Rhee's Road Show Offers Nothing New
Last night StudentsFirst founder and self-proclaimed education reformer Michelle Rhee held the first of a series of nationwide “teacher town halls” in Los Angeles, in what Rhee describes as an effort to move beyond “the extreme rhetoric and personal attacks overshadowing what’s important: getting every child into a great school with great teachers.” Ironic given the extreme rhetoric and blaming of “bad” teachers and principals Rhee uses as the cornerstone of her "reform" ideas.
Rhee’s co-panelists last night were Dr. Steve Perry, founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet school, who uses what Rhee apparently considers un-extreme rhetoric when he refers to teachers unions as “roaches", and George Parker, the former Washington DC teachers union president who is now a paid Rhee staffer. As expected, last night’s event was very controlled. Audience questions were pre-screened on cards and Rhee and her co-panelists chewed up 90% of the speaking time. How is that a "town hall"?
The panel spent most of the evening talking about accountability and the need to get rid of bad teachers, and how unions were an obstacle to "real" reform. There was little if any discussion of supporting teachers or providing our public schools the resources they need.
While there was plenty of union-bashing, student Hannah Nguyen (@hbnguyen18), the only student allowed to speak, closed the evening’s questions by pointing out that StudentsFirst doesn’t seem very student-centered. Nguyen had to hold up a sign (“The Best Way to Put Students First is to Listen to Them”) and, with crowd support, put tape over her mouth to shame the panel into briefly moving beyond the scripted, dog-and-pony show nature of the night. Watch Hannah speak truth to power here:
Prior to the event CTA Boardmember David Goldberg and other members of United Teachers Los Angeles leafleted outside and did press interviews exposing the flaws in both Rhee’s record and her philosophy. CTA Boardmember José Alcalá and Inglewood Teachers Association President Peter Somberg also attended.
Unsurprisingly the Rhee Road Show was not interested in engaging actual teachers and their union in discussions on how to improve our schools, even though that was the stated purpose of the event, and even when those “obstacles to reform” were actually in the audience. The Rhee Road Show hits Birmingham and Philadelphia next.