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What to fight for in America's schools

For much of this week, the District of Columbia has been embroiled in a school controversy. Michelle A. Rhee, the city’s rock star schools chancellor, has negotiated a groundbreaking teachers’ contract, but questions have surfaced about how the city will fund it and, more pointedly, whether Rhee engineered a mass layoff of teachers to come up with the money. Her credibility, the politics of the upcoming mayor’s race and the sensibilities of the city’s budget office all share center stage. How little those things really matter hit home last night as I watched a screening of an extraordinary documentary on how this country educates -- or, more correctly, fails to educate -- its children.

“Waiting for Superman” tells the stories of children in several cities -- Los Angeles, Harlem, Washington D.C. -- interspersed with interviews of educators -- Rhee, Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, the founders of the KIPP charter school network -- to demonstrate the appalling state of public schools in America. The film, directed by Davis Guggenheim of “An Inconvenient Truth” fame, takes its name from a child’s fantasy of being rescued. It’s chock full of depressing statistics on kids who can’t read or do math, those who drop out and how much this country spends on an education system that is fast losing out to its international rivals. What stays with you, though, are the faces of the children who are being cheated and the tears of their parents who want better for them. It is actually painful to watch these mothers and fathers and grandmothers lose out in lotteries for precious spots in charter schools.

Anyone who thinks Rhee is wrong to want to get a contract that breaks the lock of tenure and seniority need only to listen to the former head of the Milwaukee schools talk about how he had to hire back teachers whose incompetence was caught on video tape. Or watch as teachers facing disciplinary action lounge in New York City’s rubber room at full salary. The film, adoring of good teachers whom Canada describes as a work of art, is harsh on teachers’ unions, board of education bureaucrats and politicians who give lip service to change.

The film is not set for full release until the fall. And that’s too bad, because there are some politicians in this city who desperately need to see what’s really worth fighting about

By Jo-Ann Armao  | April 16, 2010; 9:41 AM ET
Categories:  Armao  | Tags:  Jo-Ann Armao  
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Comments

Your heart might be in the right place, but you just don't get it

Posted by: mamoore1 | April 16, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Tenure and seniority are not the problem. The problem seems to be in how teachers are evaluated in the first place. Tenure does not guarantee a teacher a job for life as so many mistakenly believe. It just guarantees due process when dealing with the evaluation process. Shouldn't the goal be to help ineffective teachers become effective ones? Using only fear to get teachers to perform will not be productive. Supports need to be in place. Montgomery County has an effective system for evaluating teachers.

http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~ngt/par/

Posted by: musiclady | April 16, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Jo-ann - if you are indeed a decent person, I think you'll soon give up your fixation on Rhee as "Rock Star" or anyone who could do good for DCPS.

You were simply wrong about that. Just please admit you were wrong and stop using your position to perpetuate her doomed leadership.

Posted by: efavorite | April 16, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Are you shilling for Guggenheim, too - it could be bad for the film if Rhee is out on her ear before it come out in the fall.

But maybe you could write a nice postscript on how this Rock Star was tragically cut down by silly DC residents who don't have the children's best interests at heart -- not that I have to give you talking points.

You amaze me every time with your own.

Posted by: efavorite | April 16, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I have been teaching for over 10 years and in that time I have been physically evaluated by an administrator once. You accuse the union of harboring "bad" teachers but the administration does not do it's job in the first 3 - 5 years by monitoring new hires and then the union is stuck having to defend these less than stellar teachers. The system does need to change but using charter school who can pick their students as examples of what works is unfair. If the public schools could pick who they wanted to let in they would be doing better. Don't you think motivated students and parents would make a difference? When public schools are left with those who have disablities or who don't care they will not succeed no matter who teaches or if they have unions or not.

Posted by: emchenry1 | April 16, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

efavorite: Since you question Jo-Ann's decency as a person and and can't seem to cap your endless search for consipiracy, why not regale her w your ultra-sexist observation on Michelle Rhee's "petite behind" which you lovingly chronicled elsewhere. Can't tell if it is envy or something much, much worse.

Posted by: axolotl | April 16, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

There is a great deal to fight for and against. Some issues are hiring practices; lack of minority instructors and lack of male instructors; attitudes that teachers have with some students such as the comment I heard at a meeting in New Hanover County; Wilmington, N.C. in which one lady stood up and said, "her female white teachers were afraid of some of the strong black males in the classroom". No teacher should be afraid of any student-STUDENT!!! No, that made me spit! If you are afraid like that then, you have not only no control but, you lack the sense to dismiss that student to the Principal, Parent or Parents of that child. No one comes in my classroom and rules over me-got it. If it is that bad then, perhaps one should get another job. This is where the teacher truly needs training on how to deal with such behavior. Like I AM THE TEACHER; YOU WILL GET THE WORK GIVEN OR YOU WILL FACE SOME SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES-YOU AND YOUR PARENTS. END OF STORY. NOT COMING IN HERE WITH THAT PERIOD.

Posted by: Scar1 | April 16, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

And when will schools get back to normal. Schools are in to too much politics; sexual orientation and things that social workers; guidance counselors and parents themselves should deal with.

Go back to books; learning and making school an experience in education not foolishness and crap!!!!!!!!!!!!

If the Board is trying to make statements so they can get elected again-vote them out and get a Board that is interested in the student's brain and achievement and research, development and college bound attitude.

I really do not want to hear about some home life that is deviant or we GOP; Dems or independents taking over school Board cause we are right but oh so wrong.

Changing textbooks to prove our group was historically right or wrong-forget it. How about just highlitghting in general a overall view of all History good or bad.
Some of you are stuck in the past; wanting a sub culture to use but, it will not be our children. It WILL NOT BE AT OUR CHILDREN'S EXPENSE!!!

So, it is time the Parents go control of things and act like parents. Get a hold of that behind and let these kids know who is in charge. Child abuse no but,
Parents training a child up in the way they should be-AMEN! No television; facebook; pad nothing; no car; no movies; no nothing-you will listen to me or I got a trick for your little or big butt!!!!!

Posted by: Scar1 | April 16, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

And when will schools get back to normal. Schools are in to too much politics; sexual orientation and things that social workers; guidance counselors and parents themselves should deal with.

Go back to books; learning and making school an experience in education not foolishness and crap!!!!!!!!!!!!

If the Board is trying to make statements so they can get elected again-vote them out and get a Board that is interested in the student's brain and achievement and research, development and college bound attitude.

I really do not want to hear about some home life that is deviant or we GOP; Dems or independents taking over school Board cause we are right but oh so wrong.

Changing textbooks to prove our group was historically right or wrong-forget it. How about just highlitghting in general a overall view of all History good or bad.
Some of you are stuck in the past; wanting a sub culture to use but, it will not be our children. It WILL NOT BE AT OUR CHILDREN'S EXPENSE!!!

So, it is time the Parents go control of things and act like parents. Get a hold of that behind and let these kids know who is in charge. Child abuse no but,
Parents training a child up in the way they should be-AMEN! No television; facebook; pad nothing; no car; no movies; no nothing-you will listen to me or I got a trick for your little or big butt!!!!!

Posted by: Scar1 | April 16, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

And when will schools get back to normal. Schools are in to too much politics; sexual orientation and things that social workers; guidance counselors and parents themselves should deal with.

Go back to books; learning and making school an experience in education not foolishness and crap!!!!!!!!!!!!

If the Board is trying to make statements so they can get elected again-vote them out and get a Board that is interested in the student's brain and achievement and research, development and college bound attitude.

I really do not want to hear about some home life that is deviant or we GOP; Dems or independents taking over school Board cause we are right but oh so wrong.

Changing textbooks to prove our group was historically right or wrong-forget it. How about just highlitghting in general a overall view of all History good or bad.
Some of you are stuck in the past; wanting a sub culture to use but, it will not be our children. It WILL NOT BE AT OUR CHILDREN'S EXPENSE!!!

So, it is time the Parents go control of things and act like parents. Get a hold of that behind and let these kids know who is in charge. Child abuse no but,
Parents training a child up in the way they should be-AMEN! No television; facebook; pad nothing; no car; no movies; no nothing-you will listen to me or I got a trick for your little or big butt!!!!!

Posted by: Scar1 | April 16, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

So maybe I said it more than once but, some of these schools and their leaders, teachers need their heads examined.

Posted by: Scar1 | April 16, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

You are far too personally invested in Michelle Rhee.

Budgets and politics matter a lot. And Chancellor Rhee has proven that she plays fast and loose with the numbers and can alienate a lot people.

I am surprised that for someone with so many opinions on how to educate DC's kids, it took a Hollywood movie made by a member of one of the world's richest families to expose you to what is really going on in inner city schools.

Chancellor Rhee has done a lot of good things, but your ongoing defense of her boils down to an argument that she cannot be held accountable by regular citizens and their elected representatives, and when something does go wrong, it is always someone else's fault.

And if your read Gandhi's letter, why hasn't it raised any red flags that Central Office Spending is $23 million over budget this year under Chancellor Rhee, or is that an unimportant question?

Posted by: chgobluesguy | April 16, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

efav.: Scar1 is one of your colleagues, I presume.

Posted by: axolotl | April 16, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

I just wanted to clarify a few widespread myths. The reason it seems that international schools do far better than schools in the US is that they only test their top students. We test everyone here. Also, teachers with tenure can certainly be fired. All it takes is two years of bad evaluations. The vast majority of teachers are hard working and extremely dedicated. It is so much more difficult teaching in a city than in a rural or suburban school. More than half of all teachers quit before reaching the 5 year mark. Teachers don't make very much money and many younger teachers find it isolating and disheartening. Nonetheless, those of us in the profession who have decided to stay do so for our students. They are amazing, because no matter what horrors they face in their home lives, they keep coming to school, ready to learn. Stop watching documentaries and start volunteering to help.

Posted by: nancyking2001 | April 16, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Charter schools, home schooling, and changing the way teachers are trained in this country would all be good steps. Poor teachers should find another line of work. Successful teachers should be emulated, not run out of their jobs. This is unlikely in a union-controlled system.

Jaime Escalante has passed away, but Marva Collins is still around. Go ask her. BTW, why didn't Obama suggest her for Education Secretary? Reagan did.

Posted by: momsaid | April 17, 2010 1:29 AM | Report abuse

I notice that some commenters who have defended Rhee in the past are instead now simply attacking people who are critical of Rhee.

I think this is a good sign.

A recent Post I wrote titled "Channeling Chancellor Rhee" can be found at:
http://thewashingtonteacher.blogspot.com/2010/04/channeling-chancellor-rhee.html

Posted by: efavorite | April 17, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

No, efavorite, just singling out blatant sexism, or worse, that you show no contrition about. With all the spin on your many posts, it is important that we understand your values. Or, you can, Bush-like, never admit an error. And why oh why did you feel it necessary to politicize your comment about Rhee's statement on Brian Betts? Very inappropriate. Suggest you return to some substance that is within your formidable capabilities.

Posted by: axolotl | April 17, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I am sorry. Ms. Rhee has demonstrated such overwhelming management failures again and again only the blind can continue to defend her. The budget this year is her third, it is the first that was on time even remotely, and it is the first to let local schools know how much federal money they are getting so they can plan and spend in accordance with the law. Her model in past year has allocated twice as much money per child to some schools as other, and special ed and poverty status of children does not explain the differences. Even if I bought that pay-for-performance in teaching will work in theory (see www.danpink.com and his book drive for a good overview why we should be skeptical of this); Ms. Rhee has shown herself to be such a horrible manager that I doubt she could implement a system that would properly review teacher performance to allocate the bonuses. And I am quite tired of those who allege if you don't agree with her you are against children. There is a place in hell for that argument with Eugene McCarthy. I understand those who rant against Rhee in a some what irrational fashion, because we see the emperor has no clothes and feel like the rest of you must be mad to think the outfit is so pretty. Though I don't think ranting irrationally is a very good way to convince other people.

Posted by: Mulch5 | April 17, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

The point is schools over the years have been "trying to be too politically correct" instead of putting their foot down and saying look we are here to instruct your children and teach them the skills necessary for them to go beyond grade 12 whether they go to college or not-there has been some preparation with every student in the system. There should be some training for their goals. Vocational, Trade, College Prep; Medical; Business or whatever... they should have the beginning framework for exposure to the task of life and the people in life. You can go to charter, private, or whatever but, sooner or later these same students will have to deal with real life and avoiding certain segments in life will not work. Eventually we all have a dose of racial justice or injustice; wealth vs. poverty; etc. So, let them grow and learn and be exposed to the possibilities even if they do not come across them. At least they will not walk around with blinders when they go to some country or to some function or some college etc. and experience pure shock cause Moma and Daddy didn't tell me this part.

In life we all face things we may or may not be ready to face. An example would be this Samoan girl who lived next door to me. Everyday she would come and tell me a joke. The joke would always have the Black person as the laugh of the day. So, I decided when she returned I would not laugh and tell her a joke about a Samoan. Did that upset her world. Then, she respected me from then on. I showed her how it felt to be an object. Then, all the perceptions of how Black people live just disappeared. Auntie she would call me-I thought Black people did this-and again I would ask her why she thought that way. Usually, it was some other grown-up exposing her to negative things. Finally, she learned in life there are some good and some bad but, it did not mean as a whole everyone was the same.

It is time grown-ups stop putting their experiences in the minds of others but, let them form their own opinions and desires without radical persausions.

Posted by: Scar1 | April 17, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Well put, Mulch5 -- that's a keeper!

Posted by: efavorite | April 17, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Armao:

How many DCPS classrooms in which you've passed some time?

Do so, watch some of the hard-working, experienced teachers at work, and you will not be so quick to slander them.

I'm disgusted by the superior, elitist nonsense your paper spews, and the lazy journalism in which you engage. Please stop it. You are doing just as much damage to educational reform in the District as your idol, Rhee.

Posted by: vscribe | April 17, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

vscribe...I agree that many journalists for the WaPo engage in editorials that they attempt to pass off as news. It seems that politics pervades everything...education, government, and our media...which can only further destroy us.
There is a trend by superintendents and principals who have mismanaged their budgets - all stakeholders know that they engage in this trend: slander the experienced, more expensive teachers - whatever the cost to be rid of them. Replace them with "Teach for America" candidates - non-certified people - or non-certified, non-qualified teachers...and simply commit fraud on reports to the feds.

Fraud and corruption pervade every aspect of American lives and education is a perfect environment for politics and the shuffling of funds.

Obama learned how to give away 500 million dollars of Annenburg Foundation money to CPS - with absolutely no improvement whatsoever. I contend that it was with an oversight as well...hence, his lack of regard for our hard-earned tax dollars. But I digress...

Posted by: easttxisfreaky | April 17, 2010 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Scar1: Re: " lack the sense to dismiss that student to the Principal, Parent or Parents of that child."

I don't know what school system you teach in but in ours that student is coming right back into that classroom. And, it will be made very clear that it is the teacher who is the problem. How do you think schools get those low suspension rates?

Ms. Armao needs to substitute teach for while for a reality check.

Posted by: altaego60 | April 18, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Thanks efavorite. I want to suggest one other thing. There are a number of reasons I have come to the conclusion that Ms. Rhee is not the agent for the deep necessary reforms to make DCPS great. Part of it is that I disagree with much of her core philosophy. I would say to those who do think her anti-teacher, anti-experience, pay-for-performance ideas are good, you should be looking to remove her as much as I. She is such a poor manager that even if her ideas are sound they will most likely fail with her at the helm. If you agree with her ideas, find someone competent to implement them before they are destroyed by horrible implementation.

Posted by: Mulch5 | April 18, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

That is the point Re: Aramo or whoever:

I am not blaming anyone. We are to quick to cast blame. Schools have to go back to basics. The Teacher is and should be in charge of his or her classroom and fear is not an option any of them should have. It is like any other situation-to show fear is to be defeated. The classroom should be so situated that when that student enters they know they have rules to follow and they are not given anything but, earn whatever they get. So, Black,White,Spanish, Polish, Samoan, Asian-I don't give a rat's butt-you will respect the teacher and you will do the work or trip you little butt out to the Principal and your parents. Good-bye- see ya.

I am not a teacher but, I have taught some tough kids in a tough neighborhood through community based work. They know me-betcha that. Oh here she come-damn right!! Put your shirt in and sit down and shut up.
Now here is what we are doing today. Yes, drill sgt.

Guns-give me that! Boy I will take that damn gun and hit you on top of your damn head and beat you silly-get the hell out now and tell your stupid moma corrections will be at her door.

Do not take the foolishness is all I am saying. Texas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yeah! Paddle-yes sir and pray. Like that.

Posted by: Scar1 | April 18, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

It is time parents got back in the swing of things. Go to the school and see what your Boo Boo is doing and take him or her in the bathroom or excuse them out of class for an hour and take them home and do some real homework with a broom. I did it and now he is a minister.

Posted by: Scar1 | April 18, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

No Scar1 worked with Americorp as a volunteer tutor. And they were suppose to give me 5 students and I ended up with 30.

So, reading was not the problem I found. Comprehension and the instructions given to the students. And then they had teachers who were just there for the paycheck and that summer vacation.

So, I continue to visit and I see what is going on. PARENTS NEED TO STEP IN AND SHAKE IT UP IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE. NOT LAW ENFORCEMENT BUT PARENTS.

Posted by: Scar1 | April 18, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Ah, axolotl is back from skulking the washingtonteacher blog(ue) as anonymous.
Somehow, she wouldn't ID herself as axolotl.
Well, I had no such fear and I called her out on it.
Haven't heard too much from you about Miss Rhee's financial math abilities.

Jo-Ann forgot the best scene:
A teacher dies before the start of class while sitting at his desk.
As is their routine, the students file in, pick up a ditto packet, fill it out and leave it on the teacher's desk on the way out.
It is not until several classes later that someone realises the teacher has died.
(He was probably the union shop chief at the school).


I do like how Jo-Ann Armao dismisses this past week by telling us "THINK OF THE KIDS."
So what if Michelle Rhee lied. She's got the best interests of the kids in mind (not at heart).
The end justifies the means in Jo-Ann's world.


For Jo-Ann,
Michelle is
"a shimmering, glowing star in the education firmament."

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | April 18, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

to all,

as just ONE citizen (who raised two daughters, mostly ALONE. = i'm a long-time widower.), i'd like for our local "independent school district" to CLOSE the public schools altogether & issue vouchers to every K-14 (our district OWNS a community college, that is REALLY cheap, if you are "in district". it might as well be FREE, no more than it costs to attend & take a "full load"!) student in our district to cover the same amount of $$$$$ that are currently being spent on the WASTEFUL/inefficient
public schools.

i'd bet that in the long run that we'd have BETTER-educated students & LESS expensive QUALITY schooling, TOO.

yours, TN46

Posted by: texasnative46 | April 18, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Nice said Marlowe and efavorite.

BTW, MS. Armao, which rock star is Michelle Rhee like:
Jim Morrison - drugs and public exposure
Janis Joplin - heroin
Kurt Cobain - drugs, suicide
Neil Young- cocaine (as airbrushed out of "The Last Waltz)
Johnny Cash/Elvis/Bob Dylan - speed
Ike Turner - spousal abuse
Jerry Lee Lewis- marrying his cousin
Mick Jagger- drugs/booze/onanism (as seen the Robert Frank film of the Exile On Main Street tour)
Keith Richard(s)-heroin
Bill Wyman- a guy in his late 30s pursuing a teenager

Posted by: edlharris | April 18, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

It is amazing now all these schools across the Nation want to use the Harlem Project as a model to promote change in the school systems but, before intergration it was our model in Black schools. We may not have had the facilities or all the equipment others had but, one thing we had was respect for our teachers and our parents backed them up 100% by coming to the school or "using the stick once ya got home"-if it were my parents ya got knocked in the head or mouth before ya got home.
"You said what to the teacher-bam!!" They did not play that mess at all.

Something happened in the late 70's and early 80's. It was called the revolution of the children when they started the "Child Abuse Crap". No one likes abuse and that is given but, a nice shake down by parents every now and then does not hurt at all.

Recently my grand called 911 and that was a mistke she will not make again. I treated her like a criminal. When they got there I was like go ahead take her a.s.s. downtown. And my 81 yr old Aunt was standing with her walker going yeah take her right on downtown-making 911 calls and playing on the phone-a five year old. She was hiding in the bathroom praying they did not arrest her. Taught a real lesson.

Why? Grandma threaten to spank her behind for not listening. What was her problem she wanted to call her dad and instead of asking grandma what the number was she dailed 911.

Grandma and Great Auntie and the police lady taught her a real lesson. And she got punished by Dad. That is how ya do it. Everyone "lowers the hammer". High school-get a damn job. Put them to work-Molly Maids, Hardees, Roller Rink, ya won't stay here and not do some work. Sweep the floor; cut the grass. Don't do it and stay home not in your room in my kitchen with me-reading, washing dishes and no phone, I-pad; TV; friends over; nothing, NOTHING!

Posted by: Scar1 | April 18, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Rock-star Rhee, huh? Reminds me of a couple lines of a famous rock song from that band of famous rock stars who were notorious for destroying hotel rooms and their very own instruments. (Of course, they managed to find plenty of extra money in their budgets to pay for their wanton, ego-fueled destruction.)

"Then we get on our knees and pray...
We don't get fooled again,
Don't get fooled again!"

Posted by: laboo | April 19, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Bunk

Robert Vinson Brannum
rbrannum@robertbrannum.com

Posted by: robert158 | April 21, 2010 6:40 AM | Report abuse

I've sent this letter to the Post twice, but they seem more than a little reluctant to print it, so I'll post it here.

Ms. Armao has shown through her editorial writing on education that she is unable or unwilling to delve into the research on student achievement. Instead she pushes the same old ideas that are touted by conservative think tanks and the Chamber of Commerce: more charter schools, performance pay for teachers, and an end to teacher tenure. Sad.

The letter:
______________________________________

To the Editor:

Editorially, the Washington Post is as wrong-headed about education reform as it was about going to war in Iraq.

The latest example is Jo-Ann Armao’s Post Partisan excerpt on April 18 in which she claims – incorrectly – that American public education is broken and teacher unions are to blame, and then she promotes (again) charter schools and abolishment of tenure as the fix.

Just as the Post bought in to manufactured intelligence alleging WMD in Iraq to substantiate the case for war, Armao subscribes to flimsy research on New York city charter schools to buttress her push for more charters in the District and elsewhere. And if unions impede student learning, how does Armao explain high achievement in many strong union states (Maryland and Massachusetts come to mind), and bottom-of-the-barrel achievement where unions are weak or non-existent (the deep South, for example)?

Propagandizing on the basis of little or no evidence such may be acceptable practice at Fox News, but Post readers deserve better.

Mark Crockett

Posted by: mcrockett1 | April 23, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

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