I have a great deal of respect for Larry Cuban and his important work, but this blog post on Michelle Rhee reads like boilerplate applied to a situation that it doesn’t fit.
For starters, when you actually read the new contract (pdf) you’ll see that Rhee didn’t compromise a lot away, she basically got everything she wanted – including tenure reform. If there is a lesson in the contact timeline and resolution it’s far less about compromise than about fortitude. Cuban says that the teachers got the raises they wanted. OK, sure. But Rhee wanted those, too!
The AFT’s Randi Weingarten deserves a great deal of credit (which so far she hasn’t gotten in the media in my view**) for signing a contract that effectively ends tenure and addresses layoffs in a respectful but cost-sustainable form, but the spin that this was a give and take deal evaporates when you actually read the document. It’s precedent setting in some key ways.*
Second, I don’t know where Cuban gets his 5 percent figure on the number of ineffective teachers in D.C.’s schools but while the percent can certainly be overstated in the public debate you’re hard pressed to find anyone with firsthand experience in the D.C. schools or around them who does not peg that number higher. I was a charter trustee in D.C. for seven years and have spent a lot of time in both sector’s of the city’s public schools and would place that figure higher than 5 percent in a lot of the city’s charter schools, too, by the way. This just isn’t something the field does well yet.
Finally, to say that Rhee divides teachers into young and old is to ignore both her words and actions. She frequently says, explicitly and in my view rightly, that young does not axiomatically equal effective and old ineffective. It’s her critics who play the age and race cards. And although it didn’t get a great deal of coverage at all, in the layoffs on Rhee’s watch young teachers, including some Teach for America teachers, were laid off, too.
Rhee’s made some mistakes, sure, but hold her accountable for those (and whether or not she learns from them) not for what gets relayed by a hyperbolic and deeply misleading public debate.
*This includes big things like what happens to teachers who can’t find jobs (no more force placement or non-working reserve pools as in New York City), and smaller but important things about what aspects of performance evaluations can be grieved and appealed, where the city can act without the acquiescence of the unions, etc…in short, it addresses the general imbalance of power you see in these things.
**Update: Right after posting this someone sent me a New York Daily News editorial on this exact point, worth reading.