Exclusive - Michelle Rhee Extended Interview Pt. 1

  • Aired:  02/04/13
  •  | Views: 90,123

In this exclusive, unedited interview, education reformer Michelle Rhee explains the need for a fair and balanced teacher assessment. (8:31)

WELCOME BACK.

MY GUEST TONIGHT, SHE IS A FORMER CHANCELLOR OF THE WASHINGTON D.C. PUBLIC SCHOOL.

HER NEW BOOK IS CALLED RADICAL, FIGHTING TO PUT STUDENTS FIRST.

PLEASE WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM MICHELLE RHEE.

WELCOME TO THE SHOW.

HOW ARE YOU?

>> GOOD.

Jon: RADICAL.

PUTTING STUDENTS FIRST.

IT'S SO INTERESTING.

YOU INSPIRE SUCH... PEOPLE EITHER LOVE YOU OR THEY'RE REAL MAD AT YOU.

YOU'RE SOMEWHAT OF A CONTROVERSIAL FIGURE.

DOES THAT... DO YOU FEEL THAT?

DO YOU UNDERSTAND IT?

WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT?

>> YOU KNOW, WHEN I FIRST WENT TO D.C. AND BECAME THE CHANCELLOR THERE, IT WAS THE

LOWEST PERFORMING SCHOOL DISTRICT IN THE COUNTRY.

I STARTED MAKING A LOT OF CHANGES THAT I FELT WERE OBVIOUS ONES.

CLOSE LOW-PERFORMING SCHOOLS.

CUT THE CENTRAL OFFICE BUREAUCRACY.

REMOVE INEFFECTIVE EDUCATORS.

I WAS A LITTLE SHOCKED WHEN PEOPLE STARTED SAYING SHE'S A LIGHTNING ROD AND A RADICAL.

BECAUSE I THOUGHT WHAT I WAS DOING WAS JUST SORT OF BRINGING, YOU KNOW, ORDER AND REASON TO

THE SYSTEM.

SO, YOU KNOW, AT THE END OF THE DAY I FEEL LIKE IT'S BRINGING COMMON SENSE TO A DYSFUNCTIONAL

SYSTEM MAKES ME A RADICAL THEN I'M OKAY BEING A RADICAL.

I THINK EVERYBODY SHOULD BE ONE.

( CHEERS AND APPLAUSE )

>> Jon: SURE.

NOW, DO YOU THINK... SEE, I AM THE SON OF A TEACHER.

SO I'M NOT... IT'S HARD TO BE OBJECTIVE ABOUT IT.

DO YOU THINK SOME OF PEOPLE'S CONCERN IS WHAT YOU MIGHT CONSIDER AND OBVIOUS YOU SAY

FIRED INEFFECTIVE TEACHERS, CLOSE SOME DYSFUNCTIONAL SCHOOLS THAT THEY MIGHT BE CONCERNED

THAT THE METRICS WITH WHICH THOSE ARE DECIDED IN THEIR MINDS MIGHT BE MORE ARBITRARY NOT TO

SUGGEST THAT ISN'T A TERRIBLE BUREAUCRACY IN SCHOOLS OR THERE ISN'T ANY OF THOSE THINGS BUT

THE RELIANCE ON THE TESTING METRIC SKEWED SOME OF THE DATA FOR PEOPLE AND THAT THEY WERE

CONCERNED THAT THOSE DECISIONS WERE BEING BASED ON ARBITRARY SYSTEM THEY DIDN'T NECESSARILY

AGREE WITH?

>> I COME FROM TEACHERS TOO.

MY GRANDFATHER WAS AN EDUCATOR.

MY GRANDMOTHER ON MY MOTHER'S SIDE.

I HAVE FOUR AUNTS.

MY BEST FRIEND.

MY SISTER-IN-LAW.

I'VE ALWAYS BEEN SURROUNDED BY TEACHERS MY ENTIRE LIFE.

THAT'S WHY I HAVE SUCH AN INCREDIBLE REGARD FOR WHAT TEACHERS CAN DO BUT WHEN I GOT

TO D.C., I WAS LEADING A SYSTEM WHERE 8% OF THE 8th GRADERS IN THE CITY SCHOOLS WERE

OPERATING ON GRADE LEVEL IN MATHEMATICS WHEN I GOT THERE.

YET WHEN I LOOKED AT THE PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS OF THE ADULTS AT THE SAME TIME 98% OF

THEM WERE BEING WRITTEN AS DOING AN EXCELLENT JOB.

YOU CAN'T RUN AN EFFECTIVE ORGANIZATION WHEN YOU HAVE THAT KIND OF A DISCONNECT BETWEEN,

YOU KNOW, WHAT PEOPLE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING AND THE RESULTS THAT WE'RE PRODUCING FOR KIDS.

NOW I THINK THAT WITHOUT A DOUBT TODAY'S TEACHER EVALUATION SYSTEM ARE BROKEN.

THERE'S A MOVE NOW TO FIX THEM.

A LOT OF TEACHERS ARE WORRIED ABOUT THE USE OF TEST SCORES AND WHETHER THAT IS FAIR OR NOT.

I THINK THAT WHAT WE'VE GOT TO DO IS FOCUS ON THE SYSTEM THAT DOES... IS FAIR AND TRANSPARENT

FOR TEACHERS BUT AT THE SAME TIME DOES HOLD FOLKS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE ACADEMIC GROWTH WE SEE

WITH KIDS

>> Jon: THIS IS INTERESTING.

FROM ANY OF THE CONVERSATIONS I HAVE WITH TEACHERS THEY ALL TALK ABOUT THE FRUSTRATIONS THAT THEY

HAVE WITH THIS IDEA OF THE TEST BEING THE ALL MIGHTY WORD.

THAT THERE IS A MATH AND READING METRIC THAT IS ESTABLISHED BY THE STATE OR THE FEDERAL

GOVERNMENT THAT DOES NOT IN NY... ANY WAY MEASURE AA POSSIBLE STUDENT'S POTENTIAL OR

SUCCESS, A POSSIBLE TEACHER'S POTENTIAL SUCCESS.

YET THAT IS THE THING THEY ARE TIED TO NOT JUST FOR THEIR TEACHING CURRICULUM BUT FOR

MONEY, FOR MONEY FOR THE SCHOOL, FOR ALL THESE THINGS.

HOW DO WE, AS YOU SAY, HOW DO WE MOVE THEM FROM WHAT THEY'VE ESTABLISHED HERE BECAUSE THAT'S

VERY RECENT, TO WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT, IF WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT IS MOVING AWAY

FROM THE TEST

>> WHAT I'M SAYING IS THERE HAS TO BE A BALANCE.

YOU DON'T WANT AN OVEREMPHASIS ON THE TEST.

IF THAT'S THE ONLY THING THAT PEOPLE ARE CONCERNED ABOUT.

YET YOU CAN'T HAVE NO ACCOUNTABILITY, RIGHT?

BECAUSE WE FOR A VERY LONG TIME IN CITIES LIKE WASHINGTON D.C.

AND PLACES ACROSS THE COUNTRY, WE WERE PRODUCING GENERATIONS OF KIDS WHO WERE GRADUATING FROM

HIGH SCHOOL BUT THEY DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO READ AND WRITE AND DO MATH ON GRADE LEVEL.

SO THERE'S GOT TO BE A BALL AFTERNOONS IN THERE.

AND SORT OF A FAIRNESS IN THERE ABOUT IT.

I THINK THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT THERE IS NO ONE IN THE COUNTRY THAT I KNOW OF WHO IS ADVOCATING

THAT WE EVALUATE TEACHERS SOLELY ON THE BASIS OF TEST SCORES.

I THINK THAT THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE WHO ARE REFORMERS ARE SAYING WE HAVE TO LOOK AT

STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT GROWTH BUT WE ALSO HAVE TO LOOK AT OTHER METRICS AND MEASURES LIKE

OBSERVATIONS OF THEIR CLASSROOM PRACTICE.

SURVEYS OF KIDS IN THEIR CLASSROOM AND THE PARENTS WHO SEND THEIR KIDS INTO THAT

CLASSROOM EVERYDAY

>> Jon: ARE WE HANGING THEM OUT TO DRY BY COMING IN THERE EVERY THREE YEARS AND SAYING HERE'S

THE NEW REFORM.

IT'S THE TEST.

YOU'RE GOING TO TEACH TO THAT.

IF YOU DON'T INCREASE YOUR TEST SCORES BY 10% YOU'RE FIRED.

AND THEN TWO YEARS LATER COME BACK IN AND GO NOT THAT TEST, THIS TEST.

YOU KNOW, THEY'RE DEMORALIZED.

THEY DON'T HAVE ANY... IT'S LIKE A FOOTBALL TEAM THAT KEEPS GETTING A NEW OFFENSIVE

COORDINATOR EVERY YEAR.

IT'S VERY DIFFICULT TO BE INSPIRED BY THAT.

SCHOOLS ARE AS MUCH AN ART FORM.

TEACHING IS AS MUCH AN ART FORM AS IT IS AN OBJECTIVE REALITY

>> SO I REMEMBER TALK TO GO A TEACHER WHEN I WAS IN D.C. ONCE.

SHE SAID, YOU KNOW WHAT?

I'M A GOOD SOLDIER.

I'M NOT A RABBLE ROUSER.

I JUST WANT TO DO THE RIGHT THING FOR YOU, FOR THE KIDS, THE DISTRICT.

CAN YOU JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO BECAUSE I HAVE THIS HUGE STATE CURRICULUM.

I HAVE ALL THESE LEARNING STANDARDS.

THEN I HAVE THE STANDARDIZED TESTS THAT WE HAVE TO TAKE AND THESE BENCHMARK ASSESSMENTS AND

THE TEACHERS GUIDE AND THE, YOU KNOW, THE EVERYDAY... ALL THESE THINGS.

JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO AND I'LL DO IT.

RIGHT NOW THERE'S JUST SO MUCH STUFF.

I THINK THAT IS A FRUSTRATION.

WE HAVE TO BE VERY CLEAR WITH OUR EDUCATORS ABOUT WHAT GREAT TEACHING AND LEARNING LOOKS

LIKE, WHAT WE EXPECT TO SEE WHEN WE INTO THEIR CLASSROOM

>> Jon: THE SCHOOL SYSTEM SEEMS TO HAVE MOVED AWAY FROM ANY PRACTICAL REALITY IN THE MODERN WORLD.

THERE HASN'T BEEN ANY INNOVATION IN EDUCATION SINCE JOHN DEWEY BUT, YOU KNOW, THERE'S THAT IDEA

THAT WE NO LONGER HAVE A CONNECTION TO THE WAY THE REAL WORLD WORKS AND THE WAY SCHOOLS

SHOULD WORK IN COMMUNITIES.

IT JUST SEEMS LIKE A MUCH LARGER PROBLEM.

TEACHERS SEEM LIKE ONE TOOL.

WITH WHICH TO GET EDUCATION IN THIS COUNTRY BACK ON TRACK.

BUT THEY SEEM TO BE THE ONLY TOOL THAT EVER GETS YELL AT.

I JUST RUINED MY OWN METAPHOR.

I HAD THE WHOLE TOOL THING WORKING.

>> HAMMERED Jon: EXACTLY.

ALL KINDS OF... POVERTY, FAMILY STUFF.

COMMUNITIES.

BUT TEACHERS ARE THE ONLY ONE WE LOOK AT AND GO, SO, FIX IT.

OR YOU'RE FIRED.

>> I THINK THAT THE REASON WHY PEOPLE ARE PAYING SO MUCH ATTENTION TO TEACHERS AND

TEACHER QUALITY IS BECAUSE THE RESEARCH IS VERY CLEAR THAT IF ALL OF THE IN-SCHOOL FACTORS

THAT EXIST, IT'S THE QUALITY OF TEACHER IN FRONT OF THE CLASSROOM EVERY DAY THAT HAS THE

MOST IMPACT ON STUDENTS' LIVES.

DOES POVERTY MATTER?

ABSOLUTELY.

THAT MAKES IT MUCH MORE CHALLENGING FOR KIDS TO COME INTO SCHOOL EVERYDAY, FOR TEACHERS TO TEACH THEM

EFFECTIVELY BUT THE REALITY IS THAT IF WE WANT TO LIVE UP TO THE IDEALS OF THIS COUNTRY, THE

VALUES OF AMERICA AND WE WANT THOSE KIDS ONE DAY TO BE ABLE TO ESCAPE POVERTY WE KNOW THAT THE

BEST TOOL TO DO THAT IS THROUGH EDUCATION.

THAT'S WHY WE'VE GOT TO MAKE SURE THAT EVERY KID HAS A GREAT TEACHER IN FRONT OF THEM

EVERYDAY

>> Jon: IF YOU COULD STICK AROUND FOR A LITTLE, IT SEEMS LIKE EDUCATION CAN ONLY BE PUT

IN PLACE ONCE THE SOIL IS FERTILE.

IF THE SOIL IS NOT FERTILE, YOU KNOW, TEACHING IN A BARREN ENVIRONMENT IS STILL A VERY

DIFFICULT PLACE TO GROW TOOLS.

RADICAL.

IT'S ON THE BOOK SHELVES NOW.

WE'LL HAVE A LITTLE BIT MORE WITH MICHELLE

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