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Posted at 3:40 PM ET, 02/23/2011

Rhee’s new campaign is not about the kids

By Valerie Strauss

Former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee likes to say that everything she does is for kids. But the first big campaign of her “Students First” organization, announced Wednesday, isn't really about them.

Rhee announced today what she is calling the national Save Great Teachers campaign.

What it’s not about: Giving great teachers what they say they want -- more support to do their jobs in school.

What it is about: Getting state legislatures to eliminate policies that require school districts, in the event of layoffs, to let the last-hired employees go first. This way, principals can supposedly save great young teachers and get rid of lousy older teachers.

Rhee’s intentions become transparent when one considers how to really protect great teachers: a reliable, valid, multi-part assessment system. If Rhee were so concerned about saving great teachers of any age, she would be more interested in immediately pursuing a valid assessment tool. If teachers were properly evaluated and those who don't belong in the classroom really removed, then the last-hired first-fired wouldn't be an issue, and the kids and adults would benefit.

Rhee did create a new teacher assessment system while she was D.C. schools chancelleor, called IMPACT, but after millions of dollars put into it, the system has been sharply criticized.

Among the problems cited about IMPACT are that it is highly punitive though provides little support for teachers, and that it relies on student standardized test scores, which research has shown are prone to error and ignore the fact that the quality of teaching isn’t the only factor that goes into how well a student performs on a single test. The system, unveiled in 2009, has undergone revisions though teachers still say it is unfair.

It is now common currency in school reform circles to blame teachers unions for pretty much everything wrong in schools, except for those things that can be laid at the steps of bad parents and lazy students. It doesn’t matter to people who want to union bash that the problems in schools are identical in states with unionized teachers and with non-unionized teachers, and that, perhaps, whatever one thinks about unions, the basic problems lie elsewhere.

It's tiring to hear the mantra “it’s for the kids,” or “students first” every time someone takes an anti-union step, but that any teacher who fights for his/her rights is only thinking about themselves and not the kids.

That is what is being said of the protesting teachers in Wisconsin by their critics, because they are fighting to keep their collective bargaining rights, which the Republican governor, Scott Walker, has vowed to eliminate.

Why shouldn’t the teachers protest? They already made monetary concessions and the governor still wants to strip them of the right to bargain in the future.

Why didn’t anybody say that plans just announced in Detroit to close half of the schools, a move that will create high school classes of about 60 students, is all about the adults and their failure to properly budget? Where is the concern for the kids here? Why isn’t someone figuring out how to protect the kids from humongous classes?

Maybe Michelle Rhee could have offered financial help to reduce class size in Detroit. Now THAT would be kid-friendly.

It is true that over time teachers and their unions haven’t done themselves any great favors by saving the ultimate tool -- taking to the streets and shutting down schools -- to save their own collective bargaining rights.

How come teachers did not actively protest the imposition of a standardized testing dominated accountability system hen they knew that it would narrow curriculum and perpetuate invalid notions of success and failure?

It is safe to say that had they taken to the streets over No Child Left Behind, they would have been been accused of being obstructionist, lazy and afraid of being held accountable.

Oh wait. That happened anyway.

If they didn't loudly protest before over the shape of school reform as they should have, teachers are now worked up. Teachers and parents are planning a march on Washington July 28-31 in an effort to “organize and reclaim control of our schools.” That’s what the Save Our Schools March Web site says.

They can only hope that someone will be listening listening, and that they aren't too late.

Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported when the Philanthropy Roundtable held an annual conference, with a session entitled "How to End Teacher Tenure." The conference was last fall.



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  | February 23, 2011; 3:40 PM ET
Categories:  Michelle Rhee, Teachers  | Tags:  last hired first fired, michelle rhee, save great teachers, students first, teacher tenure, teachers, teachers and protests, wisconsin protests, wisconsin teachers  
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Next: The day all the public schools died

Comments

Perhaps it would be better named the "Save Cheap Teachers" campaign.

Posted by: MisterRog | February 23, 2011 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm a retired School Social Worker from New Jersey. When I first started working in public schools in 1975, I saw few students with emotional and behavioral problems. Yes, I had students referred to me with depression and anger issue but a major 'behavioral' infraction such as cursing at a teacher or skipping school. When I left my job two years ago, it is not uncommon for a student to curse at a teacher and to openly defy them. Parents, also, have become more difficult often condoning their children's defiant behavior. I also saw an increase in real cases of autism and other severe neurologically based learning disabilities. And, I saw more and more academic demands placed on teachers and students. We've moved the kindergarten curriculum down to preschool and the high school curriculum down to middle school. There is little room for the student is a 'late bloomer' to be successful in most middle class and affluent school districts. Even though most 14 year old brains have not developed the abstract thinking skills needed for Algebra and Geometry, they are expected to be proficient in them. Because of the NCLB, my middle school administrators shut down the home economics and technology classes to increase math instruction to 80 minutes a day. Some of my learning disabled students with average to above-average intelligence felt even worse about themselves because the mainstream curriculum was beyond their skill levels. I literally took them out of the mainstream so they could work on their math skills and most of them were successful Algebra I students in 9th grade. Yet, they considered themselves behind because they 'should' have been in Algebra I class in 8th grade.

Michelle Rhee speaks about how ' In the 1950s, American's schools were #1 in the world and uses that as an indicator of our decline. In the 1950s' most of the developed nations, excluding Canada, were rebuilding their infrastructure after WWII, whereas, our schools systems had not been destroyed during pre-WWII and WWII as those in Europe. Japan and Korea were developing nations prior to the 1960s.

Tenure is not 'THE PROBLEM'. Teachers are not "The PROBLEM'. It is far more complicated. And, there are far more successful schools then unsuccessful one so why destroy all of them because of someone's idealogy.

Posted by: anne15 | February 23, 2011 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Last Hired, First Fired is still crap.

Signed,
5 year teacher that is now the "last hired" math teacher in his school.

Posted by: someguy100 | February 23, 2011 5:24 PM | Report abuse

anne15:
You are totally on target. I presently teach in an affluent public middle school in northern Virginia. They keep piling on in the curriculum. Average kids feel they're inadequate--forget about SPED and ESOL kids!--and we have to bend over backward to satisfy the GT/honors crowd. Parents treat us like flunkies. It's very discouraging.

Posted by: TeacherTalk | February 23, 2011 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Bravo!

To anyone still confused, just follow the money trail. Where is it going? Who does it benefit?

Michelle Rhee is quite good at leveraging her cache in ed reform circles to drum up funds for her new organization.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | February 23, 2011 6:10 PM | Report abuse

anne15: Well stated; I saw all of the same changes you describe over my years of teaching.....our nation has changed rapidly in the last couple of generations, and schools are taking the brunt of those changes. Profound societal changes are pretty much out of teachers' control.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | February 23, 2011 6:30 PM | Report abuse

What we need need is a persistent and loud effort by teachers to be organized and heard; every Sun/Saturday/holiday/after school/pick a day, masses of teachers turn out in locales around the country.

We do not live in a world where people without money or power get heard, unless somehow someone in the media makes a big ruckus and stands up (which I do not see happening any time soon) OR masses of people get FED UP and decide to BE the news.

Posted by: adcpsteacher | February 23, 2011 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Oh and I should say, splashes the news all over (I love Valerie and read her every column/post and appreciate her reporting on Rhee but unfortunately it is drowned out by the significantly larger and more financially-endowed other side).

Posted by: adcpsteacher | February 23, 2011 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Funny thing about the whole IMPACT THING, (which, when you dive into it, is actually the foundation for a great teacher improvement system, )...it took trying to get rid of teachers to motivate someone to provide training to help ALL teachers!

Posted by: petercat926 | February 23, 2011 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Once again, Valerie Strauss simply doesn't get it! How many teachers, Valerie, have you observed teaching in DCPS? How many have you seen attend collaboration time, report to duty on time, complete their lesson plans, attend meetings? The answer is none.

You continue to defend a national system that isn't producing literate, smart students. If one is to take your argument seriously and purport that louzy parents and lazy students are the reason for ineffective student performance then you're making the argument against the need for schools!

If students who learn do so only because they are self motivated and have healthy, loving parents then why do we need teachers? What's the purpose of school? Rhetorical, by the way...

Teachers are supposed to inspire their students to reach goals and motivate them to be intellectually curious by making the learning relevant; especially in schools where students come without support at home. This is what Rhee is trying to say. Only the best teachers, the most inspirational, the most innovative and creative can be in our classrooms where students have the largest deficits and biggest shortcomings because only those kind of teachers can reach them.

You're right about one thing--if you put an ineffective teacher in a classroom with students who have parents that can afford to get them tutors and support them with strict guidelines then that student can overcome a terrible teacher. Unfortunately, in our urban schools an ineffective teacher cannot be overcome by students who lack the same resources.

The reality is you and Rhee are saying the same thing just differently. You believe that well adjusted kids can overcome ineffective teachers and Rhee believes that great teachers can overcome poverty.

You're both right on this. Where you are dead wrong is in your assertion that great teachers can't overcome these factors.

It happens every day.

The greatest students throughout history often ascended because of their greatest teachers!

Posted by: teacher6402 | February 23, 2011 7:23 PM | Report abuse

One more angry and blind column on this blog. The motto of this blog should be:

Leave No Teacher Behind

Unfortunately, that is a major contributor to the steady decline of DCPS over decades. Rhee was catching up for all of the negligent supts. who lacked the cojones to evaluate teachers properly and stand up to the union and its predictable goals. Local Six remains steadfast in its zero-sum game with students, and it is sad, but not surprising, to read a respected WaPo person support that arithmetic.

Posted by: axolotl | February 23, 2011 7:37 PM | Report abuse

I'm a Rhee supporter and emailed her on the the problems with what she's proposing on her reduction in force concept.

It's simply misguided to believe all young teachers are the best and brightest of our staffs and all veterans are the duds of the school. Each case needs to be vetted individually.

I'm hoping she'll change her tune, or at least modify it.

Posted by: paulhoss | February 23, 2011 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Letter to the Washington Post

The Washington Post should either remove Mr. Mathews or publicly reprimand Mr. Mathews for his article "Why do great school systems fear charters?"

Mr. Mathews in this article has attempted to use his influence as a columnist with falsehoods, and distortions of the truth to reverse a decision so that private organizations will receive millions from public funds.

It is hard to find in the article a line that is not either a deliberate falsehood, or a deliberate distortion of the truth.

Mr. Mathews does not indicate that it is not $550,000 grant that he mentions, but millions of county funds that will be required for operating two schools if the decision is reversed.

Mr. Mathews uses deliberate falsehoods in his various claims of no explanations being provided in regard to the decision to not approve the applications for public funds, since Mr. Mathews is fully aware of a report that contains detailed descriptions of the concerns of the panel that did not approve the applications.

Mr. Mathews provides no substantial quotes from this report of the panel, but feels it is appropriate to claim without a shred of supporting evidence that the report of the panel is "their worries reads like a neurotic mother’s letter to her son at summer camp, bemoaning all the terrible things that might happen". This false description of the report of the panel is immediately obvious to any individual that reviews the report of the panel.

Mr. Mathews also uses a deliberate falsehood in regard to "raising the achievement of low-income children" since he is fully aware that there is only a very small minority of low-income children in the county, and that enrollment in schools in this county can not legally limited to this small minority of low-income children in the county.

Mr. Mathews is also fully aware that in Montgomery county the large majority of the public funds for public education come directly from the residents of the county. There is only limited amounts of funds from the state and the federal government. Mr. Mathews does not mention this since it would give justification to accepting the decision of the county on the use of funds for public education, since the county is providing the large majority of these funds.

Mr. Mathews is also fully aware and does not mention that in counties where residents pay the overwhelming majority of the costs of public education costs, it is normal to place on the ballot new proposals in regard to uses of millions for public education. In Montgomery county the private organizations have made no attempt to place their proposals regarding millions from the resident of the county on the local ballot.

It is one thing for a columnist to freely comment on a government decision but it quite a different thing for a columnist to use falsehoods and distortions in an attempt to reverse a decision that will result in private organizations receiving millions from public funds.

Posted by: joe_banana | February 23, 2011 8:01 PM | Report abuse

"joe_bananas" sounds a lot like bsall., but that is probably a coincidence.

Posted by: axolotl | February 23, 2011 8:18 PM | Report abuse

"joe_bananas" sounds a lot like bsall., but that is probably a coincidence.

Posted by: axolotl
..........................
No b sall amack has been banned because he tried to post and he asked joe_banana to post the message that caused his banning.

Posted by: joe_banana | February 23, 2011 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, do you know how much the national teachers unions and their state and local affiliates spend EVERY YEAR on various items? Do you know that it's $1.9 billion dollars (yes, that's "billion" with a "b"). Do you know that more than half of that is spent on various forms of "communications" including lobbying?

You criticize Michelle (who's worked in the public sector and nonprofit sector her whole life) for not offering to raise money for Detroit to avoid layoffs -- but where is your criticisms of the unions, who could eliminate ALL layoffs this year by simply taking a year off of political lobbying?

Posted by: DCresident31 | February 23, 2011 9:06 PM | Report abuse

"It's simply misguided to believe all young teachers are the best and brightest of our staffs and all veterans are the duds of the school. Each case needs to be vetted individually."

Hey switch "young teachers" and "veterans" and you've got the last hired first fired system!

Posted by: someguy100 | February 23, 2011 9:14 PM | Report abuse

@someguy: good one! clever!

Posted by: axolotl | February 23, 2011 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Dear Member,

In school, having a great teacher is the single most important factor in determining a student's success. Giving America's kids the best education in the world is only possible with the best teachers in the world.

States are being forced to make major cuts in education, with 45 states and the District of Columbia predicting huge budget shortfalls totaling $125 billion. And with these cuts our nation is at risk of losing some of our brightest, most effective teachers.

Right now in schools across the country, the last teacher hired has to be the first teacher fired, regardless of how good they are. A teacher's performance plays no role in who stays and who goes. This policy, based on seniority rather than effectiveness, is referred to as LIFO (Last In, First Out) -- and it is crippling our schools.

That's why we've launched the Save Great Teachers Campaign.Watch our video to learn more and pledge to get involved now:

http://studentsfirst.org/saveteachersvideo

We can't afford to pull highly effective teachers out of America's classrooms. This is just the beginning of a very important campaign. In the next few weeks, we will ask you to take specific actions to engage with your legislators. We need your help to save great teachers.

Thanks,

Michelle

Michelle Rhee
CEO and Founder
StudentsFirst

Posted by: frankb1 | February 23, 2011 11:54 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Valerie Strauss for keeping us up to date on the Randi Weingarten view of things.

And not everyone accuses you of being obstructionist, lazy and afraid of being held accountable. The AFT still loves you.

Posted by: frankb1 | February 24, 2011 12:10 AM | Report abuse

As usual, the latest Michelle Rhee venture is all about her, and it's based on a phony argument.

And as usual, some her her conservative sycophants are offering up the same distorted line of support, heavy on opinion and virtually devoid of substantive evidence.

One commenter demonstrates an utter lack of insight into the history and purpose of public education by tossing out the question "What's the purpose of school? " only to ratchet away and say the question is only "Rhetorical, by the way.." Really?

This is one of the most serious and insidious faults of the corporate reformers like Rhee. For them it's really about the money. It's about tapping state and federal treasuries to take public money and make it their profit. It's about reversing the original purpose of public education’s role in promoting the values and principles of republican democracy, including freedom, equality, justice and the public good. It emphasizes private (economic) freedom over the general welfare.

But pushing an agenda like this is not easy, so it is masqueraded. It's given a nice name, usually involving "kids" or "America," and it uses a public relations campaign to propagandize with lies and distortions. It's been effective in its misinformation. But all the "reforms" that it's pushed (more and more testing, charter schools, merit pay for teachers) are a bust. Now the focus has shifted to unions.

It is quite interesting that in South Korea, which performs quite well on international tests that conservatives love to cite (except when they don't), and in a number of other nations, the central government has committed to more equitable funding, a common curriculum for all, investments in social and economic programs that assist kids.

Also in South Korea, conservative leaders rail against the teacher unions as " a left-wing group." They don't like the fact that teachers have helped to expose government and corporate fraud.

And that's what conservatives in the nation have given us...a huge, unmitigated, corporate fraud. In the sub-prime mortgage market. On Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms. And in public education.

George Washington,Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann and other early advocates for public schools agreed that democratic citizenship (and not corporate welfare) was a primary function of education.

Michelle Rhee and her cronies don't really believe that.

I think that's still the case. We have much work to do.

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 24, 2011 8:54 AM | Report abuse

teacher6402,

I also agree that great teachers can make great gains. But let's be realistic. Even with great teachers, some students will still fail. A dolt can examine student data over longitudinal periods and see the crests and valleys of students, even from great teachers.

Examine the consequences and rationale for what Rhee is proposing: It suggests that great teachers are prescriptive magic pills that will solve all educational ills. It suggests that there is a deluge of new teachers out there who are "great" when all evidence to the contrary is only a click away. It values callowness over wisdom and experience; no other profession in any sector, public or private, does this in a credible fashion. It focuses on the search for ElDorado's gold, when anyone with a lick of intelligence knows that she will only encounter a "pilgrim shadow."

If she were truly concerned about Education in the US, she would start a campaign that focuses on saving the arts or sports or electives in education. These programs have been cut due to budget issues all over the US. They are more than just peripheral areas in education; they are separate avenues in education that spark interest in learning and experiencing the world. And for many, these areas, the ones being cut, are the very things that makes schooling tolerable for the underprivileged and the poor.

Posted by: DHume1 | February 24, 2011 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Prof. DHume1 wants to divert Rhee to shoring up sports and arts activity and curriculum budgets. His points about their value are legitimate. But he seems to just want to make [bad schools] "tolerable for the underprivileged and the poor."

A tad arrogant, with a sense of someone's burden, sort of like helping them get through the night.

Professor: suggest you think bigger, i.e., about meaningful improvement in core education delivered in reading, writing, math, history, and some practical skills, rather than just prescribing a palliative.

Your suggestion is almost hospice-like, but, sincerely, maybe you did not intend it to come across that way.

Posted by: axolotl | February 24, 2011 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Valerie Strauss wrote:
"How come teachers did not actively protest the imposition of a standardized testing dominated accountability system hen they knew that it would narrow curriculum and perpetuate invalid notions of success and failure?"

Some of us were...but even our own so-called advocates weren't listening. When Sen Kennedy signed NCLB with Geo W Bush...the NEA closed its eyes and crossed its fingers...and hoped it would go away.

There were new business items after nbi's that addressed the fears of classroom teachers...but our so-called representatives/leaders closed their ears.

In 1999 I was quoted on Susan Ohanian's blog with my concerns about memorization and teaching to the test....and how it will affect learning.

While we are barraged with an excessive number of reality shows...we have a bad habit in this country of not listening to those who face the real world every day....relying too often on quasi-experts and only those who happen to know the "right" people...and are, for the most part, isolated from the rest of us.

It becomes more apparent every day that the "real world" of public schools is considered entertainment or a feel-good "hobby" by the likes of Gates, the Koch brothers, Eli Broad and others.

Posted by: ilcn | February 24, 2011 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Caecilian,

I didn't think about it being hospice-like, but I must admit that there are a few similarities. It is probably not the best metaphor, though. People are usually dying who get hospice care. The students who benefit from those cut programs and classes are being revitalized by them. A better metaphor for you might be that this suggestion fixes a broken appendage for "bad schools" but does not address the disease that makes it ill. But again we have a problem with this comparison as well: I wasn't only talking about "bad schools." I was talking about All Schools that have been affected by budget cuts. Since Rhee's plan addresses all schools, I was addressing all schools as well. Need to be a little more care there next time.

I agree that my proposal is a "tad arrogant." But there is a spectrum of arrogance, and I am just a tiny spittle of arrogance compared with Rhee's vomited hubris. I also do tend to think small. I think that's because I do not believe in magic pills or silver bullets, especially when it comes to education for all.

Posted by: DHume1 | February 24, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Quoting 'Teacher6402':
"Once again, Valerie Strauss simply doesn't get it! How many teachers, Valerie, have you observed teaching in DCPS? How many have you seen attend collaboration time, report to duty on time, complete their lesson plans, attend meetings? The answer is none."
=======================
Wow, "Teacher6402". You know for a fact that not a single DCPS teacher gets to work on time, attends meetings, does their lesson plans? Wow.
Your omniscience is uncanny.
We should let you actually teach all of the students in DCPS single-handedly.

Posted by: TexasIke59 | February 24, 2011 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I don't think my blog can survive without ballsamack. I wondered what happened to him. He or his avatar should contact me at mathewsj@washpost.com and we will get to the bottom of this. I don't think washingtonpost.com is physically capable of banning anybody, but less having a desire to.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 24, 2011 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Professor: your gifted imagery,"tiny spittle" and "vomited hubris," brings a welcome smile. Do more of that, please.

Re arrogance, no problem; your fans surely pardon you.

As for Rhee's scope, it is so wide that it provokes the minimalists to think again. More than half of her purpose in DC, and now, I surmise, is to get attention on the issues, because the nation is snoozing, despite all the heat. Am afraid the minimalists of ed reform (AFT, ed schools and other academics, itinerant consultants, think tanks, depts. of ed., etc., are not convincing public providers to do much differently. Vested interests continue to block or cancel out change. The philanthropists, tho noble and generous, have little impact, and companies contribute little.

Everyone's deeply concerned, but as a society and country, we're not getting anywhere, by the numbers.

Posted by: axolotl | February 24, 2011 5:06 PM | Report abuse


Paulhoss says: "It's simply misguided to believe all "young teachers are the best and brightest of our staffs and all veterans are the duds of the school. Each case needs to be vetted individually."

Someguy100 responds: "Hey switch "young teachers" and "veterans" and you've got the last hired first fired system!"

Not really - the last in, first out system is non-punitive. It doesn't imply that the teachers let go are incompetent, just less experienced.

Posted by: efavorite | February 24, 2011 11:34 PM | Report abuse

The Case Against Quality-Blind Teacher Layoffs

Why Layoff Policies that Ignore Teacher Quality Need to End Now

The New Teacher Project FEB 2011

Over the past two years, federal stimulus funding has protected schools from some of the worst effects of the recession. But as federal support wanes and states face looming deficits, deep cuts are becoming unavoidable. School districts will almost certainly be forced to lay off teachers to make ends meet.

Given decades of research showing that the quality of education a child receives depends more on the quality of his or her teacher than any other school factor, one might assume that schools would do everything possible to protect their best teachers from being cut. Unfortunately, most layoff decisions will completely ignore a teacher’s performance.

In fact, in 14 states, it is illegal for schools to consider any factor other than a teacher’s length of service when making layoff decisions. The newest teachers always get cut first, even if they are “Teacher of the Year” award winners.

Ignoring teacher performance in layoffs is a prime example of the “widget effect” –
treating teachers like interchangeable parts. Quality-blind layoff policies threaten to make this year’s layoffs catastrophic. Talented new teachers will lose their jobs while less effective teachers remain. More job losses will be necessary to meet budget reduction goals, because the least senior teachers are also the lowest-paid. And, as is all too common, the most disadvantaged students will be hit hardest, because they tend to have the newest teachers. These outcomes are intolerable.

States and school districts still have time to put common sense back into their layoff policies. This document summarizes recent research on the effects of quality-blind layoffs and explains why layoff decisions should be based on what teachers achieve with their students, not when they started teaching.

Read the full report at:

http://tntp.org/files/TNTP_Case_Against_Quality_Blind_Layoffs_Feb2011F.pdf

Posted by: frankb1 | February 25, 2011 7:29 PM | Report abuse

BOTTOM OF SENIORITY, TOP OF THE CLASS
Lessons from DC for keeping good teachers
By RICHARD WHITMIRE

February 6, 2011 New York Post

With federal stimulus money dried up, many school districts will have to lay off teachers. Nearly everywhere when this happens, the newest teachers, rather than the worst ones, lose their jobs.

Political leaders would like to get rid of last-hired-first-fired policies so that the best teachers stay on the job, but that means taking on the unions, which can feel like political suicide.That’s surely what it looked like in Washington, DC, where former chancellor Michelle Rhee dared cross that line. She laid off 266 teachers in 2009 — for the most part the worst, not the newest — and that move was one of the biggest reasons former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty got bounced from office and Rhee resigned as chancellor.

Does that mean mayors such as Michael Bloomberg should ignore their instincts on what’s best educationally? Not at all.

What happened to Rhee in Washington may have been a public-relations and political debacle, but as a policy decision it was hugely successful. She got rid of some her worst teachers and swapped in better ones, a strategy that accounts for the significant academic gains Rhee made there.

Today, politicians in several states are demanding an end to seniority-based layoffs.

These politicians sense a unique opening in public opinion. Parents instinctually understand what researchers already know. After roughly the fourth year of teaching, seniority has little effect on who’s good or not. Last-hired-first-fired policies mean that more expensive teachers stay on the payroll, even though they may not be any better than their newer colleagues.

National teacher union leaders seem to sense their vulnerability on this issue. Rather than defend seniority-based layoffs, they insist the real issue is avoiding layoffs at all. Or, they answer indirectly. “In no other profession is experience deemed a liability rather than an asset,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union. “Teaching is a complex profession, and experience matters.”

Yes, but nobody is arguing that teachers get worse with experience, only that the best teachers aren’t always the most experienced.

We haven’t heard any good defense from union officials of last-hired-first-fired — perhaps because there aren’t any. If you want to the best teachers on the job, you find a different way to allocate layoffs. For political protection against what Rhee experienced in Washington, districts should announce the grounds for layoffs well in advance.

For this to happen in many places, contracts and even laws have to be changed. It won’t be easy. But for students, it’s imperative.

Richard Whitmire is the author of “The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes On The Nation’s Worst School District”.

http://www.nypost.com/p/news

Posted by: frankb1 | February 25, 2011 9:16 PM | Report abuse

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