Teacher's Desk: Hurray for Rhee

Heckuva week with grades due, service learning for a day, new students, training, ACT planning, substitute plans, coffee with a school board member, and oh yeah, teaching. I had planned on attending the event with Michelle Rhee, Washington school superintendent, discussing her shakeup of DC public schools, but the weather and the end of Passover caught up with me and I missed it. However www.ednewscolorado.org has great reporting, including a video, of the Rhee event as held at the Denver News Agency last Thursday. Ms. Rhee, a Teach for America alum with no previous superintendent experience, made four major points about her DC reforms that should be looked at here and replicated. First, develop a teacher evaluation process that is non-political and can be used for training, as well as, assessing. She is making the evaluation non-political by having content and grade specialists do the observations several times a year. Next, terminate ineffective principals and teachers. Then offer teachers two different tracks. One eliminates tenure, but increases pay to over $131,000 per year. The other keeps tenure, but offers less salary. Close down ineffective district and charter schools, and finally, place private schools in the mix.

Washington, D. C. schools are 50% district schools, 30% charter schools, and 20% of the student population attend private schools on a district scholarship, or voucher. (Obama and the Democratic Congress are terminating the latter option, unfortunately.) When a poor D.C. student and a poor New York City student begin kindergarten, they are equal in skills, but by fourth grade, the D.C. student is is four years below grade level while the New York City student is two. Ms. Rhee knew she needed to take radical action and did so, to the dismay of many, and appreciation from D. C. families attending public schools.

Jill Conrad, the at-large member on the Denver Public Schools Board, and I sat down for coffee one morning this past week and spoke to many of these issues prior to Ms. Rhee’s visit to Colorado. She told me there was a committee looking into how we observe and evaluate teachers. They were looking at changes to make the observation and evaluation fair and not political. She agreed with me that we should discover what makes great public schools good and what makes great charter schools good and replicate it! We also agreed it begins with great leaders. Michelle Rhee certainly appears to be one of those!

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator with an M. A. in educational leadership and a former candidate for the State Board of Education.