Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

Rhee-Visiting the District of Columbia Public Schools (III)

May 29, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The history of business turnarounds shows there are limits to what can be gained from downsizing and reorganizing the system - improvements in productivity are necessary. A workforce motivated by fear of loosing their jobs won’t get you there. What’s called for is loyalty to the leadership, agreement with the vision it articulates, and confidence in the plans it describes. The only way leaders can gain such loyalty is to hold themselves to the standards they apply to everyone else.

This Chancellor is going to have a hard time gaining loyalty from DC’s teachers, and she can’t replace them all.

The Chancellor’s Style is Counterproductive

I’ve discussed the Chancellor’s combative, even demeaning approach to staff (see here). In an earlier post, I characterized it as a declaration of war on her own employees. That’s a big reason she’ll have a hard time gaining the kind of loyalty required to move the mountain of academic challenges in DC. An apology about her approach to people, and a little humility about her own shortfalls would go a long away.

A disregard for transparency discussed in Part II of this series is another reason the Chancellor will find it hard to gain loyalty. When employees can be fired without cause there is no way for staff to know if there are rules beyond blind obedience. When decision criteria are withheld, there’s no way of knowing why the Chancellor decided to close a school or fire a principal. If budgets are withheld from public comment, there is no way of knowing how, or feeling that, you are part of the plan. If you are a teacher presented with an outtide contractor the Chancellor says “we’d like you to work with,” the “what do you think?” that follows seems disingenuous. If you are told one thing about teacher assignment in one meeting and learn something different in the newspapers, it’s hard to have faith in Chancellor’s openness.

The lack of transparency gives rise to another reason why the Chancellor will have a hard time gaining loyalty. Because we don’t have much access to her decision processes its easy to wonder about what motivates Michelle Rhee. She would hardly be the first person to conceal personal ambition behind “its all about the kids.” At times it seems that the Chancellor’s political struggle with the system is about power and means - the assertion of central control, or even her control, more than outcomes and ends - school improvement and higher levels of student performance. This is the question raised by her decisions to close schools with high performance on the grounds of efficiency and to re-restructure others that appear to be doing the very restructuring she wants.

The question of intent is also raised by the Chancellors decisions about outside contractors. It is at the very least inconsistent for a Chancellor touting business principles to dictate the outside providers to be employed to restructure schools when the best practice is clearly a request for qualifications followed by a request for proposals from a market with many providers (see here.) And it naïve and/or arrogant to propose that the City Council approve one independent evaluator of her programs who is an advocate of mayoral takeovers, Professor Kenneth Wong of Brown University and another, Dr. Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, who is an advocate of Rhee’s (see here and here).

What this suggests is that the Chancellor considers herself above the law, above the community, and above accountability. This may be what’s required to establish a dictatorship, but its no way to turn around a school district, or create an institution that will survive her departure.

Marc Dean Millot is the editor of School Improvement Industry Week and K-12 Leads and Youth Service Markets Report. His firm provides independent information and advisory services to business, government and research organizations in public education.

The opinions expressed in edbizbuzz are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
Mission Possible: Saving Time While Improving Student Outcomes
Learn how district leaders are maximizing instructional time and finding the best resources for student success through their MTSS framework.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Reading & Literacy K-12 Essentials Forum Writing and the Science of Reading
Join us for this free event as we highlight and discuss the intersection of reading and writing with Education Week reporters and expert guests.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Photo Essay PHOTOS: A Superintendent Who Exudes Joy in All Things
EdWeek photographer Sam Mallon reflects on her day with Richard Tomko, a 2023 Leaders to Learn From honoree.
2 min read
During a visit to the new Belleville Indoor Training Facility, Richard Tomko, Superintendent of Belleville Public Schools, speaks with Carolyn Guancione, Indoor Training Facility Support Staff, about how the space continues to transform, in Belleville, N.J., on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. The new training facility was built to facilitate and accommodate general physical activity and training for sports teams within the school system and the greater Belleville community.
Richard Tomko, the superintendent of Belleville public schools, speaks with Carolyn Gancione during a visit to the district's new indoor training facility, which is shared with the community.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
School & District Management Opinion Your School Leadership Needs More Student Voice
When one Virginia principal moved from middle school to high school, he knew he would need to find new ways of soliciting student feedback.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
3 min read
Illustration of students holding speech bubbles.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management First Latina Selected to Lead National Principals Group
Raquel Martinez is a middle school principal in Pasco, Wash.
3 min read
Raquel Martinez, the principal of Stevens Middle School, in Pasco, Wash., was named president-elect of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. She’s the first Latina to hold the position.
Raquel Martinez, the principal of Stevens Middle School, in Pasco, Wash., was named president-elect of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. She’s the first Latina to hold the position.
Courtesy of the National Association of Secondary School Principals
School & District Management Four Things to Know From a State's Push to Switch Schools to Heat Pumps
Installing a heat pump is complex, but the payoff is well worth it, says an expert in Maine who's pushing their adoption in schools.
4 min read
Close up of a heat pump against a brick wall
E+/Getty