I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Flunking Out Bad Journalism" - Part II, Rhee Edition

It's official: you just don't have any cred as an education reporter without the obligatory interview with St. Michele of Arc. The Star-Ledger, as part of its disaster of a report today on tenure, gives us a few minutes with the great lady:
Michelle Rhee is a national hero for education reformers. While serving as superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C., she negotiated a groundbreaking teachers contract that allowed for teachers to be fired based on poor job performance. The contract rid the system of tenure protections in exchange for giving teachers the chance to earn more money and performance bonuses.
Rhee quadrupled spending on teacher professional development, fired more than 200 instructors who didn’t measure up and told 700 others they’d have to improve within a year or leave — and student test scores rose.
OK, let's stop right there and see if we can get past Rhee's giant cape emblazoned with an "S" to really look at her career in Washington.

(What good is having your own blog if you can't change metaphors at will?)

Rhee was hired in June of 2007 by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty to run the DC schools. She resigned in October of 2010. That's a little more than three years. Is anyone going to seriously tell me that a rise in student test scores can be directly attributed to Rhee's policies over the three years she was in the job?

Further: the claim here is that Rhee can speak to tenure reform because she implemented it in DC to excellent results. But she didn't implement a policy under a new teacher contract until 2010. She didn't fire any teachers for poor performance until 2010!

How in the hell can the S-L claim that her tenure policies are responsible for rising test scores when we don't even know what the results of those policies are?!?

And what's even worse: the claim of rising scores itself is doubtful!

This is what I'm talking about when I say the media just doesn't care about education. It took me all of 10 minutes to Google this stuff. Couldn't Julie O'Connor - PROFESSIONAL reporter - be bothered to do the same?

Well, why bother; I guess you can never doubt the claims of a saint:
Since leaving the D.C. post in October, she’s started a national advocacy group called StudentsFirst, with the goal of raising $1 billion and rallying 1 million members around a stated mission of putting kids’ needs before those of adult special interests.
Again: that's $1,000 a member. Any of you got that kind of dough? Or is it maybe possible she's looking for some deeper pockets?

Q. You changed tenure rules in your district through negotiations with the teachers union. In New Jersey, legislators are considering a new bill to overhaul tenure statewide. What’s the best way to go about reforming tenure?
A. I don’t think we need to reform tenure. I don’t think there is a need for tenure. Teachers need to understand they are not going to be discriminated against. If they feel they’ve been unfairly terminated, they need to have a process by which they can address that issue. School districts need to ensure firings are not happening in an unfair manner. But all of those things can happen without tenure being in place.
Part of the reason we started StudentsFirst is to always look at policies from a kid-centric point of view. If there is any protection in public education, it should be for the children, not for the adults.
I so despise this false choice that Rhee and Christie and all the 'formers keep putting up: the kids come first, not the teachers!

And yet you people go on and on about how important the teachers are to student achievement. If you really cared about the kids, you'd be doing everything in your power to protect teachers from political interference, and you'd be banging the tub long and hard for better teacher pay and working conditions.

Instead, you tell teachers to basically "trust me" because you would NEVER allow them to be fired unfairly. As Mary Poppins said, that's a pie crust promise: easily made, easily broken. Teachers need more than Michele Rhee's word that they will have protection from political interference and cronyism on the job. If you really want to "put kids first," you'd insist on it.

Q. How could teachers have a process to protect them against unfair firings without tenure being in place?
A. Well, first, there are federal protections in place against discriminatory firings. In D.C., we also created an “appeals process” in which teachers who felt that they’d been wrongfully terminated could file an appeal. We appointed a three-person committee to review these cases and make recommendations to me to overturn or sustain the original decision.
"Recommendations to me..." In other words: trust me. Sorry, but no. You, St. Michele, are in fact the poster-girl for why teachers need tenure. You allied yourself with Fenty in a way that was completely political and unprofessional. You showed quite clearly that you could not be trusted to "put the kids first." No teacher in their right mind would ever believe that you were capable of remaining unbiased in a tenure hearing.
You don’t just want this to be about the lowest-performing teachers. There are hundreds of teachers in New Jersey who are doing an amazing job every day, and those people should be valued as professionals for producing great results. What people often don’t understand is that teachers’ union contracts also don’t let us pay our best teachers more for the work they’re doing. That needs to change.
I ask again: you say you want a great teacher for every kid. You want to pay great teachers more. Are you or are you not advocating raising the entire payroll for the teacher corps?
Q. Once tenure is no longer a “lifetime job,” how do you ensure you’re fairly identifying and firing the worst teachers and principals?
A. That goes back to the evaluations. I think it’s incredibly important to make sure student achievement levels are a primary factor you’re looking at in teacher evaluations. I also don’t think it’s advisable to use test scores and test scores only. We based 50 percent of our teacher evaluations on student achievement gains.
Even though every objective researcher has told you not to do this.  Even though the error rates are 35%.
Each teacher was also evaluated in five classroom observations per year, which were unannounced. Some were done by the school administrator, but a number were also completed by peers of the teachers, “master educators” who were expert in their grade levels and subject areas.
Again: how are you going to pay for this? Who's coming up with the dough for five evaluations a year? And how high-quality of an observation could a teacher expect?

Apparently, not a very good one at all:
Under IMPACT, all teachers are supposed to receive five 30-minute classroom observations during the school year, three by a school administrator and two by an outside "master educator" with a background in the instructor’s subject.
They are scored against a "teaching and learning framework" with 22 different measures in nine categories. Among the criteria are classroom presence, time management, clarity in presenting the objectives of a lesson and ensuring that students across all levels of learning ability understand the material.
A number of teachers never got the full five evaluations, apparently because a number of master teachers hired to do the jobs quit, according to sources in the school system.
But even if they all were, let’s look closely at this: In 30 minutes, a teacher is supposed to demonstrate all 22 different teaching elements. What teacher demonstrates 22 teaching elements -- some of which are not particularly related -- in 30 minutes? Suppose a teacher takes 30 minutes to introduce new material and doesn’t have time to show. ... Oh well. Bad evaluation. [Emphasis mine]
The more I see of Rhee, the more I am convinced she is a charlatan. She's given up on actually doing the work of educating kids and is making herself into highly-paid celebrity. ($100K can do a LOT of making over!)

But somehow, she is the new martyr for the 'formers. St. Michele of Arc died in a political fire so she could save our children by collecting $1 billion to do...


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