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Rhee dismisses 241 D.C. teachers; union vows to contest firings

Note how the spin begins at the New York Times immediately: Michelle Rhee, the reform-minded chancellor. . . Many people would apply an entirely different descriptor. At least Bill Turque of the Washington Post left off the descriptors. His article provoked 400 angry comments.

As is typical, it's the Washington Post editorialist who gets really sanctimonious, hypocritical, and ugly. It cites students' low math scores on standardized tests as proof teachers don't know how to teach, making me think of one of the 8th graders, in my tutorial class set aside for the low-scoring readers in our school. We were part of the regular English program--not special ed. My team teaching partner and I had smaller numbers and the students had our class twice a day. I took it as my job to teach this 14-year-old to print her name, address, and phone number, thinking it was a useful skill. She was often absent, but when she came to school, we worked on this. She'd "get" it but then be absent for a couple of weeks and when she came back wouldn't remember that address--either verbally or on paper.

Yes, I checked to make sure she hadn't moved. She lived with her grandmother and her residence had been stable for a number of years. Her grandmother thought she was in school. In those days we still had truant officers. I asked them to look into her frequent absences. They discovered that she was servicing college students in a nearby dorm.

Washington Post editorial would judge this student's very low scores on standardized literacy tests as proof that I "couldn't produce results" and had "no business in the classroom." God knows, plenty of her classmates also had low scores.

In their judgment, the fact that I was a finalist as New York State Teacher of the Year is just proof of the system's inability to adequately evaluate teachers.

These Standardistos who call for more rigor in the curriculum refuse to consider changing the moribund curriculum that has been in place for eons. One size doesn't fit all. We should give students in Washington D. C. and elsewhere the chance to learn a curriculum that's meaningful. We should give teachers the opportunity to teach it. I can speak with authority when I say that both student and teachers' lives are transformed when they work with a curriculum that has meaning.

Washington Post Reader Comment:
It is true that students deserve a decent education.It is also true that employees[in this case the teachers]deserve to be led by an intelligent, fair minded,non mean spirited Supt. Sadly, the latter is missing in DC and has been since Ms Rhee's reign of terror began. Ms Rhee should have been replaced by someone who could lead by inspiration and who does not constantly run her mouth in public, negative ways and general terms about how awful her employees are. Many a good teacher has left or been fired over the last few yeas all because of Ms Rhee. One wonders why the general public would approve of such unprofessional behavior and never speak up for their teachers. One also wonders why the DC schools DO NOT ever improve even though Ms Rhee is constantly firing her teachers and blaming failure on them. Anyone with any common sense knows success in business, government or education has to begin with intelligent,POSITIVE leadership. Where has this been in the DC schools or government for that matter? There is something seriously wrong with the DC school picture. Just visit a few of the schools and note the problems not involving teaching and you will see instantly why failure exists there. Don't see any signs of Ms Rhee accepting any responsibility for her failures there. I do not think it is the students or the teachers. One hopes the parents and School Board will get wise soon.

If I were a DC teacher,I would also be asking myself why I belong to a teacher's union that negotiated so poorly on my behalf. Get a look at their contract and especially note that the teachers had no input into their evaluation instrument. Many leading districts across the country changed that process years ago and excellent systems are now in place.Teachers have some ownership in their own performance standards . If a teacher does fail then he or she cannot say that the instrument is unfair or that the expectations were unclear. In the DC case,no input,no ownership. Instead, we have fuzziness and a great deal of bitterness and unrest. It is not healthy for the Staff, the students or the DC Community.

The union let the teachers down by allowing Ms Rhee to continue her reign of terror.It is a case a UNION taking the path of least political resistance just for survival.In other words, try a shame on the Union and sack Rhee.

By Bill Turque
Washington Post
July 24, 2010

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced Friday that she has fired 241 teachers, including 165 who received poor appraisals under a new evaluation system that for the first time holds some educators accountable for students' standardized test scores.

"Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher -- in every classroom, of every school, of every neighborhood, of every ward, in this City," Rhee said in a statement, announcing the first year of results from the revamped evaluation, known as IMPACT. "That is our commitment. Today . . . we take another step toward making that commitment a reality."

Dismissals for performance are exceedingly rare in D.C. schools -- and in school systems nationwide. Friday's firings mark the beginning of Rhee's bid to make student achievement a high-stakes proposition for teachers, establishing job loss as a possible consequence of poor classroom results.

The Washington Teachers' Union said Friday that it will contest the terminations.

The firings also are likely to spark a new round of debate about Rhee's treatment of teachers. D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who is challenging Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, has not committed to retaining Rhee if elected and has made her hard-edged management style part of his critique of Fenty's education policy. Gray said Friday that he "wanted to look further at the basis for the dismissals" before drawing conclusions and added that there is "still controversy" regarding IMPACT.

Said Fenty, in a statement: "As Mayor, I will not sit still, and I will not be satisfied until a highly effective teacher is in every classroom. Today's action puts us one step closer to that goal."

Although the teachers dismissed for poor performance represent only about 4 percent of the city's 4,000-member corps, Rhee also announced Friday that 737 other instructors were rated "minimally effective." Under IMPACT, they have one year to improve their performance or face dismissal. Rhee declined to speculate on how many might be sacked next year. But she said that over the next two years, "a not-insignificant number of folks will be moved out of the system for poor performance."

'Too far, too fast'

The dismissals also represent the second game-changing development this year in Rhee's efforts to assert more control over how D.C. teachers are managed, compensated and removed from their jobs. They also place the school system at the head of a national movement -- fostered in part by the Obama administration's $4.3 billion "Race to the Top" grant competition -- to more rigorously assess teachers' effectiveness.

Last month, union members and the D.C. Council approved a contract that raises educators' salaries by 21.6 percent but diminishes traditional seniority protections in favor of personnel decisions based on results in the classroom. The accord also provides for a "performance pay" system with bonuses of $20,000 to $30,000 annually for teachers who meet certain benchmarks, including growth in test scores. IMPACT is the major instrument officials will use each year to determine teachers' effectiveness. Rhee has invested $4 million, some of it from private foundations, to increase the rigor of the system.

The Washington Teachers' Union has bitterly objected to IMPACT, which was devised in collaboration with a private consultant, Mathematica Policy Research. Although school officials convened teacher focus groups to discuss the plan, it was not subject to collective bargaining. Some teachers call it overly complex and dependent on an unreliable statistical methodology for linking test scores to individual teachers. WTU President George Parker said the program is designed to weed out teachers rather than help them improve.

"It's punishment-heavy and support-light," he said, adding that it should have first been tried on a small pilot basis. "They've gone too far, too fast."

Parker said the union will pursue the two appeals processes legally available: One will involve directly petitioning Rhee; the other will result in a hearing before an independent arbitrator. Parker also said that the union probably will collectively file an unfair labor practice complaint with the District.

But poor evaluations are generally not subject to appeal unless the union can demonstrate some procedural error in the appraisal process.

Grading the teachers

Summer months always bring turnover in D.C schools -- and other school systems -- through retirements, resignations and dismissals of teachers who did not survive their probationary period. Seventy-six of the teachers fired Friday were dismissed for not having proper licensing, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

But few tenured educators have faced dismissal for poor performance. Rhee said that according to her staff's research, no teachers were fired for lack of effectiveness in 2006, the year before she was named chancellor. Officials said the previous evaluation process was cumbersome and time-consuming, with responsibility for assessments falling to school principals already stretched by other responsibilities.

The great majority of teachers routinely received evaluations showing that they met or exceeded expectations. At the same time, the District compiled one of the weakest academic records of any urban school system in the United States.

Rhee, and like-minded leaders in other school districts, contends that the best way to overhaul schools is to intensively monitor the performance of every adult, including janitors, and measure it by multiple yardsticks. For teachers, that includes evidence that their students meet or exceed predicted rates of growth on standardized tests, a metric known as "value-added." School districts have experimented with value-added for many years but generally employ it as a diagnostic tool to assess weaknesses or determine bonuses. Rhee's use of the method to make high-stakes personnel decisions breaks new ground, and other school systems are expected to look at the system as a possible model. She has announced plans to significantly expand the use of standardized tests so that value-added data will be available in some form at all grade levels.

This year, only about 20 percent of the District's classroom teachers -- reading and math instructors in grades 4 through 8 -- were evaluated on test-score growth. That's because those were the only grades and subjects for which there is annual test-score data from the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System, or DC CAS. Value-added constitutes 50 percent of their evaluation. Twenty-six of the 165 dismissed teachers fell into this category.

'Caught up in this web'

Under IMPACT, teachers were supposed to receive five 30-minute classroom observations during the school year, three by a school administrator and two by an outside "master educator" with a background in the instructor's subject.

The instructors were scored against an elaborate "teaching and learning framework" with 22 measures in nine categories. Among the criteria are classroom presence, time management, clarity in presenting the objectives of a lesson and ensuring that students across all levels of learning ability understand the material.

At the end of the school year, the teachers' overall performance was converted to a 100-to-400-point scale. Teachers with scores below 175 are subject to dismissal. Teachers scoring between 175 and 249 are judged under the system to be "minimally effective." Scores between 250 and 400 are considered "effective" or "highly effective."

Some teachers said Friday that the system has not worked as planned.

Elizabeth Davis, a computer concepts teacher at Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Northeast, said teachers were at a disadvantage because they were being evaluated on a new set of criteria -- the teaching framework -- that they were still trying to learn.

"A lot of good teachers have been caught up in this web," said Davis, a veteran teacher and a candidate for president of the Washington Teachers' Union. She said she received a "highly effective" rating, although she did not meet with her master educator until the final week of classes.

Other teachers said IMPACT brings a badly needed clarity to what is expected of teachers in the District. Mathew Nagy, a second-year special education teacher at Ron Brown Middle School in Northeast, said the system provides "a very consistent language for what good teaching looks like." Although he said the new teaching expectations were initially confusing, "once I dug deep, I found it to be very manageable. I felt I had a lot of control over what I was going to be evaluated on."

By Tamar Lewin
The New York Times
July 23, 2010

Michelle Rhee, the reform-minded chancellor who took over the District of Columbia public schools three years ago, on Friday fired 241 teachers, or 5 percent of the district̢۪s total. All but a few of those dismissed had received the lowest rating under a new evaluation system that for the first time held them accountable for their students̢۪ standardized test scores.

"Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher -- in every classroom, of every school, of every neighborhood, of every ward, in this city," the chancellor said in a statement. "That is our commitment."

All told, the district terminated 302 employees -- 226 for poor performance, and 76 for other problems like not having the licensing required by the No Child Left Behind act. Besides the 241 teachers, those dismissed were librarians, counselors, custodians and other employees.

An additional 737 employees were put on notice that they had been rated "minimally effective," the second-lowest category, and would have one year to improve their performance or be fired.

In the years before Ms. Rhee took over the district, almost all the teachers had high performance ratings and almost none were fired, but students, on average, had low achievement levels.

George Parker, the president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said the union would challenge the firings. The union has taken issue with the evaluation system Ms. Rhee used, saying that it was designed more for punishing teachers than helping them improve.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, also criticized the evaluation system and what she called the chancellor's "destructive cycle of hire, fire, repeat."

"Evaluations should include a component of student learning, of course, but there also has to be teacher development and support," Ms. Weingarten said. "It can't just be a 'gotcha' system, like the one in D.C."

As part of the Obama administration̢۪s focus on teacher effectiveness, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has pushed states to develop evaluation and pay models that link teacher ratings to their students̢۪ test scores. States that use such models get points that increase their chances of winning part of the department̢۪s $3.4 billion Race to the Top grant pool.

Since becoming chancellor in June 2007, Ms. Rhee has been intent on controlling how teachers in the district -- known for a long history of low-performing schools -- are managed, paid and, if necessary, fired.

Friday's dismissals were not the chancellor̢۪s first. In the 2007-8 school year, a district spokesman said, 79 teachers were fired for poor performance, and in 2008-9, 96 were. Also, after hiring more than 500 new teachers in the spring and summer of 2009, Ms. Rhee laid off 266 educators in the fall, citing budget problems. The union has filed suit challenging those dismissals.

Last month, the teachers' union and the District Council approved a contract that weakened teachers̢۪ seniority protection, in return for 20 percent raises and bonuses of $20,000 to $30,000 for teachers who meet certain standards, including rising test scores.

Only 16 percent of the teachers evaluated were rated in the top category, "highly effective."

A spokesman for the district said that starting the new school year with a full complement of teachers would not be a problem because a pool of several hundred applicants had already been screened.

But poor evaluations are generally not subject to appeal unless the union can demonstrate some procedural error in the appraisal process.

Washington Post
July 25, 2010

The D.C. teacher firings

ALOT OF LIP service is given to not tolerating bad teachers. Educators, politicians and even union leaders say that there is no place in the classroom for a teacher who can't produce results. But actually doing something about the situation is an entirely different matter. That's why D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee should be supported for taking the difficult but necessary steps to rid the system of ineffective teachers.

In a move seen as unprecedented in the nation, Ms. Rhee announced Friday that 241 teachers -- roughly 6 percent of the teaching force -- are being terminated because of poor performance and licensing issues. An additional 737 have been rated minimally effective, will not be eligible for step increases and have one year to improve their performance or face dismissal. That means that the system could see nearly a quarter of its teachers dismissed within two years, a prospect Ms. Rhee called "daunting." Nonetheless, she is right to argue that "every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher -- in every classroom, of every school, of every neighborhood, of every ward . . . ."

No joy can be taken in knowing the hardship caused to individuals who likely are nice people and good neighbors. But if there is outrage to be felt, it should be directed at a system that has enabled, even rewarded, poor teachers. Consider that in the year Ms. Rhee took over leadership of the schools, only 8 percent of eighth-graders performed on grade level in math, but 95 percent of the teachers were rated as excellent. Ms. Rhee said that her staff's research showed that no teachers were fired for lack of effectiveness in 2006, the year before she became chancellor.

It's important to stress that termination decisions were made after each teacher underwent a thorough review based on the district's new teacher evaluation system, known as IMPACT, that combined observations of teachers with student test score data. IMPACT replaced a completely subjective system, so it is hard to accept arguments about the new system -- with precise standards, multiple observations by experts and clear expectations -- being unfair.

It's also hard to swallow the argument by some that Ms. Rhee is moving too fast. Whose children do they propose sit in the classrooms of ineffective teachers? It's worrisome enough to think about the children who will be taught this fall by teachers who have been judged "minimally ineffective." Union leaders have signaled plans to file grievances over all the dismissals. That's their right; but a better use of their time might be to work with Ms. Rhee to improve the performance of the 737 teachers in danger of losing their jobs next year.

— Bill, Turque, Tamar Lewin, & Editorialist
New York Times & Washington Post


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