Michelle Rhee fires 241 under performing teachers in Washington. Can you fire your way to better schools?

Washington, D.C., school Chancellor Michelle Rhee is drawing national attention for her ambitious reforms in the nation’s Capitol and for her no-nonsense management style that includes firing teachers she feels are not producing student gains.

Michelle Rhee, chancellor of Washington public schools, announced today that 241 teachers will be fired.

Michelle Rhee, chancellor of Washington public schools, announced today that 241 teachers will be fired.

Today, the District of Columbia Public Schools  announced the firing of 241 teachers for poor classroom performance. Teachers are being evaluated  under a new detailed accountability system called IMPACT that looks at student progress, using what is commonly called a growth model.

In addition, 737 employees rated “minimally effective” by the new rating standard have a year to improve or face dismissal next year.

The academic growth of their students account for half of a teacher’s evaluation; most of the rest of the evaluation hinge on detailed classroom observations of the teacher.

The mass firings prompted this response from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who doubts the efficacy of firing your way to better schools. She argues the solution is helping teachers become better:

Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s signature education philosophy appears to be that you can hire and fire your way to better schools. Rhee fired more than 75 teachers last year under her old evaluation system. Last November, she used a budget crisis as an excuse to dismiss another 266. Today, the initial implementation of the new IMPACT system already has resulted in terminations of more than 200 teachers. Questions have been raised not only about the validity of IMPACT, but about the chancellor’s penchant for firing teachers rather than providing supports to develop their skills.

Mass firings such as these, and questions about the validity and reliability of IMPACT, are precisely why DCPS agreed with the American Federation of Teachers and the Washington Teachers’ Union and signed two side letters to the contract dealing with the system. One letter calls for an independent review, and the other provides teachers with an opportunity to share their concerns regarding the IMPACT system.

Our hope is that the recently approved contract for DCPS teachers will usher in much-needed changes for District schools. The terms of the contract call for all teachers to receive targeted professional development throughout their careers, with particular support for new teachers and for those who need specific supports.

Firing teachers en masse may sound to some like strong action is being taken, but in the absence of real professional supports and valid teacher evaluations systems, it simply perpetuates a destructive and failing strategy. Rhee’s approach ignores the fact that good teaching is much more of a learned skill than it is innate. All of us who have taught know this. Our common goal must be to improve teaching and learning so that the children educated in the District’s public schools are prepared to succeed in college, work and life.

Chancellor Rhee has numerous tools available to her in the contract we recently reached. She has a responsibility to follow the lead of school systems that successfully use such tools to develop highly skilled teaching forces, rather than stubbornly adhering to the destructive cycle of “fire, hire, repeat.”

233 comments Add your comment

way to o

July 23rd, 2010
4:25 pm

We need someone with a backbone to be in charge of our systems in GA.

November

July 23rd, 2010
4:43 pm

Well, yes you can…..if you fire the RIGHT ones!!!!!!!!!

d

July 23rd, 2010
5:01 pm

The only thing that continues to bother me about stuff like this is that an educator’s performance is actually determined by a third party — a group of students. When merit pay was being discussed during the 2010 session of the General Assembly, I had some of my students, all seniors, ask about the ramifications of that and if they decided as a group to target a particular teacher and bomb a test, would affect the teacher….. That is a lot of power taken away from an educator over the fate of his or her career.

Observer with no dog in this fight...

July 23rd, 2010
5:02 pm

It is my sincere hope that teachers will not get on this blog and defend BAD teachers. We all know that there are good and bad people in EVERY profession. If she fired 241 BAD teachers- Good for her!!!!

A valid point that should be made is what happens if you are evaluated by a BAD administrator. To my earlier point, if there are good and bad people in every profession when there is a BAD administrator, what is a teacher to do?

Happy Teacher

July 23rd, 2010
5:07 pm

d – I think the balance of observation/test scores would most likely prevent any scenario like the one you suggest from taking place. But, if that teacher could inspire that kind of anymosity, is the teacher reallly effective? I’ve worked with teachers who were drill sargeant types who might make students upset to begin with, but inevitably, they would end up very popular.

I think this kind of action is extremely necessary, though it is just part of the equation. We can’t fire our way to a solution, but it will definitely prove to be a part of the equation.

ROCCO

July 23rd, 2010
5:12 pm

FOR EVERY INCOMPETENT TEACHER THAT IS FIRED, SHE SHOULD ALSO FIRE AN INCOMPETENT PARENT!

William Casey

July 23rd, 2010
5:20 pm

I don’t know the details so I’ll withhold final judgement. However, I will suggest that the law of unintended (but obvious) consequences may kick in. What kind of teacher will want to work for a boss whose “signature” management technique is firing people? I have some ideas but will save them until I know more. But, they won’t be good for the students.

catlady

July 23rd, 2010
5:28 pm

I have problems with this. If there have been over 600 “bad” teachers fired in the last 3 years, what does that say about the hiring process? I think she needs to be concerned about how they keep coming up with so many “bad” teachers! And if they are not “bad” why are they being fired? How many teachers does DC employ, anyway?

For every bad teacher, there is likely some “bad” supervisors and quite a few “real bad” students and parents.

I am sure there will be more to come on this. It deserves investigation.

Happy Teacher

July 23rd, 2010
5:44 pm

Good to see that we are on the high road…

ScienceTeacher671

July 23rd, 2010
5:49 pm

I wonder where they are going to find the “good” teachers to replace these “bad” teachers?

ScienceTeacher671

July 23rd, 2010
5:56 pm

So if a teacher has all honors students, and 100% of the students pass the EOCT or GHSGT, is s/he a good teacher?

And if the same teacher next year has all collaborative classes filled with socially promoted students and those on IEPs, and the pass rate is only 60%, is s/he a good teacher?

Or can you tell from the data provided?

Bell Curve

July 23rd, 2010
6:04 pm

We all know there are bad teachers, just like there are bad administrators, office personnel, and others. I would like to see the instruments used to judge these teachers. The problem with basing so much on test scores is it can never be equitable. Some teachers don’t teach subjects that are tested, what do we do we them? Secondly if you have a class of say 20 students and some fail, while others pass, how is that the teachers fault? The “Bell Curve” is and always will be valid.

@ d

July 23rd, 2010
6:12 pm

When you are in the profession that supposed to influence others, it is perfectly valid to judge quality of your work based on what those you are supposed to influence perform, isn’t it?

NWGA teacher

July 23rd, 2010
6:15 pm

What about professional development? Were these teachers following professional development plans? Does Ms. Rhee want good teachers, or does she just want different teachers?

E Pluribus Unum

July 23rd, 2010
6:28 pm

How do you know most of the teachers are bad teachers ? Is it possible that
some of the teachers were fired, because they disagreed with the policies
implemented ? Could it be possible that certain teachers not on good
terms with particular administrators received a disproportionately high
number of behavior problems in their class ? Maybe most of the teachers were
lacking in improving student achievement,but we don’t have any evidence
to support the claim. Was person number 241 on the list that much worse than
the person that could have been 242 on the list ? The negotiations of DCPS
must have given Chancellor Michelle Rhee the power to make the cuts. I hope
more educators are supported to assist them in meeting the challenges ahead.

Bell Curve

July 23rd, 2010
6:37 pm

Does it strike anyone else that teachers and public workers are the new “villains”? The Republican party has done a wonderful job in demonizing us, so much so that we still have people who swear that our teachers unions are ruining education. Of course we can tell them that we don’t have unions, we don’t bargain collectively but they won’t believe us. Let’s be honest all it really takes to get elected in this state is to come out and say you love Jesus and guns. (I don’t really think Jesus would have been packing)

Happy Teacher

July 23rd, 2010
6:39 pm

Here is an article that outlines the IMPACT program that was used to make the decisons.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dcschools/2010/07/sizable_number_face_impact_ax.html

E Pluribus Unum

July 23rd, 2010
6:40 pm

It would be interesting to see what percent of the 241 fired teachers
are veteran teachers with higher salaries,which would mean replacing
those higher salaries with more teachers on the lower end of the salary
schedule.

Happy Teacher

July 23rd, 2010
6:41 pm

Rhee, Obama, Duncan…all Democrats. Time to get past labels, because if Democrats have started to see that weak teachers are dragging down the profession, it can’t simply dismissed as partisan politics.

Bell Curve

July 23rd, 2010
6:43 pm

True both sides are guilty of playing politics, but it can’t be denied that eight years of Republican rule in this state have not hurt education.

E Pluribus Unum

July 23rd, 2010
6:51 pm

The issue of focused pressure on educators crosses party lines.
NCLB under President Bush’s authorization had just as many
Democrats supporting it even after states registered complaints.

Happy Teacher

July 23rd, 2010
6:53 pm

E – Shouldn’t there be pressure on educators? We’ve got a REALLY important job…

Enough!

July 23rd, 2010
6:54 pm

Happy teacher apparently works for a principal who likes her very much. I’ve know horribly abysmal and mean teachers who get great evaluations and other perks because they have done “favors,” such as cleaning out gutters at the principal’s home!

ScienceTeacher671

July 23rd, 2010
6:54 pm

Happy Teacher, do you think your students would have achieved as much this year if they’d been taught in regular public schools by the same teachers? Why or why not?

Do you feel that you are more or less effective as a teacher at your charter school? Explain your answer.

Retired Teacher

July 23rd, 2010
7:03 pm

The best teachers have that innate talent. Then that talent is nurtured. I do not agree that teaching is just a learned process. Without compassion for learning, the teacher cannot reach the underachievers. After 32 years, this is what I have found to be true. I have worked with countless student teachers and university students who want to walk in five minutes before the bell and walk out when the students leave. A teacher cannot just turn on and turn off like that. It’s not like many other 8 to 5 professions. So, I support the termination of “bad” teachers; the teachers’ unions spend too much effort defending those who have no business being teachers.

Happy Teacher

July 23rd, 2010
7:06 pm

ST671- Don’t have much time, but…

1. No, because our school is a small school, which allows us to foster an amazing school culture, and all of our teachers are amazing. I know teachers can’t decrease the size of a school, but they can focus on working within the team structure that many schools have to make their team “feel” like a small school. And quality educators is the whole point. We have no weak links, though I will readily admit that I am probably the weakest link we have. In a regular public school, there are much more likely to be multiple weak links that need to be compensated for.

2. I am more effective in a lot of ways, mainly because I have been pushed by my peers to be more effective. Any slip up I make, I get called out on it. In other ways, I might have been less effective than I could have been in a regular public school, because my job description became quite extensive, since our school runs on a very bare-bones budget. Hard to say objectively…

schlmarm

July 23rd, 2010
7:09 pm

A school and its teachers can NEVER make up or substitute for what the child does not get at home. The few years that Rhee taught involved getting parental permission to give two hours of homework each day so that the students didn’t have time to watch TV, AND attend class on Saturdays. Maybe Hollywood should make a movie about her in the vein of “Stand By Me” or “Stand and Deliver.” I am so glad (sarcasm here) that she is a much more dedicated teacher than the rest of us.

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ScienceTeacher671

July 23rd, 2010
7:17 pm

Happy Teacher –

1. I’m guessing, then, that your “amazing” teachers wouldn’t have been quite as “amazing” without the “amazing school teacher”. Does it follow that an “amazing” teacher working in a toxic environment or for an incompetent administrator might not appear as competent as s/he would in a different environment?

How much of your “amazing culture” do you think was a result of good leadership, how much a function of parental support, and how much depended on the collegiality of the staff or other factors?

2. So your conclusions would be (a) that weak but motivated teachers can be bolstered and can improve in the right atmosphere with help from competent administrators and helpful coworkers, and (b) giving teachers too many responsibilities without sufficient time to handle said responsibilities results in a less effective teaching staff?

Barney Fife

July 23rd, 2010
7:18 pm

Okay, so now the Washington School System should see a dramatic increase in students grades and test scores. That’s right. It’s the teachers. It’s all the teachers fault. Good teachers with bad parents and students equals higher achievement. Bad teachers with good parents/students? I think I’ll wager that a motivated student/parent partnership is far more important than the quality of the teachers.

ScienceTeacher671

July 23rd, 2010
7:18 pm

#@($(%!!! First sentence in paragraph 1. above should be ” I’m guessing, then, that your “amazing” teachers wouldn’t have been quite as “amazing” without the “amazing school CULTURE”

Bob Calder

July 23rd, 2010
7:26 pm

Last count on Wikipedia gives 58,000 students, 38% of which were in charter schools. What percentage of the staff does 241 represent? It looks like there are probably between 2 and 3 thousand teachers in the DC system. Did Rhee fire any charter school teachers or TFA teachers?

I find it amazing that any staff could possibly have more than about 5% of employees not doing their jobs. It doesn’t sound normal.

E Pluribus Unum

July 23rd, 2010
7:33 pm

Should educators have pressure ? Yes (That pressure has been present for decades). The type
of pressure is different now than it has been in the past. How did this country manage to develop
the technological advances in the past 50 years without the laser focus on test scores as the
dominant focus ? Education is extremely important and pressure is a part of that,but so is
having a proper context about education. My point earlier was that the issues of education
are not the fault of just one political party.

EP

July 23rd, 2010
7:33 pm

Her “destructive” policies, in spite of continued union interference and outrage from ineffective (former) staff have landed DC in the top tier of schools NATIONALLY in terms of improvements in math and other scores. Bottom line = students are doing better in a way that couldn’t even be imagined before Rhee came on board. How about we focus on THAT? Why don’t we hold Rhee accountable in the same way that she aims to hold teachers accountable and think about how she has improved education in the District? Her job as Chancellor is NOT to provide jobs to the needy or train underperforming teachers. Her calling is, above all, to the students and she is doing that right.

bootney farnsworth

July 23rd, 2010
7:41 pm

if you release the right folks, then sure.
if you can them for political reasons, nope.

DBS

July 23rd, 2010
7:52 pm

What a stunning but wonderful surprise that in of all places Chancellor Rhee and Washington DC is doing something about poor performing teachers. For far too long too many in the education profession have continued to produce a poor result yet continue to have the luxury of regular raises, tenure, etc. It’s about time that they get a taste of what those of us in the private sector have dealt with forever. For those of you who will argue that it is unfair to teachers because they are being judged on the success of others your argument as moot. Welcome to the real world. I’m an “evil conservative” but would certainly support Chancellor Rhee (a democrat) to be the Secretary of Labor! This is the type of strength all public officials should show.

FLAWoodLayer

July 23rd, 2010
7:53 pm

@ catlady, agree wholeheartedly about hiring processes. I have seen schools hire on the spot at job fairs without ever checking one resume or reference. If these teachers have more than half of their students not make learning gains in an academic year I could agree with the firing but I need to know what types of support mechanisms are in place for teachers, especially young ones. Our students are in crisis so I am not one for experimenting with teachers until they get it right for too long. Either you have the makings of being a good teacher or not. As an educator I did learn more as I went but I also had a great support system for a starting teacher in California. I don’t know about DC, but here in Georgia teachers either sink or swim the lack of support is disgusting.

I also agree with catlady about where are you going to find all of these “great teachers” with starting salaries as low as they are, with benefits being cut, and with almost the sole burden of responsibility for educating today’s youth on your back like a target? We simply are not luring enough exceptional college students interested in the field of education.

As for Rhee, she simply is doing the politically expedient thing by firing teachers. It’s simple, it makes a point, but it does not neccessarily cause effective change. Yet, when does the politically expedient thing ever do?

Nikole

July 23rd, 2010
7:54 pm

@ EP—All teachers need training, for as long as they teach. This is not an easy job. There is no one way to teach perfectly. Every year is a new group of PEOPLE and a new challenge. My school’s math scores were low this year, so next year we will focus on improving our math instruction. But that does not mean I didn’t give 110% in researching and delivering instruction in math last year. I find it hard to believe that everyone she fired was under performing.

Echo

July 23rd, 2010
8:02 pm

So do the teachers in DC schools get to “fire” their underperforming students?

Team Teacher

July 23rd, 2010
8:32 pm

How do you learn to be a good teacher? You teach.
We were all Rookies once. I know I am a much better teacher than I was 10 years ago, five years ago, last school year.
Are teachers losing the opportunity to be good teachers nowdays because they aren’t being allowed to develop into good teachers?
I don’t know all about this good bad teacher stuff. To be honest, I haven’t really met too many bad teachers. And the ones I have met, I tried to help them. Sometimes it’s really obviously things like they haven’t nailed their classroom mangement skills and you can help them with that. Or maybe they are boring. And you share some ideas with them. Maybe you show them how to use more technology in their lessons. I don’t know, I can’t call these teachers bad, how could anyone, they are learning and developing and attempting to grow into good teachers.
Surely, people that are not teachers don’t think a teacher grad just walks out of the univeristy and into the classroom and instantly is a great teacher, heck even a good teacher. Sure there is degree of innate ability involved but that just kind of like having teacher intuition (I call it my Spidey sense 2 my students) , that helps, but the majority of teaching is a skill. A skilled in development, a hands on learned skill, not a college learned skill.
I would be heartbroken if someone let me go after my first year on the job because I was so nervous I taught latitude and longitude backwards for a whole week before realizing it and correcting myself. And how I cried because I thought I had screwed up those kids forever. You know what? those students learned more from me screwing up and coming in and admitting I got them backwards and because it was funny to them that I made this mistake, it – I don’t know, the emotion of it- or it illicitng an emotion from them- they learned it. Whereas before, yes, when I was doing it backwards, but that’s not really my point, whereas before I was having to drag them to the concept. When it was funny, they just took to it.
I just really hope. I pray. We aren’t losing born to be great teachers because we are firing them year after year before they ever really get to be that great teacher.

Eggbeforethechicken

July 23rd, 2010
8:39 pm

School superintendents must know and understand that leadership starts with setting goals and a reasonable action plan. The action plan requires reasonable steps and modifications unitl the goals are reached. This does not happen in one huge step. As with anything else in life, one step at a time. If your plan to reduce weight, you do it one pound at a time and with starvation. Firing 1/4 of the entire population of teachers in DC schools fails resolve the student achievement problem, it creates more of a problem. As the educational leader, the DC superintendent should head the list and appeal her job to the teacher’s union. Let’s get real. Did the BP CEO loose his job for the negligence that created the oil spill?

Concerned 1

July 23rd, 2010
8:42 pm

25 years from now she will be a figment of our imagination…still in the trenches.

HS Teacher

July 23rd, 2010
9:04 pm

I am 100% for being accountable for student progress – but only if you let me pick the students. It is totally unfair for me to be held accountable for student progress when there are way to many other factors involved that I have no control over.

Let me pick students – the ones well behaved, the ones motivated to learn, the ones that have already mastered the content up of the pre-requisites, and so on. I can then do my job as a teacher and would certainly have students that show tremendous progress.

But, do not put students in my room that don’t want to be there, that don’t care to learn, are disrespectful, are rude, have not eaten dinner the night before or breakfest that morning, etc. I am there to be the teacher of content and not to be their parent. Parents need to properly prepare their offspring in order to maximize learning – and I have zero control over that part.

Over the last 10 years, I have proven my teaching ability through extremely high standardized test scores (EOCT). And, I have taught at 3 different schools and 2 different school systems with the same results from my students. Each school, while I was there, made AYP in GA. I am not claiming that it was all me, I am just stating facts.

Interestingly, the previous 2 schools where I taught did not make AYP this year. The school where I currently teach had 100% pass rate on the GHSGT. And yes, it is a public school.

Bob Calder

July 23rd, 2010
9:05 pm

@EP – Evidence supporting your statements? Please link.

We know that Rhee has hired a ton of temporary teachers and these TFA teachers are performing on par with other first and second year teachers. Unsurprising.

Louise Kowitch

July 23rd, 2010
9:08 pm

As a 1977 graduate of Wilson Sr. High and currently a high school teacher, all I can say is “YOU GO GIRL!!! Rhee acts on what most of us just hope for: high academic standards for all.

Vince

July 23rd, 2010
9:09 pm

I like the growth model to look at teacher effectiveness. It is the only fair way to judge impact.

abe

July 23rd, 2010
9:12 pm

What if the impact system is flawed, and most of the teachers fired were good teachers? Is that the way to better a school?

If you want to better a school, you deal with the underlying emotional problems that the children face. Pretending that using a flawed system to fire teachers will make a school better shows that the writer doesn’t understand education.

Darrell Groves

July 23rd, 2010
9:14 pm

If Michelle Rhee had to fire 241 teachers she should also be fired. Evidently she has not provided the right leadership, incentives and training to her staff. If they failed so has she.

abe

July 23rd, 2010
9:14 pm

I think reporters are so anxious to fire teachers that they are intentionally choosing not to look at the reasons underlying school failure.

abe

July 23rd, 2010
9:15 pm

“We know that Rhee has hired a ton of temporary teachers and these TFA teachers are performing on par with other first and second year teachers. Unsurprising.”

I don’t believe you. Give me unbiased facts.