Rick Hess and Sara Mead have made good points on “Rhee-gate” already. For my part I really don’t care what Michelle Rhee’s value-add or gain scores would or would not have been in Baltimore almost two decades ago. Why? It’s not just that this whole thing is unprovable given the data available today. Rather, it’s because today she is pushing an actual education agenda that has ideas – with varying amounts of evidence and/or proof of concept behind them – and we should have a lively debate about those proposals. And it should be obvious that those ideas don’t hinge on her value-add scores or really much of anything that happened almost two-decades ago.
Imagine for a moment if Michelle Rhee’s value-added scores sucked but she was promoting an agenda of more spending, less charters and choice, and getting rid of standardized testing. How many of the same people rushing to make hay out of this latest “scandal” would be silent about her performance in the classroom? Conversely, say her value-add scores were off the charts but she was pushing that same anti-choice and pro-spending agenda, would the same people be rushing to embrace and defend her?
That, in fact, is the larger issue this episode reveals. All the various priors that are commonly debated seem to only matter to the extent that one’s position in the debate is or is not acceptable to different parties. And that positional orientation is a pretty sorry state of affairs that persists day in and day out. I’m consistently amazed at the extent to which it’s blatantly obvious people haven’t even read a particular piece of work but simply make assumptions based on who wrote it or by how often policy questions are framed in remarkably personal terms.
Eleanor Roosevelt noted that, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” There sure is a lot of time wasted in this field discussing people, positioning relative to various people, blogs that weirdly get off on all that, advocates who make it their stock and trade, and we should all be embarrassed for the extent to which it’s tolerated given the scale of the challenges we’re facing. I certainly don’t want to imply that this doesn’t go on in other sectors, it does. But we’re worse than most and there is a price to be paid for that in terms of the quality of dialogue and ensuing policy and practice.