Fire Hot In DC

What happened in DC this week is significant both for the city and nationally, but three aspects of the DC teacher firings that don’t seem to be getting a lot of attention are:

(a) Look behind the numbers.  About a third of the 241 teachers let go were dismissed for credentialing/license problems, not performance;

(b) If it bleeds it leads.  More teachers performed in the highest tier under the new evaluation system than were dismissed so while the firings obviously get the ink let’s not overlook the great teachers in the D.C. system; and

(c) The bill is due.  Weren’t we all told by national union leaders- in public venues – that everyone is for accountability and when this came to pass the union wouldn’t fight it?  Let’s hope the pushback is just theater.

Update: Sensible WaPo editorial makes important points on this and a  NYT story with the fault lines. Also, as the chatter starts that teachers are being fired based on test scores alone, check out how ‘IMPACT,’ the evaluation system in DC actually works. And, from the theater, this AFT statement does seem like more smoke than fire, even the number of firings is inflated.

14 thoughts on “Fire Hot In DC

  1. Chris Smyr

    Without any context, this will likely be spun into all sorts of further inane vitriol against Rhee. “241 teachers?! She’s murdering education!!”

    The teachers dismissed only make up ~4% of the corps there, while 16% garnered the top score of “highly effective”. Those numbers seem rather reasonable.

  2. Jay Rosenblum

    This is the first use of a value-added model to make firing decisions. What of the research that suggests that value-added models aren’t consistent from year to year? That is, a teacher rated highly effective in one year can drop all the way to underperformer in the next. Didn’t Jesse Rothstein’s research show that value added models are flawed?

  3. melody

    It is going to be fun to see how the so-called “value-added” piece of this evaluation system blows up in the face of the deformers. NYC bases a big chunk of its school evaluation system on student growth, and everybody knows what a joke that is. (A study by the New School called it “seriously flawed.”) Something like 90% of changes in test scores is random error, so we can look forward to seeing teacher ratings bop up and down randomly every year. Let’s hope it finally drives a stake through the heart of this insanity.

    It’s endlessly amusing to see these deformers preening themselves about their data-driveness, while they are completely ignorant of basic psychometrics and statistics. “The New Stupid” as F Hess so elegantly pegged it.

  4. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    “Stupid” only if you look at it as educational “reform.” If you see it as an attempt to discredit American education for the purpose of personal and financial gain, the old American entrepreneurial genius shines through.

  5. edlharris

    Will the highly effective teachers be moved to those schools not doing well, especially those that dropped down to not meeting AYP?

    A school to look at is Stanton Elementary in SouthEast.
    (http://www.greatschools.org/modperl/achievement/dc/11)
    How many of their teachers were fired.
    The scores so bad that Miss Rhee has given up on the school and turned it over to a private company.

    Honestly, why couln’t she have move highly effective teachers from a few of the better performing schools to Stanton?

  6. edlharris

    Also, read this story:
    Harry Jaffe: D.C. loses another terrific teacher
    By: HARRY JAFFE
    Examiner Columnist
    July 16, 2010

    D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s mantra is:
    “It’s all about getting and keeping good teachers.”
    So why, I must ask, would she allow Wilson Senior High to force out Joe Riener, a great teacher who taught students to love literature and prepared many to score well on Advanced Placement tests? Could it be that her vaunted IMPACT evaluation system is flawed, and personal preferences can get in the way of impartial evaluation?
    Cards on the table: My daughter took a pair of Riener classes at Wilson — AP English Language and AP English Lit. Math has come easy for her, but she’s always struggled with the written word. Riener taught her — and thousands of students for the last 15 years — to love reading and improve writing.
    “The way you learn to write is to write,” he says. “I took students’ writing seriously, read it, commented on it. They improved. That was my objective.”
    In 1995, Wilma Bonner, then the principal, brought him on specifically to boost Wilson’s lagging AP classes. Riener had graduated from Georgetown with a double major in English and History. He brought with him a love for classics such as “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Catcher in The Rye.”
    “They might start talking about Holden Caulfield’s sour attitude, but we would build from that initial impression to something much deeper,” Riener explains. “The book gets transformed to an exploration of grief and what unexpressed feelings can do to someone.”
    Riener fell in love with Wilson kids and they with him. He became faculty adviser to the Players, the school’s idiosyncratic drama club. He convinced Harriet Bronstein, renowned producer of school musicals, to produce them at Wilson. He restarted the Beacon, Wilson’s student newspaper.
    I imagine it was his “expressed feelings” that got him crosswise with Pete Cahall, Rhee’s handpicked principal. Cahall is all about authority; Riener is all about challenging it. He’s a rebel; dare I say subversive.
    Take the clock. Riener didn’t want one in his room. “I would lose the kids for the last 10 minutes of every class,” he said. “Besides, in my classroom I make the rules.”
    Cahall loves rules and clocks. He put one on Riener’s wall. Riener disabled it. Cahall threatened to write a letter of insubordination. Riener relented.
    In teacher evaluations over the years, Riener rarely scored well. Rhee’s IMPACT crew gave him low marks, but he could have survived, until Cahall dropped his score 20 points — for not complying with school rules.
    Faced with termination, Riener, 62, retired. Ironically, Riener is a Cahall fan. He likes the way the new principal is running Wilson.
    “I kept hoping he might see I might be an outlier but I was valuable, and he would leave me alone.”
    My question for Rhee: Can her new system accommodate quirky but passionate educators who can inspire?
    The answer might come when Riener tries to sign on part-time at Wilson to keep working with students in the drama club and teaching AP English.
    “Criticism makes leaders better,” Riener says.
    If they can take it.

  7. Jay Rosenblum

    She can’t move highly effective teachers from a higher performing school to a lower performing school because she knows that the other factors’ in kids’ lives affect their scores more than the teacher in front of them.

  8. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    Yes, I think we’re about to see some real changes for the children of the poor: social supports as well as highly qualified teachers. The status quo (i.e. the isolation of poor minorities) has lasted way too long. Also, I think we’ll finally see full professional status for our teachers. Isn’t that what we all want?

  9. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    In regard to the status quo, I think we’re going to see a complete paradigm shift in regard in school governance once this recession is over. Now that women are entering many other fields, I predict it will be extremely difficult to entice talented young people to accept k-12 jobs, especially in challanging schools. In order to attract these people, districts and states will offer teachers autonomy and their own schools to run. This has already begun in Los Angeles where many charters were assigned to teacher groups. Once teachers begin making the decisions, we’ll see research-based best practices, instead of the nonsense that’s going on now.

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