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Michelle Rhee tends to polarize people. So, I’ll share what she said to us at Mom Congress. Then, you can decide for yourself what you think about her positions. I typed this up as fast as I could (thanks to working my way through college as a temp) and hope that I typed it as I heard it, but I apologize in advance for any errors in reporting.
“One of the things we are to do if we are to fix public education in this country is to have more moms running the show,” opened Michelle Rhee, former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor.
“People would say to me slow down, you’re like a bulldozer, change takes time. I always looked at those people and think none of you send your kids to the D.C. public schools. I put my two kids into the DC public schools and therefore I ran them every day knowing that the decisions that I made were going to impact my two daughters. . .
We had a lot of turnover in the district when I was there. 2/3 of the principals gone and ineffective teachers about half of the central office employees, gone. I became known as the terminator, the dragon lady.
Somebody said to me, you’re so focused on moving people out of the system instead of investing in them – instead of professionally developing them. Don’t you believe you can professionally develop them? Maybe. But, let’s not let children languish in the meantime.
So, I register my daughter and they say, here’s Olivias’s teacher and guess what, she’s not so good but we’re going to professionally develop her this year. There is no way I could have accepted that for my kids. There is no one in this room who would have accepted that!
The research is clear if children have three highly effective teacher is a row vs. three highly ineffective teachers, it literally changes their life trajectory. What if Olivia and her classmates would have been unlucky enough to have ineffective teachers two years in a row?”
I’m a big believer in investing in your workforce but we have to know what’s at stake. It’s not just about let’s invest in people if we’re sacrificing the outcomes of kids.
We were putting in place a new teacher evaluation system which was a tough process. We had to do it in D.C. because when I inherited the school about 8% of the 8th graders were proficient in math. But, on performance evaluations, 95% of the 8th grade math teachers were rated as doing an excellent job.
We have to align the way that we evaluate ourselves on how good an education we give our kids. 50% evaluation should be on moving student achievement levels. With value added growth model, we’d measure a teachers kids based on the beginning of the year and then at the end of the year.
We had one D.C. public school co-located in building with a charter school and the enrollment going up on KIPP charter school while the other, public school side’s enrollment was going down. To me, I don’t care what the delivery mechanism as long as kids are being served, I am going to be happy. In this particular case, if handing the building over to KIPP, then more children are going to be served, it should be enough for us to hand over the keys – it doesn’t matter if our enrollment is going down. That’s the only focus that we should have. That’s the mindset that we have to shift in this country. If we see the community as a whole, then we will start to make the right decisions.
Over the last 3 decades, the education agenda has been driven by special interests groups like text book companies and teachers unions. The teacher unions use millions of dollars to get people elected. I’m an advocate for collective bargaining – on wages and that sort of thing but I’m also a huge fan of effective teachers. The problem is when you have an organization like this with so much influence, there is no balance to that because no group like that that advocates for the kids. It’s a lopsided policy landscape.
If you question the teacher and unions, you get labeled anti-union. We have to engage in the discussion for kids.You as the moms whose children are in school every day – these policies affect your children.
That’s part of the reason why I started Students First. We have over 200,000 members in all 50 states. My goal through Students First is to radicalize the moms of America.
We have very clear marching orders for all of our websites like Save Great Teachers which seeks to end the “last in, first out” policies. The research shows that when you do layoffs by seniority, you layoff the best teachers. Also, if you layoff the new teachers, it costs more money (paraphrase – older teacher make more money.) It also disproportionately negatively impacts low income school because they have more younger teachers.
Check your state –see if you have legislation pending. In Florida, it’s now signed into law.
Don’t believe that we can’t change this dynamic for kids because we can.”
A: 100% agree that we need more parental engagement – the first step ahs to be as a school district – what steps are we taking to be a welcoming environment
Q: I’m tired of everyone blaming the teachers. It’s demoralizing.
A: I don’t think at all that I am blaming teachers. There is no group that has less tolerance for ineffective teachers than effective teachers. It drives them nuts. Effective teachers that I know don’t have any problem with accountability because they know that if you are an ineffective teacher it doesn’t necessarily mean you are a bad person. Teaching is the hardest job there is, bar none. We have to acknowledge that not everybody is going to be great at it.
To me is not demoralizing, it’s saying that what you’re doing is so hard that not everyone can do it.
Q: How can you be a whistle blower in the system and low man on the totem pole?
A: Be careful of sweeping generalizations – not every low income school is a poor performing school. Go and find the high performing teachers Part of what we’re trying to do is encourage teachers who are reform minded. The problem is that you don’t hear their voice very often, they don’t want to be ostracized. Ban together. There are other people who believe the same things you do and we need to hear your voice in this.
Q: What about parents who disagree with you? How do you bring them along?
A: I think we did a lot of great things and also that we made a lot of mistakes. One of the things we didn’t do particularly well was we didn’t connect the dots for people as we were removing ineffective teachers from the system. We didn’t communicate why.
You don’t have to agree with me on everything but we have to engage in the conversation, even if we end up on different sides, that’s okay. We have to give people information and let people information decide what’s right for their kids.”
Wow! What do you think?
I’ve never imagined not doing professional development for teachers because I needed it; every teacher does. I think it’s essential! However, I see what she’s saying about the kids suffering while a teacher is “being professionally developed.”
I’m not sure about the word intolerant that she used when referring to good teachers opinions of bad teachers. It’s not that exactly – but yes, I just never understood poor teachers who didn’t seem to care about honing their craft. It’s hard when they are your friends and co-workers but, you wouldn’t want your children or your friends’ children to have one as a teacher.
You probably know from previous posts that I was in two different teacher’s unions. That being said, I joined the one in Douglas County only after I knew for sure that they had a no strike clause. I wouldn’t put my students through that. My student teaching experience happened in Denver Public Schools during a period of striking and it was awful for everyone involved – kids, parents, teachers, and administrators. So, I guess what I’m saying is that unions aren’t all created equal. I believe you can’t categorize for or against because in my experience, it depends on how they behave and what they believe – which can be different. I’m for collective bargaining but totally disagree with the kind of menacing behavior that is reported to be happening in Wisconsin.
I’m not totally clear on exactly what teacher evaluation system she’s recommending but I agree that we need something better. As far as charter schools, they don’t bother me much. I think it’s good for parents to have choices and if the charters are doing a great job, more power to them. I know a lot of teachers feel differently. But, I just think we have to do what’s best for children – even if it’s not our own school.
Go here for my thoughts on what makes a good teacher.
Now it’s your time to share your thoughts — remember to be courteous and kind to others with different opinions. We all want the same thing — a great educational system for all children. Keep that in mind as you comment, please.