That’s Right Nate

Thoughts from a right thinker.

Michelle Rhee and the Washington Education Miracle Part II

with 9 comments

“I think if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months it’s that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated,” Michelle Rhee at the Aspen Institute’s education summit at the Mayflower Hotel.

Since being appointed as Chancellor of the DC Public Schools, Michelle Rhee has fought a battle with the city’s teacher union.   Her main complaint has been teacher tenure which grants teachers who have been teaching for 3 or 4 years and proven themselves to be competent due process if they are terminated.   I wonder if it is possible that tenure is the reason Michelle chose to end her teaching career after only 3 years.  The misguided principle behind tenure is that teachers should be protected if they have to fail the child of a school board member or rebuff a principal’s advances or wear a Philadelphia Eagles jersey to an institute day.

The problem is this procedure protects older teachers.   The new trend in education reform is for very privileged children from the best schools to come into the schools and teach for 2 or 3 years like Michelle did.   President Obama is fond of some of these organizations like the AUSL and Michelle’s Rhee’s  own The New Teacher Project.  These teachers are so excited to go make a difference that they don’t even have time to go through a traditional teacher certification program.  Instead, they are put into a classroom with much haste through an alternative program.  They leave after 3 years or so before they start to cost the district real money.   Experienced teachers can make as much as $70,000 and these Teach for America types never stay long enough to earn the big bucks.

For Michelle Rhee to work her magic, she needed a way to get rid of the deadwood.   She caught a lucky break in June of 2008 when Woodrow Wilson High School was reorganized after failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress for 5 years under No Child Left Behind.   This gave Michelle’s energetic young choice for principal Peter Cahall a chance to clear out all the old lazy clock punching teachers at the school and replace them with new younger more energetic teachers.    One of those lazy teachers was Dr. Art Siebens who was politely told, “you don’t fit in” as he was shown the door.  Rhee had recruited Cahall very heavily from Montgomery County and he was clearly chosen for a task such as this.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough for Dr. Art Siebens.   It seems he felt that his 18 years of experience teaching weren’t a liability, but something to be proud of.   Siebens is the type of teacher that some misguided educators might think of as innovative.  Using hippie folk music to teach AP biology, Dr. Siebens had some minimal success.  According to the reinstate Dr. Art website, “on the 2007 AP Biology exam, 41 of the 43 students (95.3%) with scores of 3 – 5 throughout the District of Columbia Public Schools had taken Dr. Siebens’ class, and of the seventeen students who received a score of 5 out of 5 on the AP Biology exam, all of them had taken his class. And on the 2008 AP Biology exam, every single student who received a score of 2 or above in the all of DCPS were students of Dr. Siebens. Minority students in Dr. Siebens’ AP classes achieved scores of 3-5 (50%) at a rate twice the average of all Wilson’s other AP courses (23%). Over 64% of Dr. Siebens’ students over the past five years were in classes other than his AP classes.”

Neither this website nor the many former students who have written testimonials or created the Save Dr. Art petition address the fact that Dr. Siebens is old.   He really doesn’t fit the mold of the dynamic young alternatively certified professionals that an urban school system really needs.   Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to get rid of all the old teachers in one fell swoop?   But wait, there is.

[In Part 3, Michelle Rhee uncovers a way to get rid of teachers by the hundreds and moves towards her ultimate goal of a school district where teachers won’t stand in the way of education.   I really appreciate the comments from all the Washingtonians.   This is a national blog and while I’ve tried to research the DC schools very thoroughly, there is no substitute for your first hand comments.  If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.  Be sure to click this link to go to part 3.]


Written by thatsrightnate

October 22, 2009 at 3:46 pm

9 Responses

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  1. Nate, I’m confused. Just yesterday, on the AFRO website, Rhee made this positive comment about experienced teachers:

    “research shows that experienced teachers are more effective than brand new teachers. And, if I’m going to be judged at the end of the day on achievement levels, why would I target experienced teachers?”

    And way back in September of ’08, she said this on NPR about great teachers: “…people are saying, ‘Well, great teachers could be fired arbitrarily.’ My answer to that is, ‘Why would I ever create a system where we were arbitrarily firing great teachers? That would not benefit me or the school system.’”


    October 22, 2009 at 8:29 pm

  2. Thanks for the link. I also notice she references those great test scores. I wish we had such data all the way back in 1995. I bet they were amazing.


    October 22, 2009 at 9:17 pm

  3. […] Michelle Rhee and the Washington Education Miracle Part II « That’s Right Nate […]

  4. Rhee claims that, in just one year, she brought her kids from the 13th percentile to the 90th percentile. It was this claim, among others, that won her the job as DC’S chancellor.

    However, as note in the LAILY HOWLER link, Rhee was pressed for documentation to back up this miracle. She said, “You want documentation? Well, I don’t have it.”

    Put simpy, Michelle Rhee—to borrow a colorful phrase from Louisa May Alcott—“is a lying cunt.”

    Jack Covey

    October 27, 2009 at 1:35 pm

  5. As an older teacher in DCPS, I love it when my young 23 year old teach for america colleagues who are completely unable to manage their classrooms and who know nothing about educational pedagogy make snide condescending remarks at professional development meetings. Remarks that infer us old fogeys don’t know what the hell we’re doing.


    October 30, 2009 at 5:57 pm

  6. imagine someone working as say a dentist for a few years would then purport to solve all the problems in dentistry by firing all the older dentists. In a any other profession this would be seen as bogus.

    Mark Nichols

    June 25, 2010 at 10:51 am

  7. Not in Texas. Here dentists write our standards for History education. Dentists are very smart.


    June 25, 2010 at 5:03 pm

  8. I cannot stand this woman: she is dangerous because she’s more of a opportunist bulls$%tter than a malicious liar.


    August 24, 2010 at 9:13 pm

  9. […] published on the That’s Right Nate blog.  Written by “thatsrightnate”, on Oct. 22, […]

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