Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rhee-form Experts

On Monday's ME Claudio Sanchez offers a case study in slick storytelling as he cobbles together another genuflection to Michelle Rhee. Sanchez limits his story to lots of airtime and rhapsodizing about first-year teacher Meridith Leonard who seems to be a critical part of Rhee's media dog-and-pony show (that also includes principal Brian Betts who features prominently in Sanchez's story).

Here's a sample of Sanchez' radio spin:
"Leonard is what school reform experts call a new breed of teacher -mostly twenty-somethings fresh out of college....Many are receptive to the changes that DC chancellor Michelle Rhee is proposing: merit pay and doing away with tenure - all good ideas (pause), says Leonard."

"It's all about change now, says Leonard....It's her first year, but she exudes confidence."

"Leonard's 6th graders have made remarkable progress - this particular class is 100% proficient in reading according to the latest test scores." (I hate to tell Sanchez, but if that's true then whoever had those kids in the last year or two is responsible - not six-month Leonard).

"Leonard doesn't believe poverty is an excuse for kids not learning."

"....that difference [between new teachers and teachers who've been in the system for a long time] reform experts say is what chancellor Michelle Rhee is trying to reconcile as she moves aggressively to try to remake the city's teacher corps. (Audio clip: 'Younger teachers obviously they don't have as much at stake.') Rick Hess is a senior researcher at the American Enterprise Institute. Unlike younger teachers, says Hess, veteran teachers believe they have a lot to lose when people start talking about change..."
As someone who works all the time with many incredibly talented, hard-working, inventive, passionate, and undervalued public school teachers - this kind of lazy journalism drives me crazy. His piece is all about the great value of these "new" unconventional teachers who don't have a clue about the value of unions and instead are so excited about dog-eat-dog competition between teachers rewarded for for high test score student performance . Sanchez twice relies on unnamed school "reform experts" and then quickly slips in the far right think tank, American Enterprise Institute, "expert" Rick Hess.

Not surprisingly this piece (which might as well have been produced by the American Enterprise Institute) relies on trashing teacher unions and trashing (and ignoring) the researched based findings about the effects of poverty on student performance - something NPR has done before.


Hubertg said...

So everyone is an expert...just say so and it is so...I'm an expert too I guess. Apparently Leonard is an overnight sensation that has never been in a truly impoverished school system. This is "expert" garbage. There is some insidious propaganda at work here.
And I might add, that producing high test scores does not equal the skills necessary for critical thinking.

Buzztree said...

You're behind way too kind calling this "lazy journalism." It's the typical hatchet job that nearly everyone resorts to when looking to blame someone for the challenges of educating children. It's always the teachers and their unions.

Buzztree said...

(Sorry for the typos, I'm a little punchy from lack of sleep.)

Anonymous said...

RE "dog-eat-dog competition" - I can see it now... a forthcoming reality TV show (though one would think this format has jumped that shark looooong ago) made up of competing teachers! But I suspect the AEI's already made the pitch?

RepubLiecan said...

Thank you for listening to and critiquing this NPR report on education reform. Bob Somerby over at his blog The Daily Howler frequently comments on the same lazy journalism practiced through the media regarding education reform and media fairy tales about politics.

Anonymous said...

It was a cheap easy story to cover that meshes with the Right's hostility of public education combine with stereotypes of inner city schools.

Seems to be SOP for NPR even more lately, anyone catch the "two shampoo" stories on ME this AM?

Anonymous said...

DC is doing the KIPP thing. And that is Duncan/Obama favorite school policy. At least "in the ghetto" cause you'll never see a KIPP school in West
Chester county.

I am beginning to get the feeling that we are seeing something old. Remember when "only Nixon" could open China or when "only Clinton" could reform welfare? I think we might be seeing the start of "only Obama" can re-shape a failing American public school system. This is all about destroying the teacher's unions and driving down wages (going on across the board). Along with some other unsettling aspects including regimentation in school kids. I can see a day when school children in the inner-cities are billeted in the schools.


Anonymous said...

new teachers always have lots of enthusiasm, but the fact is, they burn out quickly and most move on to other things when they realize that there is more to teaching than pure idealism.

good teaching takes hard work and (usually) years spent in the trenches.

And the people who criticize "incompetent teachers" are usually the most incompetent people on the planet.

Like the morons at CEI and AEI. These people are too stupid/incompetent to get a real job so they go to work at a think tank.

Porter Melmoth said...

This is the kind of story that makes me bone-dead weary - oh so weary of NPR, and all that it entails.

(I haven't ruined a morning by tuning in to NPR for over ten days now. My fellow NPRanonymous members must be pulling for me. Thanks, gang! We can do it!)

geoff said...

NPRAnonymous...I need that. Maybe the trick is satellite radio so you can get Pacifica, which at least doesn't have on the AEI flunkies. These guys are just paid to respout and amplify the Federalist Society/CFR/Corporate BS that real intellectuals avoid.

I tried googling "experts say" and it turns out they say all kinds of interesting things, like "illegral immigrants might get stimulus jobs." oooooo Those are some real smart fellers.

Anonymous said...

let's not forget.

The people at CEI were the geniuses who brought us the gem "CO2 is life"

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Am I Banned yet?

The problem with folks like Cloudio is that they are looking for the magic bullet.

And there ain't one.

The issues surrounding 'achievement' as measured by test scores fill hundreds of volumes.

There is one almost inerrant predictor of students' scholastic achievement: the socio-economic status of the parents. That one variable accounts for around 60-65% of ALL variance in between-student test scores....

The greatest burden on the schools, if you believe the rhetoric of 'progress,' is to provide all students with the learning experiences and environments that are the stuff of middle- and upper-middle class upbringing.

That is what comprises the "standard," after all.

Anonymous said...

AS pointed out above, Leonard basically got handed a group of kids who were already ready to pass the test.

That much is clear.

The idea that the efforts of just a one teacher for just a few short months have made some huge (magical?) difference is just absurd.

If you actually buy that, I have some lovely oceanfront property for you in Arizona.