Thursday, December 10, 2009

Apparently Blame is Contagious

I think I just solved Michelle Rhee's PR problems.

OK, not me so much as two researchers from California whose study argues that blaming other people is contagious. This article gives details about the study, which found that when people were exposed to articles by people who blamed failure on others rather than accepting responsibility, the subjects were more likely to blame others for their own personal (and totally unrelated) failures. I'm not sure I'm doing the study justice, so read the article.

I think this explains all the vitriol that we see against Rhee (whether you like her or not, we can all agree that there are people who say downright nasty stuff about her -- usually on blogs*). People feel (justifiably, in a lot of cases) that Rhee and her administration blame all of the problems in DCPS on teachers. Applying the results of the study, this likely makes teachers less likely to acknowledge their professional shortcomings -- we all have them -- and more likely to lash out against administration.

I'm certainly guilty. In numerous staff meetings, my administration has told teachers that our students are failing because we're not using engaging instruction or making meaningful connections. My response, rather than acknowledging that there are times when my lessons aren't engaging, is to blame student failure on others by saying, "the kids don't come and the administrators don't support us on discipline issues." Of course, the latter comment is true -- attendance is terrible and administrators at my school often do nothing with discipline issues that have been referred tot hem. But sometimes the former is true, too.

No one will be focused on finding solutions while other people are playing the blame game -- we keep passing finger-pointing around like a virus. So, Chancellor Rhee, my suggestion is to accept responsibility for the fact that sometimes DCPS administration does stuff wrong. Sometimes principals do their jobs poorly and sometimes downtown makes silly decisions that inconvenience teachers and students. My guess -- based on this research -- is that more teachers will start to accept more responsibility for what goes on in their classrooms.

* My favorite part of the article is this:

[The] experiment may explain why Internet comments so rapidly disintegrate into vitriolic name-calling—because blaming keeps getting passed on in different contexts. "If you read one comment by someone who is really being a jerk, you might not reply. But then you read another comment, then blast someone else entirely."

Ha. Guilty.


Glenn Watson said...

It is a good article but...

If a person is totally honest and publicly takes the blame whenever they don't succeed they will be judged a failure by others based on their own words.

It is important to be honest with yourself and take constructive criticism but if a boss is making unreasonable demands I think its fair to defend oneself rather than roll over and be the only one to accept personal blame.

The Reflective Educator said...

Very interesting. I see this just about every day at my school. Many of the staff are very depressed about our school's situation with students and administrators and end up blaming the same two or three people for our frustrations. It's like you said, although it is their fault sometimes, it can't always be their fault. It's important to keep this in mind.

meaningful change said...

I agree that Rhee's constant blaming of teachers for the academic failings of students not only is wrong but it sets a very negative school environment.

Combine this with her threats to principals on a monthly basis and you got a very toxic environment where people are burnt out, depressed, stressed out, etc.

Teachers at my school have literally been counting down the days unil winter break starting about three weeks ago. It is too much.

One of Rhee's biggest failures is creating such a toxic learning environment systemwide.

Kat said...

I didn't read the article you linked to, but I think the logical assumption is the opposite is true: taking responsibility is contagious, too.

Very rarely is one side solely at a lawsuit, a divorce, a family dispute, the workplace, whatever. It's this philosophy that keeps me defending Rhee in blogland despite what I might privately think of her. I think she takes a lot of heat for what she does, but I also know that this system of "blame the other" predates a longshot. This system wages a war of attrition on anyone who tries to manage it. Just ask the long line of supes who ran screaming from DC.

Unfortunately, I think she had some early experiences that sucked her into the game, ones that led her to make her infamous "collaboration is overrated" statement, and the result is where we are now. But she's still here, still receiving support from the voting public.

It takes a really big person to not retaliate, to not get sucked into something that will only lead to a bad outcome. (Isn't that what we tell our kids?) I wish I could see her do more of this.

lodesterre said...

If the Washington Post, or any other major news organization for that matter, really investigated Michelle Rhee and would show everything - the good, the bad, and the ugly - I think her support from the voting public would dwindle to a trickle. Her behavior towards the Hardy community alone was astonishingly, jaw-dropping bad. Many of us have said that the problems of DCPS predate her - only a fool would argue otherwise. But it seems to many of her defenders that criticism of her is unjustified and negated by the fact that our system is so bad. I have always been taught that honest criticism (critical thinking, really)allows us to find the answers we need. If you take an honest look at Michelle Rhee's time in our system I think you will find more dissembling than honest behavior. Currently we are given the miracle of our NAEP scores, our "significant" jump which demonstrates the right track our Chancellor is on (according to the Post)and yet a close examination of those scores reveal that our gains in NAEP were bigger before Rhee came and that the gains made under her were for white children only - African Americans and Latino student's scores on NAEP either were stagnant or dropped. Yet success is cried out from the rooftops.

Similar claims have been made for schools where changes were made - Shaw and Oyster being the two most obvious - yet nothing said about how they dropped in scores on the last DCCAS - Oyster missed making their AYP for the first time in years. Teachers at Stoddert have privately commented that their school is falling apart - Rhee replaced their principal last year with a "rock star".

When evidence is brought forth demonstrating clearly a truth that is inconvenient for Ms. Rhee than that evidence is dismissed with the words "unsubstantiated" "inconclusive", etc. When confronted by Hardy parents that her deputy lied to them about changes at their school her response was to tell them that she felt it was better for them to hear it from her at a meeting like the one they were having. She lies when she feels she is right. What is that a sign of?

She came in and blamed the majority of the teaching corps but holds herself blameless to any problem that occurs. Listen to the meeting at Hardy (audio available on the Georgetown Metropolitan) and you will hear the sound of a petrified mindset coming out of Michelle Rhee - a mindset that brooks no critical thinking whatsoever. As Twain as said "loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul." I would add that such loyalty tends to choke the very souls it claims to save.

Glenn Watson said...

I am suspicious of the charge against Rhee because they are so vague.

You claim if anyone investigated Rhee the truth would come out. Well, I guess thats true but what truth?

You think her support from the voting public would dwindle. That’s interesting but so far she has the public's support.

You say her behavior concerning Hardy was bad. How was it bad? What did she do that was bad?
You say Rhee is dissembling. Ok, exactly what did she lie about?

You say test scores are not up because of Rhee and anyway its only White kid's scores that are up. Well, White kids are important too.

Your one specific charge is that Oyster missed making AYP for the first time in years. How many years? Why is Oyster even close to failing AYP.

You say teachers at Stoddert have privately commented that their school is falling apart. That's hardly a fact.

You claim when evidence is brought forth demonstrating a truth inconvenient for Rhee that evidence is dismissed, but you don't present any clear evidence only innuendo.

You claim she blamed the majority of the teaching corps. I agree, but so what. You claim she holds herself blameless. That’s true to but she is blameless concerning the mess in DC. It's no worse than when she arrived.

I have listened to Rhee several times and she is abrasive. So what?

Twain also said, "We all do no end of feeling, "and we mistake it for thinking.

lodesterre said...

I didn't say anyone, I said the Post and other national news organizations. There is an investigation that involves Rhee, it is called the Investigative General's report on St. Hope Charter, I have a link to it at my blog. I have also outlined the unethical behavior, not the least of which is the disregard for California law that required Michelle Rhee to report on the allegations of sexual abuse leveled at Kevin Johnson by 3 Americorps teenagers and brought to Rhee by a St. Hope employee - Jacqueline Wong Hernandez.

So far, she does have the public support but any talk with parents in DC (and just for your benefit Glenn I will say I am talking mostly white parents in the NW)shows the support is dwindling.

Concerning Hardy, Rhee canceled several meetings with the Hardy Home School Association that they set up, canceling the day of the meeting on each count, yet found time to meet with Georgetown parents who don't have kids going to Hardy but were pressing her for changes in the school. Her deputy lied to the parents 3 weeks before last Friday's meeting saying there would be no changes in principal, Rhee admitted this lie in the meeting. Listen to the audio on the Georgetown metropolitan, she admits there. She made a change in a school without any input from the current parents of that school. I consider that poor treatment, maybe you don't.

Yes, white kids are important too but in DCPS they are not the ones failing the tests, it's the African American and Latino kids and they are being ignored for the sake of the test score - which is why she wants to change Hardy's makeup by "enticing" neighborhood families to choose Hardy over Maret, Sidwell, National Cathedral or St. Alban's.

Over 10 years. Oyster has been a blue ribbon school mentioned in the Post and other news organizations more than once. She fired the principal over complaints coming from mostly white parents that she met with at their homes. The scores dropped drastically.

Yes, yes, let's dismiss what teachers say because it isn't documented so therefor is not a fact. Fine.

There is more than innuendo here Glenn, and there is more than enough evidence elsewhere of the kind of consistent dissembling (yes, dissembling) that comes from Rhee. She started here dissembling about her resume, she dissembled about the contract, she has dissembled in front of the city council, and she did so in front of the Hardy parents.

Twain also said "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt."

Glenn Watson said...

If your most damning evidence against Rhee is sexual allegations against her fiancé that's pretty thin. You claim Rhee has dwindling public support. Thank you, Mr. Gallup.

Rhee canceled some meetings and fired a principal. I'm a parent and no superintendent ever asked my permission to fire anyone. Come on. This is petty stuff and it’s the best you have.

Your accusations are just that, accusations. Even if she does want to bring in more white parents that puts her in the same company with the Supreme Court over the last 30 years. DC does needs more white parents. We have known this since "Two Americas."

There is no way a school went from a good school to a failing school in 2 ½ years without major demographic shifts. The principal had nothing to do with short term grade shifts. Rhee cannot be blamed for low test scores. Conversely if they went up she should get no credit either.

Twain also said ""You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is." Sic

I know where Rhee gets hers. I know where the DC teachers get theirs.

My point is you have to give Rhee a chance because what you have been doing over the last 30 years has not worked. Following that path is not going to work now. I am not blaming the teachers but the truth is their best efforts have failed. Maybe just maybe Rhee for all her obvious faults and poor choices in men can do better. She can't possible do worse.

lodesterre said...

You reduce my charges to a charge about sexual allegation. You reduce everything else to petty charges. You will not hear that many of us, this writer included, gave Michelle Rhee more than a chance when she came on board. You prove my point. No matter what those of us who have become disillusioned with Michelle Rhee say, we are dismissed. Maybe, just maybe, if you lived and taught here you would be singing a different song. My first Twain quote had a point to it as well - my opinion has changed over two and half years with Ms. Rhee. I have not remained loyal to petrified opinion. Unlike some others.

Anonymous said...

"She can't possibly do worse."


Glenn is correct. said...

Lodesterre, come on now. You have been against Rhee since the beginning. As someone who teaches at Stoddert, you should know how much of a mess that school was. The test scores looked good compared to other DC schools, but for Stoddert's demographics, they should have been MUCH higher. Stoddert had a high turnover and routinely hired first year uncertified teachers - like you - when better teachers were available. I don't know if this has changed under your new principal, but if someone like you is upset, the new principal must be doing his/her job.

I listened to the entire recording from Rhee's meeting with Hardy's PTA. I came away having even more respect for her than I did previously. She explains the situation perfectly, without throwing Pope under the bus for illegal practices, which is what I would have done in her place.

The FACT is that Hardy IS a neighborhood school that Pope chose to operate like a magnet school. And that's illegal - those kids in Georgetown have a right to attend their neighborhood school, and students from across the city have a right to follow the out of boundary process - not a process with an application, interview, test scores, teacher recommendations, etc, to fill leftover spaces. Rhee saw that Pope would rather operate a magnet school, so she is giving him the option of creating one. SHE HAS NOTHING TO GAIN FROM NOT FULFILLING HER END OF THE BARGAIN, HERE.

Crazy conspiracy theories really need to be put to bed.

Anonymous said...

Dear "Glenn is correct" If you don't already work at 825, you should apply for job soon. You'd fit right in.

lodesterre said...

I don't teach at Stoddert. I am a 6th year teacher not a first. You obviously think I am someone else. I happen to know a lot of people from different schools - parents, colleagues and friends. I was very much for Rhee for the first year. My first turning point came when I read the Green/Red contract and couldn't for the life of me figure out why Rhee would bring something so potentially divisive into our schools. My disenchantment was gradual but it certainly picked up steam. My voice is strong about how I feel not because I want things to stay the same but because I do not believe what is happening under Ms. Rhee will do very much to make things better and that is why I began teaching in DC in the first place - to see things change. The fact that the recent NAEP scores only showed gains for white students confirms this opinion.

Glenn Watson said...

You led with a charge of sexual misconduct. Everything else you mentioned is petty allegation. Rhee is mean, she cancels meeting and fires people. That’s simply not enough to damn her.

You gave Rhee a year maybe two. The people of DC have given you decades. I am not sure if anyone can fix the problem in DC education but your points are not being dismissed by me they are being analyzed and found wanting.

I do hear what you have to say. I have read hundreds of post and listened to hours of speeches by Rhee and others about the DC system. I believe you are wrong. That does not make me inflexible or hard of hearing. What I am doing is different from not listening. In fact it is the exact opposite.

Anonymous said...


Where are you getting that only white students improved? The data shows that not only did every subgroup in DC improve, but DC was the only jurisdiction in the country to show improvement in every subgroup.

lodesterre said...

I'm sorry, you are right. 4th grade African Americans went up 3 points. However, 8th Grade African Americans remained flat and the gap between Whites and African Americans widened. I got my reading, too, from further in the actual NAEP report, not the one page summary you linked here. This is the full 92 page report:

Bill Turque mentions the concern about the widening of this gap in tomorrow's Post:

Kat said...

"I do not believe what is happening under Ms. Rhee will do very much to make things better..."

Let's define "better." Because I think this narrow-minded focus on test scores has everyone suffering from tunnel vision.

From a downtown perspective:
Are things better in HR? Has payroll reporting improved? Since Rhee, we went from boxes of HR records to finally implementing the Peoplesoft system the District paid millions for ($40M?) and didn't know how to use. There are still problems, sure, but I doubt nearly as many. In addition, we now have 3 people working benefits when we used to have 1 (until she quit, and then I guess you could say we had no one).

The DCPS website has greatly improved and now suffers from providing so much information as to risk being confusing.

Resources: At my school, we had zero textbook problems this August. I don't know what happened to the warehouse and Mr. W., but we didn't need to deal with that annual fustercluck at all this year.

Facilities: how is the structure and maintenance of your school now compared to, say, 5 or 10 years ago? Our security has improved and we have fewer issues than last year.

Attendance reporting: has it increased? It has for us.

Discipline: is it more clearly defined now?

Community engagement: how do your students' parents feel about your school and the communication between them and teachers and/or admin?

Last but not least, students. Do they feel the higher expectations being placed on them? Do they seem to be learning more?

Teachers: same questions as above, even the last one. Has your instruction improved over the past year or so?

"What about morale?" someone is sure to ask. I don't think morale is any better in any other industry right now. And morale pre-Rhee was pretty bad, too.


I'm sure there are 1000s of ways to define "better." Reducing it to test scores as the only measure of improvement (because it's quantitative in ways those other areas are not) also allows the blame game to exist.

Anonymous said...

As a long time DC resident and new teacher, my school is a mess. There is no support for new teachers unless you are DCTF or TFA, if not you're on your own. So those teacher's will survive, will look like they are are the greatest, and everyone will think Rhee did a great job. It's such an F-up, I could cry. You are either in the loop or your not, and if you're not it's impossible to figure out what's going on. If it was worse than this before, you should gave all the veteran teachers a medal for surviving!!! You can't run a school system on bring them in young and use them up, the whole thing will collapse eventually.

Anonymous said...

Push delete for Glenn from Alabama.

Anonymous said...

As a long time DC resident and new teacher, my school is a mess. There is no support for new teachers unless you are DCTF or TFA, if not you're on your own.

I have news for you I am a new teacher and a DCTFer ... we get no support!! Not from DCTF or DCPS.. the DCTF is simply a stupid certification class that covers the same thing that we do in collaborative etc. There is nothing new.

At my school, no teacher mentor etc. Simple crap like the leave policy and phone numbers to call was not communicated until late October. I am one of several new teachers and pretty much all of us have decided this will be our first and only year. No support, no help no nothing. I like the kids even though they are problematic.. but the deciding factors were the ADMINISTRATION and LACK OF SUPPORT as a first-time teacher!!!!

Kings said...

OK, DCTFer and all your friends - when you leave -write about it - maybe get the washington post to do an article on your experience.

You are supposed to be the future of education - doesn't look like it's working out.

Glenn Watson said...

Its funny that a blog post about blame has set off an avalanche of blame.

So far its a race to the bottom between Rhee, the teachers, bad principals, White people and DCTF.

We sure are good at blaming, just not so good at aiming.

Anonymous said...

What you mean "we" Glenn, you don't live here.

Kat said...

The comment section doesn't have a "resident only" requirement. As for me, I'm curious what non-DC residents have to think about our reform. We are in the bubble, you know. Outside perspectives are enlightening, even if we don't agree with them.

Glenn Watson said...

I'm a teacher who gives my real name. That is what I meant when I said "we."

Anonymous said...

DCTF - I was the first anonymous, I'm sorry you're in the same mess I'm in, it seemed like your program was getting support from the outside looking in. So I guess we're all in this together. I don't even know if I can make it through another semester, this is just not what I expected and was told at the interview. If you are not going to support us, don't hire us - you're just wasting everyone's time. I'm a career changer in my 30's that gave up a lot to do this.

meaningful change said...


People are talking about the reality of working in DCPS. Don't start over analyzing this and say everyone is now blaming everyone.

I wish you would come to DCPS and teach for one year and then start making so many judgmental comments.

Kings said...

So, disgruntled DCTF recruits about to quit - you're the reason over 200 vet teachers were RIFd in october.

Now I'm not blaming you - I'm blaming Rhee for hiring you and your alternative certification programs for not preparing you. They obviously think you're expendable and must feel that way about the kids too.

Who benefits from a system like this?

That is not a rhetorical question.

Stef said...

Well, there you have it, Harry Potter. I think the last comment (from Kings) summed up your post quite well, n'est-ce pas?

Kings said...

Stef - are you blaming me, by chance? If so, fine.

I hope Harry's thought-provoking post doesn't make the concept of blame politically incorrect.

A possible interpretation of his post, specifically his reason for being attracted to this theory, is that he is trying mightily to find ways to not blame Rhee for the mess the school system is in, to rationalize, thus avoiding his own responsibility for believing in it for too long a time. Letting go may seem like giving in the the "Rhee-haters" instead of confronting reality, so he looks for theories to explain people's behavior that also serve to mitigate Rhee's role - and his, by association.

But that's just a theory.

Glenn Watson said...

This is a blog about teaching in DC. The authors posted about the concept of blame. How am I doing wrong to talk about blame in DCPS?

Anyway, I have taught in an inner city school and the one I am in now is moving in that direction.

This is the thing about too many DCPS teachers. They act as though they are the only ones with problems. Rhee has a big job in front of her. I don't see how she can succeed but whoever had taken that job would be no more successful.

The whole system stinks and its not because of the teachers or Rhee. Its because too many students are allowed to get away with too much. This causes the good kids to suffer and that is not right.

Blaming Rhee or the DC teachers is poor aim.

Kings said...

A comment about this statement: “attendance is terrible and administrators at my school often do nothing with discipline issues that have been referred to them. But sometimes the former [non-engaging instruction] is true, too.”

It sounds like a meaningless blame circle, particularly if there is not evidence that more engaging instruction results in higher pass rates – and I don’t think there is. You could blame the teacher for any number of things, but if the kids aren’t there, they won’t learn. Is the implication is that if the teachers were more engaging, kids would come to school? If so, prove it.

If the issue were just attendance, I think there’s a case that there’s a proven connection between attendance and pass rates, but to throw in another factor is disingenuous, whether it’s engaging instruction or anything else.

It could also be that a dedicated administration’s best efforts wouldn’t significantly improve the attendance rate, because of issues out of its control (e.g., family, enforcement). But as long as central administration refuses to accept that there are issues beyond the control of administrators and teachers, the problem will continue. Then it becomes primarily an issue of denial, with blame as a form of reinforcement.

Edharris said...

1I am suspicious of the charge against Rhee because they are so vague.

2.Ok, exactly what did she lie about?

From the start: her resume

3.You say test scores are not up because of Rhee and anyway its only White kid's scores that are up. Well, White kids are important too.
So, it is only "significant" if the scores of white children and the non-lower class rise?

4. That’s interesting but so far she has the public's support.

5. You claim Rhee has dwindling public support. Thank you, Mr. Gallup.

So, you know public opinion and lodesterre does not?
How bizarre.

Kings said...

So Harry, Where are you? Please don't just disappear.

How about a post on your thoughts about Secretary Duncan's Race to the Top?

I'd be interested in your insights. I recall a discussion a while back where you (I think) said that if you weren't successful over time with your AP students, that you would consider yourself unfit and would quit teaching. I discouraged that notion.

Even if it wasn't you and I'm thinking of another blog or another teacher, your insight on the subject would be useful, because Duncan is proposing that 50 percent of a teachers’ evaluation should be tied to measurable student achievement. This would be quite easy to do with AP students, who have standardized test scores to “prove” (in Duncan’s eyes, not mine) whether their teachers are competent.

Kings said...

I found the post I was referring to - it was April 10th 2009, titled "a quick post"

I was anonymous back then, because I hadn't yet figured out how to have a name.

Some of my comments were directed to you and others to progressive educator.

justsoyouknow said...

Informative post. This time i will be more wary every time i encounter Mr. Blame. But a reasonable frustration merits a reasonable blame. Since we are talking about blaming, i wonder if parents where blame teachers in the recent Chicago teacher strike. Just grant the students with back to school scholarships. :)

Mark Taylor said...

Good one, descriptive and informative, let things clean and clear with a honest heart and feed backs rather keep blaming on each others, specially the arguments and talks in the schools or colleges and many political things.