Tuesday, October 6, 2009

People don't actually get "race cards," right?

So here's the thing about this RIF: it sucks. I get that there isn't money to pay people, but I think the whole thing went down in a way that can only be described as "icky." First, it was supposed to happen on Wednesday. Then it didn't. It finally went down on Friday, and I got the impression that my administration didn't have a plan for it. There was zero communication between admin and staff, which was disconcerting and unprofessional. The whole thing is gross and I don't like it.

Apparently, I'm not alone. The (admittedly small, egomaniacal, and usually bizarre -- myself included) DC teacher blogosphere has been blowing up with allegations that race and age were motivators for the RIF -- specifically, people are accusing the chancellor of using the RIF to get rid of African American teachers over 40.

Many people on many blogs have made the comment that the people who were laid off were "disproportionately" older Black teachers. Here's the thing: we don't know if that's true, and we won't until someone does some pretty complex statistical analysis on the numbers. Rather than wax philosophical on the nature of race relations, I'm going to unleash my inner nerd (OK, it wasn't on a very tight leash to begin with) and give a statistics lesson. *adjusts glasses* Here we go.

In order to say that there is statistical evidence that Rhee's team (and her principals) are racist, we need to know several things. In each school, what are the demographics of the staffs in each competitive rating category? What are the demographics of the people who were laid off? If we can then compare those proportions, we can get some answers. (DORK ALERT) This is called a chi-squared test for independence. Here's what I mean:

Imagine that I wanted to know whether or not race was a factor in the layoffs for teachers. First, I'd need to know the proportion of teachers in each ethnic sub-group. Then, I'd need to know the proportion that was laid off. In general, we'd want the proportion laid off to be the same for each ethnic group -- this would mean that race and layoffs were independent of each other. Make sense? Well, it gets complicated.

For example, let's say we wanted to know whether or not race was a factor in the layoffs of educational aides. In my school, 100% of the educational aids are African American women. Therefore, 100% of the educational aides who were laid off were African American women. The chi-squared test would show us that the proportions are the same and there was no evidence of racism here (note that I say "no evidence of racism", not "no racism" -- statistics can't prove the absence of something).

Next, let's say that we want to look at teachers. Well, each teacher was rated within his / her department. The principals had to decide whether or not they could afford to lose an English teacher, for example, and if they could then the lowest rated English teacher was let go. In order to see if race played a part in that decision, we'd need to look at the racial makeup of the English department. At my school, most English teachers are White. One English teacher was laid off -- a middle-aged Black woman. While the proportion of African Americans in the English department is only about 40%, 100% of the people in the English department who were laid off were African American. This means racism, right? Not necessarily. When the sample size is one, as it is here (only one English teacher laid off, remember) then we can't really conclude anything. 100% of the English teachers laid off would have been some race, after all.

If you're still reading, here's my point: it's too early and the statistics are too complex for anyone on any blog to be accurately declaring that racism was involved. Certainly, we're entitled to our opinions, but it's irresponsible to make assertions -- especially using specific terms like "disproportionate" -- when facts and evidence are as murky as they are here. One thing is certain, though: this RIF blows, and it blows hard.

It is my opinion that DCPS is a pretty racist place, and that we live in a generally racist society. One only has to look at the glaring inequality of opportunity on one side of the river and the other, or on one side of the park and the other, for evidence. But I don't think it's responsible to declare as fact that Michell Rhee is racist because we notice a trend in some of the people laid off. We need to give this issue proper investigation and analysis.

That is all. Please go back to your previously less nerdy lives.


Kate said...

Thank you. The racism allegations have been driving me NUTS, not because I don't think that there's a chance that race is involved, but because we can't possibly know that yet. Having someone who actually knows what they are talking about in the area of statistics explain this is great.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Just started reading your blog in the last week. It's nice to see not everyone in the "blogosphere" jumps to conclusions.

The New Teacher on the Block said...

I love this post!!! I'm so glad you could articulate it in such a great way.
I was certainly thinking a lot of these same things as I was reading other blogs: yes, the RIF sucks, but lets not rely on anecdotal evidence to build our ideas about groups that have been RIFFED. Some people certainly need to review the meaning of terms like "disproportionate"...teachers not knowing what this means is another dis- word: disconcerting.

Although I agree with almost every DC Teacher Blogger that the RIF sucks, I have to say that throwing around allegations of any kind of -ism is counterproductive and destructive, especially without valid evidence.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely. I made the point on Candi's blog that if you pick a marble out of a bag with 9 blue marbles and 1 green marble, you are probably going to get a blue marble. To say "disproportionate" in this case is to show total ignorant of the term.

life gets better said...

I am really disgusted with the RIFs and how they were done 6 weeks into the school year. I am also cautious of saying outright that Rhee is racist, ageist, etc although it is very obvious if you you look at the floor Rhee works on and you will see disproportionate number of young and white people working up there.

But I think it is important to dig a little deeper. Harry is right that we cannot base claims without all the facts, but there is a more important point to be made. Because Rhee is so alienating, divisive, rude, dismissive, egotistical, arrogant (shall I go on), she has created an environment which fuels anger, hatred, burnout, fear, etc. among teachers, parents and sudents.

For two years this has been brewing and now we have seen the straw that broke the camels back. Instead of inspiring people and being a visionary she got caught up in her own vision that lacked transparency and involvement from school communities.

This is why we are where we are today with daily protests and charges of racism. This is why people call her a dictator.

Anonymous said...

I agree to an extent, but then let's look at the race and age of the new teachers who were hired over the summer (and I'm one of them). They are disproportionately white and young, was this intentional - probably not, as they are the ones attracted to and encouraged to apply to TFA/DCTF. Nevertheless, how does this look and more importantly feel to the teachers who are black and over 30, also what message are you sending African American kids about race, age, and gender - you could write a thesis paper on that subject alone. When you look at the big picture, and it is a picture most people in America don't want to look at, whether you like it or not RACE is stamped all over it, intentional or not. Look at the whole heap of trouble Obama got in to when he tried to talk about it. This is America folks, and there is always a race card and your perspective on what is happening right now in DC depends on your race, ethnicity, gender, age, and a whole heap of other things. So if you are young and white, I think you have to step back a little bit and view the frame as well as the picture - and it is not a pretty picture.

Anonymous said...

Great comments here - especially by "life gets better" and TFA anonymous.

I hope some of you testify before city council.

Thanks Harry, for your stats explanation

Fellow Dork said...

thanks for the explanation, Dork!

Anonymous said...

I suspect you don't beleive Hurricane Katrina's response was about race either. You previous comments are going to catch up with you.

A DCPS employee for change said...

I want to jump in to suggest that the question about whether race is involved is almost beyond the point once the impression is out there. Politics is more about perception than reality.

At the same time, where is the charge of racism against the numerous teachers and administrators, black and white, who for the longest time have been content with a status quo that relegated our kids to a life of poverty due to undereducation and incompetence. I have only been in DCPS two years, but as I visit classrooms where teachers are not trying to teach and are still getting paychecks or who put down our children as animals with no potential, I am even more outraged that too many of them remain. DCPS did not become a mess due to Michelle Rhee, but one can argue that she has either made it better or worse. The mess was created over a long period of time by many of the same employees who are now charging racism.

Let's be real about the fact that many in the system share blame for the mess and let's stop pointing fingers and try to make things better.

Kings said...

DCPS employee, have you really seen teachers "who put down our children as animals with no potential?"

That's quite a serious charge. If you can prove it, seems to me you should report it, instead of gossiping about it.

Mr. Potter said...


I wouldn't even say I don't believe this RIF was about race. It very likely was/is. But I think it's irresponsible to make claims about racial disproportions -- as others have done -- without actually knowing the numbers.

Anonymous said...

DCPS employee - are you for real?

You sound like a central office staffer sent out to vilify teachers who don't like your boss's latest moves.

It's pretty hilarious that after your horrid words about DC teachers, you chastise them to "stop pointing fingers and try to make things better."

That rhetoric may play well downtown, but it doesn't go over so well here in the blogosphere.

Kat said...

While I don't see teachers who put down the kids, I visit classrooms of teachers who have not updated their expertise for today's needs, to put it diplomatically. And yes, many are veterans, for whom the career, when they started, was about standing at the board or head of the classroom and lecturing the whole time. They still teach through packets of handouts or assignments like "read chapter 7 and do problems 1 through 10 at the end. Turn it in at the end of class." They don't know what's happened to the behavior of children these days, because "back when I started..."

And they are both black and white.

I try to talk to them about content relevancy and prior knowledge, and they look relieved, telling me they think they can do that. I mention Bloom's Taxonomy or formative assessments and I see their anxiety begin to show. Then I talk about differentiating their instruction, and they shut down. "I don't know if I can do this," one elderly man said to me recently. I didn't see a black or white man; I saw a man realizing the expectations of this job are perhaps more than he can handle...certainly more than what he signed up for many years ago. It broke my heart to sit there with him as he struggled to absorb the things I had to say.

Yet, is this the most effective teacher for our kids? I'm sorry, but not anymore. Not only does that not cut it anymore, anywhere, but our kids need better teachers than anywhere else because we have to overcome the deficits this dysfunctional system has visited not only on them but their parents and grandparents too. (He was let go last Friday.)

If we make this about race, we miss the point. Because you know what? The best teacher in my school (in my opinion) is white. And so is the worst.

This is about moving in a direction that benefits the kids by providing the best instruction possible. Seniority and tenure was preventing that from happening.

Sam said...

I think one of the big reasons people are playing the race card is because by union rule, people should have been let go on a "last in first out" manner...if this had been done, most teachers leaving would have been white. Because MR decided to not follow this protocol and to keep the reasonings secret, then most likely people will believe what they want.

I was not a Rhee hater until now. The fact that they hired 900 people to just fire 300 of them six weeks later makes me sick.

First of all, the waste of money on hiring all of them is beyond ridiculous: the 3 day orientation stipend, their Office Depot Cards, salaries, benefits, not to mention the salaries and overtime of the central office folks who processed them. Then there are the students with new schedules and teachers absorbing new students in their rooms. If I was told today that I was getting 8 new students in each section from a Riffed teacher, I would be pissed.

Michelle should have really seen this coming. Now, if it was really a miscalculation and an honest mistake, then she should have first RIFFED some of her six figure special advisers first.

DST1913 said...

This is madness. We should all be in support of our teachers. I have no probelem with the RIF if the principal's were in fair in their selection. But I won't hold my breath. As far as racism is concerned with the RIF.... big possiblity. All the stats dissertation won't erase the fact that race and age played a big role.

life gets better said...


I do not know the situation at your school nor do I know the particulars about the "elderly" teacher you are talking about but I think it is a reasonable expectation that teachers have difficulty with differentiated instruction.

Many classrooms have students who vary four, five and more grade levels that they are performing at plus a whole host of behavior and attention problems. It is no surprise that any teacher has difficulty.

Guess what, I have seen many new(er) teachers that have the same problem as the "elderly" teacher at your school and are completely overwhelmed. In fact when you look at the homework or classwork they are giving students there is zero differentiation and the teachers wonder why students are not completing it. They don't even have the insight to recognize the problem.

Of course there are veteran teachers who also have difficulty with differentiated instruction as well.

This is why is is so upsetting to see that Rhee has put professional development on the back burner until recently while she tries to destroy the union. We have difficult student populations and we all need help, some more than others.

I found it interesting that you chose to use the word "elderly" to describe the teacher. It speaks volumes as to where you are coming from.

Also, I don't think you ever answered the question put to you in previous posts- what are your concerns with Rhee's leadership if you are not a Rhee cheerleader?

Anonymous said...

In response to Sam, who said this, "because by union rule, people should have been let go on a "last in first out" manner."

This is absolutely inaccurate. Procedures were followed correctly, in that the competitive level documentation form was used. That is what is current law in DC for government employees, NOT last in first out.

But no hard feelings, most people think seniority is still supposed to be the only factor rif decisions are based on.

DCPS Employee for Change said...

I am in favor of teachers who do right by our kids and I am not a central office staffer, but in my two years in the system, I have seen more than my share of very bad teachers who not only don't have skill, but also do not have the will to improve. In previous years they were known as "gifts" or "lemons" past from school to school. The two school I have been at have proficiency rates of less than twenty percent for years and the same teachers there. I taught for over 15 years and worked very hard to do right by my kids. Nothing angered me more than having colleagues be too lazy to plan and to be comfortable with the failure of their children.

My story about the teacher calling kids "animals" is not gossip, it was something I had told to me. I think the teachers who are doing their work are better served when the people in our schools who are not doing their jobs well are gone. We will not get respect as a profession if some of our "lemons" stop dancing and find a career that does not affect kids lives.

So, to Anonymous -- I am definitely for real and for kids first.

DCPS Employee for Change

lodesterre said...

Charges of racism help no one. Such arguments take away from what the real focus should be - the mistreatment of our workforce by this self-proclaimed "benevolent dictator". Anyone who thinks that certain teachers are "getting what they deserve" are not really looking at what is happening here. They are also deluded if they think the same thing won't happen to them.

Kings, I have actually witnessed a teacher demeaning the children in her room. I was at a school where a teacher regularly told her kids that "this is why one day you will find yourself in handcuffs in the back of a police car." She would also call her kids "ghetto" kids. This was an African-American teacher. There are teachers like this out there and it does us no good to act otherwise. However, portraying the majority of teachers like this (as the Washington Post did in their editorial and some people here have done)is such a disservice to so many teachers who go in every day and work as hard as they can at what is an increasingly thankless job.

We need to be focused and united. The lack of transparency, the obfuscations, the not-so-subtle playing of one side against the other, has gone on long enough. We have an evaluation system that speaks to the worst among us and not the best coming from a leader who obviously thinks this is what we all deserve.

Anonymous said...

DC Employee says, “My story about the teacher calling kids "animals" is not gossip, it was something I had told to me.”

In other words, it’s second hand information.

Also: “ I think the teachers who are doing their work are better served when the people in our schools who are not doing their jobs well are gone.”

Of course – that goes for any profession – but is not necessarily related to this teacher RIF.

Kings said...

lodesterre - of course a teache demeaning studnet as you describe as terrible and should not be tolerated.

Seems to me, the way to handle that is to pull the teacher aside and explain as clearly as possible that such behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated and if the teacher cannot or will not refrain from it they will be put on the 90 day plan and fired.

Concerned said...

To one of the anonymous:

"Procedures were followed correctly, in that the competitive level documentation form was used."

Please enlighten us with these procedures and the specifics..since from all I have ready no principal has discussed the reasoning behind particular decisions.

Besides DC teachers have a union contract, I am not very familiar with it, so they have different rules than regular DC employees.

Also, to all anons, please choose at least a pseudonym by clicking on the name/URL at least that way we can tell you apart.

Veteran Teacher said...

DC Employee for change said, "...where is the charge of racism against the numerous teachers and administrators, black and white, who for the longest time have been content with a status quo that relegated our kids to a life of poverty due to undereducation and incompetence."
Why do people assume that DCPS employees working in the system prior to Rhee's arrival were for the status quo?

There were many of us who spoke out for years against the system and were frustrated by the poor teaching of some teachers. Yet, like a broken record, anyone critical of Rhee is charged with being for the status quo. Rhee's "change" does not necessarily mean progress.

The problem with many of Rhee's actions is that most are not addressing the fundamental inequities that exist in DC schools. In some situations, as in the case of the RIF, she has made things worse.

Why not get rid of incompetent teacher fairly and efficiently rather than waiting until 6 weeks into the school year? Her RIF may had the intentions of ridding the system of incompetence, but in reality it affected hardworking and competent teachers as well.

Thanks Harry, "life gets better", and lodesterre for your comments--well said!

reality check said...

life gets better,

Thanks for following up with Kat on her constant Rhee cheer leading as I asked in previous posts.

This is important issue because those that are Rhee supporters can never seem to acknowledge that she has serious flaws in her leadership and as the Veteran Teacher said those who are critical should not be seen as for the status quo.

Parent said...

Reality Check wrote "This is important issue because those that are Rhee supporters can never seem to acknowledge that she has serious flaws in her leadership and as the Veteran Teacher said those who are critical should not be seen as for the status quo."

And what about those who don't support Rhee - it seems to me that they can never seem to acknowledge that Rhee has done some good. For all the folks that complain about Rhee regularly, I have yet to hear from them any recognition of improvements. And let's all recognize that it's far easier to criticize than to put oneself out there and come up with a plan.

usereason said...

Kings said: "DCPS employee, have you really seen teachers "who put down our children as animals with no potential?"

That's quite a serious charge. If you can prove it, seems to me you should report it, instead of gossiping about it."

I am a teacher in DCPS and i don't know of a process for reporting teachers who insult children, yell at them, threaten, or otherwise take advantage of them (outside of breaking an actual law)."

Before i report anything to my principal i'd like to know the process that will occur and the ramifications for me - just like I know the process when i report a child for suspected cchild abuse.

Does DCPS have a process for reporting teacher nastiness?

Are DC teachers bound by a Code of Ethics through which we can report teachers to an Ethics Violation Committee?

Until that happens, teachers will probably continue to just share - not gossip - their experiences on blogs.

life gets better said...

Parent- Good question. I think adding instructional coaches is a good move. The ones at my school are great. But I have heard some at other schools are mediocre and ineffective.

I also think Rhee's push to ensure that all schools have art, music, PE teachers is also good.

But she leads by fear, bashes teachers whenever she gets a chance, and has made many decisions that cripple schools and cause chaos.

If she wanted to get rid of the minority of bad teachers, she should have done it the right way. Instead she not only has created instability and chaos for thousands of students but also fired many great teachers in the process. Now so much time, money and energy is be devoted to the RIFs by everyone from Rhee, the City Council, parents, students and teachers.

So some of her good ideas are being completely overshadowed by her many bad ideas and extremely poor management skills.

Rob Sanchez said...

There is only one way to find out for sure if racism was a factor -- demand that the school board release the demographics of those that got riffed. This should be public information.

What happened in DC schools goes much deeper than racism however. Ageism is probably the major factor because Rhee is so anxious to cut costs. There is probably something else going on that most of you probably have never considered -- bias against American workers.

The bias is very real and it's intrinsically linked to ageism. In order for you to understand how and why, be sure to go to the Vdare link at the bottom of the page about Braveheart in high heels.

To really understand the issue you are dealing with, read these two links because what is happening in Louisiana schools is happening in DC. You must learn the big picture if you ever care to solve the problem.

Louisiana Hiring Filipino Teachers, Firing Americans—Where Are The Teacher Unions When We Need Them?
By Rob Sanchez

Caddo Parish Didn’t Read The Fine Print