Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity


Posted at 1:02 PM ET, 09/12/2010

If Rhee leaves ... if Rhee stays

By Valerie Strauss

“Her directness and skepticism signaled that the city’s schools finally are in the hands of someone who will break with the past and deliver on what many think is the last best chance to overhaul a system so beleaguered that most of its students perform worse the longer they stay in it.”

No, those words were not written about D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. I wrote the above in a Washington Post story a dozen years ago, on August 24, 1998, about then-D.C. Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

Both dynamic women with take-no-prisoners approaches roared into the District about a decade apart, and both were proclaimed the city’s “last best chance” to reform the school system.

But when Ackerman left after three years -- one as the system’s powerful chief academic officer and two as superintendent -- reform efforts did not crumble, and, in fact moved ahead under her predecessor, Clifford Janey. Under Janey, the school system adopted tougher standards, created a new assessment, replaced scores of principals, modernized some buildings, etc.

In fact, when it was reported late last year that D.C. scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes called the nation’s report card, had risen faster than in some other big cities, it was clear -- as Rhee acknowledged -- that Janey’s reforms were behind the rise.

So much for Ackerman being the “last best chance” for reform.

Now, it’s said to be Rhee, but there is a strong possibility that she will leave the District soon.

Rhee has said that she would not continue as chancellor under a mayor who does not share her reform vision, and that D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray doesn’t. Gray could well defeat Mayor Adrian Fenty, Rhee’s patron, on Tuesday in the Democratic mayoral primary.

Leaving would in many ways be the easiest thing for Rhee to do: She could make a list of steps she has taken to change things but would not have to deal with the sticky problems that will inevitably follow.

If Rhee leaves, is reform dead?

No, though how it moves ahead will depend on whom the next mayor selects. The school system won’t fall apart if Rhee departs.

If she stays, and there is a good case to be made that consistency in school leadership is very important, the school system would be better off if Rhee lessens her own insistence that standardized test scores are the be-all and end-all of assessment.

In July, The Washington Post reported that standardized test scores on the city’s own assessment had gone down for elementary school students, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/local-breaking-news/dc/dc-elementary-test-scores-show.html. That presented Rhee with a problem, but it wasn’t the drop in the scores. If scores go up, they invariably go down after a time, no matter who is giving them and who is taking them, and they do so for reasons that may have nothing to do with the teacher, or the student, or the schools chief.

The problem is that Rhee has made rising standardized test scores the central measure for achievement -- hers, students and teachers.

So if Rhee stays, she needs to see beyond her own rhetoric and broaden her idea of how teachers and schools should be assessed. No single test can do that, nor, for that matter, can the IMPACT teacher evaluation system, which works in a system guaranteed to fail.

Under IMPACT, all teachers are 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.

They are scored against a "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.

Twenty-two measures have to be displayed in 30 minutes? It’s idiotic.

So here’s hoping that if Rhee stays, she quickly realizes that evaluating teachers and schools on test scores and ineffective class visits are not going to help her effort to improve the system.

Follow my blog every day by bookmarking washingtonpost.com/answersheet. And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page at washingtonpost.com/higher-ed Bookmark it!

By Valerie Strauss  | September 12, 2010; 1:02 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools  | Tags:  IMPACT, NAEP, Rhee and IMPACT, d.c. school reform, d.c. schools, fenty and gray, future of D.C. schools, michelle rhee, rhee and fenty  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Skipping college to save money? Oh please
Next: Class size DOES matter after all

Comments

"Twenty-two measures have to be displayed in 30 minutes?" Now that's a sound bite! Yes, it is idiotic. Why open the door for Rhee to capitulate. She's not helping here.

Posted by: zebra22 | September 12, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, please be in touch with Chris and Ben Bergfalk, products of DCPS and now a teacher and sped. coordinator in DCPS respectively. They are running for president and vp of DCPS.

see the following interview with them:
http://thefightback.org/2010/09/bergfalk/

they can shed a lot of light on Rhee and the reforms with data to back up their claims

they tell the truth that WaPo will not!

Posted by: UrbanDweller | September 12, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

@zebra22 "Twenty-two measures have to be displayed in 30 minutes"

It clearly says "five 30-minute classroom observations". Were you educated in DC public schools or are you just an irrational partisan?

Posted by: staticvars | September 12, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

The 22 things in 30 minutes is idiotic because a teacher can be doing a great job, but on a given day is only doing 7 of the 22 things. That can happen 5 times a year or once a year.

Yes, there are probably 22 things that teachers should do on a daily basis, but you are not necessarily going to see them all, all the time.

So then the 22 things become "evidence" that a teacher is effective or not, whether or not they are doing their jobs well.


Posted by: celestun100 | September 12, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

"Twenty-two measures have to be displayed in 30 minutes?"

And as the guy formerly of Wilson showed, you have to show evidence of using methods to reach all learning styles even when no one knows which students learn by which style.

Posted by: edlharris | September 12, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Time Magazine has a cover article design to claim that the first thing a studnet need is a great teacher. You know where they going with that.

It might even be an indirect way of trying to influence the mayoral race in DC by mentioning Michelle Rhee. I don't have a copy in front of me so I am not sure she is mentioned.

Both the Oprah show and the Time article may be Bill Gates way of either getting Fenty relected so that Rhee keeps her job - or to get her name out there so someone else will give her a big superintendent job if she loses this one.

Gates, with his money has a long reach into the media.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 12, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Time Magazine has a cover article design to claim that the first thing a studnet need is a great teacher. You know where they going with that.

It might even be an indirect way of trying to influence the mayoral race in DC by mentioning Michelle Rhee. I don't have a copy in front of me so I am not sure she is mentioned.

Both the Oprah show and the Time article may be Bill Gates way of either getting Fenty relected so that Rhee keeps her job - or to get her name out there so someone else will give her a big superintendent job if she loses this one.

Gates, with his money has a long reach into the media.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 12, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry, educationlover Rhee made it clear from the beginning that she does not seek another superintendent job. Besides, this would be peanuts after being featured in a movie and on Oprah.

She is going BIG TIME and leaving the students behind

Posted by: efavorite | September 12, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

She left the children behind when she came to DCPS.

Perhaps the time article is meant to glorify Blarney Duncan's desire to fire as many teachers (they just all happen to be in high stress high poverty neighborhoods) as possible because they such lazy bums and need to be punished.

Beat those teachers up, that's what they deserve for working in high stress neighborhoods!

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 12, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry, educationlover Rhee made it clear from the beginning that she does not seek another superintendent job. Besides, this would be peanuts after being featured in a movie and on Oprah.

She is going BIG TIME and leaving the students behind

Posted by: efavorite | September 12, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Oprah is just another member of the Chicago groupies, remember?

Imagine what it will say about Obama's education plan if a major city with a TFA fake chancellor and a mayor who sees himself as a baby Obama with control of the urban system is voted out?

Looks as if it may be time change we can believe in...hummm?

Posted by: lacy41 | September 12, 2010 10:36 PM | Report abuse

What do you want to bet Obama asked Oprah to once again save the day?

Posted by: lacy41 | September 12, 2010 10:40 PM | Report abuse

The gulf between effective school reform and the policies pursued by Chancellor Rhee is even larger than the gulf created by her statements in support of mayor Fenty and to diminish Chairman Gray.

There can be no purpose served for her to stay on, as her potential for fame and fortune is much greater outside DCPS.

Furthermore, there is a significant risk to Rhee if ...

1) there are further test result disappointments, and they are likely ...

2) there is an increasing frequency of criticism and examination of many unsupportable statements and claims of success, including many from her past that will come under renewed scrutiny ...

3) there is increased opposition by educators within DCPS of her actions and policies as her power to squash dissenting views is significantly curtailed by the new administration.

There is one indisputable truth; the Chancellor hates to fail and she has never accepted responsibility when she does. When faced with the overwhelming odds of failure in an administration that will actually hold her accountable for her conduct, she will find the best way to exit while preserving her future options.

Las Vegas Betting Odds of Rhee being Chancellor on February 1st, 2011:
150 to 1

Posted by: AGAAIA | September 13, 2010 4:06 AM | Report abuse

"So if Rhee stays, she needs to see beyond her own rhetoric and broaden her idea of how teachers and schools should be assessed. No single test can do that, nor, for that matter, can the IMPACT teacher evaluation system, which works in a system guaranteed to fail."

As for student tests, the question that must be addressed is; why is there a need for these tests in the first place? What possibly could have prompted every state in the country to pursue such an extreme measure? Impartial third-party state NCLB tests were instituted because too many teachers were fudging their grades. This resulted in ubiquitous social promotions and 'graduating' students reading at a second or third grade level (sometimes even lower). If teachers could not be trusted for this critical feedback, what was the alternative?

As for Rhee's IMPACT teacher evaluation program, it will clearly be challenging to carry out but the alternative - return to sporadic or no teacher observations, and just as bad and/or disingenuous, the announced dog and pony show evaluations that allowed teachers to look like superstars for forty-five minutes only to return to slugs as soon as the evaluator left the room.

Try being a little more honest Val, and your columns might then be able to realize an iota of credibility. Presented such as this one your bias against the Chancellor completely overshadows any possibility of genuineness.

Posted by: phoss1 | September 13, 2010 6:02 AM | Report abuse

A Montgomery County teacher called into a WAMU talk show a few months ago and said that IMPACT was not very different from the eval system in place in Mont Cty, and wondered what all the fuss was about.

I don't know if her take is correct or not, but I sure would like to see the WPost education reporters compare DC's IMPACT to the eval systems in place in other, higher-functioning jurisdictions.

Posted by: trace1 | September 13, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Core Instruction, Test Preparation, Standardized Test, Core Instruction, Test Preparation, Standardized Test, Core Instruction, Test Preparation, Standardized Test, Core Instruction, Test Preparation, Standardized Test, Core Instruction, Test Preparation, Standardized Test, Core Instruction, Test Preparation, Standardized Test, Core Instruction, Test Preparation, Standardized Test, Core Instruction, Test Preparation, Standardized Test, Core Instruction, Test Preparation, Standardized Test, Core Instruction, Test Preparation, Standardized Test, Core Instruction, Test Preparation, Standardized Test, Core Instruction, Test Preparation, Standardized Test ...

Thanks kids!
It has been an outstanding year!
See you next year!

Posted by: AGAAIA | September 13, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company