Who Created “Michelle Rhee”?

We know that the flesh and blood Michelle A. Rhee was born in Michigan 43 years ago, the second child of South Korean immigrants Shang Rhee, a physician, and Inza Rhee, a clothing store owner. She spent most of her childhood in Ohio, where she attended public and private schools.

My question is about the public phenomenon known as “Michelle Rhee.” The one that’s has become America’s most prominent education activist. She’s loved by some, hated and/or feared by others. To her admirers, she’s a shining symbol of all that’s right in school reform. Her opponents see her as the representative of the forces of greed, privatization and teacher-bashing in education.

Who created that character, that symbol? I can identify four possible parents: She created herself. We created her. “They” did. U did.

Michelle Rhee created “Michelle Rhee.” There’s some evidence for this line of thinking. Either accidentally or deliberately, she exaggerated her success as a teacher in Baltimore. She inflated her resumé to include an appearance on Good Morning America, which has no record of her being on the program. Her early resumé claims that she had been featured in the Wall Street Journal, but, again, we could find no record. She said (and still says) that she ‘founded’ The New Teacher Project, an assertion that is disputed by reliable sources familiar with Teach for America. A more likely story is that she was asked by its real founder, Wendy Kopp, to take it and run with it–and she did.

But lots of people puff up their resumés early in their career, without attaining Rhee-level success. She may have started the ball rolling, but she can’t claim most of the credit/blame for her own creation. We need to search further to find her principal creators.

We, the mainstream media, created “Michelle Rhee.” Good argument there. Rhee blew into Washington like a whirlwind, where she was a great story and an overdo gust of fresh air. DC schools were pretty bad, and she was candid, accessible, energetic, young, and attractive–everything reporters love. While I don’t think my reporting for the NewsHour was puffery, we did produce twelve (!) pieces about her efforts over the 40 months — about two hours of primetime coverage. That’s an awful lot of attention.

Did anyone else get that much air time from us? Well, yes, we also produced twelve reports about Paul Vallas in New Orleans. But Vallas never received the positive treatment (or even the coverage) from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Charlie Rose, et alia, that Rhee did back in 2007-2009.

Were we skeptical enough about the ‘miracle’ gains in her first year? Unfortunately not. So we certainly helped create the public phenomenon that is “Michelle Rhee.”

“They” created her. “They,” according to conspiracy theorists, are the Walton Foundation and other right-leaning organizations; ALEC; the Koch brothers, Eli Broad and other wealthy individuals; and influential power-brokers like Joel Klein. Without them, this explanation has it, she would be nothing.

But we don’t know for certain where the money behind Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst comes from. Moreover, it’s an insult to her to assume that she would fall in line and parrot whatever her wealthy backers want her to say. Seems more likely they liked what she was saying and decided to bankroll her efforts. So I guess one could say that “They” helped create her, just as the mainstream media did.

And finally U created her. “U” is my shorthand for teacher unions. This is simple physics: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The “Michelle Rhee” phenomenon is the inevitable product of, and reaction to, intransigent teacher union policies like the ones that produced New York City’s famous “rubber room,” where teachers who couldn’t be fired spent their days reading, napping, and doing crossword puzzles–on full salary and with the full support of the United Federation of Teachers, the local union. (See Steven Brill’s Class Warfare.) She’s the inevitable reaction to union leaders who devote their energy to preserving seniority at the expense of talented young teachers, not to mention children. She’s the product of the California Teachers Association, which I recall was willing to sacrifice librarians’ jobs in order to preserve salary increases for teachers. She’s a social reaction to union leaders like Vice President Jack Steinberg of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. In an interview that is burned into my memory, Steinberg asserted that teachers can never be held accountable for student results. No teacher! Not ever! Jack was muzzled when he said that on national television in 1996, but he and his union have stayed on message.

But let’s remember that union intransigence didn’t just spring up all of a sudden out of nowhere. It too was produced by that same law of physics. Teacher union militancy was a long time coming and was the reaction to administrative policies that infantilized and trivialized teaching.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that U(nions) also created the social phenomenon that is “Michelle Rhee”–and are now reaping that bitter fruit.

So ‘They,’ we and U created the social phenomenon that is “Michelle Rhee.” What happens next?

Rhee’s critics now openly mock her after the revelations about her failure to investigate widespread erasures while she was Chancellor in Washington. “Erase to the Top” is the clever new meme, and her famous Time Magazine cover has been altered. Will this mockery defeat her? Perhaps.

Even if that strategy is successful, it won’t do much for kids, who are generally forgotten in these nasty political fights.

Is it asking too much to expect strong leadership from Arne Duncan and President Obama on this? More words about ‘Race to the Top’ and ‘The Common Core’ are not enough, not now.

I have said this before, but we need to be measuring what we value, instead of valuing what we measure (usually cheaply). What do we value? That’s a more important question than “Who created “Michelle Rhee”?”

99 thoughts on “Who Created “Michelle Rhee”?

  1. I love it I get to read a piece that I believe is dead wrong in important ways, but which asks better questions in a better way.

    You write:

    Vice President Jack Steinberg of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. In an interview that is burned into my memory, Steinberg asserted that teachers can never be held accountable for student results. No teacher! Not ever

    I have to admit I don’t remember hearing of him before, so while I question the relevance of history so ancient, I want to know more. But, the link was broken.

    I’ll think awhile before responding except for one thing. It is disingenenous to say U. You ought to come out and say T. The Ts are the Us. Even the E4Es will become union regulars after they’ve been in the classroom for awhile (or they’ll quit, blame us, and curse the darkness while teachers struggle to light a candle).

    The union is not to blame for protecting teachers. Neither can we teachers be blamed for opposing policies that pretend we can do what we we can’t do. We can be blamed, however, for becoming too comfortable and too negative in saying what we can’t do. When the system’s “Culture of Compliance” made us too comfortable with a “Culture of Can’t” that opened the door for Rhee’s dog and pony show.


    • Exactly. Kudos for taking some responsibility (12 segments?! Any idiot knows there are no such things as miracles!), but don’t blame the unions.


    • I applaud Merrow for his recent reporting on Rhee BUT (big but here), including rubber rooms and unions as a cause IS SO ERRONEOUS. Merrow needs to speak to NYC public school teachers and to groups like MORE and GEM and he will get the REAL DEAL. Glaringly erroneous. Rubber rooms may have had some bad teachers in there but there were a good number of teachers who were put there by “corporate ed reform design”.. false accusations and set ups by administrators wanting to quiet those not in agreement with horrible education policy coming down the pike. The rubber room was a Bloomberg tool for quieting or scaring those who disagreed with a lot of “ed reform crap”. I hope Merrow continues to report but he needs to be VERY THOROUGH with all his commentary. Clearly blaming unions for rubber rooms is unresearched commentary.


    • John, so any criticism of, say, a bank president is also criticism of the tellers? Any criticism of Obama is criticism of everyone who voted for him? You cannot be serious…


      • Since when do tellers elect the presidents? Since when do presidents get elected with the margins that are produced in union election? What percentage of Chicago Ts voted for the strike? What percentage of LA teachers voted No Confidence regarding Deasey.

        I’ll stand by my statement.

        And, what about the broken link?


      • The link is not broken. It leads to a video of Merrow’s report on the “Toughest Job in America” which is broken into 19 parts. The interview with Jack Steinberg begins around 2:30 in Pt. 2.


    • Mr. Merrow, by trying to be balanced engages in spreading the same stereotypes that the Rhee camp loves. I’m sure Eli Broad, Bill Gates and the Waltons are pleased to have you parrot the idea that the intransigence of teachers’ unions are foundational to our current educational issues. Goering would be proud that you so give so much support to this BIG LIE. Have you ever investigated the history of “tenure” and “seniority?” Has it occurred to you that people running schools would make decisions based upon the relative costs of employees and target the older higher-paid teachers in favor of the younger, more vibrant, prettier, lower paid teachers? Have you ever investigated school governance and asked why an appointed principal is allowed to make all decisions at a school including budgetary ones without answering in any meaningful way to anyone in the school community? What about investigating the silly tradition of employing educated people to teach and expecting them to be blind to unfairness, inconsistency, nepotism, favoritism, sexism, homophobia and the connections between educational achievement and family income, not to mention racism and environmental degradation? I hope you get the sarcasm here. What would you think of your job if you had no input in who, what, where, when and how you report?

      As a teacher currently assigned to the LAUSD “rubber room,” (we prefer the term Gulag) I can tell you that we will be fired very often based upon the flimsiest of testimony, hearsay and out right lies contrary to what our “rights happy” tradition terms due process. More than 90% of us are senior teachers. This pogrom is organized and directed by Broad-Gates alumnus Mr. John Deasy and has resulted in about 600 teachers being forced out or fired.
      Lastly, why do you persist in characterizing teachers’ interests as being antithetical to children’s education? Have you asked us what we need in order to make our efforts as effective as possible? Given the high turnover rate of teachers, have you thought to consider that those of us that make it a career actually consider it valuable work even though we’ll never make the kind of money that people with less or equal education make?


    • It’s almost impossible to calibrate a teacher’s degree of responsibility for student performance (so estimates are as low as 1%) . So the union resolves doubt in favor of teachers & says no teacher should ever be fired no matter how horrible to kids perform. It’s not really unreasonable. Unions should resolve doubt in favor of their members.

      It just occurred to me I never heard of an instance of rich white kids not learning because of incompetent teachers.


  2. Don’t overlook the fact that the DC School Board who hired Rhee has some responsibility for “creating Michelle Rhee”. They hired her from a presumably large pool of applicants. Who vetted her resume? Whenever I applied for Superintendencies over the past three decades a head hunter sought copies of transcripts, called previous board members, principals of schools I led, the teacher’s union head, parents, local government officials, and– in most cases– personally visited the school district I was leading to confirm that what I reported in the interview was true. What happened in Washington?


    • She was sent by Joel Klein and Bloomberg. Billionaires make these decisions. Follow the money…they knew she would carry the water and be their media ________ (fill in the blank).


    • She was hired by the mayor. the school reform act of 2007 in dc changed the governance structure of dc schools from control by the board of ed to the mayor. it was his decision. the board’s power were severely limited under that act.


  3. Seniority isn’t to blame for Michelle Rhee. Almost every union position, both private and public, relies on it. Most every profession, from the junior partner to the McDonald’s worker uses it too. Seniority is a method to give people credit for experience, that’s all.


  4. Talented young teachers? Teaching is a complex job that takes years of experience to develop. Why don’t law firms make first year associates partners? Why are talented medical interns more valuable than the Dean of medicine? Wake up Merrow, the world doesn’t work like that. Should that talented young cub reporter get your job because you screwed up and didn’t properly do your due diligence in regards to Rhee’s resume and teaching background? Daily teaching isn’t a re-run of Freedom Riders. Young teachers are young, not superstars who should walk in a school and get preferential treatment. They have to earn their stripes just like their elders did.


    • Dead on. Analogy between lawyers, doctors and other professionals astute reading of the too familiar lines about “talented young teachers”. And good to know that teachers are paid so richly that of course they don’t need unions. But of course businesses are all so brilliantly managed and staffed that certainly they should be running schools, not trained, experienced teachers and administrators.


  5. We all know that the Rheefer is a North Korean plant trained to eviscerate American public education and bring down the USA so that the North Korea may eventually become the top dog nation of the world.


  6. As you stated, the media wasn’t suspicious about the “miraculous” test scores, probably because many education journalists aren’t experts on the subject and didn’t take the time to ask a few questions. If they had, they would have found out that it is virtually impossible for a class to go from the thirteenth to the ninetieth percentiles on a standardized test in one year. I informed all of the major newspapers when Rhee first came to national attention but no one was interested. One journalist did at least respond to me and I like to think that he then told his wife, who was one of the reporters who first broke the cheating story.

    Most journalists also know little about teachers unions. When teachers started their association (e.g. The National Education Association) they wanted it to be a professional association similar to what other professionals have. This association would then make decisions regarding curriculum, instruction, professional qualifications etc. However, legislators would not hand over these responsibilities to teachers but instead just gave them the right to bargain for salaries and working conditions. This of course, it what a labor union does.

    When a teacher joins a union, her fees pay for malpractice insurance. If she is accused of incompetence or a crime, this insurance, by law, MUST provide an attorney for her.

    So basically a union, by law, MUST defend the worker. That’s what unions do.

    It is the job of administration to hire, evaluate and fire a teacher. The union has no part except to make certain the teacher’s rights are observed and protected. As I stated before, they are obliged by law to do this once the teacher has joined and paid.

    Is it difficult to dismiss a teacher with permanent job status? Yes, she has basically the same protections as all government workers (police officers, firefighters, county clerks, librarians etc.) These rights are imbedded in law and must be modified or changed at the state level. A union cannot confer or abridge these protections.

    When the Miramonte case in California is adjudicated, we’ll find out that offending teachers were hired, evaluated, transferred etc. by administration. We’ll also find that the unions had no input except to provide legal help and that the administration ignored the complaints from parents, teachers and students. This is why the lawsuits name the district and not the unions.

    Unions protect workers because that’s what unions do.


  7. It warms my heart to see the truth revealed about Michelle Rhee. Having been a “first year teacher” the first five years, I Know how important the early years are to developing teaching experience and classroom management. I’ve always been skeptical about her “success” because I know the truth about the importance of the first years and see didn’t have that experience before she was placed on a pedestal. No one fact checks resumes? And is it That common to lie about ones work experience? I’ve never embellished my resume, but I have real experiences to include on it. No one questioned her miracles, not because they didn’t know anything about education but because they were looking for a “miracle worker” who spouted what they wanted to here….down with teacher unions and experienced teachers…Michelle Rhee says they are not needed to support educational improvements in the classroom. After what…10 years of her lies and numerous teachers losing their jobs based on her “miracles’ now it’s becomes apparent the miracles were just lies and exaggerated test results due to erasures.


    • It took me a while to dig down and find how much she lied about the 13th-to-90th-percentile progress, but the part about her supposed coverage in WSJ was easy to find. What she made up about the supposed success of her students was deliberate falsification,especially since she and her former principal testified that she didn’t tell Rhee any specifics.
      She has continued lying about every aspect of her supposed successes — all of which turn out to be illusory.


  8. The San Diego Education Association helped Alan Bersin destroy the profession. I have all the paperwork showing that I won a grievance against an illegal transfer, and the union reluctantly defended the contract giving me the win; however, not one of the provisions of the remedy were respected. I was transferred by having only one choice of new assignments and not my choice of all available positions. The promise that the move would be done by the district was not kept, and only after school had begun after summer, and students were back were my teaching materials and supplies moved, but only after being lost for six weeks. At the new school I was given the entire 9th grade regular class assignment – something that loaded me with every special ed student in the 9th grade, SDEA did NOTHING. And our site rep, Debbie Williams, worked for the Union as our shop steward, and for the administration photographing the interior of teachers’ cars, desks and other person items. NEA is worth investigation – just ask, why they have no blogs for teachers to discuss reforms, or their erstwhile ‘service.’ Karen Lewis in Chicago is right on(where was the NEA, where is it now?) San Diego is a joke, and now that I see how it goes in New Mexico, same but worse.


    • Yes, unions have issues that need to be addressed. So follow the lead of Karen Lewis. They are trying to do just that NYC. I don’t know how NEA operates, if it’s like AFT, but however imperfect, at least you have a union to start with, which is giving you important advantages over the average teacher who works at a school that’s not unionized. (See my previous reply to you below.) Believe me, life is MUCH worse for teachers who are not unionized, because of employers who have become true masters at exploiting non-union teachers.

      I do believe that both Van Roekel and Weingarten are way out of step with the rank and file and that their “sleeping with the enemy” has been for naught. Shakeups appear to be necessary in both the NEA and AFT. If you don’t like how things are going in your union, organize and take action to make improvements, as they did in Chicago and are attempting in NYC.


    • Yep, the all powerful (MO) NEA did next to nothing for me except to provide a stenographer in my meetings with the administration at my prior district (to prevent them from blatantly lying so much). And then they advised me to look for another district. In bed with the administration, yep!


  9. Full disclosure, John. Do you belong to a union? If not now, have you ever belonged to a labor union in the past? Many media pundits who have promoted Rhee and who bash teachers’ unions belong to unions themselves, but they rarely, if ever, mention anything about that or the benefits and protections of union membership they receive.

    I have been teaching for 45 years and I have never belonged to a teachers’ union, because either where I worked was not unionized or my job title made me ineligible to join. Consequently, I belong to a very large population of non-union teachers in this country who are grossly underpaid and receive no benefits whatsoever. We work in all areas of education, but large numbers of us teach in Early Childhood Education and Higher Education.

    Many veteran career teachers who work in non-union positions know only too well that there are a lot of employers today who do not pay workers a livable wage, regardless of education and experience. Consequently, I personally understand poverty and the strong need for labor unions in this country, including lane and step salary schedules which demonstrate that education and experience are valued. I support unions for all workers. Do you?


    • Yes, labor must be organized but the unions are no longer willing to do that work. Easy math. In California, my dues as an experienced teacher are the same as a new, younger teacher. In fact, given my years and education, it is possible to hire two new teachers for what I earn. The union can collect two sets of dues from my two new replacements and save themselves the time of actually being involved with working conditions, civil rights or any of that other troublesome stuff.

      Two years ago the governor of New Mexico, according to the New Mexico Spyglass, targeted all non-union teachers for dismissal – in this ‘right to work state.’ And the union refuses to help those whom they don’t see as darlings – so forget civil rights – again. I am a member of the NEA, but only because I am afraid not to be. And it’s a gamble, if I get into trouble again (linguistics major) no doubt the union will not help, but I still pay.


      • If someone makes an allegation against you about virtually anything and you can be fired today, then we are in the same place.

        If you are being paid a livable wage for your 45 years of experience and three college degrees, then you are way ahead of me.

        If you get any benefits at all, like paid holidays, sick days, health insurance or pension, then you are way, way ahead of me.

        Don’t discount these “perks.” It’s your union membership which makes them possible. No employer is required to give anything but minimum wage.

        Wait until your school has figured out that hiring ALL faculty as independent contractors each term means that they don’t even have to pay minimum wage, like the school where I’ve worked for the past 5 years. And when they decide not to “rehire” you next term, you don’t even qualify for unemployment compensation.

        You have no idea what lengths some employers will go to in their exploitation of teachers. Be grateful for your union.


      • Thanks for your frank response, John. I really appreciate it.

        Perhaps you can help people like me to understand why bashing teachers’ unions is not a problem for people who belong to other unions.

        Do you think it should be expected that your union take the stance that their members be held accountable for the impact they have on people? Should your income be based, at least in part, on the outcomes of your audiences? (assuming economists like Hanushek, Sanders et al. could calculate VAM for that, too.)

        “we need to be measuring what we value, instead of valuing what we measure (usually cheaply).”

        Maybe I missed it, but I did not get a notion of exactly what is is that you value (besides honesty) and think we should be measuring. Could you please clarify this?


  10. Morrow is either a terrible reporter who does not do his job or he is on some really good psychadelics, I am not sure which. The end is the same, garbage. Rhee is a creation of the billionaires who finance corporatization and privatization. In their game if you will sell your soul to the devil you will have a lifetime job. It is really that simple. Now the game is backfiring on them and I expect it to blow up in their face as the chemical factory just did in Waco. Let’s hope that the collateral damage is them and their “Astroturf” organizations and their “True Believers.” This all reminds me of the cults I have fought in the past. When a guru tried to take over the mountain I lived on that was it. They had sucked in lots of my friends but when they tried to take over where I lived that was it. This is no different.


    • George has a good point – but Mr. Merrow isn’t superman either. No doubt his masters have been trying to pick the winning side too. Will integrity prevail over greed? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!


  11. And, now, when teachers are being evaluated on student performance,
    maybe we should have other professionals evaluated the same way ~ doctors on patients not getting well, lawyers on clients not winning, government officials on economics not improving…

    OR we can blame the unions for “lazy” teachers, when in fact, the administrators are NOT doing their job of weeding out new, young, bad teachers… l

    Glad I did my 33 years and now out… and teaching preschool without the administrative stuff…


    • Our nation’s school systems are incredibly top-heavy with administrators. I wonder how we’d function without superintendents, for example. Since it seems the education reformers want to reduce the amount of teachers in the country, perhaps we should be asking them to put that same scrutiny on the higher-paid admins who don’t interact with kids.


  12. About the “conspiracy theorists” charge: If you can provide documentation that there is coordination going on, it is not a figment of your imagination . Michelle Rhee may be a smooth operator, but what is far fetched is to believe that she came up with her attack on teachers and public schools by herself after three years with Teach for America.

    In 2008, when she was Chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools, Michelle Rhee was on the Board of the Broad Foundation along with Arne Duncan (until he became Secretary of Education), Joel Klein, Wendy Koop of Teach for America, Margaret Spellings who oversaw the implementation of No Child Left Behind, several urban school district Superintendents, and other supporters of corporate education reform.

    Her management style and philosophy are straight out of Eli Broad’s management philosophy of “investment of disruptive force” and “churn” for destabilizing communities in low income urban districts to open up their public schools to privatization for corporate profit.

    See “Who is Eli Broad and why is trying to destroy public education?” for the documentation.



    • Mr. Dersten, Thanks for your article on Broad, which is very informative. I would concur. However, I do have a beef. I find the characterization of “Liberal corporate education reform” very disturbing, even with the word “corporate” included, because there is absolutely nothing “liberal” about the actions of those named and involved in education “reform,” despite their affiliation with the Democratic party. They are, in fact, an affront to those of us long-standing Democrats who truly are liberals. Please call them what they are, which is Neo-Liberal Capitalists, and define that for those who think neo-liberalism just means “new liberalism”, when what it is is an old concept that has nothing to do with being liberal and is solely about promoting free-market capitalism.

      As long as Neo-Liberal Capitalists are mislabeled as “liberal,” they will continue to garner public support, including from people who assume they are like-minded progressive social democrats (such as true liberals in Hollywood), when nothing could be farther from the truth. The intentional misnomers and euphemistic smoke and mirrors games have got to be called out by those in mainstream and social media, because they are very confusing to the general public, as intended, dating at least as far back as the bipartisan supported No Child Left Behind, which should have been called “No Child Left Untested.”

      The issue is compounded by the fact that Neo-Liberal Capitalists, who are in both parties, have a very wealthy and powerful Democratic contingency which seeks to distinguish itself from GOP and Tea Party Neo-Liberal Capitalists by having developed key talking points to make themselves sound liberal, such as regarding civil rights. However, the truth is that they support undemocratic means, such as mayoral control of school districts, patronage hiring in top education positions, including politically appointed out-of-field superintendents and school boards, not educators or elected boards, and they omit parent and teacher participation, in order to further their Neo-Liberal Capitalist agenda to privatize public education. Their actions promote segregation, violate states’ rights granted by the 10th Amendment and supported in the General Education Provisions Act, as well as student privacy rights in FERPA, and their market-driven policies benefit profiteers much, much more than the children who are the target end-users of their policies and wares. None of this can be called “liberal,” and it should be called Neo-Liberal Capitalism instead. Thanks for hearing my gripe.


  13. John Merrow giveth, and taketh away…. He admits his own error pushing a critter like MICHELLE RHEE down America’s throats via his PBS propaganda, but only in the context of lambasting teachers, teacher unions, and public schools in the process… hardly perfect institutions, but hardly the cause of a RHEE to emerge…

    Rhee was given carte blanche by the charletanistic likes of Oprah, Tavis Smiley, NBC’s Education Nation farce, and Arne Duncan’s slobbering praise, and other media darlings who for whatever reason had resonance with Americans — probably just out of habit — giving her a platform that was in keeping with the corporate right march to gut American public education, handing over a HALF TRILLION in collective annual budgets to Wall Street hedge funders and corporate right gurus, to do to public ed what they did to the national economy just a few years ago…

    She is part of America’s big lie now, and as she rose, she will fall, if any justice prevails in this unjust nation…

    “How are the mighty, fallen….” old Spanish proverb…


  14. Michelle Rhee was created (not unlike Frankenstein) by the same folks who have created the latest wunderkind, the 27-year-old Andrew Buher who has been named as Chief Operations Officer of the New York City public schools, where he will have a salary of $202,000.

    A 27 year old cannot have the life experience to run the NYC schools, and this young man does not have experience as an educator, either.


  15. Rhee ignored criminal embezzlement. She was in charge and it was her job to report it and stop it. What makes her any different from the people at Penn State?


  16. You did extensive reporting on Rhee and Vallas and when you look back in the wake of the messes they left wherever they went I hope you will see the damage you helped cause. No puff piece on Rhee? I was throwing things at the screen — until I couldn’t watch your reports anymore.
    Then there was your vicious “blame the unions” attack op ed which made clear which side you were on. Especially when our national and local teacher unions have sold out so much. Why not take a look at the people pushing the Rhee agenda and see if their own kids go to schools to evaluate teachers by test scores. Or ignore class size as a factor. Or test them to death. Why not ask them that very question? Arne Duncan? Obama? Rahm Emanuel? Rhee herself? Try that out on them and I bet you have an interesting story to report.


    • I totally agree with Norm. You and others were so on the “Rheeform Wagon”, you didn’t bother to check the facts. But now you also want to blame the unions when both the AFT and NEA have done nothing but lean over backwards for these reforms. Union leadership has basically turned their backs on the rank and file by allowing teachers to be evaluated using the most unreadable statistical measure know as VAM. A measure I recall you support.

      And just how many innocent teachers were put in the Rubber Room as a punishment for speaking their mind? Or are these also the facts you and your friends in the media hide? Why is Michael Winerip on the “Our Generation” beat instead of reporting on education? That answer is simple….The (DFER) editors didn’t agree with his findings.

      The media, ALEC, Gates, Murdoch, and the list goes on, gave Rhee the throne. These are the same people who make education policy but it’s the teachers that bare the blame when they fail. And, I do believe Rhee is paying the price for her new position when she financially and publically support Conservative candidates just because they believe in privatization. The hell with women’s rights, minority issue, poverty, health care, gun control etc.

      I am very happy you realize your part in this, but Rhee’s very powerful friends will make sure your investigation hits a brick wall. And the result is a lot of people making a hell of a lot of money off education just by calling it “Rheeform”.


    • Merrow’s piece is a start. Let’s see where he goes from here. Afterall, Ravitch too started out supporting the “corporate ed reform” but realized the error in her ways. I would like to think that Merrow is beginning to realize that he has been led by corporate PR. Let us hope he does his “journalistic homework” now!


  17. So, John, now that you are back to blaming teachers’ unions, does this mean that you are going to not push for a genuine investigation and that you will be letting Rhee off the hook?

    If you are so inclined, I would suggest that you do some serious research and self-reflection, a la Diane Ravitch, regarding the impacts of out of school factors associated with poverty, the failing schools narrative, the 13%-18% influence teachers have in the lives of poor children, and the efficacy of corporate “reforms,” including the mass closing of neighborhood schools that serve as anchors in communities and the privatization of public education. Who do you think really benefits most –low income children or adults like Rhee and her posse?

    As long as the media and the public buy into magic bullets like those touted by Rhee and her ilk, all eggs are in the education basket and no one is doing anything to ameliorate our nation’s disgraceful 23% child poverty rate.

    Please think of how you could really make a difference for children in poverty and do what you can to unveil the corporate “reform” charade.


  18. As a life-long educator, I have been frustrated by the intellectual deficiencies found in the writings of the majority of educational journalists. There is actually better critical analysis found in the Sports News sections of our daily newspapers, then can be found in the “Education News” sections; or misguided “fawning” editorial pages. This essay is a powerful exception. The tragedy is that children, mostly poor and of color, are the real victims of a society’s rush into the arms of experimental amateurism, that has done irreversible damage to our most vulnerable students. This (“educational reform”) essentially is the working definition of how we went from “bad to worse” in Public Education.


  19. I spoke at length last night with a prominent union leader, someone known for what I suppose one would call militancy. That leader said that he/she agreed with my point, that the intransigence of some union leaders created a strong backlash that helped created “Michelle Rhee.” I wish some of those writing in reaction to what I wrote had been in the conversation.

    I am not trying to get off the hook. We, the media, went overboard. And I took care to make the point that teacher union militancy was itself produced by the exploitation of teachers.

    Go look at that Jack Steinberg clip and ask yourself how Joe Q Public, union member or not, might react to his assertion that no teacher can ever be held accountable for his students’ learning or not learning.


    • Teachers should be held accountable for their students’ learning in the same way that pediatricians should be held accountable for their young patients’ health. To continue the analogy, what we have today is a system that has gone so cartoonishly overboard with teacher accountability that it is akin to a system that is poised to strip pediatric oncologists of their licenses to practice medicine because so many of their young patients die as compared to other pediatricians. After all, “cancer is not destiny”.


    • At some point It is worthwhile to explore the many elements that opened the door for what has become known as school reform which includes some union culpability, but you really do a disservice in the context of your revelations regarding Rhee. Like the Texas Miracle and the Bloomberg/Klein test score gains Rhee’s fame is a too good to be true story. The question for today is how did these fairy tales become the basis for far reaching changes in public policy. Yet you choose to downplay the funders and political actors who made Rhee the poster child and gave her the platform to promote her dubious ideas at the very moment their motivations scream for accountability.


    • One quote from one union person 17 years ago does not a good argument make. I’d hope you could do better than that!


    • Dogma? Are teachers supposed to keep taking the beating while Rhee lies, lies, lies and maintains her standing as a “reformer” when she is a F R A U D.

      She will be protected by Arne and Barack because once she falls, so does the entire charade. This is the beginning of the end. Parents, teachers and students have had it.

      What’s your point?


    • What, Susan, is dogmatic about calling to account someone responsible for the worsening of education in DC, the destruction of careers, the misallocation of valuable resources via dubious measures, overlooking cheating and the subsequent self-aggrandizing and self-enriching behavior?

      You’re OK with all of that? Ready to dismiss all disagreement as dogma? Are you also OK with similar brands of dishonesty, obfuscation, greed and bullying that gave us those other hallmark moments of the 2000’s, the Iraq War and the Crash?

      Rhee and her sycophantic supporters (almost all private school grads and parents) need to be called out at every turn for their failures, lies and the damage they have done. They are all too good to be in the trenches and they are either on the gravy train or ready to get on board when this administration is over. Which payroll will Arne be on?

      Noblesse oblige is dead. This is noblesse lay siege.

      Give Merrow a little credit even though he is late to the dance: he is that rare individual anymore who has come clean about professional failure.


    • John is entrenched in his support of the corporate “reform” movement. Look at his books –without paying, such as at the library or read excerpts in Google books, because I don’t think he deserves one penny of teachers’ hard-earned salaries based on what I’ve read.

      Merrow wrote in his 2011 book, “The Influence of Teachers: Reflections on Teaching and Leadership”,

      “how we pay teachers (average salary $48,000). It’s all about inputs, based on the assumption that the more teachers study, the more their students will learn. It turns out that’s not true. Nor do advanced degrees correlate highly with student achievement.” (p. 72)

      Would you extrapolate this assertion to teachers’ students as well, John, that students will not learn more if they study more or earn advanced degrees?

      How about this: “The Master’s Degree Effect?” http://www.edweek.org/tsb/articles/2012/02/29/02effect.h05.html

      And why would $48K be too high a salary for a teacher –except if you don’t really value teachers –unless they are from Teach for America? (The book is replete with praises for TFA.)

      Yes, he’s married to the corporate “reform” mob alright –and probably incapable of viewing matters from a different perspective.


      • Sorry, John. Many of us have been under attack for a very long time and have seen people like you as one of our unrelenting attackers. It’s also extremely frustrating that, despite all of our personal efforts towards improvement, young people from TFA with little training and experience are so often held up as models and given the highest positions in our profession.


  20. Who created Michelle Rhee? Just take a look at your own funders on the right side of this page – that’s a good start.


  21. The entire country has become one big pyramid scheme, with the Main-Scream-Media filling up the middle layers. They are quite literally the middle-men — the ropers and shills who pump up the con and take their cut before the suckers at the bottom go bust. When they get caught, they just say, “Oops! We’re sorry. But aren’t you glad you have us to tell you about the lies we couldn’t help telling you last week?”

    The masses pay attention to these tools because the Braindead Megaphone of the Media does not let them know there is any alternative.


  22. For every “bad” teacher anecdote you find about teachers’ unions, there are 1000 good teachers protected by the unions from insanity that is “education reform”. By your logic, if I can find a few bad business people, we should outlaw the Chamber of Commerce. People need to decide if they want parents, elected school boards, and educators running the schools. Or politicians, hedge funds, and corporations taking over our kids lives.



    Carnegie Corporation of New York
    Grade Level Reading Fund of Tides Foundation
    The Annenberg Foundation
    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
    The Hastings/Quillin Fund, an advised fund of Silicon Valley Community Foundation
    The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
    The Tietz Family Foundation
    The Wallace Foundation
    The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
    W.K. Kellogg Foundation


    • We might not know it now, but I am certain that Mr. Merrow can request full copies of Students First 990 forms. No, not the one available at guidestar.org, but the one with the pages listing the donors.

      FYI, according to the 990 I could get from California’s Attorney General’s web site, she runs two organizations: StudentsFirst, a 501(c)(4), and StudentsFirst Institute, a 501(c)(3). The latter had, in 2010, revenues of $2,979,495 and the former had $4,626,004. That’s a lot of loose change in contributions. Yet, those forms claim that Rhee only made $61,250 in salary. I’d love to examine her per diem.

      The forms Part IX also show $446,349 in salaries for the (c)(4) and $847,595 for the (c)(3). Most interestingly, none of the forms shows the reportable compensation for any of the officers. Neither do they list who the most highly paid employees are.

      Follow the money, Mr. Merrow, follow the money.


    • Did you catch this, John? “Walton foundation gives $8 million to StudentsFirst” http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-walton-8-million-studentsfirst-20130429,0,3488400.story

      In 2012, Rhee supported 105 candidates and 90 of them were Republicans. It’s no wonder that this self-proclaimed “Democrat” is funded by right wing billionaires, because both parties are on the same neo-liberal page with the intention of privatizing public education.

      This is not collaboration, which Rhee said herself is “way overrated.” it is collusion, in order to execute the business plan which neo-liberals are calling education “reform.” Please follow the money and you will see how big this really is….


  24. Mr. Merrow is mostly accurate to his knowledge. I was a officer of the Wash Teacher Union I saw the active and possibly criminal roles George Parker and Randi Weingarten took to attain personal gain Including Randi trying to parlay in my view a US senate seat for her lack of support for teachers. Michelle Rhee reforms are over. Only thing left is the scandal, criminal charges trials to begin. Mr. Merrow producer Cat Mcgraph made production not news. She ignored clear indicators Michelle was/is a “fraud”. I would only hope one Michelle Rhee lawyers would contact me so I can expose her farther. Those who committed crimes connected to this scandal should spend significant amounts of jail time.


  25. A friend has pointed out to me that although the NYC union is not responsible for the rubber rooms they have taken a way too laid back stance at protecting some of the teachers put there unfairly! This friend gave me an interesting link to a rather large legal staff in the NYC DOE just to help principals deal with their treatment of teachers (“with legal force”) and I am guessing that if a principal wants to get rid of a teacher he/she does not like, they contact this legal team to find out how they can put the teacher in the rubber room and not get called out for setting a teacher up etc… Here is the link…



  26. Are any of you aware of the influence of the organization I think founded by Rhee, TNTP? TNTP pushes these ideas in NYC at the highest levels, though they are unelected. They are also active nationally. I wish the media would look Into to this when they are done explaining why Rhee is lionized without being fully held to account for her actual record.


  27. John, Wendy Kopp’s Leadership for Education Equity (LEE) –the 501(c)4 political arm that enables TFA to lobby– was established in 2007, the same year that Rhee was appointed DC Chancellor. Did you ever consider the role that Kopp played in creating Rhee? Rhee is just ONE example of TFAers with minimal training/experience being placed in top level education positions across the nation. Rhee’s ex-husband Kevin Huffman in TN and John White in LA are more examples, but there are others as well.

    If the conspiracy is really just a “theory”, why do you suppose, in May, 2012, Kopp’s website for LEE had a job listing for “Education Task Force Director” at ALEC? And why is Stand for Children training TFAers, who’ve just finished their 2 year stint, on writing education policy?


    Dig a little deeper and I think you’ll find that the conspiracy is a fact, not a theory. (Or do you think that 5 weeks training and a couple years in the classroom as a TFAer qualifies those “talented young teachers” to be dictating education policies across the country?)


    • Wow! Great piece and another comment from Merrow to Cody at the end and be sure to check out the comments.

      Chemtchr strikes again:

      The corporate demand for absolute control of the workforce is the real issue. Our news media is overwhelmed with hired advocacy hacks, spewing anti-teacher venom sponsored by billionaires with business plans.

      Merrow hasn’t broken with those sponsors. With this chatter, he’s trying to wrap up Rhee for them, without tarnishing them.

      Instead, he and his equally bought “president of a prominent AFT” choose to tarnish me, and other union teachers.


  28. Thank you for writing this. It seems a lot of the comments are unhappy with the U part, but I understand why you state this. I think part of the reason why so many people supported Rhee was that she claimed she wanted to counter-balance the teachers unions, and many people supported that. Plus she had the guts to do some really crazy things in D.C. Of course, many conservatives would automatically agree with her since she was fighting the union, but she also got support from those who are traditionally more supportive of unions. At the same time, I think the press treats unions unfairly – pointing out only “news worthy” stories like the rubber rooms. The press doesn’t show the many good things that unions do for students. (Yeah, I know some people reading this will probably say unions are absolutely rotten, but I disagree.) So the negative press helped support her militancy against unions.

    I am curious about this statement: “She’s the product of the California Teachers Association, which I recall was willing to sacrifice librarians’ jobs in order to preserve salary increases for teachers.” The CTA is the umbrella organization of all the local unions in California, but it’s the local unions that negotiate with their district. So some locals, in the face of severe budget cuts, will decide to preserve salaries / cost of living raises, while other locals will decide to take pay cuts to save jobs. CTA usually isn’t involved in this decision making. It’s the local teachers that decide through collective bargaining.

    Which brings me to my next point —
    Technically, any group of employees, whether it’s teachers unions, or a private sector company, can decide to take pay cuts in order to save jobs. For example, Hewlett Packard laid off thousands of people. Why didn’t those employees take pay cuts to save jobs? My point is, why are teachers expected to take pay cuts or get no cost of living adjustments? Why must they personally sacrifice so much on top of what they already sacrifice? Are teachers expected to be Mother Teresa all the time?

    The question isn’t “Why are the teachers not taking pay cuts so that the librarians’ jobs can be saved?” The better question is, “Why the hell can’t we pay for a librarian anymore?” I wish ed reformers would focus as much energy on this latter question as they do with the former.


  29. Merrow: “But we don’t know for certain where the money behind Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst comes from.”

    Because, y’know, it’s not like we’re actual journalists or anything …
    We leave all that Follow the Money stuff to our gung-ho young JFA gang …


  30. Where did anyone get the idea that teachers unions were powerful? Maybe a couple of decades ago, when unions represented more people they wielded some power, but since Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers, unions have lost more and more membership and clout. We’ve had ever more regulations and testing mania shoved down our throats and no union was able to mitigate the damage to public education. Even more, with unions in decline the neo-cons have been able to divert public money to charters, private schools and Pearson testing companies. They are destroying public education, which is the foundation of democracy. Welcome to the United States of Koch and ALEC.


    • And it is happening under the leadership of Obama who is allowing the Gates USDOE to call all the shots…Arne is just the puppet.


  31. Of course it’s the teachers’ fault. Isn’t everything?

    According to Merrow, teachers are also responsible for NYC’s “Rubber Rooms” which form the basis for Steve Brill’s article in the New Yorker. Merrow claims unions protect bad teachers from dismissal. I have never met any competent teacher with a desire to keep a bad one on board – for the selfish reason that it makes the competent teacher’s job more difficult. The failure to dismiss incompetent teachers needs to be laid at the door of administration. If NYC public schools’ administrators could not make the case for dismissals of the denizens of the rubber rooms, the administrators are the incompetents.

    I was a building rep for my union for many years and though sometimes I had to hold my nose to provide representation for members, they were entitled to that representation. There is a false notion that “tenure” is an inviolable sinecure in K-12 education. In actuality, it is merely that due process must be followed in discipline or dismissal. I am tired of the excuse provided by Merrow that it is “too hard” to dismiss poor teachers. There’s a process, follow it.


    • And who deemed the “bad” teacher worthy of due process rights in the first place, the “great” administrator?

      When do we weed out the dead wood when it comes to principals, vice principals, central office and Tweedbots?

      When are they held accountable?


  32. Mr. Merrow suggests there are four alternatives to creation, she, we, they and U. While she and they are certainly in the mix, she created the lies, they created the money to promote the lies, the “we” and the “U” are the focus of his blog. While the responses to this blog have generally be in defense of the U-nion and their role in negotiating contracts and protecting teacher from arbitrary administrative decisions, the real culprit has been ignored, “we”, the media. Initially Mr. Merrow admits to his unverified support and promotion of Michele Rhee’s “accomplishments” and “promotion”. He also apologizes for his lack of adequate research into her background and the testing improvements of the students in her struggling schools. Then he quickly moves on to make his case against the U-nions. He should have stopped with the we, his media.

    The true villian in this instance is the media of which Mr. Merrow is a leader. The media have given voice to the education hacks who have little or no experience in the classroom. They, including Mr. Merrow, jumped on the bandwagon and touted false theories based on achievement reached through lying and cheating without doing their due diligence, i.e. investigative reporting on the validity of Ms Rhee’s claims. The media, including Mr. Merrow, jumped at the chance to deify a young, inexperience, attractive, self-assured, even dynamic Asian female (wow, what an appealing demographic) who has, it turns out, consistently lied about or embellished her accomplishments, as recently reported by you, Mr. Merrow, to improve her self-image, and her chance at fame and glory. I have to admit, that while the U-nion is certainly not lilly-white, to blame it for Michele Rhee’s ascendance is hipocritical, especially if you, Mr. Merrow, are a member of that select elite media which has so successfully fallen victim to her monied “they” and augmented her elevation through faulty reporting and flashy story telling.


  33. The U component rests largely on John’s incredulity over being told by a union official, Jack Steinberg, that there are too many variables to be able to evaluate teachers based on student performance.

    The timing of that interview was unfortunate, due to the climate of reform then, which had already brought high-stakes testing to some districts, and the fact that Sanders et al. were working on VAM in TN around that time and soon after began making the “three great teachers in a row” claim. When Sanders hit the Teacher Ed lecture circuit, he actually talked about the impact of “three bad teachers in a row” instead. (Very effective Ed School approach. I was horrified.)

    Subsequently, other researchers have tried their hand at VAM and “reformers” have hitched onto that and not let go. Despite indicators that standardized tests do not adequately measure student learning and of the instability of VAM, there are people who hold fast to the belief that value-added controls for all of those variables that Steinberg was concerned about, and despite its unreliability, with cases where a teacher is identified as highly effective one year and made teacher of the year, only to be identified as failing the next year not uncommon.

    John, if you really believe in high-stakes testing and that VAM is valid and reliable, not junk science, please read up on it, such as this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/leading-mathematician-debunks-value-added/2011/05/08/AFb999UG_blog.html and this: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/teachers/stopping-the-three-great-teach.html


  34. Hello History, Get Me A Rewrite

    What John Merrow leaves out:

    Watch the video, but note this:

    (2:30) MERROW: If I’m a teacher, and I set out to teach the kids long division, and they all learn long division, did I do a good job?
    JACK STEINBERG, PHILADELPHIA FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: (pause) Yes. Now what if they didn’t…
    MERROW: Wait… OK…
    STEINBERG: What if they didn’t learn long division?
    MERROW: Did I do a bad job?
    STEINBERG: Let’s say you teach three classes. And in one class they could do it, and one class they couldn’t. Are you doing a good job or a bad job? Or are…
    MERROW: How about a good job in one class and a bad job in the other?
    STEINBERG: But you did the same job in both classes. What’s wrong?
    DALE MEZZACAPPA, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Somehow, teachers have to be held accountable – not just teachers, but teachers have to be included in this – for whether their students achieve.
    STEINBERG: And if you’re asking: “Can you evaluate a teacher on the performance of the students?”
    MERROW: Yes. Yes or no.
    STEINBERG: No, you cannot.
    MERROW: You cannot evaluate a teacher on the performance of his or her students?
    STEINBERG: Right. Right.
    MEZZACAPPA: One thing that the PFT has succeeded in doing over the 30 years that it’s had collective bargaining rights in this town is insulate teachers from any responsibility whether students learn.
    MERROW: I just want to know where you draw the line. If I set out to teach long division…
    STEINBERG: Alright.
    MERROW: …and not a single kid learns long division – it’s the right age to teach long division and learn it – not a single kid learns long division, did I do a bad job?
    STEINBERG: (pause) I don’t know. I really don’t know because there are too many variables.

    Even Michelle Rhee’s IMPACT and other VAM shams take student differences into account.

    JerseyJazzman pegs Merrow correctly, here:
    Which is why this is such a great example of how our media fails our education system so regularly. Merrow is locked into a narrative; consequently, facts and opinions that run counter to this narrative must be shunned, mocked, or ignored. If Steinberg’s argument is far more complex and nuanced than necessary for Merrow to tell his preferred story, it simply must be altered. Throw away the larger context, throw away the gist of the counter-argument, and instead focus on the preferred story: teachers unions are bad.



    • What is it about…… STEINBERG: And if you’re asking: “Can you evaluate a teacher on the performance of the students?”
      MERROW: Yes. Yes or no.
      STEINBERG: No, you cannot.
      MERROW: You cannot evaluate a teacher on the performance of his or her students?
      STEINBERG: Right. Right.

      ….that eludes you?
      What could be clearer?


      • John– For those of us who don’t have the time to watch your documentary from the 1990’s, can you give some context? What was the proposed way to evaluate teachers based on their students’ “performances” that shaped your conversation with the Vice President of the Philadelphia Teachers Union? IE What was Hornbeck proposing and what was the Union objecting to? Or was this just simply an exchange on philosophies of evaluations devoid of any real world consequences?

        In the modern reform context, “student achievement” is always code for scores on standardized (typically norm-referenced and timed) bubble-tests. Thus, if someone were to ask me if “student achievement” should factor in to a teacher’s evaluation, I too would say “no” if I knew that the only tools that would be used to assess “student achievement” or “student performance” were standardized bubble tests.

        If I was being interviewed the way Mr. Steinberg was, I would be quick to point out that there are ways to use evidence of student learning to improve the teacher evaluation process but that standardized bubble test scores are the wrong tool to use for that purpose—even the testing companies themselves admit as much.

        Thanks for your time.


      • “What could be clearer?”

        Well, for starters, you could clarify why you omitted this statement again:

        “STEINBERG: (pause) I don’t know. I really don’t know because there are too many variables.”

        Why would that be so insignificant to you?

        It sounds like you believe that standardized testing and value-added modeling can and do control for all those variables of concern to Steinberg. Many scholars disagree: http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/2012/09/test-anxiety.html


      • Dear John,
        Thank for making it so black and white.
        I guess in your view, I must be against you.
        The Marlboro Man

        (PS. By those standards you are an incompetent journalist because you didn’t catch unto Rhee’s resume lies in 2007.)


      • Mr. Merrow, the point of my post – which I will admit is harsh, but I still believe fair – is that you didn’t provide relevant context for Steinberg’s remarks. It is clear from my transcript of the conversation that Steinberg was making a far more nuanced argument than the way you represent it in this post – and that’s AFTER you had edited the raw footage of your interview with him (I would very much like to see the full interview; I suspect it would back up my argument further).

        To my mind, this passage is at least just as relevant to the discussion as the quote you cite in your comment:

        MERROW: I just want to know where you draw the line. If I set out to teach long division…
        STEINBERG: Alright.
        MERROW: …and not a single kid learns long division – it’s the right age to teach long division and learn it – not a single kid learns long division, did I do a bad job?
        STEINBERG: (pause) I don’t know. I really don’t know because there are too many variables.

        I think any fair reading of this does NOT comport with your assertion in your post:

        “Steinberg asserted that teachers can never be held accountable for student results. No teacher! Not ever!”

        Steinberg is far more thoughtful then you give him credit for.

        Everyone from the teachers union to StudentsFirst agrees that you cannot judge teachers “student learning” without some sort of control for those students’ characteristics. You can’t, for example, “blame” a teacher for not teaching long division if those children didn’t know how to add in the first place.

        If Steinberg is making the case here that you can’t judge teachers because you’ll can’t control for student characteristics, would you really say that is “intransigent”? I certainly wouldn’t: I would say he is making a thoughtful argument. You could disagree with it, of course, but you are unfair when you reduce him to a caricature.


      • Great response, Duke.
        I’m sure if Mr. Merrow was Captain Ahab-like about the Sanford memo (as derisively described by Andy Rotherham, a member of the Professional Education Reform crowd, who believes teacher unions defend child abuse), he will supply us with the raw video of his interview with Steinberg.


      • My goal is to make all our interviews available, archived and accessible, so that historians, students and others are able to dig as deeply as they wish. It’s nearly 90,000 hours of broadcast quality video (not to mention some 400 hours of programming done for NPR between 1974-1982. Right now Learning Matters, my non-profit production company, is trying to raise the money to make this project a reality.
        When that happens, everyone will be able to read and watch all the interviews with David Hornbeck, Jack Steinberg, Ed Rendell and others I interviewed during 6 years there, all the Rhee et cetera material, all the material from New Orleans, and so on.
        Some will look to find what supports their conclusions, I imagine, and others will approach it differently. I don’t have access to the full Steinberg transcript but I can assure you that my colleagues and I did not ‘cherry-pick’ to find material to support some preconceived view. If you are convinced that I am dishonest, so be it.


      • Many people really appreciate that you have come forward with this, John. I don’t think it’s a matter of believing you are dishonest, but people interpret their experiences. Do you recall Steinberg actually saying, “No teacher! Not ever!” or was that your interpretation? –because we did not see him say that on the video.


      • Dishonest John.
        No. But let me paraphrase my friend’s father:
        Claud Cockburn proclaimed that facts and rumours were of equal significance, and warned against what he called ‘the factual heresy’ – the claim, dear to journalists with a saint-like idea of their own mission, that lumps of truth lie about like gold nuggets waiting to be picked up.

        Claud Cockburn did not think journalism was either saintly or fact-bound. ‘All stories are written backwards,’ he once observed. ‘They are supposed to begin with the facts and develop from there, but in reality they begin with a journalist’s point of view from which the facts are subsequently organised.’


      • Your assurance that you did not cherry-pick would be a lot more convincing to me if the clip that jerzeyjazzman points us to were not so clearly NOT what you characterized it as in your piece. I wouldn’t have been surprised that some union guy 17 years ago said no teacher should ever be evaluated by student test results, but it is pretty amazing that you had to misquote this guy (or rather, not quote him at all, since he never uttered the sentence you had in your original piece) out of context… It really doesn’t look like Steinberg said what you said he said!


      • John, he must have meant that teachers can’t be evaluated based on students’ test scores because that’s what “evaluation” means to “reformers.” But of course, teachers can and should be evaluated on the basis of student learning. In California there is a law (Stull Act, 1971) that requires a teacher to be evaluated on the basis of student performance. For many years, other teachers and I had to show evidence of student progress when we were formally evaluated by the principal. So far as I know, no teacher ever complained. Why should we? Teaching children is what we do. It’s not difficult to determine the progress of a child and the competence of the teacher but both can’t be done at the same time with one ten-dollar class test! That should be obvious to everyone, but strangely it is not.

        Teachers are almost always very proud of the progress of their students. They only ask that an evaluation of that progress be as accurate and as fair as possible. And of course, that evaluation requires the involvement of other professionals. Experts tell us that a standardized test mostly reflects the socioeconomic background of the child. Teachers and real estate agents are well aware of that fact.


    • “DALE MEZZACAPPA, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Somehow, teachers have to be held accountable – not just teachers, but teachers have to be included in this – for whether their students achieve.”

      Exactly who else has been “included in this” besides teachers, and have they been subjected to the use of junk science for measuring their success, too?


  35. Just hope you realize, John, that the lack of improvements in DC schools holds for NYC and Chicago using the same draconian approaches as well:

    “Market-oriented education reforms’ rhetoric trumps reality: The impacts of test-based teacher
    evaluations, school closures, and increased charter school access on student outcomes in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C.”



  36. OK, these are your truths. They may not be how others see things, but I get that this is what you believe to be true and I don’t doubt it. Doesn’t it all make you wonder why though?

    Why, when you aimed to be an objective reporter, you bought Rhee’s story and didn’t commit to due diligence and fact check?

    Why does it still disturb you so, when you know that teaching and learning are very complex processes, that there might be a lot of variables which can’t be controlled for by standardized tests and value-added measures?

    What I don’t understand is why, when 9 out of 10 of the richest people in our country have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a lot of draconian measures resulting in the privatization of public education etc., their collusion on this issue seems to be just a “theory” to you.

    I also don’t understand why, after so many decades of reforms aimed at closing the achievement gap, people like you don’t realize that, except for a select population of low income kids who respond to military style schooling, it’s going to take a whole lot more than education alone to help generationally poor children and their families out of poverty.

    Why do we ignore poverty, when it is even more challenging today to become upwardly mobile, in this economy and with such an inequitable distribution of wealth? This is true even for many advantaged college educated people who cannot find decent paying jobs, “millions of college graduates over all—not just recent ones.” http://chronicle.com/article/Millions-of-Graduates-Hold/136879/

    A lot of whys to ponder…


  37. I am really disturbed by this media insistence on the results of standardized tests for teacher evaluation. I firmly believe that the teacher in the classroom, using appropriate assessment, has an obligation to make sure every student reaches a point of understanding and learning of whatever the material being taught. If the students fail the teacher’s assessment then the teacher should be finding a way to reach that student to achieve success. However, a standardized test in no way proves student success.

    I spoke with a young man today who, frustrated with school, dropped out. He has attempted, several times, to pass the GED. The area he struggled with on the GED was math. He told me, math was one of a few areas in school he had had success. The GED was testing him with problems that didn’t match anything he had learned, or ever needed to use in his real life after he dropped out. He even had taken classes to try to catch up, but, he was lost. The math he was trying to learn had little or no relevance.

    The GED is no different than other standardized tests used to evaluate students. It’s obvious that testing with these tests measures very specific skills, but not necessarily those the student understands or needs. They measure instead, those skills the test makers think are important or find more easily measured. This forces teachers to conduct lessons on those skills specific to the test, rather than helping the student learn skills necessary for their future. To then measure the teacher’s ability based on the student’s results is an oxymoron. Do we want student to be successful, or just full of the “expert test makers” opinion of what success should look like?

    John, and the rest of the syncophant media who honor the Rhees and the Gates of the education world, those with limited or no educator experience, need to step back and take a real look at what education should be and what it takes to achieve. Stop tossing mud at the teachers, they are doing their job, and in some very tough situations. There are some changes which should occur in the classroom, but denigrating teachers only destroys moral and standardized testing only lowers expectations. Even our current “test savvy” students will not be ready for the a future of innovation and experimentation.


  38. Will the real John Merrow please stand up? This poorly-written, poorly-developed, poorly- argued piece, Who Created Michelle Rhee?, could hardly have been written by the same author of the carefully-researched piece, Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error.

    Who Created Michelle Rhee? feels hastily put together–as if someone from above (perhaps a funder or perhaps Merrow’s own inner voice) said, “John, we need a piece to balance out your last piece about Michelle Rhee.”

    The question about who created Michelle Rhee deserves as much attention and time and footnotes as Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error. If this question were ever carefully researched, it would have the makings of a fascinating article (if not a book). I hope the “real” John Merrow would be up to this task.


  39. The fact that John Merrow has given unions a share of the blame for creating Rhee the Great Goddess of Reform might seem ridiculous. But it also insulates him against the otherwise-guaranteed charge from the reformy types of being a “teachers’ union lackey.” And that might, someday, help his findings about Rhee to penetrate her thick layer of Teflon. Just pointing it out.

    (It does boggle the mind that Beverly Hall of Atlanta is facing a possibly long prison term, while Michelle Rhee is the media darling and reform goddess. I personally suspect that the fact that Hall is a middle-aged black woman (born 1948, Jamaican-American) has a lot to do with it.)


  40. you write:

    >>> the California Teachers Association, which I recall was willing to sacrifice librarians’ jobs in order to preserve salary increases for teachers.

    I was a school librarian in CA from 1973 to 1999. I worked within CTA to create standards for library staffing as state law. We failed at the legislative level because even Democrats told us, “we believe in local control.”

    We finally established state standards through the state board of education. Unenforceable “guidelines.” At that time we were down to about 1200 teacher librarians for 9000 schools. Now we are at 850 TLs for 10,000 schools. My county has 35 librarians for 600 schools.

    What has NEVER helped is the nonsense about the past that you continue to thump on in projects like “From First to Worst.”

    There is NO evidence that CA was ever first in education in any aspect. We didn’t even start measuring schools nationally until the 1990s. I didn’t see a school library until I walked into my high school in 1961. K-8 schools in my city (Torrance) didn’t have rooms they called libraries as late as 1985. In the 90s, Pete Wilson gave us library materials money and Gray Davis took it away.

    Somehow you keep getting a pass on your inability to cite historical facts.


  41. John, If you really don’t think there is collusion going on amongst the big players who are aiming to privatize public education across America, then why do you suppose some billionaires are so intent on buying seats on schools boards in distant states, as evident in Michael Bloomberg’s repeated contributions to like-minded candidates running for the LA board? http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/District_Dossier/2013/04/new_york_mayor_makes_large_don.html


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