A Buffet of Excellence

Michelle Rhee and company serve up heaping helpings of some familiar fare

By Sarah Lahm
Michelle Rhee and her cavalry of status quo blasters recently braved the frigid Minnesota winter to present a veritable buffet of warmed-over ideas for boosting our sad, slumping schools and closing our many cavern-sized gaps. From *grit* and *rigor* to healthy portions of data consumed throughout the day to helpful tips on avoiding the unpleasant taste of *corporate education reform,* it was familiar fare—and there was plenty of it. Here’s a taste.

Grit with a side of rigor
Great news: According to featured speaker Michelle Rhee, producing the world’s most super-educated generation of *pull yourselves up by the bootstraps* individualists full of grit and rigor is as easy as getting rid of teacher tenure. With teacher tenure out of the way, even the poorest children will be able to laugh in the face of poverty, no matter their zip code, as they careen towards college debt. Or a college degree. I’m not sure which one Rhee said would be best.

And a gravy boat of confusion
Does anyone have any questions? How about the confused gentleman in the back who wants to know what Rhee thinks about *the 
teacher-union-led opt out movements*? Whoa—did he just say what I think he just said? In response, Rhee suggested that teachers should not be teaching to the test, and we should not overuse standardized tests. At which point anarchy ensued and bagels rolled everywhere. How, oh how, would we possibly then be able to tell a good teacher from a bad one??? Or a good school from a bad one??? Fortunately, there was heartier fare still to be eaten.

Seven data salad
After Rhee spoke, a *common sense solutions* panel took over the buffet table to better inform the crowd about another *magical* solution to quality control in our schools: data! Gathering data, interpreting data, using data, promoting data, individualizing data, dreaming about data and eating data for dinner were just of few of the suggested ways to radically boost our sad, slumping schools. 

PIE a la mode
Was it time for PIE already? Fortunately the PIE Networkwhich is to education legislation what ALEC is to every kind of legislation: in charge, and willing to write bills for state legislators, out of the goodness of their social justice-seekin’ hearts—was next up to the plate. Annoyingly, a small but vocal group of local citizens had gathered out front of the hotel to protest the Education Summit, saying things like *Boycott Corporate Education Reform.* Fortunately PIE Network executive director Suzanne Tacheny Kubach, armed with a generous serving of Gates and Walton funding, was ready to fight the PR battle against these unbelievers and encouraged the audience to *avoid the unpleasant label of corporate education reform.* 

Locally grown
Also on the menu: a couple of people who actually live in Minnesota. Not to worry though—while the locals may have crashed what was supposed to be a national, non-local gathering of experts, they came bearing all of the same covered dishes. First up was Ms. Amy Hertel of the Minneapolis Foundation, who believes we need to *empower parents* with a buffet of school choices and push forward *systems* that will help schools keep, attract and retain a workforce *high quality* as it is *flexible.*

Even local guy R.T. Rybak, former mayor of Minneapolis turned achievement gap-closing knight in shining armor, dropped by to talk about *pipelines,*  *teacher pipelines* and *alternative pipelines.* I thought that perhaps Ryback had inadvertently crashed the wrong conference (plumbing convention? North Dakota fracking event?), but then lightening struck. He must be referring to the fiercely urgent need to diversify our teaching force through Teach for America, an organization of which he is a proud supporter. His own daughter is in TFA, after all, and she is a wealthy, white kid who went to private school—oh wait! I am so confused.

One last course
Last but not least, Kati Haycock of the Education Trust brought the whole thing home by talking about how inexperienced teachers are far more likely to be in front of low-income kids. Fiercely urgent question: is this a problem that TFA can help with? To cap off what was starting to feel like a very long morning, Haycock emphasized how measurably important every minute of the school day is for kids. As in: No excuses! As in: No single second in any day can be wasted in any way, if we want all of our kids to be college and career ready. She even referenced a school where kids get to do math while they are on the bus, en route to a field trip! This sounds like an excellent idea, because students who look out of bus windows just might start wondering what they can do to make the world a better place. And how would THAT get them college and career ready? 

Sarah Lahm once worked as an English teacher and is now busy building a career as a corporate education reform crime fighter. She also has a bunch of kids who attend public schools in Minneapolis. She can be reached at sarah.lahm@gmail.com or @sarahrlahm.


  1. A very tasty menu, Sarah. My stomach hurts from laughing. If we could afford field trips, I wouldn’t let my student look out the windows, either.

  2. Rhee and Rybak together in one room??? Surprised there was enough room for both their egos.

    As mayor, Rybak liked to use our public schools to come in and give his campaign speech to our students. As an MPS teacher, every fall for about seven years, I had to sit with my students and listen to his nauseating speech about how being mayor was his “dream job.” That worked well for him until he decided maybe his dream job was being governor. Now he has a dream job in the ed reform indu$try.

  3. Always interesting to see what people will and will not write about. The meeting, which I also attended was in St. Paul and attracted business people, community members and educators from around the state.

    The business leader who opened the meeting stressed that his children received an excellent education in a local district public school. He felt too many students did not graduate and thinks increasing the graduation rate is a high priority.

    Kati Haycock stressed that income equality is a huge problem. She said that we need to work simultaneously on issues inside and outside of schools, not one or the other but both.

    Here’s a link to the newspaper column that I wrote about the meeting:


    1. “He felt too many students did not graduate”

      Did he say why they don’t graduate and what he thinks should be done about that?

    2. “Always interesting to see what people will and will not write about.”

      One can say the very same thing about Joe.

      I’m a lot more interested in what Sarah Lahm, the “corporate education reform crime fighter,” has to say than anything written by a corporate education reform crime supporter like Joe.

      Thanks, Sarah!

  4. From Joe’s column:
    “There’s an ongoing, intense debate about Rhee’s record in D.C. ”
    In other matters, there is an ongoing, intense debate about the White Citizen Council’s record in Mississippi.

  5. I don’t mean this as a compliment as much as an observation, maybe even a rebuke in my more insecure moments, but your very good at this kind of writing… Are you contemplating a book of any kind? This is so good!

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