Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 8:59 PM ET, 09/18/2010

A chance to learn from Rhee's mistakes

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Mark Simon
Washington


Post editors and reporters appear to have latched on to every possible explanation for the public’s rejection of Mayor Adrian Fenty. Racial politics this week. Fenty’s personality. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s failure to communicate.

But Fenty’s defeat isn’t about race or personality. It’s about bad decisions, particularly on school reform. His school reform strategies, as shoved through by Rhee, alienated the voters.

Rhee certainly rates as smart, charismatic and bold. But she made decisions early in her tenure that alienated every constituency she needed, and she rested her “reforms” on strategies that national education researchers have repeatedly warned against.

Over the course of her tenure, Rhee:

  • Over-emphasized standardized student testing and scores as the be-all and end-all of school and teacher quality. (See the Economic Policy Institute’s Aug. 27 report “Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers.”)
  • Failed to understand the importance of community and relationships, and marginalized dedicated and knowledgeable parent and community advocates.
  • Created churn in the workforce, with widespread teacher and principal firings, in the process instilling a culture of fear.
  • Rushed to install teacher evaluation rubrics, under her IMPACT program, that devalue teacher professionalism instead of emphasizing teacher and principal training and curriculum development.

These missteps reflected conscious decisions, not oversights. One example: Early on, Rhee rejected a staff recommendation to bring in the consultants used in Montgomery and Fairfax counties to train administrators and teachers in effective teaching practices. The reason given: Taking the route Montgomery and Fairfax followed would cost too much and take too long.

Schools are communities. Education is a complex, labor-intensive endeavor. Good teaching must be nurtured systematically. Parents understand these realities, which is one big reason they’re instinctively wary of any test-and-punish approach. Under Rhee, the public senses that a profound disrespect of educators and the craft of teaching has permeated the D.C. system.

A responsible newspaper would have treated Rhee’s reform strategies as controversial ideas worthy of debate. Instead, The Post seems to have taken the posture that anyone against Rhee’s reforms must be for the DCPS status quo.

That simply is not the case. Rhee’s critics have included veteran reformers who have studied the research and have good reason to warn that she was taking reform down the wrong path.

Vincent C. Gray, who after winning Tuesday’s primary is the presumptive mayor-elect, needs to be resolute about improving teacher quality and holding schools and teachers accountable. But he also needs to take a hard look at the controversial strategies that Rhee has pursued. National experts shut out by the Rhee administration can help fine-tune more effective approaches.

And if Michelle Rhee is truly in it “for the kids,” she’ll muster up some humility, acknowledge her mistaken decisions and stick around long enough to transition to more experienced leadership.

The writer, a member of Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform, is a DCPS parent, an education policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute and a former president of the Montgomery County teachers union.

By washingtonpost.com editors  | September 18, 2010; 8:59 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., D.C. politics, HotTopic, schools  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Offending for the greater good
Next: Why cabdrivers opposed Mayor Fenty

Comments

Bravo. The Washington Post and Michelle Rhee did such a disservice to DC residents, parents, teachers and children. They polarized parties that needed to work together and they did it needlessly in addition to consciously. I don't understand what the WaPo had to gain by such mindless infatuation of Ms Rhee and her policies, but it is obvious that Ms Rhee achieved the personal noteriety that she sought and craved. Everyone else is left to pick up the pieces. Reading the comments about this situation is deeply depressing - the anger toward the unions, toward DC residents, toward parents. Mr. Fenty has prepared for a graceful exit and hopefully has cemented his future. Ms Rhee has embarrassed herself, and she doesn't even understand that. It's clear that she doesn't seek any other similar position, even if a community wanted her. But will she remain the face and voice of reform? I hope not. For the sake of the country and our children.

Posted by: quest4justice1 | September 18, 2010 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Bravo. The Washington Post and Michelle Rhee did such a disservice to DC residents, parents, teachers and children. They polarized parties that needed to work together and they did it needlessly in addition to consciously. I don't understand what the WaPo had to gain by such mindless infatuation of Ms Rhee and her policies, but it is obvious that Ms Rhee achieved the personal noteriety that she sought and craved. Everyone else is left to pick up the pieces. Reading the comments about this situation is deeply depressing - the anger toward the unions, toward DC residents, toward parents. Mr. Fenty has prepared for a graceful exit and hopefully has cemented his future. Ms Rhee has embarrassed herself, and she doesn't even understand that. It's clear that she doesn't seek any other similar position, even if a community wanted her. But will she remain the face and voice of reform? I hope not. For the sake of the country and our children.

Posted by: quest4justice1 | September 18, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

Well written Mark.

The people of the District not only rejected the arrogance of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee, it also rejected the arrogance and racial insensitivity of Ms. Jo-Ann Armao and the public education reform elitists. Chancellor Rhee's abilities and accomplishments are clearly overrated.

I am certain at some point in the near future Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee would hope Ms. Armao will stop and just get over the election loss. The effort by Ms. Armao to promote the racial divide is disturbing and disheartening.

Is there anyone on the editorial board of The Washington Post with any moral decency?

Robert Vinson Brannum
rbrannum@robertbrannum.com

Posted by: robert158 | September 18, 2010 11:00 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee is a disdrace.

Using a "lottery drawing" to admit children to a school is child abuse. She is promoting this system in a newly relased film so her dismissal as the Washington D.C. schools chancellor is long overdue. In our democracy and under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an education is not a the result of a crap shoot or lottery drawing, it is a fundamental human right.

Pack your bags Rhee. Maybe another dictatorship int he world wants you there. We do not.

Posted by: Nicnamibia | September 18, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Mark Simon for writing this article. There are some residents living in the District don't like hearing the
truth. It's their way or the highway.

Ward 4 D.C. Resident/Voter

Posted by: Ward4DC | September 18, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

I agree with this analysis of Rhee's shortcomings. I am a DCPS parent and have been for 20 years. A lot of old timers feel the way I do about Rhee-form in DCPS.

I can also see that most of the young parents just starting out in their career as DCPS parents are scared silly about what comes next if Rhee leaves.

That puts the burden on Mayor Gray to explain both the shortcoming of Rhee's approach in the four areas the article identifies as Rhee's shortcomings AND how Gray's team's approach in those four areas will make DCPS better. Young parents will be skeptical of Gray team's changes from Rhee's approach, so the challenge to convince them to put their faith in Gray's team will be huge.

I liked Superintendent Janney a lot, especially in terms of parent-teacher involvement, his master facilities plan and his education plan. But in these circumstances, with the skepticism he faces from young parents, I am afraid he'd be exactly the wrong choice, as would Bob C. Bobb.

Posted by: Trulee | September 18, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

I agree with this analysis of Rhee's shortcomings. I am a DCPS parent and have been for 20 years. A lot of old timers feel the way I do about Rhee-form in DCPS.

I can also see that most of the young parents just starting out in their career as DCPS parents are scared silly about what comes next if Rhee leaves.

That puts the burden on Mayor Gray to explain both the shortcoming of Rhee's approach in the four areas the article identifies as Rhee's shortcomings AND how Gray's team's approach in those four areas will make DCPS better. Young parents will be skeptical of Gray team's changes from Rhee's approach, so the challenge to convince them to put their faith in Gray's team will be huge.

I liked Superintendent Janney a lot, especially in terms of parent-teacher involvement, his master facilities plan and his education plan. But in these circumstances, with the skepticism he faces from young parents, I am afraid he'd be exactly the wrong choice, as would Bob C. Bobb.

Posted by: Trulee | September 18, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Mark Simon's ability to see beneath the smoke and mirrors is refreshing. Education is a community endeavor and not the sole province of any one interpreter,no matter how driven. For a different take on this subject, you might want to visit my blog at teachermandc.wordpress.com.

Posted by: dcproud1 | September 19, 2010 1:02 AM | Report abuse

A quote from the Time magazine article with Rhee on the cover:

"Rhee likes to tell the story of how Rhodes got in touch with her. She recounted it on TV on The Charlie Rose Show in July: "A student sent me this e-mail and said, basically, If you really want to know what's wrong with our schools, you should come and talk to the kids because I'm afraid that by talking to the adults, you might not be getting the real story."

Rhodes has a more nuanced version of the story. After their initial meeting, they met for a second time at Anacostia High, in a room off the library. Rhodes had invited eight fellow students, and they gave Rhee their typed agenda. They talked about the need for better teachers, as Rhee emphasizes when she tells the story. But Rhodes says he also told her about the holes in the floors, the lack of supplies and the fact that most classes did not have enough books for the students to take home. Rhee listened but did not offer many specific solutions. "She was vague," Rhodes says. "I got the sense she didn't want to make promises she couldn't keep."

Then one day last May, Rhee dismissed Anacostia's principal. Rhodes was devastated. He sent Rhee a furious e-mail. "My principal is a mother, mentor and a teacher to us all," he wrote. "I refuse, NO! we refuse the students of Anacostia to let her go." Rhee wrote him back. "She told me not to worry about it," Rhodes says quietly."

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1862444-4,00.html#ixzz0zxBAqZcA

Posted by: Nicnamibia | September 19, 2010 2:25 AM | Report abuse

That article sounds like a mouthpiece for the teachers union and -- lo and behold ! -- the author was the former president of the local teachers union ! When will people wake up and realize that the ONLY interest UNIONS have is in their self-perpetuation ! NOT in better schools (teachers unions) and NOT in better cars (auto unions).
UNIONS ARE HAVE AND CONTINUE TO RUIN THIS COUNTRY !!!!
Michelle Rhee did a fabulous job and if Grey isn't in the pocket of the teachers union then he will KEEP Rhee. What he does with Rhee will tell us who he answers to: the unions or to better school performance.

Posted by: vicey | September 19, 2010 4:01 AM | Report abuse

That article sounds like a mouthpiece for the teachers union and -- lo and behold ! -- the author was the former president of the local teachers union ! When will people wake up and realize that the ONLY interest UNIONS have is in their self-perpetuation ! NOT in better schools (teachers unions) and NOT in better cars (auto unions).
UNIONS HAVE AND CONTINUE TO RUIN THIS COUNTRY !!!!
Michelle Rhee did a fabulous job and if Grey isn't in the pocket of the teachers union then he will KEEP Rhee. What he does with Rhee will tell us who he answers to: the unions or to better school performance.

Posted by: vicey | September 19, 2010 4:02 AM | Report abuse

Mark Simon - YOU ARE ON POINT!

Posted by: hello101 | September 19, 2010 7:24 AM | Report abuse

"That article sounds like a mouthpiece for the teachers union and..."Michelle Rhee did a fabulous job and if Grey isn't in the pocket of the teachers union then he will KEEP Rhee"

Well my friend, neither the people whose children she claimed to be serving nor the rank and file of those who worked with her felt that she was doing such a fantastic job. In fact every experienced educator that I spoke with shared almost the identical concerns about Ms. Rhee's approach to school reform as Mr. Simon's. I think that your impassioned response to this article is based on buying into the hype of the super-stardom of Ms. Rhee and your own willingness to attribute blame based on your pre-conceived notions about certain groups of people.

Posted by: sojourner01 | September 19, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

AKA Parents and Teachers for Real Low Standards.

Posted by: delray | September 19, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

@Sojourner, I agree that veteran educators probably did disagree, I don't even agree with everything, but what a lot of families don't realize is that the same Union that claims to be the victim of harsh treatment and firing blames DC families for children not being educated.

The Union wants all of the ills of society fixed before teaching. They want more training, but no accountability. They want to be treated like professionals but protected at the same time. More training means working longer, they would rather teach less time to get more useless Ed school type training that rarely actually helps in the classroom.

Here's hoping that when I have children we can win the lottery for EL Haynes.

Posted by: delray | September 19, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Great article and to the point. Experience does matter. The one basic thing that Rhee could never understand is that radical changes are just that, radical changes. Radical changes do not produce long term practices that promote positive results.

Rhee's actions perfectly describe her as an unqualified leader. To ignore educational experts, research and advice in the arena of where you have no expertise disaster is the only result.

However, she deserves no less than what she gave. She deserves to be on several national magazine covers as the poster child of what not to do for reform. She needs to be exposed nationally for the hoax we all know her to be.

Posted by: candycane1 | September 19, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I read up on Chancellor Lee's background and I understand her views on education. She attended Maumee Valley Country Day School in Toledo,OH. My son attended St John's Jesuit Boys Academy around the corner and was the Valedictorian, and entered Harvard. My daughterI attended Notre Dame Academy, a few miles away and graduated with honors later to attend Case Western Reserve. No, I'm not white, but a naturalized American of West Indian lineage. We set the expectation with our children and stuck to it.

Education is important to both of us and academically challenged teachers have no place in the classroom. Parents also need to understand that they need to be there for their children and challenge their kids. Getting a C or D is unacceptable. When expectations are set for both parents and students then the sailing is smooth.

I prefer to pay tuition rather than having my kids sit in a classroom where they are held back by non-performing teachers and students. DON'T BLAME THE CHANCELLOR OR EX MAYOR FENTY. Take a look at yourselves as parents and educators.

Posted by: muffet | September 19, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I understand why candicane would write this, but Rhee will be fine. Unlike many families in DC who have been hurt and dismissed by the DC school system, Rhee can compete in the national market. Many DC residents can only compete when City Hall is opened up.

We need to make sure we have the best teachers that are willing to put in the time teaching our students or else they will be in the same position as those before them. DC families deserve better.

Posted by: delray | September 19, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

muffet - you say you have read up on the chancellor and understand her views on education, but you missed something very important about her that is quite different from your point of view.

Rhee does not think parents need to play any role in a child's education in order for the child to learn. She thinks the entire burden for student learning is on the teacher. For instance, she has said:

“As a teacher in this system, you have to be willing to take personal responsibility for ensuring your children are successful despite obstacles…You can’t say, ‘My students didn’t get any breakfast today,’ or ‘No one put them to bed last night,’ or ‘Their electricity got cut off in the house, so they couldn’t do their homework.” (The Atlantic, 11/08) http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200811/michelle-rhee

“[I have] an unwavering belief in the children of the city, that they can achieve at high levels despite the obstacles they face” http://dev.www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/beltway-confidential/michelle-rhees-five-year-plan-96593909.html#ixzz0rVe2z6rS

Posted by: efavorite | September 19, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Thank you. As a fellow DCPS parent, I truly appreciate your editorial.

It should be published on the front page of the Washington Post.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | September 19, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Muffet. The fault is not with the Mayor or the Chancellor, both of whom did a courageous and extraordinary job of reforming the public school system, something which no one before them had dared to attempt. My children went to private schools for the most part, then to the Fairfax public school system. My daughter graduated cum laude from UVA and my son from American University. If parents place emphasis on learning and maintain a good home, then children will do well, no matter what. This business placing all the emphasis on the Mayor and the Chancellor is misplaced. Parents should spend the time and energy looking into themselves, how they can improve their own roles in their children's lives instead of leaving it to others.

Posted by: szl8 | September 19, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

szl8 - lots of people agree with you and muffet about the need for parental involvement in education, including me.

Michelle Rhee does NOT agree with you, as I point out with her quotes above.

She firmly believes that all it takes to educate any child is a good teacher. She believes that so firmly (based on no scientific evidence and no common sense) that she has developed a system to fire teachers based on student achievement.

Posted by: efavorite | September 19, 2010 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Simon charges that Ms. Rhee "failed to understand the importance of community and relationships." From the advent of Home Rule until the federal takeover and beyond, community advocates were deeply involved in DCPS. They share responsibility for its miserable performance through the entire period--a huge act of disrespect by the community's adults toward its children.

Mr. Simon writes, "Vincent C. Gray . . . needs to be resolute about . . . holding schools and teachers accountable." Simon does not describe actions necessary to hold teachers accountable. One wonders whether firing for poor performance is one of them. If not, it is difficult to see how school reform can succeed. The failure to fire poor teachers in the past has surely resulted in a buildup of a significant number in DCPS now.

The teachers union resistance to teacher firing is understandable (firings undermine union solidarity), and, to a certain degree, meritorious (the union should protect teachers fired for unjust cause). But excessive union resistance to firing for poor performance is unjustifiable and counterproductive in the long run, even for the union. Excessive resistance contributes to poor school system performance, which is bad enough. But poor school system performance leads, ultimately, to reduced union membership. Does anyone seriously doubt that the WTU membership would be much greater than it is today had the quality of DCPS teaching been adequate in decades past?

One might hope that forward-looking teacher unions would support and assist in development of criteria and methods for teacher evaluation and teacher development to assure that they identify limits appropriately. But the unions seem to take a much more short-sighted default position:

- No teacher is a poor teacher.
- Even if there were poor teachers, there are no reliable ways to identify them.
- If there were poor teachers, they would not remain poor teachers, if provided suitable teacher development assistance by the school administration.

In other words, teacher quality is the responsibility of the system, not the teacher.

I would wager that there are many poor teachers in DCPS. I would not bet 50%, but I would readily bet between 10% and 30%.

I would also wager that if "poorest 10% of teachers" lists were compiled independently by administrators, parents, students, and even teachers in any given school, the lists would largely overlap. Everyone knows who the poorest teachers are except the teachers union.

I would also wager that a large majority of poor teachers are substiantially lacking in some aspect of the full set of multidisciplinary capabilities required to be a good teacher and would not be transformed by teacher development assistance.

That Mr. Simon failed to state a position clearly regard teacher firing for poor performance renders the remainder of his criticism of Rhee suspect in my mind.

Posted by: pottert | September 19, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

So how can we include this dialogue in the debate around education reform?

It is so disheartening to see the outpouring of love for Rhee when it is all smoke and mirrors. She has constantly manipulated the statistics and just withheld any information that would counter her rhetoric.

There is such a disdain for public school teachers now. It is absolutely frightening.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | September 19, 2010 11:40 PM | Report abuse

Actually, as usual, efavorite seems to not tell the whole truth. Parents are a huge part and teachers should work with parents as much as possible (as they do at great charter schools like KIPP), but if there is no support from home teachers need to continue to have high expectations for children and work with parents as much as possible.

Posted by: delray | September 20, 2010 12:32 AM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee is a disdrace.

....

Did you go to DCPS?

Posted by: whitneyuevans | September 20, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Let's see what happens when Rhee goes. I foresee a decline in the D.C. schools. Money on the barrelhead.

Posted by: jckdoors | September 20, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

@Nicnamibia

I shouldn't even be commenting on this, but Rhee is not promoting the use of a lottery for all children. She's actually arguing that there shouldn't have to be a lottery for some children to get a quality education, she believes all children should have an equal chance. It's fine to argue, as many have, that she has gone about it the wrong way, but she doesn't believe in the lottery as a piece of public policy.

Posted by: delray | September 20, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company