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Rhee: Who Needs Consensus?

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who didn't fuss when a PBS interviewer asked if she was a "benevolent dictator," made clear again Monday that she was more than comfortable with the her-way-or the-Beltway approach.

"I think if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months it's that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated," she told the Aspen Institute's education summit at the Mayflower Hotel.

Rhee, who is trying to negotiate a new labor contract that would award huge raises in exchange for weakened tenure provisions, said her dealings with the Washington Teachers Union were a good example.

"People often say to me the teachers unions are here to stay, that they are big players, that I have to find a way to get along. I actually disagree with that," she said. "It's important for us to lay out on the table what we're willing to do, but what our bottom line is for kids. The bottom line is that if you can't come to agreement then you have to push your agenda in a different way and we're absolutely going to do that."

And no matter what kind contract emerges from the talks currently underway, D.C. teachers can expect a new, more rigorous system of evaluation to be in place by next fall--one that will lead to ineffective instructors being shown the classroom door, according to a top deputy who joined Rhee in a roundtable discussion about school performance.

"We are going to transition out low performers. That is our obligation to our kids," said Jason Kamras, the 2005 National Teacher of the Year for his work at Sousa Middle School. "We want to insure that the high performers are surrounded by like-minded folk."

Rhee has yet to explain in detail how she plans to measure teacher effectiveness. But she delegated Kamras, who said he spends his days trying "to figure out how to get highly effective, as opposed to highly qualified teachers into every classroom," to offer the first broad outlines.

He said that for teachers in grades where students take the DC-CAS standardized test (3 through 8 and 10 for reading and math) an evaluation model would be built around growth in scores. For teachers in areas not covered by the DC-CAS, it would involve close observation by principals.

This is supposedly how the District's current evaluation system works, but seldom does.

Kamras said principals would be trained to use a new "very rigorus rubric developed on observational framework" to assess teachers.

After the session, Kamras referred all questions to Rhee, who declined to comment.

Bill Turque

By Marcia Davis  |  September 16, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Education  
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I recently encountered teachers from a school that didn't make AYP again last school year. Most of the teachers from that school were veteran DCPS teachers, many with over 20 years at that school, at the top of the teacher salary scale. With that many experienced, veteran teachers, one would expect much stronger academic gains. But it hasn't happened at that school for years. In addition, most grades have two teachers in it, an ESL or a special ed teacher doing inclusion. Yet the test results are still weak. That would lead us to question whether truly effective instruction is going on in that school. The idea that Rhee will now focus on highly effective teachers demonstrating highly effecting teaching resulting in strong student achievement, instead of having each school employ highly qualified teachers appears to be promising.

Posted by: Sasha | September 16, 2008 8:55 AM | Report abuse

It is very troubling that Ms. Rhee feels "cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated." The very foundation of our country is based on democracy where we allow all voices to be heard. Yes, democracy is messy and hard, but the end result is stronger, better and longer lasting. It is a shame Ms. Rhee doesn't understand this. Without buy-in from the people who work for DCPS, and the families who send their children to the DC public schools, Ms. Rhee's reforms will likely be short lived.

Posted by: Suzanne Wells | September 16, 2008 9:24 AM | Report abuse

What is described above is certainly Plan B, what will go into effect if the WTU either fails to ratify the contract under discussion or if it doesn't even come to a vote. At least under a ratified contract, there are huge salary increases and bonuses. Under Plan B, some of the very ardent opponents to the contract will be shown the door anyway, deemed ineffective under Plan B, with no money to show for it.

Posted by: Sasha | September 16, 2008 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Rhee is trying cooperation and collaboration; she's in the middle of negotiations with the WTU. But many union members don't want the contract and are fighting Rhee. Their opposition to Rhee's proposed reforms unfortunately makes them look like teachers who can't deliver increased student achievement and who are unsure of their own techniques and methodoloies, despite years in the classroom. I know for a fact that Rhee is really putting the screws on principals to weed out unsatisfactory teachers and more closely adhere to the evaluation system that already exists. Teachers getting by with having 3rd graders color, do handwriting worksheets and workbook pages all day long while they sit on their bottoms and read the newspaper are over. I'm not making this up: I'm in a school and I've seen this pass for teaching.

Posted by: A DCPS Teacher | September 16, 2008 12:33 PM | Report abuse

The problem with rhee is that she is trying to supervise personnel in a school system who are more educated and experienced than she. Her hubris is preventing her from using the talent she is supposed to have as a 'change agent' rather than firing people at will. The question she should ponder is this: what if her principal had thrown her out like rubbish when she was a teacher and decided to kill and eat a bumblebee in class in order to maintain control? Perhaps the same faith and support she received should be her measuring stick for all of the people she supervises. It takes a lot of talent to mold and help people but very little to discard people on a whim. Finally, how will she feel when people in DC have had it with her and run her out of town? I'm not making this up: I read about her teaching performance, self-admitted, in Newsweek.

Posted by: southyrndiva | September 16, 2008 5:09 PM | Report abuse

My first inclination at such a remark would be dismay: "How can a leader possibly have that attitude??"

However, after a mere month working in the system, nothing would make me happier than to see Rhee firebomb 825 N. Capitol. I would gleefully roast marshmallows over the glowing coals. My belief that the only viable solution for DCPS -- to sh*tcan the entire operation and everyone in it -- is confirmed hourly. Let the next chancellor/superintendent/masochist give a rat's you-know-what about consensus-building; DCPS is far too screwed up to collaborate or cooperate on anything.

Posted by: New DCPS Employee | September 16, 2008 5:36 PM | Report abuse

The above comment was made by a DCPS employee at 825? You think things are bad there? Wait til you go inside an actual school, preferably one in NE or SE. You'll see chaos, poor teaching, teachers verbally abusing students (who probably deserve it, but we're supposed to be the professionals here) and the busywork that goes on masquerading as education. And you'll love to witness teachers actually teaching wearing bedroom slippers.

Posted by: A DCPS Teacher | September 16, 2008 6:40 PM | Report abuse

First of all, it doesn't matter if the contract is approved because Rhee already had plan B in process. Jason Kamras (what is his job title) has been working on teacher evaluation/standards for almost a year. This fellow taught for less than 4 years and now he is a poster child for DCPS or is it because he is a Teach for America alumu? Come on folks, see the big picture...TFA and you are GREAT no matter what you did while you were teaching all of those 2 years!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 17, 2008 7:54 PM | Report abuse

My daughter's school has had three principals in four years and is supposed to be one of the top schools. The previous principal left because of Rhee taking many qualified teacher with her and the current principal, Rhee approved, is dictatorial. My daughter is now in a class of 33 because she took classtoom duties away from a highly respected and qualified teacher due to a disagreement over his performance. Nevermind that the school counselor (who we still have) told her that the difficult students were deliberately assigned to this teacher last year since the other teacher was inexperienced. So far, despite the violations of DCPS's own rules and promises made to parents, the prinicpal remains infelxible, and the regional office has shuttled me to three different people, the last who has yet to answer. I am sure her own children are not in a class of 33--ones that she got into a magnet school without going through the process.

Posted by: Denise | September 18, 2008 9:02 AM | Report abuse

This is what you all get for voting for Fenty!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 18, 2008 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Hey maybe Rhee will change her mind now that she has a serious teacher shortage and TFAs are walking off the job!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 21, 2008 9:05 PM | Report abuse

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