Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington D.C. public schools, and founder of Students First, a political advocacy organization for education reform, has tapped into the hype of the 2012 Olympic Games while encouraging major changes in our education system. The ad, however, has drawn criticism from educators who find Rhee's message to be degrading and insulting to American schools.
The advertisement features an out-of-shape athlete competing for the United States in a baton-twirling Olympic sport. The athlete is unprepared, out of breath and drawing the laughter and cynicism of the announcers. "It appears that the once proud U.S. program has been relying too much on its reputation," the announcer says at one point, "I’d say they’re completely unprepared." Statistics from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an internationally administered standardized tests, flash on the screen as if they were the athlete's score and reveal that the United States ranked 17th in the world in science and 25th in math. "The sad truth is this is our education system, and we can't compete with the rest of the world. We need reform now," says the voice over.
Critics of the ad have called it ridiculous. Education Week criticizes its other implications, saying "It seems questionable for an education organization to be playing up obesity for laughs, especially as more people acknowledge bullying as a rampant school problem." And Anthony Cody of Education Week says it is "insulting to our schools and to our intelligence."
But what exactly is Michelle Rhee saying with this ad? Is this a rallying cry for education reform, for uniting teachers and legislators to "step their game up?" Or is this a snide insult to American educators? We'd love to hear your thoughts.