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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rhee starts push to get paid

From the Washington Posts Answer Sheet

By Valerie Strauss

Former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee likes to say that everything she does is for kids. But the first big campaign of her “Students First” organization, announced Wednesday, isn't really about them.

Rhee announced today what she is calling the national Save Great Teachers campaign.

What it’s not about: Giving great teachers what they say they want -- more support to do their jobs in school.

What it is about: Getting state legislatures to eliminate policies that require school districts, in the event of layoffs, to let the last-hired employees go first. This way, principals can supposedly save great young teachers and get rid of lousy older teachers.

Rhee’s intentions become transparent when one considers how to really protect great teachers: a reliable, valid, multi-part assessment system. If Rhee were so concerned about saving great teachers of any age, she would be more interested in immediately pursuing a valid assessment tool. If teachers were properly evaluated and those who don't belong in the classroom really removed, then the last-hired first-fired wouldn't be an issue, and the kids and adults would benefit.

Rhee did create a new teacher assessment system while she was D.C. schools chancelleor, called IMPACT, but after millions of dollars put into it, the system has been sharply criticized.

Among the problems cited about IMPACT are that it is highly punitive though provides little support for teachers, and that it relies on student standardized test scores, which research has shown are prone to error and ignore the fact that the quality of teaching isn’t the only factor that goes into how well a student performs on a single test. The system, unveiled in 2009, has undergone revisions though teachers still say it is unfair.

It is now common currency in school reform circles to blame teachers unions for pretty much everything wrong in schools, except for those things that can be laid at the steps of bad parents and lazy students. It doesn’t matter to people who want to union bash that the problems in schools are identical in states with unionized teachers and with non-unionized teachers, and that, perhaps, whatever one thinks about unions, the basic problems lie elsewhere.

It's tiring to hear the mantra “it’s for the kids,” or “students first” every time someone takes an anti-union step, but that any teacher who fights for his/her rights is only thinking about themselves and not the kids.

That is what is being said of the protesting teachers in Wisconsin by their critics, because they are fighting to keep their collective bargaining rights, which the Republican governor, Scott Walker, has vowed to eliminate.

Why shouldn’t the teachers protest? They already made monetary concessions and the governor still wants to strip them of the right to bargain in the future.

Why didn’t anybody say that plans just announced in Detroit to close half of the schools, a move that will create high school classes of about 60 students, is all about the adults and their failure to properly budget? Where is the concern for the kids here? Why isn’t someone figuring out how to protect the kids from humongous classes?

Maybe Michelle Rhee could have offered financial help to reduce class size in Detroit. Now THAT would be kid-friendly.

Meanwhile, the assault on teachers and their unions continues. As an example: In Amelia Island, Fla., last week, the Philanthropy Roundtable, a national association of individual donors, corporate giving officers, and foundation trustees and staff, held its annual conference and there was a session entitled “How to End Teacher Tenure.” That's what's on the minds of the rich folks who are dabbling in education policy with their millions.

It is true that over time teachers and their unions haven’t done themselves any great favors by saving the ultimate tool -- taking to the streets and shutting down schools -- to save their own collective bargaining rights.

How come teachers did not actively protest the imposition of a standardized testing dominated accountability system hen they knew that it would narrow curriculum and perpetuate invalid notions of success and failure?

It is safe to say that had they taken to the streets over No Child Left Behind, they would have been been accused of being obstructionist, lazy and afraid of being held accountable.

Oh wait. That happened anyway.

If they didn't loudly protest before over the shape of school reform as they should have, teachers are now worked up. Teachers and parents are planning a march on Washington July 28-31 in an effort to “organize and reclaim control of our schools.” That’s what the Save Our Schools March Web site says.

They can only hope that someone will be listening listening, and that they aren't too lat

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