Michael Gove welcomes Michelle Rhee, one of America's most controversial, infamous and questionable school reformers into British school

Allan Beavis's picture
Michael Gove, in his Spectator speech the other day, said that he had been eager to find out more about educational transformation in other countries including Sweden, Finland, Singapore, Shanghai (not a country, but never mind) Florida and Michelle Rhee's Washington DC.

I don’t know whether he has ever invited Finland’s Pasi Sahlberg over to introduce the Finnish model as one that he might take up, but he was not there when Sahlberg gave a talk at the House of Commons last month, despite being invited.

The Finnish of course respect their teachers and invest in a culture of support and encouragement in schools which goes a long way to explain why Finland is consistently at the top, or near the top, of international PISA rankings. Gove prefers the punitive and test driven virus that has infected American schools, so he yesterday welcomed into Britain - and endorsed the policies of - Michelle Rhee, a controversial American education “expert” who, during her tenure as Chancellor of Schools in Washington DC, sacked 1,000 teachers, closed more than 30 schools and got rid of two-thirds of the headteachers under her control in a bid to drive up standards. She also established big pay rises for teachers who helped pupils obtain good grades.

Rhee’s hard-nosed policies has earned her a number of accolades, including "Witchfinder General of the Classroom", and is obviously much despised and derided by American Teachers’ Unions. Her approach may well have been justified if the examples of DC and the other charter-driven districts showed that standards overall in America have risen, but, alas, they have not.

Rhee claims to be a Democrat, yet she has allied herself with the most right-wing governors in America. Any governor who wants to cut teachers’ rights and benefits can rely on her support. A governor eager to dismantle and privatize public education? She is there at his side.

She frequently has her soundbite to hand: “Three great teachers in a row closes the achievement gap.” Teachers DO make a difference but Rhee has never provided any evidence that any district or school has actually closed the achievement gap by providing “three great teachers in a row” and she never ever achieved this feat when she was Chancellor in DC.

In fact, the outcomes of her punitive measures are highly questionable. Here are a few of them:-

The federal NAEP tests in 2011 showed that the DC public schools have the largest achievement gap of any city tested and that the D.C. black-white achievement gap is fully double the gap in the typical urban district.

Not only that, but USA Today famously uncovered a huge cheating scandal in the DC public schools during her tenure. At the centre of the scandal was a head teacher that Rhee had repeatedly singled out, rewarded and promoted. He resigned.

Punitive measures, results driven bonuses and a culture of fear is always going to lay the temptation to cheat at the feet of individuals and organisations bullied into keeping their schools open but she puts Gove’s bullying into the shade. Here are just two examples:-

She invited a PBS film crew to watch her fire a headteacher. She said to the crew: “I’m going to fire somebody in a little while. Do you want to see that?” They did and they filmed it.

In another incident, Rhee told an audience of young teachers that when she was a teacher, she controlled her restless class by putting duct tape on their mouths; when the tape came off, their lips were bleeding. She thought this was amusing.

Since leaving DC, Rhee has set up an organisation called StudentsFirst which sends out deceptive email solicitations asking the recipient if you want to see a great teacher in every classroom. Rhee’s name does not appear anywhere on the email. If you answer yes, you are registered as a “member” of StudentsFirst. Her organization allegedly has raised more than $200 million and is well on its way to raising $1 billion. This money will be used to attack teachers’ unions; to strip teachers of any job protections; to promote charters, and for-profit organizations that manage charter schools; and to fund candidates who want to reduce spending on public education and privatize it.

StudentsFirst does not release the names of its contributors but the rumours are that Rupert Murdoch is one of them. This has not been denied nor confirmed.

It is difficult to understand why Gove applauds a woman who thinks that students will learn more if their teachers live in fear, who wants to turn publicly funded education in a for-profit business and who wants to reduce teaching to a job, not a profession or even vocation but it is an ideology that he is more than happy to impose here, even though Rhee’s model has not raised standards for the United States.

BBC News link of Michelle Rhee in London
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Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 02:47

These people are and appropriate solution to situations of extreme failure - as they had in DC, just as special measures/academyisation is an appropriate treatment for a sinks school where the staff have given up, there is little learning going on and/or student feel signficiantly unsafe.

Both Rhee's methodology and special measures are totally inappropriate and counterproductive for schools with motivated and capable staff with competent heads.

I had to switch the video off. Gove was looking like a man who after two years of desperation has just been offered viagra.

Leonard James's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 06:02

By her own admission Rhee was awful in her first year of teaching (she taught for 3 years) so the most interesting question is this; would she actually have survived her own high stakes scrutiny and made it past her first year?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 08:20

'Ms Rhee's main message is simple. "The main aim is to ensure there is a high-quality teacher in front of every classroom every day," she told The Independent.'


The above sound-bite is an example of strategy I brought up on another thread in relation to Gove. First, the speaker makes a statement with which most people agree. This could be followed by a second. Then comes subsequent statements which are contentious. However, the speaker implies that if the listener is in agreement with A and B then s/he must agree with C. Disagreement with C is used to show that the objector doesn't agree with A and B and is, therefore, an unreasonable, even a bad, person.

In the cases of Rhee and Gove it goes like this:

1 High quality teachers must be in the classroom all the time. (Agree)
2 Incompetent teachers must be removed from the classroom. (Agree)
3 All teachers judged to be incompetent should be sacked. (But how is incompetence to be judged?)
4 Teachers who don't achieve high results or who don't voluntarily contribute to out-of-school activities will be sacked. (How are the results to be measured?)
5 By standardized tests. (But what about teachers who teach the most challenging pupils or low attainers?)
6 No excuses! If you don't agree with teachers whose pupils don't get high test scores being sacked, then you are not in favour of having a good teacher in every classroom. You are, therefore, an enemy of promise happy with failure.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 08:32

Tsk tsk, Rebecca,

You are performing an inverted version of precisely the kind of rhetorical trick you are criticizing.

But what about teachers who teach the most challenging pupils or low attainers?

No one is suggesting that good teachers who happen to teach less able students should be condemned on the grounds of lower attainment. The test here is surely whether their students are making progress.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 18:06

I might have guessed you wouldn't see the humour Ricky. Oh well.


Teachers who teaching the most challenging students have to establish relationships with them. This is at the heart of what they do and is fundamental to it.

The now widespread practice which is intended to ofstedproof schools of requiring that students show progress 3 time a lesson is a huge barrier to the establishment of relationships. So the teachers of the challenging students are being forced to fail at what they do. It's hell. The other side of the hell is setting the same targets for progress of these students for their teachers as for teachers who don't have to deal with the behaviour issues they present with.

We need targets for progress which are realist for the context and we need inspectors who understand what teaching challenging students actually involves so that they can contextualise their judgements and we have neither. I am sick of seeing good teachers physically shaking and stressed to the wire due to the relentless barrage of ignorant but powerful external intervention into what they do.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 08:51

The unpleasant ways in which Michelle Rhee has demonstrated her influence - firing someone on television, duct tape - suggests that she is someone who is quite happy to abuse her power. The stench of corruption and malpractice follows her everywhere she goes.

There is an excellent website which lays bare the hidden agenda of Michelle Rhee and you can also follow them on Twitter:-


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 09:02


I don't know why you are still repeating the 'duct tape' story (which, in any case, was 'masking tape' in the original) long after Rhee has explained that it was a joke and never actually happened.

....er....oh yes I do......

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 09:32

Allan - Rhee tried to justify the filmed sacking of a principal by saying firstly that he was incompetent and secondly that her public action gave teachers confidence that incompetent staff would be dealt with. If the principal were incompetent he could have been removed without the need to film it - it has the whiff of those public executions designed to "encourage the others". Secondly, the real message is, "This is how you will be treated if you step out of line."

In 2010, a fruit seller in Tunisia burnt himself to death after being publicly humiliated. We all know what happened next.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 09:52

Allan - Bill Turque, education reporter for The Washington Post tells how he was present when Rhee gave a speech in which she recounted the masking tape story. She told the audience that 35 children ended up crying and some of their lips were bleeding.

Apparently, she now dismisses the tale as a joke and says it never happened. Even if the masking tape story is made-up, it's strange that someone should consider it a suitable anecdote to inspire new teachers: "Let's consider ways of controlling classes, guys, why not stick masking tapes over their dear little mouths. And, oh my god, the dear little lips are gonna bleed! [Cue rolling eyes and best Al Jolson impression] 'Lawwwd Ms.Rhee whatchu gonna do!!!!??'"


Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 20:44

what I found scary about that video clip of Rhee telling the story is the number of half-wits laughing as she tells it.
The link from allan to rheefirst.com is excellent and shows she is a true master of delusional hype and lies ( did she have a previous career in marketing ...she could clearly be destined for greatness as a politician)

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 20:45

It's also apparent from her anecdote that she was a poor teacher incapable of keeping order.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 09:46

What is most important about highlighting this visit of Michelle Rhee is that is explicity demonstrates that Michael Gove is in thrall US education policy, which has has categorically NOT improved the standard of American education across the board

The agenda here and there is privatization and silencing dissent from those who oppose right wing policies that pretend to support social cohesion but actually dismantle it.

Importing this vastly expensive and failed American system has resulted in little progress. As Henry Stewart has shown repeatedly, the DfE's own data does not support the spin that Academies have outperformed the type of schools they replaced.

On DfE criteria, Academies GCSE results are artifically inflated

DFE confirms LSN analysis that Academies do no better than similar schools

The question always comes back to: Why is Gove supporting a failed and divisive system when it has failed to improve American education over 20 years?

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 28/06/2012 - 20:59

LInk to recent Rhee speech but also raises the issue of poor delivery by "for-profit" colleges. Quite what Mr Gove is doing with this woman is beyond me....he , Gibb and their henchman Hill can only be reading her own website.


leonard james's picture
Fri, 29/06/2012 - 04:57

Here is the masking tape story from the horses mouth.


I'm a little surprised that Ricky is so willing to accept Rhee's later assertion that this was an anecdote. It certainly doesn't sound like an anecdote here and should lead to serious questions about Rhee's honesty and judgement.

Rosemary Mann's picture
Wed, 04/07/2012 - 20:45

As a parent I cant believe Michael Goves judgement. Scary.
Is he bored of Katherine Birbalsingh or something?

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