That’s Right Nate

Thoughts from a right thinker.

Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC Public Schools

Michelle Rhee and the Washington Education Miracle Part IV

with 20 comments

And now gentle reader, we find ourselves at the penultimate act of our little drama.   Throughout the summer of 2009, the DC Public Schools recruited like a drunken frat boy collecting phone numbers at a kegger.  By the end of the summer, there were a whole host of new, young, and energetic students ready to take their places as teachers in the system.   Then calamity struck.

The schools had a $40,000,000 budget shortfall and the only way to close it was to cut staff.   There is nothing harder for an administrator than when you suddenly reallize that you don’t have $40 million that you thought you had.  I still get embarrassed over the time I was 8 and went to the local convenience store for chips and pop and didn’t have enough money because I didn’t know about sales tax.   The Chinese word for crisis is the same as their world for self-serving and manipulative stunt.  Knowing this Michelle Rhee made lemons out of lemonade by getting rid of some of those tired and worn out teachers I mentioned in part 2.

Over 200 teachers were let go and the day was saved.   Police were dispatched to classrooms and the older incompetent teachers were forcibly evicted.  This provided an excellent lesson for students who witnessed their teachers’ removal about not getting old and lazy. Much fat was trimmed.  A few examples I found using this internet machine of mine:

  • Students at McKinley Tech told NBC4 that their French 3 class became an introductory Spanish class when the French teacher was fired.
  • Jodie Gittleson, a teacher at Shaed Elementary School who was laid off, told the Washington Post that her students were being mixed among the second and fourth grade classes.
  • Students related a host of problems to WAMU-FM Dana Downs from Alice Deal Middle School says she was in the middle of a science project she was excited about. Now a different teacher has come in and abruptly changed course. Downs says students are also acting out in class, taking advantage of their new teacher. She says “they will talk really loud and won’t listen to her and throw things.”
  • Many of the district’s councilors received layoff notices just as students are getting their applications together to submit to colleges.
  • Taesha Hines from Ballou Senior High School complained that gym is required for graduation, but the cuts have left her school with only one gym teacher

Many of the teachers who were laid off had excellent performance evaluations.  These are exactly the kind of deadwood that are so difficult to trim because at a due process hearing they will simply use the superior rating the principal had given them to cast doubt on that principal’s claims of their incompetence.   Fortunately for Washington, DC, this budget shortfall provided a nice route around those kind of regulations.

There have been other moments of note in Rhee’s tenure.   Standardized test scored did improve, which is usually a good sign that the district is becoming more conscious of standardized tests.  Rhee also dropped support for National Board Certification–a highly valued national program for improving classroom instruction.  She has charged straight ahead with her vaunted IMPACT program which was piloted in Fairfax County in 1987 much to the amusement to one of the guinea pigs, Erica Jacobs.  Unfortunately, the union contract still seems stalled.  For some reason, the union is having trouble trusting Michelle Rhee to bargain in good faith.

I’m not from Washington, DC.  I’m from Chicago where we have had our own miracle worker Arne Duncan chosen for better things.   I won’t tell DC parents how to feel about their own child’s education prospects from hundreds of miles away.   However, in my previous entry, EFavorite posted the link to a comment by a Washington Post reader claiming that Michelle Rhee’s administration has fascist tendencies.   I can’t really speak to that, but I wonder if the sight of police leading teachers away in front of stunned students might answer the question for me.

This blog is satirical and my regular readers must be hating the last 4 articles which have gradually become less and less of my usual style.   However, some things are quite difficult to joke about–the future of our children is one of them.   A lot of well meaning liberals have gotten behind this new generation of education reformers who believe the two best ways to improve education are to bust unions and replace older largely African-American career teachers with young privileged white teachers who will spend 2 or 3 years in the classroom before moving on to bigger and better things.   These people believe that experience is a detriment and not an asset.  I wonder how these became liberal values.   Yes, the Bush family have embraced Michelle Rhee, but so have the Obamas and Oprah.

School reform has always been something that has been done to teachers, not by teachers, or with teachers.   Parents have rarely had a say either and of course children don’t know what’s good for them.   You can’t reform anything that way.   When the largest stakeholders in any endeavor are seen as the opposition you will fail.   There is another type of education reform you don’t hear much about.  If people gave it a chance, it might have a hope of accomplishing something substantial.   I don’t agree with everything that these people want, but a lot of it sure looks worth looking into.  The idea of a free, equal, and quality education is an ideal that binds us as a nation.   It has sadly never been a reality in the United States.

[As always, I appreciate feedback and comment whether you are in DC or not.  If you missed the other 3 parts of this story, please go to part 1.]


Written by thatsrightnate

October 24, 2009 at 9:40 pm