Former Washington DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was set to debate leading education historian Diane Ravitch at Lehigh University on February 6th, 2014. Rhee has since cancelled the debate with Ravitch order to speak in St. Paul at the Minnesota Education Summit.
Rhee, infamous for her short-lived tenure as DC Schools Chancellor which included the firing of over 200 DC educators (including the firing a DC principal on national television), the closure of 23 schools, a high-stakes standardized test cheating scandal, a plummeting approval rating from teachers and DC parents alike, and resignation from her post in 2010 after just three and a half years, is a controversial figure who is generally despised or revered in the education world.
Founder of Students First and The New Teacher Project, Teach for America alumnus, and self described education “radical,” Rhee favors an accountability model of education reform in which inadequate student results on standardized tests lead to punitive measures such as teacher and principal firings and school closings. Rhee also supports monetarily rewarding teachers and schools whose students make significant progress on standardized tests. Rhee is also a fan of charter schools as an antidote to what she deems “failing” public schools.
Ravitch, a career education historian, researcher, policy analyst, author, and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, is often often referred to as the “Anti-Rhee.” Ravitch argues that business-model competition that may work in corporate America is inappropriate in the education world. Pitting schools against each other to compete for funding, and pitting teachers against one another for financial rewards destroys collaboration among teachers and creates a high-stakes environment that can lead to cheating scandals (such as the one Rhee faced in DC). Further, labeling schools as “failures” and closing them is damaging to students and their communities.
Ravitch has stated that, “The best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers,” and believes that giving schools and parents the power to broaden their curriculums and providing teachers and schools with more support, resources and funding in our neediest areas is a way to uplift low income students, rather than through punitive means that create further stress and instability in their lives.
I was very much looking forward to watching these two incredibly passionate women go head to head in an education policy debate this week. Rhee did request that they debate in teams of two rather than one on one, and then later requested teams of three, to which Ravitch complied.
If Rhee is so incredibly steadfast in her beliefs about education reform that she can comfortably fire 241 people and end the career of a principal on national television: Why won’t she debate Ravitch one-on-one? Or even three-on-three? What is she afraid of?
The only time I’ve seen these two in the same room was in a 2011 panel discussion, shown in the video below.