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Three Lessons Education Reformers Should Learn From Michelle Rhee's Missteps

It's been a rough week for the education-reform powerhouse, but there are lessons to be learned from her mistakes.


Former Washington D.C. school's chancellor Michelle Rhee is no stranger to controversy, but even for her, this is shaping up to be a rocky week. On Sunday, one of the district's principals told the Washington Post that Rhee's IMPACT teacher evaluation system makes it difficult for her to spend as much time as she'd like in classrooms, making her less effective.

Then on Monday, an investigative report in USA Today revealed that much of the student achievement progress Rhee touted as evidence that her reforms were working was the result of rampant cheating on tests. Rhee dismissed the report that night on the Tavis Smiley show, but her successor, Kaya Henderson, has launched a full investigation.


The scandal has national implications: Rhee's reforms—taking on teachers unions, firing educators whose students didn't show results, and giving bonuses of up to $10,000 to those whose kids scored well on standardized tests—have been embraced by everyone from New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Florida governor Rick Scott and championed by the likes of Oprah. Now that the evidence shows Rhee is not a miracle worker, what can reformers learn from her missteps?

First, school districts should smarten up and take merit pay off the table. Expert Daniel Pink says the carrot-stick method of motivating employees doesn't work in any setting, and when you combine high-stakes consequences for not meeting a target with financial incentives for doing so—see Enron's history for reference—you create perfect storm for cheating. The largest comprehensive study (PDF) of merit pay concluded that teachers who receive bonuses tied to test scores don't outperform teachers paid a regular salary.

Second, standardized-test scores can't be the bottom line on teacher effectiveness. It's tempting to embrace the the idea of rating teachers based on one test, but to get a more accurate picture of how educators are doing we need multiple measures of evaluation, including looking at student work, measuring progress via student grades and quizzes throughout the year, and incorporating regular principal feedback. It's not as easy or quick, but it's a much more holistic, reliable approach.

Finally, instead of a drill-and-kill test prep, students need to get back to learning a balanced curriculum. We have a national push for increasing student proficiency in science, but in far too many schools, students aren't even taught the subject until middle school because it's not tested. My son, a fourth-grader, has never been taught the history of the Revolutionary War because in our high-stakes world, the entire day is spent on reading and math instruction. On Monday President Obama cautioned against putting too much emphasis on testing, saying that he doesn't want to see "schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you're not learning about the world; you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam."

That's not the kind of education that's going to put America's students on par with their peers around the globe. The challenge in the coming weeks will be whether Rhee and her supporters can admit that some of her well-intentioned reforms aren't panning out and adjust their approach to improving public education accordingly. Rhee's national reputation and legacy depend on it.

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Center for American Progress Action Fund

Tonight's Democratic debate is a must-watch for followers of the 2020 election. And it's a nice distraction from the impeachment inquiry currently enveloping all of the political oxygen in America right now.

For most people, the main draw will be newly anointed frontrunner Pete Buttigieg, who has surprisingly surged to first place in Iowa and suddenly competing in New Hampshire. Will the other Democrats attack him? How will Elizabeth Warren react now that she's no longer sitting alone atop the primary field? After all, part of Buttigieg's rise has been his criticisms of Warren and her refusal to get into budgetary specifics over how she'd pay for her healthcare plan.

The good news is that Joe Biden apparently counts time travel amongst his other resume-building experience.

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Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert

This election cycle, six women threw their hat in the ring for president, but is their gender holding them back? Would Americans feel comfortable with a woman leading the free world? Based on the last election, the answer is a swift no. And a new study backs this up. The study found that only 49% of American men would feel very comfortable with a woman serving as the head of the government. By comparison, 59% of women said they would feel comfortable with a woman in charge.

The Reykjavik Index for Leadership, which measures attitude towards women leaders, evaluated the attitudes of those living in the G7 countries as well as Brazil, China, India, and Russia. 22,000 adults in those 11 countries were surveyed on their attitudes about female leadership in 22 different sectors, including government, fashion, technology, media, banking and finance, education, and childcare.

Only two countries, Canada and the U.K., had a majority of respondents say they would be more comfortable with a female head of state. Germany (which currently has a female Chancellor), Japan, and Russia were the countries least comfortable with a female head of state.

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via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

If you are totally ready to move on from Donald Trump, you're not alone. According to a report last April from the Wason Center National Survey of 2020 Voters, "President Trump will be the least popular president to run for reelection in the history of polling."

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via Around the NFL / Twitter

After three years on the sidelines, Colin Kapernick will be working out for multiple NFL teams on Saturday, November 16 at the Atlanta Falcons facility.

The former 49er quarterback who inflamed the culture wars by peacefully protesting against social injustice during the national anthem made the announcement on Twitter Tuesday.

Kaepernick is scheduled for a 15-minute on-field workout and an interview that will be recorded and sent to all 32 teams. The Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Lions are expected to have representatives in attendance.

RELATED: Joe Namath Says Colin Kaepernick And Eric Reid Should Be Playing In The NFL

"We like our quarterback situation right now," Miami head coach, Brian Flores said. "We're going to do our due diligence."

NFL Insider Steve Wyche believes that the workout is the NFL's response to multiple teams inquiring about the 32-year-old quarterback. A league-wide workout would help to mitigate any potential political backlash that any one team may face for making an overture to the controversial figure.

Kapernick is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) so any team could have reached out to him. But it's believed that the interested teams are considering him for next season.

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Earlier this year, Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid reached a financial settlement with the league in a joint collusion complaint. The players alleged that the league conspired to keep them out after they began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

Before the 2019 season, Kaepernick posted a video of himself working out on twitter to show he was in great physical condition and ready to play.

Kaepnick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC Championship game in 2013.

He has the 23rd-highest career passer rating in NFL history, the second-best interception rate, and the ninth-most rushing yards per game of any quarterback ever. In 2016, his career to a sharp dive and he won only of 11 games as a starter.

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