Dan Brown, Huffington Post, 2011 - This week, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced a reduction in force was imminent -- despite having just hired 900 new teachers in a system of just 3,800 teachers. Layoffs begin September 30; fear and confusion abounds.
Rhee's celebrity-- burnished by a cover story
in Time Magazine-- is defined by her quixotic "battle against bad
teachers." In Rhee's world, the quality of public education in D.C. has
been dismal for years because of a critical mass of lazy, ineffective
veteran teachers haunting classrooms.
In her mind, the solution
lays in clearing out the oldies in favor of legions of rookies with
prestigious degrees and two-year teaching commitments. Evidenced by her
death-match negotiating tactics with the Washington Teachers' Union,
Rhee would love nothing more than to eviscerate collective bargaining
and make all teachers at-will employees, corporate-style, accountable
only by their students' test scores.
Her latest gambit might be
her wildest. How can someone hire nearly 25% of their work force over
the summer and then less than a month into the school year throw up her
hands and move to lay so many off?
Step 1: Hire a lot of Teach For America rookies and people who agree with you.
Step 2: Put in place impossible-to-meet standards for teacher performance to make anyone a target for sacking.
3: Announce there has been a budget shock and a reduction in force is
unavoidable because of the economic downturn. Pretend you somehow didn't
understand in July how bad our budget situation would be in just two
months. The teachers to be reduced will be selected out of those with
less than stellar "performance" (and practically everybody will be
Step 4: Get rid of whoever you want, sidestepping due process and remaking the teaching force in your image.
brand of shock therapy is attractive to observers who love words like
"bold" and "hard-charging" and assign them to self-styled reformers like
Rhee who want fast revolutions. They dismiss voices of caution and
defense of existing contracts and due process as defense of the
abominable status quo.
That's disingenuous. The union ought to be
open to loosening tenure provisions, but Rhee simply misses the boat by
blaming DC children's academic struggles squarely on teachers. Rhee's
mislaid battle of gutting the union and purging veteran teachers will
leave an experience and institutional knowledge vacuum that no quantity
of super-caffeinated twenty-two-year-old Yalies can remake. As with any
profession, there are some teachers in D.C. who should not be there, but
Rhee is moving here to throw out the baby with the bathwater.