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Does Sousa story prove Rhee is right?

My colleague Stephanie McCrummen, a former Post foreign correspondent now on our education writing team, is not only a great journalist but has terrific timing. Her front page story today about rising test scores at Sousa Middle School in D.C. comes just at the local and national debate over the record of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee reaches a new peak.

I wished her piece could have been longer. My wife, a veteran editor at another newspaper, looked at me when she heard that as if I were a small child asking for eight more bags of candy. But I am not indulging myself in this matter. McCrummen always goes deep in her reporting. There was much more she could have told us. But this is an era of limits, even at the Washington Post, so I am grateful for the full page she got.

Hers is a tale of a very energetic and aggressive principal, the sort that Rhee has been recruiting the last three years, and the significant jump in the percentage of Sousa students testing proficient in reading and math that has resulted---from 23 to 39 percent in reading and from 17 to 42 percent in math in just a year.

I have five cautionary points to make about that. One, the Sousa starting point was terribly low, among the worst I have ever seen, so it is hard to imagine the school going anywhere but up. Two, a year is not nearly not enough time to see how well a school will do over the long haul. Three, McCrummen, as she said in the story, started working on the story knowing these gains "were the biggest of any public middle school in the city last year," so this cannot be considered a typical school of the Rhee era. Four, Rhee has given Sousa many more resources than you would find at such a small school---56 adult staffers for just 230 students. Five, the principal replaced most of the teaching staff AFTER that good first year of gains. McCrummen said he told her most of them resisted his changes, made them only because he was watching so closely, and he felt he could do better with a new team. It could have happened that way, but his story will be hard for many readers to accept.

Nonetheless, it is a good school to talk about because the principal created exactly the kind of distress among many of his teachers that has led Rhee to have such a bad reputation among many veteran educators here. Principal Dwan Jordon removed most of the teachers he found at the school when he arrived. Read the story and tell me if you think he was right. McCrummen told me she talked to eight of the teachers Jordon let go, mostly for failure to improve. She said most of them have since found jobs in other D.C. schools. They were angry at Jordon, she said, but also in many cases said they thought he was a good administrator.

The story also has a memorable quote from a teacher still at the school (I would guess not for very long) who does not accept Jordon's view that all kids can learn much if taught well. "If a teacher is sincere, I don't think everything needs to be stacked on test scores," the teacher said. "Also, it depends on the children you get."

The teachers who have most influenced me say that is the sign of a bad attitude, someone who should not be teaching. It is as bad an attitude, those teachers say, as a student who says to his teacher, "I'm not going to listen to you, bitch." In fact, they would argue that the student's attitude is not nearly as distructive, because he at least knows he is being bad, and can be persuaded to shape up, whereas the teacher thinks she is just being nice, and realistic.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page.

By Jay Mathews  | July 6, 2010; 12:12 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Sousa principal Dwan Jordon, good example of a Michelle Rhee principal, higher test scores at Sousa Middle School, was he right to remove so many teachers?  
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Comments

That Sousa story was excellent and uplifting. But anecdote(s) does not equal data. Before drawing conclusions about whether Rhee personnel changes have been a benefit or hindrance at the middle school level, let's see citywide evidence.

Posted by: Trulee | July 6, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like another "Crazy Joe Clark" from the mid 1980's. Unfortunately, whatever progess Clark may have made at Eastside HS in Patterson, NJ was not sustainable. It is now ranked 311th out of 316 high schools in New Jersey.

It seems "iracle cures"in education are no better than the patent medicine cure-alls of the late 19th century. Muckaking journalists exposed them for the frauds they were. Where are the muckrakers today?

Posted by: mcstowy | July 6, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

That should be "miracle cures."

Posted by: mcstowy | July 6, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like the Washington Post is campaigning for Fenty by pretending Rhee had something to do with Sousa's test scores. There are probably details that WaPo is leaving out in order to make this sound like a miracle.

Test scores are a false measure of school progress. I would like to see some real measures instead.

Posted by: aby1 | July 6, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Here are some questions I have for Ms. McCrummen:

• What is the per pupil spending at Sousa?

• How did they handle the schedule?

• What were the suspension/expulsion stats?

• How did they help students who could not read?

• What math program did they use?

• Were there any students on portfolio assessment?

• How did they manage students who were resistant?

Posted by: Nemessis | July 6, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Cynically Reading Between the Lines:

“Stephanie McCrummen, a former Post foreign correspondent now on our education writing team” [The Post needs more education reporters to buck up Rhee for the election. Turque would never write this – it’s not news. It’s a PR piece]

“has terrific timing” [I’ll say – the day after a big holiday week-end when the editorial page features another big pro-Rhee piece.]

“There was much more she could have told us” [Most of the negative stuff was cut out]

“a year is not nearly not enough time to see how well a school will do over the long haul.” [Hmm – that’s what you said last year, after the disappointing scores at Shaw were finally revealed. So Sousa scores went down some this year?]

“these gains ‘were the biggest of any public middle school in the city last year,’ so this cannot be considered a typical school of the Rhee era.” [sounds more and more like the scores went down or leveled off, but we won’t know until the DC-CAS is public, and then only if we check ourselves. If the scores have increased, though, it will be another front page story.]

Rhee has given Sousa many more resources than you would find at such a small school---56 adult staffers for just 230 students. [so maybe scores went up, after all? I mean why do a big “scores are up” story like this without including this year’s DC-CAS results?] haven’t been made public yet? Why the suspense, when DCPS knows the DC-CAS scores?]

“The principal replaced most of the teaching staff AFTER that good first year of gains.” [thanks for verifying. It’s seems so unlikely that I wasn’t sure I read that right in the original story, and other commenters didn’t seem to pick up on it. How weird – and it sure doesn’t fit in with Rhee’s plan to financially reward teachers who raise student achievement.]

“…most of them resisted his changes, made them only because he was watching so closely, and he felt he could do better with a new team.” [He won’t be able to pull that same trick this year, with the new contract]

“the principal created exactly the kind of distress among many of his teachers that has led Rhee to have such a bad reputation among many veteran educators here.” [Do any educators of any age want that kind of stress? Raising scores and losing your job anyhow?]

"[A teacher says] ‘Also, it depends on the children you get.’ …that is the sign of a bad attitude, someone who should not be teaching.” [That’s funny; I thought good teachers realized that students are not all alike.]

Posted by: efavorite | July 6, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Maybe what the teacher who said, "It depends on the students you get" meant was that the students tested this year were a specially good group. It happens sometimes that a whole grade level is high performing, or well behaved. Then the seventh graders get to eighth grade and Oh boy!, different story.

I don't think making a comment like that means the teacher thinks that they cannot learn. You would have to ask that person for more details, but he/she may have meant that those students went along with the changes well or something.

I think that the teachers should try to do what the principal wants or leave, but they shouldn't have to keep their opinions to themselves.

Besides, an honest response is not a bad attitude. Do you mean to suggest that every group of kids learns the exact same way? Of course it depends on the group you get.

Principal Jordan seems to have what it takes to get this school going. Good for him. I think he knows that most people are looking at test scores. But if there are teachers who disagree with him, I think that is just normal.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 6, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

"The teachers who have most influenced me say that is the sign of a bad attitude, someone who should not be teaching. It is as bad an attitude,"

And, of course, that's why IMPACT is more concerned with identifying teachers with the right "attitude," rather than those who improved the education of their students. That attitude is an unquestioning faith in the TFA cult's dogma. How are scripted, unthinking, unquestioning teachers going to teach middle-schoolers to question effectively, to think critically, to examine evidence and reach their own conclusions? Or is that the idea? They don't really want these kids to be able to think for themselves. That might be dangerous. It also seems that this principal is only able to commit himself to any project for a short period of time. Not a recipe for sustained success. As efav. points out, his act may have already grown old, we'll have to wait (not long) for this year's scores. (In Criminal Justice we refer to this phenomenon as "exhaustion." ANY policy or program change will have a brief positive effect, just due to the sense that someone is paying attention, but it soon fades.)

Posted by: mcstowy | July 6, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Why did the Principal replace most of the faculty that got him those gains? That simply does not add up in my estimation. Just like Art Seibens who was excessed at Wilson S.H.S after a fantastic career teaching A.P. Biology, I think that the readers of this blog should go to his web-site "reinstate Dr. Art Seibens" and take a look-see. I am a teacher in the District with high IMPACT evaluation scores but that does not guarantee that I will remain employed. With IMPACT a teacher can get slammed unfairly with a bogus evaluation.I have witnessed principals who disliked individuals and have written false
evaluation reports. For these reasons I have lost all trust in upper and lower management, I feel that even if you work effectively, if you are not the right fit or are considered a thought criminal you should be aware of the consequences. We are a school system that demands teachers to drink the Kool-aid and turn into fanatics who neither think or have an opinion that clashes with lower or upper management. Advice to my fellow ET-15's, "keep your mouths shut and pretend that your a cultist or crypto-rheeformer".

Posted by: marylight | July 6, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Jay

Really--terrific timing? You must think the citizens of DC are smoking dope.

Rhee, WP and you cannot save Fenty. DC residents are not drinking your kool-aid.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | July 6, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

For mcstowy--I havent seen anything in the IMPACT requirements that can be fairly described as parroting Rhee dogma. Some of it doesn't make sense to me, but I have seen in many other evaluation schemes that don't involve Rhee. Did I miss something?

for nemessis---please send yr good questions to mccrummens@washpost.com so she can reply to you, and maybe you can share her answers with us.

for efavorite--nice to have you back in our friendly environs. those pro-Rhee thugs commenting on the front page story seemed to be trying to mess you up.

for counselor72---I meant it was terrific timing for bloggers like me who want to keep the discussion going.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 6, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

There are two primary problems with IMPACT (please note that I actually like IMPACT in theory, and hope that some of these issues get cleaned up).

The first issue is that there is no uniformity in evaluation. I did a couple of practice evaluations with fellow teachers, and could have given anything from a 2 to a 4 for most of the catagories. What you need to get a 2, 3, or 4 in a catagory is extremely vague and subject to interpretation.

I know several teachers who received scores of 3.2-3.5 from their administrators and 2.0 from the master educators. Unless there was some particular issue in one class, this is not acceptable. I have spoken to several people involved in the evaluation process who are frustrated with the ambiguity in the rubric and the lack of consistency of scores for the same teacher. If DCPS really wants this to be a useful measure, they are going to have to spend a lot more time making it consistant.

This lack of consistency leads to the second issue, which is that teachers have no trust in their administrators, and in many cases are correct not to. I suggest you look at "Filthy Teaching" if you want to hear a specific example of an administrator basically making up an evaluation.

At my school, many teachers were not really evaluated for the 3rd observation. Either their administrator came for less then the 30 minutes that they were supposed to, or didn't come to observe at all.

In addition, IMPACT was rushed out so quickly that DCPS failed to realize that they weren't actually able to evaluate special ed teachers. 30% of Spec. Ed evaluations were just ignored because DCPS failed to make arrangements to actually do the evaluations they were supposed to do. In addition, many teachers, especially in group 1 are now waiting to see if they are effective or not, and must wait until the end of July to see DCCAS scores.

More generally, teachers believe that administrators can use this ambiguity in the rubric to give low scores to teachers they do not like, or for those that are seen as making waves. While I do think that these concerns are somewhat exaggerated, it is the case that when your Chancellor is bashing teachers every week in the press, there is some reason to think that she would want "data" to show that teachers aren't very good.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | July 6, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

For next year, the budget of $5.2 million, comes just shy of $19,000 per expected pupil.

http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/Files/downloads/ABOUT%20DCPS/Budget%20-%20Finance/FY10%20documents/SCHOOL-BUDGETS-FINAL/DCPS-Sousa-MS-Final-10-2009.pdf

Compare it to other budgets at the same page.

http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/About+DCPS/Budget+and+Finance/Final+School+Budgets+for+FY10

There are middle schools where $ resources, per classroom, will smaller by an amount to pay for a half time fully qualified teacher.

So, consider this a demonstration project, like the one at Shaw MS, which also enjoyed staggeringly high human resources. To get the most value of the consideration, ask if it is an experiment in arresting rest-of-life failures, as Capital Gains was supposed to do.

With no basis for belief that this isn't luck, the approach of putting massive resources at some time in students' lives seems very attractive. The difference between journalism and unbiased research is that the latter considers the dismal failures, the ones we don't want to read about.

The problem isn't a shortage of Mr. Jordons, if he is reported without "measurement error". It is all the other Mr. Jordons whose schools do not respond. (assuming the measurements are indicative of parallel ones in all educational domains.) As it is said, success elicits so many claims of paternity, while failures are mostly orphans.

Posted by: incredulous | July 6, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

The most important fact from the story:
"Four, Rhee has given Sousa many more resources than you would find at such a small school---56 adult staffers for just 230 students. "

I don't have a problem with that.
They kids needed it, much more so than the top middle schools in DCPS. Stanton Elementary could have used that, but we will never see that happen.
(This is also how Miss Rhee supposedly got the gains she claimed at Harelm Park in her Baltimore Miracle.
She worked with another teacher and had one or two aides. (along with a u shaped table)).

It will be interesting to see the test scores.

BTW, Jason Kamras was at Sousa through 2005. Supposedly, math students under his tutelage did very well.
But as Guy Brandenburg showed, that wasn't true.

Posted by: edlharris | July 6, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Jay,
Why do you focus on middle and high schools?
I don't see you writing much about elementary schools.
If the elementary schools did the right job (undoubtably with a tension creating principal) we wouldn't see this dire need in middle school.

(I imagine one reason is that the last elementaryI remember you focusing on, Maury Elementary in Alexandria, things turn out to be not what you reported.)


Also, did Brian create this tension at Shaw?
Maybe Pope at Hardy didn't create tension. Thus the reason for his removal.

Posted by: edlharris | July 6, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Go to Gf Branderburg blog and write Jason Kamras, I think you will like the blog and his data. I think that readers should read the entire blog. He is what I consider a master teacher.

Posted by: marylight | July 6, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Lastly, Jay

What does the principal project his DC-CAS scores from 2010 will be?
I know they are required to make those projections.
Can you find out?

Posted by: edlharris | July 6, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Results
According to College Board Summary Reports:
74% of Dr. Siebens' students earned scores of 3 - 5 (eligible for college credit) on the AP Biology exam over the last ten years.

On the 2007 AP Biology Exam, 41 of the 43 (95.3%) students with scores of 3 - 5 throughout DCPS were students of Dr. Siebens. 65% of the DCPS students who earned a 2 (learned a substantial amount, but not enough for college advanced placement credit) were taught by Dr. Siebens.

On the June 2007 AP exam, all seventeen DCPS students who received the highest score of 5 on the AP exam were students of Dr. Siebens.

29% of Dr. Siebens' AP Biology students received a score of 5, or 1.7 times the national average of 17%.
(Of course Dr. Siebens teaches many non-AP courses, but the AP test provides a robust metric.)

Whatever he does in his classroom, it is working very well and students are learning. The impact his teaching has had on his students and their parents is so clear from scrolling the COMMENTS section of the Petition to Reinstate Dr. Siebens, including many former students are now pursuing careers in medicine and research because of him.

Detailed Analysis of Dr. Siebens' Students on the AP Bio Test with Comparative Metrics

And he deserves to be excessed? I think readers you should go to his blog and figure out why a good teacher like Dr.Art Seibens was excessed. Keep this in mind: Great teachers; improved test scores.

Which brings me to the curious case of Art Siebens.

Siebens has taught biology and other science courses at Wilson Senior High for decades. My daughter took his AP bio class last year. They didn’t get along. Siebens accused my sweet daughter of insubordination and called me in for a meeting. Hardly shocked, I negotiated a detente.

To call Siebens quirky is an understatement. Do you know any other teacher who hauls out his guitar on “back to school” night and has parents sing “It’s a Water Water World,” his song about H20, to the tune of “If I Had a Hammer?” Siebens has recorded a collection that teaches science through song. His students sing and learn — even my unruly daughter.

By any statistical measure, Siebens is a success. His students consistently score well on the AP bio test. His Wilson classes are filled with high-performing students headed for top colleges, but minorities learn and score high as well. Numbers do not lie.

So, Art Siebens is by all accounts a great teacher, and his students score well on tests. So why was he fired? Neither Rhee nor Wilson’s new principal, Pete Cahall, has offered a complete explanation to Siebens’ fans, including 560 who have signed a petition to bring him back.

“Dr. Siebens was one of those rare teachers at Wilson who really, truly cared about his students,” wrote Devorah Flax-Davidson, 2005 valedictorian now at Michigan. She was “horrified and incensed” that Siebens got the gate.

Siebens isn’t talking — or singing. His supporters are appealing to Fenty and Rhee, but neither will make a move. Cle

Posted by: marylight | July 6, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

I don't know. My first reaction to reading that teachers were given scripts is that I would be horribly offended as a teacher to be told that I was not capable of determining what to say in my own classroom. Also, if it is true that teachers were arriving at 5 am, raised test scores, then were fired, I don't understand what this proves for the principal. This would destroy morale. And how long can anyone keep up a schedule like that and maintain a life? Perhaps a young, idealistic, recent college grad - but I'm a middle-aged lady with two kids of my own. Although I guess if you are trying to change a school from the ground up, you need people who will make it their life. It will be interesting to see if the improvements can be sustained over the long haul, and if this group of teachers stays for that long haul.

Posted by: jennypalmer1 | July 6, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

"The teachers who have most influenced me say that is the sign of a bad attitude, someone who should not be teaching."

If you point out that score results depend on the cognitive ability of your kids, you're a bad teacher? On what planet, Jay?

The big boosts may not have been actual improvement in ability, but just improved performance on the test--which isn't the same thing. If you can convince students to try on tests, you can see a huge improvement.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | July 6, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

So Jay, the deciding factor for you is this "tension."
I believe that's what you like about KIPP.

So, are you telling us that without this tension, but with the 4 factors, the test scores would not have done this:
RDG MATH
2008 23 17
2009 39 42

What would those 2009 scores been:
R 24
M 18?????

How many points did the "tension" account for?



Posted by: phillipmarlowe | July 6, 2010 9:17 PM | Report abuse

Hello Jay and Readers: I AM ONE OF THE FORMER TEACHERS WHO WORKED AT SOUSA SCHOOL YEAR 2008-2009. I was fired along with 9 other "veteran teachers." I along with 8 of my other colleagues were interviewed for the Sousa article. Jordon as I was quoted is an organizational genius. Yet, his tactics were all wrong as 40 other staff members left Sousa on their own accord. To have 50 staff members leave in a school year is unheard of in any district. Also, the article does not say that Jordon had over 45 complaints filed with the Teachers Union and to DCPS Central Office about him.

A lot of the staff, including me, worked around the clock to increase the test scores. Prior to Jordon coming to Sousa, we always had a lot less resources and many more students. When Jordon arrived our enrollment was 60 pupils less. Also, we have not have any other Administrators (i.e., Asst. Principals) since at least 2004. When Jordon arrived, he was given two Asst. Principals and A Dean of Students.

Principal Jordon was very gifted at analyzing data and implementing longer school days. Some of even came to work from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily to please him. We were scared as he threatened us with being fired at least 3 times weekly.

Jordon wants to paint a picture of all the 10 teachers he fired as being unworthy. Yet, 4 teacher retired and 6 of us were given our jobs back because many of us had never had a bad evaluation prior to him. Also, DCPS has a new evaluation system called IMPACT. Based on the Preliminary Final Report, these are the ratings of the 6 teachers who returned: 1 Teacher Ineffective, 1 Teacher Minimally Effective, 2 Effective, 2 Highly Effective.

It is true that Jordon micromanaged and gave the teacher in question a script. She was an experienced, mature-aged, teacher who he wanted out due to age. She was doing well but he stressed her out so badly that she had to go on stress leave in April 2008 and never returned to Sousa.
Her story did have a happy ending.

The other teacher accused of corporal punishment retired. Yet, the charged were dropped against her and her good name was restored.

I spoke to Ms. McCrummen for 90 minutes as did many of my former Sousa colleagues. I pointed out that while Jordon was an organizational genius that he was very cruel. For instance, one teacher that he did not like had an allergic reaction and needed medical attention. Not only did Principal Jordon refuse to call the ambulance after the teacher begged him, but he walked down the hall and told the other staff members who witnessed it that they would be in trouble if they gave her the vinegar needed (from the cafeteria) to stabilize her until help arrived.

As I told Ms.McCrummen, I ,and many of my former Sousa colleagues, would rather dig 12 foot ditches filled with foulness than ever come upon the likes of Jordon again.
There are many other DCPS Principals that teachers love and respect that deserved credit. The article was very unbalanced reporting.

Posted by: PositiveNote | July 7, 2010 12:14 AM | Report abuse

What would be interesting would be to compare the human resources at a school like Sousa and other East of the River Middle Schools such as Johnson, Kramer, and Kelly Miller whose principals were not renewed this year.

As one pushes for reform and holds up examples of success, I wonder why other schools with just as serious academic and social problems are not getting the same support that Sousa has received. I know at my school, Kramer that we have a large number of our students who are not reading anywhere near grade level and a large population of Special Ed. students but nowhere near the ratio of adults to students as Sousa. We want to have smaller class sizes, more administrative staff and resources to help those who are behind, but don't have the people.

A staff member at Johnson told me when I asked about this article that they did not have a 56 adults to 230 student ratio. She told me that they have 40 staff(not counting custodians) for 295 students. They also had half a year without a social worker, months without a business manager, no Dean of Students, one counselor(not 2) and four months without one of their Assistant Principals.

I don't take anything away from the gains that Mr. Jordan and his staff have made though I am not sure I would want to work under him, but some of the miracle is also due to the system wide support they have received including the brand new building and the extra staff that others in Southeast and Northeast would die for.

Posted by: dceducator | July 7, 2010 12:50 AM | Report abuse

PositiveNote sheds a different light on the Sousa story. Why was it not mentioned in the article that there were less students there now than previously?

Also, why does the article not give credit to the teachers who got the scores up the first year?

Why is student teacher ratio not mentioned as a factor for success, when clearly this school has many less students than other schools?

Why no mention of these crucial facts? Why the slant towards the idea that it is just the principal and no emphasis on the teacher pupil ratio and extra resources?

And, what about the age discrimination going on here? No, forget the age thing. What is the deal with scripted lessons?

The teachers are reading from a script that they didn't write themselves? What?

Posted by: celestun100 | July 7, 2010 4:51 AM | Report abuse

After reading the article again, I think the key to his success might be that he can hand pick the staff he wants. But, that is the problem with changing administrators around constantly. You might have one who you click with and get good evaluations, another one may want you to say things that don't fit your style.

For the kids, the structure is good. and it is nice that they think he cares and that he talks to them about the schoolwork.

I find the allergy situation that Positive Note mentions to be disturbing.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 7, 2010 5:07 AM | Report abuse

celestun100:
We don't know if Sousa's success will continue with his handpicked staff. The 2010 DC-CAS scores aren't out yet.

However, PositiveNote does provide us with a more more information to balance out Jay's hagiography.

It's nice to think that Jay will give her story some consideration, but he won't. Her story does not fit the narrative that Jay wants to tell.

To imagine Jay as a reporter who go around collecting facts like gold nuggets and then writing the story based on the facts is foolish.
Jay starts out with a preconceived notion then goes and selects the facts to fit the narrative. As evidence, look at his support of the Baltimore Miracle.

Jay won't take up my question and give us a suggestion as to how many points the "tension" Mr. Jordon brought to Sousa raised the test scores.

(BTW, here's the analysis of Jason Kamras's time at Sousa:
http://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/what-is-the-value-of-having-a-superstar-teacher/
It is not pretty).

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | July 7, 2010 6:09 AM | Report abuse

Thank you positivenote - is there any chance you could recontact the reporter and have her publicly verify your conversation with her as you present it here?

Hey, Jay - it could make an interesting column for you too. More people would see it that way. Maybe you don't want that.

Posted by: efavorite | July 7, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Positivenote – also go to the Examiner, City Paper and the local Current weekly papers with your story. I think it will get a hearing in at least one of those places.

For a look at Sousa last year at this time, go to:
http://www.blogcatalog.com/blog/the-washington-teacher/8fb3cce79109410443dbd9074d1149fa
Jul 7, 2009 - Where Have All The Teachers Gone ?

Posted by: efavorite | July 7, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Here's an anonymous letter from a Sousa teacher which is part of the Washington Teacher blog post linked to above:

Sousa Middle School has experienced the highest teacher and staff turnover rate in its' history, under one year of leadership with Principal Dwan Jordon. Dwan Jordon terminated 8 teachers that he placed on the 90-Day Plan; however, more than 30 additional staff members have either transferred, resigned, or left in the past 10 months Principal Jordon has been on the job. To have more than 30 people (including janitors) voluntarily leave a brand-new, 20 million dollar plus, state-of-the-art- middle school should be very telling about Mr. Jordon's treatment of teachers and staff.

Students, parents and community leaders are outraged at this high turn-over rate as it will effect the human ecology of their neighborhood. As such, they have signed petitions, and have called for Principal Dwan Jordon's termination to Chancellor Rhee. On Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 3:00 p.m., students, parents, and community members met at headquarters with CHANCELLOR RHEE and presented compelling evidence as to why Principal Dwan Jordon is not a good fit for Sousa. They presented CHANCELLOR RHEE with all the names of the teachers and staff members who were no longer at Sousa. Also, they provided personal testimony regarding their experiences at Sousa.

THIS WAS THE RESPONSE OF CHANCELLOR RHEE TO THE SOUSA MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS, PARENTS, AND COMMUNITY LEADERS ABOUT PRINCIPAL DWAN JORDON:
"Well, I will investigate the various allegations that you have brought against Mr. Jordon. However, I feel that Mr. Jordon is an awesome, awesome, principal who sets very high standards for his teachers and staff. Therefore, I do not agree with terminating Mr. Jordon. At the very least, Mr. Jordon deserves another school year as Sousa Middle School's principal."

Can all the teachers and staff-members be wrong? Can all the teachers and staff-members who accuse Principal Jordon of being mean-spirited, uncaring and a tyrant be incorrect? What is going to happen to all the students who are returning to Sousa in August when they realize that only 5 teachers out of the original 24 will be back? Also, how will the students respond to 19 new teachers who don't know anything about the neighborhood or its' student body ?

Posted by: efavorite | July 7, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Hello Everyone: This is Positive Note again. I would like to thank you for supporting my version of the story.

Efavorite, I am done contacting Ms. McCrummen and here is why? First, when I was contacted for the story by Ms. McCrummen, I contacted at least 30 former staff members from Sousa.

At least 10 additional teachers (than the original 8 directly contacted Ms. McCrummen) called her using her Wash. Post telephone number. Everyone that she spoke with from the former Sousa staff of 2008-2009 told her the cruel truth about Jordon's reign of terror. Someone even compared him to a modern day "Hitler".

Secondly, many of us told Ms. McCrummen that we had documents and emails to verify a lot of the things that we said about Jordon. Yet, she never took us up on our offer.

Thirdly, one of the former Sousa members contacted Ms. McCrummen to be interviewed after me. Ms. McCrummen did not interview the person. Ms. McCrummen read the staff member some of the negative notes that the other former staff members had said. Then, Ms. McCrummen said that if the staff member did not have anything else "different" to add that she did not need to interview her.

Also, other staff members left Ms. McCrummen a voice message to be interviewed and she did not call them back.

Many of us were very hesitant to contact Ms. McCrummen in the first place. Principal Dwan Jordon is highly loved and respected by DCPS. Therefore, Jordon has been allowed to get away with many, many, things because of this.

I take redemption in knowing that everyone from the old Sousa staff is doing better.

Many days Jordon would come into your classroom to sit and intimidate you during your lunch period. People would sit in the bathroom for privacy.

Our class sizes were small in 2008. Most classes did have 10 to 20 students at most. I have talked to a lot of colleagues from Sousa. We know the article is not truthful.

Also, the article does not mention that at the end of this school year----Jordon experienced a high rate of teachers and staff members who quit. There are rumored to be at least 15.

There are so many DCPS Middle School Principals who are making great gains, and treat their staff like human beings. Jordon will never be able to keep a consistent program because he will never be able to maintain staff members.

Therefore, many of us are just done with the whole Jordon thing as nobody seems to want to expose the truth.

Jordon was reported to the union for not returning the teachers' $400.00 in hospitality dues as he never even sent a card to any sick person. Also, one teacher had to come out of her pocket and pay $40.00 in cash for a missing textbook in June 2009. None of these monies were ever returned. The same day, he took his staff to Jaspers Restaurant in Largo, MD

A lot of people who are now retired offered to use their real names in the story.

Therefore, I am done with trying to offer input and comment. I thank you good people for seeking truth.

Posted by: PositiveNotes | July 7, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Jay, what say you?

Posted by: guylady20101 | July 7, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

"Hers is a tale of a very energetic and aggressive principal, the sort that Rhee has been recruiting the last three years, and the significant jump in the percentage of Sousa students testing proficient in reading and math that has resulted---from 23 to 39 percent in reading and from 17 to 42 percent in math in just a year." How many of Rhee recruits are still in the system. How many did Rhee fire?

Perhaps this writer should return to her position as a foreign correspondent. And if any comments of PositiveNotes are true (remember PositiveNotes offered documentation and this writer failed to use the information), she should take another look at this article; apologize for failure to fully disclose what is happening at Sousa--the good and bad. This writer is just another Rhee fan posing as an objective reporter.

Perhaps, you should have done a little investigating before heaping such glorious praise on the writer. But in your haste to praise your girl Rhee you did not do so and therefore makes you look a little desperate.

Posted by: guylady20101 | July 7, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

At any rate, we now know what the author meant by "ruffled feathers" .

Good job PositiveNote for being courageous enough to tell the truth.

Can we please have something from the author to either dispute or agree with these claims?

Posted by: celestun100 | July 7, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Jay does come out and say that this school is not representative of Rhee's schools since she has been there. I think he is not such a cheerleader.

Jay, whether or not this amount of tension is good depends on what the turnover rate is after this year. (Of course, the recession is going to effect that)

If the scores stay high with a constant turnover rate of 30-50% of the staff that would be wierd.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 7, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

I am deeply grateful to PositiveNotes for this exceptional contribution to the blog. I agree with all commenters above that I should do more with this. I think one has to keep in mind that Stephanie, one of the best reporters I know, had the problem we all do of less space than she wanted. She turned in a story that was about 3,500 words long and what we published was about 2,400 words. That is still a very long story, but it has always been the case that great reporters have to see good stuff get cut. There has never been enough room in the paper for all of the important information we have.
But here we are in cyberspace with more room. I would be very grateful if PositiveNotes would allow me to use those comments in a future column, and please let me know via mathewsj@washpost.com if I can use your name. I would welcome emails to that address from any Sousa teachers who have things they would like me to say about what happened.
for phillipmarlowe---I think we both know that tension in such circumstances cannot be quantified, but I challenge you to tell me of an instant in which important change occurred in any human venture without some tension being part of the change. I have spent a lot of time in bad schools, and what is often most noticable is the apathy. That makes people in such schools who want to change pretty tense, but the problem is that too few people are willing to commit to working that hard, and taking the risks that change requires. And of course without good leadership, even if they tried, they would fail.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 7, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

There is a big difference between tension and harassment. I've seen administrators torment effective teachers for rather frivolous reasons--which often amount to personality differences. Sadly, I've seen younger principals target older teachers who were effective in the classroom. Often these teachers were targeted because they didn't wish to take on a lot of extra curricular activities. Is it wrong to not want to spend 12 hours in the school building when one has a family? If this is to be the expectation then schools will see a major shortage of people who wish to teach. One thing I've learned over the years is that limiting the overtime actually can have positive effects. First, one is less likely to burn out and second, one learns to managed their time better.

I get the impression form PositiveNotes that longer days were one of Jordan's expectations. The conditions she describes really do amount to harassment and it's a wonder that those teachers made it through the year without significant health issues from the stress.

Posted by: musiclady | July 7, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Jay, you have a point. In some poorly run schools the more work you do you are sort of ostracized. Nobody wants a good teacher to show how little work others are doing.

But it also has to be said that the sort of stifling of all dissenting opinions may make things run smoother in the short term, but can lead to covering up inconvenient truths.

I have been in a few bad schools myself and have never thought that a solution would be to create so much negative tension that the good teachers would be driven out.

Another one I am curious about is the Biology teacher mentioned above.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 7, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Musiclady I agree with you, except that I don't believe that if the older teachers did the extras they wouldn't be harassed.

I think that is the reason given, but the true reason is that those types of administrators are insecure and see older, popular teachers threats.

They are threats because the parents like the teachers and some newer principals see that as competition or something. Also,
these older teachers have the respect of other teachers in the building.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 7, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Matthews: This is Positive Notes. I appreciate your acknowledgment of the fact that there is another side to the Sousa story. Whether people believe my story or not, everyone from Sousa in 2008-2009 knows that I am telling the truth.

You are more than welcome to use any of my comments. Also, If you give me your telephone contact information, then I can forward it to my former colleagues that offered to use their names. Many of them are older teachers who would prefer phone conversations versus emailing.

I under no circumstances would ever consider using my name. I would probably be fired by DCPS the very next day.
I have already suffered great financial losses after being wrongfully fired in June 2009. I am just rebuilding my life and I can not go through that again.

No one except the Washington Teacher's Union helped us in June 2009....Not DCPS, DC Council, or the media outlets.

However, your colleague, Ms. McCrummen has hours worth of notes from the former Sousa Staff. As long as you don't use our names, then I don't see why you can not use excerpts of her notes.

Also, thewashingtonteacher.blogspot.com has articles about Jordon.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, are you able to go to DCPS and get the 2008-2009 turnover rate of staff. I was there and know that at least 50 people left. Even this year 2009-2010, It is reported that 15 people quit Sousa.

Also, by going to DCPS Central Office, you should be able to get a copy of all the complaints and grievances filed against Principal Jordon. Also, The Washington Teacher's Union has a lot of registered complaints against Principal Jordon too.

Mr. Matthews, I do appreciate you at least being open. We were saddened to open our hearts about such a painful and traumatic working experience----only to have nothing happen.

Again, you are more than welcome to use my comments.

If you have a heart to heart with Ms. McCrummen she will tell you the truth.

Jordon is without question----one of the most important and powerful people in DCPS. Everyone in DCPS knows it. There is no way that any of us, except the retired teachers, would ever publicly come out against Principal Jordon.

We would all be fired in a "New York Minute".

I hope that you can understand the reason for my fear. Yet, I promise and swear to Mr. Matthews that everything that I have said about Principal Jordon is true.

Ms. McCrummen must have pages and pages of notes. Many of us talked to her for 90 minutes or more.

I do hope that you investigate these allegations for yourself, and then give your readership the truth.

God Bless you and Your Readers, Mr. Matthews

Posted by: PositiveNotes | July 7, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Matthews: This is Positive Notes. I appreciate your acknowledgment of the fact that there is another side to the Sousa story. Whether people believe my story or not, everyone from Sousa in 2008-2009 knows that I am telling the truth.

You are more than welcome to use any of my comments. Also, If you give me your telephone contact information, then I can forward it to my former colleagues that offered to use their names. Many of them are older teachers who would prefer phone conversations versus emailing.

I under no circumstances would ever consider using my name. I would probably be fired by DCPS the very next day.
I have already suffered great financial losses after being wrongfully fired in June 2009. I am just rebuilding my life and I can not go through that again.

No one except the Washington Teacher's Union helped us in June 2009....Not DCPS, DC Council, or the media outlets.

However, your colleague, Ms. McCrummen has hours worth of notes from the former Sousa Staff. As long as you don't use our names, then I don't see why you can not use excerpts of her notes.

Also, thewashingtonteacher.blogspot.com has articles about Jordon.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, are you able to go to DCPS and get the 2008-2009 turnover rate of staff. I was there and know that at least 50 people left. Even this year 2009-2010, It is reported that 15 people quit Sousa.

Also, by going to DCPS Central Office, you should be able to get a copy of all the complaints and grievances filed against Principal Jordon. Also, The Washington Teacher's Union has a lot of registered complaints against Principal Jordon too.

Mr. Matthews, I do appreciate you at least being open. We were saddened to open our hearts about such a painful and traumatic working experience----only to have nothing happen.

Again, you are more than welcome to use my comments.

If you have a heart to heart with Ms. McCrummen she will tell you the truth.

Jordon is without question----one of the most important and powerful people in DCPS. Everyone in DCPS knows it. There is no way that any of us, except the retired teachers, would ever publicly come out against Principal Jordon.

We would all be fired in a "New York Minute".

I hope that you can understand the reason for my fear. Yet, I promise and swear to Mr. Matthews that everything that I have said about Principal Jordon is true.

Ms. McCrummen must have pages and pages of notes. Many of us talked to her for 90 minutes or more.

I do hope that you investigate these allegations for yourself, and then give your readership the truth.

God Bless you and Your Readers, Mr. Matthews

Posted by: PositiveNotes | July 7, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Jay says, “She turned in a story that was about 3,500 words long and what we published was about 2,400 words.”

Sorry – this is no excuse to distort a newspaper report. Besides, who knows what was in those other 1,100 words – it could have been even more praise for Jordan.

Let’s hear from the journalist – preferably on the front page, if Positive Note’s story checks out. Meanwhile, maybe McCrummen could add in those missing words right here – or is that against the rules?

Positive Note – if you talk to Jay make sure that he gives you control over the content that appears in his column of what you’ve told him. Jay has said before that he works this way with contributors and he did with me, but I was very firm (remember Jay?) and was ready to back out if I wasn’t allowed to present the facts from my perspective, not his. Please don’t just leave it at “you’re welcome to use my remarks” because that is license to distort them in context – sad but true.

You seem very strong and at this point very media savvy, so I think it could work. Also consider contacting Valerie Strauss who writes education columns for the Post, often at variance with Jay’s point of view.

Posted by: efavorite | July 7, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Go Positive Notes!

But seriously, get a lawyer and keep track of everything if you haven't already done so. Get a retired teacher to give her/his name. Don't do it yourself if you need your job.

Hang in there and listen, this is not that uncommon actually. You did the right thing by getting out. You might want to do a little research on Bullies at Work and how it can effect your health.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 7, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Jay,

Please check out Ariely's new cognitive science research on the benfits of irrationality. Its built on Predictable Irrational, and the research is global. He he shows that the greater the incentives, the poorer the performance. Little incentives like in pay for performance can work. Bigger incentives and big disincentives fail and they fail miserably. And the reason is that stress causes mistakes. Great stress causes even bigger mistakes.

His research is state of the art, but the canon here is huge. Isn't that the fundamental reason for the New Deal? If Social Darwinism has repeatedly failed, why dump a newer version on children?

Besides, if that principal had a 1 to 4 ratio of adults to kids, he didn't need to become a Napolean.

But getting back to your question to phillipmarlow, the lessons of history are clear. That's why we have a constitutional democracy. Napolean, like Rhee, may have started out with good intentions. And you yourself in your last sentence to him explained what the teachers who you repeatedly cite as the best need to undestand when you wrote "And of course without good leadership, even if they tried, they would fail."

I'm sorry that I can't offer a silver bullet. But I've seen the successes that come when people are treated with respect. And I can't prove this but I'd bet this. Little real learning and no retention of learning occurs without emotion and context. I put most of my effort into building an positive emotional climate, and getting kids to understand how their lessons fit with other real world learning. I'd love to compare the retention of my kids with those who were force fed test prep by stress-filled educators.

Posted by: johnt4853 | July 7, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Efavorite, I really enjoy all your support and candor. Yet, I am very, very fearful. With one word from Jordon, teachers are fired and never heard from again in DCPS.

Jordon has so such power that he can make one call and get teachers fired that don't even work at Sousa. I can not and will not go on record.

Jordon is still destroying careers of teachers at Sousa. I am in a much better place. Yet, I can not and will not go on record at any point.

I will allow Mr. Matthews to do as he pleases. The former teachers realize ,through our previous efforts, that nobody wins when they take on Jordon.

Therefore, I choose to be courageous enough to admit that I am a coward who prefers to be able to maintain my job. Yet, my retired colleagues would take Jordon to task.

Again, I just hope that Mr. Matthews presents the truth, but I am going into hiding.

I lost too much that I can never regain. Therefore, I must put the past behind me and try to keep my job.

Posted by: PositiveNotes | July 7, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

You are not a coward, you are being realistic. Hang in there.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 7, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Also Bill Turque's new post and Steve Sawchuk's new piece are directly relevant. Rhee's lawyers briefed her on the Hatch Act but did she listen? They must has also told her about legal "property rights," but "from her vantage" she does not believe in them. The principal and the chancellor have rights to their own personal opinions, although I wish they stop trying to impose them on policy throughout the nation. But on their jobs, they must respect the law.

Posted by: johnt4853 | July 7, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Jay, your column is so exciting today! WOW!!

Posted by: celestun100 | July 7, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

PositiveNotes, I understand and respect your position, and do not expect you to go on the record with your real name, given your circumstances.

When I contributed to a column of Jay's he allowed me to do it using my handle, efavorite, and we communicated via an email address that also uses that name. Here’s a link to the column that resulted from that conversation:
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2009/10/one_of_the_struggles_most.html

I hope your retired colleagues do contact him and/or Valerie Strauss and hope they first read the advice I gave to you about talking with Jay Mathews! I don’t know how much you’ve read of Jay’s columns, but he is extremely Pro-Rhee – which he has acknowledged freely. Also keep in mind that Mathews are Strauss (who is not pro-Rhee) are columnists, whose job is to write about their opinions on various matters. They are supposed to present facts accurately, but their articles will be on their opinion about the facts, and they are sometimes known to leave out facts that don’t support their opinion.

Investigative reporters, like Bill Turque and Stephanie McCrummen are supposed to dig out all the facts of a story and present them in a complete, objective way, leaving their opinion out of it. From what I can see, McCrummen did not inject her opinion, but she did distort and omit important facts (or maybe her editor did). I sensed that even as I read her article, before hearing the details you provided. It didn’t add up or hang together very well.

We certainly deserve to hear more about this situation – and on the front page again – not just stuck back here in a blog.

Posted by: efavorite | July 7, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

While any appreciable gains in academic performance are laudable, I am surprised that no one has pointed out that even with all of the discipline, structure, data-driven instruction and heavy-handed tactics with staff, Sousa's students are still scoring below 50% proficient in both reading and math.

Posted by: stevendphoto | July 7, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

efavorite

You are right. In fact the "feather ruffling" title almost didn't make sense and the information about the school itself having more resources and fewer students was not in the article itself, it was in Jay's blog.

stevenphoto
I also noticed that the scores were below 50%, but thought it would be a little too snarky to say so. I do think they are trying to improve, I just think they are going about it the wrong way.

PositiveNotes
Your posts are great, beyond the fact that you have shed new light on this, they read like something out of a spy novel. Maybe YOU have a career in writing.

Jay, Thanks for being open to the "other" side.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 7, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

a. Art Seibens has made a number of racist comments to students and staff as reported by my own children. He was overheard telling one of the teachers at Woodson--where he taught this year--that the kids east of the river weren't worth bothering with. He was also a vocal critic of allowing ANY student to take AP classes at Wilson. Teacher of kids? NO WAY!
b. If only 43 kids in Seibens class achieved a passing grade on the national exam and he probably taught 150 kids total, what happened to the rest of them. And the reason his scores compose a majority of those reported is because VERY FEW high schools even offered AP classes.
c. All the cloak and dagger contained in these posts--some of which borders on slanderous attacks on individual's character and professionalism--make for a very solid case in court. I really wish that many of the folks that post to this blog and others about education would stop hiding and be man/woman enough to confront their accusers by using their real names. I mean, really, if you are so righteous that a wrong has been committed that impacts kids in the District of Columbia, for goodness sakes tell someone that can do something about it.

(Frankly, I think Jay Matthews is a coward for playing into the cloak and dagger game by allowing people to be identified by some moniker in his print stories.)

If the accusations are true, then there should be nothing to fear. The guilty will be fired and the innocent protected under VERY comprehensive whistle blower statutes. Come on people, there is no time in the day for anyone in any industry--especially education-- to categorically "go after" folks who tell the truth. As for Jordan being all powerful? I mean, come on! He is a principal!

I also contend that most of the folks that complain that they lost their jobs because of this administrator (or any other) have not "moved on" as one writer stated. Instead, they are full of anger and resentment that they were fired (probably for just reason) and can't accept the possibility that they probably played SOME role in their own employment demise.

Jay, please go fine tune your ridiculous high school rating system or engage in something more than just fanning the flames of gossip and unsupported (and in most cases not worthy of reporting) accusations. You and Bill "Turkey" do very little actual cut and dried reporting. Most of it is tracking down the rumor-of-the-day and finding someone (unnamed, of course) who will substantiate it so that you can run a story and make yourselves seem relevant to your editors and the HR department. As for Ms. Strauss, most of what she seems to claim as column material is a REPRINT from research/ideas that SOMEONE else has written about. That's journalism?

I'm sure those who post here regularly are now in full-froth getting ready to type, "this is a Rhee clone" or some un-witty insult. I speak my mind, teach well, and form my own opinions, thanks very much.

Posted by: feetupwithagrin | July 7, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

to PositiveNotes: I am very sorry to hear what has happened to you. Thank you for yr permission to use yr comments. My phone number is 703-518-3012. As efavorite has indicated, I show EVERYTHING I write to all of my sources before I publish in order to check for errors. It doesn't give sources the power to dictate what is in the piece, but they can make sure I have said nothing inaccurate about them and in some cases, having seen my argument, change my mind. I think the many erudite participants in this blog will tell you that although I have strong views on some subjects, like Rhee, I am always eager to give the other side some space to criticize my views, and me.

To celestun100---it is not the column that is exciting today, but the comments. That is, as frequent blog visitors know, usually the case here at Class Struggle.

to feetupwithagrin---I am sorry you feel that way, because i agree with yr concerns about the numbers being used to support Mr. Seibens. He may be a great teacher. I can't tell because he has not responded to my efforts to speak to him about his case, and I don't leap to conclusions about things I have not reported. Using the percentage of passing scores on AP tests as a measure of a teacher's worth (as one commenter did here) is deeply flawed, one reason why I don't use that method in the Challenge Index. I cannot be certain that this teacher discourages many of his students to take the exam, but that has happened at other schools and it creates very distorted stats.
I hope you won't write me off as a reporter before you read a bit more of what I am writing, particularly my books. I am a columnist now, and it is hard to wedge a lot of reporting into 650 words, but I think my Friday online columns, under the Trends category on this blog, have more detail, as do my books. I use a lot of what I have learned in my book research in my columns, so that they are solidly grounded in reporting, even if they are short. And I hope you have a chance to read the FAQs for the Challenge Index before writing it off. It is more complex than it looks at first glance, and is itself a huge reporting job. Each year I contact thousands of schools to gather the data, and learn a lot from my many chats, online and on the phone, with principals and teachers around the country.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 7, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

feetupwithagrin - are you willing to go on record with Jay Mathews as you say others should?

Use your real name and make sure you have facts to back up your accusations and that you are not, as you say "just fanning the flames of gossip and unsupported (and in most cases not worthy of reporting) accusations."

Posted by: efavorite | July 7, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

If the accusations are true, then there should be nothing to fear. The guilty will be fired and the innocent protected under VERY comprehensive whistle blower statutes. Come on people, there is no time in the day for anyone in any industry--especially education-- to categorically "go after" folks who tell the truth. As for Jordan being all powerful? I mean, come on! He is a principal!

--------------------------------------
It amazes me that you know so much about Art Seibens and so little about how DCPS works, especially for teachers.

True allegations are much more dangerous then false ones, and are punished much more severely. Teachers who question authority, whether it be Ms. Rhee, or their principals, are routinely given poor evaluations, involuntarily transferred, RIFFed, or made miserable by their principals.

I personally know several teachers who reported things that were directly hurting students WITH PROOF. Things like grades being changed without teacher consent, academic eligibility, inappropriate behavior of administrators or other favored teachers. In NONE of the cases I am familiar with was the response a positive one. Teachers who rock the boat, or even appear to question orders from above are not successfully protected by any whistleblower statutes, no matter what the law says. You might want to read the archives of "Filthy Teaching" for a specific example.

Given that, I can't see why any teacher would volunteer their names in a public forum, when there is an excellent chance of them being punished for it, and the worst job market for teachers in many years.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | July 7, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

The story also has a memorable quote from a teacher still at the school (I would guess not for very long) who does not accept Jordon's view that all kids can learn much if taught well. "If a teacher is sincere, I don't think everything needs to be stacked on test scores," the teacher said. "Also, it depends on the children you get."

The teachers who have most influenced me say that is the sign of a bad attitude, someone who should not be teaching. It is as bad an attitude, those teachers say, as a student who says to his teacher, "I'm not going to listen to you, b____." In fact, they would argue that the student's attitude is not nearly as distructive, because he at least knows he is being bad, and can be persuaded to shape up, whereas the teacher thinks she is just being nice, and realistic.
By Jay Mathews
...............................
"The teachers who have most influenced me say that is the sign of a bad attitude, someone who should not be teaching."

Wow Mr. Mathews has gone back 40 years and contacted the teachers that most influenced him to obtain from them their opinion. Perhaps he has used a seance to contact those who are no longer living.

"In fact, they would argue that the student's attitude is not nearly as distructive, because he at least knows he is being bad"

So children who have been victims of physical abuse by their parents and now are violent to other children really know that this is "bad" and not the accepted norm.

Mr. Mathews should inform child psychologists of this new fact since this will certainly change the field.

Based on the facts of Mr. Mathews that all children are the same and "bad" children can be easily changed, it is a wonder that newly educated teachers are not swamping the school systems with Title 1 schools with applications to work in their school systems. These school systems usually usually pay well and are located in cities with many attractions.

It is really surprising that most newly qualified teachers would rather teach in affluent and middle class school system than in school systems with Title 1 public schools given the facts of Mr. Mathews.

One understand that Mr. Mathews view his column as an opinion column and that is acceptable. At the same time Mr. Mathews should not be pretending there is evidence for his opinion.

It is fair to express your opinions but it is "bad" to pretend that you are simply passing on the opinions of past teachers you have known and admired.

If Mr. Mathews believes that all children in a class in a Title 1 public school have the same skills and abilities then he should provide this evidence.

Mr. Mathews should also provide evidence regarding his opinion that children know when they are "bad" and that their "bad" behavior is easily correctable.

By the way is Mr. Mathews creating a new word for the English language with distructive to reflect the meaning of both destructive and disruptive.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 7, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Wyrm1 wrote: I personally know several teachers who reported things that were directly hurting students WITH PROOF. Things like grades being changed without teacher consent, academic eligibility, inappropriate behavior of administrators or other favored teachers. In NONE of the cases I am familiar with was the response a positive one. Teachers who rock the boat, or even appear to question orders from above are not successfully protected by any whistleblower statutes, no matter what the law says. You might want to read the archives of "Filthy Teaching" for a specific example.
____________________
And this is why I've always thought that so many administrators prefer to get rid of experienced teachers and why there is a push to eliminate tenure. Experienced teachers are the ones who tend to speak up. They've seen the pendulum swing both ways and can offer advice based on experience. They also will speak freely about "reforms" that may have been tried in the past with little success. Having tenure allows these people to speak freely without fear of job loss.

Instead principals would rather have new, inexperienced teachers who blindly do what they are told without questioning. The sad thing is that under current thinking, those people will have their pay and job security determined by performance when they have had little, if any, say about how their job is done.

Posted by: musiclady | July 7, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

A note to readers.

Mr. Mathews used the b word that sounds like witch in his article.

When I tried to submit a comment that quoted the use by Mr. Mathews of the b word it was blocked.

When the b word was changed to b_____ the comment was not blocked.

Apparently the system censures certain words and those who are entering a comment should be careful if using quotes of Mr. Mathews.
...................................
In regard to Mr. Mathews it appears that he believes that the teachers that stated the below should be discharged.
"If a teacher is sincere, I don't think everything needs to be stacked on test scores," the teacher said. "Also, it depends on the children you get."

According to Mr. Mathews this is "bad attitude".

Apparently trying to be sincere in doing your jobs is no longer enough and a teacher has to accept ideas that appear to go against common sense and reality.

If the same standards were used on athletic coaches they all would be discharged since they all believe that the performance of their teams is heavily dependent upon "the children you get".

Mr. Mathews is an opponent of unions for teachers but provides the exact reasons why teachers would want unions to protect themselves from being discharged on the spurious charge of "bad attitude".

Posted by: bsallamack | July 7, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

How to fix the problem of education in Title 1 poverty public schools.

Test every child when they enter the public school system and place them in classes based upon their current abilities and skills so teachers can teach to the level of the class.

There are already tests for testing children prior to entering kindergarten.

Divide primary education in half with schools of K to 2nd grade and schools of 3rd to 5th grade. This allows you to use existing schools and staff. On this basis each grade will have 4 different levels to match the current skills and abilities of children.

Now you are maximizing education for children in each class room. This method also allows you to spend more money for children that need more help since children are in classes based upon their current skills and abilities. Teacher aids can be assigned to lower level classes to assist in raising the skills and capabilities of these children. This allows schools to pin point resources where they are most needed.

Yearly tests would be used to indicate the level children are prepared to go into for the next school year. Knowing the current abilities and skills in their class will allow teachers to use the teaching method best suited to the class.

Do this for three years and you will dramatically increase the achievement in primary Title 1 public schools.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 7, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

why does efavorite--and a few others of the great masses of commenters who use pseudonymns -- demand that others use their real names when she does not use hers? although some with pseudonyms are recognized and known by their real names to some readers, most are not. rather an odd suggestion.

Posted by: axolotl | July 7, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I think that one point needs to be made very clearly: Sousa improved dramatically under Jordan. Those kinds of test score gains are just too mcuh to ignore. Something at Sousa just wasn't right for proficiency rates to be so low. The principal AND his first year staff deserve credit for making the needed changes. It also needs to be emphasized that Sousa received a lot more support from the district to impliment these instructional changes.

That said, I'm not sure I understand why Jordan got rid of his staff. The scores clearly show that the teachers did an incredible job. Way out of the ballpark really.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | July 7, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I am deeply grateful to PositiveNotes for this exceptional contribution to the blog. I agree with all commenters above that I should do more with this.
Posted by: Jay Mathews
............................
What is Mr. Mathews talking about?

Mr. Mathews has already told us that any teacher who is sincere but will not totally believe the kool aid should be discharged for "bad attitude".

Is he now telling us that teachers should not be discharged for not swallowing the kool aid when they are sincere in doing a good job?

Please no more of the "mickey mouse" stuff and make up your mind Mr. Mathews.

Perhaps Mr. Mathews should again contact his teachers that he respected 40 years ago who told him the definition of "bad attitude", and seek their advice on this dilemma.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 7, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

That said, I'm not sure I understand why Jordan got rid of his staff. The scores clearly show that the teachers did an incredible job. Way out of the ballpark really.

Posted by: Nikki1231
............................
"Bad attitude".

Doing a good job is not enough if you are not willing to swallow whatever kool aid is the current favorite of the school system.

Remember it is not what you do but what you think.

Remember the following words of Mr. Mathews.
................................
"If a teacher is sincere, I don't think everything needs to be stacked on test scores," the teacher said. "Also, it depends on the children you get."

The teachers who have most influenced me say that is the sign of a bad attitude, someone who should not be teaching.
.................................

Posted by: bsallamack | July 7, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

"Hers is a tale of a very energetic and aggressive principal, the sort that Rhee has been recruiting the last three years, and the significant jump in the percentage of Sousa students testing proficient in reading and math that has resulted---from 23 to 39 percent in reading and from 17 to 42 percent in math in just a year."
Posted by: guylady20101
....................................
I love public schools where you can feed a reporter anything and they will believe it and report it.

Reminds me of the good old days before ENRON collapsed.

Apparently reporters do not even read newspapers since there were reports that schools were raising scores by "energetic and aggressive principals" by erasing the incorrect answers and filling in the correct answers.

Far easier for a reporter to simply accept figures without any questions.

Good training if you want to leave journalism and go into Public Relations.
.....................................
I admit that I did not read the full article since I was turned off by the first paragraph and did not want to wade through what I believed was a long and tedious article. Besides there are always yearly stories like this of one school supposedly really performing. Appears the reporters can never find a school that is now doing worse. It amazing how the reporters miss this when the Title 1 public schools overall are so poor.

"It was 8 a.m., and 21 teachers had gathered in the library of Sousa Middle School for the meeting that Principal Dwan Jordon has convened nearly every morning for two years, part of his crusade to improve one of the District's worst public schools."

The reporter should think about writing novels. Great drama. Just imagine if this was a description of an early morning meeting at the Pentagon, or an early morning meeting at a Car Dealer before the big sale of the year.

Surprised that the reported vetoed using "personal crusade" since this would have been appropriate in this style of writing. Why not go only half way with a cliche when you can go full hog?

Posted by: bsallamack | July 7, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

why does efavorite--and a few others of the great masses of commenters who use pseudonymns -- demand that others use their real names when she does not use hers? although some with pseudonyms are recognized and known by their real names to some readers, most are not. rather an odd suggestion.

Posted by: axolotl

Well, feetupwithagrin made a very serious charge.
For what reason does he/she hide?
Perhaps you don't like our legal system where one has the right to face their accuser.

efavorite does not do that.
He/she mainly reminds us of what Miss Rhee has said, and how it conflicts what she earlier said or that it is not based in facts.
It was efavorite who caught Michelle Rhee "lying" about Shaw Middle School scores last summer.
One could have easily checked those facts.
Not so with feetupwithagrin.
What if feetupwithagrin was really Marion Barry?
Wouldn't that change your mind about his/her charges?

Why do you hide, axototl?

I don't.

Posted by: edlharris | July 7, 2010 10:48 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, edlharris,

You’ve clarified the difference between being an anonymous source of information that can be verified and being an anonymous source of gossip and insults.

I doubt Mathews would have published my comments (negative to Rhee) if they hadn’t been backed up by irrefutable evidence, just as McCrummen would not have quoted “Positive Notes” and other teachers in her Sousa article as undisclosed sources without assurance that they were credible.

Posted by: efavorite | July 8, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

memo to the blog--Thanks to PositiveNotes, I talked to four former Sousa teachers yesterday, and expect to speak to more. I plan now to make this my next Monday column on July 12. I learned something about the dynamic between aggressive principals like Jordon and the teachers union that I have never seen reported before. It is one of the many surprising things Sousa teachers told me.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 8, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

This isn't just Sousa and Rhee or education. Nearly everyone who has had a job of any sort has seen the same thing.

Check out Sam Colbert's Get Rid of Performance Reviews. On NPR this morning he explained the two inherent problems with performance reviews, that they are fraudalent and bad management. These reviews start off in a "clash" because the boss's boss has typically reached the conclusion that the evaluating boss is suppoes to reach. So the immediate boss reverse engineers the evaluation to reach the organization's target. The employee wants a positive outcome, so trust is undercut.

Some jobs you can score with metrics, says Colbert, but the metric that matters is the boss's opinion. And metrics don't measure everything. They don't measure the destructive things the employee does to keep the boss happy whether it is harmful practices or refusals to let bad news up the chain of command.

In addition to Dan Willingham, Dan Pink, and Dan Arielly's great book Predictably Irrational, Ariely has new research documenting the ways that performance incentives hurt performance because they generate stress and stress generates mistakes. And all of this is built on a long history of social science and novels from the Great Gatsby to Catch 22.

Posted by: johnt4853 | July 8, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Good Jay - I hope your column will be about more than this one union issue that will be a scoop for you.

You owe more to your sources than that. I know you've said you don't mind if teachers are stressed as long as kids' scores are improving, but these teachers have seen enoug stress, I think and don't need any more - this time from reporters.

Posted by: efavorite | July 8, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

A frequent reader of this blog, whose wisdom has been proven to me on many occasions, emailed me to say he thought my comments in this string about former Wilson High School AP Biology teacher Art Siebens were out of line. I think I was careful in my comments on Siebens' forced transfer from Wilson to another DCPS school, and did not take sides. But I think the reader was right in saying I failed to note a possible reason for Siebens not responding to my requests for an interview. It could be, the reader said, that Siebens is seeking legal redress and been told by a lawyer not to talk to the press. I am sorry I did not make that point and am grateful to the reader for calling me out.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 8, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

If principals fire or make life difficult for teachers who are rated "effective" or "highly effective" on their own evaluation system then the question becomes, "What effect does this have on the students?"

Students know which teachers really care about them and their learning. According to the article we read, that, along with a no-nonsense approach and making good use of data, was one of the keys to the Sousa principal's success.

Some students are sensitive to the emotional undercurrents running through the classroom. They can read body language like a book.

It is one thing to look professionally energetic and serious about learning with a "you can do it" high expectations attitude. It is another thing to try to look that way while being completely stressed out and worried that if you misstep, you will be fired.

In a classroom of 30 middle school students, you have 30 different people to engage in learning. One of these 30 people could be having a bad day. You make a judgment call each time you interact with a student who is feeling down. If you are under an enormous amount of stress you can easily make an error and escalate a situation that could have been toned down for the sake of the whole class. Middle school students need their teachers to be calm, confident and fair because middle school kids everywhere are going through incredible changes.

So, the point is not just that some teachers' feelings are hurt, it is that the high levels of extreme stress can effect the kids.

I also think that the kind of demoralizing stress one feels when your boss dislikes you as a person (and is willing to show it) is different than the kind of energizing stress that you feel if you have a challenge in front of you.

I think the question about stress on a teaching staff comes up because the school is being praised as successful, yet has a very high turnover rate. The question is a legitimate one because negative stress does effect the students.

I have never been fired from any position in my life and have high evaluations. My students score well on tests. I have observed administrator-teacher interactions in several districts. In some, there is mutual trust. In other schools, the principals distrust the teachers and the teachers are treated like children and then, I think, a few of them start to act like children, but maybe that is beside the point. I prefer the mutual trust set up myself.

In fairness, it must be difficult to run a school. You have to be a strong leader and no-nonsense type of person, you have to set high expectations and you have to show you care to a large number of students and teachers, just to start off. But that doesn't give you the right to demean or threaten good people who are every bit as sincere as you are, but disagree philosophically. If they are insubordinate, that is something else, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.


Posted by: celestun100 | July 8, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I notice that the last comment that was here this morning is no longer here. Do you know anything about that? It was from a friend of a Sousa teacher and was not flattering towards the principal.

I know you don't have a policy of removing unflattering comments; some others remain on this board right now.

What can you tell us about this?

Posted by: efavorite | July 9, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

I suspect that Jay was told to take it down, or more likely it was taken down for him.

Can't have criticism of one of Rhee's chosen ones. :-)

In all honesty, it was probably taken down because it was potentially slanderous and a personal attack on someone not on the board (I think some of the personal attacks on people here should be pulled as well).

Hopefully we will get more information about Sousa on Monday, when Jay has promised to use information from former teachers there.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | July 9, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Does Sousa prove Rhee right? I guess not. That's why they held the data for so long. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/local-breaking-news/dc/dc-elementary-test-scores-show.html

TEST SCORES DOWN. Rhee, Fenty and the whole phony TFA "reform" crowd; hoisted on their own petard. How's the crow, Jay? Can we now hold Fenty and Rhee "accountable" and show them the exit?

Posted by: mcstowy | July 13, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

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