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DC and other cities give new teacher breed a proving ground

The new contract ratified by D.C. teachers has inspired speculation about who is going to get the most out of it. Will Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee be able to impose her test-driven evaluation system with no more teacher resistance? Will the American Federation of Teachers, and its president Randi Weingarten, garner new prestige and influence for endorsing reform?

Nope. That’s not it. This is not about District or union leaders. It is about teachers, particularly the innovative ones who have been taking jobs in city schools and joining Weingarten’s union in large numbers the last several years. The new contract in D.C. and related developments in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Houston and elsewhere give this new bunch an opportunity to prove their creative and aggressive teaching will help inner-city children realize their untapped potential.

D.C. is a hot spot for the movement because the city has large numbers of top college graduates recruited by Teach for America and similar organizations. They now serve as teachers, principals and in Rhee’s case, chancellor. Like Houston, New York and Boston, D.C. also has many of the most effective public charter schools and several regular public schools that are innovative.

In Los Angeles, teachers with similar intentions are pushing the change even further. In the summer issue of the journal Education Next, University of California at Berkeley education and public policy professor Bruce Fuller reveals how renegade teacher groups outbid even the best charter organizations to run underperforming L.A. schools their way.

If this doesn’t work, it will be leaders like Rhee who get the blame. Test scores will deliver the final verdict, as far as the public is concerned. Tests are flawed measures, but they are pretty much all we have. That is why the new breed of teachers takes them seriously, and why Weingarten agreed to test-driven teacher evaluations. The fastest-growing part of her membership demanded them. If scores don’t continue to improve, the headlines will say Rhee failed. But the teachers driving schools in these new directions will blame themselves and try something different, a useful habit if we want urban schools to work.

One crucial element in all this can’t be easily measured — attitude, both in teachers and students. Leaders like Rhee have insisted on hiring only teachers who believe that they can make big gains despite the drag on learning that comes from poverty. This is evident in what happens in their classrooms. Students who fail to pay attention, taunt others or do anything to distract the class get a quick teacher response — a warning, a whisper in the ear, a lost privilege, something to underline the importance of what they are doing.

The way some of the new principals instill this emphasis in teachers is interesting. Susan Schaeffler, who created the most effective charter school network in the city, KIPP DC, told me what she said privately to a teacher who was five minutes late for a meeting: “Is there a problem? Should we rewrite your contract to let you come late? We can’t demand that kids stick with the rules if we don’t follow them ourselves.”

No matter how much salaries rise under the new contract, the teachers who make a difference will not dwell on that. They know that how much their students grow in knowledge and character will decide everything.

Read Jay's blog every day at

Follow all the Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page,

By Jay Mathews  | June 6, 2010; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  DC teacher contract, Houston, Michelle A. Rhee, New York, Randi Weingarten, Susan Schaeffler, new breed of teachers will decide city's future, teacher activism in Los Angeles  
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Next: Down with celebrity graduation speakers! Up with teachers!


I still don't get what is new about thinking that the kids can do well on tests if they are poor. Anybody worth their salt has high expectations for their students. As far as the 5 minutes late for the meeting, I think that teacher was being treated like a child, not a professional. what if she was talking to a parent or explaining homework to a student? Why is it that administrators like Susan Schaeffler care so much about meetings and so little about students?

Posted by: celestun100 | June 6, 2010 10:49 PM | Report abuse

What are the goals that we are to use to measure the success or lack thereof Miss Rhee's reforms?
What has Miss Rhee put forth?
What do you expect?

Will the 2011 NAEP scores show gains in all subgroups that surpass the steady, regular gains in DCPS over the past decade?

What percentage of DCPS students will meet or surpass the national SAT average?
When will that occur?
(Eg, 80% of all high school students will score at or above the national average in the year 20__?)

When will we see 90% of all third graders score at the 90th percentile? (ie, The Baltimore Miracle becomes the DC Miracle.)

There are other measurements concerning AP, IB and special education.

Posted by: edlharris | June 7, 2010 12:52 AM | Report abuse

I see this as an issue entirely related to the recession. If our economy remains bad, teachers will have no choice but to put up with the kind of treatment the KIPP instructor got when she was five minutes late for a meeting. If we see flush economic times again teachers will flock to the schools with the high test scores and places like DC will be scrambling once again just to get live bodies in the classroom.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 7, 2010 7:48 AM | Report abuse

Susan Schaeffler has serious control issues in addition to utterly inferior manners as evidenced by her "dealing" with the teacher who was five minutes late to a meeting....such a bizzare manifestation of a clinical obssession to rules, without the slightest consideration of extenuating circumstances. Pity the poor teacher who for fear of being late to this woman's meetings and suffering her scoldings, even to the point of being cited by the police for "failure to stop and render aid" to a bleeding motorist on the way to school and a host of other possibilities. Amazing that this woman is considered by some as a successful educator when she is modeling (teaching) such inconsiderate behavior to her fellow educators, yes fellow educators, not peon underlings - at least that should be the perception. Fear based. Ugly stuff. Ugly.

Posted by: shadwell1 | June 7, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Some of the best ever information and comments on teaching in America and unions appeared in Sunday's NY Times Magazine section of Letters.
All who are interested in thoughtful and informed remarks, please go ASAP to this link:

Too bad WashPost can't get this quality of response on a regular basis. It might actually convince Jay to widen the scope of his topics to include actual teachers in regular schools who know way more than he usually gives them credit for.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | June 7, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Quite a leap posters are making about Ms. Schaeffler here with next to no context. You all know nothing about why the teacher was late, yet you are making extreme conclusions about how terrible Ms. Schaeffler (who pulled the teacher aside for a private talk, btw) is as an administrator.

Please stand down for a moment to get some more information before anonymously villifying this woman. It says much more about you, than her, that you are so willing to jump to outrageous conclusions about this situation.

Posted by: HappyTeacher | June 7, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

That would be Jay's fault for not providing more details.
If the principal has given more background information about this teacher, Jay should have printed it.

Posted by: edlharris | June 7, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Not Jay's fault...there was no guiding question at the end to spark such derision. The article was not about Ms. Schaeffler, but that is where the READERS went with their comments.

Posted by: HappyTeacher | June 7, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse


Thank you for the excellent reference. Once again I read the following words:

"Family background is the strongest determinent of school achievement."

We have had this information for over fifty years but have chosen to ignore it. What do advantaged children have that at-risk children do not? What can we do to level the playing field? Yes, excellent teachers will definitely help, but we know that more is needed. Health care? Preschool? Better housing? Adult mentors? Can some of the advantages of privileged children be shared with their poorest counterparts?

I know one thing that is different: Principals in high-achieving schools are almost always well-educated, cultured professionals with good manners. Parents in these communities don't accept school leaders who treat other adults or children with rudeness and disrespect.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 7, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Jay for giving us a cincise statement of why the new breed of teachers and leaders don't have a snowball's chance.

Tests are flawed measures, but they are NOT pretty much all we have. The new breed of teachers need to take millenia of wisdom about human nature seriously. When scores don’t continue to improve, the headlines will say Rhee failed. But we should then listen to Dan Willingham, other cognitive scientist, Core Knowledge people like ED Hirsch, Diane Ravitch and Russ Whitehurst, not to mention the brilliant John Easton of the What Works Clearinghoiuse, Robert Balfanz at John Hopkins, James Comer and the Chicago School Consortium. The teachers driving schools in these new directions will blame themselves but they shouldn't. The blame game is not a useful habit if we want urban schools to work.

One crucial element in all this can’t be easily measured — attitude, both in teachers and students. Leaders like Rhee have insisted on the litmus test of hiring only teachers who believe that they can make big gains despite the drag on learning that comes from poverty. This ensures a lack of open discussion, peer review and honest evidence-based decision-making. Some students who fail to pay attention, taunt others or do anything to distract the class just need a quick teacher response. But the hard truth is that much more systemic interventions for sustainable improvements for all.

The way some of the new principals instill this emphasis in teachers further stifles dissent. Susan Schaeffler would have a cow if a teacher used sarcasm in the classroom, but uses that type of disrespect towards teachers

Posted by: johnt4853 | June 7, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

The word is "determinant." Sorry.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 7, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Add me to the list of people thinking Schaeffer is obnoxious, not effective.

"Leaders like Rhee have insisted on hiring only teachers who believe that they can make big gains despite the drag on learning that comes from poverty. "

How do you know the drag comes from poverty, Jay? Low income whites outperform wealthy blacks. Quit making these unsupported assertions. You don't know why people of all incomes don't do well on tests, or why blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately represented among poor scorers. Stop asserting without fact poverty is the cause.

"What can we do to level the playing field?"

Who says we can? What evidence supports that the achievement gap can be eliminated?

There's a difference between a teacher saying "I can improve a students' skillset" and "I can take a group of low scoring students and eliminate the achievement gap".

All teachers should work for the former. The latter may not be possible.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | June 7, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

joint4853--all the social science is cool. Too bad it is not adopted in most the best-practice districts. Some teachers would like it to take literally forever to come up with an eval system they accept. Their leverage to force any more push-back or chaos on DCPS has all but evaporated. The system has to move on, or the teachers have to. You are completely right about attitude, but I think where it is most obviously bad is among a subset of teachers. The good ones do not have the kind of troubles you cite. Talk with some across the city. Talk with parents across the wards. As for misbehaving principals and other administrators, my guess is most will be out of a job.

Posted by: axolotl | June 7, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Add me to the list of people thinking Schaeffer is obnoxious, not effective.

"Leaders like Rhee have insisted on hiring only teachers who believe that they can make big gains despite the drag on learning that comes from poverty. "

How do you know the drag comes from poverty, Jay? Low income whites outperform wealthy blacks. Quit making these unsupported assertions. You don't know why people of all incomes don't do well on tests, or why blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately represented among poor scorers. Stop asserting without fact poverty is the cause.

"What can we do to level the playing field?"

Who says we can? What evidence supports that the achievement gap can be eliminated?

There's a difference between a teacher saying "I can improve a students' skillset" and "I can take a group of low scoring students and eliminate the achievement gap".

All teachers should work for the former. The latter may not be possible.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | June 7, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Jay, another good blog. Thanks.

But as critical as all seem to be regarding D.C. Teachers, Chancellor Rhee, and political climate,

Any gains would be because of what was in place before Rhee

Any gains would be questioned because they were provided by the "blood, sweat, tears" of teachers and their alleged horrible treatment by Rhee.

Any test score gains would be questioned because test scores are not proven methods of studentprogress (but find it interesting when test score gains are used while comparing Janey vs. Rhee leadership performance/abilities and WHO actually is the cause of increased test scores)

Any test score gains would prove that it doesn't matter what socieconomic background or lack of parental involvement, student were provided what was needed in the classrooms to increase proficency levels.

Any failure would be percevied as DC Teachers only caring about increase in salary over a certain time period, but not so much as increasing student performance.

Any failure would provide a stronger argument and an opportunity for those who wish for Rhee's removal.

For Rhee, IMHO, it seems damned if she does...damned if she doesn't.

One just hopes, more then anything, that DCPS students receive as much positive support as possible, progressive and productive continuity and all remain consistent.

Posted by: TwoSons | June 7, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

After 36 years of full time teaching K-8 in 5 states (including inner city ghetto and upper income schools) and overseas, I see changes in the children since NCLB came into effect. I still substitute K-12.

Students tell me they are tired of testing with at least one (or more) tests per week.

Students refuse to ask me, the substitute, any questions because IF they ask questions THAT means they will be tested on the questions.

Students will only do the worksheets which match the curriculum rather than ask someone else a relevant question about what they are learning.

Students' small motor skills are deteriorating because they do not do art projects which include cutting with scissors or coloring in the primary grades.

Students do not have time to explore the interconnectedness of the subjects they are learning. Thus their learning is becoming more limited and isolated. Yes, math and science do go together. Yes, reading and music do go together.

Students are not happy with the testing.

And so for those of you who choose to complain about the administrator, read on....
In my last school I was put on remediation even though I had over 50% of my students score over the 40th percentile and exit the remedial reading program in my first year of teaching literacy. The district assessment specialist had never seen that type of improvement in a remedial class. The only thing I could ever figure was that I was "too tall" which was what the prior principal told me as a reason I shouldn't be in the elementary classroom.

I agree with Johnt4853 who states that it takes more than test scores. Mr. Daggett who has promoted Rigor, Relevance and Relationship has his list upside down and has a misspelling also.

I propose that "Relationship" has to come first between the teacher and the student. Then it is easy for the teacher to stress the "Relevance" of the subject. Since Mr. Daggett has a misspelling of "Rigor" (second graders have a hard time differentiating between a lower case "r" and a lower case "v") and it should be "Vigor" which translates into enthusiasm about learning and making connections between subjects. Finally, "Rigor" can be added to help children realize the necessity of being accurate and knowledgeable. If we continue to focus on "Rigor" first we will continue to see the "Rigormortis" I referred to in the beginning of this response.

Posted by: KDdidit | June 7, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

edlharris is quite right. it is my fault for not providing more details on the Schaeffler chat with the late-arriving teacher. The teacher was late for a morning meeting called before school began, and before there were students there who might have caused the delay. I have written a great deal about Schaeffler and her team, including a few chapters of my book "Word Hard. Be Nice." The data and the testimony of scores of teachers and parents leave no doubt that she is one of the best teachers, and most effective school administrators, DC has ever seen. It is my fault for trying to convey this in a couple of paragraphs, but I thought it was useful to show that the high standards that produce the best urban schools include methods that would rarely be encountered in the more laid-back suburban schools most readers of the Post are familiar with. If anyone has any examples of laid-back urban schools that have achieved what the KIPP schools, and schools like it, have achieved, I would love to see the data. They are called the No Excuses schools for a reason. They don't allow the whatever attitudes you often find in underperforming urban public schools to mess with their goal of helping kids. But don't blame Schaeffler. Before you judge what her schools have done, go take a look at them. If you are not impressed, tell me why. It will generate a good discussion.
And speaking of good discussions, I hope Cal Lanier will share with us her data showing that low-income white students have higher achievement scores than wealthy black students. I seem to recall this produced a interesting exchange on my Admissions 101 discussion group at a few years ago. It might be time to get back to that topic since I plan a relevant blog post in a day or two.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | June 7, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I think good administrators know what is going on in their buildings. They understand what the end of the day is like for teachers.(hall duty, calling parents, tutoring students, signing up for the computer lab, etc.) I don't think they would make sarcastic comments about "rewriting your contract" because someone arrives 5 minutes late.

I don't know about these "new" style teachers and programs first hand, however, I do think that the emphasis on meetings is a mistake. Teachers are teaching young people and have to be available to the kids and parents. That should come first. A good teacher doesn't turn away a parent or a student who is asking for help, because they may not come back again. People come first- not some meeting time clock.

And I think that the readers and comments here are good ones. It is hypocritical of the administrator to chide the teacher for being late since she is a role model and to use sarcasm and veiled threats about contracts. Totally unprofessional and makes me think she is not an educator but a business leader. Does she want the teachers to say things to late students like, "Do you want me to recalculate your final grade now that you have arrived late?"

Posted by: celestun100 | June 7, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I always appreciate johnt4853's posts, but I failed to find in there a clear description of what we have that would provide a practical substitute for test scores in this country at this time. Many of the fine people you name accept the need for the kind of standardized testing we do. Tell us more.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | June 7, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the explanation Jay and maybe I judged her too quickly.

I do think there is a difference between focusing on small details and being rigid. I worked at a school in Houston, Texas where the principal was demanding, but polite. She supported her teachers and she visited classrooms to ask the students what they were learning. The kids at that school were poor, but had very intact families for the most part. They came to school with the idea that teachers were to be respected and worked very hard as did all the teachers at the school.

Here is the link:

Posted by: celestun100 | June 7, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I just read this quote, which fits nicely with this discussion:

Steve Jobs: "Management tends to be about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could."

Posted by: edlharris | June 7, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

One more thing, Mrs. Garcia was a teacher's principal. She knew what the teachers were doing. At least while I was there, the teachers all had the feeling that they were appreciated and that she knew they were working hard for the students. I never heard her say anything disrespectful about teachers or imply that we were the problem. She focused on what the kids needed. She allowed different teachers to have different styles. This wasn't a problem at that school because her motto was to Be respectful and since the parents backed us up, the whole thing worked.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 7, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I think it interesting that so many teachers decry the amount of "parenting" that they need to do in the classroom. Perhaps this need has evolved because so many teachers have insisted on treating students like their children, instead of as students.

It is safe to say that the state of education has declined in recent decades, and from what I have seen, it is quite related to teachers treating students like they need to be felt sorry for, instead of holding them to the task at hand: learning.

I think this is where the paradigm shift is occurring. This "new breed" of teacher controls what they can, the classroom, and they do not accept excuses about things outside the classroom, because lord knows, the world won't.

Posted by: HappyTeacher | June 7, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Alert to prospective teachers reading here:

You will get a very different picture of DCPS from the inside, if you check out these blogs written by DCPS teachers and former teachers:
gfbrandenburg blog
“conducting the inner light” blog

Jay is all wrong about the new contract being a good tool for creative and renegade teachers. Those will be the first to quit or lose their jobs, because the contract and Rhee's general type forced people into a lockstep go doing everything exactly by the rules - her rules - whether they are sound or not.

To happy teacher - obviously you have inside information about the scene Jay described at Kipp DC - perhaps this allows to you see how distorted and influential a news account can be.

I hope you consider that Jay's comments about the contract may be just as inaccurate -- and the only way to know is to have an insider's view of what's really happening in DC schools.

Posted by: efavorite | June 7, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Depending on the age of the student, you have to parent the child when you are a teacher. I suppose you are talking about high schoolers.

I am still not convinced that the "new breed" is doing anything new. I suspect they are thinking what I thought when I was in my twenties. "These old teachers are doing it wrong, they are too boring, too old, too etc." Then,you teach for 3 months and you find out.
Last year my principal (quite old actually) said " Here at XXX school we don't say, 'Well the parents cannot help with the homework and that's why the child failed' We work with the child." Everyone in education says this and has said it for years.

I think that the complaints we hear about poverty and so forth are often teachers on the front lines who know they need more resources to make up for what is not there. They cannot do it all. They need support, counselors and so forth. In wealthy districts, students with mental illness are referred to counseling and receive care. Often in poor areas mental illness is treated as a behavior/ discipline problem. The parents don't have the resources to get help. Usually the school helps out, but sometimes it takes a long time.

I feel there is a bit of demonization of experienced teachers going on. New teachers are great and are needed. That doesn't mean that every experienced teacher is willing to accept excuses or is ineffective.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 7, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Dear happy Teacher, Please tell us what studies you’ve seen that convince you that the decline in the state of education is “quite related to teachers treating students like they need to be felt sorry for, instead of holding them to the task at hand: learning.”
Also, are you suggesting that only the “new breed” of teachers control what they can in the classroom and that the “old breed” does not? What do you mean? And I’m confused by your comment about “not accepting excuses about thinks outside the classroom.” Does this mean the new breed takes responsibility for things outside the classroom? Do they think that things outside the classroom have no effect on student learning?

Posted by: efavorite | June 7, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

No one is saying that every experienced teacher is part of the problem. But, in my experience, if you see who is leading the resistance to trying anything new, or who is leading the "blame the parents" chorus, it is coming from older teachers.

But at the same time, I think a lot of experienced teachers are leading the new breed because they have finally found more kindred spirits in the profession.

Amazing how important language becomes in a debate such as this. Thank you celestun for checking me on this point.

Posted by: HappyTeacher | June 7, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

e- I don't have studies to cite, I am just basing that on my experience in the classroom. I would imagine some of the studies that cover how ineffective education schools have become would touch on this, since so much of the curriculum is based on learning how to deal with disadvantaged students and their particular psychology.

I meant that the "new breed" highlighted in this article does not let outside circumstance provide the student with an automatic "out" from their responsibilities. Of course, outside factors are huge, but if you allow them to come into the classroom and become an excuse, you are lowering the bar of expectation for the student, even if your intentions are noble.

I apologize for any new/old dichotomy I have furthered. I think it is a mindset, much more than a age, and I should be more careful about my use of generalized terms.

Posted by: HappyTeacher | June 7, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Jay - it isn't necessarily "laid back' to not chide a teacher for being five minutes late. As many others have pointed out, it seems petty, controlling, etc., for the administrator to treat a teacher this way.

The additional information you provide that the teacher called to say she'd be late does not provide enough context to see it otherwise.

Posted by: efavorite | June 7, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

@Happy Teacher
I didn't mean you specifically, when I said "demonization of teachers" I mean that some of the articles I read, some of the Race to the Top criteria and some of the news seem to imply that experienced teachers are resistant to good changes, simply because they are experienced. I was basically ranting about a slant I see in what I read about Race to the Top and DCPS in particular. (I have never been in a DCPS school, so I don't know if I am correct, just a feeling I get from reading education articles)

I would suggest that you look closer at those who "blame the parents" and the "resistance crew". It could be that at your school, they are the older teachers. I have been at some schools where younger teachers do that sort of thing. I was also at a wealthy, suburban school where older teachers were cutting edge, loved to learn new everything and hardly ever blamed the parents. ( I think parents and teachers have an on-going, mutual complaint thing going in most schools)

Another thing that happens in education is the "pretend to go along with the program" sort of person. That is the person who learns all the jargon and says they are doing the "reforms" and even brags about this at teacher meetings and actually has not changed teaching methodologies in years. These people have a way of looking good when other people are looking. They can be of any age, I would say.

johnt4853 mentions that kind of atmosphere created by rigid leadership and I think you will get a lot of people who say they agree but really are only pretending if you don't allow for some dissent.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 7, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Happy Teacher - thanks for getting back to me. I think people should avoid making borad statements about academic issues for which there is no research base.

I would also say that it’s not a matter of “allowing” outside factors to come into the classroom. They are simply there and the teacher cannot know what all of them are for every student every day. Some outside influences are very positive and could mislead the teacher into thinking that she can be credited for the learning of children with those positive influences.

Of course the reverse can happen and it’s just as ridiculous for the teacher to take undue responsibility for the students’ negative outside influences. It’s unfair to the teacher, but in a way its also incredibly egotistical and naïve for teachers to think they have so much influence over any child that they see for such a small portion of the child’s day.

Please consider that at least some of what you see as “excuses” is actually teachers’ putting their role in children’s lives into a logical, realistic perspective. It doesn’t at all have to mean that a teacher is “lowering the bar of expectation for the student.” Perhaps it’s teachers recognizing their own limitations – not as “bad teachers” not willing to give their all - but as well-intentioned, mature human beings who know they are not completely responsible for student outcomes, despite giving their all.

Posted by: efavorite | June 7, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Talk about lazy! You didn't have time to write an article/blog so you just cut-and-pasted phony platitudes from the TFA and NTP web pages? There is nothing in this post that has not been disproven by peer-reviewed research already. The Wall Street Post's coverage of Rhee, and education in general, has long been an insult to journalism. This is an insult to every reader's intelligence as well. A tool for creative teachers? Are you joking? The Rhee, TFA, NTP, KIPP, IMPACT, (and Post subsidiary, Kaplan Education) model is scripted; teach to the test; good enough for those people; education. If this model is so good, why isn’t it being used in Greenwich, Scarsdale, Falls Church and Montgomery?

Posted by: mcstowy | June 7, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Jay--I just posted a response, but my post was "held for approval". Hard to have a discussion if the censor takes hold. I posted a second, and it's still blocked.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | June 7, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse


The "censorship" occurs when your post is too long. At least that's what I discovered when my posts were held for "approval."

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 7, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

It could also be use or too much use of http links

Posted by: edlharris | June 7, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

efavorite--why be so exclusionary? Don't you think an alert parent with the usual kinds of school contacts, discussion with kids, and talking about schools with neighbors can come up with an informed, accurate, picture of the state of one school or even the schools? Parents can be very informed, astute "consumers" of the really costly public education. You try to debunk a long list, but Jay's sources, citations, and thoughts are just as valid and arguable as a teacher's. In fact, they are probably more so because he's looking at the forest, not the trees. We don't have to be DC teachers to know the environment and the trend of the schools in most important respects. And frankly, many would be happier if the teachers gave a damn and at least voted in high percentages on their own professional futures. I accept many but not all of M. Rhee's views on teachers, but one that she's dead right on is attitude and some informed optimism by educators that there can be success for many if not every last kid. Too many teachers radiate deep pessimism and act with little commitment or energy.

Posted by: axolotl | June 7, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

For mcstowy---We love peer-reviewed research on this blog. Send them to me at and I will share it with everyone. Sadly I couldnt have cut or pasted from either the TFA or NTP web sites because I never read them. I suppose I should, but there aren't enough hours in the day and I prefer to communicate with educators, and readers like you, directly, rather than through their web sites.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | June 7, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse


My substitute for test scores in now up at My answer is the same, I believe, as Diane Ravitch's, stop the search for simplistic psuedo-solutions. We're in the people business.

I forgot who it was that corrected me on the number of students who just need adjustments in attitudes, but he or she is correct. I should have written that most students just need the type of teacher interventions, but that some need more serious interventions. Rhee's litmus tests, however, make it unlikely that honest information will go up the chain of command.

And while I'm at it, I should note that I teach high school. From what I read, elementary schools need much much more DIAGNOSISTIC data as a part of a holistic approach to teaching reading for comprehension, as opposed to just decoding. As a high school teacher I snarf up all of the data that is available but I had 210 kids this year. I have to rely much much more on intuition than a systematic reliance on data. And I trust my intuition much more than test score results, because I have one great tool that trumps all. I can ask students what going on, and listen to them.

Posted by: johnt4853 | June 7, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Over last several years, I worked w/some TFA-to-be students & w/out exception, they are wonderful young people. I have many, many such kids in my regular teacher prep classes. I don't know whether a sea shift is occurring w/new gen teachers. I do hope we lure as many talented young people as possible into the teaching biz.

Jay, do you remember Samuel Freedman's book, Small Victories, about a driven NYC teacher Jessica Seigel? She was a force of nature in a tough HS. Achieved seemingly impossible things, for 7 years. Then, she bolted, feeling she had no life and no way to establish one as the teacher she was. I remember one of my students, a Peace Corps kid, who started a paper about her: "I'm so pissed at her!!" Cuz she helped such at-risk kids but couldn't find balance and so was a comet, vs. Chris Zajac in Kidder's book Among Schoolchildren, who was a lifer.

I wonder about the longevity and effects of the new wave teaching in difficult situations w/ No Excuses - on the teachers. The idea of 2 or so years of service is not unappealing, but it isn't a final or comprehensive answer.

I don't argue we should block these kids or understate their commitments or accomplishments. But just don't know if we should be so dismissive of professional/career teachers. Or see this shift as the pearl in the pony poop. I also regret the conversation is typically so polarized and hurtful to both sides.

Posted by: dsacken | June 7, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Here are Cal Lanier's interesting links. I complained to her that she was distorting her info by equating "wealthy blacks" with "blacks that don't qualify for free and reduced lunch subsidies," but the data is interesting all the same. First link is on NAEP and the second on the SAT:

I will have to find out why people are getting messages saying they have to wait for approval from the blog owner. I think it is a rogue message. Nobody in power over at the web site can explain it.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | June 7, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse


I agree with you on the "excuses" issue.

I'm glad you are able to see this should not be a new teacher vs. career teacher argument.
You're right. We should not be dismissive of career teachers. Nor should school districts dismiss the Teach for America people, I guess. But if they are coming in to save the world and quit after 2 years, then I can see why some people may not take them seriously.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 7, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse


I gave you several links. In just ONE of them were free lunch whites compared to non-free lunch blacks. In all the rest, the links were of poor whites to wealthy blacks.

And given that you are claiming poverty "causes" the achievement gap, it is pretty definitive that poverty--defined as being on free lunch--is not stopping whites from outperforming blacks who *aren't* in poverty.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | June 7, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

I thought Jay was going to make it thru an entire article without mentioning KIPP...


Tell me Mr Mathews. This "new breed" of 2-4 year teachers is better than EDUCATORS (undergrad/grad in Education)? I'd like some numbers on how many new breeders stay past 3 years. Rhee didn't(probably couldn't) stand the fire and most TFA don't either. The kids are being USED as resume fluff for LAW/MBA apps, satisfying some "public service" requirement. Didn't know DCPS was the new PEACE CORPS...

Posted by: isupreme | June 7, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

"I always appreciate johnt4853's posts, but I failed to find in there a clear description of what we have that would provide a practical substitute for test scores in this country at this time."

Jay, for a detailed description of what something different would look like, read Linda Darling-Hammond's The Flat World and Education. There she describes in considerable detail how countries like Finland, Singapore, and Korea "raced to the top" on international comparisons. Yes, they have tests, but they are much more performance-based assessments, often locally-designed and administered. They have broad-based audit tests of sampled students at a couple of grades, much like our NAEP. And most importantly, nobody is "held accountable" (ie punished) on the basis of test scores. If scores are low, the education authorities treat this as _their_ problem, and they come up with resources and support to fix it. Yes, tests have their uses, but how they are used is critical. Intelligently designed and administered, they can drive powerful instruction. But the regime we have now, with too many narrow, badly designed tests, with punishments and reward meted out on the basis of scores, is a disaster, with low-income children of color being hurt the most.

Posted by: dz159 | June 7, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse


Please force yourself to keep a VERY open mind about differences in racial intelligence for the following reasons:

Scientists tell us that we are all one race, the human race, although there are physical differences among us, depending on the place of origin. The idea of "races" is actually a social, not a scientific, classification.

Intelligence tests are not able to measure all the talents that people have. We have many examples of average IQ people doing extraordinary things while many "gifted" people achieve nothing out of the ordinary.

Many groups were labeled as inferior at one time or other. My own ethnic group, the Italians, were considered "low IQ" at the beginning of the twentieth century but have evolved into one of the most successful ethnic groups in our country. I believe the Irish were thought to be below average too. They seem to be doing quite well now.

Psychologists tell us that a child's ability can be improved with early stimulation and enrichment. Intelligence is not static.

It is extremely hurtful to even imply that a child is "less than" because of his race. I still remember how hurt I was when my college math teacher implied that "not everyone" can learn math (she meant me). Not only was she wrong, but I am the mother of a brilliant engineer, so I might have passed on some great math genes. (OK, probably not, but it's possible!)

A lot of research in the social sciences is not worth the paper it is written on. Read it critically.

People of all groups have done extraordinary things. African Americans seem to have a lot to brag about right now, as does every other group of people. After all, we are all "homo sapiens."

Please, please read up on this topic because a lot of harm can be done to your students if you believe some of them, depending on their race, have less ability than others.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 7, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

You make such an important point. Even TFA people who intend to teach only for a short time want to do something good, as do career teachers. The two groups should not be pitted against one other. Unfortunately, this is happening largely because of politics.

I became a teacher 20 years ago at age 38 through a career switcher program because I truly wanted to teach. I had to put up with a few union people who called me a "scab" because I didn't go through the usual channel of getting an education degree (that's one reason I didn't become a teacher sooner: I couldn't stomach all those garbage courses). But I found a wonderful school in which new, young teachers and those on the verge of retirement worked together and strengthened each other.

I do believe that these days the bar is low for becoming a teacher because in the last couple of generations so many talented women were able to choose more lucrative careers. But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of bright, talented people choosing education.

An open question to those of you who make a sport of denigrating teachers:

How does your attitude help? Will more people want to become teachers when they read your ugly rants? What is your solution? How would you attract smart, talented people into this profession that pays so poorly compared to other professions requiring the time commitment? Do you think that a few TFA-type volunteers will be the solution over the long haul?

I suspect a lot of you just get some kind of sick satisfaction in verbally bullying. Most of you are woefully ignorant of what goes on in schools and what is involved in teaching these days. The content of your comments shows it. The current atmosphere in which older, experienced teachers are being verbally trashed has truly become an irrational witch hunt.

Posted by: aed3 | June 7, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse


I just finished Linda Darling-Hammond's book and I didn't want to like it. But I did. She presented an impressive case for an old-fashioned policies that I didn't want to defend. I sorta feel about her work what I feel after a Bill Moyers report. I didn't want to be called to defend those truthes, but they are enduring.

Posted by: johnt4853 | June 7, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, aed3. I'd like to tell you a story of something that occurred during my last two years of teaching:

Some of the younger teachers at my school were extremely nervous about their formal evaluations. They knew that I had done very well on mine, so they asked me if I would help them. Not only did I help but I created a whole lesson for each of them and let the teacher practice on my students. Another veteran helped by supervising the young teacher's class.

Anyway I did some preparation so the young teachers would be familiar with the latest techniques and jargon. I wrote the lesson for each teacher and modeled it for her before she practiced on my class. All three teachers got "excellent" evaluations and were praised for being innovative. The teachers asked that I keep my assistance a secret from the principal, which I did.

The next year this same principal became annoyed with me for something I don't recall, so she unprofessionally told another teacher that "some of these older teachers don't know the new 'good stuff' like we do." She meant me. Of course the teacher knew about my mentoring and came to tell me immediately after class. The story spread quickly among the primary teachers and we all had a good laugh. The principal behaved in other unprofessional ways and was asked to resign at the end of the year.

Yes, it's silly to pit one group of teachers against another. Most work very well together.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 7, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

Good story Linda. I also have gone to both older and younger teachers for help and have also encouraged other teachers. I believe strongly in teachers working together and being honest about strategies that work and that don't. I find that older teachers have better management and ideas for efficiently getting the most material across in a class period. Younger teachers are sometimes more sympathetic to students and can relate better about cell phones, for example.

One day I was taking Amtrak and I struck up a conversation with a teacher from Illinois. She explained that one year the principal told her she did everything right and then another principal would come in and she was told she was doing everything wrong. "One year I was great and the next I was lousy and again and again." She retired.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 8, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Linda, try realizing that nothing has been said about "differences in racial intelligence". Nor has anything been said about linking race to intelligence.

Focus hard: what I've said is that poverty *does not explain* lower test scores. If it did, then poor whites and Asians would not outscore high income blacks and Hispanics.

Pointing this out does not--repeat, does NOT--mean that I am advocating or even suggesting a "racial intelligence".

If you can't even understand the discussion--and you can't--then spare me and everyone else on the board your vapid platitudes that we can dial up by listening to one of our president's speeches.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | June 8, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse


The person who resorts to name-calling is the one who lost the argument.

Read your post again. Read what is implied by your statements. You've had other posts that suggest similar views.

Your response to me and your comments about groups of people reflect your character. Are you the one that Stanford didn't think was qualified to be a teacher? Now we all know why.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 8, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

thanks to dz159. I will have to go read it. terrible of me to wait until they sent me a freebie. I have a problem with comparing us to the Asian dynamos. Too many cultural differences with us to make that an easy or comfortable fix, but it is indeed worth trying. I wait for someone to adopt those methods in a few inner city US schools. Does she mention any that have done that?

Posted by: Jay Mathews | June 8, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Happy Teacher-

Please do not underestimate some of those older teachers who might appear to be rigid at first glance.

If you can stand to hear an anecdote--I remember an older 2nd grade teacher who was a few years from retirement on my faculty when I first started teaching. She was very crusty and old fashioned in her opinions about how to teach and what to expect from students. I really thought she had lost touch and needed to be put out to pasture.

About five years later, my opinion was completely different. Because of her years of experience, she knew exactly what to do for so many students with learning problems, and she wasn't shy about making suggestions. It took me awhile to look past the fusty exterior to realize that she was a wealth of information and a great resource. I was guilty of being prejudiced against her because I thought she was "old" and not up on newer methods.

Over the course of her career, she had seen every education fad and theory come and go several times. She ignored a lot of it and kept doing what she knew would be effective for each child. A lot of her techniques were "old fashioned", but they came from a lifetime of experience and they worked. She was a classic stereotype; she had a gruff presence, but she was unshakable in her determination not to let her kids to get out of the second grade without a solid foundation. I eventually came to understand how secure her students felt in the strict but fair class routine, and the fact that they knew they were not going to be let off the hook for anything.

When she finally did retire, I couldn't believe how many people with such a wide span of ages showed up to express appreciation for her.

So don't assume that because someone is older or doesn't use the right jargon they are useless. Look past the surface and really pay attention to what they do and how effective it is. Of course there are some real lemons out there, but they are outnumbered by the good ones.

Posted by: aed3 | June 8, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

Not cities, but states, specifically Connecticut, New Jersey, and North Carolina -- which contain cities with major concentrations of poor, minority students. All of these states had reforms in place that produced promising results, but got derailed by shifting political winds. Her discussion involves factors much broader than testing.

Posted by: dz159 | June 8, 2010 11:00 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I doubt that there are any happy "Group I" teachers in DCPS these days. Group 1 teachers teach tested subjects in grades 4-8. They represent about 20% of DC teachers and 50% of their evaluation score is based on a value-added index comparing last year's DC-CAS scores with this year's DC-CAS scores.

None of the young reformer teachers in our building are Group 1 teachers. None of the Group 1 teachers in our building are excited about the contract or the evaluation instrument. I also doubt that many Group 1 teachers voted for the contract.

What this evaluation instrument has done is create hostility and mistrust between Group 1 teachers and all other teachers whose evaluations are not significantly weighted by test scores.

Respectfully, you don't seem to get this, Jay.

The next time you hear about some young reformer who is excited about being evaluated using student test scores, ask them whether they teach a tested subject.

Posted by: Nemessis | June 9, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Nemessis. I would love to do a column about Group 1 teachers who feel this way. Most of the ones who have written me, earlier inthe year, seemed optimistic. Have them contact me at

Posted by: Jay Mathews | June 10, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Jay said:

D.C. is a hot spot for the movement because the city has large numbers of top college graduates recruited by Teach for America and similar organizations. They now serve as teachers, principals and in Rhee’s case, chancellor. Like Houston, New York and Boston, D.C. also has many of the most effective public charter schools and several regular public schools that are innovative.

I'm wondering how many of these TFA types actually stay in teaching? Do you have any data on that?

And aside from KIPP, what other effective charter school are currently operating in DC?

And which DC public schools do you consider to be innovative?

Posted by: Nemessis | June 10, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

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