee took over the school system in the nation’s capital, she relished the role of “change agent,” even offering to permit a television crew film her firing a school principal. In what was hailed as a landmark contract with the Washington Teachers Union, Rhee negotiated language that allowed teachers to collect performance bonuses in exchange for relinquishing their right to due process before they could be fired. Many of those who were eligible chose to keep their contract protections rather than take the extra cash, but others took the deal.

The system Rhee put in place had no greater impact on improving test scores than that of her predecessors, but it appears to have created financial incentives for cheating on standardized tests. In one DC school, more than 80 percent of classrooms were flagged by investigators for having excessive erasures on standardized tests. At this school, Rhee had given teachers and administrators so-called performance bonuses of $8,000 or more. Her system rewarded bad behavior.

Despite her wretched record in DC, Ms. Rhee is travelling the country raising money and raising her profile by advising some of the most extreme governors on how to “reform” the schools in their states. These governors agree with her efforts to silence the voice of workers while funneling public money into corporate coffers, even if the education of America’s students would suffer. She values privatizing services more than educating children. That is just not right.

In times like these, we should direct our energy toward pulling together to find real solutions to the problems facing our nation’s schools. Giving a free hand to corporate-backed bullies who promote policies that encourage cheating is not a real solution.

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