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Posted at 11:15 AM ET, 12/ 9/2010

Holding students hostage while the adults argue

By Conor Williams

Former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's Students First initiative got started this week. Pitching her new organization, a foundation dedicated to driving education reform in communities across the country, Rhee told Oprah that you should join Students First,

If you want to see the change in this country that we need, if you know that teachers make a huge difference and we need a highly effective teacher in every classroom, if you know that all parents deserve to have options -- excellent options -- for where to send their children to school, if you believe that we need to take money away from the bureaucracy and into the classroom where it belongs, away from ineffective programs into things that work. 


You'd think that this is all pretty obvious, right? Who honestly believes that highly effective teachers don't matter for student success? Who believes that parents should be locked into sending their students to terrible schools? Who wants to waste education funding? Who doesn't want to put students first?

But that's where you'd be wrong.

Don't believe me? Read a few lines from Nathan Saunders, the recently-elected president of Washington's teachers union, quoted in The Post:

Where the contract requires collaboration, I absolutely will collaborate...That means when teachers have a point of view, it's actually taken into consideration. When confrontation will lead me to progress for the people I represent, I will engage in confrontation...What's good for teachers is often times very good for students.


It should be obvious that "often times" is not "all the time." Saunders campaigned on defending teachers against new accountability standards in the D.C. public schools. His rhetoric certainly doesn't give much reason to have confidence that Saunders is taking students' needs very seriously. Worst of all, this is only one example of a very common approach to public education in the United States.

Take another, more substantive example: given the structure of tenure in most school districts across the United States, most teachers' job security depends upon seniority, rather than effectiveness in the classroom. When funding runs short, this means that countless great teachers are fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent and hard work. Students, parents and hardworking teachers don't want layoffs decided this way. A recent survey by The New Teacher Project showed that most teachers want dismissal policies to take teacher quality into account. If existing policy isn't about putting the "needs" of adults over the needs of students, what is?

This is why Rhee's new project is so heartening. It seems so simple, so easy -- just put the needs of students first -- but the coming battles in education reform promise to be anything but. Whether or not Students First is the right organization to answer educational injustices remains to be seen. One thing is sure: we adults should all hope that it is. Our students cannot wait any longer. 

By Conor Williams  | December 9, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  Williams  | Tags:  Conor Williams  
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Comments

You don't know all the details. You need to know more about education.

Posted by: jlp19 | December 9, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Rhee comes into DC and does absolutely nothing to improve the school. But she talks big so people like this author listens. What did Rhee do to improve DCPS? Nothing.

Posted by: jlp19 | December 9, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

What an extraordinarily simplistic analysis. I haven't seen the issues in education reform reduced this far in quite awhile, though it is a driving characteristic of the so-called reform movement to do so.

All teachers have their performance measured; whether or not you agree with the measures is another matter. I don't know that Saunders is disagreeing to measurement, but is disagreeing to the form the measurement takes in the IMPACT system. Many of the measurements advocated so far in various systems around the country take little more that standardized test scores for math and science into account, which ignores vast territories of teacher effectiveness. Most of what teachers do is not currently measured.

and there is little trust in Rhee's objectivity, as well. She is a partisan advocate of a educational philosophy that has little evidentiary underpinning, but has much big corporate funding behind it. This peculiar movement focuses only on teaching as a remedy for poverty, ignoring both the influence of parents and community. It is little more than magical thinking because of that ignorance.

Posted by: thisone | December 9, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

The first step is often the hardest.

Rhee was able to finally get some measure of teaching effectivness factored into the DCPS records. This is the first step; what happens next is unknown. But being able to finally get the public school system to take that first step... that is quite an achievement.

Unless, of course, you are one of those people who think that the only way to improve the schools is to throw more money at the teachers. In that case, you might really feel that Rhee did nothing. You might also believe in the Easter Bunny.

Posted by: EddieNJ | December 9, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

"Rhee was able to finally get some measure of teaching effectivness factored into the DCPS records."

IMPACT has been criticized for being problematic. No this was not a measure of teaching effectiveness. I think it is a false measure of effectiveness, but it does give 4 million dollars to business.

And no, I don't think throwing money around is the answer.

Rhee came into DC and tore the school system apart.

Posted by: jlp19 | December 9, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

And by the way eddienj, I've worked in both business and education. Teachers are evaluated far more than employees in business are (without IMPACT).

Posted by: jlp19 | December 9, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

From your comments, it was easy to guess that you'd worked in education.
First of all, I don't agree with your assertion that teachers are evaluated more than anyone in private enterprise. You may not realize it, but most workers are "evaluated" every single day!

Never the less: being "evaluated" is far different from being held accountable. Teachers and administrators are not- and have not been- held accountable. That's the truth and there is no way any reasonably objective person could come to any other conclusion. I don't know of any other field wherein the quality of the product has been so low for so long.


Posted by: EddieNJ | December 9, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

EddieNJ,

I think you are really out of touch with what is going in education.

Why don't you become an inner city teacher? Instead of attacking teachers without finding out the truth - why don't you become a teacher?

Also - I would like to come on your job and evaluate you.

Posted by: jlp19 | December 10, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

"Teachers and administrators are not- and have not been- held accountable. That's the truth and there is no way any reasonably objective person could come to any other conclusion. I don't know of any other field wherein the quality of the product has been so low for so long."

BECOME A TEACHER IN THE INNER CITY, THEN COME BACK AND TELL ME THAT. PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS.

IF YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE THINGS UP ABOUT EDUCATION, MAKE THE EFFORT TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH - DON'T JUST GO ON THE ATTACK. BECOME THE PERSON YOU WANT SO MUCH TO ATTACK.

Posted by: jlp19 | December 10, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

All these nasty people attack teachers, and praise people who attack teachers. Why don't these nasty people become teachers themselves? Experience the inner city yourselves as teachers, don't attack teachers.

Posted by: jlp19 | December 10, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Keep up the good work, Conor. In the edublogosphere, the flak you get in your comment threads is typically directly proportional to how correct your arguments are.

***

jlp19:

"What did Rhee do to improve DCPS?"

A lot?

* Launched a weekend academic program that was likely one of the reasons for the bump in test scores that year

* Closed schools with low attendance and streamlined the central office, saving millions for the district

* Held high expectations for the adults by removing underperforming teachers and principals

* Got approval for instituting a teacher evaluation model that finally includes student achievement in the equation as well as data from other sources, and furthermore treats teachers like the professionals they are by increasing salaries for better teachers while demanding that ineffective teachers improve

* Oversaw a period of growth in student achievement as measured by the DCPS-CAS *and* by the NAEP (the latter continued gains from previous years but at a statistically significant faster rate)

"I think [IMPACT] is a false measure of effectiveness"

This is not helpful. WHY do you think it is a false measure of effectiveness? What would be a better alternative?

"Rhee came into DC and tore the school system apart. "

[Data not shown]

"Teachers are evaluated far more than employees in business are (without IMPACT)."

[Data not shown]

"Why don't you become an inner city teacher? Instead of attacking teachers without finding out the truth - why don't you become a teacher?"

Appeal to authority, and a boring one at that.

***

thisone:

"Many of the measurements advocated so far in various systems around the country take little more that standardized test scores for math and science into account, which ignores vast territories of teacher effectiveness."

This is false. IMPACT, for example, utilizes test scores for only ~50-60% of the evaluation, and so far that is for a very small subset of teachers that can qualify for this. The rest of the data comes from reoccurring classroom observations throughout the year.

"[Rhee] is a partisan advocate of a educational philosophy that has little evidentiary underpinning"

This is sloppy argumentation. Be specific: what exactly do you contend has "little evidentiary underpinning"?

"This peculiar movement focuses only on teaching as a remedy for poverty, ignoring both the influence of parents and community."

This is deceptive. The issue of remedying poverty is not one that is being taken up by Rhee or other reformers in their push for school reform. The arguments entail that, DESPITE poverty, these students can succeed in good schools. This argumentation is NOT mutually exclusive with arguments related to fixing poverty. Go fix poverty- who is stopping you?

Also, considering that we're discussing school reform, it kind of makes sense as to why reformers are only considering strategies to make our schools better. It's maybe because they're focusing on school reform?

Posted by: ChrisSmyr | December 11, 2010 3:54 AM | Report abuse

Teachers have advocated for education reforms for several years. They continuously lobby for smaller class sizes, improved facilities and techonology, equitable funding for disadvantaged students, and appropriate curriculum. Their adversaries have been the business community, the same group that is currently attempting to privitize education. As a parent, I have decided to support the teachers in their efforts to improve our schools. All urge all parents to do the same.

Posted by: PhilLombardo | December 11, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Rhee took credit for everything that her predecessor Dr. Janey, accomplished or suggested. After that, Rhee had no education plan of her own and no real idea of how to change the schools. She came up with 1 piece of Rhetoric that made her famous. This is a powerful sound bite but where is the plan? I respectfully ask the writer to walk into a DC school and ask what Rhee has done. DC teachers(yes ask a teacher imagine that), parents and students have experienced otherwise.(i.e., see Dunbar HS in the Post today)

Posted by: TeachDC123 | December 12, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

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