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IMPACT'S impact: 'Fear and rejection'

The IMPACT ax that swung Friday, resulting in the dismissal of 241 teachers, had been expected from the moment Chancellor Michelle A.Rhee introduced the new evaluation system last fall. In her five-year action plan unveiled last year, Rhee was explicit about her intention to "identify and transition out a significant share of the teaching corps in the next two years." Rhee said "some of our teachers are not willing to commit to the demands of the job of educating our youth effectively, or are not able to improve on the timeline that our students deserve." Of the 241 teachers, 76 were let go because of problems with their licenses.

She has said that her conversations with teachers indicate that IMPACT has met a long-standing need for clarity about what's expected of them in the classroom. But Washington Teachers' Union president George Parker, who refused to sign on to the District's Race to the Top application because of his issues with IMPACT, said DCPS should have piloted the effort for a year to work out the kinks in the system, which he called "punishment-heavy and support light."

Parker said he took particular exception to the decision to establish test score growth as 50 percent of the evaluation score for eligible teachers, a proportion he regards as far too high. He also objected to the decision to make "school wide value added" --or the collective test score growth of a school--5 percent of all teachers' evaluations.

"Can you imagine the trouble we'd get into if we told students that 5 percent of their grade depended on how the whole class did? People would be jumping up and screaming," he said.

Parker also responded to Friday's announcement by releasing the results of a membership survey conducted earlier this year that reflects deep misgivings about IMPACT and the new "teaching and learning framework" underlying it.

Of the 1,000 teachers who responded, 52 percent said they did not understand what was required of them under the nine "rubrics" laid out in the framework; 79 percent said they weren't shown adequate adequate examples, either through video or through personal demonstration, of what constituted high-level teaching under IMPACT. Forty percent said they didn't receive extra support from their "master educators" following a poorly-rated classroom observation.

Written comments included with the survey responses also reflect the angst. "I think the only thing the IMPACT system has provided DCPS teachers with is an atmosphere of fear and rejection," wrote one teacher (names not included)

"IMPACT is an out-of-touch and convoluted corporate construction which has no validity in the gritty reality of teaching in DC public schools," wrote another. "It seems designed by political aspirant edwonk self-aggrandizers who have little or no real teaching experience or any respect for the heroic job DCPS teachers do every day."

"We don't mind being held accountable," said a third. "but this is not the way. It is subjective, unclear and punitive."

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By Bill Turque  |  July 23, 2010; 12:44 PM ET
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Test score growth is 55% of the evaluation, not 50%. Believe me, that 5% is important. 50% alone would have been onerous but 55% is stupefying. Imagine basing over half of your evaluation on an a test that has not been aligned with the curriculum (DC CAS is not properly aligned), that includes confusing errors and sometimes downright inappropriate material - questions that include references to literature for grade 9 standards on a 5th grade test. Impact has been performed in an arbitrary and subjective manner and teachers have been given no recourse to answer or refute the claims made by the ME's or their administrators. If parents think this is going to attract good teachers or keep the good teachers they have then they are sadly mistaken. What Michelle Rhee has done in firing so many on the basis of the first year of an evaluation system that was poorly instituted and badly explained is unconscionable.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | July 23, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

If what adcteacher1 says is true then the DC school reform is a joke.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 23, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Turque,

Can you find out the age of the teachers let go? Also, the number of years experience?
Also, could you compare the wealthier school layoffs compared to the poorer schools?

It would make Ms. Rhee's approach more acceptable to people who really care about disadvantaged kids learning to know that there was no targeting of more experienced teachers and that there was some level of understanding that the poorer schools need more resources along with the belief that all students can learn.

I completely agree with Ms. Rhee that all students can learn. However I have seen more poor administrators than teachers and have seen how some teachers get "all the troublemakers" and are made to look bad. So I am always a little suspicious of mass firings as a solution.

Personally, I find that the evaluator as executioner model to be ineffective as far as real professional development. Teachers should be able to be honest and to have someone they can go to for help. Struggling teachers should be given assistance. If they have a bad attitude, they should leave.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 23, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

The Chancellor can be as brutal as she wants to, she has been given the power to do so. I insist in this point, I am all for hiring new energetic teachers, even if they are Teach for America instructors. Unfortunately, many don't stay in the school system for more than three years. In my school not one has stayed more than what is required of them. This is a profession that takes time to develop. When I look back at my career it took at least three years for me to find an adequate rhythm and five to be considered by my standards as good. Unfortunately in those early years most teachers think they are doing phenomenal work and in hindsight they are not. Eventually, we realize that we get better every period, every day, every year. The school system has been inundated with a significant number of novice teachers I feel the balance is not right. In my estimation the tests scores at the elementary's declined due to the fact that many of its new teachers are newbies. Ever since Michelle Rhee took over most of the candidates that are sent to the schools are novice teachers with no experience. I know this would not fly in Fairfax County, Montgomery County, and west of the park. Parents in these jurisdictions are not going to allow political experiments on their children. Finally, add IMPACT to that mix, you take a first year teacher and you tell him or her, "your teaching career will be judged in 5 observations that are 20 minutes long". I seen some of these teachers cry and have nervous break downs over a bad evaluation. Michelle Rhee has created a school system that is based on threats of dismissal and an overall lack of trust in anything she says. I would admire her if she told us the truth and stopped the charade the hypocrisy and the cynicism. She will never convene the entire school system the way she did on her first year, she knows very well she won't be able to speak. These people who are running the school system better assume responsibility for their amateurish behavior, the test scores went down under their watch. It's a little bit like another Chancellor I know who was an amateur without credentials who blamed everyone else for loosing his war.

Posted by: marylight | July 23, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse


"Unfortunately in those early years most teachers think they are doing phenomenal work and in hindsight they are not. Eventually, we realize that we get better every period, every day, every year."

Isn't that the truth? And now as a parent I can see this with my own children's teachers as well.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 23, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

You can take that to the bank. Celestun100.
I would tell you my years in the system but that is too dangerous.

Posted by: marylight | July 23, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

That 241 teachers were fired is not surprising. What is surprising is the timing. As stated, the firing is part of a master plan, although that plan actually began within the first few months of Rhee’s administration when administrators were given a clear directive to begin its implementation. All teachers, good or not so good were targeted. If you were within a certain age range and if somehow you were able to win Rhee’s favor you were safe. Firings will continue until the plan is complete. And now the plan has been legally sanctioned and by the teachers no less. As mentioned in this blog and in numerous research studies student failure is multifactorial. Good teaching or lack there of is one factor. People who chose teaching as a career typically do so as they want to make a positive difference in the life of children. Most teachers are committed to that endeavor and welcome meaningful professional development and administrative support that help them improve the quality of teaching and learning in their classroom. The intent of the IMPACT evaluations is to support Rhee’s plan, not teacher development and enhanced learning opportunities. That these things could be allowed to happen anywhere in the US, much less the nation’s capital is incredulous for they are contrary to the principles upon which this country was founded and they are without regard for the children. That these firings took place just weeks before the primary election is an obvious indication of great confidence that the Fenty/Rhee reign will continue. God save the children in DCPS.

Posted by: highquality4kids | July 23, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

The MOST pathetic thing here is that someone believes that a woman that came in after ONLY teaching for 2 years before she found some nonprofit philanthropic morons to say she is qualified to lead a group that she never truly followed is ridiculous. One CANNOT run education like a business because guess what? The degree of what every teacher receives is different. You cannot tell me that alllllllllll of these teachers are sorry. Please. Get a grip. And the sad thing for her is that her day will run out just as soon as these bureaucrats get off one sided measures of accountability and on towards reality which is the society as a whole. She will lose her job soon. Mark my words. To fire these many people during a recession because you are trying to please politicians is absolutely pathetic. The pendulum is swinging again and you reap what you sow more than you sow and later than you sow. PS If she’s the strong leader she is, anybody knows that growth in HUMANS/education should be measured w/in 3-5 years (learned in leadership 101). pathetic and a waste of time.
Does she even have kids?? *smh*

Posted by: auneick_1 | July 23, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

I have a couple of questions. Do you know that TFA teachers are considered highly qualified without any certification? Why is that?

I also wonder how many of the teachers who were out of certification were moved out of a job they were certified into one they were no longer certified.

As far as deeper data I am curious what the demographics of the children being taught by fired teachers. We know that children come with different challenges to school. I see a potential problem with this system will be to drive smart teachers to wealthier parts of the city, and if they can't get those jobs, look to other jurisdictions.

Posted by: Mulch5 | July 23, 2010 11:00 PM | Report abuse

This may not be the best way to do it, and it is painful, but it is common knowledge that DC's public school system has been one of the most ineffective and inefficient of any major city in the country for many many years. Previous board of education administrations failed to make effective reforms. DC's failed public school system spends $12,979 per pupil each year, ranking it THIRD-highest among the 100 largest districts in the nation. Every one of these teacher firings may not be just, but it is time way over due for major major changes to the DC school system, and, unfortunately, the amount of changes needed to overcome so many compounded past failures is not going to be comfortable for many people.

Posted by: dcresident27 | July 24, 2010 12:13 AM | Report abuse


Did Michelle Rhee fire good teachers by using poor methods of evaluation? That's the question that has to be answered.

Posted by: aby1 | July 24, 2010 5:45 AM | Report abuse

deresident27 says: "Every one of these teacher firings may not be just, but it is time way over due for major major changes to the DC school system...."

yes, but who's to say that firing teachers is the major change that is going to make a difference? It seems like everyone but Michelle Rhee understands that the kid's life outside of school has a huge effect on their ability to learn. But she thinks, without any evidence, that firing teachers is the way to improve scores.

Posted by: efavorite | July 24, 2010 8:00 AM | Report abuse

The truth is in my school, three of the staff who were fired due to poor evaluations were known to be awful teachers for years and they skated due to the old system of evaluation that made appeals so easy. It is not easy to get a 175 on this evaluation, you have to be really bad. If those who were on the edge and were waiting for test scores also go, then the students of this school will be much better off next year since they were "ineffective" in the classroom. The system is imperfect, but it is a vast improvement to attack the problem of the dance of the lemons that has been going on for too long and ruins the reputation of those of us who are doing our best to teach kids.

Posted by: dceducator | July 24, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

dceducator - how do the DC-CAS scores of those bad teachers compare to those of good teachers?

I don't doubt there are bad teachers that everyone knows about that should go, but with student achievement being Rhee's main measure of teacher worth, I think it's important to have that data.

Posted by: efavorite | July 24, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

To Washington D.C.

Dear Mayor,

I am a firm believer in "throw the bum teachers" out and I am applying for the position of head of the public schools.

If my idea would have been adopted 50 years ago when the problems of the DC Title 1 poverty public schools were first seen, every American would be now educated.

My idea will also work if I am appointed head of city departments such as the police department.

Please forward my application to private organization as this idea will also work for major baseball teams.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 24, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

So, if 76 of these 241 teachers who were let go didn't have the appropriate licenses, that means 165 teachers were let go for bad performance. And that's out of a teaching force of 4,000.

That means that a huge group of teachers has been ranked effective and will also get some serious cash becuse of it under the new teacher contract. And this evaluation system is seen as draconian? What am I missing here?

What successful large employers move out a smaller proportion of low performers on a regular basis?

Posted by: 4kids | July 25, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Impact itself doesn't appear draconian at all, especially not if the teachers know what is expected of them.

What is trickier is basing 50% on your students' test scores. While it seems to be common sense that good teachers get the kids to score well, that it isn't always the case.

Sometimes students are way behind before they get to your class. Then, it is hard to get them up to grade level. In a perfect world, you could do it, but urban schools are usually not a perfect setting.

Also, a lot of a teacher's success depends on the amount of support he/she gets from administration, counselors, special ed. teachers, even (or maybe especially) custodians. What these people do are mostly outside the teacher's control.

It is the fact that so many factors outside the teacher's control are being thought of as the teacher's responsibility, mainly the test scores.

Many teachers leave poverty area schools because it is hard to get the kids to score well and because those schools have more problems. This sort of punitive action doesn't look like it will help to get new teachers in.

Or, will it? Maybe Rhee is right. These people were awful and it is best to have them out. Most teachers know that kids' test scores depend on so many other factors that they are skeptical that so many teachers were bad.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 25, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

I read through the rubrics and they are not hard to understand so I do not know why 52% of the teachers could not understand them. I do not think that the rubrics should be the problem. The problem is that teachers are being judged on factors over which each person, as an individual teacher, has no control. It is a fact that each school has its own unique culture and much of that is under the control of the administration. If incompetence and defiance are allowed by administration, they will thrive at a school. Writing something into a policy will not make it happen. The schools need good leadership in place. This should have all started with holding administration accountable. Bad teachers need to be identified somehow so that part of the IMPACT scoring is a good idea but the rest of it needs fixed. I wish all the teachers the best!

Posted by: maggie_lou | July 25, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

4kids - here's what you're missing - over 700 teachers who were rated as "minimally effective" will not receive a step increase for the next school year and will be fired at the end of the school year if they don't improve to "effective" status.

Also, only the "highly effective" group (16%) get the cash bonus and only if they opt in for it.

Posted by: efavorite | July 25, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

@4kids -- the answer to your question is some sizable number of large companies routinely prune the bottom 10 percent or even the bottom 25 percent. There are warnings, some remedial work, and professional development. But companies do not let the weak performers linger and will not tolerate them on a shop floor, dealing with customers, etc.
Sure, there are several things that need fixing in the DCPS impact concept and process. But it was good enough to start with. The root question is: parents, citizens-taxpayers, and some (only some) teachers will not accept incompetent classroom teachers, nor forcing children to be the test subjects for a weak teacher struggling through a year of remediation. Who would want to be in that teacher's class?

Posted by: axolotl | July 26, 2010 7:28 AM | Report abuse

"Can you imagine the trouble we'd get into if we told students that 5 percent of their grade depended on how the whole class did? People would be jumping up and screaming," he said.

I think that this would be an EXCELLENT idea. It would incent the students to help each other, to encourage learning, peers would "police" slakers, encourage their doing homework and doing well. It d would get the better students to help the weaker ones. Sometimes, a peer learner is the BEST teacher because the can relate better to their peer and haveing just learned the material, can sometimes provide a way of explaining it that a teacher cannot.

Posted by: slowe111 | July 26, 2010 7:56 AM | Report abuse

"I think that this would be an EXCELLENT idea"

If kids cared about their grades, and if other kids respected kids who cared about their grades.

Posted by: efavorite | July 26, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Re: 4kids. It stands to reason that the support a teacher gets is vital. For that reason, I too want to know which schools the nearly 1,000 teachers came from. And I would like a breakdown of the proportion of teachers to students and of the allocation of support personnel (vice principals, social workers, etc.) It has seemed that some schools were given enormous numbers of additional support while others were not. Is there a standard formula for this? And how does this play a part in teacher effectiveness (if in fact that is being measured)?

Posted by: quest4justice1 | July 26, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse


Yes, peers are great teachers and the idea is a good one in some ways.

But parents are never going to accept that their child's grade is based on what the "class" does.

In MCPS, they had to make it part of the grading policy that group projects had to be graded individually, with each person getting a grade for their own work. I think that was because the parents objected to the idea of a group grade.

The obvious objection is that if your kid is smart and gets in a class with a bunch of kids who like to cause trouble and don't want to study (think middle school, not elementary school) it wouldn't be fair.

Cooperation can be taught, but not everyone values it the same way. Our whole system is based on competition and I think outside of religious schools it would be hard to pull off the cooperative grade idea, even if it was only 5%.

Peer tutoring is a great idea and often works where nothing else will. But, it has to have willing participants and has to be supervised and there has to be time set aside for this.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 26, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

About the flight of teachers to high-performing schools: there isn't much headroom for improvement if 90 percent of the students are already proficient or advanced. Were I a teacher, I'd look for a school were 45-60 percent of the students were proficient or better.

About the potential furor if 5% of a student's grade was based on how the class did: both of my children do well in school, but they are in classes where they are pretty much left to their own devices while the teachers and support staff labor to raise up the students who are performing below grade level. In other words, my children are already tithing to the full. They would love to act as peer tutors, if only to relieve the glacial boredom of sitting through yet another review session.

Grammar alert: In the article above, the term "poorly-rated classroom observation" was used. I always learned that the adverbial modifier to an adjectival modifier was never linked to it with a hyphen (wholly owned, not wholly-owned; fully formed, not fully-formed). Maybe the Post stylebook differs.

Posted by: gardyloo | July 26, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

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