I'm So Sick of The Rhee Fawning  

No, seriously.

Time? Really? A magazine cover for a woman who really just wants to fire "under performing teachers," oh, please. It's not at all about power and is certainly not about the kids. I've posted before what it's like in DCPS. My kid attended DCPS through Junior High School. Jefferson Junior High School and going there made my bright, articulate, fun and hard working child suicidal. This isn't even an exaggeration. She went to a psychologist; she withdrew; her grades suffered and she was tormented by her classmates.

Teachers can only do so much. Parents who raise kids that like to mentally torture other kids, or who raise kids that are in and out of juvenile hall or in and out of the system, parents who don't parent, bring kids into the world who behave in ways that I can't even begin or care to explain on this blog at this moment. Suffice it to say that in the media's Rheegasma, the media continues to lose site of what's really at stake, kids.

DC has lots and lots of problems.

Extreme poverty in pockets all over the city is just a start of it. Violence, joblessness, drugs, you name it, we've got it here and kids are a microcosm of all of these issues and we don't seem able to deal with any of these issues in a meaningful way, at least, not for the kids.

So, in a comment on another thread, a DCPS (self proclaimed math teacher of 2 years in DCPS) and he writes this about his recent evaluation:

Essentially, the principal has NO idea whether or not good teaching is going on in a classroom based on her observation. In the two years I have worked in my school, my principal has been in my room exactly twice -- both times to observe me in a situation that was totally inorganic. But I digress...

I went in to discuss the observation with my principal, and she basically said she thought everything was perfect. I received "Exceeds Expectations" ratings in every category, and she said that she had no suggestions for improvement. I can't disagree with her rating -- my lesson was very good and my kids were extremely well behaved. But as a teacher, I know I am not outstanding. I'm solidly good, but definitely not great. I'm relatively new at this, and there are lots of days where I really struggle. I'm happy to have the excellent ratings, but this type of observation and discussion doesn't help student achievement and it doesn't help improve teacher quality.

What I find interesting about what he says is that he hasn't been around very long. Evaluations like this are Arbitrary. It's something that Rhee supports, ARBITRARY evaluations.

What the union has been fighting for is the ability of teachers to be fairly evaluated. He's right, what he went through was a bit of a dog and pony show, combining that with say testing results and parent statements should help craft a better overall view of the teacher's performance. But, the arbitrary nature of testing (what tests? what results?) to the lack of discussion about holding parents accountable and actually failing poorly performing students...there's more to this discussion, but Rhee wants to focus only on Principals and Teachers.

From EdWize:
There is an old, tired trope of the education deformer crowd that fawns over Michelle Rhee like star struck 1960s teeny-boppers swooning at the feet of Paul McCartney: they care about the children, while everybody else [read: teachers and their unions] only care about the adults connected to education. Here is the latest rendition at The Quick and The Ed.

The Rhees and Kleins of the world cared so much about the children that they couldn’t wait to get out of the classroom, and as a consequence learned not a thing about the teaching craft.

Luke Laurie, Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year in California and a science teacher, had a particularly witty response to this thinking on the listserv of the Teachers’ Network Leadership Institute:

To say that tenure only benefits adults and has no benefit for kids, is like saying that a stable home provides no benefit for children. Why don’t we just go into homes and take out those unqualified parents every few years and replace them with young, smart and motivated “Parents for America” who will raise these kids right?

My daughter attended Jefferson Jr. High and it was awful. Kids there were violent, didn't try, were cruel and those that did try or learned were taunted by a few really bad apples. If the parents can't control these kids and don't get them to be students (or their grandparents, guardians or foster parents), then how are teachers able to do so?

Rhee isn't the answer. She's a diversion and so are her policies from the real issue about students...how do we do better? As communities, parents and schools. Until it all comes together, blaming teachers and schools is really just intended to distract all of us from what's really happening. And what's really happening is worse than most of us even care to talk about and the reason my kid is now at a private school. Without Emerson Prep, I'm not sure where my kid would be now, but I'm certain, it wouldn't be DCPS, and that has nothing to do with the teachers. She never had a bad one, ever.

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  • Mr. Potter  
    12:21 PM

    Hi Uniongal. Thanks for reading my blog -- I appreciate your interest in DCPS, and your support of our teachers.

    I think you may not understand some parts of the observation process in DCPS, and specifically how the union contract rules affect the observations. Principals are not allowed to pop in to classrooms to observe teachers and then use those observations in their evaluations of teachers. In order to have an observation count in an evaluation, the observation must be pre-planned and the teacher must be able to pick the time and date.

    I would argue that this (in part) leads to inorganic observations that are meaningless. I wanted actual feedback and suggestions for improvement, but since my principal only comes in during formal observations, I couldn't get that. Partially, this is because my principal doesn't do a good job of coming into her classrooms on a regular basis. But partially, this is because the WTU contract prevents her from evaluating teachers in a realistic classroom environment.

    Fair and honest evaluations are important for improving teachers' efficacy, which is something everyone wants (Rhee, principals, union leaders, teachers, etc.). I think the union's contract is part of what prevents teachers from being fairly and honestly evaluated.

  • The Union Girl  
    12:54 PM

    It appears, you don't understand my post.

    The union has negotiated the current situation due to previous issues. It takes years of arbitrary crap of teacher firings based on personality issues with principals or administrators to get you to what you have today.

    In a perfect world, you could do what you're saying would provide a more organic review, unfortunately, this isn't a perfect world.

    Let me give you an example.
    My brother is a teacher. He teaches in another state. His high school gets a new principal who wants a dress code for teachers. All teachers now must wear suit coats and ties (men), and women are expected to be in dress pants, skirts or similar. So, they go from khakis one day to business dress the next. The contract didn't specify notification to teachers, so the principal made the ruling on a Friday afternoon for implementation on Monday. When my brother arrived in khakis that Monday morning, he received a write up for disciplinary action.

    It was arbitrary, but the goal of this principal was to get rid of a few older teachers and to snap the others into shape. My brother no longer teaches Physics, since it is not on the standardized test that students must pass, she has eliminated the course. He also is licensed to teach History,so this Physics teacher now teaches History.

    This is just one simple scenario. What I told him at the time all of this came down and I'll also say to you now is that if your union isn't out there for you as a member, get more active in the union. If you want more arbitrary reviews, then talk to your fellow members and figure out how to bring that about. Become a shop steward or run for leadership posts within the union.

    The union is responsible to the membership. But if you aren't active in the union, if it isn't hearing your voice, then it appears that you need to do more than just blog about how much you love Rhee and her initiatives. Get involved in the union and bring the rest of the membership along. Hell, you might even learn more about why things are the way they are, might make you see things a little differently, or you might actually be able to change the union to be more in line with your reasoning. You don't really have anything to lose.

  • Mr. Potter  
    10:34 PM

    I don't think I did misunderstand your post. It was a thoughtful post that argued that Rhee is a bad leader who uses arbitrary evaluations and scare tactics. I disagree with you that she *wants* these arbitrary evaluations -- rather, it is the rules of the contract that require the evaluations be arbitrary.

    What happened to your brother is unfortunate, and is absolutely the work of a bad principal. Situations like his in particular make me glad for the work of excellent teacher's unions. But his story is irrelevant to the fact that a good evaluation process -- one where principals get an honest look at a teacher's classroom by allowing for unscheduled observations as well as more structured formal observations -- would benefit both students and teachers. Currently, the teacher contract prevents honest evaluations by requiring that teachers dictate the time and date of the observation.

    My suggestions cause problems for many teachers because they, like you, argue that the world is not perfect and our principals might use these observations to fire them. I agree with you that the world is not perfect, but certainly it will not be made more perfect by capitulating to a critically flawed evaluation system.

    (Finally, as a blogger yourself, I'm sure you would take offense to the notion that just because I blog I am not involved the union. I also disagree with your assessment that my blog is about how much I "love Rhee and her initiatives." If you read my blog more carefully you will discover that I have nuanced positions on issues.)

  • The Union Girl  
    7:46 AM

    WTU is a good union. They are responsible to their membership. If you want changes in the way things are handled, managed or moved within WTU, then being a dues paying member who attends meetings isn't enough.

    If you are active, have been elected to a post in the school represent the membership, are a Delegate to the DC Labor council, then GREAT! The best way to move your agenda is to do so in leadership.

    If the need for scheduled visits to classes has come and gone, then argue that point, and do so with your membership. You may find others who agree with you, others who are on the fence and then still others who think you're crazy. Knowing the history of why this negotiated benefit is in the contract might help you on the road to changing this policy.

    I'm not a teacher. I'm a parent, and I'm looking at things from a completely different point of view from you. There are some principals that have been fantastic, and others who were miserable failures. As a parent, I didn't want (and still don't even though my child is now in a private school) my kid to have to deal with the after effects of a principa;'s visit to the class. I didn't like it as a student, and I don't like it as a parent.

    And, I still think you're missing my point on Rhee and arbitraty actions. Take the contract from this past summer where she argued that teachers would be paid extremely well but would have to agree to a 1 year probation. When the WTU tried to negotiate on what criteria would be used and how it would be applied, they were met with a wall. Rhee wants to set those measures. But what measures?

    With her 90 day initiative, she's still looking to get rid of poor performers, but little information on what that means has even come out. This is the arbitrary nature of Rhee's moves. It doesn't take into consideration attendance, behavior issues, or other non-classroom issues.

    One other note on my use of the word Arbitrary. I used your post to note that Rhee wants to move beyond just these types of evaluations and to a new sort of aribitrary evaluation

    But, the arbitrary nature of testing (what tests? what results?) to the lack of discussion about holding parents accountable and actually failing poorly performing students...there's more to this discussion, but Rhee wants to focus only on Principals and Teachers.

    Her push toward "accountability" for teachers and principals while still not holding parents and students accountable is part of the problem.

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