02 July 2007

Lies Lies and More Lies. And what does it matter?

Let's try to be serious for a moment. Let's try to suspend all our fantasies, our assurances that despite all odds, it really is the 70 to 1 longshot that will win the Derby, that in fact one lone veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder could take on and defeat the entire Vietnamese Army, that we really could escape from certain death by building a jetpack from a filed-down bicycle frame, two rubber bands, and an empty tin of Port Cliff Fish Steaks...

Let's try to pretend that we still think logically.

Here's the situation. Your local mayor (remember, this is hypothetical: it could be any mayor) has requested control of the school district, and to advance his cause he hires someone to write a comprehensive strategy for the his school reform plan. Unfortunately, that person steals nearly one-third of the final plan from another school district, an act that in education circles is referred to as "plagiarism" and generally warrants a failing grade for the offender (in this case the miscreant has not only not been punished, but also he's not even interested in explaining himself).

Just pretend something that crazy happened. Then pretend that despite this early signal that the mayor was not exactly capable of overseeing such a complex operation as a real school system if he couldn't even get together a good original one on paper, the city council approves the takeover.

I know, I know. Just pretend.

Now suppose then that the mayor, having been granted power over the schools, makes a midnight appointment without consulting a panel that was to be able to give feedback on the nomination -- in violation of the specific directives of the School Takeover Act that he championed -- and that the nominee was a former classroom teacher with three years experience in the classroom and about a decade's experience as a headhunter...you'd think he was joking.

But remember...we're still in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe...so let's say everyone takes him seriously and the city council decides to hold confirmation hearings.

Then it comes out that some very very specific accomplishments listed on the nominee's resume can't be substantiated. We're not talking about whether the sun was shining on a particular day or whether she took five or six steps to reach the refrigerator from the dining room...no, we're talking about percentile numbers on student achievement tests. It sounds ludicrous, doesn't it, to make claims about something that is so concrete, so specific. Yet here we are.

Apparently, Michelle Rhee, trying to make the most of her scant three years inside a classroom, claimed on her resume that she had made remarkable improvements in the students' test scores in Baltimore. However, she didn't simply claim that the scores improved; she gave very specific numbers, as the Post story tells us:
Rhee's résumé asserts that the students made a dramatic gain: "Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or

OK. Those numbers have to come from somewhere, right? I mean, unless you're just making them up. I mean, test scores are things that school districts document, prospective parents and teachers research, and government bodies tend to track (even before the days of NCLB). Yet, Rhee either thinks we're really stupid or she quite honestly just "guessed" that her student's improved so dramatically:
"When people say, 'Do you have documentation?', I've been saying no," Rhee said yesterday. "I think this is an important thing going forward for teachers to have documents to say, 'This is what the data look like.' My lesson is: How do we set up a system so teachers can have this kind of information on their students?"

Say what? You have absolutely no evidence for a major claim on your resume, the one experience you have in direct classroom instruction, and you think the lesson is that teacher's need to have documentation? How about, "the lesson is I shouldn't lie on my resume"? Because I have news for Rhee: teachers do have that kind of information on their students, at least in DCPS, because the good ones use it to target instruction. They've had that data on my child in every teacher conference I've ever attended. So if the lesson Michelle Rhee takes from her false statements is that we need to set up a system, then she's missed the boat before she's even begun. The system is already there, and I'm not clear on how lying on your resume is related to creating another system for making teachers aware of their students' progress.

I have no faith in the DC City Council to do the right thing -- they are a pathetic lot who have almost no political backbone and their major interest lies in posturing and preening -- but what makes this entire episode so upsetting to me is that the mayor's grand plan, his revolution in education, is looking more and more like the same politics as usual.

Maybe multiple instances of dishonesty from those who would be leaders of this new education experiment inspire the faith of the Council, but not me.


Reya Mellicker said...

Let's try to pretend that we still think logically.

C'mon, Cuff, when did we ever think logically??

Momentary Academic said...

What in the world is going to happen with the DC public schools? Is it wrong that I predict a whopping "not much?"