November 17th, 2009

Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC
Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC Episode 11: Tensions Rising

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Controversy has followed Michelle Rhee every step of the way since she took control of Washington, DC’s schools. But now, two years into her bid to turn the district around, accusations of mismanagement and conspiracy may threaten to derail Rhee’s larger reform effort.

At the center of the storm: over 200 teachers who lost jobs in October. That may not sound like much — but the layoffs follow a national campaign to recruit teachers to DC. Why did Rhee hire 934 new teachers between spring and fall only to make layoffs six weeks into the school year?

One thing is for certain — the temperature is rising in Washington, DC. Contract negotiations with the teachers’ union have ground to a halt. And in the words of one DC councilmember, “We are sitting in a chamber where tensions couldn’t be higher.”

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Shame on Michelle Rhee! I hope the union takes her to task - this is discrimination against experienced teachers and nothing but a way to break the union. Hiring inexperienced teachers and laying off teachers with full education degrees and experience (some with masters) is unconscionable and will come back to haunt her in the end. The profession of “teacher” is now an endangered species in Washington DC!

Without question, Chancellor Michelle Rhee has raised test scores of DC public school students. However, the issues over the recent RIFS and the large number of schools designated for “restructuring” have created a sense of distrust at every level of the school system. Very few affiliated with the DC Public School system feel like they being treated fairly within the different dimensions of the administrative levels. Principals no longer trust the Chancellor, teachers no longer trust their principals. What gains that have been made over the last two years are at risk as you now see all the actors that drive the public school system warring with each other. It’s unfortunate and there may be political fallout arising from the deteriorating relationships among DC school personnel.

The Newshour would serve it’s audience better if they asked the teacher’s union boss why under performing teachers should remain in the system. Ms Rhee’s objective is to improve the education of children, the district’s “customer”. The union is there to advocate for the employee. My interest is for the child.

I believe that this is an interview that still makes Ms. Rhee look as though she is doing good. In reality she has torn the DC Public schools apart and is selling it to the highest bidder — charter schools. When will people stand up and be strong enough to say enough is enough. As a RIF’d teacher, I am tired of the systematic distruction of our administration, teachers, staff and students. We allow the loudest, noisest wheel to be heard, even if it is wrong! I along with 3 other collegues were interviewed and I did not see any of their comments in the report. What does that tell you about jouralism? The gains that have been made overthe past two years were because of the plans that were put in place by our previous superintendent, not Ms. Rhee.

Mr. Drummond: The Newshour should also ask Ms. Rhee, why she would fire some of the same teachers who helped to engineer the success of the DCPS children on the NAEP test. Secondly, Ms. Rhee should be asked, why, when the council told her back in May 2009, that the population of students that she projected was ‘inflated’, did she go ahead and hire over 900 new teachers to teach the same number of students as she had in SY 08 - 09 if she was not intending to create a ’shortfall’. Her response then, was that she would have to fire teachers because she wasn’t going to get the full budget she asked for. We should also question Ms. Rhee’s confidence that she, who has only two years of classroom experience under her belt, is the know-it-all expert as to what is best for DCPS children.

Gene Fisher, I’m afraid you’re incorrect when you say, “Without question, Chancellor Michelle Rhee has raised test scores of DC public school students.” In fact DC’s NAEP scores, which are still the lowest in the country, have been steadily rising since at least the year 2000. Since Rhee came in 2007, the rate of increase of the scores has actually declined slightly, but not enough to assign blame. Keep in mind too that the increases over the last nine years have come despite the instability of having numerous superintendents come and go. Meanwhile, there have been no significant changes in the teacher corps during that time, certainly none by Rhee. She’s only fired teachers recently. Seems to me teachers should get some credit here. They are the only stable element in DC schools.

For full information on the NAEP scores, please see my comment on the podcast segment featuring the Union president at

John Drummond – The union does not want to keep under-performing teachers in the system. It wants to be sure that teachers receive due process – something they do no seem to be receiving under Michelle Rhee.

Do you really think that in a school system, teachers are not also “customers?” Surely teachers could better serve the end-customer – their students – if teachers were treated with respect instead of being demonized by their boss; given due process, instead of being RIFd in the middle of the school year (which isn’t good for kids); and given the materials they need to teach, instead of having to buy them with their own money or have the kids go without. Really, sir, think about it.

Mr. Drummond is it?,
Perhaps you should acquire hard facts regarding the recent RIF of teachers before making accusations that are unfounded. Principals were asked by the obvious to choose the teachers they desired to dismiss–the choices were based on NOTHING but pure choice. It had nothing to do with performance. I am certain the educators involved in the RIF are angered by your comment. Teachers had not even been evaluated at that time. The decisions had nothing to do with “under-performing teachers”. The decision had to do with choice. Principals should be ashamed of themselves for being puppets on a string to two people (Fenty and Rhee) who have little or no experience in education. The teachers they fired have more experience than them. It is a sad day in the district–just a sad sad day. What will happen to our children?

All I can say is that if Rhee had come to Murch PreK I would have kept her two years.No one was allowed to leave my program until they learned to care for and respect others. She obviously has never learned that. Now it’s too late!

Michelle Rhee is a hero to all kids enrolled in DC schools, and the country in general. It is repugnant for anyone to attack her and not the miserable DC Teachers Union. The education performance of DC schools has been a national disgrace, and she is working hard and doing what is required to fix it.

When will we wake up to realize that the damage caused to a single child from underperforming public schools and teachers is a blind hate crime? Teachers Unions are selfish entities that will accept the destruction of a child’s potential for prosperity only to unreasonably and unjustly protect theirs. Descipable!

Jeff Boone - you seem to know, or to have decided, what the cause is for the problems in the DC schools. Amazing! how did you do that?

And how do you explain the fact that in one classroom taught by one teacher, some kids are failing and some kids passing with flying colors and some are inbetween? Is this teacher teaching differently to different kids in the same classroom, or could there be something going on with the kids? Would you even think to ask the teacher’s opinion about what that might be, or are you so sure that the teacher is committing a “hate crime” that you wouldn’t bother to ask?

Rather than determine on the basis of emotion, that anyone who attacks Rhee is repugnant, please read some actual information about her reforms.

A good source is thatsrightnate - a satirical blog that recently did a four part series on Rhee. It’s filled with referenced facts from public, official sources and good commentary. People, like you, who obviously care a lot about education should know the facts. In part IV he drops the satire, because, as he says, “some things are quite difficult to joke about–the future of our children is one of them.”

Jeff Boone: You still don’t get it. Ms. Rhee is just one other superintendent (chancellor, if that makes you feel better) in a long line of superintendents that have come and gone in DCPS. DCPS teachers are the ones who have been keeping the system running all these years. The nation’s report card, NAEP, released recently says that DCPS students in 4th and 8th grades are the only ones nationwide that showed significant progress in Math. DCPS students have been showing steady gains on this test since before Ms. Rhee came to DCPS, even through several changes of superintendents. Blaiming DCPS teachers and the union representing them ignores the problem with public school systems in general - they are victims of political whims and caprices. Look beyond your ignorances and passions at public school systems that are ‘great’, and you will see that they are under the steady guidance of ‘mature’ long standing and long serving superintendents who do not insult the people they expect to push through their reforms by calling them incompetent ‘rot’, and then think they can turn around that same system by bringing in photographer’s assistants as better alternatives. Ms. Rhee is trying to make the 21st century’s citizens out of the children of DCPS, but what kind of role model is she if she lies her way thru, and destroys the lives and careers of the people who are in many instances the only stable faces these children see in their young lives. These same ‘rot’ (as Ms. Rhee called them) are the ones who have dedicated their lives and their finances to keeping their charges in school. And if Mr. Fenty is such a believer in Ms. Rhee, why did he send his own children to Lafayette in upper northwest D.C., an affluent neighborhood, instead of to Patricia Harris in far southeast. Please hear more than the loudest part of the story before condemning the silent or not so loud part. The respect the teachers and their union have paid Ms. Rhee has not been reciprocated by her. Ms. Rhee has tried, for the past two years, to demonize DCPS teachers, but in the end, she has disillusioned even students, who were the first to march against her in droves. The children spoke “FIRST” They should know, they see their teachers on a daily basis and can tell the difference between teachers who are foot soldiers in the war to ensure them an educated future, and a glorified ‘chancellor’ who cant even boast of two years classroom experience. And Fenty should hang his head in shame - he sits solidly behind a mealy mouthed ignoramus who calls the same teachers who taught him, and who backed his run for the office of Mayor ‘rot’. What a payback for the teachers of the District of Columbia.

Maybe the DC system is different from Detroit which I know but I just don’t see any alternative than to break the system up to then slowly rebuild it. Michelle Rhee might make a few mistakes but the other players were there long before and the results were dismal so I don’t have much sympathy for DCPS. This has to do with a whole lot of other issues too that I don’t want to get into but I’m glad Michelle Rhee is doing what needs to be done.

In case you missed it, Michelle Rhee won her court case;the judge ruled in her favor regarding the RIF.

John Merrow, in case YOU missed it, the judge also cited questionable grounds on which the teachers were dismissed, and did not wish to upset the school year any further by re-instating the teachers, who the judge agreed, were fired under questionable circumstances.

The union is there to advocate for the employee. My interest is for the child.

Yep, for all the hand-waving and protestations, there’s a sizeable portion of the teaching force, represented by WTU, that sees DCPS as a jobs-creation project, children be damned.

Sorry, but the system needs to be burned to the ground, and rebuilt from the ground up. Everyone involved in this system has some rationalization as to why DCPS is the *worst* school system in the history of public education.

The citizens of DC don’t care about excuses anymore. Fire everyone; build a big bonfire, and burn everything tainted with the stench of past failure; start over. The death-grip with which legacy teachers cling to their sinecures tells you all you need to know about their employability.

John Merrow, in case YOU missed it, the judge also cited questionable grounds on which the teachers were dismissed, and did not wish to upset the school year any further by re-instating the teachers, who the judge agreed, were fired under questionable circumstances.

I recommend that anyone tempted to rely on this summary should read the actual reporting on this. The WTU was essentially shown the door with a kick in the pants, contrary to Ade’s assertion above.

The purpose of all labor unions is to advocate for their employees. Leave it to the ever-alienating Michelle Rhee to pit teachers against children to make a point.

Oboe - in case you missed it, an award winning teacher, honored by Rhee in March, was fired in October. A new teacher, who had just finished her master’s degree was also fired.

If you’re so intent on setting a bonfire to solve labor-management and educational problems, I suggest you move to a country that abides those tactics.

Mr. Merrow, I really appreciate your efforts to do some real investigative reporting on the situation in DC. I have reason to believe that what we are seeing in this district is another version of the Baltimore and Texas “miracles.” Please look into testing, even in regard to the NAEP. My understanding is that these federally sponsored tests are turned over to school personnel to administer and collect. Would these people be subordinates of Ms. Rhee? Do these tests represent actual improvement in student achievement or do they represent a change in demographics?

I am sorry to sound like such a cynic but Ms. Rhee began her meteoric rise by making claims that were likely untrue. It’s extremely important that we know exactly what is happening in DC because the country is watching and it’s entirely possible that destructive changes in education could be made on the basis of lies, testing fraud and manipulated data. What I fear most is that talented young men and women will be reluctant to enter a profession that treats them so poorly. Once this recession is over, will anyone even want to teach in DC? Thanks again for taking a close look. Please look even closer.

Ms. Rhee’s background as a TFA alumn demonstrates that her tatics work. Although she doesn’t have experience as a leader of a school district, Teach For America has a history of making significant gains across America when other teachers couldn’t. TFA recruits teachers without degrees in education and makes them leaders in the classroom. They get results. The DC school district is finally getting results. What Ms. Rhee is doing is encouraging young men and women to enter the teaching profession, not discouraging it. Teaching is finally being seen as the serious career that it is. Rhee wants to give pay incentives which will motivate strong, intelligent people to pursue education opposed to other higher paying careers. I think Rhee’s plan will work, and it already is working. Take a look at TFA teachers classrooms if you have any doubts.

Mr. West…. Are you personally aware of any Teach For America teachers who have had a tenure of as many as 5 years in DCPS. I challenge you to name 10.
It takes at least 5 years to become a competent teacher, even when you have had the benefit of being trained in a certified teacher preparation program, which includes 12-18 months of student teaching experience under the supervision of an experienced classroom teacher.
Teach For America has been around DCPS for at least 10 years prior to the appointment of Michelle Rhee. Their average tenure is 3 years. Then they pick up a free masters degree and move on to an administrative positon in better school systems while the taxpayers of D.C. pick up the tab for their education and the students in DCPS are left short changed once again.
People who are sincerely interested in teaching remain in the classroom and improve their skills through proven programs such as the National Board Certification, which Michelle Rhee does not support.
Alternative certification programs have become a dumping ground for individuals who are not marketable in their chosen fields because of an ongoing recession. There is no verifiable quantitative evidence that they bring any improvement to underserved urban school systems that they feed off of.

And what about the children?

Michelle Rhee is wrong for judging teachers and administrators that have become a victim of a school system that has still failed to define it’s objectives…Michelle Rhee too quickly blames teachers and administrators but never blames herself. Ms. Rhee proposes higher salaries for teachers who excel but she has not realized how this ignorant action will completely destroy teacher collaboration and create an unfriendly work environment. Yes, I agree that something has to be done but first realize the origin of the problem. The fact that Ms. Rhee doesn’t want to address is that there are still far too many sub-districts in the local, county, state, and federal levels that provide jobs without accountability for thousands of administrative bodies that have no job description or time clock to punch. Why doesn’t Ms. Rhee get tough with the real problem of the 6-figure salaried administrators in the federal and state level? Ms. Rhee is too quick to forget the struggles of a teacher and she forgets why she stopped being a teacher…She stopped being a teacher because she couldn’t handle to day in and day out challenges beyond a few years because teaching burned her out. Now, she’s an administrator unable to realize any solutions to why she left her previous teaching job.
Ms. Rhee doesn’t have what it takes to be a career teacher but she thinks she is better suited to critic teachers. Ms. Rhee has just done exactly like so many others. Ms. Rhee is not unique. She does not offer solutions. Ms. Rhee offers proof of having a vindictive nature that is supported by an incomplete opinion that offers no solutions without creating larger problems and further exposing her inefficient mind that only thinks of herself and other self-serving glory hogs like herself.

FYI, Ms. Rhee, teaching is a team effort where all stakeholders are expected to contribute solutions that will employ a higher level of learning within our students, teachers, and staff…Ask Ms. Rhee what has the DC school system done to assist teachers in the management of their classroom objectives? Has the DC school system upgraded it’s support of teachers since 1950? What type of teacher software has been designed or offered to teachers to assist them? In 2010, Ms. Rhee, do you still expect teachers to make xerox copies with broken copy machines? Are teachers in D.C. provided “Smart Boards” to teach lessons or do you still expect teachers to create miracles on chalkboards? If teachers are expected to behave themselves as professionals wouldn’t it seem necessary to provide teachers with modern tools to allow them an opportunity to address these objectives? Ms. Rhee needs to first upgrade her support of teachers…to match the 21st century before she expects them to provide miracles in the same light that is dedicated to avoiding the thousands of 800 pound administrative gorillas who are eating all the bananas…I am a teacher, not a monkey in a zoo. It’s time to stand up and fight this ape like mentality that only blames teachers without recognition of the entire enormity of the problem. Ms. Rhee is not supporting her teachers but if she were a better leader she would know how to work with her peers to bring about positive change…Ms. Rhee is isolated into her own world that only sees flaws in everything around her because she doesn’t have the creativity to think of the solution. Now, she wants to run the DC schools like a concentration camp that has no capacity to think or plan ahead in order to create success for all teachers and administrators. Instead, she has made thousands of enemies…without perfect results. Teachers are not robots and therefore we need the assistance of modern technology to keep up with all of Ms. Rhee unwritten or never ending requests. Ms. Rhee needs to invest her administrative efforts back into the teachers by designing a digital lesson plan book where each day of the year has the academic state standards input for each subject. Has Ms. Rhee outlined the objectives in a digital format that allows teachers to archive lessons according to each days objectives? Great teachers are often only great because they teach the same grade level for 30 years. What is Ms. Rhee doing to support teachers that are forced to switch grade levels? Ms. Rhee has plenty of expectations of teachers and administrators but what expectations does she hold herself accountable? What will Ms. Rhee do to upgrade teacher support to match 21st century technology?

Check out what happened in Chicago when tenured teachers fired to make room for less experienced ones. Chicago teachers sued and won. Read more at:
Laying off teachers while hiring others is wrong shows Rhee has little understand of the teaching profession from both a historical, theoretical and practical perspective. She has no formal credentials in education except starting a program where she originally worked, hiring teachers who mirrored her own background. That is why there is a move to “de-professionalize” public education in the U.S. to give the jobs to young fresh from college students unable to find a jobs in their fields. Already in New York State, community organizations with no background in education are preparing classroom teachers. The who movement for mayoral control of schools, charters and privatization is frightening more so because its an assault upon poor minority and poor white children who deserve better. As long as Duncan is in office this it would persist. And hedge fund investors get the federal tax credits as much as 35% return more from deductions after investing their bucks in charter schools. Its like an octopus that has to be squeezed until strangled.

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