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Posted at 9:57 AM ET, 10/29/2010

What Rhee's successor should do first

By Valerie Strauss

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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By Valerie Strauss  | 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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I'll say one positive thing for Ms. Rhee: She believed that all the incompetents should leave and that's what she did.

You can't win a war by firing on your own troops. (Diane Ravitch)

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 29, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

I have heard this from a high end person at DCPS. Rhee fired some of the "Master Educators" last year because they were giving teachers good scores and there is a quota to sink a certain number of teachers.

Posted by: marylight | October 29, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't count on Rhee's lapdog Henderson to change a thing. She's an ignorant TFA cultists just like her patron.

Posted by: mcstowy | October 29, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Turque also quoted Rhee saying, "Now we have a new teacher evaluation system where we know who's ineffective, minimally effective and highly effective…. 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."
So who is “we” now that Rhee is gone? I presume the staff she’s leaving behind. I somehow doubt Mayor Gray is going to approve of spending DCPS time and money matching Rhee-declared bad teachers with their colleges.

And what does it mean to send them back? Is she going to give the teachers travel money to go back to their colleges? When they arrive there, what are the colleges supposed to do with them? Rehabilitate them? Throw them in the dumpster?

It’s just too weird for words. It’s amazing that anyone take her seriously when she says such things.

Hmmm – perhaps this foreshadows the reform movement’s next initiative – blaming US higher education for poor student achievement on the k-12 level.

Posted by: efavorite | October 29, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

To add to efavorite, can Miss Rhee be sent back to Cornell for the lying and resume padding she has successfully pulled off?

Posted by: edlharris | October 29, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

Ed - perhaps Rhee should be sent to Harvard, too - that's where she got her masters. Which school is most to blame, or should both take some heat?

This could get quite complicated, as many teachers have advanced degrees from multiple institutes of higher learning. Also, any give college may turn out some highly effective teachers and some minimally or ineffective teachers. Then what?

This could become quite costly, with hotshot consultants hired to develop a rigorous, groundbreaking evaluation system that takes into account the precise factors that influence the development of effective teachers.

Posted by: efavorite | October 30, 2010 7:29 AM | Report abuse

Ding, Dong, the witch is dead, the witch is dead! The witch is dead! The wicked witch is dead!

Can't be too gleeful; there are many of her appointees and devotees amongst us.

I really enjoy the breath of fresh air Ms. Strauss. The "rheeformers" have overrun so many outlets that it is hard to find reasoned discussion, hence the fanciful opening. The worst part is that many many people do not find Rhee and her cohorts as unreasoned!

Posted by: zebra22 | October 30, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Dear Fans of Grotesque Terror:

Perhaps we should prepare for this holiday season by renting Tim Burton's 'A Nightmare Before Christmas'; a story about a Halloween Skeleton who decides it would be a great idea to kidnap Santa Claus and replace him with sinister ghouls delivering horrifying gifts on Christmas eve ...

It is so fitting that Michelle A. Rhee's last official day is Halloween. And apparently her departing comments are in preparation for a party she will be attending ... as 'The Queen of Hearts' (a character played by Tim Burton's wife, Helena Bonham Carter in his movie version of 'Alice in Wonderland').

From Wikipedia:
The Queen of Hearts is a character from the book Alice in Wonderland by the writer and mathematician Lewis Carroll. She is a foul-tempered monarch, that Carroll himself pictured as "a blind fury", and who is quick to decree death sentences at the slightest offense. Her most famous line, one which she repeats often, is "Off with their heads!"

So ... "ALL YOU SLACKER TEACHERS & ADMINISTRATORS" ... and "ALL THE GHASTLY SCHOOLS OF EDUCATION" that have provided you with the credentials to teach our most precious and precocious children ...


Because even when I'm gone, "I'll be Watching You ..."

Posted by: AGAAIA | October 30, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Montgomery County has what is routinely rated as one of the best school systems in the country. It uses student standardized test scores as part of its teacher evaluation.

Montgomery County teachers do not seem dissatisfied with their evaluation systems. Perhaps a comparison of IMPACT and the systems in place in surrounding jurisdictions is in order.

Posted by: trace1 | October 31, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher in DCPS, the real challenge is learning how to have an impact despite IMPACT. The thirty minute "pony" show is something many savvy teachers have learned to perform. Last year, after failing to repeat the same lesson objective three times, I suffered the price in that category, though did well in others. This year, I just decided to teach and let the daggers fall where they may. For more on my year, please visit

Posted by: dcproud1 | October 31, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

The "belief that good teaching can help children prevail over poverty" is not the same as being a good teacher.

You will never ever get me to believe that 5 weeks in a summer program creates better teachers than two (or more) years in a traditional teacher prep program.

Rhee's disdain for traditional route teachers is palpable. She should have spent more time, as I did, with her TFA recruits, most of whom were doing it for the cheap masters degree, an enviable line-item on their resume or to buy time until they figured out what careers they really wanted.

As for DCTFs, most of them felt unsupported by the program once placed, and many left the profession,

Posted by: goldgirl96 | November 1, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Placing inexperienced teachers in the most challenging schools, a tradition that Rhee supported, has hurt poor children more than any other school factor. Hopefully her successor, backed by Gray, will put an end to this shameful practice.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | November 1, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

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