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Rhee is central to future of DC schools

School opens today in the District. For the next three weeks, Americans who care about the future of urban schools will watch the city closely.

If Mayor Adrian M. Fenty loses the Democratic primary, Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee — the most divisive D.C. educator in my 39 years at The Washington Post — will probably leave. If Fenty wins, she probably stays. Whether that is good or bad depends on your point of view.

While my wife and I were taking our toddler grandson to see his favorite fountains in California, early returns from what I call the Rhee primary were pouring in. Elementary students in regular public schools lost between four and five points in reading and math proficiency after two years of gains. Regular public secondary school students continued to improve.

Rhee briefly united her friends and foes by persuading the Washington Teachers’ Union to accept a far-reaching contract. That burst of amity ended when she fired 76 teachers who received poor evaluations under her assessment system and 76 others for licensure problems or other issues. She also put another 89 teachers who had been judged “minimally effective” in jeopardy of termination.

Fifth-grade scores declined at two of the high-performing charter schools in the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a mild blow to Rhee since she is one of the few big-city superintendents who actively support charters, particularly KIPP. The number of District schools, regular or charter, meeting adequate yearly progress goals dropped from 47 to 15, but that is no longer a big issue. The No Child Left Behind law is rapidly deteriorating as nearly all U.S. schools head for its bad list, which Congress will tear up and toss away when it rewrites the law.

Those of us who support Rhee because of her emphasis on hiring strong principals and creating dynamic teacher teams applauded the results from some well-led schools. Dunbar and Coolidge high schools, run by the veteran New York innovators of the Friends of Bedford group, showed good gains.

But faculty tumult at Sousa Middle School, where a Rhee hire alienated teachers, and a midyear change of principal at chaotic Spingarn High School show that her leadership team is a work in progress. My colleague Bill Turque calculated that Rhee has made 91 leadership appointments in three years, but 39 are no longer in those jobs. She understands that principals who establish creative school cultures are key to raising student achievement. “I’d love to have a better batting average,” she told Turque.

People I respect who want Rhee to go say she is too impulsive, too disrespectful of community leaders, too quick to dismiss experienced teachers, too wedded to test scores and always convinced that she is right. Reasonable arguments, yes, but they contradict what I have learned about improving schools from educators who have done so.

When first faced with schools as mired in apathy and inertia as D.C. schools, these ultimately successful school leaders were as divisive as Rhee has been. They moved quickly to change personnel and procedures. They sought community support but ignored leaders who opposed their methods. They fired or refused to hire teachers, many of them experienced, who warned against expecting much from poor children. They took standardized test scores seriously and changed methods when achievement did not rise.

Like Rhee, they acquired many critics and many supporters. How the chancellor does in that ultimate accounting, we will learn after the elections of Sept. 14.

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  | August 22, 2010; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  Michelle Rhee, divisive but effective, key to election  
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Comments

Jay,
Miss Rhee has expressed the desire to staff schools with people who stick around for a few years. As efavorite has reposted, she told (The Atlantic?) that people don't pick a career and stick with it for 30 years.
As she has made clear, she has a low opinion of those who do think that way.

But how is this method of staffing going to raise test scores?
If you believe her Baltimore Miracle, it took her 3 years to become so good (at which point she quit).

Yet her staffing method would have a constant turn-over of teachers..

It's not going to work.

Indirectly, this is proven by her leadership of New Teacher Project and the work of her first job, Teaching For America.
None of them have been able to replicate Michelle's Baltimore Miracle of taking kids from the 13th percentile to 90% of them scoring at the 90th percentile.
Nothing like it in 15 years.


PS Who are these abrasive school leaders you champion?
Dr. McMahon of DeMatha?

Posted by: edlharris | August 22, 2010 11:14 PM | Report abuse

Not sure I should even post a comment to this column; it is better off ignored. However, I do want to highlight a few things. Did Jay Matthews even look at the test scores himself or is he just guessing about school performances under Rhee? How do you explain 14 schools being worse off now in 2010 in math then before Rhee came? What about those students? How about the 40 schools that are worse off in reading in 2010 than before Rhee came? How can all those schools have a lower reading and math proficiency in 2010 than in 2007? Are you just ignoring all those students? Do you even care? We are not talking small declines either. In reading the decline in 2010 from 2007 is as high as 45% and with an average decline of 6%.

How about AYP? Only 10 schools made AYP this year, down from 38 in 09, 46 in 08 and 32 in 07. Is that what you call reform?

The only truly consistent trend in DC CAS and NAEP scores for DCPS under Michelle Rhee is that the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and their wealthier peers and the achievement gap between SPED students and their non disabled peers has increased significantly every year under Rhee.
According to OSSE's report card data, the economic achievement gap in the percent proficient or above for DCPS overall grew by 14% from 2007 to 2010 and the achievement gap between SPED and non SPED grew by 9% from 2007 to 2010. 3rd grade had the largest increases in those achievement gaps with a 16% and 12% increase respectively. Those 3rd graders are homegrown under Rhee---more than another grade level. In 2007 they were kindergarteners.

So, the real story of Michelle Rhee (and the Post in its unwavering support of her) is no child left behind except those that are furthest behind...they get left behind more each year.

Maybe you should take a look outside of Ward 3 and the wealthy parts of Ward 2. And, maybe you should take a look at the data instead of parroting what Rhee says about it.

Posted by: mfalcon | August 22, 2010 11:42 PM | Report abuse

Don’t tease us, Jay – tell us who those school leaders are - complete with links to objective reporting - who, like Rhee, were so divisive, yet so right in the end.

Convince us why we should no longer take AYP seriously, even though the number making it declined even by 2009 standards.

Tell us who her strong principals hires are and how it is that they’re from the surrounding area and not top-notch instructional leaders from around the country who clamored to compete for positions in Rhee’s reform effort. Just two years ago, educational expert Andy Rotherham predicted that "People are coming from across the country to work for her... It’s the thing to do.” http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200810/michelle-rhee.

Lastly, are you setting your readers up with mention ot the “dynamic teaching teams” Rhee is creating. I haven’t heard about them except from you.

Posted by: efavorite | August 22, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Mfalcon – that was well worth posting, thanks.

Edlharris – here’s Rhee’s October ’08 Atlantic quote on teaching as a short-term career, along with Kati Haycock’s similar point of view, expressed in Newsweek in September of ’08.

Rhee: “Nobody makes a thirty-year or ten-year commitment to a single profession. Name one profession where the assumption is that when you go in, right out of graduating college, that the majority of people are going to stay in that profession. It’s not the reality anymore, maybe with the exception of medicine. But short of that, people don’t go into jobs and stay there forever anymore.” http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200810u/michelle-rhee

Haycock: "But what we need to do is change the idea that education is the only career that needs to be done for life. There are a lot of smart people who change careers every six or seven years, while education ends up with a bunch of people on the low end of the pile who don't want to compete in the job market." Kati Haycock, President of Education Trust, http://www.newsweek.com/id/154901/page/3

Posted by: efavorite | August 23, 2010 12:05 AM | Report abuse

It's interesting how people see things from a completely different prospective. To me Michelle Rhee not only represents the worst about our educational system, but is actually, along with others like her, the cause of its mediocrity. You see, in our country there is gross disrespect for K-12 teachers from many of our citizens. These people would never teach in a city like DC for more than two or three years, nor would they encourage their children to do so. They don't even see teaching as a worthwhile profession. For this reason, urban districts like DC often go begging for teachers and are forced to hire people who are neither experienced nor fully qualified.

Go to any country with an enviable system of education and the first thing you will find is that the teachers are so respected that the profession is high-status and therefore able to attract the most talented people and keep them. And there you have it.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 23, 2010 12:15 AM | Report abuse

"They took standardized tests seriously."

The United States has long lagged behind other countries in terms of test scores but we've always been first (or nearly so) in science, technology, business, law, medicine, the arts and almost every field of human endeavor. In 2006 a reporter for Newsweek asked the Minister of Education for Singapore to explain why his own country was Number One on test scores but lagging behind the USA in terms of adult accomplishments. This is what the minister said,

"We both have meritocracies. Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy."

Is Michelle Rhee, and others like her, leading us down the path of an "exam meritocracy?" Is that the American way? Is that what we want to be?

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 23, 2010 12:54 AM | Report abuse

Earth to Linda TRT -- as Aretha Franklin warms up in the background, don't you think that respect is a chicken-and-egg proposition? The District has had a perceived "teacher problem" since the 70's when we were given Home Rule. Public education here has gotten steadily worse, by every measure if you take the 4-decade view and ignore small spikes up and down. And enrollment has tanked. And costs per student in real dollars has skyrocketed. Even with the relatively rich pay and benefits, I agree, we are not going to attract the experienced, strong teachers. We can grow some, e.g., people like Urban Dweller and efavorite, but not that many because of who we have traditionally recruited and never evaluated seriously or devoted much PD to, and because of the short-term stays of the TFAers who need experience and seasoning. So the teachers don't look great, but that is as much a regflection of the institutional DCPS as it is on the educators' capabilities. And in the background, sure, there is poverty, but the DC government, Federal government, and society as a whole would be lucky to stay even with that problem; it cannot be worked in any special way or with any speed by the school authorities. So, we get back to the teacher quality variable, which many educators, most parents, smart politicians, and some "experts" believe is a far more fertile field to plow in the name of ed. reform than any other. I agree it is unfair to blame the teachers for the problem, but raising their quality/shedding the weak, uncommitted, negative ones can be a big part of improvements. We can't wait for the economy to turn around or for poverty to be cured.

Posted by: axolotl | August 23, 2010 12:57 AM | Report abuse

Jay you said: "The number of District schools, regular or charter, meeting adequate yearly progress goals dropped from 47 to 15, but that is no longer a big issue. The No Child Left Behind law is rapidly deteriorating as nearly all U.S. schools head for its bad list, which Congress will tear up and toss away when it rewrites the law"

When exactly did you change your mind about NCLB and AYP?? It no longer matters? Yet when she came you touted her as being to deal with both of those, and improve the numbers. Plus Race to the Top, at this point still uses AYP, and the growth model (following a student's growth versus one group of 5th graders with the next) has yet to be implemented so your cavalier dismissal of those abysmal numbers is distressing.

As others have asked, please share who those educators are that prove Rhee is right in her tactics (and in essence prove you are right in your statements).

Did you ever read Ravitch's book? Do you really understand what educators have complained about regarding NCLB and how standardized testing has been used to harm schools versus improving them?

No teacher has been against standardized testing, only in using tests created to assess what a student knows and using that to interpret how effective a teacher or school is, when the creators of those tests themselves have stated that is not what they were designed for.

Yes, teachers need to be accountable for their students' learning (growth models might work..assuming attendance is taken into account. If a student misses a certain percentage..isn't there for a teacher to teach them, then their score shouldn't count).

Rhee has fired teachers for numbers within their classroom that aren't as bad as the numbers have been for the system...which is supposedly under Rhee's control. Same with the principals she has let go. Why don't the AYP numbers mean she is accountable? You used AYP numbers to fault other superintendents/leaders, right?

Posted by: researcher2 | August 23, 2010 6:40 AM | Report abuse

I admire Michelle Rhee. She has done more to bring importance/relevance to K-12 public education in this country than anything since A Nation At Risk in 1983 and/or No Child Left Behind in 2001.

Like anyone, she has strengths and weaknesses. She's been as controversial as any individual in education perhaps since Alexander Sutherlan Neill (Summerhill).

While her presentation has often been called into question, her insistence on disrupting the status quo in our schools coupled with her demand to prioritize children over adults far outweigh her sometimes misunderstood message - regardless of family/economic background, all children can be educated and are entitled to an appropriate public school education.

She has been the best thing that could have happened to the worst system of schools in America and proof that change can occur in US public education, despite whatever obstacles may present themselves. Evidence of this can be garnered from the new DC teacher contract, where the DC teacher union had to make significant concessions to her demands.

If Fenty were to lose the election and eventually Rhee were to leave, it would indeed be a terrible day in Mudville. One can only hope DC voters appreciate what they have.

Posted by: phoss1 | August 23, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

I posted last evening and it's gone now?

Again, Jay, you say Rhee has an emphasis on hiring strong principals. Based on what evidence? I sat on search committee for a DCPS in June. One candidate's resume had a spelling error and another one had a typo. A third candidate didn't have a degree in elementary education, had never taught in an elementary school and had never served as a assistant principal or principal of an elementary school. In fact, based on his resume, the last time he had spent a full day IN an elementary school when was he was eleven years old. All three of these "strong principals" are now leading a District of Columbia Public School. It think these candidates and their lack of experience and ability to spell check and/or proofread a resume, speaks volumes about the sort of people Michelle Rhee is attracting. A resume isn't an email or a comment on a Post article. As a parent, when I see errors like these, it tells me the pool for principals in DCPS is incredibly shallow.

The system needed reform, I would be the first to admit that, but Rhee's brand doesn't work. She destroyed what worked well at my child's school and my family resents her for it. When I tucked my child into bed last night he lamented the start of third grade, since it's all "DC-CAS prep." How would you feel if your grandchild faced kill and drill each day? Every child deserves access to foreign language instruction, arts instruction and music lessons. Those programs are being whittled away under Rhee.

Honestly Jay, look around. Look at the leaders she's brought in and look at who has departed. Things are the worst they've ever been.

The system doesn't need any more "rock stars." These sorts of leaders, administrators and teachers can't deliver lasting and quality results. I know Rhee is fun to write about, but some of us actually have to send our children to these schools.

I can't begin to express how depressing this first day of school was at my house.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | August 23, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Jay,

Even you would have to want Janey back wouldn't you? Test score growth was higher then and more widespread across race and class. Just contrast last week's news about graduation rates. We had another expose of D.C.'s bogus grad rate numbers, while Janey's Newark was #1 nationally for Black males. And notice how Janey handled it. He shared credit with the people before him who started the researched based reforms that laid the foundation for real growth.

I don't know what educators who you are talking to, but surely they know that generations of social science says the way to make sustainable reforms is high-quality preschool and reading for comrehension. An equally great body of research shows that with Rhee's approach, "you can't get there from here." Who are the poem's lyrics? Never was and never will be.

And actually that is good news. We should rejoice that people who use Rhee's approach are condemned to fail. There is a lot wrong with human beings, but that historical truth speaks well of featherless bipeds.

Posted by: johnt4853 | August 23, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

It's becoming less and less interesting to comment on these boards. At least the discussion on testing elicitied some fresh thinking and open minds, but this is becoming formulaic.

Jay writes article explicitly or implicitly supporting Rhee, usually filled with caveats.

e, lrt, edh question Jay's sanity and whether he's ever visited a DC school.

T1SM is exasperated and depressed.

Hmann offers the possibility that things have actually much improved, but also expresses concern over items like excessive testing and lack of creative outlets.

e accuses Hmann of being a 100K plant.

Hmann is sad because apparently there is money to be made and he is missing out.

Posted by: horacemann | August 23, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

aoxlotl chimes in with criticism of Linda's comments without actually addressing the points she made, as usual. I love consistency.

Linda is correct. We got to this point largely because teachers are so disrespected in this country that the best and the brightest rarely choose it as a career. In earlier generations, it was one of the few career choices available to smart, well educated women, but now there are other options. If the pay and working conditions were good enough, teaching positions would be highly sought after by women and men.

Here are two questions for aoxlotl and the rest of you who think teachers are the root of all evil. I've posed these questions before on WP discussion groups, but no one has ever answered:

1. Where do you think these hordes of evil, lazy, irresponsible people come from? What is it about the field of education that draws so many bad apples to go forth and wreak havoc on our society?

2. How would YOU go about attracting more suitable people to teaching? How do you think administrators in Finland and Germany attract great teachers? Does it have any bearing on recruitment and retention of teachers?

There's nothing chicken-and-egg about the problem. The solution to getting good teachers is to pay well, show respect, and provide good working conditions. It's that simple.

A final thought on Rhee's comments about how people no longer stay in one profession for a lifetime. It's true that it's common for people to switch careers. But that doesn't mean people should not remain in a career they really like. What if you really like teaching? Maybe she didn't like it so much (she didn't stick with it), so she can't conceive of anyone else liking it. It's too bad she can't respect those who do like it.

Teaching is a good choice for people who like change because there are so many options. Many career teachers start with elementary school and discover they enjoy a particular subject and then specialize. Some switch grade levels or move into secondary levels. I've known high school teachers who discovered how much fun elementary school can be. It's a good career choice for people who don't want to do the same thing forever.

Posted by: aed3 | August 23, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

aoxlotl chimes in with criticism of Linda's comments without actually addressing the points she made, as usual. I love consistency.

Linda is correct. We got to this point largely because teachers are so disrespected in this country that the best and the brightest rarely choose it as a career. In earlier generations, it was one of the few career choices available to smart, well educated women, but now there are other options. If the pay and working conditions were good enough, teaching positions would be highly sought after by women and men.

Here are two questions for aoxlotl and the rest of you who think teachers are the root of all evil. I've posed these questions before on WP discussion groups, but no one has ever answered:

1. Where do you think these hordes of evil, lazy, irresponsible people come from? What is it about the field of education that draws so many bad apples to go forth and wreak havoc on our society?

2. How would YOU go about attracting more suitable people to teaching? How do you think administrators in Finland and Germany attract great teachers? Does it have any bearing on recruitment and retention of teachers?

There's nothing chicken-and-egg about the problem. The solution to getting good teachers is to pay well, show respect, and provide good working conditions. It's that simple.

A final thought on Rhee's comments about how people no longer stay in one profession for a lifetime. It's true that it's common for people to switch careers. But that doesn't mean people should not remain in a career they really like. What if you really like teaching? Maybe she didn't like it so much (she didn't stick with it), so she can't conceive of anyone else liking it. It's too bad she can't respect those who do like it.

Teaching is a good choice for people who like change because there are so many options. Many career teachers start with elementary school and discover they enjoy a particular subject and then specialize. Some switch grade levels or move into secondary levels. I've known high school teachers who discovered how much fun elementary school can be. It's a good career choice for people who don't want to do the same thing forever.

Posted by: aed3 | August 23, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

aed3's reading comp. ain't that high, but that's ok, because she's locked in her views. You seem to be calling for more pay and better working conditions. She's probably not a DC taxpayer; we pay enough for teachers and are not going to pay more. The conditions are what they are. She takes a 100 percent teacher-centric view of the "problem," and may well be another unionista, if from some other area. No mention of the kids and their plight, including suffering and being condemned to poor education in the classes of well paid teachers. And remember, madame, poverty will not be cured any time soon so that the teachers can be more comfy, and parents are not likely to get better anytime soon. Improvements there would be great, but you won't see it soon. The operative point is neither the school system nor the DC govt can make improvements there. So, logically, we see what can be done with something that can be changed. And the problems with some teachers are hardly unnoticeable, especially compared to the good ones we have. Open your mind. Stop dreaming. Stop thinking only of the teachers.

Posted by: axolotl | August 23, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Horace,
I guess we are insane.
We (including Jay) keep doing the same thing over and over.

Posted by: edlharris | August 23, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

And I always assumed it was my kids that were making me insane...

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | August 23, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

axolotl-
As expected, you had no answers. Just more evasions and accusations.

You know nothing about the kinds of kids I work with or the years I've put in working with kids from ghettos and barrios. Your assumption that I don't care about children and poverty is a typically stupid, cheap shot that is out of context. Talk about being locked in a certain view. You are a textbook case. You seem to have a heavy emotional investment in stereotyping all teachers as bad people.

Believing that better working conditions would attract more talent into teaching is not “teacher-centric.” It’s common sense. The current approach isn't working. Too many talented people leave within 7 years not because they aren’t good teachers or don’t care, and often, not even because of the pay. They leave because they can’t see spending 20 or 30 years being treated like a naughty child and being looked down on because of their line of work.

Can you think of another line of work in which employees are expected to accept being treated like garbage? In every other employment model, it is assumed that you get what you pay for. It works in countries that are usually held up as having examples of superior education systems. By the way, those countries have strong teachers’ unions.

You are very wrong about my union views, but that is in line with the way you lump all teachers together. I don't particularly like the way teacher's unions in this country operate. Like many of us, I belong to a professional organization to get tort insurance.

People with your attitude contribute to the problem, and will only discourage talented people from going into teaching. Do you work for Rhee or one of her organizations?

Posted by: aed3 | August 23, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

The New York Times recently had Op-Ed Columnist from a black columnist on the problems of blacks in areas such as the Title 1 poverty public schools such as D.C.

Too Long Ignored
By BOB HERBERT

"More than 70 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers."

Time to fully understand that the problem is large numbers of children that have great difficulty in learning and may never be able to learn.

There is an epidemic in public school education in the Title 1 poverty public schools of D.C. caused by multiple generation of poverty and neglect.

None of the policies of Ms. Rhee or the policies of Race To The Top are targeted to deal with large numbers of children that have great difficulty in learning and may never be able to learn.

No special programs are set up to deal with these children and national policy is totally focused on the pretense that the problem is caused by lazy and incompetent career teachers.

The national tests for D.C. in 2009 indicated that 56th percent failed in 4th grade reading and this can not be in any way be taken as evidence of a miracle in public education by the policies of Ms. Rhee.

Time for career teachers to simply recognize that national policy is to simply ignore the problems of the Title 1 poverty public schools in urban areas such as D.C. Dealing with the problems of large numbers of children that have great difficulty in learning may simply lead to total failure since many of these children may never be able to learn.

It is far better for the political leaders to simply blame career teachers as the cause of the problem.

Time for career teachers in America to fully understand that there is no place for them in the the Title 1 poverty public schools.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 23, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Multiple generations of poverty and a lack of education where the norm is almost six years of neglect before a child is placed in the public schools.

Overwhelming evidence of the importance of the first five years in the development of children.

National tests that for years indicate large majorities of the Title 1 poverty public school children with great difficulty in learning.

And the answers to the problem is supposedly teachers that will overcome the years of neglect of these children, and the use of standardized testing.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 23, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

We all do agree on one thing: good teachers are essential if the school district is to improve. In my local paper there was an article about how a superintendent made certain each new hiree was an excellent teacher by visiting the classroom of that person or sending a representative to do the same.

So here is a solution that has worked for every other employer who faces difficulty in attracting highly-qualified applicants: Choose the employee carefully and then offer good salaries, benefits, working conditions and the opportunity to do the job without much interference. It works every time.

Horacemann is right. Many of us are responding to Jay's bait and writing the same things over and over. I'm doing it because I hope if I say it often enough, the next mayor will insist that only highly-qualified teachers are hired to fill district openings. These people should be experienced and have a proven record of success. They should NOT be hired because they are someone's nephew or belong to someone's organization. The practice of patronage in hiring is a longtime district tradition that continues to this day. It needs to stop.

Hire the best and the brightest applicants and then do whatever is necessary to hang on to them. Instead of gutter speech "Go hard or go home" try "I know you can do it and I'm here to help you succeed."

Good luck, Mr. Gray! You've got supporters in California!

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 23, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

I had named some of the principals and teacher leaders I admired in a previous discussion, but I see yr point. It is the aggressive school leaders that I am talking about, and that is a somewhat different list. It includes Vince Reed, former DC superintendent, who fought often with his school board and stuck to his own views, with some good impact, at least short term, and the long term blessing of the Banneker High School. It includes Eric Smith in Anne Arundel County, and to a certain extent Jerry Weast in Montgomery, both of whom created a lot of friction and criticism, but good results. It includes the KIPP founders, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, and KIPP DC founder Susan Schaeffler, who were somewhat more sheltered from harm because they were charter school leaders not answerable to elected officials, but they still had to fight a lot of bureaucratic battles and created many enemies in their communities and school districts. I did a column a while back saying when dealing with inertia and apathy in an urban district, you have to push a lot and make some enemies. The long list of failed superintendents here and elsewhere who havent done that convince me the educators, including many above, who have told me this is the case are right.

And I am glad to hear people citing the achievement gap stats. I think everyone in DC has bought into that as a useful measure, and I profoundly disagree. A columnn on that will appear soon.

Posted by: jaymathews | August 23, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

We all do agree on one thing: good teachers are essential if the school district is to improve.
Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher
..............................
Good teachers are irrelevant in D.C. when the problems of multiple generations of poverty are ignored.

Neglect a child for the first five years and you have a child with great difficulty in learning and possibly a child that will never learn.

Believing that "good" teachers on their own will deal with the problem makes as makes as much sense as telling all American parents to intentionally neglect their children as the teachers are responsible and will overcome this neglect.

Time for teachers to understand that when they talk about "good" teachers in regard to the Title 1 poverty public schools of D.C. they are simply ignoring the problem like Ms. Rhee.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 23, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I had named some of the principals and teacher leaders I admired in a previous discussion, but I see yr point. It is the aggressive school leaders that I am talking about, and that is a somewhat different list...
Posted by: jaymathews
.............................
The usual from Jay Mathews who can not provide any real data from national tests that indicate that any of "aggressive school leaders" made any difference in Title 1 poverty public schools.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 23, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Rhee is central to Kevin Johnson, Mayor of Sacramento, California. The future of DC School stakeholders will continue to survive without a Michelle Rhee.

It isn't about one individual,especially M. Rhee, it is about the future of our DCPS students. They deserve a Superintendent and we can do better!!

Posted by: sheilahgill | August 23, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Money Saving Advice to American Parents From Jay Mathews

Contrary to all the research on the first five year of children being important for development I know that this is simply a misconception.

American parents can simply neglect their children for the first five years. This could save Americans billions.

It is the responsibility of teachers in public schools to have your children learn no matter their neglect in the first five years.

Ms. Rhee and I are full supporters of the responsibility of teachers on their own to overcome the neglect of children, and American parents simply can ignore the child psychologists.

SAVE MONEY AND NEGLECT YOUR CHILD.
Posted by: jaymathews | August 23, 2010
---

Posted by: bsallamack | August 23, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack:

I agree with you to a point. A child who is seriously neglected his first five years of life will often be very much behind academically once he gets to kindergarten. These children seldom catch up. However, research and common sense tell us that a good teacher is even more necessary for such children.

As a teacher of many years in low-income schools I was witness to the dramatic differences that teachers can make. However, as you suggest these people are not miracle workers and they can seldom close the achievement gap by themselves. One of my saddest memories goes back to 1978 when my older son was in first grade. I had some very poor but bright students in my own first grade class. They were doing just as well as my own child and their test scores were just as high. However ten years later most of them had fallen way behind and some dropped out or ended up in continuation schools. Some people think if they had excellent teachers each year, they would have succeeded. Well, maybe, but can we expect every doctor, dentist, hairstylist, teachers etc. to be excellent? We can try for it, but it's not realistic.

Of course I agree that we must have community schools or do something else to mitigate the poverty of many of our children. Other countries have done this and we can too. Once we see that "schools alone" or "the teacher alone" cannot solve the problem of the achievement gap, I think we'll go the way of more successful countries.

For now, though, the citizens of DC should insist on highly-qualified teachers, and NOT rookies from The New Teacher Project, for their schools. Also, I'm glad to see that Mr. Gray is planning to expand preschool programs. That will go a long way to help close the gap, especially if the programs are high quality.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 23, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

"Rhee is central to future of DC schools."

True, if you want the progress of the last 15+ years to be stalled and reversed, as Rhee has done in just 3 years, keep her.

Posted by: mcstowy | August 23, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

aed3--for a teacher, your lack of reading comp. is startling. I see the great and just-good teachers and wonder why we also have so many substandard. Don't count on anyone to tell you where they came from; who knows, or cares at this point. In DC we want to help the ones who warrant that help and send on their way those who cannot get up to an acceptable point. That is good management. Until Rhee showed up, terminated teachers were less than one-half or one percent, and the voluntary quit rate was extremely low as teachers, regardless of quality, waited for their generous pensions. Again, we are not expecting the public schools or the city government to cure poverty or activate parents who are inattentive. We can only deal with the variables that are subject to analysis and action. That includes the quality of teachers, among other variables. You have insufficient respect for teachers if you want to condemn youngsters to sit in classes where the teachers are uncommitted or ineffective; we want them out. The good ones we want to keep. Make sense? You don't get the kind of respect you want just for showing up. Teachers are among the most important members of the community, but they don't get ironclad job security or high pay unless they are effective. You need to think like a parent and a citizen-taxpayer and someone interested in social improvement rather than a unionista only looking out for teachers.

Posted by: axolotl | August 23, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

for bsallamack---read my KIPP book. It has all kinds of data showing that approach works.

Posted by: jaymathews | August 23, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack:

I agree with you to a point. A child who is seriously neglected his first five years of life will often be very much behind academically once he gets to kindergarten. These children seldom catch up. However, research and common sense tell us that a good teacher is even more necessary for such children.
Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher
..........................
No I disagree with you.

A high crime areas does not need more good police officers. It normally needs more average police officers and different methods. We do not expect that the problem will be handled by super cops.

I am tired of this charade.

There is a tremendous difference with an area like D.C. with large numbers of children that have serious problems in learning and a middle class area with the same number of children but do not have large numbers of children that have large numbers of children that have serious problems in learning.

We have to get away from this superman concept of teachers. All that should be expected is that public schools have average teachers.

We do not expect a hospital with all extraordinary doctors.

The children in the Title 1 poverty public schools that are learning are in most cases simply the children that could learn with an average teacher.

These children learn in an environment that is hostile to learning. It is not the teachers but the minority of children that have escaped from poverty.

The "good" teachers do not provide these children a safe school. The "good" teachers do not even provide a class room without the disruptive or prone to violence.

Where are the programs that should address the problem?

There are none.

The problem has been evident for years and it will not be resolved by simply having superman teachers.

Teachers need to see the forest and not the trees. The forest is large numbers of children that have great difficulty in learning and not the few children that apparently can learn even in a hostile environment with an average teacher.

I followed this area of the Washington Post for quite sometime and I have yet to see a comment from a teacher that the problem is the large number of children in poverty areas that have a great deal of difficulty in learning.

This is the reality and not the need for "good" teachers. We do not expect miracles from doctors and we should not expect them from teachers.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 23, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

for bsallamack---read my KIPP book. It has all kinds of data showing that approach works.

Posted by: jaymathews
..............................
Stop with the nonsense.

I could walk into any classroom in a poverty public school and cherry pick the children that will learn with an average teacher.

The public charter schools simply get rid of the problem students and thus can create an environment for education. Couple this with the idea that any student that gets out of line will be dumped back into public schools, and education is easy. Imagine how much a problem it would be if instead of a lottery it was totally random which children went to public charter schools.

The public charter schools are simply cherry picking.

One tires of this insanity. Turn all the public schools overnight into public charter schools without any place to dump the problems and the charter schools will have all the problems of the public schools.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 23, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Teachers need to stop drinking the kool aid.

D.C. national test 2009
56 percent failure reading 4th grade.
27 percent basic reading 4th grade.
12 percent proficient reading 4th grade.
5 percent proficient reading 4th grade.

White children in the public school system for years have had the HIGHEST scores in national tests in the nation while black students in the same public school system have had the LOWEST scores in national tests in the nation.

This is the same public school system and only those who are drinking Kool aid would believe that it is a problem caused by teachers and not that the black children in D.C. have great difficulty in learning because of multiple generations of poverty.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 23, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack -- so what is your cure for poverty? What do teachers do in the meantime?

Posted by: axolotl | August 23, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Another worthless article written by Jay Matthews inorder to incite responses from activists thereby justifying his job...next!

Posted by: lacy41 | August 23, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack -- so what is your cure for poverty? What do teachers do in the meantime?

Posted by: axolotl
...................
Another worthless article written by Jay Matthews inorder to incite responses from activists thereby justifying his job...next!

Posted by: lacy41
..........................
lacy41 is quite right.

As for axolotl he/she is beyond it all. Apparently axolotl believes when the toilet is overflowing it is important to worry about fixing faucet that are not leaking.

It is okay with me if individuals do not want to fix the overflowing toilet. At the same time I do not want to listen to the idiots like axolotl and Jay Mathews that want to spend 5 billion on nonsense like Race To The Top and expensive meaningless standardized tests to fix the faucets that are not leaking.

Save the money. You can always use it to blot up the water from the overflowing toilet. 5 billion would go a long way to building the needed prisons.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 23, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse

Jay,
Why is Dr. McMahon successful without being abrasive?

Posted by: edlharris | August 23, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

It too bad that Jay has decided to more away from test scores.
I can understand his move.
Overall, scores went down in DCPS and at KIPP.
Like the line from Elvis Costello's song:
"let's talk about the future now that we've put the past away."

But, getting back to scores, especially at Sousa MS.
I believe it was me who asked Jay how much did the tension from Dwon Jordon's abrasive style contribute to the rise in test scores.
Jay chided the questioner, saying we know we can't do that.


Well, Jay, it appears you are wrong.

Test scores did go up at Sousa, but not as much as they did last year.
So we can quantify for the amount "tension" accounts.
Maybe Mr. Jordon will want to bring those teachers back so he get the school back to its earlier, higher achieving rate.

What do you think, Jay?

PS Good posts bsallmack.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | August 23, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Wow...the commentary I posted last night was removed! Hmmmmm...I wonder who'd do something like that? I guess the truth hurts.

Posted by: rasheeedj | August 24, 2010 6:02 AM | Report abuse

bsall.
Seriously, you can get professional help for your ingrained metaphor equating DC public education with an overflowing toilet.

You refuse to acknowledge any responsible and accountable role for public school teachers in education.

Your enduring motto: Leave No Teacher Behind.

Posted by: axolotl | August 24, 2010 8:38 AM | Report abuse

BS,,

The children in Title I poverty schools have trouble learning, why? Aren't you putting the cart before the horse? Shouldn't your focus be placed more on the illegitimate "homes/marriages" these kids come from rather than on the kids or their poverty?

Why are these kids run through the meat grinder of life known as poverty? Could it have anything to do with their "mother" was fifteen when they were born and they've never seen their father? Could it have anything to do with the "family's" ubiquitous history of living off public assistance?

I agree with you the Title I schools are brutal because of the clientele they must service but which came first, the chicken or the egg? The fifteen year old "mother" or the generational poverty? Or maybe it's just the inescapable/anemic culture in the African-American community?

Posted by: phoss1 | August 24, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

for phillipmarlowe---I didn't say I was moving away from test scores. They are a useful measure of achievement gains, if properly weighted and analyzed. I said I was critical of the achievement gap as a measure of school or district improvement, a way of analyzing test scores that doesn't make sense to me. And as for the effect of tension at Sousa, it certainly had some effect. That was one of my points about my concerns over the principal's behavior. But i think most of us would agree there is no reliable way of measuring how much effect it had.

Posted by: jaymathews | August 24, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Jay,

Your views are interesting, ever-changing and oftentimes too in favor of Rhee—as if other chancellor candidates, in this day and age, won't do a much better job at building and sustaining great schools, robust curricula, high quality teachers, and gifted instructional leaders (principals). Rhee and Fenty are catastrophically deficient in the areas of human rights, shared leadership, transparency, due process, and mobilizing and engaging the community as thought partners. That has proven to be Fenty's downfall, which is why he's losing the votes. It's too late for, “I'm sorry.” So Rhee should start packing up her things, or she'll face the same embarrassment Clifford Janey faced.

You're right, people all over the country are waiting for September 14, and locally, everyone remembers that the new Bruce-Monroe was never built (broken promises); everyone remembers how Clifford Janey—a true curriculum and instruction superintendent—was bastardized and humiliated; everyone knows that IMPACT sucks.

Your stories are starting to bore me and, I'm sure, other readers...

Posted by: rasheeedj | August 24, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Re: Jerry Weast for the Post, July 28, 2009:

"He assuaged the administrative staff by promoting talent from within rather than hiring from outside." Compare Rhee firing experienced educators and bringing in unqualified rookie cronies from TFA,/NTP

"He forged a rapport with teachers almost unknown in public education, inviting union leaders onto his inner-sanctum leadership team." Rhee attacks and disparages Teachers and their unions at every opportunity. Only TFA cult true believers allowed near Rhee. Only yes men/women need apply.

"Weast collaborated with the union on a program to help struggling teachers improve or exit the classroom." Rhee fires everyone, good or bad, on the pretense that TFA cult interns are better, in the fact of all peer-reviewed research that says they are not.

"He began holding principals and upper-level administrators responsible for test scores, too, a concept new to the county." No administrator in Rhee's DCPS has or will ever be held acountable for the reversal of the upward trend in test scores this year. Accountablity is only for the little people (teachers).

"Weast has cultivated an all-for-one mind-set on the school board," No need in DC, Rhee answers to no one, not even the law. She recently instructed the DC school nurses not to enforce the law that prohibits students from attending scholl unless they have their immunization records up to date.

Posted by: mcstowy | August 25, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

mcstowy, Montgomery County Public Schools is qualitatively different than DC Public Schools, most would agree. You are axiomatically making a leadership and schools' quality comparison of an urban, public school district vs. an affluent public school district. If your argument, here, was to compare superintendent leadership styles vis-á-vis Rhee and Weast, that's a no-brainer: Rhee is not a superintendent, by far.

Posted by: rasheeedj | August 26, 2010 1:37 AM | Report abuse

I noticed that at the end of last school year there was a major article about the positive changes that was taking place at Anacostia High School under Friendship. I wonder if anyone followed up to determine how many of the so-called record graduating class had to attend summer school to actually meet the graduation requirements? Also what were the test scores in comparison to the previous year?

Posted by: Rattler1 | August 26, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

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