I was reading an op-ed in the Detroit News (yeah, I know, a Right-Wing piece of garbage, but I read lots of things that I'd use to wipe shit off my shoes, really, I do). The Op-Ed is by Rev. Edgar Vann, pastor of Second Ebenezer Church.
Washington, D.C. has a transformational leader making great strides in their school system. Michelle Rhee is the appointee of Mayor Adrian Fenty. Her efforts to bring true reform to that school system have drawn acclaim from a wide range of supporters with a minority of usual suspects still stuck in the old paradigm. She has closed underperforming schools, fired more than 30 underperforming principals and given notice to teachers that there will be no lowering of academic standards -- putting the interests of the children first and making radical changes in the classroom.
Eighteen of nineteen high schools in Detroit are on the failure list; the graduation rates are absolutely abysmal, and we change superintendents and CEOs like changing socks. Well, let's ask ourselves some tough questions. Does the school district's leader have to be an educator? Should we take another look at labor issues that may be distractions to the reform process?
The Pastor writes a Faith and Policy column but for some reason, decided to go off the deep end with his fawning for Rhee. This appears to be a common affliction among many lately.
Take the Time Piece of crap last month...
In 11th grade, Allante Rhodes spent 50 minutes a day in a Microsoft Word class at Anacostia Senior High School in Washington. He was determined to go to college, and he figured that knowing Word was a prerequisite. But on a good day, only six of the school's 14 computers worked. He never knew which ones until he sat down and searched for a flicker of life on the screen. "It was like Russian roulette," says Rhodes, a tall young man with an older man's steady gaze. If he picked the wrong computer, the teacher would give him a handout. He would spend the rest of the period learning to use Microsoft Word with a pencil and paper.
The article goes on to talk about how Rhee formed a connection to the student and held a meeting at Anacostia High School. Here's the funny thing...his issue was computers and yet, there's no mention of new usable computers, just bad teachers. Because somehow, these two things are related.
In the year and a half she's been on the job, Rhee has made more changes than most school leaders--even reform-minded ones--make in five years. She has shut 21 schools--15% of the city's total--and fired more than 100 workers from the district's famously bloated 900-person central bureaucracy. She has dismissed 270 teachers. And last spring she removed 36 principals, including the head of the elementary school her two daughters attend in an affluent northwest-D.C. neighborhood.
Yep, she did release all of these folks, and then didn't replace them. So, classes started with no teachers and had random substitutes 5 to 7 weeks into the school year.
Right now, schools assess teachers before they teach--filtering for candidates who are certified, who have a master's degree, who have other pieces of paper that do not predict good teaching. And we pay them the same regardless of their effectiveness.
By comparison, if we wanted to have truly great teachers in our schools, we would assess them after their second year of teaching, when we could identify very strong and very weak performers, according to years of research. Great teachers are in total control. They have clear expectations and rules, and they are consistent with rewards and punishments. Most of all, they are in a hurry. They never feel that there is enough time in the day. They quiz kids on their multiplication tables while they walk to lunch. And they don't give up on their worst students, even when any normal person would.
I read the article, puked a little in my mouth, then re-read it, started this post and then again, puked in my mouth. I've started and stopped and started and stopped and then started again, all because I have this amazing kid who wants to be a teacher. And the manner in which a Rhee and a Fenty will treat her teaching abilities and connection with students gives me great pause and has made me actually disuade her from teaching, despite my brother and sister-in-law being teachers.
I'm afraid of administrators who focus on one aspect of schools without regard for any other. In DCPS, my daughter had a small class size at Green Elementary. 17 students. On any given day, there'd be 5 to 13 but I never recall all the students ever showing up. Most of the students who did come to class had no supplies. No pencils, no notebooks and often, she was not allowed to bring books home with her at the end of the day. The teacher often came in to school early to run packets of materials for the kids who did show up. The books my daughter did use were tattered.
And I got to contrast the teaching in DC with that of the teaching at Sheridan Hills in Richfield Minnesota. And the teaching was comparable, in fact, her three teachers at Green were better than her 1st grade teacher at Sheridan. But the really big difference is that at Sheridan, we had more than enough home room parents. When we had back to school night, all the parents showed up except my ex-husband who lived in another state. My daughter was the ONLY kid in class with divorced parents and the social worker at the school found that she had a group of single moms whose kids had the same kind of self esteem issues so, she got all of us together and we formed our own support group to help the kids out.
At Sheridan, parents volunteered for evening events, clubs and sports. We had a carnival, the kids made books in 1st grade, my daughter could tell time and was reading and she was behind all her other classmates, in 1st grade, and then we moved to DC. In 2nd grade she was way ahead of everyone and went to class every day. For back to school night, I think there might have been 20 parents in the cafeteria including me and my neighbor, Carol. For my duaghter's class, it was me and a Dad and he was really worried about how far behind his kid was at the time and his behavior problems. He was worried about behavior problems at school and home.
Rhee's approach to the problem of DC public is a one trick pony and the writer of the Time piece isn't much better. The answer to the problems within the schools isn't teachers or principals or Rhee, it's about responsibility and moving forward together, something that Rhee just doesn't seem to understand and clearly something she needs to work because teachers aren't in this alone. We're all in this together.
Perhaps a few words from President Obama can bring this into focus:
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
We can make DCPS better, stronger, faster, but Rhee isn't the answer. It will take all of us and that is something that's been lacking the entire time my daughter attended DCPS. I'm hopeful that my fellow citizens will now rise to this challenge. But I'm also ready for Rhee and fenty to stop blaming workers for the ills of all society. We have to work together to pick ourselves up and help to dust ourselves off. Together, is really the only way.