What does it take to no longer have any credibility? If one is accepted into the Inner Circle of the Very Serious People, it appears that there is very little that one can do to possibly discredit oneself from the chattering pundit class.
Case in point: Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, Ralph Reed, Erick Erickson, Judith Miller, Tom Friedman and even Sunday show stalwart John McCain. And let us now add StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee to the list.
Why am I being so hard on Michelle Rhee? Because it's quite clear from this free commercial that host David Gregory served up for her StudentsFirst organization that Rhee's well on her way to being yet another undeserved and unmerited Very Serious Person. And that is very dangerous to having a truly serious discussion on education reform.
As if it would be possible to have an adult discussion surrounding that cringeworthy new ad. Educator Gary Rubenstein remarks:
One quote that is pretty inaccurate is when the announcer says “It appears that the once proud U.S. program has been relying too much on its reputation. I’d say they’re completely unprepared.” They are referring to the apparent ‘crisis’ that on the 2009 international PISA tests, the U.S. 15 year olds ranked 17th in science and 25th in math out of 34 countries. The “once proud U.S. program” comment implies that there was a time when the U.S. led the word on these international exams. Actually, we never have done well on these. In the 1964 FIMS test, we were 11th out of 12. These tests are not predictors of future economic strength, obviously since our students from 1964 have helped make the U.S. economy very strong.
It is also unfair to compare our scores to the scores of the other countries since we have 22% of our students in poverty compared to single digits in most of the top countries. In an interesting analysis here we see that if we compare our schools with countries that have similar poverty levels, we would be at the top of the world in every category.
But to take this Olympics analogy further, the United States has the highest obesity rate in the developed world. Even so, we still are very competitive in the Olympics. Yet, we still got the most medals (second most gold medals) in the 2008 summer games. So just because we have a higher percentage of students doing poorly on the PISA does not mean that we have lost our competitive edge.
Rhee speaks to cutting the high school drop out rate in half. And the Davids, Brooks and Gregory, nod their heads approvingly. Tell me, Villagers of the First Order, have you looked at the reasons behind drop outs? How many children have been made homeless due to the feckless policies instituted by Congress for the mortgage crisis? How many children go to sleep without a decent meal? Think that high school diploma is their most pressing issue? And what if they do persevere? They then enter a job market where college graduates are competing for the same minimum wage jobs. And nowhere in this can you find justification for the union-busting and teacher persecution that is Rhee's stock-in-trade.
And would it be churlish of me to point out that while all this reflexive Village back-slapping is taking place, Rhee herself is under investigation for suspected massive cheating to get the results that catapulted her onto the national stage? She's even admitted to physically abusing students as a teacher (if my child came home with this story, I would be at the school the next day with a police officer/sheriff and a lawyer). And since moving to StudentsFirst, she's been accused of shady dealings, questionable alliances and other controversies.
So while yes, the commercial may be a humorous (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt) way to remind people that American exceptionalism does not extend to our education, I'm not seeing any true solutions that the Very Serious People should embrace.
But you know they will...