Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rhee-Ductio Ad Absurdum

Michelle Rhee was nice enough to write an opinion piece for the Daily News urging NYC teachers to agree to an idiotic contract like the one she shoved down the throats of DC teachers. It was about as poorly written an article as you'll ever see from a so-called educator. As one of those teachers she'd like to fire, I thought I'd help proofread the thing, which clearly never occurred to Rhee herself. Paragraphs in italics are hers.

For two-and-a-half years, the District of Columbia Public Schools were locked in a difficult negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement with the Washington Teachers' Union.

Since the bargaining agreement is a specific thing, it should be referred to by the definite article the, not the indefinite article a.

New York continues to operate under a contract that is much more focused on arcane rules, seniority and job protections than about how to promote better learning outcomes for kids.

Commas should be used to separate three or more words in a series: arcane rules, seniority, and job protections...

The D.C. contract includes many provisions that were once considered "sacred cows," but as it turns out, were wholly embraced by our teachers.

It's hard to tell why Rhee used quotation marks around "sacred cows". Perhaps she used them to indicate irony, as in Michelle Rhee is a wonderful "person". It remains unclear why teachers are embracing cows, however, sacred or otherwise.

Our agreement gives the district the ability to implement a pay for performance system - paid for with private money, and voluntary for teachers...

If you implement something, it isn't voluntary, as in "The state decided to implement the death penalty, but the prisoner chose freedom instead."

If a teacher is rated as "ineffective," she is immediately terminated from the system. If rated "minimally effective," he has a freeze on his pay raise and after two years is terminated. Further, teachers cannot grieve their ratings, they can only grieve procedural errors.

Well, this is just a mess. It seems that she will be terminated, he will have a wage freeze, and they can not grieve procedural matters. Seems pretty sexist to me. Either that or Rhee doesn't know how to use pronouns. Also, the last sentence is a comma splice. Tsk, tsk.

In exchange for these reforms, teachers are receiving unprecedented levels of support, resources, professional development, voice in decision-making and pay - an increase of 20% over previous salary levels (with additional bonuses making it possible to make twice as much).

Again, Rhee has trouble with words in a series, so she puts in a hyphen and hopes we don't notice. It should have read "...decision-making and pay, and an increase...".

...the school district and city have to direct every available resource toward the classroom to student achievement.

This sentence construction made me cringe. I think she means "every available classroom resource toward student achievement." I think.

The city today wastes $100 million a year...

Today we do it in a year?

As any effective organization would, the Department of Education has to have to right to conduct layoffs by performance...

I believe she means "the right".

...she is very much able to see the direction the nation is heading in...

The "in"? Take it out. And "very much able"???

Joel Klein can't say this but I can: We have too ineffective teachers in New York City classrooms...

Actually, my dear Rhee, you apparently can't say it, either. Did you mean:

We have two ineffective teachers?
We, too, have ineffective teachers?
We have too many ineffective teachers?

I think the correct way to say it is "We have two ineffective chancellors."

I've been called "anti-union" for my stance. I refer to it as "pro-kid."

Once again, I assume Rhee is mistakenly using quotation marks to indicate irony; however, only the second usage has any ironic meaning whatsoever.


Miss Eyre said...

That's embarrassing. I'll be generous and say that some of what you caught could be construed as nitpicking by Rhee defenders, but I finally lost patience with "We have too ineffective teachers."

I still want to know how this individual qualified to be the chancellor of an educational system.

Under Assault said...

Glorious job, especially the last line.
Wish everyone could read this.

NYC Educator said...

I also was stunned by, "We have too ineffective teachers." I did not realize she once ran The New Teacher Project, the preposterously labeled impartial group that's always looking for ways to fire working teachers. I also loved her reference to "mutual consent."

The theory of that is this--if you look for a job, both you and the principal have to agree before you take it. But why would you have sought out the job if you hadn't wanted it? Don't you always have the right to turn down a job offer already? If you didn't, wouldn't it be indentured servitude rather than employment?

Actually, that's the term they use when they want to make sure ATRs, fired through no fault of their own, never get jobs--especially if they're making too much money.

Actually, Rhee probably had someone write this pile of recycled boilerplate reform crap for her--which shows precisely how effective a judge of quality she is.

I'm glad my job isn't in her hands.

Mr. Talk said...

Miss Eyre: I'm just trying to give Rhee the same benefit of the doubt that she'd give us.

NYC: I deliberately stayed away from trying to interpret whatever the hell it was she was saying so I could focus on the fact that for an "educator" she is a piss poor writer.

Anonymous said...

This was beautiful!!!!

Anonymous said...

C'mon, cut poor Ms. Rhee a little slack... It's probably some low-level copy editor at the Daily News who's the rascal in this. He or she obviously missed a few things before sending the final copy to press. Imagine how much worse it must have been...

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, many of the grammar errors you have claimed can easily be argued as being correct. For example: I personally think the Oxford comma is necessary at all times. However it exists to prevent ambiguity and in this phrase its absence does not cause any confusion.

If the lack of the comma 'caused you to interpret this phrase to read "arcane rules, seniority protections, and job protections," your complaint would include the fact that you do not know if she meant "arcane rules, seniority, and job protections" or "arcane rules, seniority protections, and job protections." If you actually interpreted it as the latter, you would've stated there is a lacking "and" and the phrase should be written "arcane rules and seniority and job protections.

Objectively speaking, there is (and has been for many, many years) a debate among academic linguists (as well as folk linguists) regarding the necessity of the Oxford comma. Whether you agree with it or not, you really should learn to be more receptive to these types of issues if you want to be able to legitimately question one's linguistic intelligence.

In reference to the excerpt of which you criticized Rhee's use of pronouns, I simply interpret the alternating use of "he" and "she" as a way to steer away from the traditionally sexist rule of always using "he" when referring to an unspecific individual who may be either male or female.

Also, you mock her quote "they can only grieve procedural errors" by writing, "they can not grieve procedural matters." I'm not clear what grammatical error you are questioning. In combination with the mocking of her use of "he" and "she" it seems you are now simply in disagreement with her freedom of word choice.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with her use of the word "implement." A paid-for-performance system may be implemented under the new contract. A condition of the paid-for-performance system is that it is voluntary for teachers. This perhaps means teachers can take a gamble on their salary and have it contingent upon their students' performance and have the opportunity to earn larger raises or teachers can choose a more traditional salary schedule but loose out on possible raises offered to those in the paid-for-performance system.

I have now debunked some of the errors you pointed out. More of the errors you have isolated are not errors at all, but this is not worth any more of my time.

So, in fact, there are few errors in this article. And in agreement with one of the other commentators, you have no idea if these errors are the work of the Daily News's editors. Newspapers (as well as other publications) often reserve the right to edit contributed articles and may not be obliged to always confirm the changes with the original writer.

You are concerned with MR's ability to run a school district. However, I am concerned if you are a teacher.

Anonymous said...

...and before you go crazy on me, I realize I made an error and wrote "'caused" instead of "caused."

I have a master's in education and a PHD in linguistics... see how easy it is to make mistakes???

Anonymous said...

As for the lengthy comments at 11:44, he's misinterpreted the intent of Mr. Talk's remarks in more than one instance (for example, the comma thing and the errors/matters substitution) and made some other fumbles of his own ("the phrase should be written" instead of "should have been written").

Where he says "A condition of the paid-for-performance system is that it is voluntary for teachers" — I hadn't realized that any pay-for-performance scheme they might be thinking about implementing in this city would be voluntary. Does he know something we don't know?
(Should I mention it's pay (not paid)- for-performance, and there might also be a need for a subjunctive verb here: "....that it be (not is) voluntary..." I'd have to take out my old grammar books and check.)

Rhee's errors are not the fault of a copy editor. Unfortunately, her sub-standard writing skills match those of so many of our principals, who frequently have secretaries and other staff vet their written work. The stories we hear!!!

Don't bother coming back at me for my mistakes. I'm leaving for work and can't proofread or delve any further, but I think you get the point.

BTW, thanks for sharing that you're a PhD. Like we needed to know that.

Mr. Talk said...

"I have a master's in education and a PHD in linguistics... see how easy it is to make mistakes???"

I agree it was a mistake for you to get a degree in linguistics. Perhaps you should have stuck with something you understand.

In any case, Rhee's writing is substandard and she should have never allowed such trash to be published.

Anonymous said...

This is priceless... Thanks for the chuckle of the day.

Anonymous said...

I get the feeling that many people involved in this discussion are missing the point. When all is said and done, aside from some minor criticism, Rhee's grammar mistakes in this isolated publication won't mean much. I mean, look at Bush - he was re-elected even after there was a clip-a-day of his speaking/writing errors.

Your time would be better spent discussing the actual policies. I understand that you're trying to accentuate the fact that someone in her position should not be making these mistakes...but where she puts a comma isn't going to get her fired or sway her beliefs...

More importantly, as educators you should be concerned with what these polices mean for students, not for yourselves.

Anonymous said...

After days of scoring the 4th grade and 8th grade Science tests and looking forward to the 8th grade Social Studies tests, I needed the above to make my day.
Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...


I Love your blog! You definitely made my day

To anon, it's not the point of grammar, although Rhee should be able to write well, but it's the semantics behind her message to all educators in NYC.

Rhee should reflect on her incompetence before imposing her absurb reforms. If she can't write well to communicate her vision, then she should not lead.

AT, this is one of your best blog ever!

Anonymous said...

I put forth that when one publishes something, the way it's stated reflects something of what the writer thinks of her audience. In other words, when you don't edit for style and proofread, you don't think much of the readers you're addressing.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat mixed feelings about this.
1) Rhee is the daughter of immigrants, I believe I read.
2) It's her terrible policies and advice that should be the focus.
3) She is a CHANCELLOR of EDUCATION in a major city.
4) She has put this thing out there in her own words when she could have done it through or with the help of a PR person or office aide which highlights her megalomania, disrespect for others and various delusions about herself and her abilities.

Jeff Pulice said...

in one of my blog posts, I quoted rhee thanking a reporter for a good question. From The Atlantic:
"Rhee is an obsessive worker, the type normally found in consulting firms and medical schools, up at 6a.m. and often awake until after midnight. She rarely works from notes, and usually shows up at meetings without handlers, speaking with the rapid cadence of a high-school debater and peppering her sentences with words like crappy and awesome. And she does not suffer fools, gladly or otherwise. When I asked her how she would characterize her ideal relationship with parents, she replied, “That’s a great question. So often reporters ask me stupid questions. I had one interview yesterday, and I was like, ‘Okay, you are not smart.’”

And I was like...

So, was it the copy editor? was it her? I don't care. We need to keep doing this and going at her. And more.

My take on her:

Anonymous said...

Send your corrected version into the News--love it!

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous,

It's PhD, not PHD!