Michelle Rhee Challenged at Martha's Vineyard Forum

Former Washington, D.C., schools head Michelle Rhee is pummeled at Martha's Vineyard forum.

Posted:
 
michellerhee
Michelle Rhee (Getty Images)

Former District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was a frequent target at a forum on education on Martha's Vineyard last night. Rhee, who resigned as head of district schools after Mayor Adrian Fenty lost his re-election bid last year, took shots from both education historian Diane Ravitch and Harvard sociologist Lawrence Bobo. The Massachusetts forum is an annual event organized by The Root's editor-in-chief, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. It took place just miles from where President Obama and his family were vacationing. 

Rhee's tough approach to education reform in D.C. schools earned her the emnity of the teachers' union and many District residents, and some experts say that Fenty lost because of black animosity toward Rhee's reform efforts. Ravitch, once considered a conservative, has come out against charter schools and excessive reliance on testing.

Lindsay Layton covered the event for the Washington Post.

The Martha's Vineyard encounter was the pair's first faceoff in person, after months of dueling opinion pieces and Twitter feeds. They appeared at a panel discussion about the racial and ethnic achievement gaps, which was organized by Henry Louis Gates Jr., who runs the W.E.B Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

Rhee and Ravitch quickly staked out opposing ground.

"What would you do, if you saw data that said a teacher, year in and year out for the last five years, not only didn't improve the kids in her classroom but that the children have gone backwards, lost ground?" said Rhee, who heads an advocacy group called Students First. "Do you keep that teacher in the classroom? .. . Would I allow my children to go into that classroom with that person? Absolutely not. And no one in this room would allow their children or grandchildren in that classroom."

Rhee said accountability -- ensuring that teachers are effective and that administrators are making decisions in the best interest of children -- is key to improving education.

Ravitch, a former assistant education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, maintained that teachers are being scapegoated. "I have been seeing profound demoralization among teachers in America today," Ravitch said. "It is almost hard to convey. Teachers feel they are being held accountable for social conditions beyond their control. We have to have an ethos in education of encouragement, support, at the same time encourage and respect teachers and stop beating up on them."

Bobo took Rhee to task for her hard line on ineffective teachers, arguing that students came to school with overwhelming social problems like poverty that teachers could not be expected to solve alone. Other panelists included Yale professor James Comer, who said that teachers were not being taught enough about child development; and Angel Harris, who teaches at Princeton University and has used quantitative analysis to debunk many assumptions about a successful education.

Read the entire article at the Washington Post.