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Rhee vs. teachers--is that clash important?

On our education page you will find the latest reports from both the D.C. Council hearing and the court hearing Thursday on the firing of 266 D.C. teachers by Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. This is important information, but to me a sideshow compared to the most vital relationships in the system, the teacher-principal relationships. Are teachers and principals working together? Is trust developing? We don't hold hearings on that, and just as well, since hearings are usually a sign of trouble. But it is the health of those relationships, no matter who is chancellor, that will determine if the D.C. schools get better or not.

By Jay Mathews  | October 29, 2009; 3:21 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  
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When the Chancellor gets her picture on the cover of a national magazine holding a broom because she's going to sweep out the teachers and start anew, when it's the Chancellor who is the face of the school system to both national and local media, when it's the Chancellor who thumbs her nose at both the union and the Council and continues hiring new teachers while knowing that a budget deficit will require layoffs of veterans within weeks ... yeah, I think that's pretty important. If you're a teacher and can't trust the Chancellor, that's a big deal.

Posted by: bermanator34 | October 29, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Good point, but it is also true if we let ourselves be ruled by media images, we are dead.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | October 29, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Good point, but it is also true if we let ourselves be ruled by media images, we are dead.

Posted by: Jay Mathews
But Jay you have been ruled by the media. There is no evidence that Ms. Rhee has been effective except the media hype of Ms. Rhee.

You continuously ignore the disruption of entire school system 6 weeks into the new school years with the disruption of the education of thousands of students because Ms. Rhee was incompetent in dealing with the school budget.

Jay you can not offer any evidence that Ms. Rhee has improved education in the school system. The national math tests of 2009 show no large improvement from the previous head of the school system.

For over two years the media has been hyping Ms. Rhee.

At some point even you will have to agree that if this hype was true there would have been signs of significant improvement shown by the national tests.

Ms. Rhee places great store in test results and so far the evidence is in that there has not been any significant improvement in the public schools and certainly not enough to justify disrupting the entire school system 6 weeks after the school year.

Oh by the way if only the trust of the relationship between principals and teachers is important than I assume that Ms. Rhee should be asked to leave. Why keep a head of the school system who has created a great deal of friction and chaos is not important?

Posted by: bsallamack | October 29, 2009 7:53 PM | Report abuse

The problem that underlies this whole thing is that principals blame Rhee for the things that they "have to do." It becomes more of a deflection of responsibility for decision making- which is what I think is the major problem right now in the Rhee-teacher relationship.

My principal said today that she does not necessarily agree with all the policy decisions by Rhee but she has to carry them out to fidelity.

Also another issue Principals place the blame of Rhee for things she doesn't even say. For instance, many principals are big on ensuring bulletin boards are flawless because if Rhee visits she will look. However, at a Q and A with Rhee she said she never looks at bulletin boards. Even for the little things that teachers dislike, the blame is constantly placed on Rhee which increases the hostility teachers feel towards her. It is merely blame wrongly placed.

Posted by: dcteach2 | October 29, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

What you don't know, DCteach (and neither do I) is how principals came to think that Rhee was impressed by bulletin boards.

I think the main message here is that principals will do something they think will impress Rhee and keep them in her good graces, whether or not it has anything to do with good education.

Posted by: efavorite | October 29, 2009 8:54 PM | Report abuse

It strikes me as somewhat naive to call the Rhee-vs-teachers class a "sideshow." Ask a principal to hire many teachers over the summer, and then tell them to fire half that number three months later, in the middle of the school year, does a great deal to undermine trust among all of the teachers at that school.
I agree that the principal-teacher relationship is critical, but it does not exist in a vacuum. Being a good manager depends to some degree on being able to provide stability (or at least the illusions of it). In this case, the instability is almost a point of pride with Michelle Rhee. Shaking things up means everyone gets shaken, not just the "bad" teachers. What the national media (and the Washington Post editorial page) misses is that Rhee's criteria for a good teacher or a good principal are either vague or inappropriately tied to a test which does not measure teacher skill, but rather student performance, and even that in an unsophisticated way. The teachers know this, and it makes it harder for them to do their jobs, and it makes it harder for them to trust their principals.
By arbitrarily firing principal and teacher alike, rather than being a sideshow, Rhee's efforts have made a stable and trusting principal/teacher relationship nearly impossible.

Posted by: formerDCPSstudent | October 29, 2009 10:16 PM | Report abuse

formerDCPSstudent , you have it right.
Why is Jay asking the ridiculous question "Rhee vs. teachers--is that clash important?"

Probably to avoid discussing the recent Bill Turque article on the monthly chancellor/principals meetings.

Instead, Jay should answer Michelle's question:
What do I have to do to regain the trust of the teachers?

(What would Jay think if Katherine Weymouth starting telling people, oh, the education beat, what a waste.)

Posted by: edlharris | October 29, 2009 10:29 PM | Report abuse

"Good point, but it is also true if we let ourselves be ruled by media images, we are dead."

But Jay, that's the Michelle Rhee way. That's how she runs her school system -- with a lot of sound and fury in the press that ultimately has signified nothing.

If we aren't being ruled by media images -- if the whole Michelle Rhee hype machine is cast aside -- how good a job is she doing?

Isn't relying on media images to make change (being charitable) or make the illusion of change (being uncharitable) the Michelle Rhee way?

Posted by: bermanator34 | October 29, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

How can a hearing held to determine whether or not Rhee illegally gave principals the authority to fire whichever teachers they wanted to fire be a sideshow to the issue of teachers and principals working together? How does Rhee's kind of decision making do anything but breed mistrust between teachers and principals? A sideshow? Please.

Posted by: sfteacher | October 30, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

I disagree that the most vital relationship in the systems is the teacher/principal relationship. It's the teacher/student relationship. The real work of education is done in the classroom, not the boardroom.

Posted by: sfteacher | October 30, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Rhee's adminstration of the DC schools is a complete political sideshow. I'd be embarassed to work for that district because of Rhee's behavior. The teachers are busting their humps trying to educate some tough kids and Rhee is running around playing politics, trying to make a name for herself. She doesn't care enough about the teachers and kids and way too much about her poltical future.

Posted by: MVanBuren | October 30, 2009 7:41 PM | Report abuse

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