TEAM TEACHING! Gloria Balton defined a problem—a problem Michelle Rhee can solve: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2007
WE LIED: We promised you some HOWLER HISTORY today. Taking mercy on all concerned, we finally decided we’d lied.
We’re back on Monday. Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. We’re heading to (surprise!) South Carolina, where our niece got it into her head this year to become a perfesser lady. International health.
THEIR LATEST CON: We’d love to see a fuller discussion of Social Security and Medicare, inside or outside the context of the Clinton-Obama race. But Ruth Marcus gets some very low marks for today’s highly “responsible” attack on the badly “dishonest” Paul Krugman. Marcus offers quotes from Krugman’s past writings, suggesting he’s flipped on the question of Social Security. But one of her five vintage quotes from Krugman shows how these things often go.
Marcus is trying to show that Krugman’s a flipper—that he used to say there was a crisis afflicting Social Security. At one point, responsibly proving her point, Marcus quotes Krugman saying this:
That’s supposed to show that Krugman has flipped when he says there is no “crisis.” But here are the first two paragraphs of the New York Times column from which Marcus has liberated that quote:
Uh-oh! In the very next sentence after the one Marcus quotes, Krugman said, back then, what he says today: “solving this financial problem isn't all that difficult.” (That is, “despite the apocalyptic rhetoric you sometimes hear,” there is no crisis.) Marcus, responsible adult that she is, has played a familiar old game.
We’d love to see a prolonged discussion of Social Security and Medicare. But when you criticize the lords and ladies of the Washington press corps, they tend to react in familiar ways, in ways they have long engineered.
We’ve described this game for the past ten years—but the highly responsible game never changes. Darlings, did you hear that Gore said he invented the Net? Did you hear what Paul Krugman once said?
TEAM TEACHING: On Monday night, we were struck by the NewsHour’s report on DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. We were especially struck by the following segment; John Merrow spoke with two administrators at low-income Anacostia High School:
Interesting! You mean there are tenth-grade students at Anacostia High who are reading on traditional third-grade level? And you mean their teachers don’t have appropriate, readable textbooks to give them—textbooks they can actually read and learn from? We cheered Balton, and agreed with her final statement—you should address the needs of these students’ souls. But you should also address their need for textbooks—readable textbooks, lots of such textbooks, dealing with appropriate topics. Anacostia High doesn’t have such books, if Balton can be believed. And she can.
When we taught in Baltimore’s public schools (mostly fifth grade), we were struck by this problem above all others (and by its near-relations). Indeed, we wrote about this groaning, unaddressed problem in the Baltimore Sun more than 25 years ago! (Excerpts below.) We were struck by Merrow’s report Monday night because Balton made such a spot-on observation—and because Rhee seemed to have no earthly idea about how to help students improve.
Throughout this program, Rhee didn’t say a single world about ways to improve DC’s instruction—by providing readable textbooks, for instance. Instead, her basic theory was defined by a succession of threats. Merrow opened with a creepy sequence. We seemed to see Rhee, on videotape, firing an unidentified principal:
We’ll go along with that. But if the lives of children hang in the balance, what does it mean when you hire a chancellor who shows no sign of knowing how to improve their instruction?
Rhee’s whole theory seems to be this: As chancellor, she will threaten the teachers and principals—and they will then provide better “deliverables.” This is based on a tired old theory—the theory that teachers aren’t doing their best as things currently stand. This is a deeply cynical theory, offered here by a superintendent who seems to lack instructional ideas of her own. I will threaten the others, Rhee says. They will figure out what to do.
Nice work—if you can get overpaid for it.
In fact, this has always been the one-stop theory of urban education—a theory in which teachers are scape-goated. Back in the 60s, we were told this: Kids are failing in urban schools because the teachers are a bunch of racists. When it turned out that the teachers in a lot of our urban schools were black, we were told a second story: Kids are failing because the teachers aren’t trying. Rhee seemed to be working from that second theory all through Monday’s report.
Today, Rhee is stamping her feet at Washington’s teachers, assuming they’ll rush off and solve their schools’ problem. But, to cite just one basic problem, these teachers can’t produce their own readable textbooks. Gloria Balton cited a problem—but Balton has no way to fix it. Rhee would be able to address such a problem—but her mind seems to be somewhere else.
We groaned when DC hired Rhee despite her highly implausible resumé. Later, we saw her do an hour with Brian Lamb; we were very impressed by her leadership attitude. But on Monday, we seemed to have Rhee the Terrible she assumes that teachers just haven’t been trying—and that they’ll finally roll up their sleeves if she just scares them enough. But guess what? If your students are reading on third grade level, you really can’t give them good instruction if your textbooks are written on tenth-grade reading level! Monday night, Rhee showed no sign of knowing that—or much else, except the uses of fear.
WHAT BALTON SAID: How come Balton understands this problem but in high society, it never gets discussed? Decades ago, we spent a year studying the readability of Baltimore’s prescribed textbooks. Then, we typed this, in the Evening Sun:
As we’ve said, few school systems will have courses of study as problematic as Baltimore’s was at that time. But as we continued, we described the way deserving kids who are poor readers frequently get a good deal poorer. Trust us—this happens today, at Anacostia High:
Rhee takes pride in her no-nonsense outlook. But people, come on! Here’s where team-work comes in! Gloria Balton has defined a big problem—a problem Michelle Rhee can solve.