Jan 13, 2009

A Blogger's Advice To Rhee: Rebuild DC Schools First

While I was reading some of the responses on my blog, one especially caught my eye from blogger- Lodesterre. I thought that it deserved front page billing. He makes the point that there are differences in schools west of the park (upper north west) versus schools east of the river (far south east) in terms of the level of resources, support and educational leadership often lacking in these schools. It seems to me that this blogger's argues that Rhee's decision to terminate and/or buy-out a 'significant share' (Rhee's words) of the entire DC teaching corps does not represent a substantial education plan. Certainly I do not know of any research-based practices to support terminating a significant portion of your work force. Lodesterre sums it up this way : "..teachers are the heart of education. Well, a doctor doesn't replace the heart in a sick body. First the patient must be made strong, then you replace the heart."

I pose to all who blog here: How would you rate Rhee's 5 year education plan ? What other solutions to education reform would you propose particularly for some of our poorer and most neglected schools ? Keep in mind that the reality is that many teachers and administrators do not voluntarily choose to work at these schools given the location (far SE), discipline issues, lack of parental support, crime rate and lack of resources and administrative support, etc.

lodesterre said...
"My school does have instructional coaches, but then I work in a pretty good school. A lot of the schools do not. Go into the SE, SW, NE and parts of NW that don't look like Cleveland Park or Chevy Chase and you have a different world. With each step closer to Anacostia and beyond you will find yourself in an alternate reality. I used to work in one of those schools before being excessed by an administrator, I might add, who was a nightmare and used the procedure to rid herself of anyone who stuck up for the children (believe it or not). Look at where Chic was, Nalle. If you had ever been to that school, and I have numerous times, or knew someone who worked there, and I do, then you would know that the school does not have everything it needs.

Many of us were far from perfect as beginning teachers. We all needed help to survive our first couple of years and certainly could have used more. Imagine a teacher in a school where the coaches are pulled to do a thousand different things by the administrator. At my old school I had a reading specialist 8 days the entire year. I documented it. This was in a school where the reading scores were way below what they should have been. The reading specialist was always running some errand for the principal. I made noise, complained through the proper channels and was excessed at the end of the year.

The schools that need changing most are beyond dysfunctional. They are in conditions that go beyond "bad" teaching. To focus on the teachers and believe that getting rid of all of them will change things is short sighted. I honestly believe that you first build the support structure you need to have in place before you start putting up and painting walls. I don't see Rhee's plan. I know she has it on the DCPS website but to me it is more of the same: get rid of the teachers, replace them with TFA and DCTF and NTP teachers and our world will be transformed. There is no coherent, substantial plan that she has had in place. Her professional development and her family support plan have come as afterthoughts - thrown in after numerous complaints were made. Her one idea of change is to bulldoze and rebuild. This is a waste of talent and resource that, despite what you may think or say, does exist in these places.

There are fundamental issues which Ms. Rhee has felt can be dealt with after replacing all the bad teachers. She has said that teachers are the heart of education. Well, a doctor doesn't replace the heart in a sick body. First the patient must be made strong, then you replace the heart." (posted by The Washington Teacher).

23 comments:

Mr. Potter said...

I think this blogger makes a great point about the state of many of our poor urban schools. They are "beyond dysfunctional," and the problems go "beyond bad teaching." The administration of DCPS at nearly every level is incompetent.

That said, I think that we as teachers need to accept the fact that teaching in high needs areas is just more difficult than teaching in wealthy suburban schools. It simply is. And I think (or hope) that Michelle Rhee's point in suggesting that we transition out a significant number of teachers is that she wants teachers who will happily own these challenges.

Research shows that teacher quality is the single most important factor in changing the trajectory of students' achievement. There are many teachers in DCPS who are great, there are many that are bad, and there are many that are "fine." But just "fine" teaching doesn't cut it in DCPS -- not in the high needs schools that we serve. And I think some teachers, who are adequately doing their jobs but who are not meeting the needs of our students, should be transitioned out. Not because they're bad, but because they're just not up to the challenge.

Hear from Me said...

Mr. Potter some of the teachers singled out for "transition out" are the higher performing teachers in low income and high crime areas. What is Ms. Rhee really up to Mr. Potter? Or do you have that same blind spot that some Americans have?

Mr. Potter said...

Hear from me-

I think it's possible that some of the teachers who have been placed on improvement plans, or who have been targeted for being "transitioned out" are good teachers. But apparently someone thinks they're not performing satisfactorily. Could that person be wrong? Of course. But from my experience in DCPS, it's also very likely that the individuals being targeted for improvement really aren't up to the challenge.

As for what Ms. Rhee is "up to," I don't know what you mean. But please spare me some conspiracy theory -- such things are the mental invention of wanna-be victims, and are usually wastes of time.

Anonymous said...

Do you think Rhee needs to focus on solid educational programs,systems,operations and stabilize her buildings with resources and support. The focus is fire all the teachers. Rhee's contractual agenda and Teach For America plan? Point made,it goes beyond teaching.You can take a group of students all failing in a tough school and ace the end of year. That's with a team united operationally solid building and all hands on deck. If the building is operationally disorganized and unsupported then there is a lot that can't be blamed on the teachers.How organized is Rhee with educational programs that are working with her vision of a five year plan ? It appears driven blame the teachers in schools that need support and resources.Enter the vision re-structure under NCLB and sell to subcontractors for profit under the sanctions and penalities of NCLB.Rhee is a corporate thinker and educationally not very experienced in education administration.Does she understand how to solve the issues other than fire employees? What are her training and development programs in place for the schools in trouble to improve those schools ?

Anonymous said...

Has Rhee observed the Ron Clark school for the implement of programs and motivational input ?

Amy said...

This is not rocket science and not a conspiracy theory. Look closely at this five year plan. Rhee wants to get rid of a significant share of teachers over two years. She also wants the right to get rid of provisional teachers and still recruit aggressively more uncertified teachers from TFA, teaching fellows and NTP every year. Soon she will have a revolving door of uncertified teachers, not presently qualified and/or certified to teach. Research states that many of these will leave before they become certified. By the way a provisional license is not considered a valid teaching license. Check out the council hearings on this issue on Friday. You can view in on line at the dc government website at your leisure.

Heather said...

The instructional coaches at my school did nothing but take two hour lunches, refuse to do lunch duty, refuse to pull children out for remediation, refuse to model lessons or meet with teachers. In fact, I don't know how they filled their days! You could always count on them to have a warm cup of Starbucks, though. Nice work if you can get it, I guess.

Toby said...

Heather, sorry to hear that about your coaches. At my school, our math coach is really a master teacher. I went to her to ask how best to use a certain tool to demonstrate a concept and she more than willingly showed me. She works with the weakest math students in the testing grades in small groups, gives us excellent pd and is truly an asset to our school. I have heard that all coaches are not like the one I work with, that some are as Heather described.

Leave us alone said...

Heather, do you have other things in your life to do than discuss what real concerned teachers do everyday in the District of Columbia? Remember, you quit your job, please allow us who remain to have our faults at least we can persevere. We didn't throw our hands up, whine to the press and abandoned our children in the middle of the school year. If you have lost weight, use it to walk away instead of climbing back on your high horse.

Mr. Potter said...

Leave us alone-

Heather's point was that her coaches didn't do anything. It's hardly persevering if a person isn't doing his/her job.

I hope you don't speak to students the way you write to bloggers.

Annoyed,
Mr. Potter

Old School DCPS said...

Candi, I'm sure you've seen it already, but Turque in this morning's WaPo has a piece about how Rhee won't make known the number of teachers on the 90 day plan to the WTU. Anecdotally, from my friends in various schools, I hearing 3-5 teachers per school. The union knows about 90? I'd say it's three times that.

Anonymous said...

We have no teachers on the 90 plan at our school and we ask our principal if she was told she had to have teachers on the plan!! She said NO!!! This is all about this blogger stirring things up!! It is all about anything anti-Rhee!!!Ms. Rhee cannot make it known to the press how many teachers are on the plan. If you were one of those teachers, would you want it all over the news??? Come on...

The Washington Teacher said...

Sorry to burst your bubble anonymous, but we have had a number of principals tell us that Rhee wanted teachers on a quota of 90 day plans. One principal shared publicly in her staff meeting that she was requested to lie by the Rhee administration.

Rhee is required by a contractural agreement to provide the names of the teachers on the 90 day plans to their collective bargaining agent. This administrtaion promised transparency. After consulting with the WTU attorney, of course the WTU will deal with this matter legally. It's unfortunate that local leaders feel that they are above the law. I am happy now that city council member Phil Mendelson is asking Rhee to submit the names of all teachers on the 90 day plans and their years of service as he stated in yesterday's news. Mr. Mendelson believes that teachers aged 40 and over are being targeted which by the way represents age discrimination.

Old School DCPS said...

I am an experienced, veteran teacher with an excellent rapport with my principal, himself a recent hire by Rhee. We respect each other's work for students and communicate well. But when I asked him about the 90 day plan, and how many teachers from our school were on it, he changed the subject. I know this is anecdotal, not data. Whether there is a school by school quota or not, there can be no denying one thing. Principals are on the front lines of weeding teachers out, implementing the 90day plan to do so, and this is coming from the chancellor's office.

lodesterre said...

I am tired of this childish "they hate Michelle Rhee" attitude that pops up as a refutation of any argument about the quality of her tenure or plans. If you wish to refute the statements do so with an articulated statement and with examples that support your argument. Does that sound familiar?

The reason many very good teachers distrust Ms. Rhee is the fact that she openly states in many interviews and articles that she is going to "plan B" and will use the 90 day plan to "rid the system of ineffective teachers" then, when asked to comply to the rules of the only contract we have and give the names of those teachers on the plan to the union, she is quoted in the Post as saying that this would hurt the process which is a process about "helping teachers to improve." This is disingenuous to say the least. By her own statements it is clear this is not how she is using the 90 day plan. Her statement therefor is self-serving.

As I have stated before, I am in a good school, with a good principal and I don't feel threatened by what is happening in the system. In the same way I am a good citizen, I pay my taxes, follow the law and contribute to society. I don't need to fear the law. That doesn't mean that I want the constitution suspended so that the police can have a "free hand" in stopping criminal behavior. Innocent people get arrested all the time. The law is there for all of us. The protections we have in place for teachers is there to prevent retaliatory behavior, petty grievances and just plain abuse from happening to a teacher.

In the same way, Ms. Rhee needing a fire at will policy, with no checks or balances in place, to rid the system of "bad" teachers will mean that there will be some "good" teachers hurt. Personalities often get in the way of situations like this. That is why we have the law and the constitution, and, yes, unions. To protect all of us, not just the bad.

By any means necessary is a desperate creed that produces desperate acts. Desperate acts are the flailing of arms, uncontrolled anger and poorly thought out actions. It is counterproductive not constructive. The person who adopts this as their creed is a destroyer not a builder.

There are many reasons why a teacher may not want to give their name to their union leader. Fear of reprisal is one. Their situation is already tenuous at best, complaining out loud only makes that worse. An ineffective union is another. I think we all, on both sides of the issue, can see that our union is not doing what it needs to for us and hasn't done a very effective job of battling for what we need. George Parker seemed like a lost man to me during that September meeting. I still believe the union is necessary but I also believe we need change there (that, though is another story). Just because you don't like the way your government does things doesn't mean you rid yourself of government. You are the government, you are the union, make it yours and quit complaining like an outsider.

Michelle Rhee claiming that giving the names of teachers targeted on the plan would be hurtful to those teachers is, quite frankly, galling. Most people suspect that the teachers targeted are mostly older, African-American teachers. If the disclosing of her list to the union reveals this to be true than there will be cries of racism and ageism. Contradicting her many statements about how she will use the 90 day plan by saying it is a process to help teachers improve only makes her seem duplicitous and trying to hide something.

I would like to ask this question:
why is it that we are asked to believe that all children can succeed, can turn around their destructive behavior and become productive students but we are also asked to believe that this cannot be true of adults? Why couldn't these teachers she believes are so bad be targeted for improvement - given strong mentors, given better conditions, etc. - and, then, if they don't improve, you fire them? This would have built much more trust among us all if this was what we were witnessing right now. Witch hunts assume that there is a witch inside all of us.

lodesterre said...

Oops, before the grammar police attack me I meant to say the protections we have in place for teachers "are" there, not "is". Mea culpa (Latin for "my bad").

Anonymous said...

Here's another reason why someone on a 90-day plan might not want to contact the union: they're a joke.

What have they done for anyone lately? Not what Barbara Bullock did for herself, or what Parker and Saunders do for their careers, but what have they done for the rank and file in the last, say, 12-18 months?

Please. If the WTU is my only option at saving my career, I'd get my resume together.

lodesterre said...

Again, you do not answer the points of my argument. You pick one thing - the union (that was a hard one I am sure. Kind of like shooting ducks in a barrel, mounting their heads on your wall and calling yourself a big-game hunter). The union sucks, Barbara Bullock stole from us (8 years ago but who's counting - you?), the leaders are a joke - we know this and I have said this but that is not the point.

You assume the guilt of anyone on the 90 day plan. Is it because you have some in your school who deserve to be there? How do you know you won't find yourself on one. I was almost on a plan due to a hostile principal who actively tried to drive me out of her school. She lied on every structured observation. Nothing I did mattered because what she wrote up had no bearing on reality. She did this because I would advocate for the children. For instance, she used to lock the doors on the playground side of the school during recess so that we had to use our cell phones or walkie talkies to ask someone to come open the doors for us. This at a school that often had shootings occur on the playground and was in lockdown twice a year due to gunfights or shootings. I argued that we needed to be able to get the children inside quickly and safely and not be locked outside with the shooters. She didn't like my attitude and told me so.

My current principal is honest and my SOs have reflected that I am a good teacher. I have received meets or exceeds on my SOs since leaving that school. But you never know.

I did not say that the WTU is the only option. I said that you are the union. Replace Saunders and Parker - hell, that's what I want. They are inept. Do you involve yourself? Probably not. You probably say "it's a joke" and don't bother going to meetings and don't bother voting. We meet people like this all the time. They don't bother to vote or participate in their community but they are the loudest at complaining how things are done.

Personally, I am looking for people who want to make our union the active, force for good - for teachers, parents and students - that it is meant to be. Not a protectionist joint for the capably challenged, not a career gift to the ethically challenged, but a viable, workable union that makes teaching and schools better.

Again, I will say you did not answer my arguments nor my questions at the end of what I wrote. You went for the cheap shot. If all you have for suggestions are more of the "Rhee is right, everyone else is wrong" variety then back up how she is right beyond the same-old boogey man of "there are bad teachers out there and we have to stop them." How, exactly, does her plan work. Please, I am all ears.

Anonymous said...

When are Parker and Saunders' terms up?

Anonymous said...

The great news is we have a new president and DC is getting their voting rights !Public Education will get a bailout package.

Mr. Potter said...

lodesterre,

In response to your question, "why is it that we are asked to believe that all children can succeed, can turn around their destructive behavior and become productive students but we are also asked to believe that this cannot be true of adults?"

The same can be true of adults. I am sure that every "bad" teacher in DC could be made into a "good" teacher with enough support and professional development. But the reason that we don't focus on that is that it's not what we're in the business of.

Our job is teaching children. Teachers get paid to do a job, and if they're not doing that job effectively then they shouldn't get paid. Schools are not designed to make sure teachers become great, they're designed to make sure children reach their potential.

I hear this argument all the time -- that DCPS needs to help support grossly ineffective teachers rather than terminating them. Why? Where is it written that teachers have the right to a job, even if they're not meeting the expectations of their employer? In no other industry in the world does an employer look at someone who, for example, sleeps on the job, curses at co-workers, or fails at every measure of success, and say, "Man, what that guy needs is some support. Let's pay to help this lazy, useless individual get better."

Obviously, children are best served by great teachers. Professional development can help some teachers - those who try hard but lack skills and are therefore not making the same gains with students as truly great teachers - become better. I'm fine with that, because those teachers are trying, and with support will become better more quickly than we could find a replacement teacher. But there are some teachers who are simply incompetent, lazy, and destructive. We need a system that identifies behaviors that fall into this category, and allows us to immediately remove those people. Not after 90 days -- immediately.

So now I pose a question to you: Why is it that so many teachers have a sense of entitlement? Why do we have a contract that requires the district to prove that teachers don't deserve a job, rather than a contract that requires teachers to prove that they do deserve a job? Why do we talk so much about the rights of teachers to due process, when every other type of working professional gets fired for failing to meet the expectations of his/her employer?

lodesterre said...

I agree with you that the lazy and incompetent need to be removed. I disagree with the sense that this must take place immediately - if you rush with one person in the process than you rush with all. It's not that I think teachers are entitled to their job but name me another job, other than politics (and politics has its own reward), where a child, that child's parent, a principal, a fellow teacher with a grudge, could all end up getting you fired. In other words, a teacher faces a much riskier political situation than most other professions. If a child accuses me of something I did not do, if a child's parent does not like my political views (and the way we teach reflects our politics in the most benign choices we make), if I have problems with my principal as I did in my last job, if enough of my fellow teachers dislike me for reasons of race or age (as happened to a good friend of mine), I can be railroaded out of the school. Do I have other recourse? Yes, I can sue. Suing is not as easy as people suppose and often, even with a lawyer supplied by your union, entails cost – financially and emotionally. The 90 day process can work and work effectively if, on the union side, it is not made onerous for a principal to complete; and on the Chancellor's side it isn't used as a whipping tool.
Why should we give them a chance? Several reasons, I think. First of all, how we treat the worst among us or the least among us is a reflection of ourselves. That lazy, movie showing, grammar destroying teacher may deserve to be fired but by doing so summarily without the chance of redemption is to say that none of us deserves the same treatment. We are saying to the children that they can turn it around and go from poorly performing students to success but we are telling the children that this is not really true, just something adults tell children – like fairy tales.
Second, and to me the most important point, you cannot tell me that there are not more than a few possibly worthy individuals among the “significant” number of teachers targeted (2,000? – that’s what I hear) who are being got rid of as a matter of convenience to that principal or who have nothing to offer our system. For this to be not so, statistically, would be an anomaly. I have to believe that there is some value to some of these people and to their knowledge of their community and simply discarding the batch in its entirety is a waste. You make the assumption that all of those targeted are “grossly incompetent”. Is that so in your school? How many? Over half? If over half your teachers are so bad and we are employing guilt by association, as is happening in a lot of this, doesn’t that mean that you would be considered a grossly incompetent teacher? Oh, but you didn’t mean yourself, right? – I don’t doubt your quality. I’ve read your blog. What I am saying is don’t make the assumption of guilt and worthlessness for such a large number of people.
Many of these people worked under conditions that cause most TFA and DCTF cohorts to lose “significant” numbers even within their obligatory two year period let alone after. My DCTF Cohort has about a third remaining. What a waste of money and time. I feel that many of the veteran teachers are being blamed for surviving in a dysfunctional system that never properly helped them to become good teachers. How many teachers among those targeted, under a better system – say Montgomery County’s - might actually be good teachers? There has to be more than a few. We are not in the business of making our teachers the best they can be and giving them the chance to be so? Then why spend money on PD and education? Every one of us needs help at various times in our careers as teachers. More importantly, I also believe that there are good teachers who have been targeted for reasons cited above. That alone is reason enough to do this in the right way that is fair to everyone.
That said I recognize that there are those teachers among us that nothing we do will change. There is one at my school. I want to see this teacher out. But I want it done right and not as part of some purge. What is happening is a purge. Purges belong to dictatorships. We have to show what is best about our system of governing by how fairly we treat the least among us – even the least deserving among us. Our schools should be a reflection of the ideals we hold as a country and ideals which are reflected in our constitution. This is as much a teachable moment for our children as anything we do on a daily basis.

lodesterre said...

Sorry for the lack of spaces between paragraphs, don't know what happened.

I would refer you to the article in DC Wire about teacher morale as a proof of what I am saying. If a teacher like Jeff Canaday can receive exceeds expectations by the same principal who puts him on the 90 day plan what chance has anyone? He was fired for speaking out about the conditions in his school. Kara Henderson blames years of mismanagement and neglect on teachers. Then why are they getting rid of those who rated on the highest level? THAT is what is wrong with the way this process is being used.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dc/