In just a few years, Michelle Rhee has become a household name. Appointed Chancellor of the D.C. Schools, Rhee has become well-known for implementing her tough top-down management style in an effort to improve academics and teaching quality in the struggling school district. One of Rhee’s more radical tactics is firing ‘ineffective’ teachers (Read: Those who refuse to be bullied to keep their jobs) and replacing them with Teach For America alums, a program which Rhee also completed. I do not discount the improvements Rhee has orchestrated since assuming her responsibilities as Chancellor; however, I do disagree with the manner in which she is attempting to exact large-scale change.
I am concerned about assigning the ‘ineffective teacher’ moniker haphazardly, especially given the fact that private funding is a substantial motivator in demonstrating academic improvement at the expense of dedicated teachers. Before a teacher can be deemed ineffective, we must first ask ‘Who determines a teacher’s ineffectiveness, and by what means?’ Every state has some procedure in place to both evaluate teachers and correct any deficiencies, usually by developing a Professional Development Plan (PDP). For argument’s sake, let’s assume that every principal in a D.C. school evaluates every teacher, the prescribed number of times, each and every school year. (Note: If this happened anywhere, NCLB likely would not be necessary.) Given this ideal situation, how would a supposed ‘ineffective teacher’ manage to keep the same teaching job for 5, 10, 15, or even 20 years? The answer: He or she would not.
Here is the million dollar question: How does a teacher become ineffective, under the direction of an administrator who is supposed to evaluate this teacher every year? That’s the easy part. There are, in my opinion, three possible explanations. First, the teacher may have never received an official evaluation. For those who wear rose-colored glasses, this does happen more than anyone may want to know. Second, the teacher may have received an unsatisfactory evaluation, but never received a PDP either because the administrator did not feel like doing the paperwork or this teacher was a part of the ‘in crowd.’ Lastly, the teacher could have very well been an excellent teacher, with outstanding classroom management skills and the ability to interact with students and parents. For the upcoming year, the principal may need to hire an additional coach but does not have a teaching assignment. Guess who suddenly becomes an ineffective teacher?
With the case of D.C. Schools, Rhee wants to replace the ineffective teachers with recent TFA alums, who will earn lower salaries, work longer hours, and fall inline with her regime without asking any questions or making any waves. Recently teachers, whether ineffective or otherwise, have essentially been thrown under the bus in the name of closing the achievement gap or improving schools. Do I believe that there may be some ineffective teachers? Absolutely. Will mass firings solve that problem? Absolutely not. If schools and districts wholeheartedly implement and follow-thru with effective practices, teachers would not be the scapegoats for what ails public education. In her efforts to make change, Rhee is alienating students, teachers, parents, community members, and some politicians. As public education faces scrutiny and tougher accountability measures, those are not the people she wants as enemies.
This has been on my mind for awhile. I felt the best way to release it was to out my thoughts on paper. Of course, this is the condensed version! As I said in my first post I am not an expert, just full of common sense.
Thanks for reading!
Additional links on Rhee and D.C. Schools: