Ending the Myth That Seniority Protects Bad Teachers

by Christopher Paslay

High teacher attrition rates show that tenure is not preventing the bad apples from being weeded out.        

There’s a very real belief in the United States that tenure and seniority are keeping large numbers of burned-out, incompetent teachers in classrooms where they rob students of their right to learn.  The National Council on Teacher Quality’s new report “Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Policies and Practices in the School District of Philadelphia” is a case in point.  According to the Inquirer, the report stated:

Tenure and satisfactory evaluations are virtually meaningless for Philadelphia educators, and bad teachers can linger in the public school system too long. . . . Teacher pay ought to be revamped to keep strong performers, and effectiveness, not start date, should guide layoff decisions.

Does tenure provide lousy teachers with a lifetime appointment in the classroom?


The truth is that it’s extremely difficult for an incompetent teacher to remain in the classroom for an extended period of time in the 21st century.  The idea that American public schools are housing a significant population of burned-out educators milking the system just isn’t true.

A closer look at teacher attrition rates—as well as the profiles of America’s teachers—yields interesting results.  Here are some statistics from the 2007 policy brief “The High Cost of Teacher Turnover” and the report “Profiles of Teachers in the U.S. 2011”:

  • Teacher turnover is costing America $7.3 billion annually
  • 17% of all of public school teachers quit every year
  • 20 percent of urban teachers quit yearly
  • Over half of America’s new teachers (56%) quit within five years
  • In Philadelphia from 1999 to 2005, the teacher turnover rate (70%) was higher than the student dropout rate (42%)
  • In 2011, over a quarter of America’s public school teachers (26%) had five years experience or less
  • 21% of America’s public school teachers are 29 years old or younger

Teacher attrition is similar when it comes to alternative certification programs and charter schools.  Over 50% of Teach for America educators leave their assignments after two years.  A study tracking teachers working for KIPP schools (Knowledge is Power Program) in the Bay Area revealed annual turnover rates which ranged from 18 percent to 49 percent from 2003-04 to 2007-08.

The truth is, despite teacher tenure and seniority, public schools are not overpopulated with long term educational louses hiding in the cracks.  In fact, the notion that tenure creates a lifetime appointment for teacher incompetence is greatly exaggerated.

America’s public school system is self-regulating.  In other words, incompetent teachers don’t last very long, as the above data shows.  The biggest factor driving bad teachers from the classroom are the kids themselves.  If teachers can’t connect with their students, if they argue, butt heads, and create a toxic learning environment, the odds are they won’t survive.  It’s too draining a situation—physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The same is true for parents and school administrators.  Incompetent teachers are in constant disharmony with the mothers and fathers of their pupils and spend the majority of their energy battling principals.  Couple this with more rigorous classroom observations and school overhauls at the hands of No Child Left Behind, and most so-called “lousy” teachers are at the breaking point; it is all but impossible for them to hang on to their jobs for “life”.

Bad teachers do exist, of course, but in no greater quantity than in any other profession.  You can argue test scores prove the existence of bad teachers—that an unacceptable percentage of students aren’t reading or doing math at grade-level—but does this prove teachers are lousy or incompetent?  Does the fact that homicide rates in big cities are unacceptable prove our police force is loaded with deadwood?  Is our country’s unacceptable obesity rate an indictment of American nutritionists?

The National Council on Teacher Quality’s new report, in fact, recycles an old argument, one that Michelle Rhee, former Washington public schools chief, has been pushing for some time.  In a November 2011 Inquirer commentary headlined “Experienced teachers aren’t the problem,” I refuted her claim:

Rhee insisted that Last In, First Out laws are getting rid of our best teachers, arguing that layoffs should be based on job performance instead of seniority. . . . The authors [of the study Rhee quotes] do admit, however, that first-year teachers are generally ineffective, and that it takes a teacher an average of five or more years to become skilled. This is not surprising: New teachers tend to struggle with classroom management, they lack experience and objectivity, and they have yet to perfect their instruction methods.

. . . If all the teachers in a particular school are rated effective, what’s to stop a principal from balancing the budget by laying off the highest-paid teachers and keeping the least expensive ones? What would protect experienced teachers from politically motivated reprisals if they encourage their students to think critically about school reform and other public policies? And what will keep the new teachers we’re relying on from constantly leaving the system? In my 15 years with the Philadelphia School District, I’ve watched at least a dozen Teach for America educators leave after fulfilling their two-year contracts, off to use their urban teaching experience as resumé padding.

“Last in, first out” isn’t causing us to lose our best teachers. Far from it. Ending seniority-based layoffs might occasionally save a young talent. But it would also harm teacher morale, leave experienced teachers vulnerable to budget cuts and experimental reforms, and populate our schools with inexperienced teachers who are likely to leave.

Scrapping seniority isn’t going to improve the quality of America’s teachers, although it may do irreparable harm to our city’s best educators.

*This blog post is an adaption from a 3/20/12 post titled, “Ending the Myth that Tenure Protects Bad Teachers.”

Despite ‘Putting Students First,’ Michelle Rhee Has Some Very Adult Agendas

by Christopher Paslay

The former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools launches statewide political lobby group in New York.     

Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools who was forced to resign because of her draconian style of management, is back and ready to settle old scores.  Last year she launched studentsfirst.org, a so-called “movement to transform public education.” 

According to its neatly packaged website, its goal is to cut through politics and adult agendas in order to give America’s children a first-rate education.  Ironically, its policies are driven by politics (privatizing public education to put public tax dollars in the pockets of charter operators), adult agendas (union busting to get back at those who had Rhee fired in D.C.), and Rhee’s own misguided and elitist reform ideas (discounting teaching experience in favor of keeping on novice teachers, which Rhee claims are the nation’s “best”).

But now it appears as if Rhee is no longer trying to hide behind the “interest of students”.  She’s just recently launched a statewide political group in New York called StudentsFirstNY.  Anna M. Phillips wrote about the group in a recent New York Times article

. . . On the board are some of the most well-known and polarizing figures in public education, including Ms. Rhee; [Joel] Klein, now a News Corporation executive; and Eva S. Moskowitz, the former councilwoman who now runs a chain of charter schools. Also on the board are former Mayor Edward I. Koch; Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone organization, a network of charter schools; and a number of venture capitalists and hedge fund managers, who have served as the movement’s financial backers.

Aside from promoting changes throughout the state, members of the group hope to neutralize the might of the teachers’ unions, whose money, endorsements and get-out-the-vote efforts have swung many close elections. . . .

Those paying close attention to Rhee’s agenda, however, understand that her lobbying is nothing new.  Last November, in a Huffington Post article, Joy Resmovits wrote about another politically motivated arm of Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization:

. . . In New Jersey, StudentsFirst, a new reform group founded by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, spent $400,000 on two successful Democratic legislature candidates through its local arm Better Education 4 Kids New Jersey, a group recently founded by hedge fund managers that backs Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s education agenda. . . .

According to the policy agenda on Rhee’s StudentsFirst website, “In too many American schools, current laws, policies, and practices put adult interests ahead of students.”

It appears Rhee and her group’s political backers clearly have a few “adult interests” of their own.

Former Teach For America Recruiter Tells College Grads to ‘Teach for Someone Else’

by Christopher Paslay   

Gary Rubinstein, a TFA corps member and former recruiter, explains how TFA spawned leaders are ‘destructive’ to public education, and how current TFA teachers are ‘mostly harmful’ to students. 

Michelle Rhee, former D.C. schools chancellor who is on a political crusade to save America’s “best teachers” by ending seniority and “last in, first out” laws, needs to have talk with Gary Rubinstein, a Teach for America corps member and former recruiter.  Rubinstein, like Rhee, was part of TFA in the early 1990s when the organization was still in its beginning stages.  But unlike Rhee, Rubinstein has come to terms with the fact that TFA has become a public relations machine responsible for spawning a number of destructive leaders, and acknowledges the fact that the majority of TFA teachers are a far cry from America’s “best”. 

Here are some highlights from Rubinstein’s powerful blog post titled “Why I did TFA, and why you shouldn’t.”  (Click here to read it in its entirety.)          

. . . When I joined TFA twenty years ago, I did it because I believed that poor kids deserved to have someone like me helping battle education inequity in this country. At the time, there were massive teacher shortages in high need areas. . . . If not for us, our students, most likely, would be taught by a different substitute each day. Even if we were bad permanent teachers, we WERE permanent teachers and for kids who had little in life they can call permanent, it was something. The motto for TFA back then could have been ‘Hey, we’re better than nothing.’

. . . Unfortunately, the landscape in education has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Instead of facing teacher shortages, we have teacher surpluses. There are regions where experienced teachers are being laid off to make room for incoming TFA corps members because the district has signed a contract with TFA, promising to hire their new people. In situations like this, it is hard to say with confidence that these under trained new teachers are really doing less harm than good.

As TFA tried to grow and gain private and federal money, they had to develop a public relations machine. . . . TFA has highlighted their few successes so much that many politicians actually believe that first year TFA teachers are effective. They believe that there are lazy veteran teachers who are not ‘accountable’ to their students and who are making a lot of money so we’re better off firing those older teachers and replacing them with these young go-getters.

Some TFA alums have become leaders of school systems in various cities and states. In New York City, several of the deputy chancellors are from TFA. I already mentioned ex-chancellor Michelle Rhee who now runs StudentsFirst. . . . TFA and the destructive TFA spawned leaders suffer a type of arrogance and overconfidence where they completely ignore any evidence that their beliefs are flawed.  The leaders TFA has spawned are, to say this in the kindest way possible, ‘lacking wisdom.’

. . . And the very worst thing that the TFA alum turned into education ‘reformers’ advocate is strong ‘accountability’ by measuring a teacher’s ‘value added’ through standardized test scores. It might be hard for someone who is not a teacher yet to believe that this is not a cop out by lazy teachers. The fact is that even the companies that do the measurements say that these calculations are very inaccurate. Over a third of the time, they misidentify effective teachers as ineffective and vice versa, in certain models. ‘Value added’ is in its infancy, and certainly not ready to be rolled out yet. But ALL the TFA reformers I’ve followed are strong supporters of this kind of evaluation.

So TFA has participated in building a group of ‘leaders’ who, in my opinion, are assisting in the destruction of public education. If this continues, there will soon be, again, a large shortage of teachers as nobody in their right mind would enter this profession for the long haul knowing they can be fired because of an inaccurate evaluation process. And then, of course, TFA can grow more since they will be needed to fill those shortages that the leaders they supported caused.

So if you’re about to graduate college and you want to ‘make a positive difference’ the way I wanted to twenty years ago, you should not do what I did and join TFA. . . . I know that this was not the idea of TFA, but I do think that when people teach for two years and then leave, it contributes to the instability of the schools that need the most stability.

. . . But if you truly feel that TFA is really the ONLY way that you have a chance to ‘give back’ to the society that has provided you such opportunities, I suppose that you can apply, but there are some things you should demand before accepting their offer.

First, you should refuse to be placed in a region that is currently suffering teacher layoffs. In those places, you will be replacing someone who, most likely, would have done a better job than you. Why would you want to live with that guilt?  I was horrible my first year, but I was better than the rotating group of subs I replaced.

Second, you should refuse to go to a charter school. Though there are some charter schools that are not corrupt, I believe that most are. They NEED those test scores and they do anything they can to get them. This often means ‘counseling out’ the kids that TFA was created to serve.

Third, you need to demand that you get an authentic training experience. TFA signs contracts with districts where they promise to train you properly. But team teaching with three other teachers for twelve days with classes with as few as 4 kids is not fair to you and it is really not fair to the kids that you will teach. They deserve someone who is trained properly. 

Fourth, you should commit to teaching for four years instead of two.  America let you practice on their kids for your first year — you’ve got to give back three good years to make up it.

. . . . I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able, again, to sing the praises of TFA and advise people who want to make a positive difference for kids to become a member.  For this to happen, though, TFA will have to make some changes.  Primarily, they will have to break the alliance they currently have with the so-called reform movement.  It’s not working and it never will work.  Pretending it is, like pretending that all the first year corps members are succeeding because a few outliers are, or that all alumni run charter schools are succeeding because a few outliers are.  All this proves is that in a large enough data set there will, inevitably,  be outliers.

If I were ‘America’ I would have this to say to TFA:  While I appreciate your offer to ‘teach’ for me, I’ve already got enough untrained teachers for my poorest kids.  And if teaching is just a stepping stone, for you, on the path to becoming an influential education ‘leader,’ thanks, but no thanks to that too.  I don’t need the kind of leaders you spawn — leaders who think education ‘reform’ is done by threats of school closings and teacher firings.  These leaders celebrate school closings rather than see them as their own failures to help them.  These leaders deny any proof that their reforms are failing and instead continue to use P.R. to inflate their own claims of success.  We’re having enough trouble swatting the number of that type of leader you’ve already given us.  If you want to think of a new way to harness the brain power and energy of the ‘best and brightest,’ please do, but if you’re just going to give us a scaled up version of the program that tries to fill a need that no longer exists, please go and teach for someone else.

‘American Teacher’ Shows the Other Side of ‘Superman’

by Christopher Paslay

“American Teacher,” the new education documentary narrated by Matt Damon, dares to portray schoolteachers as competent professionals.    

In an age of school reform, in an age where the phrase failing schools has become boilerplate, the film “American Teacher” arrives at a surprising conclusion: schoolteachers aren’t the bums they’re made out to be.  In fact, many of them are extremely dedicated, and work really long hours.  They write lessons, and grade stacks of essays, and bond with their students.  They counsel, and mentor, and spend up to $3,000 of their own money to buy supplies.  Many do this while holding a second job.  And raising children.  And managing a home.  And maintaining a relationship with a spouse. 

As Neil Genzlinger wrote in his review of the film for the New York Times, “It quickly knocks down the idiocy often voiced by right-wing television commentators that teachers are goof-offs who work six-hour days and take three months off every year. The director, Vanessa Roth, follows several teachers through their long days at school and into their personal lives, where low pay is a constant worry that affects marriages and contributes to an alarming turnover rate.”

“American Teacher” is for the most part refreshingly free from underlying politics and agendas.  It does suggest the teaching profession should be made more attractive by increasing pay, but it never advocates performance pay.  It stays away from the subject of unions, school choice, and the achievement gap; unlike “Waiting for Superman,” this lack of controversy may very well keep it from receiving the attention it deserves. 

Its wholesomeness and respect for America’s schoolteachers goes against the grain of the message being promoted by education reformers such as Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee, whose organizations have tens of millions of dollars at their disposal to paint educators in an unflattering light; Bill Gates donated $2 million to promote “Waiting for Superman,” the documentary that noted education scholar Diane Ravitch called “propagandistic” for cherry-picking statistics and test data in order to help further expand charter schools and privatize education.   

“American Teacher” shows the other side of “Superman,” which is probably enough to sink it like a stone.  This isn’t to say those interested in the real lives and careers of our nation’s schoolteachers should pass on it.  On the contrary, it’s a film the American public needs to see.

From Benito Mussolini to Michelle Rhee, Teachers Remain Obstacles for Collectivist School Reformers

by Rainiel Guzmán

Today’s school reformers are collectivists with a common enemy: Teachers and their unions.   

Fascists, communists, monarchists and technocrats have always followed collectivist models. Teachers, particularly public school teachers, have been targeted by all of the above as obstacles in their road to domination. Their disdain toward public school teachers and their efforts to eliminate teachers’ unions are a matter of public record. Why group these apparently ideological enemies into one cohort?  The answer should be equally apparent. Irrespective of their ideological rhetoric, all of these aberrations are forms of collectivism. Their ultimate goal is to gather all resources into one line of control and management. In order to obtain this goal they need individuals to conform to their collectivist plans. Conversely, a teacher is essentially an individual that strives to bring out the unique potential of his or her students. Here is where the battle line is drawn. Let’s revisit history to see the many commonalities that apparent ideological enemies share in regards to teachers and unions.

Benito Mussolini, a fascist, was both a son of a public school teacher and a certified public school teacher himself. Yet he targeted teachers’ unions immediately upon gaining power. He regarded schools as property of the state and implemented a complete and sweeping reform of public education. Top on his reform agenda was the nullification of Italian teachers unions. Teachers in Il Duce’s Italy were relegated to comply and indoctrinate the youth as “the fascist of tomorrow” as indicated in scripted, retro-Roman inspired curricula known as Opera Nazionale Balilla.

Communists have also exercised extreme disdain toward teachers and unions. For example, Saloth Sar, better known by his nom de guerre Pol Pot, murdered countless educators in Cambodia. Pol Pot ruled Cambodia with bloody delusion that was brought to international censure in the 1984 film The Killing Fields. It is important to note that many of the murdered were students as well. Pol Pot’s interpretation of the utopian person was largely an uneducated proletariat farmer. Thus, the educated were to be mistrusted and physically eliminated. It is estimated that communists in Cambodia killed a fifth of their people, roughly two million souls, with a particular prejudice toward educated individuals. No need for a complete and sweeping reform of public education here.

Spain’s Generalísimo Francisco Franco is primarily labeled as a fascist. Yet Franco’s rhetoric always appealed to Spain’s monarchist supporters. Monarchists are willing to differ individual rights to crown rule. In this mindset dissent is collectively unwelcome.

After Franco’s successful insurrection against the republic, the monarchy was restored and the republican constitution of 1931 repealed. Once more a complete and sweeping reform of public education was implemented. An interesting note is that Franco was director of La Academia General Militar de Zaragoza, Spain’s equivalent to our West Point, when the republicanos ordered its closure. As a result teachers and unions were targeted with such violence that thousands of Spanish educators sought exile in Northern Europe, the Americas and Africa. The brain drain that ensued markedly debilitated Spain.

Presently, the technocrat embodies the latest form of collectivism. Webster’s Dictionary defines a technocrat as “a technical expert especially one exercising managerial authority.”  The missing caveat to this description is that when leading public policy they are always appointed, and hence non-elected members of governments. The logic behind their rise lies precisely in their apolitical nature; they are touted as technicians willing and able to make hard technical decisions free of political or “democratic” constraints. Their appointments display a disregard—if not a deep contempt for—democracy, much like fascists, communists, and monarchists. Technocrats are primarily private actors for hire who play increasingly significant public roles.

In large urban public school systems the emergence of an archetypical technocrat, known as a “chancellor,” has recently dominated public education policy.  Derived from the Latin cancellarius or “keeper of the barrier” they certainly have kept public opinion out of decisions concerning public education and indeed have served as a barrier between citizens and politicians. Likewise, chancellors view teachers as quasi enemies and label their unions as obstacles in the way of—you guessed it—complete and sweeping reform of public education. Chancellors are unelected persons who hold the premise that the public cannot be trusted with matters of public education. In their minds—they know what’s best for your child. These contradictions are so blatant and belligerent that their managerial authority has caused major “technical” problems to several mayors and their careers.

A case study example is Adrian Fenty, ex-mayor of the District of Columbia. In early 2010 his political star and reelection seemed to be guaranteed. His main opponent in the Democratic Party primary was Vincent Gray, a veteran city councilman. In regards to education policy, the two gentlemen barely differed on plans or expectations, except for one campaign promise professed by Gray: he repeatedly assured that if elected he would not retain then chancellor Michelle Rhee. Despite Fenty’s appeals as a D.C. native, ties to Howard University and multiple enumerations of educational gains during his tenure, he lost the Democratic primary to Gray. Many pundits were stunned. Yet, both teachers and parents had voiced repeated concerns regarding the Rhee’s tone and tactics. They felt voiceless. The nascent coalition that followed however proved otherwise. Fenty’s and Rhee’s debacle did not go unnoticed.

Mayors in similar receiverships of their public school systems have learned from this lesson. For example, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City did not wait for elections to remove a chancellor whose tone and tactics insulted both parents and teachers. Michael Bloomberg appointed Cathie Black as chancellor in January 2011. She was given a waiver to assume the chancellorship due to her complete inexperience with pedagogy and education administration. Ironically, a career as a media executive did not prevent her from uttering incredible comments. Her comments revealed to a certain degree her thoughts about students, parents, teachers and public education. During a visit to PS 234 in Manhattan to discuss primarily with parents, the overcrowding of their elementary school, Ms. Black asked in jest “could we just have some birth control for a while?”  The parents were stunned. When pressed again to address her plan to ease overcrowding, she espoused a sickening moral association, characterizing numerous neighborhood concerns to “making many Sophie’s Choices.” The reference to the Auschwitz concentration camp novel in which a mother is made to choose which of her two children will live left all in attendance shocked and angry. In April 2011, after only three months on the job, Ms. Black was asked to resign by Mayor Bloomberg. She did.

Collectivists and other assorted control freaks will always view with contempt the figure of the teacher. Perhaps it is due to their deep pathological need to control everything and everyone. Perhaps it is due to their fear that individuals might exercise their God given right to think for themselves. Yet, I am convinced that the main reason why they bash and denigrate teachers is because we are still regarded by many as figures of authority. The thought of shared authority must keep these troubled souls from sound sleep. Yes, teachers are authority figures. However, unlike these control freaks, we must not abuse our authority to belittle nor repress others. To the contrary, we should aid our students in meeting their potential. We must aid them along their chosen path toward personal independence. Potentiality and independence are anathema for those who garner limitation and dependence. All collectivist regimes have been enormous tragic failures. Teachers need to continue on their chosen path in the company of their students in spite of obstacles.

Rainiel Guzman is a 2011 Lindback Distinguished Teacher Award winner.  He is an adjunct professor at Eastern University, and teaches art at Swenson Arts and Technology High School in Northeast Philadelphia.

Michelle Rhee ‘Information Rally’ at Kimmel Center a Success; Event Covered by Daily News

by Christopher Paslay

We came, we saw, we . . . gave the public some supplementary information about Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of D.C. schools whose draconian style of management got her canned and subsequently set her on her new career path—making buku bucks as a lecturer and speaker (sources say Rhee gets $50,000 a pop), all in the name of putting “students first.” 

On Monday night, 11/7, from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm outside the Kimmel Center, a small crew of public schoolteachers and librarians (Lisa Haver, Cecelia Dougherty, Debbie Grill, and Barbara Dowdall) and myself gave out informational flyers about Rhee’s corporate ties, cheating scandal, questionable research, and all-round disrespect for teachers and traditional neighborhood schools to approximately 500 people, many of whom were sympathetic to our cause and quite open-minded.    

Morgan Zalot, a writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, covered the story (click here to read).  

Below is a video of our rally.  Thanks to all those involved.

Michelle Rhee to Speak at Kimmel Center Monday Night; Rally Planned to Inform Public about Her Dishonest Campaign

by Christopher Paslay

Join Monday night’s Michelle Rhee “information rally” outside Kimmel Center on November 7th from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm.   

On Monday, November 7th at 8:00 pm, former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee will be speaking at the Kimmel Center as part of Widener University’s 2011-2012 Philadelphia Speakers Series.  Although Rhee is billed as a visionary school reformer with a mantra of “putting students first,” Towson University Assistant Professor Shaun Johnson estimated that Rhee’s speaking fees for the last 10 months alone will earn her “between $1 M and $2 M, depending on whether she charged the full $50,000 per event specified in her contract, or the mere $35,000 she charged Kent State.”

Rhee is also knee-deep in politics and her “Students First” organization, which is trying to raise $1 billion to dismantle organized labor, is backed by corporate heads, including Rupert Murdoch, hedge fund manager Julian Robertson and the Fisher Family, as well as the Koch Brothers.    

Here are five things Rhee won’t be talking about on Monday night:

1. Rhee put “students first” and charged Kent State University a $35,000 speaking fee to talk to an audience of about 600 people.  She also required first-class airfare, a VIP hotel suite, a town car and personal driver.        

2.  Rhee, unable to control her students during her first year as an elementary schoolteacher in Baltimore, taped her students’ mouths shut with masking tape on the way to the lunchroom.  A year later, she grossly exaggerated her students’ gains on standardized tests.

3. When Rhee was chancellor of D.C. schools and improved test scores were tarnished by a cheating scandal, Rhee failed to answer questions from the media or explain the testing aberrations and high rate of erasures.

4.  Rhee lacks expertise in the field of education.  “Rhee’s ideas about how to fix the ailing school system were largely misinformed,” D.C. native and schoolteacher Rachel Levy wrote in a blog published in the Washington Post, “and it’s no wonder: She knew little about instruction, curriculum, management, fiscal matters, and community relations.” 

5.  In 2010, D.C. incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty lost the Democratic primary election.  Political experts interpreted this as a referendum on Rhee’s unpopular and misguided reign as school’s chief.

Monday night’s “information rally” from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm outside the Kimmel Center will set the record straight, however.

Support hardworking students and dedicated teachers and help inform the public about the real Michelle Rhee.  For more information, email phillystyle71@yahoo.com

Experienced teachers are not the problem

Michelle Rhee, the former Washington public schools chief whose draconian management style got her forced out, recently paid a visit to Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia. Her main order of business was to push her school reform agenda, including a direct assault on Pennsylvania’s “last in, first out,” or LIFO, rule for teacher layoffs. . . .

This is an excerpt from my commentary in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Experienced teachers are not the problem.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

10 Things You Should Know About Michelle Rhee

by Christopher Paslay

Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools who was forced to resign because of her lack of expertise regarding instruction, curriculum, management, fiscal matters, and community relations, is back and ready to settle old scores.  She’s launched studentsfirst.org, a so-called “movement to transform public education.”  According to its neatly packaged website, its goal is to cut through politics and adult agendas in order to give America’s children a first-rate education.  Ironically, its policies are driven by politics (privatizing public education to put public tax dollars in the pockets of Rhee’s wealthy backers), adult agendas (union busting to get back at those who had Rhee fired in D.C.), and Rhee’s own misguided and elitist reform ideas (ending teacher tenure and seniority, which will only penalize master teacher who’ve dedicated their lives to their students).

Below are 10 things all students, teachers, and parents should know about Michelle Rhee.  These points were first written about by Rachel Levy, a native of Washington D.C. and a graduate of the city’s public school system; Levy is also a former D.C. teacher.  (To read Levy’s point-by-point assessment of Michelle Rhee’s tenure as chancellor of D.C. schools, which was published online in the Washington Post, click here.)           

1.  The citizens of Washington D.C. voted the mayor out of office to get rid of Michelle Rhee.  In 2010, the unthinkable happened in our nation’s capitol: incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty lost the Democratic primary election.  Political experts interpreted this as a referendum on Rhee’s unpopular and misguided reign as school’s chief.

2.  Rhee is adversarial and undemocratic.  Diane Ravitch, noted education historian and scholar, said about Rhee: “It’s difficult to win a war when you’re firing on your own troops.”  Rhee indeed fires on her own troops, as she did in D.C during her first year as chancellor when she impulsively and unapologetically terminated 36 principals and closed-down 23 schools because of what she perceived as under-enrollment and excess square footage.  Later she would fire 241 teachers and put 737 school employees on notice with limited due process, zero transparency, and no input from D.C. Council members.                     

3.  Rhee doesn’t respect members of urban communities.  As D.C. native and schoolteacher Rachel Levy wrote in the Washington Post piece, “Rhee arrived in Washington D.C. in 2007 with extraordinary power to do what she wanted. In fact, she only had her boss, Fenty, to answer to, and he never challenged her. Shortly after she started as chancellor, she met with the professionals and community leaders who had a long history of working to improve D.C. schools and promptly decided she didn’t have anything to learn from them. . . . Rhee paid no respect to members of the community whose elders had helped to build and fill the school system she was charged with leading.”     

4.  Rhee has turned her back on urban neighborhoods and traditional public schools.  Instead of standing strong with school leaders to revitalize urban communities and traditional public schools, Rhee supports taking public tax dollars out of neighborhoods and putting them in private pockets via charter schools and vouchers.          

5.  Rhee lacks expertise in the field of education.  Interestingly, Rhee has a bachelor’s degree in government from Cornell University and a master’s in public policy from Harvard University.  “Rhee’s ideas about how to fix the ailing school system were largely misinformed,” Levy wrote in her Washington Post piece, “and it’s no wonder: She knew little about instruction, curriculum, management, fiscal matters, and community relations.”  

6.  Rhee is condescending and elitist.  As part of her campaign to end LIFO (Last In, First Out) in states like Pennsylvania, Rhee condescends and belittles hardworking veteran teachers by stereotyping them as low quality and ineffective.  Conversely, she portrays new teachers, particularly those who enter the classroom via alternative teaching programs such as Teach for America (where Rhee is an alumna) and have graduated elite universities such as Harvard (where Rhee is an alumna) as highly effective, regardless of a comprehensive survey of actual job performance data.             

7.  Rhee is dishonest.  During her short stint as a schoolteacher at Harlem Park Elementary School, before she quit and left the classroom like so many Teach for America alumni do, Rhee boasted of test score gains that turned out to be grossly overstated.  Likewise, when Rhee was chancellor of D.C. schools and gains in test scores were tarnished by a cheating scandal, Rhee made excuses, failing to answer questions from the media or explain the testing aberrations and high rate of erasures.                 

8.  Rhee abused her students as an elementary schoolteacher.  Rhee, unable to control her students during her first year on the job, taped her students’ mouths shut with masking tape on the way to the lunchroom.  This belligerent behavior toward those under her authority was a glaring sign of things to come.        

9.  Rhee supports IMPACT, a flawed teacher evaluation tool.  IMPACT is over engineered and impractical, as Valerie Strauss, an education writer for the Washington Post, explains in a blog post (click here to read the post).    

10.  Rhee’s new organization, studentsfirst.org, is about settling old scores.  Unfortunately, studentsfirst.org, despite the intense public relations campaign by Michelle Rhee and her wealthy conservative backers, does not put students first.  Don’t be fooled by the organization’s carefully calculated mission statement and hand-picked testimonies from teachers, parents, and students (and mostly conservative supporters).  Rhee is out to get back at those individuals who cost her her position as chancellor of D.C.’s public schools: supporters of communities and traditional public schools; hardworking veteran teachers who expect to be treated with dignity and respect; and yes, organized labor.

Rhee is an elitist who looks down her nose at traditional schools and educators.  Her deep-seeded dislike of common everyday teachers stems from an Ivy League mentality that only she knows best.  This attitude was evident in the way she governed D.C.’s public schools, and it’s evident now.

Rhee is angry and she wants revenge.  Don’t be fooled by her new “student-centered” organization.  She’s hardly putting students first.  She’s using them to get even.