Education International
Education International

Education union leader debunks anti-teacher activist’s assertions

published 27 June 2012 updated 5 July 2012

EI welcomes a recent BBC show featuring the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ (ATL) General Secretary Mary Bousted and Michelle Rhee, a former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. It allowed one of the UK’s top education trade unionists to reassert what quality teachers and teacher assessment mean.

Bousted tackled Michelle Rhee on her dismissal of a head teacher which was shown in a TV programme. She condemned this gesture most firmly as being the “ultimate humiliation”.

The pair also debated American lessons for UK schools, claims of cheating in the US system, and how under-performing teachers were removed in Britain.

Rhee: Evaluation of teachers needed

A “rigorous evaluation” is needed for teachers, Rhee asserted during the TV programme. The former head of schools in America's Washington DC sacked 1,000 teachers, closed more than 30 schools and got rid of two-thirds of the head teachers under her control in a bid to drive up standards. She turned the urban myth alleging that three “great teachers in a row” closes the students’ achievement gap into a national crusade against teachers.

Despite this dark record, during Rhee’s visit in the UK, the national Education Secretary Michael Gove regrettably described her as his hero for her work in one of the worst-performing school districts in the US.

Mary Bousted opposed Rhee’s allegations, underlining that “the best way of raising standards … is to learn and challenge, for example when local authorities went in to failing schools, part of them good schools, supported teachers, filled school vacancies […]. With the teachers, not against them, that’s the way to raise standards.”

EI: Good to challenge Rhee

EI Deputy General Secretary David Edwards said that “US teacher-bashing Michelle Rhee” had been unchallenged for years. “EI is proud that Mary Bousted, General Secretary of EI UK affiliate ATL, helped put an end to that streak. Bousted challenged Rhee on the fact that you cannot fire your way to a better education without quality teachers,” he said. “She also called her out for publicly humiliating educators while saying she ‘supports’ teaching quality.”

In the United States, EI’s affiliates have been strongly opposing Rhee’s policies and brutal strategies against educators for years.

The President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, stated last year, on Rhee’s ‘StudentsFirst’ Priorities List programme, that “Michelle Rhee’s agenda presents a false choice: support students or support teachers. The fact is that neither can succeed unless both are supported. Making schools better places for children to learn also makes them better places for teachers to work.

“Broad and enduring change will only take place when everyone—teachers, management, parents, elected officials and the community—takes responsibility for the education of our children,” she added. “In the school districts where there is shared responsibility and a culture of collaboration, great teachers are being developed and students are achieving.”

Dennis van Roekel, President of the National Education Association (NEA), stressed that “Michelle Rhee is part of a batch of so-called reformers who’ve spent the last few years going state to state, and now it seems—country to country—espousing conflict over collaboration, sanctions over solutions. NEA and an ever-growing movement of Americans reject that divisive brand of so-called ‘school improvement’ because in the end, the schools aren’t improved and children aren’t served.  Our children deserve a nation united in the cause of great public schools for all, we don’t get there by tearing down the educators in the schools—the only way to get there is by working with them.”

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