What Rhee's successor should do first
Michelle Rhee rather gracelessly delivered a parting shot to teachers on her way out of the building, telling them to watch their backs because the teacher evaluation system that she created, IMPACT, can tell who’s good and who’s not.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite accurate.
Today is Rhee's last official day as chancellor of D.C. schools. On the eve of her departure, as my colleague Bill Turque, reported, Rhee told a group of educators: "Now we have a new teacher evaluation system where we know who’s ineffective, minimally effective and highly effective.”
The multimillion-dollar process is based partly on standardized test scores of students, which should never be used to evaluate teachers, and partly on a badly designed system of classroom evaluations.
It is open for abuse, both by teachers who have found ways to get around it, and by principals who can manipulate results to get rid of troublemakers. A strong initial supporter of Rhee told me the other night that he was surprised when some quirky but great veteran teachers were forced out of Wilson High School through the IMPACT system. No surprise here.
After her warning to teachers in her speech to educators assembled at a College Board forum in the District, Rhee spoke about schools with traditional teacher preparation programs, a new favorite target of Rhee-style school reformers today.
"We’re going to back-map where they came from, which schools produced these people. And if you are producing ineffective or minimally effective teachers, we’re going to send them back to you," she said.
During Rhee’s three-years-plus reign, more than half of the city’s 4,200 teaching jobs turned over.
Turque reported that she filled many of them with young educators who share her core belief that good teaching can help children prevail over poverty and other barriers beyond the classroom.
Many of the 2,600 new educators hired on her watch (an unknown number of whom have already gone through the usual attrition) came from alternative training programs in which she and her senior staff have their roots: Teach for America and D.C. Teaching Fellows.
Teach for America scoops up newly minted college graduates, gives them intensive training over five weeks and then sends them into high-poverty schools. Not surprisingly, Teach for America has a higher attrition rate than traditional teacher preparation programs. But you didn’t hear Rhee saying a word about that.
Meanwhile, some teachers find IMPACT to be so unfair that they have come up with methods to get around it.
IMPACT is actually a collection of 20 different evaluation systems for teachers in different capacities and other school personnel. In its first iteration, teachers were to be evaluated five times a year by principals and master teachers who went into the classroom unannounced for 30 minutes and scored the teacher on 22 different teaching elements. They were, for example, supposed to show that they could tailor instruction to at least three “learning styles,” demonstrate that they were instilling student belief in success through "affirmation chants, poems and cheers," and a lot more.
It was so nutty to think that any teacher would show all 22 elements in 30 minutes that officials modified it. Now the number is a still unrealistic 10 or so.
Some teachers, fearing that their professional careers were being based on an unfair system, got someone in the front office to alert them to when the principal or master teacher was to show up, according to interviews with a number of teachers who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Then they would send difficult kids out of the classroom, and, in some cases, pull out a specially prepared lesson plan tailored to meet IMPACT requirements.
Meanwhile, some teachers never got five evaluations, apparently because a number of master teachers hired to do the jobs quit, according to sources in the school system.
If that doesn’t sound like a system in desperate need of overhauling, I don’t know what does.
Rhee considers IMPACT a shining achievement, but Rhee’s successor, interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson would do well to revamp it.
It isn’t likely that she will, considering that she was Rhee’s deputy and operates in her mold, but people sometimes do surprising things. She would be doing herself and the D.C. schools a big favor.
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| October 29, 2010; 9:57 AM ET
Categories: D.C. Schools, Teacher assessment | Tags: IMPACT, d.c. schools, kaya henderson, michelle rhee, performance pay, teach assessment, teacher evaluation, teacher preparation
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