A guest post by A Conservative Teacher. Originally published at A Conservative Teacher on Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Via Newsweek I saw this article- “Why Michelle Rhee Isn’t Done With School Reform.” Here are some selected passages from it:
…When I started as chancellor in 2007, I never had any illusions about how tough it would be to turn around a failing system like D.C.’s; the city had gone through seven chancellors in the 10 years before me. While I had to make many structural changes—overhauling the system for evaluating teachers and principals, adopting new reading and math programs, making sure textbooks got delivered on time—I believed the hardest thing would be changing the culture. We had to raise the expectations that people had about what was possible for our kids.
I quickly announced a plan to close almost two dozen schools, which provoked community outrage. We cut the central office administration in half. And I also proposed a new contract for teachers that would increase their salaries dramatically if they abandoned the tenure system and agreed to be paid based on their effectiveness….
Rhee offers up several structural changes to the system, increased efficiency in both facilities and in human resources, and changed the culture of the biggest aspect of education, the teachers. All of these proposals are fascinating, but it is the teacher’s pay one that I am the most interested in.
According to wikipedia, Rhee had two proposals:
In 2008, she also sought to renegotiate how the school system compensates teachers. Rhee offered teachers the choice of: being paid up to $140,000 based on what she termed “student achievement” — but losing tenure; or, retaining tenure — but earning much smaller pay raises. This controversial move to end teacher tenure and promote “merit” pay was strongly contested by the teachers unions.
In 2010, Rhee and the unions agreed on a new contract that offered 20% pay raises and bonuses of $20,000 to $30,000 for “strong student achievement,” in exchange for weakened teachers’ seniority protections and the end of teacher tenure for one year. Teachers were observed by administrators and outside professionals for five 30-minute sessions during the year, and the teachers’ performance was rated during those sessions. Teachers who received fewer than 175 out of 400 points were deemed ineffective and were dismissed. Teachers who received between 175 and 249 points were deemed minimally effective and given a one-year warning to improve their performance. Under this new agreement, Rhee fired 241 teachers, the vast majority of whom received poor evaluations, and put 737 additional school employees on notice.
As a teacher whose students achieve superior results on AP tests (I’ve taught 3 different AP courses in recent years and steadily raised test scores and enrollment in these courses) and on common assessments (I’ve taught 4 other classes in recent years and had my students (including mainstreamed students) outperform other teachers on our common exams), I’m quite comfortable with being judged on student achievement. And my worth isn’t just measured in the classroom- I run the most popular club in the school, volunteer on our teacher leadership team, run several charities, mentor students during my prep hour, and coach part-time. It would be nice if I was rewarded for this sort of effort rather than watching teachers who perform at a much lower level make the same amount as me.
To think that I could be being paid like the professional that I am- with several advanced degrees and extensive background experience- rather than as a factory drone that simply moves students through the system! It is an exciting thought, but I don’t want to dwell on how it would benefit me personally- imagine how exciting it would be to my fellow teachers who also perform exceptionally in the classroom. Because I’m going to let you in on a little secret right now- there are a lot of exceptional teachers in education, who haven’t been drained and wearied and discouraged by the system and who make my efforts pale in comparison. I’m driven by these other teachers, who I am in competition with for test scores and achievement, and we are driven in spite of the system and not by it. It makes me excited to think that these other teachers could be rewarded for their tremendous efforts in education!
And the downside? Bad teachers lose their jobs. Teachers who are unqualified, teachers who do a poor job of teaching their students, teachers who do not achieve measurable results, and teachers who everyone in the building knows are bad will lose their jobs. Oh, it’s no big secret who these people are- ask anyone in my building who would be fired first, and they’d look knowingly at you, since they know who these people are. There are not a lot of them, but they are there, sucking up resources and sucking down students, bad apples ruining the bunch, souring students on learning, while giving teachers a bad name. They’d lose their jobs.The union shouldn’t be protecting them.
So what’s the next step? Continuing from the Newsweek article…
….When you think about how things happen in our country—how laws get passed or policies are made—they happen through the exertion of influence. From the National Rifle Association to the pharmaceutical industry to the tobacco lobby, powerful interests put pressure on our elected officials and government institutions to sway or stop change.
Education is no different. We have textbook manufacturers, teachers’ unions, and even food vendors that work hard to dictate and determine policy. The public-employee unions in D.C., including the teachers’ union, spent huge sums of money to defeat Fenty. In fact, the new chapter president has said his No. 1 priority is job security for teachers, but there is no big organized interest group that defends and promotes the interests of children.
You can see the impact of this dynamic playing out every day. Policymakers, school-district administrators, and school boards who are beholden to special interests have created a bureaucracy that is focused on the adults instead of the students. Go to any public-school-board meeting in the country and you’ll rarely hear the words “children,” “students,” or “kids” uttered. Instead, the focus remains on what jobs, contracts, and departments are getting which cuts, additions, or changes. The rationale for the decisions mostly rests on which grown-ups will be affected, instead of what will benefit or harm children.
The teachers’ unions get the blame for much of this. Elected officials, parents, and administrators implore them to “embrace change” and “accept reform.” But I don’t think the unions can or should change. The purpose of the teachers’ union is to protect the privileges, priorities, and pay of their members. And they’re doing a great job of that.
What that means is that the reform community has to exert influence as well….
We have to exert our influence. That is why I blog- to change the system so that students and good teachers both can win, and by winning will make our nation greater.
For more on Michelle Rhee, check out THE BEE EATER: Michelle Rhee Takes on the Nation’s Worst School District.