Is Rhee's key D.C. reform being tossed?
While Michelle Rhee is busy trying to build up a national organization to take on the teachers unions, back in Washington D.C., where she was chancellor for nearly 3 1/2 years, the new mayor may be on the road to taking apart her signature reform.
My colleague Bill Turque reported that new Mayor Vincent C. Gray just made his most detailed comments about the IMPACT teacher evaluation system that Rhee instituted and likes to point to as a success.
Gray told a crowd at a panel discussion that IMPACT isn’t fair to instructors in schools with large numbers of students challenged by the effects of poverty and other social conditions.
"It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s got a long way to go to be a fair evaluation," he said.
There are some who may say that Gray is simply throwing a verbal bone to the Washington Teachers Union, which was a major financial supporter of his candicacy and whose new president, Nathan Saunders, wants to replace IMPACT.
But the issue of how poverty affects the performance of students and teachers is one that has long concerned Gray, in contrast to a central tenet of Rhee that says great teachers can overcome the effects of poverty, and that bad teachers cite poverty as “an excuse” for poor performance.
Rhee’s interim successor as chancellor of D.C. public schools, Kaya Henderson, was Rhee’s deputy and a close ally, but finds herself in a very different position as schools boss than did Rhee.
Rhee essentially had the power to do whatever she wanted; then Mayor Adrian Fenty, who hired her, gave her carte blanche to run the system. She was, apparently, so worried about losing this power that she quit last fall when Gray defeated Fenty in the city’s Democratic primary.
Gray has made it clear that he intends to play an important role in running the schools. And though Henderson was on board with Rhee while Rhee ran the schools, she was quoted by Turque as saying that she believes she can reach common ground with Gray.
That spirit of compromise ultimately could serve the city’s schools better than Rhee’s my-way-or-the-highway approach to leadership.
Meanwhile, Henderson finds herself having to clean up some of the messes that Rhee left behind, including leadership problems at several schools.
You won’t hear Rhee talking about that as she travels the country trying to meet her fundraising goal of $1 billion for her Students First organization. She just announced a new ally in her cause, Bill Cosby.
I’ve written before about problems with IMPACT, which brought national attention to Rhee when she launched it in 2009. Teacher evaluation systems in many cities have long been in need of reform, including in Washington D.C., but, of course, the question is how.
Rhee spent millions of dollars to create IMPACT, which immediately drew complaints from teachers because it insisted on unrealistic requirements. Initially, for example, teachers were required to show more than 20 specific teaching techniques in the space of a 30-minute on-site evaluation.
The number of proficiencies required to be displayed was later reduced, but problems continued: Some teachers did not get the five 30-minute evaluations they were supposed to get, and there were complaints that some teachers were being judged by student test scores while others were not.
In addition, there were complaints that some evaluations of teachers took into account challenges certain students face, while most did not.
Last year Rhee fired 126 teachers based on poor IMPACT evaluations. But the problem, teachers and others said, was that IMPACT wasn't designed well enough to know whether they should have been let go.
Here's more of what Gray said the other day at the panel discussion about IMPACT: "I guess I would say at this stage... it's a step in the right direction, but it's got a long way to go to be a fair evaluation of our teachers. And frankly any system that isn't sensitive to the differences in challenges of the kids in the schools only encourages teachers to teach in one part of the city and not in the other parts."
If Gray really believes this, and there's no reason to think he doesn't, he would do well to move quickly to fix the teacher evaluation system. This will be a big test about how serious he is about reforming Rhee's reforms and improving the D.C. public schools.
And other school districts around the country that seem to think that Rhee performed miracles while she was D.C. schools chancellor would do well to look at what she really did -- and didn't do -- before buying into the Rhee narrative.
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| January 19, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories: D.C. Schools, Michelle Rhee, Teacher assessment | Tags: IMPACT, IMPACT evaluation system, IMPACT teacher evaluation, d.c. schools, kaya henderson, mayor vincent gray, michelle rhee, school reform, teacher assessment, teacher evaluation, vincent gray
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