Former Washington, D.C., Chancellor Michelle Rhee is wasting no time getting her new organization StudentsFirst up and running.
She just released a policy agenda that is already spurring response from the AFT and NEA.
Rhee says the agenda of StudentsFirst had three main goals: elevating the teaching profession by valuing teachers’ impact on students; empowering parents with real choices and real information; shifting spending taxpayers’ money to get better results for students.
And Rhee says the group will reach those goals by advocating for the following:
✓ Evaluating teachers based on evidence of student results rather than arbitrary judgments, and separating teacher evaluation from the collective bargaining process.
✓ Evaluating principals on their ability to drive student outcomes, and to attract, retain, manage and develop excellent teachers
✓ Supporting all paths that bring excellent teachers and instruction to students
✓ Paying teachers substantially more for effectiveness
✓ Making all staffing decisions based on teachers’ impact on students.
✓ Eliminating tenure, and making teaching a profession based on respect and performance
✓ Creating more high quality, publicly funded school choices
✓ Empowering parents with clear and useful data
✓ Empowering parents to trigger the turnaround of a failing school
✓ Requiring parent consent for students placed with ineffective teachers
✓ Promoting governance structures that prioritize accountability and put students’ interests first
✓ Dispelling the myths about what works and only spending money on policies that advance student achievement
✓ Creating pension and benefit programs responsibly
Among the first respondents to the Rhee agenda was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers:
Michelle Rhee’s agenda presents a false choice: support students or support teachers. The fact is that neither can succeed unless both are supported. Making schools better places for children to learn also makes them better places for teachers to work.
Improving student learning works best when teachers, administrators and parents work together to transform schools. Collaboration and teamwork, not conflict, will move our schools forward. Make no mistake: The interests of teachers and children are inextricably linked—no matter how hard Rhee tries to separate them.
Rhee’s plan talks about valuing teachers and empowering parents, yet she did quite the opposite as Washington, D.C., schools chancellor. She advocates stripping away the voice of the two groups closest to kids—teachers and parents, who to Rhee are consumers, not front-end, engaged participants. Instead of discussing a comprehensive system to develop great teachers and evaluate them based on both instruction and student learning—a system developed by the AFT and now being used as a template by hundreds of local districts—she reverts to a “my way or the highway” approach by advocating that teacher evaluation not be a subject of collective bargaining. And while we agree that states and school leaders must be budget-conscious in these tough times, careless choices like simply reducing school-based funding, cutting teacher salaries and increasing class sizes diminish the quality of education and exacerbate already high teacher turnover.
Unfortunately, Rhee—despite a new veneer and some wonderful rhetoric—still seems to want to create a narrative of good guys and bad guys, and winners and losers, in education. Preparing our children for school, college and life is too important to be reduced to an oversimplified choice between students and teachers.
And a response came this afternoon from NEA Executive Director John Wilson, who struck a more conciliatory tone:
NEA has long advocated for high standards in the teaching profession, for regular teacher evaluations, and for professional development that improves teachers’ effectiveness. We welcome Rhee to the effort.
Making certain that all students have access to great teachers and to great public schools requires research-based solutions but sadly, Rhee’s entire document lacks facts or research to back up its recommendations. Instead its so-called solutions play to people’s fears rather than promote a positive and collaborative agenda for improving America’s public schools.
Transforming schools requires collaboration of all stakeholders—parents, teacher unions, elected officials and community members. In fact, Rhee need look no further than Indiana, Tennessee and Florida—three states where she says she is working on education issues—to find replicable models of adults working together and truly transforming students’ lives.
NEA members are proud of the work they do to shape the lives of students and the future of this nation. Make no mistake; they put students first each and every day in the classroom. It’s time to work together to identify solutions to our educational challenges. Our students gain nothing from empty rhetoric and divisive solutions.
– From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog