Last night, former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee stopped by The Daily Show to promote her memoir, "Radical."
"Radical" traces Rhee's development from her childhood in Toledo, Ohio to the creation of StudentsFirst, the national lobbying group she created in 2010 to spread her policy agenda from coast to coast. Rhee has become the standard bearer of what's known as the "education reform" movement, a group of advocates that push policies such as charter schools and teacher evaluations that rely on students' standardized test scores.
Host Jon Stewart's mother is a teacher, so he pressed Rhee on many of these policies, especially his (and teachers') dissatisfaction with the heavy emphasis on standardized tests. "They have this idea of the test being the almighty word. ... that does not really .. measure the possible teacher's potential or success .. yet it is the thing that they are tied to .. for money," he said. "How do we move [away from this]?"
"It's a balance," Rhee responded. "You can't have no accountability. ... The bottom line is there's no one in the country that I know of that advocates that we evaluate teachers solely on the basis of test scores."
Stewart also engaged Rhee on the role things like poverty and nutrition play in the classroom. Out of all those factors, Stewart said, "teachers are the only ones we look at and go, so that's it, you're fired." Rhee said that within the education realm, the most schools can do and their top goal should be making sure "every kid is in a high-quality school every day taught by a highly-effective teacher."
Charter schools, a prominent item on Rhee's agenda, also confused Stewart. "We've sort of thrown up our hands and said this aint gonna work .. so let's start a charter school or something .. but those often fall prey [to the same issues as traditional public schools]," he said. He then said that charter schools make public schools, which can't choose their students, "a repository for the worst, most difficult, most troublesome cases," so they should be hit with "resources and nutrition and literacy" to close achievement gaps early.
Rhee said she agrees on the importance of addressing poverty, but parents can't wait. "To say to them ... suck it up for a little while and we might be able to improve the school later on is not good enough," she said.
Why, Stewart then asked, do we not target the resources we send to charter schools to fixing lower-performing schools instead of creating an entirely new infrastructure? Rhee's answer: "let's free them up" to make it easier for different types of schools to excel.
"But isn't that the antithesis of the testing regime?" Stewart asked. Rhee said "we have to have measures by which we understand whether or not kids are learning appropriately."