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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 01/19/2011

Is Rhee's key D.C. reform being tossed?

By Valerie Strauss

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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By Valerie Strauss  | 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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Still kicking Michelle Rhee under the bus. Come on, Val. It could be time to move on.

"...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."

So, by this line of reasoning, you're suggesting we should simply write off all kids living in poverty? I'd have to respectfully disagree. Every student can learn. If there are teachers anywhere who don't believe this, they should be shown the door of the school and encouraged to seek alternative employment. At least Rhee was willing to take the high road on this issue.

Posted by: phoss1 | January 19, 2011 7:55 AM | Report abuse

"So, by this line of reasoning, you're suggesting we should simply write off all kids living in poverty?"

No, phoss1 - you're making a straw man argument.

The point is that if we truly want to help kids living in poverty, we must address the effects of poverty directly and not just blame teachers or expect miracles from them. That's what Gray is saying and what many citizens, whether liberal, moderate or conservative, understand.

Posted by: efavorite | January 19, 2011 8:07 AM | Report abuse

"Little girl, be careful what you say/ when you make talk with words."

Yep, I have to agree with efav here. Phoss1 needs work on constructing non-hyperbolic, linear,or cogent arguments in general. Tsk, tsk, so many times, so many times, Phoss1.

I agree that "every student can learn," but some, like yourself, take a little longer to do so than others.

Posted by: DHume1 | January 19, 2011 8:35 AM | Report abuse

I don't think IMPACT is going to be gotten rid of, it is too important to have some method of evaluating teachers.

What needs to be done is it needs to be done well, and not thrown together as this was. Principals were trained on it on a Thursday and presented it to their staffs of Friday.

Although I do think it's pretty clear that "value-added" with regards to DCCAS has been pretty well discredited with regards to both the testing instrument and the volatility is creates, I don't think it would be impossible to create a value added model that was at least useful as part of an evaluation system.

The Teaching and Learning Framework, which is the bulk of the evaluation for non testing grades, is not ideal, but is servicable if there is consistancy and some reasonable expectations. Neither of these are being met right now. Teachers are judged highly effective by one ME and ineffective by another, and that's just crazy. If the TLF could be streamlined and properly normed it would be a valuable tool.

Most teachers are not opposed to reasonable evaluation, but IMPACT is a very flawed instrument, and Mr. Gray is right to point that out.

Nobody is saying that we don't want to teach kids in poverty, but to fail to acknowledge the social, economic and other factors that make it more difficult to teach students in poverty is just hiding the problem.

Kids who haven't eaten will do worse in class then kids who have. Kids who have been read to for an hour every night will come into 1st grade with advantages. Kids who get beaten up for carrying schoolbooks home (if they have a home) will tend not to do that.

The things listed above are all very real issues. Pretending that teachers by themselves should or can be responsible for making kids succeed despite that is not realistic. We will do the best we can to act as parents, social workers, and educators all at the same time. However, these kids need more support then teachers alone can provide them. If those supports aren't there, then many will fail to succeed.

I'm sure there are bad or below average teachers, and I'm fine getting rid of them. However, it is tiresome to hear teachers blamed for all of education's ills when there is so much more to it then that.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | January 19, 2011 9:45 AM | Report abuse

How can there be an intelligent debate when writers, like V. Matthews, attribute negative motives to M. Rhee ("She was, apparently, so worried about losing her power that she quit last fall when Grey defeated Fenty....") when Ms. Matthews couldn't possibly know what motivated the resignation? Why not stick to the facts instead of characterizing Rhee as someone who is power hungry? The Teachers' Union donated a million dollars to the Grey campaign - unheard of for a mayoral race. I wonder what they were hoping he would do regarding Ms. Rhee's continued employment at DC Schools Chancellor?

Posted by: PotsdamEducation | January 19, 2011 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Wrym1 says, "to fail to acknowledge the social, economic and other factors that make it more difficult to teach students in poverty is just hiding the problem."

Right - and it makes it impossible to really help the kids the reformers say they care so much about. Apparently, they care more about their dogma than they care about children.

Posted by: efavorite | January 19, 2011 10:58 AM | Report abuse


Here is the situation in simple terms:

Little Luis misses a lot of school because of untreated asthma. Rhee says "No excuses, Luis can learn with a good teacher."

Those of us who are truly interested in the education of Luis say, "Let's get Luis some good medical care so he can get to school where a good teacher awaits him."

No one ever said poor kids can't learn. That doesn't even make sense. What we do say is let's give them some of the social and medical supports that successful students take for granted. We want poor children to learn MORE than they're learning at this time.

As for the "high road," why is it that Rhee and all the other "reformers" leave the classroom as fast as they can? Wouldn't it be great if we could put all of them in one impoverished school so they could show the rest of us how it's done?

If you are honest with yourself, Phoss, there is likely something else you are after. Are you the "manager" of a charter school? Would you like to be? Are you the executive for a testing company or a "nonprofit?" educational organization?

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | January 19, 2011 11:26 AM | Report abuse

"No one ever said poor kids can't learn. That doesn't even make sense. What we do say is let's give them some of the social and medical supports that successful students take for granted. We want poor children to learn MORE than they're learning at this time."

Agreed. Rhee's problem -- and I think she is fair game to talk about, since she's gone national with her agenda -- was that her "no-excuses" mantra translated to "just fix it already," as if a teacher could somehow overcome an avalanche of social problems. True education reform needs to be comprehensive and multifaceted, not just limited to instruction, one of the reasons I still think the ED department should be folded back into Health and Human Services.

Posted by: joshofstl1 | January 19, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

There is no easy way to reform anything and teaching was never easy to begin with. Even schools with wealthy, healthy students have problems.

One idea that is incorrect is that she doesn't/didn't value professional development for teachers. Not all teachers were trained for IMPACT. Thus, it wasn't implemented fairly. And besides the fairness issue, you have to know why you are doing what you are doing.

Posted by: ubblybubbly | January 19, 2011 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I mean that the dismissal of professional development and further studies for teachers is one of Rhee's incorrect ideas. She would have us believe that teacher training doesn't matter. It does.

Posted by: ubblybubbly | January 19, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

I just googled Phoss1 and this is the first thing that came up:

"NonProfitPeople: Networking for Nonprofit Professionals."

I feel certain that this "reform" movement is really about money and how to discredit our public schools for the purpose of gaining access to school tax funds. I just hope the public catches on before we have another Wall Street fiasco, only this time with our schools. And of course we know the poor kids will be the first, and the biggest, victims.

The real reformers are in the schools, teaching the children and searching for new ways to improve achievement. And, oh yes, many of them are paying to equip their classrooms with books and supplies.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | January 19, 2011 1:22 PM | Report abuse

1) This stereo-type of teachers thinking poor and minority kids can't learn has got to go. In six years of teaching this population, I have NEVER heard a teacher say that. So quit it. This is less about ability than it is about effort. Teachers should always be trying to engage students and make things interesting in order to coax effort. But students have to meet us half way on this. For, presumably, the complex of reasons cited by Mr. Gray, many simply do not.

2) I am no fan of IMPACT for the reasons discussed above and others. Just because it is a rubric doesn't mean it is objective. This could easily be used by admin to get rid of teachers who have fallen out of favor. On the other hand, after two years I feel like I'm starting to get it. Now we might change it again?

3) Whether and how IMPACT will change should be made clear ASAP. Teachers who score in a certain range on this rubric for two years in a row (this being the middle of the second year) are subject to dismissal. Ms. Henderson has indicated that this will go forward. But with Mr. Gray's recent comments, I'm not sure that is so clear. There will almost certainly be several hundred teachers in this category at the end of the year.

Let's help kids. But let's also remember that we are subjecting the livelihoods and careers of adults to a nebulous, untested evaluation system that is at once complicated, punitive and keeps changing.

A little respect, please.

Mr. Teachbad

Posted by: mrteachbad | January 19, 2011 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Wyrm1, thank you for a very accurate, thoughtful and comprehensive set of comments in your post above.
Many of us appreciate your sharing here.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | January 19, 2011 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Haha! Here we go. The long spiral downwards to bankrupcty. Just give the Teacher's unions whatever they want. Forget about the kids. Its the union reps that matter.

Posted by: shred11 | January 19, 2011 3:58 PM | Report abuse


Yes, they can clone stupidity. Proof of it can be seen in shred11's post. Another exaggerated, off-topic argument, suspiciously similar in structure and style to phoss1's. Yes, it would appear that your cognitive abilities went bankrupt year ago. But no worries. I'm here to bail you out:

Just because people disagree with your point, it doesn't mean that they will "forget about the kids." People and their opinions are so much more than all or nothing. They obviously have a different opinion of what they think is best for kids. Grow up and experience the kaleidoscope of opinions and differences that this world has to offer. But, even more importantly, learn how to effectively use sarcasm in a post without making yourself look like a donkey's backside in the process.

Posted by: DHume1 | January 19, 2011 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I don't think anyone's suggesting that there be no teacher evaluation tool. there's always been one, as far as I know -- as in most jobs.

It's this particular tool that has so many faults, that so many people saw from the beginning. Let's see now, if the adults responsible will own up to their mistakes, or if they'll stonewall like stubborn children.

Posted by: efavorite | January 19, 2011 5:08 PM | Report abuse


Google: Paul Hoss, retired Massachusetts public school teacher.

I seem to recall seeing your entries in a number of places, sons at Stanford or Harvard?

Posted by: phoss1 | January 19, 2011 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Past time to smarten up, folks. "Credit recovery," in its best configuration is designed and operated to give students who are in the middle of failure a way of salvaging their participation in school.

Best management of teachers who from IMPACT measurements -- faulty or otherwise -- will lose their jobs at year end would treat those teachers so their students don't seriously lose, as teachers expecting to quit or be fired themselves lose motivation to do their jobs or even to show up. The dirty secret is that DCPS, like most schools and systems has NO WAY to salvage the school year for the students. It is as though treating patients in a hospital who acquire infections during their stay gets lower priority than finding and firing those who must be found responsible.

Most teacher partisans here have been commenting for months or years in this or similar forums as though teachers who abandon teachers have given their all until their last day of work and have seen their students' interests upheld in during the final months of work / custody.
That is a damaging fiction made worse by Spring tests that are high-stakes for ALL teachers and and many of their supervisors.

There are wounded, damaged, and failing teachers in classrooms; and this IMPACT hammer to smash the lot of them is further damaging them, their colleagues, and their students.

Posted by: incredulous | January 19, 2011 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Hopefully Gray and Henderson can find a less expensive, more practical way to do teacher evaluations.

Posted by: educationlover54 | January 19, 2011 6:50 PM | Report abuse

I enjoy and usually learn from efav's thoughtful posts.

But it doesn't seem that she's trying to change the convo to something constructive about Impact, as much as continue to bash Rhee and any other party that pushes for change soon, rather than decades from now.

On Jan 16 at 10:13 am, she put Rhee and [Adolph] Hitler in the same bunker, er, category. ("Do you also think it would have been a good idea to stop discussing Hitler after he killed himself in a bunker?")

BTW, sources suggest that the mayor will entertain a complete replacement for Impact if it can be devised and refined in 90-120 days. Oh, I know that's scary because anyone with half a brain knows that devising a new teacher eval system should take at least 4-5 years, or more.

IMPACT'S main critics will not name a timeframe; they just want it gone. Efav and others seem to figuratively shrug their shoulders, favoring the happy-talk eval that came before and which rated the vast majority of teachers as very good to great.

Obviously, that system was valid--the proof is in the educational progress of The Children, whom IMPACT critics rarely mention. Great teachers yield truly bad education. Makes a lot of sense to these people--but not to Rhee or almost anyone else.

And Professor DHume continues the sad tutorial for wayward posters. He's counseling on the correct use of sarcasm and withholding his secret plan for IMPACT improvements.

Posted by: axolotl | January 19, 2011 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Rick Scott has gone all in with Rhee's fraud in Florida. Like most Republican's he sings to the music of anyone whom demonizes teachers via their unions. No wonder teachers - ALL of whom are college graduates dismiss Republican like Scott, Jeb Bush and Rhee for their self serving naivete.

Posted by: coachsikes | January 19, 2011 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Nice summation of some things, water-breather, but you seem to have left out a very crucial part here: your involvement.

By the way, I have no idea how to fix IMPACT. I do not even know all of its fine points enough to even criticize or praise it.

I love how you continue to fantasize about what you know nothing about. I think even Tolkien himself would be proud of your ability to create a mythos for just about anything. Your ability to create fictive worlds and situations is comparable in scope and size to PeeWee's Playhouse Adventures.

Posted by: DHume1 | January 19, 2011 9:40 PM | Report abuse

efav doesn't like the fact that Rhee claimed she raised test scores from 13% to 90% and then was hired on that basis. He/she doesn't believe her and has cited statistics that show that is false.

Teachers over 40 don't really like the way Rhee blames us for everything when we were the ones working for peanuts during the period when others were making millions in finance, etc. Now we are being blamed for working hard and sacrificing. She demonized teachers basically, so I think we have a right to say what we want. I am not in a union, by the way.

Who is a water-breather? What does that mean?

By the way, what does everyone think about the Florida classrooms that don't have teachers?

Posted by: ubblybubbly | January 19, 2011 9:55 PM | Report abuse


An axolotl is a little Mexican salamander that has a propensity to regrow limbs or ideas that it finds superfluous. It usually resides in wet, dark places that rarely see the light of day; one can tell by its pasty, white skin that it doesn't get around much. Scientists frequently study them in the hopes of replicating its highly specialized and freaky-weird talents. So far all their efforts have been fruitless endeavors.

Posted by: DHume1 | January 19, 2011 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Prof. Dhume can relax, because "P-size" on his remote does not refer to his uber pedantic (and fictive) comments, although it is clear there are other implications.

Posted by: axolotl | January 19, 2011 10:51 PM | Report abuse

O what profane imagery and debased intimations, Ax. Your mom must be proud of the phallic fantasies that you project on others. This is not the first time you have applied this type of trope on me or others here. I suspect that you might have some personal issues that you need to address. Maybe, given some time, you might be able to grow used to who you are as a person. I suggest that you seek out the help of a qualified individual who will help you with your own short-comings.

Posted by: DHume1 | January 20, 2011 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, Rhee is going to base her new organization in Sacramento -- God save us!!! I have BEGGED DR to come for a visit and to speak, but I would also ask that YOU make the trek -- WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!

Also, someone passed along info about a group from Chicago that speaks to the issues of scandalous charters and that they are NOT the answer to all that ails public ed in Chicago OR elsewhere... Thought you might be interested...§ion=Article

Thank you for all you do....

Posted by: bbbbmer1 | January 20, 2011 7:06 PM | Report abuse

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