08 September 2008


If you're interested in witnessing the beginning of the end of public education in the District, follow closely Michelle "Wrecking Ball" Rhee's so-called "Plan B" as detailed in the Post today. Frustrated that union leadership hasn't rolled over and played dead (for a change), Rhee has made plans to make the union irrelevant through some sort of murky process she's afraid to discuss publicly, or as the Post says,
What she calls "Plan B" involves a more aggressive use of powers she already has and that are not subject to contract negotiations with the union. These could include strengthening the existing system of annual personnel evaluations that spell out procedures for terminating teachers.

Uh huh. Well, I have news for the Post and Rhee: unless this union is entirely brain-dead, personnel evaluations are covered in some way under the contract (read: not necessarily named as such but certainly connected to some procedure that will tie up her machinations in knots). The Post also notes that the state board could gift-wrap Rhee a package including a maneuver that would create an extra licensing procedure based on classroom performance, effectively telling teachers that their current credentials are good enough to teach in all 50 states of America, but not in the colony known as the District of Columbia.

Rhee doesn't need extra-special powers to get rid of bad teachers; she needs good managers. Unfortunately, she doesn't have them and isn't likely to get too many more of them given the fact that not too many of the stellar national candidates whom she claims to be recruiting for principalships bothered to apply to DC, where they're promised one year contracts and the ability to be fired without cause.

I just about laughed out loud when I read this choice tidbit from the article:
Rhee's ultimate goal is clear: to weed the District's instructional corps of underperformers and remake it, at least in part, with younger, highly energized graduates of such alternative training programs as Teach for America, where she began her career. Unlike many tenured Washington teachers, those emerging from such programs are unlikely to invest their entire working lives in education. But they will, in Rhee's estimation, be more inclined to embrace her core message: that children can learn no matter what economic and social conditions they face beyond the classroom, and that teachers should be held directly accountable for their progress through test scores and other measurements.

Laughing to keep from crying as they say. Let me proceed in bullet-point style on the ludicrous arguments and presuppositions put forth here:
  • Rhee's ultimate goal is not to staff the District with Teach for America products; that's called a means to an end. The ultimate goal is to break the teachers' union.
  • Teach for America grads are no more likely than traditional education majors to be highly energized and motivated fresh out of school. The fact is that most of them burn out -- that's why they're "unlikely to invest their entire working lives in education" (which for Rhee apparently is a bad thing: to think that dedication to craft would be a negative...)
  • Most insultingly, Rhee behaves as if veteran teachers and teachers who don't follow her program of "at-will, no cause" majesterial dictation somehow don't believe that all children can learn. In fact, this point is too important for mere bulleting, so I'll elaborate below.

On that third bullet: Rhee has used from her midnight appointment the rhetoric of "all children can learn." Well, no shit. However, in deploying that rhetoric, she is of course implying that her critics don't believe that. Sort of like the Bushism that if you were against the Iraq Boondoggle you were somehow a supporter of Saddam Hussein. It gets even more insidious when she uses it to gloss over the fact that research has held for decades -- decades I tell you -- that social conditions impact learning, or to put it a bit more bluntly: if Johnny spends his afternoons hanging out, his evenings dodging bullets, and his nights watching the late late show, he's less likely to be prepared for Tuesday's spelling quiz. Doesn't mean he can't learn. Doesn't mean he won't learn. However, it does mean he will have more obstacles put in his way than little Jimmy, whose parents work with him on his homework, get him to bed well fed and early, and check up with his teachers (none of which by the way will guarantee little Jimmy is a genius, but odds are he'll do better in school).

Oh, and kids who think Rhee's two-tier system is a good idea...please understand that once the union's gone, you can kiss all those merit bonuses good-bye, because the foundations won't be interested in funding them...Rhee's job will be done...you will have a chance to get reacquainted with Mr. Ramen and have home meals prepared by Chef Boyardee.


m.a. said...

I don't know how DC public schools are going to make it, Cuff. The teachers and students are fighting against so many odds. :(

Adam said...

I visit your blog from time to time. My wife and I have a baby on the way. There is no immediate urgency in terms of educational options for our baby, but moving away from DC within the next year or two seems likely. (We just can't afford private schools around here, and we have no confidence in the public schools)

cuff said...

Adam: I moved from DC this summer, but my son spent 4 years in DCPS and would be on his fifth if we hadn't moved for reasons entirely unrelated to schooling. DC has some good schools, but good schools don't get press coverage. And we weren't in Hyde, Key, Murch, Mann, Janney, Lafayette, or Hearst -- those schools (all west of Conn Ave.) are great elementary schools.

MA: Nothing is ever easy in the District, is it? I love Rhee's repetitive comment about how she's "going 100 mph because there's so much work to do" -- well, speed kills and you tend not to take corners too well, and who cares how fast you're going when you have no idea where you're going?

adam said...


If you could provide some insight into good elementary schools to the East of Rock Creek Park, it would be very much appreciated!

The same goes for day care: any insight would be very useful and very much appreciated.

rooksm (at) gmail.com