October 7, 2008

Oakland Schools Blog: Rewarding Good Teachers and Firing Bad Ones

By Katy Murphy

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a sampling of the Education Report, Katy Murphy's blog on Oakland schools. Read more and post comments at www.ibabuzz.com/education.

Oct. 3

Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of Washington, D.C.'s public schools, made a name for herself last year by announcing plans to fire 100 central office administrators and close 23 schools. Before her appointment, Rhee had never run a school herself. But at age 37, she was picked by Mayor Adrian Fenty to reform a low-performing school district legendary for its bureaucracy.

The Washington Post reports today that Rhee has announced that she will bypass union negotiations and impose her own program to fire ineffective teachers if they don't improve in 90 days.

Rhee also had proposed an aggressive performance-pay plan, under which high-performing teachers could earn more than $100,000 a year in salary and bonuses in five years.

What do you think of Rhee's ideas? Do you think they benefit kids by holding teachers accountable -- and rewarding good teachers -- or that they threaten to destabilize the teaching profession?

Reader comments

Jim Farwell: Ms. Rhee's approach to changing Washington, D.C.'s educational woes is typical of today's new breed of administrator. The attitude is, "Don't bother me with facts, let's just move on and do what I want to do."

Union-busting is a common strategy in this type of agenda. Washington's poor academic showing is a part of a comprehensive set of issues that need to be acknowledged. There are no quick fixes.

Art: Insane for two reasons: While I'm not always the biggest fan of teachers unions (they do lots of great things but can also make it really difficult to get rid of legitimately bad teachers in many districts), cutting them out of the conversation is a tested formula for an all-out strike, which is a no-win situation for kids. More importantly, though, using testing to measure teacher quality unilaterally is pretty appalling. Yes, ideally kids should be improving on test performance as they learn, but many students are grappling with challenges that go far beyond what happened in the classroom yesterday.

Catherine: If I were a mechanic and a significant portion of the cars I worked on had problems after I finished, if I were a loan officer and 25 percent of the loans I approved went bad, if I were a doctor and the death or disease rate of my patients was significantly higher -- would you say it was the dealership, the bank or the health care plan?

I see teachers working in flatland schools that consistently, year after year after year, work with different principals, different students -- yet the gap is very narrow and all children learn.

How is this possible? Because the teacher is there early, tells the children the facts of their education (you need to complete your homework, stay away from people who do not value education, etc.), stays after school and is willing to keep the classroom open during lunchtime. As a result, the kids are safe, educated and relatively stress-free while at school.

The educators I am thinking of actually have less stress because they are doing their jobs, avoiding administration nightmares and paying close attention everyday to the job at hand: educating children.

Originally published by Katy Murphy, Oakland Tribune.

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