First ever StudentsFirst video that I did not laugh at

I think it is an understatement to say that Michelle Rhee is not known for her humor.  Sure, she got a lot of chuckles when she recounted the time she taped her students’ mouths shut with masking tape and the pain (and blood) that resulted when the tape was removed.  (I also did plenty that I was not proud of my first year, but never taped any mouths shut.)

Still, though, I generally get a laugh out of any of the videos on the StudentsFirst website, despite the fact that they were not intended to be funny.  But I laugh because I know they are full of misleading statistics, half truths, and barely truths.

So I was curious when I learned that they had produced a video that was intended to be funny.  Here is the video, which is only 30 seconds, so you should watch it first to get some context.

One quote that is pretty inaccurate is when the announcer says “It appears that the once proud U.S. program has been relying too much on its reputation.  I’d say they’re completely unprepared.”  They are referring to the apparent ‘crisis’ that on the 2009 international PISA tests, the U.S. 15 year olds ranked 17th in science and 25th in math out of 34 countries.  The “once proud U.S. program” comment implies that there was a time when the U.S. led the word on these international exams.  Actually, we never have done well on these.  In the 1964 FIMS test, we were 11th out of 12.  These tests are not predictors of future economic strength, obviously since our students from 1964 have helped make the U.S. economy very strong.

It is also unfair to compare our scores to the scores of the other countries since we have 22% of our students in poverty compared to single digits in most of the top countries.  In an interesting analysis here we see that if we compare our schools with countries that have similar poverty levels, we would be at the top of the world in every category.

But to take this Olympics analogy further, the United States has the highest obesity rate in the developed world.  Even so, we still are very competitive in the Olympics.  Yet, we still got the most medals (second most gold medals) in the 2008 summer games.  So just because we have a higher percentage of students doing poorly on the PISA does not mean that we have lost our competitive edge.

One other point about the Olympic analogy is that it assumes that these two ‘events’ math and science, are the two most important ones.  Surely there are some events in the summer Olympics that the U.S. does not dominate.  But we do quite well in the ‘important’ ones like the swimming and the gymnastics.  Likewise, U.S. students dominate in the ‘important’ events throughout our history, like having creativity and going on to win Nobel Prizes.

So I did not find this video amusing, except for the irony that they know about as much about comedy as they do about practical education reform.

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35 Responses to First ever StudentsFirst video that I did not laugh at

  1. Linda says:

    Everything the Queen Rhee produces, promotes and speaks is fraudulent. She has no credibility except in her circle of wealthy dilettantes. She has done a superb job promoting herself while pretending to care about children. TFA should distance themselves from the Rheeject.

  2. pfh64 says:

    And the fact that we have the high obesity rate, is not helped by the first thing that gets cut by the “reformers” if it even exists at all, elementary grades PE classes. And just as often as not (and very illegally) what classes in PE or physical activity they do get are run by paras, school aides, and/or non licensed P.E. teachers. I am waiting for the lawsuit. Not the McDonald’s made me fat lawsuit, but the my kid was seriously injured, and you had who running the class? It will happen. It will happen to the unfortunate kid, who has parents that will figure it out. Then wait to see how the powers that be scramble to cover their behinds.

    • E. Rat says:

      California already has at least one active lawsuit over PE minutes, and the state courts have held that districts can be sued for failing to meet PE requirements. Since the state is willing to mandate PE minutes – we even have K-12 PE standards – but not to fund it, the burden to provide PE falls on teachers (California not really providing the funding for even paraeducators to illegally provide PE).

      Given that PE is critical for learning, health, and well-being, it’s hugely unfortunate that the state is unwilling to support it.

      • Suzie Null says:

        This points out one of the biggest issues in education: states create mandates but don’t fund them, leaving the burden of implementation on already overworked and underfunded teachers. And then the teachers are demonized if the mandates aren’t met. Pundits then claim claim that the teachers and schools are “ineffective” and use that as a mandate for further cutting school budgets and teacher’s jobs. So the whole cycle intensifies.

  3. Brian says:

    The Student First video makes me sad.

    Our students, many of which are learning in under-funded and over-regulated schools, do not deserve to be ridiculed. Our teachers, who work hard to give their students a great education, do not deserve to be demonized. Our parents, who are counting on our schools to prepare their children, do not deserve to be deceived by fear-mongering parodies.

    Mr. Rubinstein’s response was a fair and professional perspective of a parody that clearly lacked both.

    • Linda says:

      I wonder how low Rhee will go to exploit children, demoralize teachers and manipulate the public for her own personal gain? She is disgusting. Kopp should be ashamed to be associated.

  4. E. Rat says:

    This ad is disturbing on so many levels. It derives a great deal of its “humor” from laughing at others. And its use of gymnastics as the sport in question is disturbing, given that elite gymnastics can be really miserable for the health and happiness of their participants. Joan Ryan’s Little Girls in Pretty Boxes ( discusses this at some length.

    Personally, I think Rhee’s vision for schools – more enforced emphasis on testing at the expense of learning, endemic and unhealthy competition, punitive mindsets, and a total lack of interest in child development – are way too much like some of the elite programs Ryan describes already.

    • Linda says:

      She was just on Meet the Press with David Gregory…so sick of her and her self promotion. Just sent this to Gregory and NBC:
      Mr. Gregory and NBC:Mr. Gregory and NBC:

      Unfortunately I only caught the tail end of the Michelle Rhee appearance with her usual platitudes about how we must all stay focused on the children. What is it that YOU believe teachers  across our country do every single day? Sit around talking and counting our big paychecks?  Did you have any intentions of questioning Ms. Rhee on her not-so-stellar record as a teacher, chancellor and faux reformer?

      Did you know she giddily bragged about taping students mouths shuts when she dallied as teach for a while failure?

      Did you know she is presently being sued by a DC teacher she fired after he tried to report cheating on the high stakes test, which is also under investigation and all under her reign?

      Click to access second_amended_complaint.pdf

      Do you know about her fraudulent petitions via where she tricks the average person to become a grassroots supporter as a way to hide her true astro turf billionaire dilettante supporters?

      I suggest your staff conduct a little more research before you choose a self promoting teacher bashing TFA dropout to represent the education concerns for an entire country.

      Once again, those backed by billionaires get to repeat trite remarks and general mistruths over and over again and then it becomes the truth.

      Here is one more of her shameless self promotions mocking the US Olympics and all US students:

  5. Michael Fiorillo says:

    No one should be surprised by anything Rhee says or does.

    After all, this is a woman who lies compulsively, admits to taping her students mouth closed – something that would (rightfully) get a NYC teacher in the rubber room so fast, they wouldn’t have time to blink – and has described how her very own children “suck” (her words, not mine) at soccer, as a way to make a point about how children should expect pressure and abuse rather encouragement.

    No, don’t be surprised by anything this sociopath does, and don’t expect Wendy Kopp to distance TFA from her until she’s done the calculations showing that Rhee subtracts more than she adds to the TFA brand.

    When that public collapse finally happens, as it surely will, since the the Rhee’s of the world inevitably destroy themselves after leaving behind a trail of destruction, will Kopp then resort to the old Stalinist play book, and have all images and references to Rhee photoshopped away and deleted? If so, she and her apparatchiks are going to be very, very busy in the coming months and years.

  6. teacher in kc says:

    That video is just downright offensive. And yes, not the least bit funny.

  7. march4teachers says:

    I was going to ask how, and why people could believe Michelle Rhee, then I remembered: Follow the money!!

  8. KatieO says:

    I can’t believe Meet the Press aired this disturbing video on national television this morning as a serious commentary on the state of education.

  9. Pingback: Meet the Press Gives Free Ad Time to Michelle Rhee | Liberal Media Books

  10. JDM says:

    Wasn’t that Richard Barth in the video?

  11. Mary says:

    Meet the Press should have aired it as a comment on StudentsFirst.

  12. EDG says:

    The USOC needs to step in and demand this ad be canned. Add that voice to the growing crescendo of educators who are outraged. Many of our Olympic athletes had great public school educations. Let’s hear from them on how they view their teachers and schools. Meet the Press failed miserably in airing this video Sunday morning. What were they thinking?

  13. Wess says:


    Is it just me, or does it seem that the video explicitly pokes fun at people who have mental disabilities?

    Why does that seem like a good idea for anyone to post, let alone folks who want to put students first?

    • S says:

      Now, now, Wess, don’t stretch it. Just stick with the obvious – because that’s more than enough there to make one uncomfortable. I mean, the ad’s imagery is not only saying that “poor performance” is “embarrassing” but also “men doing gymnastics” and “bring overweight/not skinny” are equally shameful.

    • Mark says:

      No, Wess, it’s not just you. The first time I watched I thought it was making fun of Special Olympics. Of course, it’s making fun of so many classes of people, it’s difficult to pinpoint which group was its intention (obese people, women’s sports, men who participate in ‘unmanly’ sports, people with mental or physical disabilities, men who act effeminate (so the video could be seen as homophobic as well)). The list could go own.

  14. Suzie Null says:

    I was thinking that there needs to be a counter-ad with U.S. athletes using Cold War-era uniforms and equipment. Who’s up for making one and getting it posted under their search terms so that it pops up when people look for their ad?

    • Linda says:

      I wish I knew how…maybe we can just duct tape Rhee’s mouth and stick in her one of the luge sleds….winter olympics, I know, but I love the visualization.

  15. Pingback: NYT: Enrollment Off in Big Districts, Forcing Lay-Offs « seeingshadesofgray

  16. David Shulman says:

    What disturbs me the most is that the US attenpts to educate ALL , and most other countries do not. They do NOT count in their stats the illiterate, uneducated, innumerated kids, and they toss out a large percentage after grade school. These comparisons are always flawed, and the media’s refusal to disclose this fact is deceitful.

    • David Shulman says:

      Sorry,” innumerate” , no “d”

    • David Shulman says:

      Sorry, “innumerate” , no “d”

    • Linda says:

      But the lies work as they build fear, uncertainty and doubt. The deform movement isn’t built on truths and helping children.

      It is all about creating high level jobs and salaries for the self-appointed experts, who either never taught or who dabbled in it for a few years, while bashing unions so they can create a cheap labor force while also making profits (voucher schools, some profit charters, some with management companies, testing industry, tech industrty to manage data, etc) all under the guise of helping the children unfortunate enough to attend the lowly public schools.

      Investigate where these profiteers, privatizers, corporatephilanthropist types send their kids to school…..a large percentage attend private schools or public schools in the wealthy suburbs with small class sizes, low turnover of teachers, art, music, athletics for all, libraries, support services, etc.

      It is fun to experiment on and profit off the children of the poor and middle class.

  17. veteran says:

    I would love to hear your comments on her recent 2012 Cornell speech. Some of her usual material. But she adds that teaching is the hardest job -harder than hers and some other good (My opinion) points. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  18. Jacob W says:

    Just wrote about this. I think Rhee is actually right to de-emphasize the role of poverty here.

  19. Pingback: What's So Positive About a Super-Cluster of Failure? (Or Why StudentsFirst's Ad Got It Right) | Dropout Nation: Coverage of the Reform of American Public Education Edited by RiShawn Biddle

  20. Pingback: Ad Compares U.S. Schools To Pudgy, Flailing Olympic Athlete | StateImpact Florida

  21. David B says:

    Yes, Jacob. You’ve told us exactly what you think, but you’ve listed no evidence to back it up, nor have you provided any evidence to suggest that the “solutions” listed in your blog will have any sort of positive effect on student learning. Those who have commented on your blog entry have rightfully pointed this out.

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