What We’re Watching: Teacher Town Hall in Philadelphia

By Education Next 09/24/2013

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Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst are holding a series of Teacher Town Hall events in various cities this fall. Teachers in particular are encouraged to attend, and the goal is to have an honest and open conversation about how to improve public education.

The third event was held last week in Philadelphia. George Parker, former president of the Washington Teachers Union, and Steve Perry, founder of Capital Prep Magnet School, joined Rhee on stage at the town hall.

In an op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer before the event, Rhee wrote about Philadelphia’s current funding crisis:

In a crisis, we ought to recognize opportunity. I see a clear opportunity in Philadelphia to use this moment to implement education reforms that will increase transparency in school funding, ensure that available dollars are going toward the programs that have the most impact on student learning, and protect effective teachers and keep them in the classroom. That’s the approach being championed by Mayor Nutter and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., and it’s the right one.

Michelle Rhee was profiled in the Winter 2010 issue of Education Next.

Rhee spoke with Ed Next’s Mike Petrilli earlier this year about her book Radical for the Education Next Book Club podcast.

—Education Next

Comment on this article
  • PhillipMarlowe says:

    Diane Ravitch’s “Reign of Error,” released September 17, debuts at #10 on New York Times’ bestseller list!

    Will EducationNext post a video from one of Diane’s talks?

  • PhillipMarlowe says:

    Even better.
    Rhee in Birmingham, AL:

  • PhillipMarlowe says:

    And another view:
    The very first question concerned Students First’s alleged ties to the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative policy shop that hands ready-made bills to legislators. Rhee denied funding from these sources. (Students First does not disclose its funders. Reporters at Reuters have found that the group receives funding from hedge fund managers, Michael Bloomberg and the Waltons, the family behind Walmart.) The questions were more tightly controlled after that. Still, the proceedings dissolved into acrimony around the midway point, prompting moderator Ralph Smith, senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and a Rhee ally, to command the crowd to “Shut the hell up.”

    For an event that promised “an open and honest conversation,” the panel was noticeably one-sided. Perry trash talked “union bosses,” Parker described his conversion from the labor movement and Rhee decried the “extraordinarily polarized” national debate. She said that Students First wasn’t lobbying Corbett for more funding because its policy priorities place a greater emphasis on how education funding gets spent. Rhee also expressed a desire to “get politics out of public education,” which felt a bit odd given her organization wields a substantial war chest in local school board fights, backing its favored candidates with sums many times what their opponents can muster.


  • PhillipMarlowe says:

    Take down by a Teach For America teacher:
    In Rhee’s opening statement she acknowledged the protesters outside and lamented that they would not come in a join in the dialogue. After suffering through the video of the nearly two hour event, I cannot imagine how frustrating of an experience it would have been for the protesters if they had taken Rhee up on that offer.

    Everything about this event was carefully choreographed. The decision to have Rhee sitting between the other two panelists where Perry was the fanatical reformer and Parker was the union representative with the intent of Rhee playing the part of the moderate, rather than the ‘radical’ that she generally claims to be. In this way the trio were like three heads of the same being. Perry was the id, Parker was the ego, and Rhee was the, well, the superego.

    I had heard about Dr. Steven Perry, but watching him speak, the most accurate word to describe him is ‘clown.’ One of his running ‘cute’ jokes was that he had to repeat third grade a few times, even while claiming that his great teachers were the ones who rescued him from poverty. But if the teachers were so great, why would he have been left back?

    At about the 17 minute mark, someone from the audience brought up the fact that teacher accountability is generally based on test scores and the test scores are highly correlated with poverty. Perry answered, “If we’re going to say that poverty is the indicator of a child’s capacity then let’s shut down all schools and call it a wrap.” Then some people from the audience had the audacity to call out “but that’s not what he said” only to be rebuked by the moderator reminding everyone to be civil.

    Parker, when it is his turn, speaks about how his great teachers enabled him to escape poverty despite the fact that neither of his parents finished elementary school. But this sort of anecdote is really nonsense. Of course some kids beat the odds. What I would have like to follow up with if I were there, and if they permitted follow up questions, is “Did every student of that great teacher who saved you also go to college and break the poverty cycle?” If he could have answered and answered honestly, he’d have to admit that most of those students likely didn’t break out, thus collapsing his point about the power of ‘great teachers’ to accomplish this.

    Parker then spoke incoherently for about ten minutes. One of his points was about how when he was head of the union he would have board members in his pocket so that the union was running the school system, which he felt was an undeserved amount of power. He qualifies that ‘tenure’ is supposed to mean ‘due process’ but then says that we’ve allowed tenure to become something where teachers can have three years in a row of unsatisfactory evaluations yet keep their jobs. But the union should be fighting if the unsatisfactory evaluations are unfair particularly when they are based on half baked mathematical formulas based on standardized test scores.

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