Rhee Speaks!

By Stephen Sawchuk — February 09, 2009 1 min read
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District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee turns in a must-read piece in the Washington Post, in which she tries to set the record straight: Broom aside, she’s not focused on firing teachers.

“I want to be clear about something: I do not blame teachers for the low-achievement levels. I have talked with too many teachers to believe this is their fault. I have watched them pour their energy into engaging every student. I know they are working furiously in a system that for many years has not appreciated them,” Ms. Rhee writes.

As part of the upcoming contract negotiations, she says, she’ll ensure that teachers’ bonuses aren’t based solely on test scores, ensure that they will take into account the individual growth of students relative to their starting point rather than to an absolute standard, won’t force tenured teachers to give up their due-process protections, won’t allow principals to wield arbitrary power, and will provide strong opportunities for teachers to receive high-quality professional development, one of the components of her five-year plan.

She also explains her take on removing ineffective teachers from the classroom:

“Do not misunderstand: I do not believe that most of our teachers are shortchanging their students. But in the worst cases, we have teachers who put their feet on their desks and read the paper while students run around. Or they use corporal punishment. Or they intentionally abuse their current contract, leaving for three months at a time and returning for the one day that will keep their job active. We all agree that these people do not belong in the classroom, and we must be able to remove them expeditiously.”

I don’t know if this will persuade Ms. Rhee’s most ardent detractors to rethink their opinions about her, but with contract negotiations soon to resume, it sounds like both sides are trying to put their best foot forward.

She also writes about giving teachers an individual choice on earning pay bonuses, which sounds like she wants to maintain at least that aspect of the red-green tier proposals if not the tenure aspect. It’s not clear whether that’s still viewed as an option for the Washington Teachers’ Union, per this post.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.