Monday represented a critical mass of education meetings. The School Reform Commission and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers in talks but, alas, not with each other. Meanwhile, self-described education “radical” Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools, hosted a Teacher Town Hall at Temple.
A lightening rod for criticism, Rhee opposes unions and supports eliminating seniority and testing and firing inefficient teachers. She heads a political advocacy nonprofit for education reform. A lightening rod for criticism wherever she goes, Rhee attracted a crowd of 50 exceptionall well-dressed protestors, in “pearls” no less. One sign read: “Your dialogue is as real as our pearls.” Erasers were handed for “Erase to the Top.”
Well, you get the idea.
The evening’s high point — or low, depending on who you consult — came when one teacher chose to heckle and continually interrupt Rhee. “Any teacher who can’t control the classroom can’t teach,” he said, as if offering a lecture in civil disobedience.
“You’re being disrepectful! Shut up!” a couple of teachers said.
“No you shut up!” another critic yelled from the back.
And then civility was quickly restored.
In 2011, Rhee lectured at the Kimmel Center to a packed house. The Monday event, with fellow “reformers” George Parker and Steve Perry, attracted about 180 people and was more restrained, despite the brief verbal fireworks.
“The current dynamic in this country is extremely polarized,” Rhee said, certainly an understatement with this crowd, and that that throwing more money at the problem wasn’t helping. While briefly mentioning Philadelphia’s current funding woes, Rhee mostly offered national prescriptions from her book, Radical: Fighting to Put Students First.
Asked how to get politics out of education, Rhee suggested that policy makers and election officials put their children in public schools to understand the ramifications of horrible choices, and that opposing parties have to have “real conversations” and “build trust.”