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Rheeism as Democratic Party Policy

[ 44 ] September 10, 2012 |

This could not depress me more. Molly Ball’s piece at the Atlantic portrays Michelle Rhee as getting close to setting the education agenda for the Democratic Party:

Yet there are signs that Rhee’s persona non grata status in her party is beginning to wane — starting with the fact that the chairman of the Democratic convention, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, spoke at the movie screening Rhee hosted at the convention earlier this week. Another Democratic star, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, spoke at the cocktails-and-canapes reception afterward. Across the country, Democratic officials from governors like Colorado’s John Hickenlooper to former President Clinton — buoyed by the well-funded encouragement of the hedge-fund bigwigs behind much of the charter-school movement — are shifting the party’s consensus away from the union-dictated terms to which it has long been loyal. Instead, they’re moving the party toward a full-fledged embrace of the twin pillars of the reform movement: performance-based incentives for teachers, and increased options, including charter schools, for parents.

The inroads made by the education reformers go all the way to the top — to President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the “Race to the Top” initiative that required states to make reforms to get federal education funds — and they amount to a major shift for the Democratic Party on one of its signature issues. “These are some of the most high-profile Democrats out there,” Rhee says, also mentioning Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel, Philadelphia’s Michael Nutter, and her husband, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. “They are taking on the unions. They are fighting for what they believe in. It definitely signals a new day.

Meanwhile, Rhee’s propaganda film machine has gone from documentaries to feature films. Coming out soon is “Won’t Back Down” with Maggie Gyllenhall playing a woman who is trying to get her child out of a failing school but just can’t thanks to big bad teacher unions who won’t allow the firing of teachers without a hearing. The film is produced by Walden Media, a company financed by right-wing billionaire Philip Anschutz. Among the other things Anschutz has funded is Colorado for Family Values, the group behind the state’s 1992 anti-gay ballot measure and Enough is Enough, a “family values” organization headed by Donna Rice that opposes the evils of pornography.

I know I am excited to see right-wing billionaire funded propaganda influencing Democratic Party policy.


Comments (44)

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  1. Oh dear God. O’Malley 2016 looks better and better everyday, though I don’t know if that’s encouraging or just sad.

  2. Marc says:

    It’s a puff piece. Rhee basically lost a referendum in Washington DC on her policies, and I think that’s a better indicator of her status in Democratic politics than a magazine article.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Right, because democracy decides education policy? I thought you were the one who just said that the Democratic Party was hopefully corrupt and you couldn’t vote for its candidates. But on education policy, it is somehow different?

      • Marc says:

        Not me, sorry. My point here was that when actual voters got to vote on Rhee and her policies she lost, and it was in no small part because of her apparent active contempt for teachers. The writer of that article was trying to cast her as some sort of “true liberal”, but I doubt they’ll succeed.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Well, I guess that explains my confusion!!!

          • rea says:

            Well, what evidence the the article put forward? A couple of mayors spoke at her screening. Meanwhile, around the contry, Demcoratic politicians are doing things that don’t seem to have much to do with Rhee, but support various vague programs of school reform, the details of which are not mentioned. Not a lot of evidence to support the conclusion reached . . .

  3. kindness says:

    Rhee lost her groove. Now she only has the Sugar Daddies with wads of cash to console her. Those Daddies? They aren’t Democrats.

    No, I disagree, Rhee is no closer to being able to sway Democratic Party policy. She is just another wingnut welfare queen.

    • On an individual level, Rhee is always going to be radioactive because she’s an arrogant bully incapable of making nice with people whose support she needs. Plus, the last guy who went to bat for her found himself getting voted out of office by a guy running a “Fire Michelle Rhee” campaign.

      That doesn’t necessarily mean that her ideas can’t found less unpleasant vessels to carry them, however.

    • Sullivan Hyde says:

      The wingnut welfare machine certainly seems to have a lot of influence at Arne Duncan’s office. Also, what most Democratic mayors learned from Rhee and Fenty seems to have been not “don’t take on teacher’s unions” but rather “don’t take on teacher’s unions immediately before a Democratic primary.”

  4. UserGoogol says:

    I feel like a fundamental error is that “Rheeism” has been equated (by both sides) with “education reform.” Of course progressives should want education reform. Reforming things is what we do, and education is obviously not perfect. The question for progressives shouldn’t be whether or not to reform, but what sort of reform is optimal. What the CTU is proposing in their writeup are also reforms.

    • Corey says:

      Yep. It’s pretty weird that Rhee, et al’s efforts here have turned more doctrinaire progressives into defenders of the status quo.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        Yes, imagine thinking that the public school system has worked pretty well in the US for most of the second half of the 20th century and that people might be opposed to seeing radical corporate changes to the system….

        • Corey says:

          In general, sure, it works pretty well.

          The edge cases, however, are horrendous and I think it’s hilarious that a “progressive” just dismisses them out of hand.

          Just because the set of alternatives proposed by others is bad, doesn’t mean all alternatives are bad.

        • Izzy says:

          Respectfully, I’m a proud advocate of public education, and I think this framing buys into the narrative UserGoogol is complaining about.

          I’d like to see a lot of reforms to public education: smaller class sizes, more equitable distribution of resources, much less emphasis on standardized testing, better working conditions for teachers, and less ability for local school boards to implement anti-science, anti-education and anti-intellectual BS, just to name a few.

          I’m not happy that many people continue to make “education reform” synonymous with “radical corporate changes.” The so-called “reformers” want it to be, but we shouldn’t make real positive reforms toxic by letting them define the terms of the debate.

          The striking teachers in Chicago are advocating hugely important reforms, and so we should think of them, in part, as reform advocates.

        • tt says:

          Weren’t you comparing teachers to Abu Ghraib guards a few days ago?

          • Izzy says:

            I honestly can’t tell if this is meant to be a joke. In case it isn’t: no, absolutely not. I teach at a public college and training future teachers is a big part of my job. You would be hard pressed to find someone more devoted to the cause of public education, or with more respect for teachers.

      • Malaclypse says:

        It’s pretty weird that a contrarian libertarian type would espouse the charter school movement without seeing the need to look at actual outcomes.

    • djw says:

      The obvious problem with this is that “the education reform movement” now means something rather more specific than the straightforward definitional approach to the phrase would suggest, and the constellation of policies that fall under that banner are generally bad ideas with bad consequences. So until such a time as the phrase is disconnected to the Rhee types out there, something which you and I lack the power to do, I’m going to oppose “the education reform movement” even as there may be specific education reforms, whether in or outside that movement, that deserve serious consideration.

      • Izzy says:

        I don’t have a problem with this approach, but I worry that conceding the language to the opposition allows them to easily frame the debate in terms of the “reformers” versus “anti-reformers.”

        I’m tired of the white hats allowing ourselves to be positioned in ways play into our opponents’ hands.

        • djw says:

          I don’t mind it because a) I don’t have the rhetorical power to take back the phrase, and b) my opposition to “the ed reform movement” isn’t rooted in my superior plan for reform, but in my conviction that almost without fail, the status quo is superior. (As Diane Ravitch often points out, even by the shitty metrics ed reforms like to use, public schools have been slowly, steadily improving for decades.)

        • jefft452 says:

          “I worry that conceding the language to the opposition allows them to easily frame the debate in terms of the “reformers” versus “anti-reformers.””

          I welcome that frame
          “Reform” now means “Cut”
          “Welfare Reform” = Throw people off the welfare rolls
          “Entitlement Reform” = Reduce SSI and Medicare payouts
          “Tax Reform” = Cut taxes for the wealthy

          “Education Reform” = your kids are less educated

  5. mpowell says:

    From what I understand Rhee herself is radioactive and this will probably mean that she is never actually influential.

    However, the movement she is aligned with has major donor backing from both conservatives and non-aligned folks (ie: Bill Gates). And it appears to be getting a pretty substantial hearing in Democratic circles.

    I think calling this policy movement Rheeism is probably inaccurate. Rhee is only likely to be the poster child for this movement in depictions by it’s detractors (because it’s effective rhetoric). Which is fine. I’m one of those detractors. But you can easily confuse things this way.

  6. somethingblue says:

    … Enough is Enough, a “family values” organization headed by Donna Rice that opposes the evils of pornography.

    I was about to post something about “please tell me it’s that Donna Rice.” But OMG, it is that Donna Rice! Wow.

    (Also, it’s kinda sad to see Maggie Gyllenhall, who I’ve always liked, signing on for this kind of garbage. Shame on her.)

    • witless chum says:

      Viola Davis, too, but they’re actresses and may or may not be politically engaged enough to know who Walden or the loot a new portion the public treasury education reform people are. Given that they’re both union members, it’d be nice if they’d leave these roles to Victoria Jackson but that’d be going above and beyond what I expect from people.

  7. Susan of Texas says:

    President Barack Obama called for tying teachers’ pay to student performance and expanding innovative charter schools Tuesday, embracing ideas that have provoked hostility from members of teachers unions.

    He also suggested longer school days _ and years _ to help American children compete in the world.

    In his first major speech on education, Obama said the United States must drastically improve student achievement to regain lost international standing.

    …Obama alluded to his disagreements with unions, saying, “Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom.”

    From 1999–2000 to 2009–10, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools more than quadrupled from 0.3 million to 1.6 million students. During this period, the percentage of all public schools that were public charter schools increased from 2 to 5 percent, comprising 5,000 schools in 2009–10. In addition to the increase in the number of charter schools, the enrollment size of charter schools has grown over time. The percentage of charter schools with enrollments under 300 students decreased from 77 percent in 1999–2000 to 61 percent in 2009–10. The percentage of charter schools with enrollments of 300–499 students increased from 12 to 21 percent during this period; the percentage with 500–999 students, from 9 to 14 percent; and the percentage with 1,000 students or more, from 2 to 4 percent.

    States have made steep cuts to education funding since the start of the recession and, in many states, those cuts deepened over the last year. Elementary and high schools are receiving less state funding in the 2012-13 school year than they did last year in 26 states, and in 35 states school funding now stands below 2008 levels — often far below.

    States made these cuts after the deepest recession in 70 years hit beginning in late 2007, precipitating a historic collapse in state revenues. Because states relied heavily on spending reductions in response to the recession, rather than on a more balanced mix of spending cuts and revenue increases, funding for schools and other public services fell sharply. While emergency aid from the federal government reduced the severity of cuts to school funding in the years immediately following the onset of the recession, Congress allowed that aid largely to expire at the end of the 2011 fiscal year, before state revenues had recovered from the recession.

  8. Cody says:

    I’m all for education reform and keeping an open mind. However, I fail to see how spending less on public education so we can give it to private charter schools is advantageous.

  9. wengler says:

    A trillion dollar cash grab for corporations. That is what is at stake here. No Child Left Behind was designed to provoke a crisis atmosphere in public education to funnel money away from traditional public schools which make rich people no money into charter schools that will.

  10. David Kaib says:

    Given what’s going on in Chicago today, it’s an odd time for people to insist that Rhee’s brand of “reform” is outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

  11. cpinva says:

    ms. rhee’s done pretty well, for a fraud. most people who presented a resume’ filled with lies would have been summarily shown the door. not ms. rhee, her lies were so easy to check out, they didn’t even bother, until it was wayyyyyyyyyy too late, and she had nearly destroyed what was left of the DC school system. not wanting to look like complete morons, for having hired her to begin with, DC sent her packing with a generous severence package, and wonderful references.

    ms. rhee has some not-so-original theories on education, just don’t let her near a school system or its students and teachers, for their own good. she’s the perfect shill for for-profit charter schools because, for reasons unclear to me, no one in authority has the balls to call her on her BS.

    bob somerby did a great series on ms. rhee, from the time she was being interviewed, until she left.

  12. Jameson Quinn says:

    The new interstate English, Math, and Science standards coming down the pipeline are pretty good. I wonder why good efforts like that are relatively unknown, while hateful publicity-hounds like Rhee get all the publi—… oh.

  13. E. Rat says:

    The Atlantic has a long history of embracing whatever poorly planned and unresearched proposal education reformers suggest. Whether it’s hedge fund managers longing to do for public schools what they did to the economy or billionaires proposing class sizes three or four times larger than those at the private schools their children attend, The Atlantic stands ready to provide a few pages. Joel Klein explained how teachers are lazy and greedy in its pages before joining Fox News in finding new ways to put public school money in private pockets. So I tend to think the article is wishful thinking. Rhee is a great public face for reform. Her own classroom experience, from taping children’s mouths shut to lying about her students’ achievement, is a good example of just what reformers really want. I hope she gets lots of press so that her own words and deeds can be used to condemn her neoliberal ideas and allies.

    I think a more important media front right now is in Chicago.

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