A Spoiler for Frontline’s Michelle Rhee Documentary

Jose Vilson Jose 5 Comments

Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee

A bunch of my friends have already started posting up the trailer for Frontline‘s documentary on Michelle Rhee entitled The Education of Michelle Rhee (PBS, starting January 8th, check your local listings). Honestly, I’m not watching it. Most people get a benefit of a doubt, but Rhee’s earned nothing but doubt from me. Her videotaped firing of a principal when she was the Chancellor of Washington, DC schools was only the first of many things I started to find out about her that would / should offend anyone interested in true education reform, not the corporatist thinking we currently have at work.

Besides, I can’t possibly see Frontline going after Democrats for Education Reform’s darling.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a spoiler for the documentary that I got from an exclusive source:

Frontline: “Thanks for coming, Michelle.”
Rhee: “Thanks for having me.”
FL: “Now, you were the head of DC schools for a number of years. How was that?”
Rhee: “Good. Successful.”
FL: “Great. Glad to hear. You’ve left since then, and are now on the road as the founder for StudentsFirst. Let me ask you a question: Is your organization really StudentsFirst.”
Rhee: “Of course! It says it right there in the name!”
FL: “Sounds excellent. Now, three of the people who helped create the Common Core State Standards, including David Coleman. Is there a relationship between what your organization does and Student Achievement Partners, Coleman’s organization?”
Rhee: “Well, I don’t see anything wrong with it. Plenty of people sit on boards. We all sit on boards.”
FL: “True. True.”

[Segment here profiling the current state of DC schools. Some flashes of the issues. John Merrow sitting in a classroom, glancing around wistfully. Michelle walks around a hallway with a new platinum-encrusted broom and ushers little Black and Asian kids into their classes. One kid says "Ouch." She smiles, then points forcefully. Merrow smiles along.]

FL: “So now, the question the whole world is watching for: please tell us about the cheating scandal.”
Rhee: “Umm.”
FL: “That’s good. Thank you!”

End scene.

All the people who didn’t like her still didn’t. All the people who did still feel something in their stomach about her approach, but feel it works for Black and Latino kids in DC. As long as Rhee doesn’t work directly with the kids over in the nicer sections of the city, or the world. Frontline won’t press too hard lest they never get to interview her again.

That’s alright. You’ll watch anyways. For too many of us, watching feels like all they can do.

Jose, who feels so good to be back …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 5

  1. Justin Reich

    Did you see that John Merrow, the producer of the piece, pretty much declares that cheating happened under Rhee and was not investigated: http://www.edmediacommons.org/forum/topics/five-questions-for-pbs-newshour-correspondent-john-merrow-on-fron

    “The problem is the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations is leading to new abuses. We have widespread cheating – sometimes investigated, as in Atlanta, and sometimes ignored, as in D.C. The stakes have been raised so high. We’re going to have more testing because teachers are going to be judged on test scores. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s certainly part of the net impact of Michelle Rhee.”

  2. Diana Crawford

    Thank you so very much for your comments about this Frontline segmant on Michelle Rhee. I found you today, and I am deliriously happy that I did! When I read your comments, I felt ecstatic! I have been teaching in the Texas school system for the past twenty years. Prior to that, I owned and operated a dance studio. I have three grown children, that somehow survived this system. I am so happy that they are finished with the circus! I have taught in middle and elementary school, and I am absolutely dedicated and am passionate about guiding my children on their journey to the love of learning. That said, it is getting harder and harder. I have a good record with my standardized test scores, and yet I had to request to be transferred to a first grade classroom due to the fact that this current state of ( corporate/big business,not trulu for the students) reform is smothering my creative passion for teaching and worse, my students desire to truly embrace the process of learning and creating. Our data room is called ” the war room”, and scores are posted with the students names. I couldn’t be part of that anymore. I had a “Bee” experience as Michelle Rhee mentioned, but my experience was very different. I noticed a bee trying to find a way out on my (only) class window. My 5th grade students were very “chill” as opposed to Ms. Rhee’s students…I gently picked up a small glass and gently placed it over the bee, the children helped me find a piece of construction paper and we carried it outside and released the bee. This has happened with a mouse, crickets, preying mantis’s and spiders to name a few…a very different view of our “philosophy” of teaching…for sure! Thank you for being, for being here and allowing me to express my feelings on this matter. Peace & joy for you and your family in this new year!

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  3. Jia

    I share your sentiments with not wanting to view this segment. Yet, the day after it aired, I put my nine year old to bed, sat down at my computer and watched it online. I forced myself to do this because of a need to understand the frame being used to convince those still in passive compliance to these damaging reforms. As I listened carefully to the words, paid careful attention to the tactics presented, I looked for patterns. She calls herself a “reformer” and that she knew there would be great push backs as she shook up the DC public school system. She also said, “This is not a democracy.” She found no other choice than to make snap judgements about schools administrators and staff.

    Then a glaring image emerged from the frame. It hit me like a brick wall. Rhee’s ideology is based on patriarchy, of compliance based initiatives in government that were used since the days of slavery, Jim Crow and now the New Jim Crow. How do I know this for sure? She proudly stated the reforms: punishing the “bad” elements by closing “bad” schools, firing “bad/ incompetent staff” and she rewarded schools that did a “good job”with monetary prizes. This is the same ideology that believes that teachers are the holders of knowledge/information and that students are the receivers of information. Hence, the misunderstanding of believing that standardized tests can be used to measure teacher effectiveness. I’m sure if we look up autocracy, we’ll find this era of educational deform in Wikipedia twenty years from now.

    What can we do? Submit and comply? OR begin ENGAGING in the only way that will work against this. There are already voices of protest- yours, the parent groups across the U.S., new caucuses within the teacher’s union… and we cannot stop until there is a change. What is at stake is an education for our children that ensures engagement in the decisions they will be faced with in their futures. Cognitive research on how people learn is being ignored and they are proposing brain training. Perhaps those in power know what they are doing- perhaps it is an economic move that hinges on the assurance that the next generation of “majorities” remain voiceless and compliant.

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      Jose Vilson

      What can we do? Submit and comply? OR begin ENGAGING in the only way that will work against this. There are already voices of protest- yours, the parent groups across the U.S., new caucuses within the teacher’s union… and we cannot stop until there is a change. What is at stake is an education for our children that ensures engagement in the decisions they will be faced with in their futures. Cognitive research on how people learn is being ignored and they are proposing brain training. Perhaps those in power know what they are doing- perhaps it is an economic move that hinges on the assurance that the next generation of “majorities” remain voiceless and compliant.

      POIGNANT! And worth screaming from the heavens.

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