Deception Alert: “Liberal” Huffingtonpost Distorts the Education Debate

michelle rhee“I don’t care who people vote for as long as I can pick the candidates” — William M. “Boss” Tweed.

One-sided reporting that ignores genuine solutions is nothing new. Yet it is surprising that the “liberal” Huffingtonpost now endorses the neocon solution for education reform. In its pages, education “reformer,” Michelle Rhee posts her writing, and even gets some softball profiling. Huffingtonpost’s moderators do not even accept comments too critical of Rhee.

Such deception is a disturbing part of the current media bias that only publicizes debate between right-of-center (Obama’s budget), and the completely-mendacious-neocon right (Paul Ryan’s budget). If the news never mentions the budget alternative from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, what can compromise possibly produce?

Rhee herself is the controversial former superintendent of Washington D.C. schools whose ideology is what the film Waiting for Superman touts as the solution for U.S. education’s problems. Rhee is also part of a well-funded attack on public employee unions.

Superman contends “superstar” teachers produce great students, and the road to such greatness is through the “incentives” provided by charter schools, merit pay and testing. Notice how similar this is to the notion that “superstar” CEOs are what make the economy productive.

Unfortunately this ideology has not delivered the results it promises. Studies of Rhee’s methods range from ambiguous to unfavorable. For example, when classes are tested weekly, the teachers who are “best” in producing good test results one week are “worst” the next.

Waiting for Superman also suggests Finland’s schools are the ones to emulate. The film does not mention that Finnish teachers are tenured, well-paid, and unionized. Even worse, Rhee  distracts from far more accurate predictors of educational performance. The most accurate of these is the correlation between childhood poverty and educational achievement. Only 2% of Finnish children are poor. In the U.S. the figure is 23%.

So charter schools (which often are un-unionized, and hire cheaper-to-pay beginner teachers), and merit pay (which may or may not be what motivates the best teachers), and testing may work some times, just as a stopped clock is right twice a day. However, the bulk of this merit/charter/test message is a distraction.

What is the distraction from?

While the bottom 90% of U.S. workers’ incomes stagnated:

“Between 1972 and 2001 the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year….

But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent.” (From Paul Krugman’s column 2/27/06)

Waiting for a race of cyborg/celebrity super-teachers distracts from the egregious income inequality and the childhood poverty that worsens educational outcomes in the U.S.

For a look at the real alternatives, try the notwaitingforsuperman.com website, particularly Stan Karp’s lecture.

Adam Eran

 

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