In a Perfect World Part Two

Meet Adam Miranda
How should Adam Miranda handle this situation in a world without unions?

Adam Miranda is very excited! He recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Secondary Mathematics Education. Mr. Miranda was also married soon after his graduation to his high school sweetheart Marissa.

Adam was a December graduate from school so he knew that he should probably apply to be a substitute teacher in Chicago Public Schools until he could secure a position. He lands a position as a substitute for a teacher on maternity leave. He teaches two sections of Algebra One to freshmen and two sections of Geometry to sophomores. While he struggles in the beginning with the students, he eventually wins their trust. The students’ progress during his time as the teacher was more than anyone could have expected. The progress was so extraordinary; the principal offered him a full time job starting in August. Mr. Miranda was excited and eager to get started the next school year. He loved the school and the students and they were eager to have him next year in Algebra Two and Pre-Calculus.

Mr. Miranda rushed home to tell his wife that he had secured a position for the next school year. His wife told him more startling news, that she was pregnant with their first child. Mr. Miranda screamed, “This is the happiest day of my life!” He had a job, which he figured would support his wife and new baby, and the beginning of a new family. During the time leading to the end of the current year, Adam and Marissa discussed their family plans. They both decided that Marissa would stay home with the baby until it was old enough to go to school.

In Late July, Mr. Miranda was getting excited about the prospect of being a full-time teacher. He went to some of the local teacher’s stores to buy materials for his class. His parents threw him a party to celebrate his accomplishment and give him materials for his classroom. Later that week, Mr. Miranda opens the offer letter from the school that he will work at in the fall. In the letter he showed that he would be making $40,000 for the school year. Mr. Miranda was puzzled; he knew that there were first year teachers in the district that made more money. He figured it would be an easy task to ask his principal for an increase in his pay.

The next morning, he went to his school and asked to speak to the principal. Adam explained that he was very excited about the work that he was going to be doing at his school. He followed up by saying, “While, I am excited about my position, I am a little concerned about the pay. My Wife and I are having a baby in a couple of months and we decided that she should stay home with the baby. I am very concerned that we will not able to do this because my starting pay is a little low.” The principal responded, “I appreciate your concern, but after looking at our budget, this is the most that I can give you at this time. We have many other priorities, and we have to balance them. This offer is essentially non-negotiable.” Mr. Miranda thanked the principal for his time and began to think about whether he would have to work a second job or have his wife go to work after she had the baby.

Really Michelle Rhee!?

Michelle Rhee wearing her signature black suit showing that she is "sweeping" away the bad teachers. (Photo: flackrabbit.com)

One can’t help but have a warm-fuzzy feeling when you hear Michelle Rhee talk about education. It is those warm and fuzzy feelings that have garnered Rhee the celebrity that she has gotten since she left her post as the Chancellor of DC Public Schools after 3 ½ years. (NOTE: Waiting for Superman made a pun against a former DCPS school leader who left after a short time. – But I digress) As sympathetic as I am in the need to reform schools, I am quite stunned at the apathy that Michelle Rhee has towards anyone that doesn’t support or embrace her agenda. Her apathetic tone has been a trend since she left her post at DC Public Schools. Before anyone embraces her or her drive to “reform” America’s education system, one must ask what really are Michelle Rhee’s motives?

 

“Yesterday’s election results were devastating, devastating. Not for me, because I’ll be fine, and not even for Fenty, because he’ll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C.”

This was a quote taken by the Washington Post on the day she found out that soon to be former Mayor Fenty lost his primary bid for re-election. In an interview with NPR she said, “I wish that the reporter would have actually expressed the entire sentiment and not just those words…[b]ecause what I said was, it was devastating because I have received calls from people inside the city and across the nation who are saying this is the worst thing that could’ve happened to school reform.” Even Rhee’s half-baked attempt to backtrack on her words still had an air of arrogance that shouldn’t surround a reformer, especially for the “civil rights issue of our time.” Reformers for civil rights issues like Martin Luther King never purported that the issue was hinged on one person, however Rhee has certainly set up that precedent.

In all fairness to Rhee, who wouldn’t feel arrogant? She was propped up as a hero in the movie Waiting for Superman. She has been made education advisor for the governor’s elect transition team in Florida. Oprah enthusiastically embraced Rhee on her show by saying, “I don’t have the know how to fix it…I have been saying from this platform that somebody needs to fix it. [A]nd the fact that you stepped up and said ‘I am the one to do it,’ God bless you.” Is arrogance what he need in the school reform movement?

Despite the fact that I disagree with many of Rhee’s policies, her apathy towards anyone who doesn’t agree with her agenda is the biggest sticking point with me. I am sure there are many educators across the country that would be willing to sit down and discuss the issues facing education with Rhee and come to a consensus. Unfortunately, Rhee’s goal is not to develop or create a consensus rather, it’s to develop a national competition on who is right, and who is wrong. She is creating national competition on who can be labelled education reformers and who are the members of the status quo. The most alarming thing about this competition is that she is participating in a competition that she feels she can invariably win. Why? Because she has the backing and support of big names with large sums of money like Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and Oprah who believes that Rhee has the “solution” to the problem in education. To add to the alarming factor, she believes that competition is acceptable in the education – even among children. She was quoted saying, “We have become a little too obsessed about making kids feel good about themselves…[w]e have lost the competitive spirit.” Is the competition what we need to change the American school system for the better?

“After the shock of Fenty’s loss, it became clear to me that the best way to keep the reform going in the D.C. schools was for me to leave my job as chancellor….But I felt that Mayor-elect Vincent Gray should have the same ability that Fenty had to appoint his own chancellor. And I knew I had become a lightning rod and excuse for the anti-reformers to oppose the changes that had to be made.” (Newsweek Editorial)

Really Michelle Rhee!? “Anti-reformers oppose the changes that had to be made.” It is that inflammatory and self-serving rhetoric that spurred the opposition against Michelle Rhee. Education is a consequence of and rooted in democracy. In other words, the stakeholders must be represented in the decisions that are being made throughout the school district. The mere fact that the stakeholders are demanding that they are to be heard is not a function of being an anti-reformer but of being an anti-“RHEE”former. Rhee should not be allowed to say, “I know people say I wasn’t good enough at building consensus, but I don’t think consensus can be the goal” on one hand and then appear on Oprah or purport on her new “Student’s First” website that the mission is to build a national movement to defend the interests of children. Are the parents integral to the success of children, therefore they the first defence in looking out for the interests of them? Aren’t the teachers that work with them day in and day out looking out for the interests of children? It is unfair for Michelle Rhee to vilify and stifle the voices of the stakeholders in the name of her version of reform.

Is this picture very inviting to you? (Photo: atlantic.com)

Really Michelle Rhee!? I think the most ironic thing about her fame especially on the hills of her Student’s First website launch is that she is going to “transform education” by creating a special interest or lobbying group? (I hope that everyone reading took a few moments to let that settle in.) Isn’t this same person who tarnishes teacher’s unions for being a special interest group? Isn’t this the same person who in her Newsweek editorial, argued that even textbook manufacturers shape the agenda in education reform? However, it is not ironic to believe that her Student’s First organization is no better than the teacher’s union or the textbook manufacturer simply because she puts the word STUDENT in the title. She even asserted that school board meetings rarely discuss children, however her agenda includes mayoral control, merit-based pay for teachers, and increased accountability based on test scores. Where is the mention of children? Aren’t these just bureaucratic policies towards education? This is the same bureaucracy that Rhee is against.

Really Michelle Rhee!? This “reformer” clearly has a difficult time staying consistent. In her Newsweek editorial she said, “I did a particularly bad job letting the many good teachers know that I considered them to be the most important part of the equation. I should have said to the effective teachers, ‘You don’t have anything to worry about. My job is to make your life better, offer you more support, and pay you more.’ In other words, hindsight ‘I should have been nicer to teachers.’” However, in her speech in Sacramento she once again antagonized ALL teachers by asserting that teacher training schools are filled with the “lowest performing students” – better students choose other careers. Once again, Rhee failed to discuss the nuances of some of the better Schools of Education around the country including the one of her alma maters, Harvard University. In that one statement she debased a whole segment of current teachers and future teachers who went to teacher training schools –many of you reading this blog post. (Full Disclosure: I went to a teacher training school too.) However, teachers around the country are supposed to rally behind her in her brand of school reform.

After reading and listening to Michelle Rhee it has become very difficult for me to have any warm-fuzzy feelings about her or her agenda. Contrary to her belief, I do want the best for my students and I am sure the educators reading this blog post do too. It is in that vein, that I can never support someone so condescending and self-serving as Rhee has become. Oprah may be a successful media mogul – successfully endorsing books – but I am not quick to jump on the Oprah bandwagon here. In the end, I have found that Rhee’s “Student’s First” organization is nothing but a platform for Michelle Rhee to pontificate on a national scale. Her organization will do no more to serve the needs of children than the teacher’s union, the textbook manufacturer, and bureaucrats that she lambastes in the media. The organization is not about students; it’s about Michelle. That’s fine! However, don’t insult the intelligence of many educators in the meantime. Really Michelle Rhee!? We don’t need a queen; we need a leader!

Late Add
Let’s just say for the sake of conversation that her “reforms” are “well-intentioned” and in the spirit of students. Here is some data she cannot dispute:

  • She will still be the wife of a prominent politician.
  • She will still make a lot of money with her “Students First” organization.
  • She still made $275,000/year as chancellor of DCPS.
  • She makes good money from her television appearances, movie appearances, and her work in Florida as Hess’ transition team in Florida.
  • Because of her wealth she has the option to send her children to private school.
  • AND if her “reforms” crash and burn because of her untested “reforms,” alienation of educators, and apathy towards anyone who disagrees with her including her stake holders, she will STILL have all the above, and the parents, community members, and students will still lose. Really Michelle Rhee!?

Does the MTA Affect Student Achievement for NYC Students?

Recently I was reading the New York Times. In the article it discusses how the MTA, the cities public transportation agency, plans to make cuts in the funding to help close a budget shortfall of nearly $400 million. When I was reading this article I realised that many of the things they were going to do are standard. Especially living in Chicago and dealing with the CTA. They were going to cut some routes, eliminate some lines, end the all-night services on some of the subway routes, and do this without raising fares. I can imagine that many people would be just elated to find out that they were not going to cut fares. As I kept reading, I noticed that they were going to eliminate the reduced fare rates given to students of the New York. I was absolutely appalled by this decision by the MTA. Once again, I am observing how people fail to make the connection between public policies and education.

Many students of the public school system are low-income. I remember the days of going to elementary and high school and my stepmom complaining about the cost of the reduced fare cards that we used. I think that if CTA has phased out the reduced fare program then we would have probably walked half way to school every morning, because it just would have been totally out of the budget to pay for full-fare transit cards. I can only imagine that situations similar to this represent the same paradigm that many low-income families are probably going to face. Parents will probably have to make a decision to cut into their food budgets in order to supplement the increased cost of the transportation for students. This is absolutely unacceptable.

Train

Are students going to be automatically excluded from this 42nd Street subway?

A decision like this shows that there isn’t a thought in the stakeholders that may be affected by this cut. This decision is purely business related and fails to use a  “socially responsible” framework. Unfortunately, it seems that the education policy makers can’t make a stand and influence the politics of public transportation although they are very intertwined. Therefore, I believe this situation speaks to the reason why the drastic switch to “school choice” adds to the problem with educating our young people. The departure of the “neighbourhood school” model has placed parents in a bind to come up with bus/train fare to make sure that their child has an opportunity to get a quality education. If students could just go to their neighbourhood school and get a quality education, agencies like the MTA could be “off the hook” for making a decision like that did. However, as long as the current education policy discussion centres around sending students sometimes across the city for an “opportunity” then the policy makers from education and public transportation need to sit down and come up with a plan. A plan that will make sure that students have AFFORADABLE access to the transportation that they desperately need.

If you would like to read the article click here.