Thursday, September 16, 2010

Michelle Rhee - Hero or Zero?

In my opinion, Michelle Rhee is a hero in education reform. You either love her or hate her. If you love her, it's probably because you are a concerned parent who wants the best education for your child. If you hate hate, you're probably one of the many teachers who got fired by Michelle Rhee as the result of poor teaching performance and the taking away of tenure or perhaps a parent who doesn't understand the importance of education. Michelle Rhee is the Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools. Rhee has aggressively sought to reform a school system whose students historically produced below-average test scores. (It's quite ironic, considering D.C. is our nation's capital!) She became known for a tough, ruthless approach, seeking to purge public schools of teachers and principals who were, in her opinion, incompetent. In her first 18 months, Rhee shut down 21 schools, firing 100 workers from the district's central bureaucracy, dismissing 270 teachers and removing 36 principals.

Let's quickly go through the reforms and policies that Michelle Rhee has placed in Washington D.C.:

"In 2008, she sought to renegotiate how the school system compensates teachers, offering teachers the choice of being paid up to $140,000 based on student achievement but losing tenure, or retaining tenure but earning smaller 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. Under this new agreement, Rhee fired 241 teachers, the vast majority of whom received poor evaluations, and put 737 additional school employees on notice. Of the dismissed teachers, 76 were dismissed in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act because they lacked proper teaching certification. 26 other teachers were dismissed because their students had continually received low scores on the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System. 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.

Rhee's actions have earned her applause from school reformers nationwide, as well as the scorn of teacher unions and community activists. Her supporters argue that under Rhee's chancellorship, D.C. Public Schools have greatly improved student achievement. Since 2007, secondary schools have improved their standardized test pass rates by 14% in reading and 17% in math, while elementary school pass rates have improved 6% in reading and 15% in math. Systemwide graduation rates also improved by 3%, up to 72% in 2009. However, significant achievement gaps remain between students in high-performing and low-performing school districts, and between white and African American students."

-Source: Wikipedia     
Sure, maybe she could have been more diplomatic, however, would that have been as effective? Sometimes, in order for change to happen in a good way, we have to let go of our old, destructive habits. I am a strong advocate for teachers to be paid according to merit. Being a teacher myself, it delights me when I see the kids I tutor improve on a daily basis and acheive great results when they challenge themselves. It thoroughly bugs me to see teachers who are there merely for the pay or benefits - teachers who don't put in the extra effort to help the children succeed. Perhaps to them, they are merely allowing the children to retain all their childhood fun. But in reality, they are hurting the chances of these kids succeeding in the future. I think Rhee summed it up best by saying: "They are getting a crappy education. I mean, you could try to sugar coat it all you want. Subpar, or whatever. But what it is in terms that everyone can understand -- they are getting a crappy education."  Amen to that!

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