Rhee's Latest Move: It's All About Principals
Anyone who thinks D.C. School Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee would consider holding back on last summer's hiring of 900 new teachers in the face of potential budget cuts just hasn't paid any attention to what she was doing before she got this job. She was the creator and head of The New Teacher Project, whose singular focus was making sure that every single classroom had a very effective teacher.
Those puzzled by Rhee's controversial decision to bring the new teachers on board, even though it seems in hindsight she might have known that some teachers would soon have to be let go, should read a 2003 report she commissioned, "Missed Opportunities." . It exposed a system operating in many school districts that allowed veteran teachers to wait until late in the summer to announce their retirements or resignations, long after many good potential replacements had given up and accepted other jobs.
Those who have talked to Rhee about her work before she came to D.C. know that such limits on the ability of principals to hire the best teachers drive her crazy. It is a very big deal with her, as it is with the kind of activist principals she has been trying to install in D.C. I did a column a year ago that got into this issue in some detail.
She has insisted to me that she did not know when she hired 900 new people that she would be in this situation. I believe her, but i can see why others might not. Even if she had an inkling this was going to cause trouble, we all know now she wouldn't care much about that. If she thinks it will help principals improve their schools, and raise achievement of D.C. kids, she is going to do it.
It is disorienting to have an urban schools chief that sure of herself, and who doesn't care if she keeps her job or not. We can argue over how to define and find effective teachers, and the soundness of her judgment about what works for kids. But the fact remains she didn't ask for this assignment. She will have plenty of opportunities to pursue her ideas nationally if she is fired, or so hamstrung she has to quit.
It is an education writer's dream being able to see such a story unfold. I think it is good for D.C. public school children. But I know a lot of adults who don't like it, and want it to stop.
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