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Does Rheeism Work? No, Except for Crushing Unions

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Jonathan Chait wasn’t happy with my response to him last week, where I talked of his hackish Rheeist beliefs in destroying teacher unions and replacing them with charter schools. Of course, supporting these policies pays for his house since his wife is a charter school advocate, which he admitted for once.

For teacher unions and their supporters, Rhee remains the premier antagonist, where her name remains a curse word. Erik Loomis laments that the Obama administration still “believes in Rheeism.” Casey Quinlan, writing for ThinkProgress, castigates the Obama administration for citing D.C. reforms as a model. Bruce Vail has a whole article for In These Times lamenting the fact that Rhee’s successor, Kaya Henderson, has continued her policies (quotes from union sources: “[Rhee] is still here, but in the form of Kaya Henderson”; “It’s Rheeism without Rhee,” etc.)

But here is an odd thing that none of these sources mention: Rhee’s policies have worked. Studies have found that Rhee’s teacher-evaluation system has indeed increased student learning. What’s more, the overall performance of D.C. public school students on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) has risen dramatically and outpaced the rest of the country. And if you suspect cheating or “teaching to the test” is the cause, bear in mind NAEP tests are not the ones used in teacher evaluations; it’s a test used to assess national trends, with no incentive to cheat. (My wife works for a D.C. charter school.)

Does Rheeism work? Despite what Chait suggests, the evidence largely does not suggest that it does. Many studies suggest charter school students do no better or worse than public school students on standardized tests. At best, it’s probably a draw. But that’s not the only measure of whether a school is working. Like it or not, schools do more than just educate students. They also socialize and shape them over a period of thirteen years, counting kindergarten. And they really fail by those measures. These charter schools that Chait claim work so well suspend black and disabled students at rates higher than public schools. These schools have no tolerance for behavior that comes out of difficult home lives or disability and so they resource to punitive discipline. Instead, they talk about successful students having “grit,” naturalizing the problems that poor students face instead of facing the real problems students face. This is not an education system that works.

Let us also remember how often the pro-Rheeist studies prove to be methodologically flawed and influenced by the results the charter school advocates desire. Allow me to quote from my Boston Review piece on charter schools in New Orleans:

Time and again, test score fraud and false research has put the lie to many such claims about the benefits of charter schools. The Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, Cowen’s post-presidency lobbying group that aims to turn New Orleans into a giant experiment for charters, released a 2014 report lauding its success. However, the institute soon had to completely repudiate its own report for its flawed methodology. Despite well-funded charter industry “studies” claiming improved test scores, the nonpartisan Spencer Foundation and Public Agenda has found, “There is very little evidence that charter and traditional public schools differ meaningfully in their average impact on students’ standardized test performance.” On New Orleans schools specifically, the Investigative Fund has written, “seventy-nine percent of [New Orleans] charters are still rated D or F by the Louisiana Department of Education.” Moreover, it has chronicled how the emphasis on test scores and college preparation has led charter schools to eject low-performing students who would require additional help to overcome the tremendous class and race-based barriers that impede their educational success.

Let us also remember why Michelle Rhee left her job in Washington. Her tenure as a unionbuster shoving her agenda down the throats of parents and the community was so controversial that it cost the Washington mayor his job, forcing her to resign. I guess firing principles on national television makes Rhee look tough and independent and people like Chait love that, but that is a horrible and capricious managerial style that is disastrous in the real world.

What galls me in the end is the idea that bad teachers, or more specifically, teachers unions protecting bad teachers from being fired, is the primary reason for problems in education. This just makes no sense. First, teacher unions don’t want bad teachers either. What they want is for school districts to go through contractually negotiated processes for disciplining and then firing teachers. This is to protect teachers from capricious and tyrannical management practices. And that drives privatizers nuts because their own anti-union mentality simply can’t abide that workers would have any power. Second, the problem with public schools is the intertwined curses of poverty and racism. If you want better public schools, crushing unions does nothing to help these kids. What helps them is money, both in terms of jobs for their parents and in terms of more money in their schools. Suburbanization, white flight, and now gentrification have all contributed to these problems. Anything charter schools might provide these kids is just window dressing covering up the structural issues at the heart of the problem.

Third, I fail to see the justification in the entire testing regime at the heart of the privatizers and charter school advocates. The idea that teachers primary means of evaluation should be the test scores of their students has enormous implications for both teachers and students. First, it drives good teachers out of poor schools. Why would they stay in these schools when their jobs depend on bringing kids with difficult lives up to a certain standard when they could teach in the suburbs and get there easily? Second, it means that first graders are doing test prep classes when they could be at recess, fourth graders are doing test prep when they could be in art, sixth graders are doing test prep when they could be in band. But like the anti-liberal arts bias that now pervades higher education, these reformers don’t care about recess or art or band. They want test scores. This hurts children’s lives.

And if Jonathan Chait isn’t a unionbuster, he will be totally fine with charter school teachers unionizing. If he’s not, then fundamentally his goal is unionbusting.

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  • CP

    “Does Rheeism worK? No, except for crushing unions.”

    So really, yes. It fulfills the purpose it was intended to by the people who put it into action. Or is that too cynical?

    • LosGatosCA

      Or is that too cynical?

      Absolutely not.

      Rheeism is all arbitrary stick and no carrot.

      Consequently, as Erik points out, the charter schools are heavy on the punitive stick as well.

      The charter school unionization test for what the primary goal actually is – is fair. For lots of people this is sufficient – unions bad.

      But the truer test of the bad faith for Rheeism is the lack of remediation in my (not fully informed) view. As kids/teachers/schools fail downward there’s no bottom, no safety net. Just exits to charter schools. The folks on the lowest rung just fall off altogether.

      It’s like the homeless problem, ‘we’re not here to solve it, we just want them to be somewhere else.”

      • Downpuppy

        Union busting isn’t (just) a spectator sport. There’s lots of money to be made, as the revenue stream is redirected from those goldbricking teachers to the directors of the charter schools, their friends, flacks and families.

      • Quite Likely

        Do you think that Rheeists really acknowledge to themselves that they are just trying to destroy unions? I have to assume that at least in their own heads they are heroically trying to improve the education system. I guess the real answer is probably somewhere in the middle – they think that unions are bad and thus view destroying them as a rational way to improve education.

        • delazeur

          I think there are a lot of true believer conservatives and neoliberals out there: people who really think that private charity would be more effective than public welfare, that money will trickle down after a tax cut, and that a rising tide lifts all boats. Obviously these ideas originate from cynical people with selfish motives, but I think we as progressives do our cause a disservice when we assume that every conservative is in it for their own self interest. That attitude makes it harder to convert people.

          • CP

            I think the line between between cynical con artists just in it for the money and true believers who think it’s all true is made pretty blurry by the nature of the beast. The beauty of conservative ideology is that it tells people “what’s good for you is good for everyone; selfishly pursuing your own interest leads to the best world that’s possible given human nature, even if it’s not perfect.” The fact that it fuses selfishness with virtue is a big part of the reason why it’s such a powerful drug and not easy to kick.

    • cpinva

      “Does Rheeism worK? No, except for crushing unions.”

      It works for the purpose it was designed for, to make money for Ms. Rhee. she’s been a fraud ever since she got hired as the DC School Superintendent, based on a bogus resume’. Apparently, no one on the DC School Board thought it was a good idea to vet that resume’, before hiring her, not after. you know, like a real school board would have done.

      she left that post, just before the results of her handiwork started to become painfully apparent, and went off to start her own personal “education” grift, and has been raking in the bucks ever since, while helping to ruin ever school system she sinks her fangs into.

    • DrDick

      Indeed. Crushing unions was all it was ever about.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Unions are not some panacea for educating students.

        • The Dark God of Time

          Neither is doing away with them, either,

          • ThrottleJockey

            Agreed, but the going in assumption here is that unions are all that matter…That’s why kids figure so inconspicuously here.

            • The Dark God of Time

              Nope, Rhee. Is trying to demonize teacher’s unions as the obstical to success.

              Do try to keep up.

            • DrDick

              Not at all, but you have a pattern of missing the point here. Teachers’ unions are not, and never have been, the problem. The problem is massive neglect of the schools by state and local government (might have to tax rich people!) and incompetent administrators with a bloated and cumbersome bureaucracy, Chicago being a classic example of the latter.

            • ColBatGuano

              Delicious, tasty straw.

            • alex284

              the going in assumption here is that unions are all that matter

              Citations?

              I think that Loomis wrote “poverty” like a dozen times, not “lack of unions”, when it comes to why some students don’t do well in school.

              I don’t know what blog post you were reading.

            • Heron

              Loomis isn’t marginalizing kids; he’s just saying that what impacts educational performance isn’t so much teachers or curriculum, and even less labor-relations, but structural issues. So the focus of Rheeism, and it’s predecessor, the TAAS-emulating testing+funding regime pioneered by Financiers in Texas in the 80s, on teachers and curriculum(a laughable inclusion to their arguments, considering how many school “reformers” are evolution, climate-science, and history deniers fighting just as hard to gut science, social, and history education and replace it with literal propaganda), is wrong headed. Responding to Rheeism, he responds to its arguments and what they focus on, which is unions, which is teachers, which is testing; not structural causes of underperformance, and not kids.

              If these people truly cared about fixing schools they’d realize they need to fight funding disparities and poverty, to fight to equalize the educational experience for students(as the Finland model suggests). But of course, that’s precisely what they’re against; “you can’t just throw money at it” isn’t their constant refrain for nothing.

              Obviously there are always exceptions -kids who can succeed in spite of such massive hurdles- but we cannot design an educational system around those exceptions. It’s unfair to the kids, and it’s unrealistic. Exceptions are, by definition, Exceptional, and no amount of “grit training” is going to undo the massive hurdles lack of resources, parental involvement, good nutrition, cultural validation, and a healthy environment places on students. That some few people can -through tremendous pain, struggle, drive, discipline, and alienation- overcome those hurdles is no reason not to focus on removing them.

              And I really don’t think we should ignore the glaring philosophical reasons why Rheeists and their allies are perfectly fine with a structurally unfair system. Not only their ease with institutional racism and unfairness, which is extremely telling, but also how the above description of what it takes to succeed in the face of the current system(the flaws of which are only accentuated by Charter Schools) plays into their Objectivist “superman” fantasies.

        • Barry_D

          ThrottleJockey says:

          “Unions are not some panacea for educating students.”

          The only person who even implied such a thing was you.

          • Manny Kant

            Right. Teachers deserve to have unions (if they want them) for the same reason every worker does: because having the right to negotiate collectively about the terms of your employment is a human right. Erik’s point about union-busting isn’t that unions make schools better, but that union-busting doesn’t make them better.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Is this too cynical? Why yes, this whole post epitomizes cynicism!

      I am, though, happy that in the charter school busting du jour that LGM at least pays lip service to the primary criterion by which we should judge public schools: The education of the students! LGM focuses so much on how charter schools affect teachers that students seem to be an afterthought, if that.

      These charter schools that Chait claim work so well suspend black and disabled students at rates higher than public schools.

      Unfortunately, the little lip service given rates 2 Pinnochios. At best charter schools have a narrowly higher rate of suspensions of black students. But even that is debatable since the difference is well within the margin of error (7.8% for charters vs 6.7% for public schools).

      • The Dark God of Time

        And you have a source for your data, besides pulledoutofmyass(dot)com?

        • ThrottleJockey

          Do I have a source for my data? Did you read the post, Chronos? The numbers come directly from his link!

          Based on data from the 2011-12 school year, the report found that charter schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels suspended 7.8 percent of students, compared with 6.7 percent of students in noncharter schools.

          • junker

            It’s unclear from the way the article is written whether this refers to black students or all students, though. Note for the stats on disabled students they explicitly identified that group.

            • alex284

              TJ’s numbers refer to all students.

          • DrDick

            Your head is firmly up you ass, Even a cursory search proves the OP’s point.

  • brewmn

    Thank you. Even if you take Chait’s analysis as proof that charter schools work (which I don’t), what’s still missing is proof that those results could not have been achieved with a unionized workforce.

    Despite all claims to the contrary, the only measurable change that comes from replacing traditional public education with charter schools is the destruction of teacher’s unions. Not sure why anyone would support them wholeheartedly if they don’t want that as a primary outcome. If your spouse is also making bank off the effort, well, that’s just gravy I guess.

    • The reason union destruction is considered good by some people is that union members are accomplished organizers, are politically active, and are a reliable Democratic constituency.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        No I think it is because people want to pay their work force less and treat it worse. This is much more difficult if it is unionized to assert its rights and interests against management. It also turns out it doesn’t seem to matter if the management is private or state. As a public employee our union has gone on strike five times in five years against a government controlled by a party (NDC) that claims “socialist” roots.

        • Linnaeus

          In the US context, I’d say both you and Helmut Monotreme are right.

          • DrDick

            Indeed.

            • Manny Kant

              I don’t think Helmut Monotreme’s explanation really works for a large number of nominally liberal union-busters. Someone like Chait, for instance, clearly isn’t interested in helping Republicans win elections, but is nonetheless an inveterate union buster.

  • MD Rackham

    “Firing principles” sounds like something they’d teach at Trump U.

    • DrDick

      It is not so much principles we need to fire as those above them in the administration, which is invariably bloated and generally incompetent.

  • sharonT

    I wonder if demographic changes are the source of NEAP score changes. DC is a much more affluent and whiter city than it was 10 years ago.

    • That’s clearly a big part of it. Chait tries to claim it’s not just that.

      • sharonT

        Interesting, NEAP score have gone up, but the gaps between affluent students and and poor students haven’t really closed. If non-unionized charters were the magic bullet that he claims that they are, you’d think that we’d see a narrowing of that gap.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Improvement comes, but gaps don’t really narrow. To the extent that charter schools improve academic performance, there’s no reason to expect that it improves the academic performance of blacks more than whites.

          • The Dark God of Time

            Why would that affect non-affluent white students as well?

            • ThrottleJockey

              That’s exactly what I’m saying. It would affect non-affluent white students as well.

          • alex284

            Sadly, no!

            The racial gap in NAEP test scores was narrowing in the 70’s and early 80’s.

            https://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PICBWGAP.pdf

            It is possible!

            Also, if the “improvement” that came was just a different mix of students who are doing as well as one would predict in the absence of charter schools, then those scores don’t prove that charters did anything unless you can show that they changed the demographics of DC.

        • Manny Kant

          Do affluent white students go to charter schools in any significant numbers? Here in Philly, it seems like affluent white students either a) grow up in suburban school districts; b) go to private school; or c) go to what are reputed to be the “better” regular public schools, at least for elementary school. Charter schools seem to be designed primarily for non-white students.

    • AMK

      If you want better public schools, crushing unions does nothing to help these kids. What helps them is money, both in terms of jobs for their parents and in terms of more money in their schools….Anything charter schools might provide these kids is just window dressing covering up the structural issues at the heart of the problem.

      The fact that everyone’s first reaction to the evidence of better scores/learning in DC is “of course, because more DC kids now have white white-collar parents instead of black orange-jumpsuit parents” should prove this point ten thousand times over.

      • ThrottleJockey

        That’s what’s wrong with this analysis. To a hammer all the world seems a nail. To a socialist, all problems seem class problems. And even if you throw in race, this analytical stance makes no sense:

        These schools have no tolerance for behavior that comes out of difficult home lives or disability and so they resource to punitive discipline. Instead, they talk about successful students having “grit,” naturalizing the problems that poor students face instead of facing the real problems students face. This is not an education system that works.

        This critique begs the question. Why even have schools if the class and race problems are insurmountable??!!!

        What Loomis is fundamentally arguing is that students needs political activists not teachers, an organizing machine and not schools!

        • Linnaeus

          What Loomis is fundamentally arguing is that students needs political activists not teachers, an organizing machine and not schools!

          That’s not at all what he’s arguing.

          • DrDick

            Missing the point is pretty much TJ’s whole point.

        • alex284

          Well, they do need political activists. And there aren’t enough of those.

          They also need teachers. They have teachers, but not enough. Political activists are key to getting more teachers.

          Why even have schools? Is this argument serious?

  • The Temporary Name

    The idea that teachers primary means of evaluation should be the test scores of their students has enormous implications for both teachers and students. First, it drives good teachers out of poor schools. Why would they stay in these schools when their jobs depend on bringing kids with difficult lives up to a certain standard when they could teach in the suburbs and get there easily?

    Of course, with union protection, you could have a good teacher staying in a place that’s going to have less stellar test scores.

    • DrDick

      That is hopefully true, though far too many burn out. While the are there, however, they make some things better for their students.

  • Rob in CT

    I was wondering if you’d respond to that Chait post.

    I haven’t read up on the various studies so this may be a stupid question, but…

    My understanding is that many public schools don’t have unionized teachers. So you have, in theory, three… no, four, sets:

    1) Unionized public schools; 2) non-union public schools; 3) charter schools; and 4) private schools.

    Does category #2 outperform category #1? Because if not, there’s no reason to assume that category #3 shouldn’t use unionized teachers.

    • It wasn’t a top priority, but I finally got around to it.

    • njorl

      Maryland mandates union membership for charter school teachers.

    • Manny Kant

      There are obviously geographical issues at play in comparing 1 & 2, though. Non-union public schools are going to be primarily in the south and west, unionized ones in the Northeast and midwest. There’s other distinctions (AFT affiliates, who tend to be more militant and more like traditional unions, tend to be in larger urban school districts, NEA affiliates, which often like to pretend they are professional associations rather than unions, and are much more accommodationist, tend to be in suburban districts).

  • Rugosa

    As Mike the Mad Biologist often points out, public schools in unionized Massachusetts are among the best in the country.

    • Imagine if we could just bust those unions!

    • LosGatosCA

      They voted for George McGovern back in 1872 for gawds sakes.

      Can’t get more commie than that.

      • JKTH

        Time-traveling commie at that.

      • rea

        They voted for him again a century later!

        • advocatethis

          They’re consistent.

        • LosGatosCA

          I wanted to stay consistent with their worldview AND command of the facts.

  • Davis

    It seems to me that the states where teacher unions are strong have better schools then the ones where they are weak. Is that right? Or is the better correlation states with low taxes versus ones with high tax rates?

    • rachelmap

      I think these are both in a web of things that work together. For one, I suspect that states with strong teachers unions have strong unions in other areas*. Having strong unions would generally mean workers receive fair compensation, which means they have more money to pay the taxes that support their local schools. For another, having a strong teacher’s union means that all teachers (including the good ones) are more protected from being fired on the whims of a principal with a personal animus or because parents objected to their special snowflake being justifiably flunked or taught actual science. On the other hand weak-union states have lower wages overall and less protection for good teachers.

      *Does anybody know the statistics on that?

  • waspuppet

    Is teaching the only profession in the US where we think cutting pay, reducing job security and shittifying the working conditions will IMPROVE the applicant pool? If not, it’s certainly a short list.

    • Davis X. Machina

      This assumes that improving the applicant pool is actually a goal.

      • sharonT

        I don’t think it’s the goal at all. From what I’ve read, the goal is to convince school boards to invest in a lot of education tech so you can sit kids down in front of devices where they spend the day working through on-line lesson plans. You don’t need a competent professional to teach. Just a person who can reboot the device when it crashes.

        • BigHank53

          Have you ever encountered the delightful business concept know as “decontenting”? It’s where you make your product cheaper by stripping out the expensive parts and shaving quality wherever you can. Honda very hastily redesigned their brand-new Civic after being slammed in the press a few years back. (One particularly brutal review just said: “Buy the Hyundai. It’s better.”)

          Education is a huge line item in state and local budgets. Grifters want that cash.

    • But getting longer all the time.

      • LosGatosCA

        Coming to a every job near you soon.

    • Right–the other way we can improve schools is to pay teachers a lot more.

      Nah, busting their unions is a way better idea.

      • Tyto

        Isn’t it funny? All of the usual arguments about executive and highly skilled worker compensation–we need to pay more, or we’ll never attract quality people!–somehow never apply to teachers.

        • Linnaeus

          Because the $60K or so that they’re making makes them fabulously wealthy.

          • Tyto

            Don’t forget the health insurance!!111!

            • Linnaeus

              And only working nine months a year!!!!eleven!!!

        • ThrottleJockey

          Ummm, what do you think performance pay is about, if not paying teachers more? We want to pay the good teachers, not the bad teachers. We want to pay the selfless teachers, not racist ones. Teachers are not uniformly good or bad. Some are exceptional, some are detestable. Let’s focus the compensation on the ones who do the job the way its meant to be done.

          • The Dark God of Time

            How do you measure performance?

            • ThrottleJockey

              I’m not a fan of observational reviews. That strikes me as too subjective, and I see no reason why principals would be better grading teachers than they do students–and we know they think black students are all shitty future criminals.

              Ideally, we’d look at value added tests. Test the students once in the beginning of the year and once more at the end. The teachers whose students improved the most would get the biggest bonuses.

              I concede that that’s not how these testing programs are presently constructed but I really hate the subjectiveness of observational reviews.

              • Marek

                Well, aside from everything else that’s wrong with that idea (what gets tested? what about subjects not susceptible to testing? what about all the other things a teacher does? who is selling us these tests? etc etc), that would result in schools that focus on one test for the entire school year.

              • nadirehsa

                If you knew literally anything about this subject, you’d be aware of the research that demonstrates quite conclusively that value added metrics are not reliable.

              • rachelmap

                I see no reason why principals would be better grading teachers than they do students…

                This. This is why I don’t believe having only a degree in education administration is enough. All principals should be required to teach from time to time so they have some experience to base their grades on.

    • CP

      Is teaching the only profession in the US where we think cutting pay, reducing job security and shittifying the working conditions will IMPROVE the applicant pool?

      No, I’m pretty sure increasingly everybody who’s not a CEO or other stereotypical 1%er/Job-Creator/Captain-Of-Industry is being told some variation of the above. Possibly with exceptions made for cops and soldiers.

      • LosGatosCA

        I’m pretty sure soldiers are not an exception to that rule – at all.

        • CP

          Yeah… I said “possibly” because my impression is that in those cases, the exception is more one of rhetoric than action. People in uniform are absolutely getting fucked by the powers that be. What they’re spared is the constant drumbeat of comments about what lazy, overpaid, incompetent, time-wasting, resource-wasting useless tools they are, and how we need to continue beating them until their morale improves if we’re ever going to get anywhere.

          (If anything, they’re used as a rhetorical hammer to justify doing that to everyone else – “look at the troops! They’re the real heroes! They’re the real workers! They’re the ones with the really hard job! Why are we always hearing about those lazy burger flippers with no skills and school teachers with three month vacations and federal bureaucrats with fat-cat retirement benefits? Fuck those guys!)

          All of which is to say that, when it comes to soldiers and cops, I don’t think we, as in a big share of the public, think that cutting pay, reducing job security, and shittifying the working conditions is desirable. It’s just something the powers-that-be do, quietly, all while proclaiming how much they love them. Whereas with a ton of civilian and especially blue collar professions, the idea that the people performing them are useless and unskilled and a dime a dozen (and the contempt that goes with it, and the acceptance of worse and worse conditions as their proper due) is out in the open and pretty accepted by many.

    • advocatethis

      It may be. In a lot of industries cutting pay, reducing job security and shittifying the working conditions are the desired end goals in themselves. Education seems to be unique in that these are seen as steps toward a better workforce.

    • Linnaeus

      I find it interesting that so many of the high-level proponents of Rheeism have no experience teaching, or maybe (like Rhee herself) taught for a period of time, but then stopped.

      • When you are driven by ideology, experience has negative value. Thus, Teach for America.

        • CP

          When you are driven by ideology, experience has negative value.

          This really is one of the biggest and most widespread problems with modern conservatism. First noticed it in the run-up to and immediate aftermath of the Iraq War in terms of the energy they put into discrediting and attacking the military, CIA and State Department professionals who pointed out their bullshit. A much more obvious example is their hostility to scientists, media, and academia and the lengths to which they’ve gone to create an alternate universe (Echo Chamber) that tells them what they want to hear.

          The history of movement conservatism has been a half-century long process of crowding out experienced professionals in virtually every field. To be replaced by a drone community of politically vetted cretins, for the professions they care enough about, or replaceable minimum wage cogs in the machine for those they don’t.

          • LosGatosCA

            Best example ever – Doug Feith

            General Tommy Franks, who led both the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq War, once called Feith “the dumbest fucking guy on the planet.”

            At a recent forum, career U.S. intelligence officer Patrick Lang recounted a job interview he had with neocon war architect Douglas Feith. Lang, who had previously run the Pentagon’s world-wide spying operations, “was put forward as somebody who would be good at running the Pentagon’s office of special operations and low-intensity warfare, i.e., counterinsurgency.” So he was interviewed by Feith:

            “He was sitting there munching a sandwich while he was talking to me,” Lang recalled, “which I thought was remarkable in itself, but he also had these briefing papers — they always had briefing papers, you know — about me.
            “He’s looking at this stuff, and he says, ‘I’ve heard of you. I heard of you.’
            “He says, ‘Is it really true that you really know the Arabs this well, and that you speak Arabic this well? Is that really true? Is that really true?’
            “And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s really true.’
            “That’s too bad,” Feith said.

            After re-reading that for the first time in years – it hit me: Why did it take so long to get to Trump?

            • BigHank53

              Why did it take so long to get to Trump?

              Even through the Bush II administration, there was considerable lip service paid to the appearance of political propriety. When Cheney burned Valerie Plame in an attempt to discredit Joe Wilson’s yellowcake report, he did it through two levels of deniable intermediaries.

              Electing a seekrit black muslim commie Kenyan unhinged a lot of people.

            • CP

              Well, kind of my main reaction to all of this has been that it didn’t take them so long. It took them this long to get to Trump specifically, but the basic ethos has been there for much longer. And all the ugly stuff that Trump is saying that used to be dogwhistled but is now out in the open – that, to me at least, has been out there since the rise of the teabaggers at the very latest.

              “He says, ‘Is it really true that you really know the Arabs this well, and that you speak Arabic this well? Is that really true? Is that really true?’
              “And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s really true.’
              “That’s too bad,” Feith said.

              Long, long ago (Dubya was still president), I read a throwaway line by a wingnut blogger that said “I’m at the point where any time I read that someone is a ‘professor of Middle Eastern studies’ or something like that, I just assume that they hate America.” That’s pretty much exactly spot-on in terms of how the GOP operates. They hate professionals, in any field: it detracts from the world they want to believe they live in.

          • AMK

            The comparison to foreign policy also works because just like the neocon wars, the people driving “education reform” policy are people with no skin in the game, insulated from any negative consequences (and first in line for the spoils). Where do John Chait and Michelle Rhee’s kids go to school? Would they ever send their own kids to one of their charter schools? It’s all very much like the Iraq/Iran hawks who would have their families on private jets to Yellowknife if their own kids ever had to enlist in the military.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Yeah, but let’s not overlook the sizable number of John McCain’s and Tom Cotton’s and even Sarah Palin’s. There are plenty of hawks who have served in the military and/or whose children have served in the military.

              Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, remained a hawk even after losing a son in combat.

            • Colin Day

              Yellowknife seems a bit tough. Maybe Vancouver or Toronto.

          • Bruce B.

            It goes back at least to the HUAC, which destroyed America’s sources of expertise on eastern Asia so thoroughly that decades later, the void that Nixon had done so much to make was still there for him to exploit (and blame on liberals) with his own China initiative.

        • ThrottleJockey

          OMG, c’mon really, Erik? You’re going criticize people for being ideologues?

          Pot and kettle, dude, pot and kettle!

          • brewmn

            You have absolutely no fucking clue what”ideologue” means.

            • ColBatGuano

              It’s a way of life for TJ.

    • Sly

      There’s definitely an analogue with certain industries (tech workers and “crunch,” writers and being paid in “exposure,” etc), but I don’t think the assumption of “your willingness to sacrifice pay, security, and personal well-being is testimony of your commitment to your profession” is as penetrating as it is with regard to public perceptions of teaching.

    • alex284

      I definitely think it’s more pronounced in that field.

      Most teachers are women. Women are expected to want to take care of kids regardless of money. Women are expected to do the same work for less money. Women need strong, swift, and possibly humiliating disciplinary measures to keep them from eating bon-bons and watching soaps.

      Another job where some people get upset if performance isn’t tied to pay in a very public and capricious way is waiting tables. Some people really like the institution of tipping and would be very upset if, say, all restaurants decided to ban tipping, pay a living wage to servers, and review performance based on complaints to management, speed, teamwork… you know, like a normal job.

      72% of servers are women. This is not a coincidence.

  • The world in which Kevin Drum and Jonathan Chait are liberals is not one in which educating people is a priority.

    • Rob in CT

      I’m… not really sure Kevin Drum deserves to be lumped in with Chait here.

      • Murc

        K-Drum is generally a good egg, he’s just been making some really annoyingly dense posts lately.

        In particular, there was one a few days ago in which he came out against improving social security across the board in favor of means-tested improvements for those with low incomes, and defended 401ks as just as reliable a method of funding your retirement as traditional defined-benefit pensions using some very wrong-headed reasoning. And it was like… what the hell, dude.

        But Drum’s okay. He’s just heterodox in some ways. We all have our heterodoxies.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Except the Greeks and the Russians. They are Orthodox.

        • Aaron Morrow

          If anything, I’d say his recent turn away from being negative about 401Ks is due to issues with assuming that wealth was distributed normally and other problems with numbers. I think it’s more precise to say that he’s heterodox on, say, issues involving “political correctness” but he clearly trends towards conventional liberalism on unions and education.

          • alex284

            Agreed. If anything, he’s improved on these issues. I remember once in the not too distant past he wrote that we just don’t know how to improve education, which is only true if you don’t consider any improvement that costs money.

        • alex284

          I’d remove the word “lately” and agree with that first sentence. He’s been this way for a long while.

      • Aaron Morrow

        not one in which educating people is a priority

        WHAT?

        I was going to say that Drum doesn’t usually write about education, but I can say that about three years ago he was “full of cynicism about the ed reform community.”

        HT:Diane Ravitch

        • rea

          His mother is a career teacher, and when he writes about education, he naturally tends to bee pro-teacher.

      • junker

        I think Drum is usually more good than bad, though the other day he had a “boy Hilary Clinton sure has a terrible voice huh?” post where admitted that this was sexism but that it didn’t matter. He even acknowledged the whole “I know no one ever complains about this with Sanders even though he shouts a lot” while still dismissing it. Not his finest moment.

        • LosGatosCA

          Drum is erratic and inconsistent.

          While not as bad, sometimes I read him and think ‘Michael Kinsley would be proud.’

          • Linnaeus

            I think he’s gotten better over the years, actually. I was way more frustrated with him in his Calpundit days.

            • Davis X. Machina

              I remember writing something back then like “Kevin Drum looks into the mirror every morning and says to himself ‘David Broder can’t live forever.'”

              I couldn’t do that now.

        • Brett

          Sometimes I wonder if his illness is affecting his writing. He’s mentioned before that the drug he’s on is really fucking with his sleep patterns.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Time for a reality check. Drum has been crying in the wilderness that the near-dogmatic “American public education is a catastrophe!!!!” argument (THE underpinning of Rheeism) is actually a Big Lie, and has been doing so nearly for-fucking-ever. He has a contrarian streak at times, but has been on the side of the angels in this issue for a really long time.

      • Brett

        Exactly. In fact, he’s pointed out multiple times that for primary and middle-school students, outcomes have basically improved across the board. It’s high school students where the problems start to emerge in terms of learning, and honestly I don’t know how you’d fix that – it might just come down to individual student/young adult temperament, in the way that Loomis frequently says that a lot of people simply aren’t a good fit for college education.

  • Linnaeus

    The “bad teacher” narrative is appealing to some for a few reasons:

    1. Most Americans have been educated in public schools, have children in public schools, or both, so it’s an idea easily grasped on a visceral level.

    2. It simplifies problems in education by creating a tangible, easily identifiable set of villains: teachers and unions that represent them.

    3. Likewise, it simplifies solutions for educational problems by offering a simple answer: just get rid of bad teachers. This also has the additional appeal of being, or appearing to be, a low-cost solution.

    4. It’s compatible with the silver bulletization of education. We’re loading onto our educational systems increasing expectations of their ability to address wider social problems, as a substitution for other measures we could do (or have done in the past). Viewing education through this lens makes it easier to view the problem of, say, poor social mobility solely as a result of poor education, which is in turn the fault of bad teachers.

    • JL

      Most Americans have been educated in public schools, have children in public schools, or both, so it’s an idea easily grasped on a visceral level.

      Yep, and I suspect most people remember having at least a couple of teachers that they thought were plain incompetent at their subject matter, at teaching, or both (I certainly did). So when the “bad teacher” narrative is pushed, people have a concrete image or two to picture. It makes it easy to grasp and believe. For people in social categories that are routinely screwed over by societal institutions, including schools, there are lots of images for the narrative to bring to mind, and that makes it even easier.

      • Linnaeus

        Yes, it draws upon a kind of folk wisdom about public schools.

        • ThrottleJockey

          For people in social categories that are routinely screwed over by societal institutions, including schools, there are lots of images for the narrative to bring to mind, and that makes it even easier.

          I’m glad JL brought this up. Far too often around this place we take it as an article of faith that all teachers combine Mother Theresa’s virtue with Albert Einstein’s intellect. There are a lot of minorities who’ve seen teachers who don’t fit that bill…at all.

          • Linnaeus

            Far too often around this place we take it as an article of faith that all teachers combine Mother Theresa’s virtue with Albert Einstein’s intellect.

            No. That’s just not true. No one here has made that argument.

            Saying that attacks on teachers have become excessive and that Rhee’s ideas for public education are harmful is not the same – even if you disagree with that position – as saying that every teacher is a genius and a saint. No one here has made that claim.

          • ColBatGuano

            Far too often around this place we take it as an article of faith that all teachers combine Mother Theresa’s virtue with Albert Einstein’s intellect.

            Do you practice these non sequiturs at home in front of a mirror before typing them out here?

      • Sly

        People who grew up or live in the suburbs understand that no one ever notices a great lawn. Perfectly manicured lawns sort of blend into the background noise, transitioning uniformly from one housing lot to the next without a hiccup. But when you pass by one that hasn’t been mowed in a few months and is saturated with weeds? That’s when you notice.

        But usually, when that happens, you don’t immediately leap to the conclusion that the entire neighborhood is shit.

        • Murc

          People who grew up or live in the suburbs understand that no one ever notices a great lawn.

          I can tell you that this isn’t true. You will never find a cattier group of people than a bunch of suburban men oh-so-casually standing around talking about their lawns.

          “Yours looks great, Carl. You almost can’t tell those gophers got in and tore it all up last year.”

          “Thanks, Jerry. Yours too. Well, except for that patch of crabgrass you’re trying to hide under that lawn ornament. Maybe get a bigger one?”

          “…”

          “…”

          “I hear Steve has a really bad crane fly infestation. Wanna go see?”

          “I do. I do want to go see. You’re a good friend, Jerry.”

          “Damn right I am.”

          • ThrottleJockey

            This.

            One of my buddies tells me he cuts his lawn twice–twice–a week. I’m like, do you have a second house in the tropics, because we’re not getting that much rain.

            Then he told me he dropped $1400 on his lawnmower. Again, I’m like, I don’t see the point of dropping $1400 on that kind of grass.

            • Brien Jackson

              Twice weekly cutting is really good for your grass in peak growing season, fyi. If you’re only doing it once a week, odds are you end up cutting off too much of the blade and shocking the plant, slowing root growth.

              • Murc

                Brien has proven my basic point far better than I ever could.

                He’s also 100% right. Sometimes around here we have particularly wet and cool summers and that’s sort of amazing for grass growth; you can practically see it happen. When I lived at home and had to mow the lawn there I would finish the yard and swear that the grass back at the start was visibly higher then the row I’d just finished.

                And 1400 is reasonable for a good riding mower. If you have a full acre to mow you start getting real tired walking behind that thing for two to four hours every week.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  LMAO, LMAO!

                  Acre? This guy has maybe an 1/8th of an acre! :-D

                • Brien Jackson

                  Well I actually do landscaping as a side business, so the I dunno that it proves your point exactly. :)

                • LosGatosCA

                  I usually just buy whatever the chauffeur recommends for him to use on the lawn. $1400 compared to what I paid for the MM S600, it’s less than a service appointment.

                  LOL

        • njorl

          But when you pass by one that hasn’t been mowed in a few months and is saturated with weeds? That’s when you notice.

          I’M GETTING TO IT!

          • redrob

            Just let it die. Saves on time and makes your suburban tract home easier to find among all the others.

      • N__B

        Yep, and I suspect most people remember having at least a couple of teachers that they thought were plain incompetent at their subject matter, at teaching, or both (I certainly did). So when the “bad teacher” narrative is pushed, people have a concrete image or two to picture. It makes it easy to grasp and believe.

        I did, too. But when I think about it for a minute, I remember that almost all of my NYC-public-school teachers were good, if imperfect, people who taught and encouraged the kids. And then I remember why I generally like teachers.

        Either a whole lot of people were very unlucky in their teachers, or they’re only remembering the bad parts of their school days.

        • ThrottleJockey

          I don’t really think this is accurate. I support school reform–charters, testing, Obama-school, the whole 9–even though the number of good teachers I had greatly outnumbered the bad teachers I had…That said, I had a few really bad teachers. A few were seriously racist. One, who I very much liked, I found out much later had slept with several boys just during my 4 years of high school. Good God, that man taught for 40 years, how many boys must he have slept with?*

          *During lectures he had a habit of sticking his hands in his pockets and “playing pocket pool”. When the kids made fun of him about this I defended him saying they were mean. Boy was I dumb.

          • Linnaeus

            During lectures he had a habit of sticking his hands in his pockets and “playing pocket pool”. When the kids made fun of him about this I defended him saying they were mean. Boy was I dumb.

            No, you weren’t dumb. That’s got nothing to do with what he was doing with his students, and you had no way of knowing what he was doing.

    • giovanni da procida

      Speaking as a former teacher in the LAUSD (and one who came in on an emergency credential, but with some teaching experience)- part of the issue with teaching is that (most/many) first year teachers are bad teachers. The combination of lesson planning, teaching, classroom control, and so on is hard to master! By the second year, a teacher (usually/often) has classroom control down, but is still probably struggling with providing quality teaching. If you are talking about an inner city school where more experienced teachers are likely to leave for greener pastures, you end up with a succession of inexperienced teachers who probably aren’t doing a great job.

      That’s sort f my pet theory for why educational outcomes are often so bad- a kid can survive one or two “new” teachers in their K-12 education, but when 1/4 or so of your teachers are inexperienced, you just fall further and further behind every year.

      The answer to this problem is not cutting unions and teacher pay and instituting charter schools, where teachers can be fired at will before they develop their skills.

      • Linnaeus

        part of the issue with teaching is that (most/many) first year teachers are bad teachers. The combination of lesson planning, teaching, classroom control, and so on is hard to master! By the second year, a teacher (usually/often) has classroom control down, but is still probably struggling with providing quality teaching.

        Oddly enough, this is pretty close to how Rhee has described her own experience as a teacher.

        • giovanni da procida

          This is based off my observations as a teacher, of teachers when I was a student, and conversations with other starting teachers. The best prepared among us had a formal degree in education, had student taught, and so on.

          I suspect that for most teachers, the first year is very hard. It doesn’t surprise me that Rhee describes her experience teaching that way (blind squirrel, nut, etc.). I don’t see why her experience leads her to suggest the nonsense that she does. Then again, I left teaching for scientific research, rather than a career in political agitation designed to make this country a worse place, so there are evidently a lot of differences between Rhee and I.

          • Linnaeus

            Hence why I thought there was a certain disconnect between how Rhee described her experience as a novice teacher and what she’s done since then.

            • Barry_D

              “Hence why I thought there was a certain disconnect between how Rhee described her experience as a novice teacher and what she’s done since then.”

              Which tips the stupid-evil scale firmly towards ‘evil’,
              as if the rest of her career had not already pegged the needle.

    • Shantanu Saha

      The “bad teacher” narrative is bad in many ways.

      It takes a long time to learn to be a good teacher. When I started out teaching, I frankly stunk, because my teaching preparation stunk. I had to learn the hard way, by trial and error, what worked in getting kids (for the most part) to listen and learn. Now that I have been teaching for 15 years, I see newer teachers struggle through growing pains much like I did. Frankly, most teachers are “bad teachers” for their first few years.

      Something like 50% of all new teachers never make it past three years (this is for those who intend to make it a career, not those slumming TFA types who do it to polish their resumes). Many people who decide to become teachers thus take this experience of the first few years to heart, and quit long before they have gained the experience that will make them truly effective with a diverse population of students. Others realize that they don’t really have the talent or desire to stand in front of a class of kids for the rest of their working lives. So despite claims to the contrary, truly bad teachers do get weeded out. But they self-select out much more often than being pushed.

      Could I have improved more quickly? Yes, but it would have meant having another, experienced teacher in my room more often in the early days of my teaching career, someone who could give me immediate feedback on what I was doing right and wrong, and who could occasionally demonstrate techniques and contribute observations about my classroom. But that requires spending much more on education, because you’re talking about upstaffing schools much more than they currently are.

      Are there bad teachers out there in tenured positions? Yes, but there are far fewer of them than the media and the “reformers” portray. The “rubber room” stories are largely apocryphal. And just as any corporate worker can tell stories about colleagues who manage to do outrageous things while keeping their jobs by working HR to their advantage, there are teachers who refine the craft of dodging accountability rather than the craft of teaching children.

      There are solutions to the problem of the educational gap. Flooding troubled schools with hordes of inexperienced education tourists is not one of them.

      Why are teachers more likely to support pay based on seniority over quality? Because seniority IS quality in the vast majority of cases.

    • alex284

      5. Most teachers are women. Americans love to blame and punish women for systemic problems.

  • Linnaeus

    Regarding Rhee’s firing of a principal on TV, Rhee’s grin in the video that Erik linked in which she said she probably shouldn’t have done that suggests to me that she doesn’t regret that action a fucking bit.

    • Davis X. Machina

      Same thing in criminal justice. Sometimes you have to execute the odd innocent, to send the message that you’re serious.

  • AuRevoirGopher

    What I find striking about the Rheeist reform movement is how intellectually vapid it is. There never seem to be any discussions about pedagogical theory, specifically what forms of teaching would best help low-income students. That was the original idea behind charter schools when teachers’ unions first proposed creating them in the 1980s. (I imagine they regret that idea)

    • Linnaeus

      There never seem to be any discussions about pedagogical theory, specifically what forms of teaching would best help low-income students.

      Well, that’s all ed school nonsense of course. I mean, thinking about how people teach and learn? How foolish!

      • ThrottleJockey

        Ummm, just how often does pedagogical theory come up here at LGM? Its all unions, unions, unions…Sometimes I think we’re going to have to post pictures of children here so we all remember why we have schools in the first place!

        • Brien Jackson

          How many people here are calling themselves educational policy experts?

          • ThrottleJockey

            Oh, man, when has LGM and its commenters refrained from commentary for lack of expertise? :-D

            Actually some pedagogy posts would be interesting. Washington Post and NYTimes have good education sections. Especially WaPo. And usually their articles are well aligned with LGM’s political preferences. What I like about their pieces though is that it starts with what’s best for students…I think a lot of people here think race and class are insurmountable, so why even bother with schools?

            But to be real there are lots of teachers and professors here, I bet they have good insights on pedagogy.

            • Brien Jackson

              Yeah, probably. My point was that I think it’s still a good point: Rheeists and other “education reformers” rarely have anything to say about learning processes or teaching methods. It’s all about funneling money to Pearson testing and firing teachers.

              • Linnaeus

                This.

                • rachelmap

                  Absolutely this.

              • Davis X. Machina

                …specifically what forms of teaching would best help low-income students.

                Not necessarily true. A lot of states and districts just buy a guru-connected ‘method’ off the shelf, and assume everything’s now fixed. Which works a treat in industry, as we know.

                More creeping MBA-ism. If you’re interested in a teaching job, and the admins all proudly say “We’re a (last-name-here) school!” run like hell

            • Shantanu Saha

              I would have to say that few college professors actually have the chops to talk pedagogical theory. American PhD programs are great at manufacturing people highly trained in narrow fields, but few of them invest in teaching grad students how to teach.

              K12 teachers, most of whom go through education school and thus take courses in education theory, know a bit more, but much of what they learn in Ed school does not survive their first experience working in a room alone with 30 children.

            • The Dark God of Time

              Your expertise seems to be anti-progressive, TJ.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Yeah, it’s a lot like Tom Friedman’s Suck. On.This., except the group they want to punish are Americans who’ve dedicated their lives to educating our children for garbage wages.

      • LosGatosCA

        except the group they want to punish are Americans who’ve dedicated their lives to educating our children for garbage wages. Plus all the other children who sucking down tax dollars I’d rather voluntarily spend educating my own children

        Th common good doesn’t exist in the minds of these people. Everything is a win/lose proposition and they see themselves as the victims unless someone else is the clear loser.

        IOW, I’m not paying taxes for other people to have as good an education as my kids and then get the better job.

        • Davis X. Machina

          It’s hard to provide a public good in a country where half, or more, of the political nation doesn’t believe the word ‘public’ refers to any extant thing…

  • Juicy_Joel

    I fail to see the justification in the entire testing regime at the heart of the privatizers and charter school advocates.

    Not well read on this, but I assume someone is getting rich selling standardized tests?

    • sharonT

      That would be Pearson.

      Tests, test-prep, teacher training and certification.

  • timb

    One of my colleagues is dating a charter school teacher. She relates that the lowest grade she is allowed to give on any assignment is a C. This applies to even uncompleted work.

    It’s like contemporary law school grades for the 6th grade ;)

    • CrunchyFrog

      I’m sure not every charter school is like that. However, I’m sure that almost every charter school – and most schools in the US in general – put way, way, way, way too much emphasis on the goddamn end of year test.

      Two of our kids have attended an on-line public charter school here in Colorado. It was very helpful to their situations, even though it was clear that the school had an overly tight budget because they had to skim profits for the overseer corporation. In general the curriculum was solid, except for topics that require updating more often than once every 15 years (the Java course was literally unusable, whereas the English course was just fine except that the same errors in some test answers were still present 4 years later when the second kid took the same course). The on-line teachers were of mixed skill level, and most (but not all) were go-out-of-their-way helpful, but generally of less experience.

      However, starting in November the live lessons shift focus to the big annual test in April. Typically 20% of the time is devoted to test taking, and that grows as the test gets closer. Meanwhile, lots of special test-taking sessions are offered with rewards for attending. On top of that, an “extra” part of the required curriculum which is listed as required but in fact the grade is not recorded and there is no credit for it are “Skills for Success” and additional scantron tests which I suspect exist solely to keep the kids practicing their test taking.

      Then – not the fault of the charter school on this – but when the April test comes the school essentially shuts down for a week while kids take test from 3-4 days depending on grades. Well, until this year, when a parent revolt greatly reduced the testing required – not coincidentally slashing the cash that Colorado has been shoveling to Rhee’s buddies in the testing industry. Since this was an on-line school that had kids all over the state they had to stage the tests over 3 weeks in different locations, which meant the teachers were unavailable for that time.

      But the worst part was that the test results are not used in any way, shape, or form to benefit the students. When I had to take the IAT in elementary school it was half a day and a month later my homeroom teacher met with me for 15 minutes to go over the scores in depth, compare them to previous years, and tie it into my education plan (not formal like today’s IEPs, but nevertheless something that was communicated to me and my parents). But instead, today, the test results – in incredibly vague lack of detail – are mailed to the child’s house maybe 6 months later with no context or interpretation. Basically, the tests exist for the dual purposes of making Rhee’s buddies rich and to penalize schools that don’t score well – fuck the actual students, this is about greed, pure and simple.

      • Denverite

        Denver has a number of excellent charter schools. But that’s because the operate them as sort of an adjunct to DPS.

        http://www.dsstpublicschools.org/about-us

        There’s a great DSST that’s just up the street from us. We’ll send our daughter there if she gets in.

        • CrunchyFrog

          Through tennis my daughter has met girls who go to the performing arts school and to the international studies school and they rate them both very highly. We also have some excellent charter schools in the Springs area. From the above, my criticism isn’t of charter schools, it’s of the testing mandates (which is a central part of Rheeism).

          • Denverite

            Yeah, those are both very good. The issue with the DSST near us (in Wash Park) is that they stopped reserving 75% of the spots for neighborhood kids. Apparently reserving most of the spots in a sought after school for rich white kids is “not fair to all the other kids in Denver.” We understand that it’s 50-50 whether you get in.

            • CrunchyFrog

              It seems that Denver’s neighborhood schools aren’t bad either – and that they have very strong parent support organizations. I’m thinking of East, North, and South of which I have some limited experience, but I’m told others are as well. Just goes to show that a big city doesn’t have to have a Chicago-like public school experience.

              • Denverite

                East is always good (and tough to choice into now — you pretty much have to live in that area). I live within a mile of South; I’m told it goes up and down, but especially if you are in the honors classes, you’ll get a good education. North I’ve heard was rough but as the younger schools in the Highlands start to flip, you’d think North might get a lot better in the next decade or two. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are also good.

                The real problem are the junior highs. It’s odd. You have a bunch of excellent elementary schools (my kids very well might go to the best public elementary school in the state), and the high schools are good-enough. But the junior highs are bleh. Although we’ve had friends tell us that it’s just the age. Get a bunch of 11-14 year olds together, and it’s usually going to suck.

      • giovanni da procida

        A charter school I worked at used to have the principal go to students who weren’t going to do well on the tests and tell them to call in sick. True story.

        • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

          My medical school does the exact same thing with students who look like they might do poorly on their board exams. AFAIK every other med school does also. It is universally to be expected when schools (and their administrators) are evaluated on standardized test scores.

          • ThrottleJockey

            People will always game the system. You might say that that’s the main trick to getting ahead in professional life. A professor in school once gave me a no-show job just because he needed to maintain funding. He didn’t have any work for me to do but he didn’t want to see his budget decline. Damn, that was a pretty sweet gig.

            • Shantanu Saha

              SomePpeople will always game the system.

              Yes. We call them sociopaths. Other people have consciences.

          • Colin Day

            If they don’t pass the board exams, can they be licensed as physicians? They must be thrilled to get through med school and not practice.

    • BigHank53

      My, won’t those be some special snowflakes when they finally make it to the workforce.

      ‘Tis of a piece with the anti-democracy rumblings that emanate from conservative intelligentsia: “We can’t trust those people with the vote!”

  • Aaron Morrow

    These charter schools that Chait claim work so well suspend black and disabled students at rates higher than public schools.

    I assume Chait will respond to this fact by whining about “political correctness” per usual, like he does when people bring up the unionization of college football.

    • alex284

      And if someone points out that “political correctness” complaints are less about making speech freer and more about delegitimizing arguments that come from women and minorities, well, they’re just being PC nazis and you don’t have to listen to them.

  • AMK

    I’m in the “school structure is irrelevant, give the parents more money” camp, so I think much of the education “debate” is just kabuki theater to deflect focus from deeper socioeconomic issues. I also don’t have kids, and I had enough shitty tenure-protected teachers growing up (even in a very well-off suburban district) to think that teachers’ unions have less-than-pure motives at least some of the time.

    Nonetheless, the very idea of charter schools should set off alarm bells for anyone who wasn’t born yesterday. If I was a parent, and the school district told me they were going to use my tax dollars to outsource my kid’s education (and environment/physical safety for 7 hours/5 days a week) to a hedge fund-backed corporation with near-total legal impunity and no oversight, I would probably call the police.

  • junker

    Hopefully the downfall of her husband will move Rhee further from the levers of power.

    Also today Chair has another one of his “being too PC is the biggest problem facing the left today!” posts up. I used to defend him but the crap to good stuff ratio is getting too out of whack for him lately.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      In between being a basketball player and a politician her husband used to frequent the coffee shop I worked at in Curtis Park, Sacramento. He would come early in the morning with a big posse. But, he was one of the two best tippers I ever saw during my tenure as a barrist.

    • Linnaeus

      The NYU professor Jonathan Haidt (whom I mentioned a couple of days ago) has made “political correctness” his bailiwick as of late. This, I think, calls for some serious analysis of the concept of “political correctness” and the work of these self-styled anti-PC warriors.

    • brewmn

      I used to defend him but the crap to good stuff ratio is getting too out of whack for him lately.

      Me too. I’ve progressed from suffering through the pro-ed reform and anti-PC bullshit to just saying “no way Jose'” when I see that’s the topic of one of his posts. Now those posts have been so frequent I’m almost at the point where I don’t even check to see whether he’s written something I might enjoy.

      And that’s a shame. He was the go-to political analyst for anti-Republican arguments that the establishment types might grudgingly accept. Now he seems so damned determined to prove he’s not one of the dirty fucking hippies that he might as well join the National Review.

      • Linnaeus

        Now he seems so damned determined to prove he’s not one of the dirty fucking hippies that he might as well join the National Review.

        I knew Chait in college. He was always like that, AFAICR, with respect to antihippieness, but NR would be a bridge too far for him.

        • brewmn

          Give him time. The trendline has become worrisome.

  • Sebastian_h

    “First, teacher unions don’t want bad teachers either. What they want is for school districts to go through contractually negotiated processes for disciplining and then firing teachers.”

    You always say this, but if someone wasn’t sure you were right what evidence would you show? I’ve seen lots of procedures in my life that obviously weren’t meant for what they say they were meant for. There are all sorts of procedures in the world that are designed to disadvantage black people. Lots of,them aren’t labeled “to disadvantage black people” but we can see how they operate and realize that they do.

    Is it really inconceivable that the “contractually negotiated process” combined with the idea that testing results shouldn’t ever be applied to teachers (even in a value added way) might make it almost impossible to fire bad teachers who aren’t quite to the level of child molestors? Is it possible that some procedures in some schools might function that way?

    • Honoré De Ballsack

      Is it really inconceivable that (union protection) might make it almost impossible to fire bad teachers who aren’t quite to the level of child molestors? Is it possible that some procedures in some schools might function that way?

      You have a valid point, and–depending on the actual details–it might be a discussion worth having. Unfortunately it isn’t the discussion we ARE having, which is basically “Are teachers’ unions the problem with Amercian education?”

    • Murc

      You always say this, but if someone wasn’t sure you were right what evidence would you show?

      The lack of a paper trail. Most administrators who bitch about “unfirable teachers” cannot provide the requisite paper trail proving they’ve even been trying to get those teachers fired and the unions are making it “impossible.”

      Is it really inconceivable that the “contractually negotiated process” combined with the idea that testing results shouldn’t ever be applied to teachers (even in a value added way) might make it almost impossible to fire bad teachers who aren’t quite to the level of child molestors? Is it possible that some procedures in some schools might function that way?

      It’s possible, but the burden of proof is on those who are saying it is so.

      I’m sure you could find a situation in which a manifestly unqualified teacher kept their job due to working the system really well despite every effort to get rid of them. That’s almost certainly happened.

      The question is, does it happen enough that we need to rip out the system and reform it root and branch? Because no system is perfect.

      Or, to use a different analogy; if you find a whole department of crooked cops, you implement systemic reforms; if you find one crooked cop, you throw the book at him and move on.

      • Sebastian_h

        I almost used that exact analogy but thought it was too heavy handed. But since we are there…. Just as we know that the procedures for cops are more to protect them from accountability, the same could be true of teachers.

        • Murc

          It could be, but the burden of proof is on those saying not only that it is so, but that it is widespread and common.

          They’ve utterly failed to do that. It’s an extraordinary claim and it requires extraordinary evidence.

          • Sebastian_h

            Do you believe it is an extraordinary claim for police officers?

            • Murc

              Claiming that the people charged with upholding the law and justice are a bunch of criminals and thugs themselves is, in fact, and extraordinary claim.

              Sadly, at various times and places in this and many other countries, including many PD’s to this very day, there is plenty of equally extraordinary evidence to match that claim. People didn’t just assert that. They provided breathtakingly comprehensive and sweeping evidence of their claims.

              You could make the argument that the ways police fuck up egregiously is so commonplace and well-documented that saying that they’re doing so is no longer an extraordinary claim, I suppose. But in isolation, yes, “the guys who are supposed to be the law are in fact criminals” is kind of an extraordinary claim.

              • Sebastian_h

                I’m not arguing that all or most cops/teachers are bad. I’m arguing that the systems are designed to avoid accountability. I don’t think that is an extraordinary claim for cops at all and I’m kind of shocked anyone who isn’t a cop disagrees.

                I suspect that a similar problem occurs with teachers, but since there are rarely dead bodies from bad teaching we don’t get as obvious wake up calls. The systems are similar. I’m not sure the unions are ‘to blame’ for that in some total way. The institutions are to blame and the unions are a part of the workings of that. But the idea that unions want to get rid of bad teachers seems over the top to me. Cops and teachers are in tough frontline jobs, and that may contribute to them overprotecting their own.

            • Barry_D

              “Do you believe it is an extraordinary claim for police officers?”

              We have extraordinary proof.

      • Linnaeus

        I’m sure you could find a situation in which a manifestly unqualified teacher kept their job due to working the system really well despite every effort to get rid of them. That’s almost certainly happened.

        It’s of a piece with those stories we all hear about the man or woman who got more in food stamps than he or she should have, got disability payments when she or he wasn’t hurt “that bad” and so on, therefore the system is rife with wastefraudandabuse.

      • Brett

        We had this come up in a prior thread when discussing management. Lots of line managers and direct supervisors, unsurprisingly, don’t like confrontation and have a tendency to let things slide for too long when it comes to bad employees. They don’t give out warnings, they don’t document problems, and so shit just piles on until you’re trying to quickly get rid of this employee at the last minute. If they just did the damn paperwork . . .

        In any case, a sign of failure to me is if it’s easier to bribe someone to quit rather than going through the procedure to fire them for cause. If that’s happening, then it suggests that the termination process is too slow or costly.

    • Dilan Esper

      In theory the teacher’s union doesn’t want to protect bad teachers, just like the police union doesn’t want to protect bad cops.

      In practice….

      (Having said this, I will say what I always say. I support collective bargaining and unionization as a procedural right. So obviously, I think charter school teachers should be able to easily form unions if they wish to and support proposals like card check that will help make that a reality. But there’s no guarantee that unions will always act in the public interest and indeed they really aren’t supposed to– they are supposed to protect the interests of their members.)

      • Brett

        I’m not so sure about the latter – it sounds like the police forces just don’t want to admit that there are bad cops at all, or at least don’t want to “air out their baggage” even if privately they know there are bad cops. Otherwise, why the over-reaction from their unions every time police misconduct comes up, or the way that police departments invariably give officers fingered for misconduct who dodge charges awards later on?

        • Barry_D

          Seconding here – the equivalent for teachers would be if publicly f*cking a student on camera was something which the school board would cover up.

          • Barry_D

            Actually, the true equivalent would be murdering a student on camera, and the school board and the mayor and the judiciary and the ‘liberal media’ protecting the teacher.

            • Brett

              Exactly. It would be like if a teacher beat the shit out of a student on camera, and then not only got off scot-free in terms of charges while keeping his/her job, but was then quickly awarded some type of Teacher of the Year award with glowing praise from their school district.

    • alex284

      My high school had a teacher’s union. I remember 3 teachers getting fired in the 4 years I was there. And those were just the teachers I knew about; perhaps it happened to others or some of the stories about a teacher “getting a job in another state” weren’t really true.

      2 were incompetent (poor classroom management, etc.). The other I don’t know why he got fired (so maybe child molestation, I really don’t know).

      Oh, there was another who was about to be fired for dating a student but then he committed suicide.

      This whole “teachers can never be fired because unions” thing just rings very hollow for me.

      But even my brother made that argument, and he went to the same high school I did. I asked him which teachers should have been fired, and the one he named was a teacher who we both disliked, but we disliked her because she was 100% absorbed by teaching to college Spanish placement exams. She wasn’t very charismatic or fun and we didn’t learn anything about speaking Spanish, but she made us do a bunch of fill-in-the-blank exercises like we were going to see on future placement tests. In other words, she would be a star teacher in the Rhee-iverse.

      • Amanda in the South Bay

        My least favorite teachers in high school were invariably athletic coaches, and people without any real subject matter expertise (often social studies teachers of sorts). Neither of which are really Union problems.

  • KadeKo

    I’m waiting for market-rate (sic) volunteer to fix it all.

  • Gwen

    It’s been said of many others, but Rhee is best summed up I think by the phrase “a stupid person’s idea of a smart person.”

  • Linnaeus

    Folks might find this to be of interest:

    A special committee of the California Legislature has ordered the state auditor to investigate Los Angeles’ largest charter school chain and the state’s charter school trade association for a series of union-busting and privacy breaching actions taken during 2015 to stop a teacher-led union drive at the franchise.

    The Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC), composed of members of the Assembly and Senate, voted 8-3 Wednesday to authorize the audit of Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, which has 11,000 students in 27 schools. The audit comes after a Los Angeles County Court issued a temporary restraining order against the taxpayer-funded but privately run school to stop its anti-union actions, which include not only intimidating and threatening teachers but also working with the California Charter School Association (CCSA) to recruit parents and alumni to fight the union drive.

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