Michelle Rhee Goes to War

Big drama in DC.

We’ve talked before on this blog about teacher merit pay, unions, and the difficult efforts at reform.  Things have come to a head on this issues in the District, where schools chancellor Michelle Rhee has made a “take no prisoners” approach to fixing that city’s disastrous public school system.

Here’s the long view, as I understand it.  Faced with years of failed reforms and interminable disputes between the schools, the teachers, and the municipal officials, the city hired Michelle Rhee as the new Chancellor.  Rhee is a TFA alum, and the founder of The New Teacher Project (disclosure: TNTP is a friend of Breakthrough, and their programs can be a good next step if you want to teach in distressed areas).  DC also gave Rhee a mandate to improve student performance by any means necessary and unprecedented power over the bulk of the school system.  Rhee has, since she started in the summer of 2007, become a lightning rod for controversy, alienating just about everyone in her drive to improve the quality of teaching in the schools.

Now the focus is on implementing a merit pay program in DC schools.  As we’ve discussed before, merit pay is generally popular with younger teachers (who want to be rewarded for their ambition and new ideas), and distrusted by the older, more experienced teachers who see it as a risk to the Union-based security they’ve fought long and hard for. Rhee’s top priority is getting the bad teachers out of the system and drawing the good ones in with general pay increases and additional incentives for performance.  The right-to-fire has become a big part of the story. Now it’s gotten personal, with some Union members accusing Rhee (a Korean-American woman) of targeting them for firing because of their race.

Here’s where things are now.  Rhee asked the Washington Teachers Union to approve her plan, but President  George Parker decided to not bring it to a vote (he’s torn because he sees the need for reform, but his members think Rhee is trying to kill the union).  Now Rhee is moving ahead anyway with her rumored “Plan B,” which will allow the firings of underperforming teachers, institute some incentives for performance, but without the general increases.  Plan B is the stick without the carrot.  It’ll be interesting to see where this goes.

“While I am disappointed that we cannot announce an agreement on a new teacher contract, I am moving forward to ensure that all adults in this district are accountable for high performance.”  Michelle Rhee, Open Letter to DCPS


2 Responses to Michelle Rhee Goes to War

  1. […] at implementing such a program.  Denver clearly doesn’t have the celebrity factor that Michelle Rhee’s team does in D.C., but the model is doing better than its original […]

  2. […] rest of the discussion at TeachBreakthroughs is here and […]

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