From School Matters
by Jim Horn
My question for Michelle Rhee last evening that did not get asked:
In 2007, the same year you became Chancellor of DC Schools, a 12 year old boy named Deamonte Driver died (Edelman, 2011) from a brain infection that could have been avoided had Deamonte’s mom been able to pay $80 weeks earlier for a routine extraction of a bad tooth. Your comments this evening substantially add to the master narrative that urban schools are failing and that they need saving and that they can be saved if we get rid of the wrong teachers and get in the right teachers, even ones who have very little training, no understanding to urban cultures, and ones with only a two year commitment to “serve” the “mission.” This master narrative, in turn, has dulled citizen awareness of the other issues that contribute to low achievement, those societal issues of poverty, racism, bad housing, inadequate health care, homelessness, lack of opportunity, poor access to healthy food, and, yes, even lack of dental visits. Do you feel that these societal issues are important to student success, and if so, what are you and your organization doing to address these issues or to create increased awareness among the people who pay the $50,000 fee that you charge to have others hear your message?
Coverage from BU’s Daily Free Press:
About 100 teachers, students and local organizations joined together for a “Rhee-Action” against Michelle Rhee’s plans for privatizing public education in a demonstration Wednesday.
Alliance for Education Justice, the National Campaign for Quality Education and the Boston-area Youth Outreach Project initiated the protest outside of Symphony Hall where Rhee was speaking as part of the 2011 Boston Speaker Series.
Rhee, who became the superintendent of education in Washington, D.C two years ago, spoke in Boston to recommend her education reform plan to Boston’s public education system, according to flyers handed out at the protest.
Fenway High School student Ada Bonilla, one of the protesters, said that paying Rhee to speak in Boston “can be invested in other things, like teacher funding and salaries.” Rhee’s idea to try and move schools into other districts is “not going to help” students, she said.
“I’m a senior and I won’t be here next year,” Bonilla said. “But can you imagine the dropout rates?”
Retired Newton Public Schools history teacher Maureen O’Conner said she is, “very, very concerned” about Rhee’s plan.
Despite seeing Rhee as a “new, good person” when she first became superintendent, O’Conner said she is now apprehensive about the measures Rhee has taken in Washington, D.C. and would like to take in Boston.
“She divided teachers against each other, and that doesn’t help the children,” O’Conner said. “Her methods are punitive when they should be supportive.”
President of the Boston Teachers Union Richard Stutman said he agreed that Rhee is “arrogant beyond belief” and a “discredited education reformer.”
Stutman said he hoped that by protesting, people who are truly interested in reforming the education system would realize her methods would not work.
“Michelle is a galvanizing force responsible for helping move the country and the education system in a bad direction,” Stutman said. “She promotes cheating at any cost and I think it’s outrageous to be paying her.”
Bob Blackler, a Snowden International School teacher, said that Rhee should be “jeered rather than awarded” and has “no business” being the superintendent of education.
“There’s a disturbing trend in national education policy,” Blackler said. “People who are disqualified are in high office, and it’s emblematic toward the privatization of public schools.”
O’Conner said she is also worried about the “frightening” trend toward the privatization of public schools.
“To have public school money and to have corporations come in and take over public schools is frightening to me,” O’Conner said. “It hasn’t happened in Boston yet, but it could.”
Heidi Noce, of Snowden International School, said that along with privatization of schools, what infuriated her was scrutiny of teachers and the education system.
“People say Boston teachers are overpaid, but I teach at a great school and our students get a great education,” Noce, also a member of the Boston Teachers Union, said. “It’s infuriating to hear of people who bash our education and good teachers.”
Allison Casey, a senior who asked to keep her high school affiliation anonymous, said she hoped that people would see Rhee’s methods are wrong and stop supporting her.
“I’ve been a Boston public school student for 15 years and both my parents are teachers, so I want to raise awareness of both Michelle’s errors and change minds about privatization,” Casey said. “I’m a senior and I see students being failed behind me. It’s sad and it needs to change.”
Brian Sanchez, a student at Snowden International School, said he agreed changes need to be made. Students need to take a stand against Michelle, who is a “bad, bad person,” he said.
“Schools are getting shut down and money is taken away,” Sanchez said. “She is the opposite of what you want in a teacher – she’s selfish and unqualified.”
O’Conner said that people need to take a stand and support public education.
“I could sit at home and do nothing,” O’Conner said, “but I wanted to make a point and support my fellow teachers.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article, published in the Nov. 10 print edition, stated that according to fliers handed out at the protest, WGBH paid Michelle Rhee $50,000.00 to speak. However, this is incorrect. WGBH did not pay or contribute any money. Rhee came as part of The Boston Speakers Series which WGBH is a media sponsor for.