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Why I Won't Be Watching the 'Frontline' Profile of Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee should offend anyone interested in true education reform

A bunch of my friends have posted the trailer for Frontline's documentary on Michelle Rhee, "The Education of Michelle Rhee," airing starting tonight on PBS, (check your local listings). Honestly, I'm not watching it. Most people get a benefit of a doubt, but Rhee's earned nothing but doubt from me.

Her videotaped firing of a principal when she was the chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools from 2007 to 2010 was only the first of many things I found out about her that would and should offend anyone interested in true education reform, not the corporatist thinking we currently have at work.

Besides, I can't possibly see Frontline going after Rhee, Democrats for Education Reform’s darling.

If you don't believe me, here's a spoiler for the documentary that I got from an exclusive source:

Frontline: Thanks for coming, Michelle.
Rhee: Thanks for having me.
FL: Now, you were the head of D.C. schools for a number of years. How was that?
Rhee: Good. Successful.
FL: Great. Glad to hear. You've left since then, and are now on the road as the founder for StudentsFirst. Let me ask you a question: Is your organization really StudentsFirst?
Rhee: Of course! It says it right there in the name!
FL: Sounds excellent. Now, three of the people who helped create the Common Core State Standards, including David Coleman—is there a relationship between what your organization does and Student Achievement Partners, Coleman's organization?
Rhee: Well, I don't see anything wrong with it. Plenty of people sit on boards. We all sit on boards.
FL: True. True.

[Segment here profiling the current state of D.C. schools. Some flashes of the issues. PBS NewsHour correspondent John Merrow sitting in a classroom, glancing around wistfully. Michelle walks around a hallway with a new platinum-encrusted broom and ushers little black and Asian kids into their classes. One kid says "Ouch." She smiles, then points forcefully. Merrow smiles along.]

FL: So now, the question the whole world is watching for: please tell us about D.C.'s standardized test cheating scandal.
Rhee: Umm...
FL: That's good. Thank you!

End scene.

All the people who didn't like Rhee still don't. All the people who still feel something wrong in their stomach about her approach—but feel it works for black and Latino kids in D.C.—will still feel that way. As long as Rhee doesn't work directly with the kids over in the nicer sections of the city, or the world, their consciences are clear. And Frontline won't press Rhee too hard lest they never get to interview her again.

Will you watch Frontline anyway? For too many teachers, watching feels like all we can do.

A version of this post originally appeared at The Jose Vilson

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