Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rhee's Five Year Plan

An article appeared in yesterday's Washington Post describing some specifics of Michelle Rhee's 5-year plan for DCPS. It represents the same mistakes that Rhee has made time after time with regard to teachers in DC.

Ignore for a moment the ideas you might already have about Rhee, and read these quotes from the article:
  • "Rhee wants more teachers who share her central belief about education reform: All children can become high academic achievers, regardless of the disadvantages they face outside the classroom."
  • "Rhee plans to move the District away from the regimen of courses and workshops that have defined continuing education for teachers. Borrowing from best practices in surrounding suburban districts, she is building a system of school-based mentors and coaches to help instructors raise the quality of their work."
  • "[Rhee] also wants to import a nationally prominent Massachusetts consulting firm with a reputation for improving teachers' skills."
  • " She had hoped to winnow out poorly performing teachers by weakening tenure protections in exchange for higher salaries."
  • "Rhee has dropped the school system's direct support for instructors seeking certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a rigorous one- to three-year teacher development program, citing a lack of evidence that the training improves student achievement."
All told, it doesn't sound half bad. I don't know much about the efficacy of National Board Certification, but if there really is no evidence that it helps student achievement, then we probably shouldn't be paying for it. A system of effective teacher development sounds great, considering the incredible lack of support that many new teachers experience in DCPS. Getting rid of poorly performing teachers (we all know that they exist, and should not be in the classroom) is good, as is paying teachers higher salaries. I'm not thrilled with the idea of giving up tenure, but if it will help remove those truly awful teachers (the ones who sleep during class, use racial slurs against students, and show movies 3 days a week -- things that have all been done by teachers I personally know who are still teaching in DCPS) then I'm okay with it. To me, the plan sounds reasonable and, in fact, fairly smart.

Of course, this plan is not being evaluated by most educators on its merits because most educators that I've talked to in DC (especially older teachers, but teachers of all ages and races) think Rhee is out to get them. And they think that because Rhee continues to give them evidence that it's actually what she believes. Her plan might be great, but no one gives it a chance because it is couched in phrases like, "She promises to 'identify and transition out a significant share' of instructors, through buyouts or dismissals," or "Those who don't improve could face termination by the end of the school year." Simply put, she's not nice and people don't like her.

This is what Rhee should be saying in every interview when she talks about teacher quality:

"All research shows that teacher quality is the most important factor in determining how well low-income students will perform in school. Research also shows that students who experience 3 years of bad teachers will never recover. We have thousands of dedicated, intelligent, hardworking teachers in DCPS, but the work of these brilliant educators is being undone by those few teachers who are not doing their jobs well. For too long, these teachers have been allowed to remain in the classroom. We need to create a system that develops good teachers, rewards exceptional teachers, and gets rid of bad teachers."

Isn't that nicer? Doesn't that make you think happy thoughts? Rhee has said numerous times that she isn't interested in making people like her. Well, guess what: she should. When people like you -- when you're nice to people and they feel valued -- they do what you want. Every good classroom teacher knows this -- students will do whatever you want if they believe you care about them. My guess is this is one of those teacher best-practices that carries over into good management as well.


Anonymous said...

Excellent points. I once had a colleague who was born and raised in another country, with some methods that were unusual. I loved one of the things he did. And I would have never believed it unless I had seen it in action. His class was like all of ours, a group of random students. He constantly told them that they were the very best in the school, that they were the smartest, with the highest scores, that their class would sell the most raffle tickets and win the prize over everyone else, because they were special, they were number one. I guess I knew it was a lie, no one was the best. Except it worked. They'd walk through fire for him. And they sold the most raffle tickets for the fundraiser and had the highest test scores. Just because he believed in them.

Melanie said...

I agree. Administrators, even with the best intentions and the evidence to support their ideas, often forget to bring educators on board and that can be an extremely detrimental misstep. Getting the teachers involved and willing to back her up is essential to Rhee's plan.

lodesterre said...

You make a very good point. One that is fundamental in organizational theory and management - the idea that the worker, when given proper value and respect by management, is a better worker, more productive, innovative and with a greater sense of investment in the process.
The correlation to this is that in such a workplace more workers raise the level of their work and those that do not have a harder time existing in this system. If you look at the top 10 companies in terms of innovation, industry and profits, they almost always fit this bill.