Student takes on Michelle Rhee

(Alan Diaz/AP) - Michelle Rhee, shown in January, has become a major national figure in education reform since her resignation last October.
Michelle Rhee                              (Alan Diaz/AP)

School reformer extraordinaire Michelle Rhee has begun a three-city event where she is hosting town halls in what she says is an effort to have a “real talk” with teachers, who for years have viewed her as anything but a friend. (The same could be said of one of her traveling companions on this tour, Connecticut  educator Steve Perry, who is famous for referring to teachers unions as “roaches.”)

Rhee and her panel began their tour in Los Angeles earlier this week and will go to Birmingham on Sept. 12 and then Philadelphia on Sept. 16. One of the more interesting moments of the Los Angeles town hall was when a University of Southern California student, Hannah Nguyen, called out Rhee on her “school reform” movement.

It turns that Hannah Nguyen is a former big supporter of Rhee’s brand of reform, once belonging to Students for Education Reform. She changed her mind after looking at what really happens in schools and now is involved with Students United for Public Education.

Here’s the video of her statement at the Rhee town hall, and below that, a partial transcript.

 

Hi everyone, my name is Hannah, I’m a student… Just a few things though, I felt like this whole event was very much looking at these educational policy issues as a reformers versus teacher unions kind of issue, and as a student standing here and watching this battle it is really disheartening, because it’s a lot deeper than that, and these are everyday realities.

And this is more than a reformers versus teachers union battle, this is a social justice issue.

And there’s a lot of things brought up — going back to poverty — reformers say that poverty isn’t destiny, and that sounds great, and I believe in that, and that’s awesome. But you know what, if you really care about students, you should say that poverty shouldn’t be.

Yes, we need to work on in-school factors, and simultaneously we need to work on out-of-school factors and caring about the whole child.

Back to high stakes testing. I don’t know a single student — I’m sorry, I have a lot of friends, and I have friends at other schools too — I don’t know a single student who says that they learned something from a high-stakes test, and the way that their school is structured. They should be given the freedom to learn what they want to learn, open curriculum, well-rounded, arts, music, humanities….

I used to stand by reformers, I will admit it, I did. But after seeing the facts, and the data and everything, and my own lived experience. I cannot –  I’m sorry — stand by what you preach if it has to do with high-stakes accountability, this “school choice,” which sounds great, you know, choice — who can argue against that? But, I don’t agree with the fact that charter schools, and how they push our certain students, and I’ve seen it happen.

My main point is, listen to the students. Listen to the students.

For those wondering about Steve Perry, founder and principal of Capital
Preparatory Magnet School in Connecticut, here’s what he said this past spring when he was on an education panel at an event in St. Paul, Minn., according to this account by a supporter of his:

I know in polite company, you’re not supposed to talk about the unions. But I will. I know you’re here. I hope you hear me, because I’m tired of you. Every time you fight to keep a failed teacher in a school, you’re killing children, and that’s not cool. Every single time you make a job harder to remove someone who is simply not educating, and everybody in the building knows they’re not educating, you’re killing your profession, you’re killing our community, and you’re making it harder on yourselves. It’s high time we call the roaches out and call them for what they are. I’ve been to too many cities where the excuses pile up, one on top of the other. You know what happens with those excuses? They kill our kids.”

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | September 6, 2013