Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I think I have a new hero

Her name is Michelle Rhee. From today's WSJ:

The school system is doing "an abysmal job," said Ms. Rhee, who has been on the job for 17 months. According to Department of Education data, about 60% of the district's high-school students finish in four years with a diploma. By comparison, nearby suburban districts have a graduation rate of 78%. More telling: In some Washington, D.C., high schools, only about 6% of the sophomores can read or do math on grade level.

While she is realistic that children in her school district come to school with "significant challenges," Ms. Rhee said it is "complete crap" that those students can't perform at a high level because of their environments. "It's easy to blame external factors as the reason why poor minority kids aren't achieving at the same level. It's a false premise. You have to put supports and mechanisms in place around those kids, but I refuse to allow the adults in the system to use that as an excuse."


Matthew said...

I like Michelle Rhee, but what she is saying here doesn't really make sense. The reason disadvantaged kids need extra "supports and mechanisms" is "because of their environments". The alternative would seem to be that it is because of their genetic endowments. I don't believe that, and I doubt she does either.

Until the adults in the system have those supports and mechanisms in place, it is perfectly reasonable to blame the kids' environments, which isn't to say that the people in the system may not deserve some blame too.

Richard Green said...

I agree with mattw. But if I am running a disfunctional system, I am not going to say that I accept any excuses.

ryan said...

I am a quasi-fan of Miss Rhee. I appreciate her attempts to bring accountability to the educational system. But I am an avid opponent of vouchers. There is a complex coordination game involved in the quality of our public schools and the degree of freedom offered up by a voucher system would likely make the costs of quality public education prohibitive.

Interested readers should read the following from last month's Atlantic:


Anonymous said...

In Vancouver there are some "inner city" schools where the kids likely face similar problems (ethnically they are primarily "first nations" - ie native north americans).

One school principal decided to refuse to use their poor background as an excuse and encouraged/empowered teachers to be more creative in helping these students learn. As I recall from the news article, they started offering hot breakfasts and lunches, to solve the problem of hungry kids struggling to learn. They also changed assignments and lessons enough that first nations students related to them better.

The result in this one elementary school was a dramatic improvement on standardized reading and math tests.

This school provides evidence that it can work to insist to teachers and principals that there are no acceptable excuses for poor learning outcomes.

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