Monthly Archives: October 2011

Philadelphia Schoolteacher Hangs Self in Classroom

by Christopher Paslay

Last week in English class I decided to hang myself in front of my students.  I did so by taking a picture of yours truly and hanging it up on the wall behind my desk.    

“Look everyone,” I said to the class, “I’ve just hung myself.”

The class let out a chuckle.

Why would I do such a thing?  As a grammar lesson to teach the difference between hang, hung, and hanged, of course.  The lesson was a perfect “Do Now” activity for The Crucible, the Arthur Miller play we’ve been studying for the past month about the Salem Witch Trials. 

The play, which serves as an allegory for McCarthyism, details the hanging of 19 Puritans who were believed to be in cahoots with Lucifer himself.  The frequent use of the noose inevitably caused my students to ask: What is the difference between hang, hung, and hanged?

Here it is (from Daily Writing Tips):  

Hang derives from Old English and means to be attached from above without support below. This is one of the core meanings, as shown in the sentence: The picture hangs on the wall.

However, there are several other related uses, for example:

  • To let droop or fall – hang your head in shame.
  • To fall in a certain way – this costume hangs well.
  • To pay attention to – I hang on your every word.
  • To hold on tightly – My daughter is hanging onto my skirt.
  • A way of doing something – She couldn’t get the hang of it.
  • To be oppressive – a cloud of gloom hangs over him.

The regular past tense of hang is hung, which would be used in all the examples listed above. However, there is one difference when it comes to hanging someone by the neck. In this case the past tense is hanged which means killed by hanging.

In other words, the Puritans in Salem were hanged, not hung.

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The Video School Reformers Don’t Want You to See

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Debunking the Myths of Michelle Rhee: The Truth About Teacher Seniority

Take action!  Watch the short video below and sign the petition to put a stop to Michelle Rhee’s dishonest campaign to end seniority for America’s hard working schoolteachers!  

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10 Things You Should Know About Michelle Rhee

by Christopher Paslay

Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools who was forced to resign because of her lack of expertise regarding instruction, curriculum, management, fiscal matters, and community relations, is back and ready to settle old scores.  She’s launched studentsfirst.org, a so-called “movement to transform public education.”  According to its neatly packaged website, its goal is to cut through politics and adult agendas in order to give America’s children a first-rate education.  Ironically, its policies are driven by politics (privatizing public education to put public tax dollars in the pockets of Rhee’s wealthy backers), adult agendas (union busting to get back at those who had Rhee fired in D.C.), and Rhee’s own misguided and elitist reform ideas (ending teacher tenure and seniority, which will only penalize master teacher who’ve dedicated their lives to their students).

Below are 10 things all students, teachers, and parents should know about Michelle Rhee.  These points were first written about by Rachel Levy, a native of Washington D.C. and a graduate of the city’s public school system; Levy is also a former D.C. teacher.  (To read Levy’s point-by-point assessment of Michelle Rhee’s tenure as chancellor of D.C. schools, which was published online in the Washington Post, click here.)           

1.  The citizens of Washington D.C. voted the mayor out of office to get rid of Michelle Rhee.  In 2010, the unthinkable happened in our nation’s capitol: incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty lost the Democratic primary election.  Political experts interpreted this as a referendum on Rhee’s unpopular and misguided reign as school’s chief.

2.  Rhee is adversarial and undemocratic.  Diane Ravitch, noted education historian and scholar, said about Rhee: “It’s difficult to win a war when you’re firing on your own troops.”  Rhee indeed fires on her own troops, as she did in D.C during her first year as chancellor when she impulsively and unapologetically terminated 36 principals and closed-down 23 schools because of what she perceived as under-enrollment and excess square footage.  Later she would fire 241 teachers and put 737 school employees on notice with limited due process, zero transparency, and no input from D.C. Council members.                     

3.  Rhee doesn’t respect members of urban communities.  As D.C. native and schoolteacher Rachel Levy wrote in the Washington Post piece, “Rhee arrived in Washington D.C. in 2007 with extraordinary power to do what she wanted. In fact, she only had her boss, Fenty, to answer to, and he never challenged her. Shortly after she started as chancellor, she met with the professionals and community leaders who had a long history of working to improve D.C. schools and promptly decided she didn’t have anything to learn from them. . . . Rhee paid no respect to members of the community whose elders had helped to build and fill the school system she was charged with leading.”     

4.  Rhee has turned her back on urban neighborhoods and traditional public schools.  Instead of standing strong with school leaders to revitalize urban communities and traditional public schools, Rhee supports taking public tax dollars out of neighborhoods and putting them in private pockets via charter schools and vouchers.          

5.  Rhee lacks expertise in the field of education.  Interestingly, Rhee has a bachelor’s degree in government from Cornell University and a master’s in public policy from Harvard University.  “Rhee’s ideas about how to fix the ailing school system were largely misinformed,” Levy wrote in her Washington Post piece, “and it’s no wonder: She knew little about instruction, curriculum, management, fiscal matters, and community relations.”  

6.  Rhee is condescending and elitist.  As part of her campaign to end LIFO (Last In, First Out) in states like Pennsylvania, Rhee condescends and belittles hardworking veteran teachers by stereotyping them as low quality and ineffective.  Conversely, she portrays new teachers, particularly those who enter the classroom via alternative teaching programs such as Teach for America (where Rhee is an alumna) and have graduated elite universities such as Harvard (where Rhee is an alumna) as highly effective, regardless of a comprehensive survey of actual job performance data.             

7.  Rhee is dishonest.  During her short stint as a schoolteacher at Harlem Park Elementary School, before she quit and left the classroom like so many Teach for America alumni do, Rhee boasted of test score gains that turned out to be grossly overstated.  Likewise, when Rhee was chancellor of D.C. schools and gains in test scores were tarnished by a cheating scandal, Rhee made excuses, failing to answer questions from the media or explain the testing aberrations and high rate of erasures.                 

8.  Rhee abused her students as an elementary schoolteacher.  Rhee, unable to control her students during her first year on the job, taped her students’ mouths shut with masking tape on the way to the lunchroom.  This belligerent behavior toward those under her authority was a glaring sign of things to come.        

9.  Rhee supports IMPACT, a flawed teacher evaluation tool.  IMPACT is over engineered and impractical, as Valerie Strauss, an education writer for the Washington Post, explains in a blog post (click here to read the post).    

10.  Rhee’s new organization, studentsfirst.org, is about settling old scores.  Unfortunately, studentsfirst.org, despite the intense public relations campaign by Michelle Rhee and her wealthy conservative backers, does not put students first.  Don’t be fooled by the organization’s carefully calculated mission statement and hand-picked testimonies from teachers, parents, and students (and mostly conservative supporters).  Rhee is out to get back at those individuals who cost her her position as chancellor of D.C.’s public schools: supporters of communities and traditional public schools; hardworking veteran teachers who expect to be treated with dignity and respect; and yes, organized labor.

Rhee is an elitist who looks down her nose at traditional schools and educators.  Her deep-seeded dislike of common everyday teachers stems from an Ivy League mentality that only she knows best.  This attitude was evident in the way she governed D.C.’s public schools, and it’s evident now.

Rhee is angry and she wants revenge.  Don’t be fooled by her new “student-centered” organization.  She’s hardly putting students first.  She’s using them to get even.

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Michelle Rhee: New Mission for the Disgruntled Narcissist

 

by Christopher Paslay

Former chancellor of D.C. public schools launches ‘student-centered’ lobby group, effectively keeping her name before the public.   

Michelle Rhee, whose undemocratic and draconian methods of running Washington D.C.’s public schools forced her to step down as chancellor, is on a new mission.  She’s organized studentsfirst.org, a so-called “movement to transform public education.”  Its goal is to cut through politics and adult agendas in order to give America’s children a first-rate education.  Ironically, its policies are driven by—you guessed it!—politics and adult agendas. 

The first order of business of studentsfirst.org seems to be to keep Rhee herself before the public eye.  She proudly announces on the website that she is Founder and CEO of the organization, and has set up an “About Michelle Rhee” page to shamelessly tout her past achievements.  “If you are a member of the media,” the website says, “and would like to set up an interview or TV appearance with Michelle, contact media@studentsfirst.org.”

The second order of business is to cleverly disparage and attack teachers’ unions and America’s hard working educators themselves.  This is done quite tactfully, under the guise of supporting “great teachers”.  Of course, Rhee’s plan for keeping “great teachers” is oversimplified and misinformed. 

An example of her overgeneralization of the complexities of teaching in a 21st century urban environment (and her deep-seeded bias against organized labor) is her plan to reform education in Pennsylvania.  On her website it states:

With the current fiscal crisis, Pennsylvania is at risk of losing thousands of their best teachers to layoffs. Currently, layoffs are based on seniority, an outdated and bureaucratic practice known as “Last in, First Out” (LIFO). LIFO means that the last teacher hired has to be the first teacher fired, regardless of how good teachers are. This harms students and teachers in three ways:

  1. Research indicates that when districts with LIFO conduct layoffs, they end up firing some of their most highly effective educators.
  2. LIFO policies increase the number of teachers that districts have to lay off. Because junior teachers make less money, districts have to lay off more of them in order to fill their budget gaps.
  3. LIFO disproportionately and negatively impacts the highest need schools. These schools have larger numbers of new teachers, who are the first to lose their jobs in a layoff.

The only problem with these claims about LIFO is that they are FALSE.  Here are the facts:

  • Research DOES NOT indicate that when LIFO layoffs take place, the most highly effective educators are fired.  In 2005, Research for Action, a Philadelphia non-profit education research organization affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, found in the their “Quest for Quality” study that almost 50 percent of first-year teachers hired in Philadelphia in 2003 didn’t even have a certification.  In fact, 70 percent of new teachers in Philadelphia drop out in five years; new teachers in many schools don’t even last long enough to get laid off via LIFO.  To assert that inexperienced—and many times uncertified—teachers are more effective than tenured master teachers is just flat-out propaganda. 
  • LIFO policies DO NOT increase the number of teachers that districts have to lay off to fill budget gaps.  All teachers, regardless of years of experience or pay scale, are accorded the same monetary value in a school district budget.  In the Philadelphia School District, a teacher costs a principal $90,000 a year, regardless of whether that teacher is actually salaried $90,000 or $45,000.  Rhee’s claim otherwise is made either out of sheer ignorance (wasn’t she Chancellor of D.C. public schools?), or is simply her attempt to once again mislead the public.
  • LIFO DOES NOT disproportionately and negatively impact the highest need schools.  Research shows the poorest schools have high teacher turnover rates because new teachers quit, not because they are the first to be laid off.  In fact, in Philadelphia in 2005, the teacher turnover rate was higher than the student dropout rate; high need schools have shortages of teachers, not surpluses.  This is exactly why policies favoring veteran teachers in hard-to-staff schools should be supported, not attacked.                                    

Of course, Michelle Rhee is not known for sticking to the facts.  When Rhee served a short stint as a schoolteacher at Harlem Park Elementary School, before she folded under the pressures of running an urban classroom and left for administrative work, she boasted of test score gains that turned out to be much smaller than she first claimed.  The modest gains made by D.C. public schools when Rhee was chancellor were also questioned by public officials, and a cheating scandal ensued.  Diane Ravitch, noted education historian and professor, questioned the legitimacy of Rhee’s results claiming that “cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum” marked Rhee’s tenure as schools’ chief. 

America’s most experienced teachers should be supported, not attacked.  Stripping teachers of seniority is no way to reward their years of hard work and dedication, nor is it any way to attract the best and brightest to the job.   

For the benefit of schoolchildren everywhere, let’s hope Rhee tones down her propagandistic crusade against hard working schoolteachers.  She should use her influence to support tenured, experienced educators, rather than working to tarnish their reputations with misinformation in an attempt to keep Rhee’s own name before the public eye.

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